Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

  • Monday, February 10, 2020 - 5:15pm to 6:30pm

Class of 1978 Pavilion, in the Kislak Center for Special Collections on the 6th floor of the University of Pennsylvania's Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center

Aaron Pratt, "Yes, Playbook Readers in Elizabethan and Jacobean England Cared About Authorship”

Despite well over a decade of efforts now to reevaluate Thomas Bodley's famous dismissal of quarto playbooks as "riff raff" and "baggage books" and to inscribe them instead as important players in the canonization of English drama and its authors, they nonetheless remain yoked in literary histories to the world of "cheap print" and London's theater industry more than what we might think of as capital-L Literature. Yes, we're told, quarto playbooks were necessary precursors to the folios of Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare, but there's still a prevailing sense that they were merely a stepping stone on the way to those more substantial tomes, unable, in part because of the pamphlet form in which they usually circulated, to contribute credibly to the literary field as it was emerging in England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Pamphlet playbooks may have made for good reading, we've admitted, but they didn't make for high culture and they didn't turn playwrights into Authors. It turns out, however, that interpreting books from the past isn't necessarily any easier than interpreting the old texts they transmit. My presentation will reconsider a handful of lingering assumptions about early playbooks in an effort to outline a new history of English drama in which quartos play a starring role in the world of early modern English literature. With their focus on method, I hope that my remarks will prove broadly relevant to bibliographers and book historians working in a range of fields and disciplines.