Eckhardt 2009

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Eckhardt, Joshua. Manuscript Verse Collectors and the Politics of Anti-Courtly Love Poetry. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009.

“Within the span of just Wve leaves, this manuscript verse collector laid out for himself, and for any readers of his miscellany, a remarkable progression of verses on women variously refusing and submitting to men, proceeding from the chaste queen to the nun turned into a sexually active bird. Like virtually all other early modern manuscript verse collectors, this St. John’s student produced a unique book of poems. In balancing polite love lyrics with bawdy verse, however, he was also engaging a practice that would become enormously popular over the next several decades, particularly among young men at the universities and Inns of Court. Together these manuscript verse collectors oVer a history of early modern English poetry that diVers considerably from those recorded in print, whether in their own time or since.” (4)

“By routinely countering or complementing love poetry with erotic or obscene verse, manuscript verse collectors arguably formed an unrecognized poetic genre, which I call anti-courtly love poetry.” (5)

“While their copies of canonical texts have attracted considerable scholarly attention, verse collectors’ broader contributions to literary history have received little.” (5)

“For their part, manuscript experts have turned attention to professional and amateur scribes, usually including manuscript verse miscellanies in surveys including wide ranges of other documents.9 While these manuscript studies have clearly informed my work, this book proposes a new approach to verse miscellanies, one that investigates the exceptional, and remarkably consequential, activity of manuscript verse collectors.

Their manuscript miscellanies, in other words, distinguish verse collectors from theauthors, stationers, and readers who animatemost literary histories. For, while many collectors surely also composed, printed, and read verse, they were not necessarily doing any of these things when they copied or bound together poems in manuscript. When they operated as collectors, they did not necessarily transform themselves into authors by rewriting poems; into stationers by prefacing or publishing them; or into the uncommon sort of Renaissance readers who recorded their interpretations of texts. Instead, verse collectors put texts in new contexts, changing their frames of reference and, so, their referential capabilities. They precluded certain interpretations of poems and facilitated others. And they fostered new relationships between verses, associating originally unrelated works and consolidating the genre of anti-courtly love poetry.” (6)

“Since almost no one printed such slanderous verses at the time, manuscript collectors deserve the credit (or blame) for preserving nearly all of those that survive.15 They helped to deWne the genre of verse libel as well, for instance by exhibiting the aesthetic and historical continuities between poems on the court scandals and royal favorites of early modern England.” (8)

Disciplinary divisions impose “generic distinctions on miscellanies that their compilers evidently viewed differently. Whereas early modern verse collectors gathered diverse texts together, modern disciplinary conventions pry them apart: literary critics get the good poetry, historians get the bad.” (10)

“This book investigates the editorial decisions that manuscript verse collectors such as the Haringtons made outside of the regime of prepublication licensing. In the editorial decisions most relevant to this study, manuscript collectors politicized and recontextualized anti-courtly love poetry with topical libels.” (11)

“Early modern verse collectors also filled their miscellanies with genres that, like anti-courtly love poems, regularly leave their original contexts rather unclear and, so, remain particularly open to recontextualization” (13)

“poetic meaning need not be limited to what a poet puts into a poem, what a reader gets out of it, or what a critic Wnds in it alone. A poem’s full signiWcance, rather, may extend beyond its text to the aYliations and resonances that it develops among other texts and in its various contexts, no matter how local or even physical. Both its historical contexts and its manuscript contexts, in other words, inXuence what a poem comes to signify, or at least what it comes to suggest. This book thus takes contextual reading to a certain extreme, not only because it proceeds to contexts well beyond those of composition and initial reception but also because it reasons that, if a poem’s context determines its meaning, then variations in even its physical, manuscript context may change the poem’s meaning.” (13-14)

“Without necessarily realizing the ramiWcations of their actions, many of these anthologists eVectively formed, mixed, and politicized certain literary genres.” (14)

Composite manuscripts

Professional scribes, toward end of 17c

Secretary — servant, friend — Rolleston applying pen to Newcastle manuscript

“Collectors preserved far more copies of libels in verse miscellanies than in manuscript books of exclusively topical or political documents; in other words, they deemed libels worthy of sharing space with the most exemplary lyric poetry of the English Renaissance. So they evidently considered libels more than mere records of political events or sentiments.” (29)