Representation of Books and Readers in English Renaissance Drama
Adams, Brandi Kristine
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This study presents a novel approach to the history of books and reading by encouraging scholars to look beyond the archives to include the study of English Renaissance Drama to understand how early modern readers interacted with and used their books. In this dissertation, I suggest that by employing an archeology of feeling—which involves deliberate consideration of how English Renaissance dramatists represented books and reading in the theater and in print—it is possible to cultivate a deeper understanding of readers living in London during the late sixteenth- and early seventeenth centuries. My project focuses on dramatists (and other writers) with significant connections to either the universities or Inns of Court; I suggest that their theatrical representations of books and reading onstage indicate their growing anxiety over the diminishing roles and opportunities for scholars and public intellectuals. I also argue that they use the theater to advocate for themselves and their colleagues using their books and erudition through nostalgia, satiric complaint, or counsel. This anxiety about the significance of books and reading may also be the result of changing discourses in education which were moving from a humanist-centered to a more empiricist-centered framework, perhaps encouraging dramatists to question the limits and worth of their studies. Through an examination of plays that features bookish and erudite characters including those from Robert Greene’s Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (1594), Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus (1604), The Second Part of the Return from Parnassus (1606), and John Fletcher’s The Elder Brother (1633), I articulate ways in which scholarly readers use books to confront their concerns over government, social and political changes that do not necessarily prioritize the learned. In the first chapter, I propose that characters engage in specific acts of reading to anticipate the changing course of humanism and future paths of reading; in the second chapter, I consider physical sites of reading, including the Renaissance study, in which scholars use their reading and books to define the space and themselves alongside the tumult, noise, and capitalism inherent in city life that begins to encroach upon their space of reading and writing. Finally, in the third chapter, I examine the consequences of reading in which bright, learned individuals are left without provision or preferment after a university education. Their shared reading experiences and history of attending university and then living in London create a powerful group of readers who, through books, satire, and complaint signify their potential danger to the city, the country and the monarch due to their shifting political, social, and economic views. Throughout these plays, readers vacillate between questioning and affirming the worth of their reading and books even as they continually champion the value of their literacy.