All posts filed under “Quires & Clasps

Shakespeare, The Book

Shakespeare, The Book

“Shakespeare, The Book” will be held at Trinity University in San Antonio on Friday, September 30th. It will meet in the Special Collections space in Trinity’s Coates Library from 1:00–5:00pm and has been made possible by the support of The Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship of Scholars in Critical Bibliography at Rare Book School and by Trinity University.

As the apposition in the title hopefully hints, this symposium is committed to the central claim that Shakespeare, as we identify and teach him today, has been fundamentally shaped by the book trade and its customers. Print publishers and retail booksellers have marketed and sold Shakespeare’s writing, printers have undertaken the physical and intellectual labor of transforming manuscripts into print forms that are recognizable as books, and readers have been left after all of this to buy, engage with, and preserve—or ignore and discard—the editions that have been made available to them. Individuals connected to the early theater industry in London appear to have supplied manuscripts to begin this process, as well. So, while it is true that William Shakespeare was the the one who died 400 years ago, “Shakespeare, The Book” hopes instead to mark this anniversary year by directing our attention to agents that have been responsible, from the beginning, for shepherding his name and works into the English canon. It hopes to mark the anniversary by reminding us that, to the extent that Shakespeare has been constituted by the books that bear his name, he has never, in fact, been dead.

Please follow and join the conversation on Twitter at #shaxbook.

Friday, September 30th
Opening Remarks: Aaron T. Pratt (Trinity)

Chair: Andrew Kraebel (Trinity)

Alan B. Farmer (Ohio State), “Who Published Plays?: Printers and Booksellers, from Thomas Alchorn to Robert Young, from Leadenhall to Westminster Hall”

Tara L. Lyons (Illinois State), “How and Why Plays were Collected in Early Modern England”

Zachary Lesser (U Penn), “The Pavier Quartos: New Evidence and the Question of Evidence”

Aaron T. Pratt (Trinity), “‘Quod auctor’: Rethinking the History of Dramatic Authorship in Print”

Chair: Willis Salomon (Trinity University)

Adam G. Hooks (Iowa), “Breaking Bard”

Claire M. L. Bourne (Penn State) “‘Enter to the Battell’: Early Modern Playbook Typography & the End of the Scene”

Sarah Neville (Ohio State), “Verse vs. Prose: How Pistol Shoots Holes in Editorial Rationale”


Stab-Stitching in The Library

I am the guy who works on stab-stitching in the early modern English book trade. For roughly two years, I was frankly obsessed with it, and my research into this material practice has shaped the way I approach questions about the meaning of material forms—especially bibliographical ones. It has also changed the way that I understand early modern drama and has provided the impetus for my entire dissertation, which is now a book project.

When printed, the vast majority of early modern plays took the form of quarto editions. They were squarish, around 6″ x 8″; they were slim, with around 36–40 leaves; and they tended not to have covers of the sort we have come to expect. Sometimes a simple paper wrapper was added, but the first and last leaves of the printed edition were often exposed, serving as de facto covers. And because they were slim, they could be held together, not by a traditional binding, but by what I and other bibliographers call stab-stitching. This was essentially the early modern equivalent of staples. Instead of sewing through the gutter folds onto binding supports, which is what “proper” binding required, you could use an awl to poke three or four holes through the thickness of the entire volume, from front to back. Once this was done, all you needed to do was stitch the stack of quires together with a length of thread. Violà, a book. You stabbed, and then you stitched.

For a few generations now, it has been common to use the fact that early modern playbooks were stab-stitched as evidence that early modern drama had yet to become significant as literature. An article of mine that is freshly out in The Library puts the assumptions that underlie this move under the microscope, asking us to reconsider one of the truisms that has shaped our literary histories. The title is “Stab-Stitching and the Status of Early English Playbooks as Literature,” and you can access it through libraries that subscribe to, well, The Library. It is in issue 16.3 of the 7th series (September 2015). If you do not have access to the journal via an institutional subscription, but are interested, please send me an email and I will see what I can do.

* The featured image is from a copy of The london prodigall (1605) at The Folger Shakespeare Library, shelfmark STC 22333 Copy 2. It is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Rare Book School in the News

I have just completed my first summer as an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Critical Bibliography at the Rare Book School. While I was in Charlottesville for a course on analytical bibliography with Stephen Tabor, Lee Powell of the Washington Post was in town filming for a short piece about Rare Book School. Though I’m not convinced that my own appearances in the clip helped things, the finished product turned out pretty well. You can find the video and a short article here.

I’m posting the video here in part because it should give readers of my site a glimpse into the kind of things that happen at RBS. (I promise it’s not as quaint as the video sometimes makes it seem.) The main reason, though, is that I’d like to build off my comment that appears near the beginning. As I began to suggest in the clip, and as I suggested to Lee in the longer interview he did with me, my sense is that the real strength of Rare Book School is its ability to bring together a community of scholars who share a commitment to books as material objects, but who come from a wide range of backgrounds and who engage with books in a range of capacities. The mix includes traditional humanities scholars, special collections librarians, library catalogers, binding and paper conservators, professional booksellers, and collectors. The publications that arise from academic research in departments like my own tend to have only one name attached to them, but, from start to finish, they are almost always products of conversations and collaborations. And often the best work, especially in bibliography and book history, is work that engages with the experiences and knowledge of those who sit adjacent to and outside of the academy. The coursework at Rare Book School is more or less unique in its ability to generate the kind of critical mass necessary for this, and I am grateful to have been invigorated by my experiences so far.