Below please find the abstracts for the upcoming MLA panel “The Tudor Past and Early Modern Books.” The panel will be held Thursday, January 8, at 5:15.
For questions, please contact Kevin_Petersen at uml dot edu.
Presiding: Arthur F. Kinney, University of Massachusetts Amherst
1. “Printing the Medieval Author, Imagining English Literary Histories,” delivered by Leah Pope, aims to reexamine the elaborately printed sixteenth-century editions of Chaucer. As printers constructed a collected Chaucer, they simultaneously constructed a English literary history. Pope focuses her paper on the editions’ introductory apparatus, specifically the “Progenie of Geffrey Chaucer,” to legitimize the author’s genealogy and connect it explicitly to the genealogy of the royal family. Pope places those printed additions in conversation with Edmund Spenser’s The Shepheardes Calendar (1579) and its own printing strategies in blending the illustration with text and paratextual apparatus. Considering the printing of these works and not simply the text of these authors suggests to Pope that these woodcut images and editorial commentary manifest a tension between the birth of English poetry and the struggles for political and religious power in England’s then-recent history, ultimately obscuring Chaucer’s own political ties in favor of histories advantageous to the Tudor line. In rendering Chaucer, 15th- and 16th-century English printers manipulated the poetic past to articulate literary nationhood in the Tudor present.
2. Danielle Magnusson will present “Back to the Past”: Historical Fabrications, Early Print Drama and Chester Cycle Readership” to build upon questions of fabricated histories in Tudor print to explore the otherwise neglected cycles of early English drama. Magnusson focuses on the popular Chester cycle of plays and how they generated a proto-Protestant civic history. Despite evidence for how well received these plays were by English audiences, critics have paid little attention to sixteenth century publications, thanks in part to negative comparisons to publications of later Elizabethan drama. Magnusson, however, seeks to correct this omission by extending her analysis to the early Tudor impulse to designate portrayals of the past to specific dramatic and textual forms. She argues that by understanding the cycle’s deeply engaged and emotional response to the past—and its appeal to Tudor audiences—we can begin to acknowledge ideological disparities between early sixteenth-century manuscript and print drama.
3. In “The Printed Past in Tudor England: Biblical Paradigms and Poetic Contexts,” Kevin Petersen explores Tudor appropriations of the biblical Tree of Jesse and their evolving use during the sixteenth century. He demonstrates how the English after the Reformation reconstructed their relationship to the past to emphasize paradigmatic structures in history and genealogy. Recovering how Tudor iconography in historical and poetic books imitates the biblical lineage between King David and Jesus Christ ultimately highlights the religious and political industry of print. In contrast to the polemical energy of the earlier part of the century, however, this iconography disappears in late-Elizabethan England in response to Queen Elizabeth’s unsettled succession. Thus Petersen reads how publications of Elizabethan poetry, in the wake of a crumbling ideological infrastructure, references that printing history and designs a critique of historiographic uses of precedent.