The Elizabethan Top Ten

Defining Print Popularity in Early Modern England

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  • Edited by Andy Kesson, University of Roehampton, UK and Emma Smith, Hertford College, Oxford, UK
  • Series : Material Readings in Early Modern Culture
  • 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.

  • Contents: Introduction: towards a definition of print popularity, Andy Kesson and Emma Smith; Part 1 Methodologies: What is print popularity? A map of the Elizabethan book trade, Alan B. Farmer and Zachary Lesser; ‘O read me for I am of great antiquity’: old books and Elizabethan popularity, Lucy Munro; ‘Rare poems ask rare friends’: popularity and collecting in Elizabethan England, Helen Smith; Shakespeare’s popularity and the origins of the canon, Neil Rhodes. Part 2 The Elizabethan Top Ten: Almanacs and ideas of popularity, Adam Smyth; Print, popularity and the Book of Common Prayer, Brian Cummings; International news pamphlets, S.K. Barker; Spenser’s popular intertexts, Abigail Shinn; Household manuals, Catherine Richardson; Damask papers, Juliet Fleming; Sermons, Lori Anne Ferrell; The psalm book, Beth Quitslund; Serial publication and romance, Louise Wilson; Mucedorus, Peter Kirwan; Bibliography; Index.

  • About the Editor: 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.

  • Reviews: ‘The Elizabethan Top Ten is a rigorous, entertaining and provocative set of studies in the print culture of a defining era. Given the number of avenues it opens up, and the new lights it throws upon an apparently familiar scene, Smith and Kesson’s wish that it will prompt more debate seems certain to be amply fulfilled.’ Quite Irregular Blog

    ‘It would be good if The Elizabethan Top Ten achieved some measure of popularity itself, as it is an interesting and engaging work which also combines and balances different elements.’ Times Literary Supplement

    '... The Elizabethan Top Ten offers more than ten compelling reasons for deserving popularity among humanities scholars and students.'
    Journal of British Studies

  • Extracts from this title are available to view:

    Full contents list

    Introduction

    Index