Book Review

Marotti, Arthur F. Manuscript, Print, and the English Renaissance Lyric. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995.

Reviewed by Eric Nebeker | March 20, 2003

Marotti’s book is an excellent study of the manuscript transmission and the movement and legitimation of lyric verse into print. Beginning with manuscript collections of verse, Marotti provides detailed accounts of the nature of the renaissance lyric verse, the nature of the manuscript collections, their social contexts and the ways they changed over time. Manuscript collections were a popular way for people to collect poems, speeches, and other texts and were the beginnings of poetry anthologies, though they treated the documents in very different ways. Manuscript collections were treated casually by some collectors and very seriously and systematically by others. Collections varied “from using poems to fill available blank spaces in manuscripts, to incorporating large numbers of them in collections of miscellaneous prose and verse, to actually compiling them in anthologies” and these compilations also “range from casual, personal, or family commonplace-book collections to carefully arranged, sometimes professionally transcribed, volumes” (17). Many of these differences arose out of the several social contexts that influence the manuscript collections: the universities, the Inns of Court, the court, the family, and Catholic families and social circles. The contexts lead to fairly unique and identifiable traits among the collections of different social groups (which traits Marotti describes in great detail). This fact may have contributed to their persistence even in the age of print: manuscript collections created a sense of solidarity within particular social groups in a way that print did not. Marotti details the “social textuality” of poetry in these collections. Rather than being “author-centered,” in manuscript transmission “the roles of author, scribe, and reader overlapped” (135). Marotti also provides thorough analysis of the movement of lyric poetry from manuscript to print. Marotti points to five things that kept lyrics from being widely printed: 1) “the absence of a clear and strong tradition of vernacular literature into which such publications could be incorporated,” 2) class issues: “aristocratic or ‘gentle’ men and women, or lower-class individuals with social aspirations, were reluctant to print their poetry because they felt threatened by the commercializing and democratizing features of the print medium,” 3) love poetry was perceived as immature, “not intellectually serious writing—morally suspect from a traditional Christian point of view,” 4) the “association of love lyrics with privacy, and therefore the belief that it was inappropriate to expose such writing to general public scrutiny,” and 5) the “association of lyrics with specific social occasions: people perceived such pieces as ephemeral artifacts, rather than as enduring literary monuments to be preserved in print” (210). However, lyrics were eventually accepted in print form. Marotti identifies four publications as particularly important in allowing for the lyric’s inclusion in print: 1) Tottel’s Miscellany in 1557 “inaugurated the fashion for publishing anthologies that disseminated privately circulated, mostly courtly, poetry to a wider public. It went through at least nine additions and even more printings in thirty years and led to the publication of other collections of lyric poetry. 2) Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella in 1591 and 1592 and the publication of his works began to “provide the necessary sociocultural legitimation for printing of lyric verse. 3) Ben Jonson’s Workes of 1616 yoked ethical, didactic, satiric, and encomiastic verse to lyric poetry, helping to change conceptions of lyric poetry as something only fit for recreational use (240). 4) The publication of John Donne and George Herbert’s work helped “normalize within print culture the publication of poetry collections by individual authors” (247). After the publication of these works, and collections of other single-author works “whose publication was partly authorized by the Donne and Herbert editions,” lyric were perceived as more valuable artifacts that ought to be preserved (247). Marotti rounds out his argument by addressing how the relationship between authors, patrons, printers, readers, and print influenced the sociocultural status of authors and texts. By examining such events as the publications of Skelton, Gascoigne, Sidney, and Jonson, Marotti demonstrates that the patronage relationship – which at one point made author and patron “parties to an (albeit unequal) exchange, empowered by the[…]efficacy of print” which memorialized both author and patron – was eventually “eclipsed by the increasing sociocultural authority of authors as well as the economic and interpretive importance of the reader” (292). The breadth and detail of Marotti’s book make it essential reading for anyone interested the social contexts of early modern literature, the emergence of authorship, and history of print culture.

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