Jan. 6th, 2013

Well it certainly has been a while.

Orals have been wonderful this past semester, and while I have lots of reading notes both in my margins and in my notebooks, I haven't been great about spending a lot of time synthesizing things, looking at the bigger pictures. Losing forests due to a glut of trees, etc. etc. The point of getting on this whole DW thing, besides getting mixed up in the internet lives of some dear friends ([personal profile] oliviacirce), has been to have a place for more informal thinking and writing, and it's time I took advantage of that. And in a way, it's a good thing that I've waited so long to get back to writing, since it will force me think beyond the individual texts and authors. So:

One surprising thread that's come up again and again in my orals meetings so far, especially on my major list, has been publication history and the way the texts imagine / construct / other-lit-crit-verb print culture. This isn't something I expected, largely because my critical background coming into grad school was so very much close reading on the one hand / high theory on the other. And print culture was presented as so thoroughly BORING: Just a bunch of Shakespeare scholars gasping about how fascinating it was that the third Quarto says "hand" but the fourth says "hande". I'm over two years into the PhD now, and it really shouldn't surprise me that my interests have changed since undergrad, but still, these things weren't on my horizon at all when I came here and it's really really exciting to see how I've developed academically. ("Well, excited AND scared...")


George Gascoigne

One of the most interesting texts in this respect is A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres, a collection of drama, narrative prose, and lyric poetry published in 1573.

As the prefatory letter from the Publisher, Richarde Smith, informs us, the texts making up this miscellany were gathered in manuscript by one G.T., who then sent them to his friend H.W., who in turn (and against G.T.'s express wishes) sent them to Smith for printing. However, the entire work claims several other authors: besides the translations of plays by Ariosto and Euripides, both Englished by one George Gascoigne, the longest section is "a pleasant discourse of the adventures of master F.J." This section contains several poems by F.J., but is mostly made up of a prose narrative delivered by G.T., who claims at several points to have the story from F.J. himself. Next we have a set of lyrics by "sundry Gentlemen", several poems by Gascoigne, and a verse narrative of Dan Bartholmew of Bathe, which combines Dan Bartholmew's own works with linking poems by "the reporter".

Two years later, the book was re-worked and re-published as The Poesies of George Gascoigne, Esquire, along with a prefatory letter by Gascoigne, now claiming sole authorship of the texts, dispensing with the editorial framework of G.T. and H.W., and apologizing for the scandal his earlier edition had caused.

Oh, and there is no evidence that the earlier edition had actually caused any scandal.

A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres is, in large measure, an elaborate literary joke, and its target is manuscript culture. One of the most important statements concerning the relationship between print and manuscript circulation of lyrics comes from Richard Tottel's preface to his 1557 verse miscellany, in which her urges the reader "that thou thinke it not evill doon, to publish, to the honor of the Englishe tong, and for profit of the studious of Englishe eloquence, those workes which the ungentle horders up of such treasure have heretofore envied thee." Lyric poetry has its origins among the gentry, ironically "ungentle" in their refusal to let their verse disseminate among a wider readership, and much of its power comes from the way a manuscript culture allowed readers to restrict access to its texts.

Gascoigne's editorial fiction of a manuscript exchange between G.T. and H.W. offers a very similar picture of lyric poetry in the mid-sixteenth century. In the Adventures of Master F.J., the poet's verses move as manuscripts within a community of readers, and G.T., through his connections with F.J., is in a privileged place from which to properly understand them. Far from a community of gentlemen, though, F.J.'s world is one of petty sexual intrigue within which he is, ultimately, the most foolish.

The point

I don't have a satisfying idea about how I want to read Gascoigne (or really, most things on my lists, which is probably the way it should be). But I wanted to write a bit about him because he became sort of the starting point for two of my favorite dissertation idea-lings at the moment. Idea 1) Parody and/as literary history; Idea 2) Fictional communities of bad readers.

Gascoigne's fiction about a community of poetic exchange, I might argue, imitates the literary world constructed in verse miscellanies of the mid-sixteenth century such as Tottel's. In doing so, though, he is basically making some sort of joke about that community: that it's a fiction, that it's not really as "gentle" as it pretends, or possibly that a lot of the poetry isn't that good or innovative.

Similar things are going on in Spenser's Shepheardes Calendar, which has a lot of bad readers (E.K.) and makes similar elaborate jokes about printed books via an elaborate, fictive apparatus.

Parody is also crucial to Donne's Satires and verse letters to the Countess of Bedford.

And finally, there's the crazy stuff with Falstaff in 1 Henry IV, which has him as not only an anachronistic character, more of the 1590s than the 1390s, but even stylistically outdated by the time of the play's production, speaking in the bombastic style of Tamburlaine and others. In other words, Shakespeare uses his fourteenth century setting to parody the theatrical modes of only a few years ago.

So this is all very undeveloped, and I don't have most of my books or notes with me (being in California with [personal profile] readingredhead, so I'm going to use that as an excuse for my thoughts not being more composed. But really, I'd just keep avoiding posting things if I didn't just submit now.

Thoughts pls?



January 2013


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