Teaching English composition with early modern-style “commonplace books”

This fall, I have been trying out a number of strategies to integrate writing exercises, literary readings, and Special Collections visits in my undergraduate pedagogy. These experiments – that’s the word I prefer to use – allow the classroom to become a kind of laboratory for humanistic inquiry and expression. In the course I’m currently teaching, an English composition seminar entitled “Forms of Belonging,” I use a variety of writing technologies and pedagogical media to help my students think carefully about the texts they read and the ideas they communicate verbally and in written forms. One assignment I’ve been using for this course is a seventeenth century-style “commonplace book.” Here, I’m adopting a pedagogical technique used already by many of my colleagues in early modern studies, including Colleen Kennedy, Adam G. Hooks, and many others; this account simply represents what has worked for me.

In this course, the commonplace book has encouraged my students to write regularly in an informal and process-oriented (rather than product-oriented) way. On the first day of class, I introduced my students to the idea of a commonplace book, spending about 5 to 10 minutes talking about what they were, who used them, and why. As a specialist in early modern literature, this was an opportunity to bring some field-specific knowledge into the composition classroom, but I kept it very light and brief so as to foreground the actual purpose of the exercise: regular writing practice. For commonplacers, I said, originality wasn’t a requirement – in fact, “gathering and framing” textual material from various sources (advertisements, texts we read in class we read, texts we don’t read in class, songs overheard on the radio, etc.) would be an ideal way to fulfill the assignment.

commonplace-book-1An affordable, spiral-bound “commonplace book” for my Eng 105 course  (with iPhone for size comparison).

I then passed out cheap, plastic-covered, pocket-size notebooks I bought at a local drugstore earlier that week, urging students to write their names in them and to personalize them textually as the term proceeded. I’ve collected these books every two weeks, not to scrutinize their contents but to survey my students’ writerly practice in an impressionistic way. If the three essay assignments in this course offer chances for me to evaluate my students’ work formally, the commonplace book (which stands as a portion of the participation grade) provides a more experimental platform to try out writing and to do it regularly. In my students’ books, I’ve found poetry, journal entries, notes on literature and class discussion, math problems, diagrams, and a variety of other kinds of scribbles and doodles. (For the sake of my students’ privacy, I will not show any examples, but leave you to imagine the range of creative and critical expression here.)

If this pedagogical strategy integrates the regular and experimental physical activity of writing with the readings in the course (and beyond), it also connects with the Special Collections units I’ve organized. For the first of these, which provided a material-textual dimension to our class discussions of Isabella Whitney’s “The Manner of Her Will” and Michel de Montaigne’s “On the Cannibals,” my students got a chance to see a real early modern commonplace book up close. On the first inscribed page, they observed how this book’s compiler was doing something similar to what they were in their blank books:

NU-MS-67-1Northwestern MS 67, fol. 2r. Kind courtesy of the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections.

This book, Northwestern MS 67, has handwriting in both italic and secretary scripts; arranged alphabetically, it includes passages from authors including Lucretius, Shakespeare, and Sidney. My students were particularly struck by the unfinished quality of this vellum-bound volume — over half its leaves are completely blank, really exposing this kind of text as a work-in-progress. Altogether, looking at this book enabled my students to think across time and across textual media, linking their own commonplacing experiments and composition exercises to the material text in front of them. It made for one of the best class meetings we had. Not all colleges or universities have commonplace books like MS 67, but digital resources can acquaint students with English miscellanies such as Folger E.a.1. This is certainly an exercise I’ll want to continue for a variety of courses, and I’ll be eager to learn new ideas about recruiting the commonplace book for teaching purposes (including from you, dear reader).

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A “prity one”: Frances Wolfreston’s copy of Thomas Heywood’s The English Traveller (1633)

The early modern reader Frances Wolfreston (1607-1677) has attracted a considerable amount of attention from scholars in recent decades. “Frances wolfreston her bouk,” she often wrote in her copies of seventeenth-century publications. Intriguingly, Wolfreston sometimes left short critical remarks in her books, rare and invaluable assessments of literature from a woman in early modern England.

If you’re reading this, you might know that these books aren’t all in the same place, which poses a challenge (or travel opportunity) to those who want to know more about Wolfreston’s reading habits. Dispersed among many research libraries, her collection includes the only surviving 1593 copy of Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis, which Johan Gerritsen discussed in pioneering 1964 article, as well as a Folger copy of Chaucer’s Workes (which Sarah Werner discusses here), a UPenn Q3 copy of Shakespeare’s Othello (which Werner also wrote about here), a book called The Schoole of Vertue at the University of Illinois and a copy of Mary Wroth’s Urania at Illinois State (both of which Sarah Lindenbaum wrote about here), and Boston Public Library copies of  The Merchant of VeniceThe Taming of the ShrewEastward Hoe, and A Pleasant Conceited Comedy, Wherein is Shewed, How a Man May Choose a Good Wife from a Bad (jointly discussed here by Lindenbaum, Lori Humphrey Newcomb, and Jay Moschella). In some cases, she indicates where she bought her books, or from whom. If you want to know more about these and other “bouks,” Paul Morgan’s 1989 article is an essential source, for it includes a list of 106 printed books owned by the Wolfreston family, with 95 of them inscribed by Frances.

This week, I came across Wolfreston’s copy of Thomas Heywood’s  The English Traveller at the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA (RB 64122). The catalog specified that this particular copy featured the book plate of Robert Hoe and that its binding was signed “Matthews.” Upon opening it, however, I was delighted to find both an autograph and a brief critical assessment from Wolfreston, who was 26 years old when The English Traveller was published. This was two years after she married the landowner Francis Wolfreston (as many have noted, this story isn’t one without a little name confusion; the Wolfrestons had children named Francis, too). Lindenbaum has told me that this copy of The English Traveller was included in a Sotheby’s sale of 1856 and that there are several other Wolfreston-Hoe books at the Huntington Library, though this Heywood playbook’s whereabouts have been obscure. On the first page of the play’s text, you can clearly read “francis wolfrest[on] / her bouk” (sig. A4r), and below the play’s prologue on the facing page, “prity one” (sig. A3v).

wolfreston_2wolfreston_1

By “prity,” Wolfreston may have meant something along the lines of cleverly done, ingenious, or artful (OEDadj. 1b) quite likely mingled with “pleasing; attractive or charming” (adj., 2b). To be sure, the fathers and sons in this tragicomedy ultimately reconcile, though a character named Mistress Wincott does die of grief after an secret affair with Young Geraldine’s best friend Dalavill (scandalously, Young Geraldine had been attracted to Mistress Wincott the whole time, with Mr. Wincott completely oblivious). Perhaps Wolfreston was won over by the comic subplot, which features – I kid you not – a scene in which drunken revelers collectively hallucinate a shipwreck inside another character’s home. Have I convinced you to read The English Traveller?

If you won’t take my word for it, know that Wolfreston generally had good things to say about Heywood’s works. She left an approving remark in the playwright’s Second Part of the Iron Age, and in her copy of A Pleasant Conceited Comedy, she wrote “a exeding prity on[e].” I should add that although scholars sometimes group Othello with The English Traveller on accounts of the plays’ common domestic themes, Wolfreston saw a distinction between them. Shakespeare’s play was “a sad one” and Heywood’s a “prity one.” (By the way, see Werner’s thoughtful reflections on Othello as, or as not, a “sad book.”) In this case, a reader’s annotations offer not only a declaration of ownership or a flash judgment, but commentary about tragicomedy, a dramatic genre that pointed in different directions. Following a thoughtful suggestion from Lindenbaum, I also was able to track down what could be Wolfreston’s copy of another Heywood playbook at the Huntington Library: The Foure Prentises of London (RB 54919). Its title page is missing, however, and though I looked carefully I found no inscriptions. Hopefully we come across more of this interesting woman’s “bouks.”

 

More Old Books Uncovered at Northwestern

The following post recounts some of the most recent work undertaken as part of the Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries project, an undergraduate-driven effort to report copies of early printed books in the American Midwest to the English Short Title Catalogue. (Of course, these efforts stretch well beyond the Midwest; read about a similar effort at Virginia Commonwealth University here.)

RBML began two years ago during the summer of 2014 and culminated in an exhibit showcasing dozens of items uncovered during the project (find a digest of the first phase here). Working from a checklist of local holdings compiled by Gary Strawn, Northwestern undergraduates Hannah Bredar, Erin Nelson, and Nicole Sheriko successfully “matched” over 1,200 pre-1701 items into the ESTC. This raised Northwestern’s representation in the catalog from an initial 188 items to almost 1,500. What remained after this portion of the project were books issued between 1683 and 1700, as well as our so-called “hard cases” — identifications requiring recourse to the physical item.

With funding generously granted from Northwestern University Libraries, RBML continues in its second phase this summer at Deering Library. In consultation with Special Collections head Scott Krafft and Professor Emeritus of English Martin Mueller, I’ve hired two undergraduates to participate in this project’s second phase: Katie Poland and Jake Phillips. Both are sharp-witted, dedicated, and undaunted by bibliographical terminology.

This month, and in less than two weeks, Katie and Jake have successfully stretched Northwestern’s ESTC representation to almost 2,500. Working through the year 1700 in the original checklist, they have also handled hundreds of hard cases, leafing through Northwestern’s early printed books to confirm an imprint or a tell-tale variant in order to match an item with an ESTC record. This project also provides opportunities to correct Northwestern’s local catalog as well.

Through their work, Katie and Jake have turned up dozens of difficult items resisting easy identification, from the famous to the obscure to the bizarre. In consultation with Professor Jeffrey Masten, they examined Northwestern’s copy of Shakespeare’s Second Folio (1632), which could be any of nine possible states of the book on account of its missing preliminary leaves (this item will receive more scrutiny during a dedicated project). They’ve also come up with nineteenth-century reproductions of mid-seventeenth century publications mistakenly cataloged as the real deal, and have puzzled through single-leaf items, title-pages in pen facsimile, and bound volumes containing a range of separately-issued publications.

While it’s quite unlikely for RBML to uncover a new edition for the ESTC altogether, Katie and Jake have identified what certainly seem to be previously-unreported issues of well-known books. One of these is an English translation of Réné Descartes’s A Discourse of a Method, printed in octavo in 1649 by the stationer Thomas Newcombe. Northwestern’s copy of this book represents a small, but unrecorded link in the early English reception history of Descartes.

rbml2

According to the ESTC, there are three known states of Newcombe’s edition of the Discourse, which was the first English translation of any of Descartes’s writings to appear in print. The first featured a bordered title-page, specifying in the imprint that it was made by Newcombe “for John Holden at the Anchour in the new Exchange.” A second issue retains this imprint, but lacks the decorative border. Yet another issue, also from 1649, lacks the border and does not include Holden’s name, reading simply “Printed by Thomas Newcombe. MDCXLIX.” and signed A4. Northwestern’s copy occupies a place among these latter two, during a period in which it seems Newcombe himself took over the sale of the book. It features the same setting of type throughout, but the imprint reads “Printed by Thomas Newcombe, and are to be sold at his house over against Baynards Castle. 1649.” (It is also signed A4). The lack of a record in the ESTC does not mean this issue is completely unknown, or that Northwestern possesses the only known copy of it. However, the creation of a corresponding record for this issue in the ESTC may help librarians and scholars track down and account for this book (and others like it) in a more complete and systematic manner.

This is only a small picture of the good work that Katie and Jake are doing this summer for Northwestern Special Collections in particular and for early modern researchers at large.

Recap @ NU: “In the Shadow of Shakespeare: 400 Years”

This post offers a recap of “In the Shadow of Shakespeare: 400 Years,” a single-evening exhibit and program on non-Shakespearean anniversaries held on April 7, 2016 at Northwestern University, and coordinated by the NU Early Modern Colloquium. Photos are courtesy of Elizabeth Rodriguez, English PhD candidate at NU and producer and host of the podcast Rude Tudors.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One of 2 copies at Northwestern: Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, Comedies and Tragedies (London, 1647). Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, L Kestnbaum B379p.

2016, as you probably know, has been defined largely as “the year of Shakespeare.” All over the U.S. and the English-speaking world (and beyond), universities, schools, libraries, theaters, and cultural institutions of all kinds – even restaurants (!) – are celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. “Too much, or not too much: That is the question,” began a December 2015 Wall Street Journal article on this year’s worldwide celebration. For those answering “Not too much,” the First Folio is coming or has come to a city near you, thanks to a program put together by the Folger Shakespeare Library.

And if we can understand all this excitement as a kind of Renaissance earthquake jolting us from our modern sensibilities (one can hope), Chicago is arguably its epicenter. With 850 events at 120 sites across the city, and featuring more than 1,000 artists from around the world, Shakespeare 400 Chicago is an impressive feat. As someone who studies the literature and culture of the Renaissance, I’m lucky to live in the midst of all Chicago’s Shakespearean enthusiasm, and I’ve also been glad to participate in writing for City Desk along with several of my colleagues and other early modernists in the greater Chicago area. Like a number of universities, Northwestern has its own program, too: ShakespeaRevel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll 19 items included in this open exhibit featured a label written up by a PhD student. The display highlighted Beaumont and Cervantes, but also featured a broader context: works by King James I, Michel de Montaigne, Samuel Purchas, Edmund Spenser. The stationer William Stansby was responsible in some way for several of these items.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANU faculty and students examine early printed books selected for “In the Shadow of Shakespeare.”

But in coordinating “In the Shadow of Shakespeare: 400 Years” at Northwestern, and in a way intended not to undermine, but to accompany and expand these citywide festivities, my early modernist colleagues and I wished to ask: “What else?” and “Who else?” Here, we hoped to join the  conversation surrounding the Beaumont400 Conference at King’s College London, the “Dare to Tell” Ben Jonson conference at the University of St Andrews, and Cervantes programs at the Newberry Library, the University of Pennsylvania, and other institutions too numerous to list (see #Cervantes400). We know Shakespeare’s life came to an end in 1616, certainly. But what about the Elizabethan theater entrepreneur Philip Henslowe, whose diary has been a major source for our knowledge about Renaissance drama? He died the same year. Or Francis Beaumont, Shakespeare’s playwright contemporary, also dead in 1616? Or the English writer and voyager Richard Hakluyt, who died that year as well?

Of course, 1616 also witnessed the publication of Ben Jonson’s Workes, a dramatic folio without which it is difficult to comprehend the importance of Shakespeare’s First Folio (even as we dust off forgotten copies here and here). The year 1616 also saw the opening of the Cockpit Theater in London. Going beyond England, what about Miguel de Cervantes, Spanish playwright arguably as influential as Shakespeare in the history of Western literature? Died in 1616. Or Tang Xianzu, a Chinese playwright responsible for the Mudan Ting (The Peony Pavilion) and commemorated in a recent edited collection? There’s another. And what about 500 years ago? Thomas More’s Utopia and Lodovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso both saw print for the first time in 1516.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMiguel de Cervantes, The [Second Part of the] History of The Valorous and Witty-Knight-Errant; Don-Quixote, of the Mancha, trans. Thomas Shelton (London, 1672-75), Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, Large 863.3 C41dXs.4

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“In the Shadow of Shakespeare” attracted faculty, students, & staff from Art History, Classics, English, French & Italian, Gender & Sexuality Studies, NU Libraries, Spanish & Portuguese, and Theater and Drama.

To broaden this year’s 1616 conversation in Chicago (and beyond), “In the Shadow of Shakespeare” featured a PhD student-curated exhibit of 19 early printed books featuring some (not all) of the figures listed above. In this way, it built upon ongoing collaborations at Northwestern between humanities faculty, graduate students, and librarians, especially Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries in 2014-15.  Significantly, it also included a series of brief talks by early modernist faculty from diverse fields: William West (English and Classics), Jeffrey Masten (English & Gender & Sexuality Studies) Dario Fernandez-Morera (Spanish & Portuguese), Sylvester Johnson (African American Studies & Religious Studies), Kelly Wisecup (English), Paola Zamperini (Asian Languages & Cultures), and Sophie Lemercier-Goddard (visiting this month from the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon).

Limited to five minutes apiece, each speaker posed insightful and provocative questions: If we’d retained seventeenth-century dramatic tastes and valued Beaumont above Shakespeare today, what might we quote instead of “To be, or not to be?” What can we learn from closely examining the clothing in Simon van de Passe’s 1616 engraving of Matoaka (Pocahontas)? How could an electronic edition of Samuel Purchas’s writings expand our knowledge of early modern culture, religion, and race? What were the dramatic afterlives of More’s Utopia? Beginning in Shakespeare’s London and expanding outward to the Mediterranean, the Atlantic World, and the Far East, “In the Shadow of Shakespeare” illustrated the many advantages of delving into a single year in time – across countries, languages, and modern departmental disciplines – and using local collections to inspire curiosity and intellectual exchange. Perhaps we’ll do it all again in 2023, while the rest of the world zeroes in ever-closer on the First Folio.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe exhibit also featured this messy copy of Spenser from the same decade. Do you like early handwriting? Edmund Spenser, The faerie qveen. The shepheards calendar (London, 1617), Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, Large 821.3 S74f1617.

Beyond the people mentioned above, there are many people to thank for the success of “In the Shadow of Shakespeare.” The Early Modern Colloquium is deeply indebted to: Scott Krafft, Jason Nargis, and the library staff at the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections; Tonia Grafakos and the Northwestern Preservation staff; Sarah Pritchard, Dean of Libraries and Charles Deering McCormick University Librarian; Kasey Evans, English Department faculty liaison to the EMC; graduate students Anne Boemler, Meghan Costa, Rebecca Fall, Lee Huttner, Simon Nyi, Raashi Rastogi, Jason Rosenholtz-Witt, and EMC Co-Coordinator Emily Wood; at the Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, Postdoctoral Fellow Danny Snelson, Graduate Assistant Ira Murfin, and Director Wendy Wall; for library logistics, Suzette Radford, Kolter Campbell, Clare Roccaforte, and Drew Scott. Finally, support for this program came from all the EMC’s 2015-2016 sponsors, including English, French & Italian, the Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, Religious Studies, Science in Human Culture, Spanish & Portuguese, Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences, and Ed Muir.

Bilingual drama & Renaissance language-learning

As some of you know, I’m crazy about books, especially old ones. I wouldn’t consider myself a serious book collector, but a couple times a year I treat myself to an early printed book of some kind. Although early editions of drama in the English language tend to be far beyond a graduate student’s budget, Continental imprints are often fairly affordable. It’s my research on Renaissance language-learning and translation that led me to my latest acquisition, a 1610 bilingual edition of Giovanni Battista Guarini’s tragicomedy Il Pastor Fido.

pastor_fido_tpGiovanni Battista Guaraini, Le Berger Fidelle / Il Pastor Fido (Paris: Matthieu Guillemot, 1610), title page. Personal collection.

Adding the French title Le Berger Fidelle to Guarini’s Italian play, the title page of this book adds that it is “Faict Italien et françois pour l’vtilité de ceux qui desirent apprandre les deux langues” [Made Italian and French for the use of those who desire to learn the two languages]. Il Pastor Fido was first published in Venice in 1590, in quarto. This stout octavo edition follows a series of  French, English, and Spanish translations of the play as well as an Italian edition issued in London by the stationer John Wolfe — and aims specifically at an audience of language-learners. In a preface, the translator asserts that the Italian language “entre les langues vulgaires a cest ho[n]neur d’auoir plus de grace & de mignardise que pas vne autre, pour exprimer vne amoureuse passion” [among the vulgar languages has this honor of having more grace and preciousness than any other, to express an amorous passion]. Il Pastor Fido, a tragicomedy featuring ancient prophecies, unrequited love, and mistaken identities, offers fertile ground for these “amorous passions.” Here, then, is a dramatic application of the language-learning techniques Joyce Boro finds in the period’s bilingual prose romances.

Like many bilingual language-learning books issued in Europe at this time, the play’s text is arranged in a facing-page layout, Italian on the verso, & French on the recto. This arrangement extends to the paratext as well. “Le persone che parlano” appears before the Italian list of characters, facing “LES PERSONNAGES” in French, while during the first act one sees “ATTO PRIMO” at the top of each verso, “ACTE I.” at the top of each corresponding recto:

pastor_fido_layout Giovanni Battista Guarini, Le Berger Fidelle / Il Pastor Fido (Paris: Matthieu Guillemot, 1610), A2v-A3r. Personal collection.

Like many bilingual or polyglot publications from the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, this book differentiates languages with its use of typefaces. Italian appears here in italic, while the stationers selected roman for the French. Altogether, this book presents an example of how dramatic publications could be designed specifically for language-learning, and — as Anne Coldiron and Guyda Armstrong have suggested — shows how the principle of translation was not only a linguistic concern, but also a typographic and paratextual concern.

Foreign-language phrasebooks and the language of Renaissance comedy

If you lived in Shakespeare’s England and needed to learn a foreign language, you had a few options. Using traditional methods, you could study with a tutor or journey abroad to converse with native speakers. At this time, however, it was also possible to learn foreign languages from printed dialogues in bilingual or polyglot phrasebooks (you can listen to historian John Gallagher talk about these foreign-language manuals here). Here’s an example from the widely-published Colloquia, originally composed by Noël de Berlaimont in the 1530s:

Figure 1. Dictionariolvm et colloqvia octo lingvarvm, Latinae, Gallicae, Belgicae, Tevtonicae, Hispanicae, Italicae, Anglicae & Portugalicae (Antverpiae: Apud Henricvm Aertsens, 1662). Northwestern University, shelfmark 413 D554.

Abbie Weinberg wrote about editions of Berlaimont’s dialogues earlier this year for The Collation, paying special attention to their unique mise-en-page and diminutive size. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, this oblong manual witnessed nearly 150 editions from Lisbon to Warsaw, and over a period of almost 300 years. As you can see in the photo above, it could include some combination of Latin, French, Dutch, German, Spanish, Italian, English, and/or Portuguese. The contents included a guide to letter-writing, a dictionary, and a short grammatical treatise, along with a lively set of dialogues.

Dialogues were also the substance of John Florio’s Italian-English conversation guides, First Fruites (1578) and Second Frvtes (1591). The first manual begins with “familiare speache,” including greetings and a bit of commentary on the theater (not all good):

John Florio, Florio his firste fruites (London, 1578). Huntington Library 60820.

Figure 2. John Florio, Florio his firste Fruites (London, 1578), STC 11096. Huntington Library, shelfmark 60820, in EEBO.

In Florio’s Second Frvtes, interlocutors would discuss the theater again, remarking on how in England one can find “neither right comedies, nor right tragedies.” Rather, there are “[r]epresentations of histories, without any decorum” (D4r).

Understandably, the dialogues of Berlaimont, Florio, and others have captured the attention of scholars, who often comment on the theatrical nature of these exchanges.  In his book-length study of early modern Anglo-Italian relations, Michael Wyatt recognizes a “theatrical structure” in Florio’s bilingual dialogues (The Italian Encounter, 167). William N. West notes in a discussion of cant in Jacobean theater how “the dramatic potential” of bilingual language manuals could be brought to the stage (“Talking the Talk,” 234).  More recently, Joyce Boro has stated that these multilingual dialogues have “affinities to closet drama” (Tudor Translation, 22).

These observations raise bigger questions for me, though. First, if language-learning dialogues seem so similar to Renaissance plays, then exactly why do they seem so similar? Put differently, what are the characteristics governing both genres? Second, if language-learning dialogues and drama are indeed categorically similar, which plays — in which genre, or by which author — are these dialogues most like? Finally, and perhaps most consequentially, how might this generic similarity come to influence our understanding of Renaissance drama?

To begin to answer these questions — and that “begin” is key, so if you’re looking for a definitive answer, best to stop reading now — I opted for a large-scale analysis of dramatic and language-learning dialogue texts using the linguistics analysis software DocuScope (created by David Kaufer and Suguru Ishizaki). In using DocuScope to assess dramatic genres, I’m taking an approach indebted to Jonathan Hope and Michael Witmore, who have used this software to investigate Shakespearean genre, and Ted Underwood, who reminds us how blurry our agreed-upon genres can be. Breaking language down into strings of characters, DocuScope uses more than 100 language action types, or LATs for short, to identify words and phrases common to lots and lots of texts. With this approach, I can investigate dozens of characteristics of these texts at a single blow, drilling down where appropriate in order to assess  more nuanced similarities at the level of the sentence.  For the dramatic texts, I used a corpus of 320 works of early English drama curated by Martin Mueller.

This is where things start to get messy, though. For the language-learning dialogues, I combined 3 EEBO-TCP texts available to me with 6 that I keyed myself, using only the English text columns, and stripping out speech prefixes to match Mueller’s corpus. (Polyglot or bilingual texts have been a relatively low priority for TCP; altogether, the keying amounted to a little over 82,000 words.) Furthermore, none of these 9 texts I’m comparing with Mueller’s corpus have yet been processed with Alistair Baron’s VARD modernization software. (The complexities of using VARD for early modern texts are documented here on the Visualizing English Print blog). Not using VARD certainly adds noise to the results — as the saying goes, “Garbage in, garbage out” — but I’m willing to take the risk in the hopes that some shared characteristics do emerge from the test. Consider this as a single and rather early  stopping-point on the longer road of these questions.

Processed with DocuScope and displayed in the statistical suite JMP, the texts look like this:

doscuscope_dia_fig_5a_nocitcomfix

Figure 3. Principal component analysis of 320 works of Renaissance drama and 9 language-learning dialogues.

Each color indicates a separate genre  (as you can see, DocuScope is quite good at distinguishing comedies from tragedies). My mini-corpus of language-learning dialogues appears here in green, and occupies a diagonal path through the lower portion of the chart (keep in mind, though, that we’re looking at hundreds of dimensions at once, so “lower” or “left” have little true meaning here). Left to right according to this visualization, they are: Benvenuto Italian’s The Passenger (1612, Ita-Eng), John Florio’s Firste Fruites (1578, Ita-Eng), John Eliot’s Ortho-epia Gallica (1593, Fre-Eng), John Minsheu’s Pleasant and Delightfull Dialogues (1599, Spa-Eng), John Florio’s Second Frvtes (1591, Ita-Eng), Claudius Hollyband’s French Littelton (1576, Fre-Eng), Claudius Hollyband’s French Schoolemaister (1573, Fre-Eng), William Stepney’s Spanish Schoole-master (1591, Spa-Eng), and Noël de Berlaimont’s Colloquia (1639 ed., Polyglot).

At a first glance, it seems many of our dialogues are just a bunch of outliers. There are probably good reasons for this, though. First, discrepancy of modernization might be one. Processing my mini-corpus of 9 language-learning dialogues with VARD could address this issue down the road, though only as well as I’d match the conventions in Mueller’s drama corpus, I think. Second, the length of texts is a factor, and an important one at that. Simply put, some of these dialogues are short, and others are very long. Hollyband’s French Littleton amounts to just under 5,000 words, while The Passenger weighs in at a whopping 103,862. Chunking the texts — that is, breaking them up into smaller units — could begin to address this issue, even if it involves its own methodological curveballs.

With those caveats on the table, it’s worth remarking that these language-learning dialogues stand out from other dialogues published in the period. According to Visualizing English Print‘s Beth Ralston, writing in March 2015 on an effort to map the ‘whole’ of early modern drama, Renaissance dialogues tend to “have lengthy monologues, which might explain why they fall mostly on the side of the tragedies.” Her diagram, published on Wine Dark Sea, appears below:

dialogues_ralston

Figure 4. VEP’s principal component analysis of 704 early modern dramatic texts, with dialogues highlighted in black. Accessed 9/5/2015 at Wine Dark Sea.

This picture, however, is not what we find for the language-learning dialogues at all. Even if the complications I briefly addressed above play a role here, my corpus of 9 texts clearly falls on the side of comedies instead.

This observation leads me to ask a few more specific questions that might get us somewhere. What accounts for The Passenger‘s position among an odd mix of plays — a comedy (Nashe’s Summer’s Last Will and Testament), a tragicomedy (Heywood’s 1 Iron Age), and a tragedy (Marlowe and Nashe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage)? What about Florio’s Firste Fruites is so similar to The Fortunate Isles and their Union, a masque by Ben Jonson? And what factors might land the same author’s Second Frvtes in close relation to Thomas Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday and Jonson’s The Alchemist (both known today as fairly important “city comedies”)?

Identifying relevant LAT vectors will help us to identify the characteristics common to drama and the dialogues. It’s really messy, but have a look at the 100+ LATS used for this test (not all of them are significant):

doscuscope_dia_fig_2aFigure 5. Visualization of vectors for this test representing DocuScope’s 100+ LATs.

Here, the vectors illustrate the statistical relationships most relevant for generic distinctions among our texts. The direction of the vectors indicates the relative co-occurrence of LATs, and the length of the vectors indicates the strength of their influence upon generic relationships. Focusing on the  lower right-hand quadrant, we find a number of LATs commonly associated with comedies: Directives_Imperative, Elaboration_Numbers, Character_OralCues, and Interactive_Question.

If we look at Interactive_Question more closely, we find this LAT to be associated first with our dialogues, and second with a handful of Jonson’s city comedies. This LAT uses punctuation to indicate a request of specific information, which makes some sense for books designed to introduce readers to foreign vocabulary, phrases, and information. (Think of lessons in today’s language textbooks: “How much does it cost? Dov’è la stazione? Combien d’etudiants sont-ils?”) The texts in this corpus exemplifying Interactive_Question to the highest degree are Hollyband’s French Schoolemaister, Berlaimont’s Colloquia, and Stepney’s Spanish Schoole-master, each of them in our lower-righthand quadrant. We also find that Jonson’s city comedies The Alchemist, The Case is Altered, and Every Man Out of his Humour display this LAT prominently, along with Heywood’s A Maidenhead Well Lost, Dekker’s Honest Whore, and Fletcher’s The Chances. Even if the diagram presents the Hollyband, Berlaimont, and Stepney dialogues as outliers, this test suggests that they nonetheless have something in common with these particular works of drama. The next step would be to look closely at what types of interactive questions one finds in the dialogues vs. in the plays, and to assess those relationships on more qualitative terms.

With a similar approach, we can begin to investigate the relationship between Florio’s Second Frvtes and Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday, which I find a little more interesting. Looking at DocuScope’s tagged texts for the dialogue and the play, we see several coinciding LATs, among them Descript_SenseObject, Assert_First_Person, and Interactive_You_Reference. I’ll just focus on these three for now. Descript_SenseObject consists of concrete nouns, and accounts for the five senses’ perception and experience of objects. Assert_First_Person consists of self-referential language (I, me, etc.), while Interactive_You_Reference refers to a second party (you, thee, thy, etc.). These LAT definitions are based upon DocuScope’s 2008 dictionaries.

To really find out how these LATs play out, we’ll have to take a closer look at the texts. After all, as Witmore and Hope put it, “Digitally based research is not an end point: its findings need to be tested against the texts” (369). Scanning through the tagged texts of Second Frvtes and The Shoemaker’s Holiday, we can highlight and identify specific passages that feature these LATs, then compare them to see if any patterns emerge.

Florio’s dialogues often unfold a series of related vocabulary items during verbal exchanges between two speakers. In DocuScope, the result is often a chain of Descript_SenseObject punctuated by Assert_First_Person and Interactive_You_Reference. In Florio’s first chapter, a servant named Ruspa is helping his master Torquato get dressed in the morning:

doscuscope_dia_fig_10a

Figure 6. Tagged text of Florio’s Second Frvtes in DocuScope, with Descript_SenseObject, Assert_First_Person, and Interactive_You_Reference highlighted.

In this passage, Florio’s interlocutors deal out a series of nouns related to apparel, fashion, and hygiene, words that would appear on the facing page in Italian. DocuScope identifies 15 instances of Descript_SenseObject, and would recognize more if this text were modernized with VARD. (The human eye can identify several more, a testament to our brains’ immensely complex and sophisticated furniture). Accompanying this catalog-like list of things are first-person and second-person pronouns that cushion the vocabulary and frame it into a coherent exchange between two persons. In Florio’s lessons, there’s a need to discuss physical objects (“shirtes,” “handkerchers,” “bands,” “cuffs,” etc.) often many at a single time, as well as a tendency to attribute them to an owner as they circulate or change hands (“your,” “your,” “me,” “my,” etc.).

The Shoemaker’s Holiday features a similar kind of interplay between these three LATs, particularly in scenes between two characters that concern material goods or commodities. In these moments, and there are there are several of them, “I/me/my” and “you/your” mix together with lists of nouns. Let’s look at a particular example which I was able to identify in DocuScope’s marked-up text. In Act IV, Scene 1, a gentleman named Hammon is speaking with Jane, a shoemaker’s wife. Her husband has been sent off to war, and Hammon hopes to woo Jane while she’s alone. He speaks a scorned lover’s soliloquy at the beginning of the scene, but when he first addresses Jane, the text’s language shifts into a mode characterized by Descript_SenseObject, Assert_First_Person, and Interactive_You_Reference. Although the text processed with DocuScope has been modernized, I present the unmodernized version from EEBO-TCP here to help retain a focus on the historical context. Our relevant LATs are highlighted in red, blue, and yellow:

Iane.
Sir, what ist you buy?
What ist you lacke sir? callico, or lawne,
Fine cambricke shirts, or bands, what will you buy?
Ham.
That which thou wilt not sell, faith yet Ile trie:
How do you sell this handkercher?
Iane.
Good cheape.

Ham.
And how these ruffes?

Iane.
Cheape too.

Ham.
And how this band?

Iane.
Cheape too.

Ham.
All cheape, how sell you then this hand?

Iane.
My handes are not to be solde.
(F3v)

In this scene, Hammon and Jane begin their interaction according a script one recognizes in several language-learning dialogues in this period (“to buy and to sell” being an important component of these manuals). With a series of Interactive_You_Reference (blue), Jane lists a number of objects that DocuScope recognizes as belonging to Descript_SenseObject (yellow): “callico,” “lawne,” “shirts,” and “bands,” and Hammon responds with similar language: “handkercher,” “ruffes,” “band,” etc. However, at a certain point, “hand” joins this list of commodities as Hammon begins to woo Jane, turning from potential customer to potential lover. Although he tries to replace the dialogue’s focus on “I/me” and “you” with a first person plural — “Good sweete, leaue worke a little while, lets play” — Jane refuses to follow him, claiming her hands as her own (“My”), and this resistance matches what Hope and Witmore observe in Twelfth Night between Cesario/Viola and Olivia (372). Altogether, the language we find here in Dekker’s play — and this is one out of several passages featuring these characteristics — resembles the instructional dialogues of Florio and other language tutors. Furthermore, the many questions in this exchange — identified in DocuScope as Interactive_Question — illustrates this scene’s similarity to the dialogues of Hollyband, Stepney, and Berlaimont, located in the lower right-hand quadrant of our PCA diagram.

Some of this might seem rather unsurprising to scholars of Renaissance drama. After all, it’s well established that comedies, and city comedies in particular, tend to focus on commodities and rapid exchanges between pairs of characters. Karen Newman’s important essay “City Talk” discusses this connection, particularly as it relates to women in Ben Jonson’s Epicene. Douglas Bruster uses the term “materialist vision” to account for this phenomenon in these plays (Drama and the Market, 38-46). So, couldn’t we identify these two passages’ similar characteristics without computers?

The answer: of course we could. The difference here, however, is that we can identify this generic similarity at the level of the sentence, in a way that can point us to fresh sites for convincing close readings. If these multilingual books for language-learners have something in common with the period’s drama after all, and we can identify it at this nuanced level, how does this knowledge affect our understanding of plays like The Shoemaker’s Holiday? Furthermore, what sense can we make out of this play’s disguised Dutchman and garbled mock-Dutch, or the pretend Spaniard in Jonson’s The Alchemist? Like Bruster, I’ve questioned the sub-genre of “city comedy” before along transnational lines, and computational approaches may offer alternative approaches to these same questions. Though we often  talk about the “dramatic potential” of Florio’s dialogues, could we begin to see Renaissance plays alternatively as “staged dialogues?”

These reflections come out of some investigations I made earlier this summer as part of Early Modern Digital Agendas: Advanced Topics (find our conversations documented at #EMDA2015). I’m grateful to all participants and faculty for their suggestions, especially Michael Witmore, Jonathan Hope, and Jacob Tootalian.

Phase 1 Report: “Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries”

As some of you know, I’ve been working and communicating this summer with a number of librarians, undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty members at several universities across the Midwest. Our collective goal has been to report certain eligible Special Collections items — namely, printed materials published between 1473 and 1700 in the English language or in English territories — to the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC). The effort to increase awareness of these Midwestern copies of early printed books is beneficial both to scholars of the Renaissance and to the libraries that hold them. “Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries,” has recently reached the end of its first phase, and not without some significant success. What follows is a summary and report of this progress as we prepare for phase two. (I’ll be talking more about all this next month, both at the IIT Digital Humanities Series and at the Chicago Colloquium on Digital Humanities & Computer Science.)

First, a word on where we began. A comparison of reported items at eight private, prominent institutions in the Northeastern United States to those of the Midwestern universities making up the Humanities Without Walls consortium reveals a general discrepancy in numbers:

IL 1473-1700

HWW 1473-1700 [initial]2Institution Codes (ESTC)

Both tables reflect reported holdings as of May 2014, and remember here that although the ESTC includes items published up to the year 1800, we are limiting ourselves to 1700 for the sake of ease. Although the reported ESTC holdings of the University of Illinois, the University of Chicago, and the University of Minnesota stand in relatively the same ballpark as those of Ivy League institutions (that is, the 5,000+ range), most HWW institutions appear to have fewer than 2,000 items. Northwestern’s holdings, for instance, amount to just under 200 according to this chart. My own work at Northwestern Special Collections, however, and my realization that many of the items I paged were not listed in the ESTC, strongly suggested to me that this picture did not reflect actual holdings at all. I suspected that this was also the case at Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, Notre Dame, and other institutions in the HWW consortium.

The first round of the Global Midwest Initiative project that I proposed aimed to address this issue at Northwestern and to stimulate simultaneous projects at other HWW institutions. Working first with Gary Strawn and Sigrid Perry at Northwestern, I devised a list of 2,687 Special Collections items eligible for inclusion in the ESTC. Then, with a team of skilled Northwestern undergraduates — Hannah Bredar, Erin Nelson, and Nicole Sheriko — we reported the items to the catalog one by one, flagging doubtful items for a later, second pass. The project thus operates as an effort in both cataloging and pedagogy.

By the end of the firspiet phase of this project, we had entered 1,231 items to the ESTC, raising Northwestern’s representation in the catalog for the interval 1473-1700 from an initial 188 items to 1,419 items.  The pie chart to the left offers a view of the total 2, 687 items in our starting list, the work we completed, and the work remaining. This portion will include the 1683-1700 items, which we have not yet reached, as well as the “hard cases,” which are currently flagged for deeper assessment in the archive during the project’s second phase.

The project has seen substantial success thus far. However, there is still much more to do. We invite others to join with Northwestern, Iowa, and Wisconsin in an effort to make visible to ESTC users the many Renaissance books that the American Midwest has to offer. Feel free to get in touch with any questions or suggestions as we prepare for the next round.