Engaging with histories of the book and of reading, as well as with studies of material culture, this volume explores ’popularity’ in early modern English writings. Is ’popular’ best described as a theoretical or an empirical category in this period? How can we account for the gap between modern canonicity and early modern print popularity? How might we weight the evidence of popularity from citations, serial editions, print runs, reworkings, or extant copies? Is something that sells a lot always popular, even where the readership for print is only a small proportion of the population, or does popular need to carry something of its etymological sense of the public, the people? Four initial chapters sketch out the conceptual and evidential issues, while the second part of the book consists of ten short chapters-a ’hit parade’- in which eminent scholars take a genre or a single exemplar - play, romance, sermon, or almanac, among other categories-as a means to articulate more general issues. Throughout, the aim is to unpack and interrogate assumptions about the popular, and to decentre canonical narratives about, for example, the sermons of Donne or Andrewes over Smith, or the plays of Shakespeare over Mucedorus. Revisiting Elizabethan literary culture through the lenses of popularity, this collection allows us to view the subject from an unfamiliar angle-in which almanacs are more popular than sonnets and proclamations more numerous than plays, and in which authors familiar to us are displaced by names now often forgotten.
Table of Contents
Part 1 Methodologies: What is print popularity? A map of the Elizabethan book trade. 'O read me for I am of great antiquity': old books and Elizabethan popularity. 'Rare poems ask rare friends': popularity and collecting in Elizabethan England. Shakespeare's popularity and the origins of the canon. Part 2 The Elizabethan Top Ten: Almanacs and ideas of popularity Print, popularity and the Book of Common Prayer. International news pamphlets. Spenser's popular intertexts. Household manuals. Damask papers. Sermons. The psalm book. Serial publication and romance. Mucedorus.
Andy Kesson is Senior Lecturer in Renaissance Literature at the University of Roehampton, UK. Emma Smith is Fellow and Tutor in English at Hertford College, Oxford, UK.