Deranged Verse: Inter-Media Arrangement in Seventeenth-Century England #mla16 #s740

I am pleased to say that "Deranged Verse: Inter-Media Arrangement in Seventeenth-Century England" has been accepted for MLA 2016 in Austin! Below you will find the proposal for this special session. If it piques your interest, I hope that you'll consider attending, or at least follow along on Twitter (#mla16 #s619) in January. 


This special session explores the dynamic, interactive feedback loops between dramatic, musical, manuscript, and print media from Donne to Dryden. Focusing on how dramaturgical practices find their way into printed playbooks, how musical performance shapes the presentation of print authorship, and how informal manuscript gatherings lend structures to later volumes of lyrics, we aim to show the tentative, stop-gap, even improvisatory ways in which literary genres are fashioned through their media of transmission.

Scholarship in textual studies and the history of the book has tended to focus primarily on one aspect of material culture, namely the production and circulation of written texts. By thinking across sites of early modern mediation, this session integrates theater, music, and coterie manuscript culture more fully into the story of emerging literary genres and styles. It does so by emphasizing the concept of arrangement, which is to say, by illuminating how strategies for organizing, re-organizing, and even dis-organizing literary texts in printed books emulate, absorb, recall, and encroach upon other media. How, for example, do printed texts adapt or account for the implicit narrative of a group of lyrics, the gender or effeminacy of an actor-singer, and the affordances of moveable scenery in theatrical performance? We address these questions by highlighting attempts of printers, publishers, and others involved in the book trade to remediate earlier performative sites and activities into print—transcending the period divide between Renaissance and Restoration in order to provide a fuller perspective on these changes. Each paper reveals how this process of remediation contributed to the formation of the literary genre in question.

Throughout the session, we aim to foster a conversation that reconsiders how English literary history accounts for cultural, technological, and aesthetic innovation across media. Three panelists will give 15- minute presentations, after which the respondent, Reid Barbour, will deliver a 5-minute response paper. The remainder of the session will be reserved for open discussion.

   Poems, by J.D.  (1633), STC 7045 (Copy 2), Folger Shakespeare Library.

Poems, by J.D. (1633), STC 7045 (Copy 2), Folger Shakespeare Library.

The presentations will begin with a study of the relationship between manuscript and print in the 1630s. In “Metempsychotic Manuscripts: The Progress of Donne’s Soul,” Megan Heffernan will consider gathered poetry as an experiment in collaborative remediation. John Donne’s corpus took shape through a complex and largely occluded history of poetic arrangement. Because Donne first restricted the circulation of his work to manuscript, we have tended to read the thousands of extant copies of his poems as evidence of the increasing corruption of authorial copy. By contrast, this paper explores the tendency for poems to travel in consistent clusters—moving between fascicles, booklets, multi-author notebooks and, eventually, the printed Poems by J. D. (1633, 1635)—as a record of seventeenth-century compilers’ transmission of their sources not just as disembodied texts but also as artifacts that drew on the affordances of their physical forms. In doing so, it offers an account of how, more than an authorial body, traces of a poetic soul come into focus through a proximity to the media that transmit it.

  The Masque at Ludlow Castle  in  Poems  (1645), M2160 (Copy 2), Folger Shakespeare Library.

The Masque at Ludlow Castle in Poems (1645), M2160 (Copy 2), Folger Shakespeare Library.

In his paper “Milton the Lady, Milton the Cavalier,” Scott Trudell will consider the role of musical performance in the 1645 edition of John Milton’s Poems. He will argue that the 1645 Poems appropriates song into a biographical narrative in which Milton himself features as a vulnerable, effeminate child prodigy. A decade after Milton’s Maske at Ludlow Castle was performed before the Earl of Bridgewater, featuring his fifteen-year-old daughter Alice as “the Lady” and the singer-composer Henry Lawes as the attendant spirit, it was incorporated into the 1645 Poems. Printed by the royalist publisher Humphrey Moseley, the 1645 Poems is organized as a literary biography beginning with Milton’s prodigious childhood and alluding to his reputation as “the Lady” of Christ College. Incorporating the musical Maske into print presents the Lady’s resistance to Comus as a metaphor for Milton’s ambiguous relationship to Cavalier musical and literary communities, in which song becomes less an invitation to perform than a register through which the poetic voice is inflected—something that might be appropriated into books, ushered into metaphor, and channeled into the fiction of an author.

  All For Love  (1678), D2229, Folger Shakespeare Library.

All For Love (1678), D2229, Folger Shakespeare Library.

Continuing to examine the discursive relationship between performance and print, Claire Bourne will then move us into the Restoration with a paper that studies how the increasing use of moveable scenery in the London theaters in the second half of the seventeenth century fundamentally changed the way plays were arranged on the page—and thus designed to be read. Entitled “‘disjoyn’d and yet united too’: Antony & Cleopatra, Moveable Scenes, and Play-Reading for Place,” her paper tracks the shift from a conceptualization of the scene in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries as a unit of action circumscribed primarily by entrances and exits to one structured by scenery changes. The time required to change scenery in the new Restoration theaters necessitated breaks in the dramatic action, and so place began to compete dramaturgically—and typographically—with action as the basic formal unit of Restoration plays, especially heroic tragedies. Using the afterlives of Antony & Cleopatra as a case study, this paper will illuminate typographic experiments mobilized to account for this significant theatrical innovation. In addition to helping readers conceptualize place as a defining formal feature of the play, these experiments with dividing the drama in print also mitigated an increasingly noticeable tension between (1) the economic imperative to capitalize on the new technological capacity of the stage to represent multiple places; and (2) playwrights’ stated desire to conform to the neoclassical unity of place. This paper will show how John Dryden, in All for Love (1678), and Nicholas Rowe, in his editorial treatment of Antony & Cleopatra in The Works of Mr. William Shakespear (1709), re-arranged and remediated Shakespeare’s play to better suit these dramaturgical and theoretical fashions.


MEGAN HEFFERNAN (Ph.D., University of Chicago) is Assistant Professor of English at DePaul University, where she studies early modern literature, with particular interests in the material and cultural histories of the book, poetry and poetics, and Shakespeare. She is currently at work on a book that considers how the volume of gathered poetry gained a new prominence in early modern England, in response to a flourishing vernacular lyric tradition and experiments in print publication. Her articles have appeared or are forthcoming in Shakespeare Quarterly and Modern Language Quarterly.

SCOTT A. TRUDELL (Ph.D., Rutgers University) is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Maryland, College Park, where his research and teaching focus on early modern literature, media theory and music. He is currently finishing a book which traces the development of verse with a musical dimension in the poetic and theatrical cultures of early modern England, beginning with the renewed interest in musical humanism among Sidney and his peers, and continuing through Milton’s fascination with musical language and experience. His work has appeared in Shakespeare Quarterly, Studies in Philology and edited collections.

CLAIRE M. L. BOURNE (Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania) is Assistant Professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she teaches courses on Shakespeare, early modern drama, the history of the book, and theater history. Her current research is situated at the intersection of print and theatrical performance in early modern England, and she is working on a book project that connects typographic experiments in printed plays to theatrical innovations born of emergent dramatic genres. She just finished a long-term fellow at the Folger Shakespeare Library, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in English Literary Renaissance, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, and edited collections about Christopher Marlowe and Shakespeare in print post-1640.

REID BARBOUR (Ph.D., University of Rochester) is professor of English at the University of North Carolina, editor of Studies in Philology, and author of eight books and numerous articles on early modern literature and culture. Recent and forthcoming publications include a new biography of Sir Thomas Browne, an edition (with Brooke Conti) of Browne’s Religio Medici, and an edition (with David Norbrook) of the multivolume works of Lucy Hutchinson. He has also written books on John Selden, Renaissance English fiction, Epicureanism and stoicism in Stuart culture, and religious culture in seventeenth-century England.