Over the past 15 years, there has been a notable uptick in methodologically innovative research on reading Shakespeare and early modern drama in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that bypasses the challenges of interpreting readers’ marks by looking to the playbooks themselves: their paratexts, their positioning in the book trade, their patterns of circulation and collection among readers, and their relationships to performance. The aim of this essay is not to account for this entire body of, scholarship but rather to assess how the study of readers’ marks, in particular, has informed, enriched, and in some cases limited our understanding of Shakespeare’s early reception. Readers’ marks–manuscript interventions ranging from marginal symbols to comments about the text–have the potential to teach us many things about the idiosyncrasies of some (sometimes identifiable) early modern readers and, when studied across large corpora, to crystallize the range of possible ways that early play-readers in general could and did interact with printed books containing texts by Shakespeare and his contemporaries. The traces of these acts are almost always implicated in other contemporary forms of book use, as the most forward-thinking work on early-modern play-reading has shown. Recent scholarship on marking the plays of Shakespeare has focused, by and large, on the First Folio. As such, this essay illuminates those findings while accounting for the restraints of allowing studies of early First Folio readership to stand in for “reading Shakespeare” or “reading plays” in the early modern period.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Visual Arts and Performing Arts
- Literature and Literary Theory