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.


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.

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:


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:


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:


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:

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

And how these ruffes?

Cheape too.

And how this band?

Cheape too.

All cheape, how sell you then this hand?

My handes are not to be solde.

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.

c17 Quarto Playbooks at Northwestern

In keeping with the “Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries” project I’ve been running this summer, today I’m going to discuss a couple more early printed items in Northwestern’s Special Collections library.

The subject of this post is dramatic quartos. Scanning a spreadsheet of our Special Collections holdings, I’ve counted a modest, but respectable total of 24 playbooks published in quarto between 1620 and 1660. (There are a number of later c17 playbooks too, but I’m keeping the window narrow for now.) This collection include works by Francis Beaumont, George Chapman, John Fletcher, Philip Massinger, Thomas Middleton, and James Shirley, among others. Shirley is the best-represented playwright in Northwestern’s playbook collection by a good margin; of the 24 items here, 10 feature Shirley’s name on their title pages.

Printed in 1640 by Thomas Cotes for William Cooke, The Humorous Courtier is one among several of these Shirley playbooks. This is a Caroline-era comedy of courtship in which Duke Foscari contends for the hand of the Duchess of Mantua along with a gaggle of pompously eloquent, misogynistic, and foolish suitors. (Naturally, since he is a duke, he woos in disguise.) An especially interesting feature of this playbook is the prefatory catalog of 20 Shirley plays available in print at the time of this book’s issue:

Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, shelfmark 822.4 S55hu

Such catalogs were becoming more common at this time and served a growing audience for printed drama in light of the closing of the theaters (also in 1640). Since Cooke published other works by Shirley, he obviously had something to gain by including this list. 9 of these titles can be found at Northwestern, along with The Opportunitie, not listed here but also published by Cooke in 1640. (For those wondering, The Opportunitie was entered in the Stationers’ Register to Andrew Crooke and William Cooke on April 25, 1639, about 3 months before The Humorous Courtier was entered to Cooke.)

Published three years earlier by Crooke in 1637, The Gamester is a triple-plotted Shirley comedy that treats of sex, gambling, and dueling. This is one of Northwestern’s more interesting quarto playbooks on account of its “used” condition. If you can’t already see what I’m talking about just by looking at the title page, keep scrolling…

Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, shelfmark 822.4 S55g

Although prefatory material was not uncommon in printed drama at this time, the Gamester quarto of 1637 does not feature any.  To remedy the situation, perhaps, an early reader tipped in (between sig. A1 and A2) their own “Persons of the Comedy”:

Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, shelfmark 822.4 S55g

These markings show us how one reader attempted to bridge the gap between this Shirley quarto and other playbooks with useful character lists or other paratextual materials. Rather than forcing readers to jump into the play without any foreknowledge of the characters, this inscribed copy offers a guide to the “Persons” (“Hazard,” or “Mr. Barnacle”) and, in some cases, their relationships to each other (“louer of Violante,” “Nephew to Barnacle,” “Cousen to Wilding”). You can see that some inscriptions have been cropped at the bottom, most likely when the book was bound.

If we look at the title page’s verso, there is further evidence of book use. First of all, it looks like the same reader has traced the title through the leaf and written it again — strangely — in a half-backwards script. (These markings we can call “pen trials.”) Below this, however, are fragments of a verse and what could be the name of our reader here. Deferring as usual to the more gifted paleographers out there, I transcribe thus:

Cloris farwell for if with y
I longer stay ….

Will Macey[?]

Searching EEBO for “Cloris farewell,” I turned up what seem to be a few versions of a song. John Wilson’s Select ayres and dialogues for one, two, and three voyces, to the theorbo-lute or basse-viol (1659, Wing W2909) includes a song attributed to Henry Lawes that begins, “Cloris, farewell, I now must go, / for if with thee I here doe stay…” (O2r). The music appears here, too. There are other “Cloris” songs in this volume, and a search through EBBA turns up quite a few others. Published shortly after Wilson’s book, Thomas Jordan’s  A royal arbor of loyal poesie (1663, Wing J1058) includes a song entitled “The Broken Contract,” which appears with “Tune, Cloris farewell, I needs must go” (2D4r).

In addition to these two, I found a similar verse in a miscellany published in 1694 by Jacob Tonson (Wing D2237). The book’s extended title is The Annual miscellany, for the year 1694 being the fourth part of Miscellany poems: containing great variety of new translations and original copies by the most eminent hands. Yale’s copy is available to EEBO subscribers, and I found this relevant section (copied here according to fair use):


Because they include the phrase “I longer stay,” one might suspect that the lines inscribed in Northwestern’s copy of The Gamester could be a recollection of Edmund Waller’s version of this song. However, because we’re dealing with lines that appear to have been circulating freely for many decades in manuscript and print, we cannot definitively say that our reader is copying from any particular source. A better question might be: why would a reader inscribe these lines in this particular playbook, as opposed to another? What is it about The Gamester?

As for the person responsible for the Cloris lines, the title-tracing, and the “Persons of the Comedy” (“Will[iam] Macey,” perhaps?) there is more searching to be done that would refine this investigation. But until then, know that Northwestern has a fair number of early quarto playbooks, and quite a few of them by James Shirley.

A 1595 Geneva Bible at Northwestern . . . and water damage

In this post, I’ll give you all a look into the Humanities Without Walls project I’m piloting this summer, “Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries.” (With a little luck, this’ll be the first of several installments.) Thanks to the instrumental help of my research assistants Hannah Bredar, Erin Nelson, and Nicole Sheriko, as well as the constant aid of librarians and faculty at Northwestern and elsewhere, I’m proud to say that thus far the project has almost tripled number of Northwestern’s early print holdings (from 1473 to 1700) represented in the ESTC. When we began there were only 188 items registered, and now there are 555. With a couple months of the summer ahead of us, as well as a good portion of Fall term allotted to the project, we aim to raise this number even higher, bringing Northwestern’s Special Collections holdings digitally to the view of scholars searching today’s most extensive bibliographic catalog for early printed books. Ideally, a second round of funding will allow the project to expand into our eighteenth-century holdings and out to other institutions as well.

100_3776A particularly interesting item that I had to page at Special Collections (meaning it was a “hard case,” unmatchable to an ESTC record by online catalog consultation alone) is this raggy old Geneva Bible, published by Christopher Barker in 1595. I photographed the Bible like this because its front matter and final few leaves have been lost, as have many leaves and portions of leaves throughout its entirety. (Northwestern’s catalog reads: “NUL copy incomplete: t.p. and numerous pages missing at beginning and end, many pages mutilated.”) Looking at the ESTC records in the hopes of a match, I could not identify an edition of Barker’s Geneva Bible of 1595 that fit perfectly with this item. That could mean one of a few things. First, it could be me: I might just need to devote more time to the volume in the hopes of matching it with the variant details listed in the ESTC. Second, though, it could be that this is an extant state of a particular edition that has yet to be recorded. This can sometimes be the case. That the date on the “NEWE TESTAMENT” title page is not dated 1594 made this seem a possibility; the title page is dated 1595 here. (STC 2161 has”Newe” and is dated 1594.) Third, there may not yet be enough criteria available in the ESTC that survives in this very fragmentary Bible to verify it as belonging to any particular record.


But let’s take a look at the really interesting part of this book: its messy survival condition. I defer to Aaron Pratt when it comes to early printed Bibles, but this particular one interested me enough for me to write a few things here about its history and provenance. As you can see in the photos I’ve included, certain early owners of the book inscribed their names in it and crossed out the names of previous owners; this is a common practice among Renaissance readers. I held the leaves this way to show how the manuscript annotations, pen-trials, and markings in this book add to an already-rich typographical texture  (see the cartographic woodcut on the mangled verso, as well as the woodblock initial beginning Matthew).

100_3775Especially interesting about this book is the provenance it preserves through a nineteenth-century owner’s note slipped into the first few leaves. According to the note, inscribed sometime between 1865 and 1873, the book was probably purchased by Samuel Winsor and Rhoda Delano Winsor of Duxbury, MA shortly after their marriage in 1746. Here, we get not only an account of the former owners of the book, but the means by which the pages were made yellow and damaged (as you can see in another photo I’ve included here, the vellum binding covering the book has also suffered a gaping hole). It’s not too often that we get this level of detail about a book’s use, neglect, and “injury”:

It is not age that caused
the leaves to turn so yellow
but during the Winter of 1857
it was packed in a trunk with
clothing, the trunks stored in
a basement in Washington. St Boston;
the water pipes burst, were not
attended to, when every thing became
filled with dampness & injured this book.


Having once lived not very far from Washington Street in Boston, and having stored my clothing and books in the basement there, I can definitely sympathize with the Winsors! Strangely though, as you can see in the photo above, this portion of the inscription is crossed out. We find out at the bottom of the inserted leaf that the person responsible for the inscription is “the daughter of Job & Betsy Winsor Sampson, who was the daughter of Sam & Rhoda Winsor.” This was either Betsy or Judith, and knowing this helps us to date the inscription. ( provided a substantial amount of help here in clarifying identities and relationships mentioned in this account.)

So, altogether, what I report here is a small portion of this HWW project that concerns a particular book’s provenance and water-damage history. But stories like these, as Andrew Stauffer repeatedly has said, constitute the hidden histories of books both in Special Collections libraries and in the library stacks. They show how Renaissance books accumulate eighteenth- and nineteenth-century histories as well. Maybe one day I’ll dig into the history of this Bible’s passage from Massachusetts to Evanston — unless someone out there wants to do it first, that is. Until then, there will be numerous other stories, family-related and otherwise, to uncover about men and women and their lives with Renaissance books.

Photos here are published courtesy of the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections at Northwestern University; this item is shelfmark 220.52 1595. Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries is supported directly by the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, The Graduate School, and Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University. This program is also supported by the Humanities Without Walls consortium, based at the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Humanities Without Walls consortium is funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

*** Update 2:24 PM CT on 7-9-14: On Twitter, Aaron Pratt explained that this artifact is in fact STC 2166.

News: “Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries”

As some of you may know, I recently received a grant through the “Global Midwest” Humanities Without Walls Initiative. A Mellon-funded program, HWW unites humanities centers at 15 research universities in the Midwest and is designed to stimulate inter-institutional collaboration. (You can read more about it here.)HWW-Logo-web

The project I proposed, “Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries,” hopes to do two things over the next few months: 1) register Northwestern’s Special Collections holdings, at least for now the printed matter issued 1473-1700, in the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC); and 2) develop relationships among HWW-institution faculty, graduates, and undergraduates who have investments in some combination of Renaissance literature, book history, and digital humanities. You can find my sub-page on the HWW Wiki here.

I’m very happy to report that I just got the project off the ground  this week. My highly-recommended research assistants Erin Nelson, Nicole Sheriko, and Hannah Bredar recently joined me for an orientation session outlining the project’s objectives and workflow. As I mentioned, our task will be to register about 2600 early printed books into the ESTC, thereby putting our institution’s rare books “on the map” for scholars and students around the country and around the world. This is done by the process of matching, or correctly identifying and updating records on the ESTC’s back-end based on a carefully curated list of our holdings. Special care must be taken in the case of multiple issues or states, fragmentary printed matter, sammelbände, and incorrect catalog information (should we be able to pick it out). Modern facsimiles require some caution as well, since NU’s catalog does not always designate them as such (for instance, the Upcott typographical facsimile of Shakespeare’s First Folio [1807] is dated “1632” in the library record.)  Discussing these “hard cases” in the Special Collections reading room was one of the purposes of our orientation sessions. At this stage, I have divided the first 1600 items between the four of us, and although Erin and Nicole will be working remotely for the majority of the job, Hannah and I will be on point to verify a record in the archive, if need be. (And need there will be.) You can expect to read about some of our triumphs and challenges here.

I’ve  also begun to communicate with scholars at a few other Midwestern institutions about the prospect of spreading this effort. If you feel your institution’s Special Collections holdings aren’t well-represented in the ESTC (or, if you just don’t know what you have), feel free to get in touch. Ideally, this initiative will be able to demonstrate that the Midwest is actually a profoundly good place to study Renaissance book history (or, to do rare book research more broadly).

I’ll close here with a few key thank-yous. I’m very grateful to Northwestern’s Kaplan Institute for the Humanities for bringing this project into being. I also have Ben Pauley (Eastern Connecticut State U), Ginger Schilling (UC-Riverside), and Northwestern Special Collections Librarians Sigrid Perry, Gary Strawn, and Scott Krafft for their diligence, patience, and encouragement. Gary was instrumental in providing a list of NU’s Special Collections holdings, and Sigrid has provided critical help since the consultation stage. And of course, I’m indebted to the usual suspects in the Department of English, as well as my wonderful assistant book historians, Erin, Nicole, and Hannah, who will likely be adding guest postings here about what they find during the course of their work.

Typography and Obscenity: The Case of John Donne’s “The Flea”

More or less out of use since the end of the eighteenth century and the contemporaneous transition to machine-press printing, the “long s” occupied for centuries a curious but consequential position in the third line of John Donne’s three-stanza poem “The Flea.” Below is an image of the first stanza as it appeared in the Poems volume of 1633:


To many modern readers and critics, the third line of this poem — a poem concerned with seduction, sex, and the mingling body fluids of a lover and the beloved — includes a kind of visual pun. The “long s,” only narrowly distinguishable from the letter “f,” invites an alternative reading imbued with obscenity. The unstable textual condition of Donne’s manuscripts is well-known to us now, but this “long s” points suggestively to the ways in which the typographical fortunes of Donne’s lyric could also provide a particular kind of textual malleability — that is, they could furnish, and continue to furnish, readers with multiple approaches to gender, sexuality, and desire. In today’s post I will trace — if in a cursory manner — the “long history” of this “long s,” and I will argue that its ambiguity illustrates one way in which typography can destabilize and reconstitute a poetic speaker’s sexuality and desire before new reading audiences (and critics).

A quick Google search for “donne,” “flea,” and “long s” reveals that this typographical ambiguity is widely known, if not completely obvious, although a few Donne scholars have addressed it in some detail. (Surely, more than I mention here.) In a discussion of the shifting spatial and temporal dimensions of Donne’s verse, Thomas Docherty suggests that this visual sign, fostered by print, “opens the poem . . . to an immediately titillating ambiguity” in the service of a masculinist project (54). Taking an alternative stance, Susannah B. Mintz argues that this stanza and its ambiguity suggest Donne’s play with gender:

Coursing beneath the overt terms of the seduction is a longing to do the passive thing, not just to penetrate but to be ‘pampered,’ not simply to suck but to be sucked (with the implications both of being nursed and of being ‘fucked’). (584)

These claims evince some clear opposition. While Docherty recognizes the poem’s “long s” alongside “the phallic apprehension of the female body” (58), Mintz encourages readers to view the typographical crux as showcasing jouissance and a challenge to fixed gender categories. These comments, thought brief and made somewhat in passing, fit into a larger debate about Donne and his sexuality. Rehearsing the terms of this debate, Rebecca Ann Bach attempts to break apart what she views as a consensus about Donne’s heterosexuality:

Not only will I suggest that Donne was not a heterosexual, I will also argue that, pace [Catherine] Belsey, [Richard] Halpern, and [Benjamin] Saunders, heterosexuality was not emergent in 1609 when Donne was writing his poetry. (261-62)

Bach suggests that the broader corpus of Donne’s poetry and prose — Holy Sonnets, sermons, &c — evinces a non-modern attitude toward sexuality that is religiously invested, Augustinian in nature, and often deeply misogynistic. This attitude leaves little room, she says, for egalitarian relationships between men and women.

Keeping all this in mind, I’m now going to sideline this debate, investigating — in a manner much more provocative than exhaustive — the typographical instability of “The Flea”‘s third line in relation to these recent conversations about the poet’s sexuality. Such an investigation, if carried out more fully, would join with recent calls to recognize more thoroughly the ways in which histories of editing and textual transmission help to shape critical claims about gender and sexuality. (Here, I’m indebted to D. F. McKenzie, Jerome McGann, Margreta de Grazia, and other scholars and students of the material text.)

So. Although we know the “long s” was conventional in early modern typography, the ambiguity present in “The Flea” may easily have been legible to early readers of Donne’s printed “Songs and Sonets.” An example from one of the poet’s contemporaries can illustrate just how. First published in 1598, John Florio’s Italian-English dictionary A VVorlde of Wordes included “fucker,” “a fucking,” and “fuckt” under the headwords “Fottitore,” “Fottitura,” and “Fottuto.” The lower-case “f,” appearing three times among these entries in italic type, is in close proximity in each case to “a sarder” and “a swiuer,” “a swiuing” and “a sarding,” and “sarded” and “swiued.” Pictured below, the difference between the “f” and the “long s” is very slim, if it can be discerned at all:


I am not suggesting here that readers were “confused” by the multiple “s” and “f” characters in these entries. Rather, I include this passage as an influential (and early) example of printed obscenity that also made immediately visible — indeed, showcased — the typographical similarity between “f” and the “long s.” “Fuck” was indeed known as a word in Donne’s England, and had been for a while (OED lists 1513 as its first appearance). Moreover, this book was in all likelihood familiar to Donne, who, like Florio, had ties with Lucy Russell, Countess of Bedford. Both men composed verses for her, and Florio counted her among his patronesses when he composed his translation of Montaigne’s Essayes. Furthermore, Donne satirized Florio following this translation’s publication in 1603. Evidence is lacking (as it often is), but one could speculate that filthy words would have held a special attraction for a young Donne and his colleagues at the Inns of Court.

Although the “long-s” accompanied “The Flea” through its manuscript instantiations, the typographical instabilities of this character as exhibited in Florio’s dictionary became affixed to Donne’s poem upon its first printed appearance in 1633. Furthermore, the ambiguity in line three would persist typographically for nearly three centuries as the poem benefited from increased readerly and critical attention. The second edition of Donne’s Poems, issued in 1635, witnessed the grouping-together and reorganization of the “Songs and Sonets,” as well as the shuffling of “The Flea” from the twentieth position to the first. Modern editor John Carey has commented on the extreme difficulty of ordering or dating Donne’s poems in this collection, and uses the later order of 1635 “on the grounds that whoever assembled the poems for that edition showed some concern for getting the poems into a ‘correct’ order” (88). In doing this, Carey departs significantly from previous editors (notably, Herbert J. C. Grierson, who uses the 1633 order). Yet “The Flea” remained the first poem in the sequence through all the major editions between 1635 and 1669; it can also be found first in editions of 1719, 1779, and 1793. (More can be done to study these editions, of course.) This poem clearly came to occupy a prominent position in Donne’s oeuvre, even through the eighteenth century. In each of these editions, one could find the “long s” in line three — at least, until the nineteenth century, when the character fell out of use.

Bach suggests that religious vocabularies of shame skew “The Flea” away from a lighthearted conceit or pseudo-argument and towards an Augustinian context (268-70), but this reading does not account for the typographical instability in line three that remains a small, but important element of this poem’s transmission history. Indeed, once Donne’s poem saw print, the “long s” simultaneously fixed and made possible interpretations of the poem that challenge Bach’s author-centric and compositional assessment. In fact, in the hands of a print audience, the first three lines emerge as a tercet that exhorts not only the beloved, but also the reader to pay attention to nuance, both to “Marke but this flea” and to “marke in this.” William Sherman has illustrated how material and how common the practice of “marking” in books was among Renaissance readers; the lengthy entry for “mark” in the OED also makes this clear. Repeated twice in the first line, this word hails a reader to consider something closely, but also to imagine if not engage in a particular form of textual practice with his or her own printed copy of Poems.

Taken in such a way, “this flea” stands not only as a fictional flea sucking the blood of the lover and beloved, but also as Donne’s poem clearly titled so. The meaning of “this” at the end of line 1 is obscure, although it could refer to the poem or to the conceits about to unfold. The second line, a bridge between the exhortation to “marke in this” and the typographical obscenity emerging in line three, accomplishes this task through its focused attention to the infinitesimal: “How little that which thou deny’st me is.” Paradoxically, the speaker here casts a spotlight on what is barely perceptible in order to emphasize its presence. This directs readers to the third line, which presents two instances of the “long s” – one for the speaker, one for the beloved. Straying away from authorial control on the text, this typographical deployment points simultaneously to “s” and “f,” to sucking and fucking, although the distinction between then — presumably as “little” as the deed that the beloved denies the speaker — has now been rendered visible to readers.

The consequences of this rather myopic reading involve an interpretational strategy that empowers the reader and invites appropriations of Donne’s verse according to alternative gendered paradigms. Typography makes this possible, and one may perceive related cases elsewhere in early modern literature (line 6 of the first poem in Richard Barnfield’s Cynthia stands as an example). Mintz regards this instability and its function in the poem as “a compelling example of Donne’s play with gender” through which “Donne manages to identify himself both with the female body and with a kind of ‘bisexualized’ erotic pleasure” (584-85). However, Bach’s thorough-going historical assessment of sex in Donne’s poetry and prose raises serious questions about such an interpretation, and would tend to support Docherty’s conclusions about “The Flea” instead. In order to disengage readerly possibilities from authorial intention, both of which are valid elements in any study of the poem, we might emphasize the histories of transmission that connect the two, and that supply or obscure typographical instabilities such as the “long s” that have been used to argue one way or another about Donne’s sexuality.

Thanks to Amy Nelson & Toby Altman. Images drawn from EEBO according to fair use.


Not Shakespeare’s Beehive? Doesn’t Really Matter

Like many of you, I awoke on Monday to a startling claim about “Shakespeare’s Beehive,” a copy of John Baret’s An Alvearie, or Quadruple Dictionarie (1580) covered in extensive annotations. New York booksellers George Koppelman and Daniel Wechsler  launched what is truly a beautiful website to showcase their belief that the annotations in this copy of Baret can be attributed to William Shakespeare. Coincidentally – or not – this week marks the 450th birthday of the poet from Stratford.

Of course, from the moment “Shakespeare’s Beehive” went live, it has faced healthy criticism from scholars of Shakespeare, the Renaissance, and book history. (An updated overview of the conversation can be found here.) Michael Witmore and Heather Wolfe wrote a very smart piece in The Collation about the reasonable doubts forestalling any easy attribution to Shakespeare. This book, they say, must stand thorough tests assessing paleography, rare and peculiar words, associations, and marginalia before any Shakespearean attribution can be confirmed. More recently, Aaron Pratt has examined a particular case in the annotations, the supposed word “Buck-bacqet,” which he finds not to be a word unique to Merry Wives (as Koppelman and Wechsler think), but rather a French and an English word listed beside each other: “Bucket bacquet.” As Pratt suggests, this is “what we might expect a reader to record in their multilingual dictionary.”

Like Pratt and others, I am very glad this annotated copy of Baret has come to light for the things it tells us about Renaissance dictionaries and how they were used. This issue has been a preoccupation of mine from some time, and in recent years I’ve consulted a few hundred copies of books designed for students of Renaissance language, Baret among them. My corpus includes bilingual and polyglot dictionaries, proverb collections, dialogue books, and grammars. Italian, French, and Spanish books are of particular interest to me, and the study of these books’ annotations constitutes the most recent stage in the project. So even if this “beehive” is proven definitively to not belong to Shakespeare, I am pleased to see Twitter “buzzing” (sorry) with questions about Baret’s book and the ways in which Renaissance dictionaries were used by readers and writers.

I’ll make a few remarks now about Baret’s dictionary itself, which has been somewhat obscured in all the talk about Shakespeare’s hand (or lack thereof). This lexicographical effort was first published by Henry Denham in 1574 as a “triple dictionarie” in folio. It includes entries in English, Latin, French, and a smattering of Greek (the Greek would be amplified substantially for the second edition of 1580, now a “quadruple dictionarie”). The production of this dictionary may be of special interest to Renaissance scholars for its compilatory and collaborative nature. A fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge, Baret had begun collecting material for the Alvearie nearly two decades before the volume’s publication. In fact, he recounts in a preface that the dictionary had its origins in the pedagogical practice of translation, explaining that he required his students “daily to translate some peece of English into Latin, for the more speedy, and easie attaining of the same” (*5r).

Their labors resembling those of “diligent Bees,” the students’ collaboration resulted in a sort of polyglot reference book assembled from phrases in Latin literature. Soon afterward, supplementing his knowledge from overseas travel with the aid of “M. Chaloner” and “M. Claudius,” Baret added both French entries and index tables. This “Claudius,” I should note, was probably Claudius Hollyband, perhaps the most famous instructor of French in sixteenth-century London, and who was responsible for the massively popular French Littleton and French Schoolmaster. The frontmatter of the Alvearie also contains four lines of commendatory verse by Richard Mulcaster, who taught Edmund Spenser at the Merchant Taylors’ School and who was deeply involved in debates about pedagogical reform in England. Altogether, this collaborative effort at multilingual lexicography stands at the center of debates about Renaissance language-learning and education in England, incorporating the work of Latinists, French instructors, and students at Cambridge.

So, if we stop worrying about Shakespeare, Koppelman and Wechsler’s copy of the Alvearie can tell us something useful about the relationship between language-learning and book use in the Renaissance. (Here, I join with Adam Hooks, who stated in Monday’s Shakespeare Q&A livestream at Iowa that he remains interested in the notion of a “beehive.”) As the “Shakespeare’s Beehive” website shows, the markings across the polyglot dictionary evince the annotator’s linguistic interests in English, French, and Latin, as well as the possibilities commonplacing held for the understanding of these languages. Furthermore, the “trailing blank” at the end of the volume features a number of words and phrases in these languages compiled by the annotator independent from the book’s printed matter. The annotations in this book are impressively thorough, but still merit comparison with other copies of the 1580 Baret. A copy at the University of Chicago, for instance, features the competing hands of Richard Emery (of Arlesley, Bedfordshire) and John Plomer. Although the annotations suggest that this Alvearie was given to Emery “by his Granfather,” Emery and Plomer appear to struggle for the possession of the book through their writing: “John Plomer oweth this dictionarye,” one finds, and elsewhere “But thou shallt not steale.” Another copy of the book at the Boston Athenaeum is inscribed by “Edward Lye” in the central column of E4r, and features trefoil symbols and some Latin inscriptions on Y4r. If closely examined, these copies of the Alvearie, and many others that survive – the ESTC lists 52 second-edition copies, though surely there are more out there – might give us a better picture of how Renaissance students of language used this particular book.

Of course, other polyglot dictionaries and language manuals feature far more extensive signs of use. Gabriel Harvey’s language-learning manuals, which are held by the Huntington Library today, rank among these books. The most impressive example that I have found to date, however, might be the University of Chicago’s interleaved copy of Richard Percyvall’s Bibliotheca Hispanica, a Spanish-English-Latin dictionary first published in quarto 1591. The book features an intricate array of multilingual markings in different colors throught its entirety, with 163 blank leaves bound up with the printed text to faciliate the user’s additions or workings-out of linguistic complexities. It’s fantastic. Among the very first printed efforts in Spanish-English lexicography in England, Percyvall’s dictionary occupies an important political and linguistic place in history, and this particular copy of the book tells us much about how its users could restructure it and mark upon it for their own ends.

How these practices bear upon literature would be the next step, although the answers are admittedly harder to seek out. In Astrophil and Stella, Sidney mocked “You that do Dictionaries methode bring / Into your rimes, running in ratling rowes,” although I suspect that these language-learning books were not as irrelevant or far-off from poetry as we might commonly think.