Straznicky 2006

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Straznicky, Marta, ed. The Book of the Play: Playwrights, Stationers and Readers in Early Modern England. Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2006.

"Typographic Nostalgia: Play-Reading, Popularity, and the Meanings of Black Letter," by Zachary Lesser (99-126)

"Almost all studies of black letter, however, see the typeface merely as a direct index to readership, one that has seemed all the more appealing, I suspect, because of the apparently empircal quality of bibliography as compared to literary criticism." (100)

challenges Mish ("Black Letter as a Social Determinant") and the notion that evidence of actual readers can be gotten from typography -- only evidence of intended audience

"Typography was an extremely conservative medium in early modern England, and books rarely changed from black letter to roman (or vice versa) from one edition to the next." (102)
"While black letter appears to be the material index to a class of readers, the specifics of these class formations are never stable. What this instability reveals is that black [103] letter is in fact not an index but a signifier, a sliding signifier of the 'low' that depends on how the critic defines the total spectrum of readers." (102-3)

Keith Thomas, "The Meaning of Literacy in Early Modern England," argues that black letter literacy was more basic than literacy of Roman type -- but doesn't offer evidence other than books themselves; and almost all black letter books had some roman type in them, including the title page

almost all law books were printed in black letter (103)

most likely black letter did not index class but was associated with English-ness, or the vernacular

  • see Lily's Latin grammar; Latin in roman, English explanations in black letter

catechisms also use two typefaces; they "illustrate the use of black letter as a signifier of basic English knowledge, for catechisms generally use roman for the questions and black letter for the responses demonstrating the catechumen's knowledge and acceptance of the fundamental tenets of the English church" (105)

Laud's Scottish prayer book, rebellion in 1637 in part sparked by the resent aroused by the typography of the book (107)

  • "Laud's choice of black letter was designed to extend his drive for uniformity of religious practice ('common prayer') to the Kirk, hich had long been printing its own Book of Common Order in roman, the typeface of the godly Geneva Bible. Black letter here emphasized not only the antiquity and authority of black-letter chronicles and state proclamations but also something of the semiotics of primers and catechisms: the 'Englishness' of the typeface and of the episcopacy was the central issue in many Scottish minds." (107)
"Black letter thus carried many meanings in early modern England: state authority, antiquity, the English language, the established English church, even the foreign quality of the 'stage Dutch' spoken by characters in many printed plays. And, of course, the use of black letter was also partially determined by the more mundane requirements of printers: the amount and kinds of type they stocked, the type used in other books they were simultaneously printing. We must resist the reductionism that would see only a single meaning to the typeface, which was used in a wide variety of contexts, or that would see no meaning at all in it, only an index to 'popular culture.' But one of the dominant meanings of black letter in this period, I am suggesting, was the powerful combination of Englishness (the 'English letter') and past-ness (the 'antiquated' appearance of black letter by the seventeenth century) that I call typographic nostalgia. It is this combination that allows black letter to evoke the traditional English community, and a large part of what scholars are really discovering when they perceive 'popular culture' in black letter is the construction of this nostalgia in the very texts they are reading." (107)

typographic nostalgia "presents an image of unity" (107)