Sonnet Book

We have a run of 750 sonnetbooks. Each book signed by William S



I’m a reader, not a writer…

Renaissance Rhetoric – an instrument of Social control?

Do we possess or are we possessed by Shakespeare?

A. Mortimer (no relation to Hotspur’s antagonist) has written a book called ‘Variable Passions’. These questions arise from the briefest of perusals therein.

The artist always fights and subverts the norms of his time. I assume (i know, ass u me) a rhetoric buster like Willy Shakes is busy bustin it up in his verses. I may change my opinion when i read the book.

As usual when browsing my eye falls on several titles to be selected and then rejected as either outside my interest or too theoried to say anything outside the straight-jacket of theoretical discourse.

What caught my eye at the Bungehuis library is another book by Sasha Roberts, University of Kent, published by Palgrave entitled: ‘Reading Shakespeare’s Poems in Early Modern England’. Now here is a book that kicks some serious butt. And a skimming was in order over the space of an hour and a quarter before toddler pick up.

In a nutshell (bind me baby) it is about reading strategies and reception history in Early Modern England. Sasha points out a few facts off the bat:

  • 1609 (400th anniversary of Sonnets and Pericles coming up) was the first address ‘to the reader’ accompanying a Shakespeare play. (Troilus and Cressida)
  • between 1593-1623 we have 65 Quartos by and attributed to Shakespeare.
  • One-fifth of all manuscript transcripts before 1700 are Shakespeare related.

According to Sasha, reception theory is usually treated like literary criticism’s poor relation, but our Sasha holds a plea which should excite budding scholars. The interest goes out to re-historicising texts. How did they read what we tend to over-read?

Renaissance readers had no interest in exact copies of a poem or play. The printed text became a mine whose veins could be tapped for the several types of minerals and jewels it could reveal. That this is so is revealed by their handwritten notes in the margins, or underlining of some pithy saying.

Shakespeare was valued not for his originality but for his conventionality. In fact Shakespeare was arguably the first phenomenon in print culture, after the laying down to rest of manuscript culture. Readers liked him because he was simple, accessible, familiar, entertaining, and useful.

Now that’s a great conclusion and a lousy summary all in one.

Happy Queen’s Day dutchies!

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