Nouvelles Nouvelles Podcast #12: Dr. Tara Lyons and Dr. Aaron Pratt
Interviewer: Tamara Mahadin (TM); Interviewee: Tara Lyons (TL) and Aaron Pratt (AP)
Time: October 27, 2023; Location: Hagerty Hall 142 (ASCTech Academic Technologies Studio)
TM: Welcome to Nouvelles Nouvelles podcast with the Center of Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Ohio State University. I'm Tamara Mahadin. I'm a PhD Candidate in the English Department. Today, we have an exciting lineup featuring three wonderful speakers, Dr. Aaron Pratt, Dr. Tara Lyons, and our very own Professor Alan Farmer from the English Department. They'll be presenting their talks later this afternoon as part of the CMRS mini-symposium titled “400 Years of Shakespeare's First Folio: Separating Fact from Fiction.”
Today I'm joined with Dr. Pratt and Dr. Lyons. Dr. Pratt is the Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Curato of Early Books and Manuscripts at the Harry Ransom Center, a special collections library, archive, and museum at the University of Texas at Austin. His research and teaching revolve around bibliography, the history of the book, and the literature and culture of early modern England. You can find his writings in various academic and public venues, including Fine Books and Collections, Shakespeare Quarterly, Shakespeare Studies, The Library, and in edited collections from publishers like Oxford and Cambridge. His first major exhibition, “The Long Lives of Very Old Books,” is open at the Ransom Center through the end of the year, December 30th. So, if you're in the Austin area or planning to visit Texas soon, don't miss the exhibition.
I'm also joined with Dr. Lyons, who is an Associate Professor of English at Illinois State University, where she teaches courses on Shakespeare, early modern literature, and publishing studies. Her scholarship in bibliography and early modern literature has been published in distinguished journals such as PBCA, ELR, Philological Quarterly, and Textual Cultures, as well as within various edited collections, including the Cambridge Companion to the First Folio. Dr. Lyons is currently working on editing the first part of The Contention for the Oxford Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe and completing a monograph on collected plays in early modern England. We're truly grateful for both of you to join us today. So, thank you for joining us.
AP: Thank you!
TL: Well, thanks for the invite!
TM: Of course! So, to kick off our podcast, I'm curious to learn more about your research journey. What sparked your interest in bibliography, textual scholarship, history of the book, and could you share an early experience that you think played an important role in shaping your research?
TL: So, I read my first Shakespeare play in fourth grade, which is not typical—
TL: —and not typical for the type of school that I went to, which was a fairly small town school. Our principal was very much into Shakespeare, so he took some of the students who were in accelerated reading to the stage, and we just had a ball. I mean playing, performing, reading. So,I came to book history, I would say, through Shakespeare studies. Because as I went through my undergrad, I was at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, which had wonderful exhibitions with the rare book room. And I knew it was a big deal, but I just hadn’t gotten a chance to put my hands on some Shakespeare. So, when I was a graduate student, I continued on at Urbana-Champaign, and there was this new professor with glasses and sort of like, sort of tight pants with shoes, and his name was Zach Lesser, and he taught (he’s gonna kill me for that description). But yeah, so he taught a course on early modern playbooks.
And I just loved it. I loved working through the STC, which is the Short Title Catalog. I ended up spending the summer combing through the STC for women's names because I was interested in women publishers and women printers at the time. So, I would say that Zach's class gave me the vocabulary to be able to feel like I was doing some kind of book history research in relationship to the literary research that I had done prior to that. So, I think it was like a long journey from Shakespeare to looking at the books of Shakespeare.
TM: Yeah, excellent. Yeah, definitely. For me, it was also Shakespeare and Renaissance. And that's how you take a course on the history of the book studies, and all of a sudden you're immersing in that field. It's just amazing. Excellent.
AP: I did my undergrad here at Ohio State. The Ohio State, I should say.
TM: ‘The,’ yeah. ‘The’ is important.
AP: Required by law. You know, I thought I was going to be a biochemistry major. When I started, I had a tech background. And I did a semester of burning myself in labs, and I was like “abort mission.” I liked the theory, not the practice. And I ended up doing an English degree, but it was mostly film studies and like a philosophy double major. I was like “that guy” when I was a young man. But, at one point I thought, you know, I want to teach high school. I don't know what the hell I was thinking at the time. But, I thought I would teach high school. And to get into that pre-ed track here, you had to take a Shakespeare course. And I was like, no, agh. And I will be honest with you, I was like, this class is fine. But a VAP, the Visiting Assistant Professor named Alice Dailey was here, who's now at Villanova. And she was here, and I took the Shakespeare class. I was like, this is kind of more interesting than I thought. I really liked the history and the culture. I thought that was neat. I took a Renaissance follow-up course—I think it was like a 16th-century kind of class that she taught. And in it, she introduced me to John Foxe's Book of Martyrs, probably as a way into The Faerie Queene or something like that. And I remember thinking like, well, OK, this thing is gory. It fits with my heavy metal sensibilities. But, I wanted to see a copy of it. And Ohio State had those. It has a great collection of Foxe, great collection of books by John Day. So, I go to Special Collections. It was not a very welcoming place at the time. But I go in there, and I see that this book is really, really big. And I'm thinking, like, literally, how did this get made? Like, it seemed to me—because , you know, so much of the stuff in literature is so slippery. It's like, how do we interpret this? Like, how do you get an anchor on how people dealt with an object or a text historically?—And so we're always kind of grappling for something to lock it or to help us get more than we have.
So, in any event, I thought, man, every letter in this was handset individually. And this is a big old book. It's a huge book. Later in the second, third, fourth, there's big multi-volume things. And I remember thinking, if I could understand why it was worth putting in so much work—like it was so much work to make this book—if I could understand the economics essentially (very Alan Farmer sort of thing to say). If I could understand the economics of this artifact, maybe I’ll have some purchase on the cultural questions that are difficult for me to answer. And so that was really it. It was like the book provided not necessarily a stable thing to interpret but something that felt like it could give me a kind of concreteness as a way to approach these kind of questions about literature and culture. And so, from there, it was like all books all the time. But it was really that kind of formative experience in the Special Collections Library with a book and being in its presence is actually what forced this kind of reckoning for me. And so, all of the work that I do really is trying to kind of facilitate those kind of encounters that destabilize your assumptions or force you to ask questions that you're thinking about in other ways.
TM: Yeah, exactly. And that book also, it has gone through multiple editions. And with each edition, you have things taken out, things added, you have engravings. So, it's like every book has its own story. But when you look at it, it's like, what is happening that this has been changing over and over with each edition?
AP: Yeah, it's like, I mean, this thing is huge. It's big. What do you do with this thing? I mean, literally, what do you do with a book that big? Can you even read it? I mean, just as an artifact, it raises these great logistical questions that I think are really essential if we want to understand this. Because it's so hard to get access to intention, historical intention. But we can understand the entailments, that you literally had to do these things to make this happen. And those, I think, can sometimes give you a different angle to get at those slippery issues, like intention, goals, the practical aspects of reception, et cetera.
TM: Yeah, excellent. Well, that actually leads me to the next question. So, since I've taken the course, book history with Professor Alan Farmer here at OSU, I developed a strong interest in the field to the extent like I'm going to make it my minor field. And I think I enjoyed myself, as you said Dr. Pratt, like engaging with hands-on research, like having the book in front of us and just going through it and discovering stuff along the way. So, could you both share a particular fascinating or surprising moment or discovery you've made during your research in early modern bibliography, book history, or textual history.
TL: Well, I’m going to talk about one in my talk today, but I’m going to give another one so I don’t repeat myself.
TM: No spoilers.
TL: Yeah, no spoilers. So, when I was at the Bodleian Library—I had won a fellowship to go there—I was working through some early administrative records of the library, looking for plays, actually. And I saw a book title, and it said Ben Jonson’s Epigrams. But the date of the list was 1614, and there is no extant addition of a 1614 or one prior to 1614 of Ben Jonson's Epigrams. The only extant version that we have, or the first extant version that we have, is 1616 in Johnson's Works. So, I literally just Facebook messaged a friend of mine and was like, “What's going on here? Was there a book of epigrams or might this be manuscript?” He sent me a couple articles, and I just spent some more time looking through. And here, this was an example of a book that is just lost, no longer extant. So, it was really kind of exciting at that moment because Ben Jonson was a character that—like, I teach Ben Jonson; I had read about Ben Jonson; the big folio of Ben Jonson is kind of a big deal in book history. So it was really interesting to see this little title and that it was among a group of books that had come from the Stationer’s Company and into the Bodleian Library.
So, that just spurred another whole area of research. So really, from that moment, you know, it was like 2018?
AP: Yeah, I remember when you were starting out there.
TL: 2018, yeah. Honestly, I'm just now kind of putting the bookend on some of the Bodleian research because so much in that administrative, in those administrative records had not been discussed before. People knew about them, but they hadn't necessarily been looked at through the lens of literature. What in here, within these records, what can it tell us about English books at that particular time? Literary authorship at that time? Ben Jonson was one of the characters, one of the authors and figures, who we can see the ways he was shaping his own authorial identities through the book. And so, it really had me start to think, “What was he doing with this little book of epigrams? And, how was that book being used? Or, how was he thinking of it in terms of shaping his authorial identity. So, it led to the article on “Disposable Johnson,” I think is the name. I forget the name.
AP: I think that’s right.
TL: And it's got lots of toilet humor in it, because I mean, it's Johnson. And it's the epigrams, too. So, that was a really fun discovery. And I think that's another thing about book history. I didn't go into the library that day hoping to write on Jonson. No, so much of I feel like what happens when you're doing this kind of research is that you find something and you have
to explore it. And like you said, it's like a puzzle that then you work from. So, I think that sometimes when I was earlier working as a literary critic, I kind of thought about things a little bit differently. So, I might go into an archive with the idea that I want to write about a specific topic. And then I would sometimes take even theoretical principles and think about how I can make them work. And the archive just kept—
AP: It punches you a little bit.
TL: Yeah. It just wouldn't cooperate.
AP: Right, right.
TL: But then once I kind of opened myself up to the idea that this is going to tell me what it says, or I am going to be able to follow it, I don't know. It’s just been a journey that’s a lot more fun.
TM: Yeah, and just like Dr. Pratt, you told us in the graduate workshop, like you want to ask questions.
AP: That’s right.
TM: And that's the thing is like you might come on with just one question. Like, I came to see this book for this particular question. And while you're opening and discovering new things, it's going to shift maybe the direction of your research. So, that's the amazing part.
AP: Yeah. I think that's where you really have to set yourself up to be able to see beyond what you were looking for. I mean, it's one thing if you're reading a document or the content, the content can force its way, if you're actually reading it to like, oh, look at that thing. It's in there. I didn't think it was. But there's so much that we take for granted about the codex or the book form that even when you're looking at a “ye olde” sort of example, it can be so easy to miss all of this evidence that surrounds the content, that enables the content, that literally is the sort of substrate of the content, and miss those aspects.
I always, I mean that kind of workshop is part of this interest that I have in, sort of like how can you set yourself up to ask as many questions as possible, especially if you're working on materials like you're not going to be around them next week. They're not at your library at Ohio State or wherever you go to school. You're there for a couple of days. How do you make sure that you don't miss the thing that you're going to be like, I needed to see, that? We’ve all done it thousands of times, but you try your best to not get there.
I mean, when, to sort of answer your question, I thought that I was—having been trained by John King and Chris Highley here at The Ohio State University—I thought I was going to be a Protestant Reformation book history guy and have my Foxe experience, which I mentioned to you. And I end up at Yale for my PhD. And I wrote a whole prospectus that I remember nothing about for a dissertation on Protestant stuff, book history. I literally couldn't tell you what it was. And then at the eleventh hour, I was like, you know, I want to really do hardcore bibliography, and nobody's going to care if I do it about these sort of like paracanonical texts, and so I'd better go Shakespeare, or in drama. And part of that was that, you know, not really a discovery, but
I had always been told this narrative that plays were this kind of sub-literary thing—you know, Tara and I both work in this kind of space, and Alan does as well—that we thought, oh, plays are junk. They're in these kind of flimsy, janky pamphlets, and people sort of read them and trash them and like, whatever. But, it takes the First Folio and this author thing to make drama legitimate. Okay, fine. But that was, I mean, that was, we were taught that. Like, it was so, it was not even something you had to be, you didn't have to make that claim. It was just simply the case that drama was trash until it wasn't.
And in the book history side, I had always read, in the kind of way the logic worked, was like, oh, they're sub-literary because they were pamphlets, and they're pamphlets because they were sub-literary. And it's like, well, where's the ground on that? That's circular. And so, I was like, you know what? I'm going to ruin my life by spending, you know, like the better part of a year looking in the gutters of books and to see if I can find evidence that, like, are plays uniquely sold in these crappy pamphlet forms? Quote, unquote “crappy pamphlet forms.”
Or, is there anything at all distinctive about drama that would suggest that they're pamphlet-ier than other things? That means that the pamphlet is a guarantor of their janky status? So, I looked at a cross-section across all forms and genres within the length that playbooks are. And it turns out everything got sold as a pamphlet, if it was short, because people were cheap. And so, it says nothing about the status of the book, but it was this fascinating moment for me where book history actually taught me that book history kind of didn't matter. In this particular question, right, like you're like, oh, the material form is the meaning of the text. Like that's book history, right? It affects the meaning of the text. And this was an example where you just have to look at more. And then you realize that actually we've imported our own media ecosystem’s assumptions onto a media ecosystem in the past. Something that's completely typical reads to us as crap.
And that kind of, not discovery exactly, but putting in that work, has really sort of framed out all my thinking in the field. Not in this kind of negative way exactly, like I'm toppling titans or whatever, but from this sort of sense that really what we need to be doing is spending the time and putting in the work to identify when our assumptions about the way the media operate don't hold. Because it's so easy to look at old things and think I'm understanding old things. But the frame of reference that you bring to them is obviously not, like I'm not from the 17th century, so I do my best. And that kind of discovery, that kind of methodological move of essentially doing my best to develop the trees or the forest so that I can see the trees in the right way has sort of guided all the work that I do.
TL: And I think that we came into book history.
AP: At the same time.
TL: Around the same time. And I think that Alan Farmer, Zach Lesser, and a number of other scholars who do drama and book history were, I think, encouraging that, almost like a qualitative approach. Or at least creating a spreadsheet wasn't something that was odd to do. And within literary studies, it was very odd. So, I think that it was just encouraging us to look at a lot, look at it as much as possible. But of course, there's difficulties with that too—
AP: How do you see stuff?
TL: --if you're not at an institution that has a lot of books, or if you don't have certain instructors that are able to guide you. It's actually an access issue. But, I think things are getting better. And I think that there's more people who have been involved, and the more people who are looking at books, the more digitization efforts are occurring. And while that's not exactly looking at the stab stitching holes all the time, it can at least provide a little bit more access so people can start to do some research and start to gather. I think that's another part of what people are doing now. It's just, go look at books. Because after you've seen about 500 to 1,000, and Aaron’s probably seen like 10,000.
AP: Too many books.
TL: So, he just knows things because he's seen things, I think. And that takes time and expertise. But it's also, I think what I like about book history is that if you put the work into it—
AP: That’s right, exactly.
TL: --the payoff is there. And I don't know, maybe it's a Midwestern thing—
AP: Good Protestant work ethic?
TL: Yeah! But I like that idea, that if I spend enough time and I commit to the project enough and I dig deeply enough and I'm willing to do that work, there's going to be a payoff.
AP: There’s always something.
TL: And the thing is, there always is. And sometimes it's hard to link it in with a larger narrative that people out in the field care about.
AP: That’s why you do Shakespeare because literally anything you could do about Shakespeare counts.
TL: Yes. Pretty much. Yeah. And early modern drama is a pretty good step into it too.
TM: Excellent. So, you also answered the question about, and if you want to elaborate on that, that would be helpful. Where do you see the most exciting development in the field of the study of early modern bibliography, book history today as it has been developed in the last so many years?
AP: I mean, there's lots of different approaches. The thing that I think has become most clear to me, I think, is that there really has been a move to doing more copy-specific work. And so, you know, if you think like Alan, like his work, you know, Alan is somebody who really looks at the book trade kind of from a bird's eye perspective. And as somebody really, I mean, some of his work does certainly require, like, understanding who printed the book, and you have to see the books for that. But really, it's a kind of publishing history and a kind of book trade work that is really based on understanding just the lay of the land of what was printed and published, and that special collections work directly with physical objects is not exactly where the payoffs come from his work. But I think one thing that's been happening, I'd say, the last five years, five/ten years, has been a big turn toward copy-specific evidence as a way, not just to provide kind of anec-data, although that's some of it, but a way to be able to actually like, how else are we going to question the assumptions if we don't start looking at the damn things? And I think that's been a big turn, that the copy-specific now is where it seems like a lot of the publishing energy is. And when I think about the books that are coming out, that's where, like, “Oh, this was a copy of Tottel’ Miscellany that did X, Y, or Z. This is a copy of this playbook where such and such said whatever.” Sort of that building the forest, but out of evidence that cannot be found in external documentation.
But I think that's where we're getting, I think, a lot of interest in women book owners. So, the women publishers stuff is still happening. But now we've got the women book owners. And almost all of that evidence is in the books. There are, of course, there are inventories in some of this, but really, when the rubber hits the road, understanding the demographics of reading, which is why I think we have an opportunity to sort of decenter, at least in some ways, the rich white guy who writes the books. I mean, we're still in England most of the time here. But there is a way, I think, to get a slightly wider or weirder or woolier range of agents or voices into the story when you go to the copy specific, and I think that's where some of the cool stuff is happening right now.
TM: It also encourages PhD students, you don't have to go to these other libraries. You're in an institution that has so many early modern books.
AP: Absolutely, incredible stuff.
TM: You can pick four books, for instance, and each copy can tell you something, you don't have to travel.
AP: And at Ohio State, they haven’t been looked at by every scholar in the field.
TM: Yeah, we have so many great things.
AP: At the Folger, it’s like, everybody (they might not have looked at them the way you have), but they’ve looked at them. I tell people, “You’ve got to go to places like this because nobody’s looked at them.”
TM: So, I'm interested to also, like I'm curious how can we bring our own research into the classroom. So, I would love to hear about how your research has influenced your teaching or your approach within your teaching experience.
TL: I do a number of literature courses that focus on material texts, or just materiality in and of itself. So even in my survey of British literature, when we're looking and we're reading Beowulf, for example,
AP: You gotta do it.
TL: Yeah, we take a look at the scans at the British Library and the way that it's been found into a compilation that has other monster stories. And so, some of it I'm taking from other scholars, of course, who've done that work research-wise and introduced me to those particular resources. But students really start to look at Beowulf in a different way. And immediately, from the start of the class, they're starting to think about, “Oh, stories aren't just words in an anthology. They don't just swim around. They're part of an object that then, particularly this one, was made of animal skin.” So, it’s asking them to think about that. Really, it's a way to keep both culture and literature together.
At ISU, we have a really interesting approach to English; English studies is what we call ourselves because we have multiple sequences within English. So, I am in the English literature sequence, but I also teach early publishing. So, we have students that are taking a number of publishing courses and graduating with an English degree with a specialization in publishing. So, they're learning InDesign. They are working on projects that are getting put out into the world right now. They're really great. They need internships, though. And there's not always enough professional internships, or sometimes the students are interested in library science. And that might be the route we want to take, and so, I've had some interns that are very interested in these quartos that are made out of sheets. And it was actually Aaron Pratt who sent me a copy of his Titus so I could take a look at it. And Claire Bourne, I think she had a Hamlet. Was it Hamlet?
AP: I think that’s right. I believe so.
TL: Claire sent me those, Claire Bourne sent me those, and I looked at them, and I showed them to my students, and the publishing students were just fascinated because they were wondering how they could make them. So, we sat down with InDesign, and I learned a lot of things about publishing software, and imposition software, so that we could recreate the quartos. Now, a bibliographer, like a graduate course in collation, does not want to use Shakespearean sheets. This is meant to be used for undergraduates who just want to fold. But if you were to say, compare it to an actual quarto, you might find a different collation. Ours are just going to have A sheet, you fold it twice. B sheet, you fold it. So, it's been accessible. There's been people at public libraries that have used them for workshops. And actually, it was just at Yale two weeks ago, one of the professors there said, I didn't know you were the one who had done the Shakespeare in Sheets. So, I totally cribbed on what Erin and Claire had done. But it really was the publishing students who said, let's use modern publishing software to make these. So, the student interns took their favorite plays. We found quartos that we could easily—
AP: Digital copies.
TL: —Yeah, digital copies. And the students decided to do the photoshopping. They didn't want all of the reception history on the books. So, they can make that decision. They have their own editorial statements in each of those books that explains their decisions on what they decided to edit out. Because it really is their book. They've made it. They've designed it. And they've come up with particular principles that they wanted to follow.
It's been cool because students all around the country are using my students' Shakespeare in Sheets books.
TM: Yeah, this is excellent.
TL: It ended when the pandemic started. I think it just fizzled out because extracurricular types of things…
AP: Bandwidth was finite.
TL: Yeah. So, maybe we'll bring it back. I know that there's a project, Marlowe in Sheets, now, so, that could be something to keep an eye on.
AP: You know, I was a Shakespeare professor, but I'm now a book guy. And so, like, I don't—I'm in this sort of interesting position where I no longer have to instrumentalize my interest in books to some larger cultural good. I can just hang out with books. And when I teach, it's often like I'm the sort of, like a class visits me at the Harry Ransom Center, and so I'll do a workshop. I have taught a grad seminar. I did that last year. And I've done some extracurricular kind of stuff.
But really, I think, in this sort of maybe we'll chime with some of the stuff I've said before, for me, it's really about cultivating a kind of curiosity and ways of looking. And the way I describe it is I think my job, first and foremost, is to cultivate bibliographical literacies. And bibliographical literacies, I mean, bibliography there in a very capacious way. It's like how to look at books as artifacts and understand something about them. And I think, you know, more important for me than getting the right answer, although I like right answers, is just thinking, how can I see things in a way I've not seen before? And for me, it's like books as artifacts, but I think in general, that kind of way of thinking, of opening the aperture enough to be able to take in types of evidence and to see unfamiliar elements of things you've seen before. That’s what I'm after all the time because I think it pays dividends in broader, humanistic ways that we can riff on.
But also a very practical level, students can learn things. There is something actually really nice sometimes about just knowing a fact, and that can make it so that you're not constantly trying to make the hurdle all the way to the end of like, what does this play mean? You know, that you have these finite things that are very concrete deliverables, as it were, in sort of business speak, where you're like, “Oh yeah, I know a thing now, awesome. And I know it because I looked hard.” And I think that is just a really powerful thing, and it's really rewarding for the students, it's rewarding for me on the kind of teaching side of it, but you can see in a very real way that these encounters have sort of turned the cogs in a way they might not have turned before.
TM: Yeah, I love the sentence, “cultivating a curiosity by looking.” Yeah, exactly how we should come in, ask questions, look around, and—
AP: Yeah, what's there?
TM: Exactly, what’s there?
AP: It's amazing, like, sometimes we just don't look. We all do this in our lives all the time. You just take things for granted, you keep on moving, only so much attention we have. This is also a slowness to the bibliographical work that I think, I know you have found around really rewarding, that there's a kind of like, almost a meditative kind of function of the tedium of like looking for holes and gutters of books or whatever it might be, or reading through inventories for God knows how long.
TL: Yeah, and I think I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the study of rare books is accessible in the sense that you have to get to a library.
AP: Right, right, right. That's right.
TL: But once you're in the room, it's not always the student who is most, you know, the straight A student that gets hooked and gets wrapt. And I think that has been something that I really enjoyed seeing. And also, when you just lay out books and you tell the students, I don't know. I haven't looked at that book. You're going to be the expert on it.
AP: Best of luck with, my friend.
TL: We do provide resources, but I haven't studied every book that I put out on the table. I haven’t thoroughly looked at it, and that's actually more fun for me.
AP: So much cooler.
TL: And it asks the students to not always trust authority. And to ask the questions, because why not? And to do some independent research. And I feel like that's one thing right now with a lot of students having been educated through the pandemic. I don't know that all of the students have had opportunities to do that kind of just exploratory work. Everything was so goal-driven for a lot of these students. And so, breaking that and telling them,
TM: I don't have the answer.
TL: No. And I have papers where I have the students write the process of their research. Because the number of places that they look and the number of questions that they ask, and try to find out, that's what earns them the higher grade. It's not necessarily that they discover something. But I want to see that process. And I want to see their brains moving resource to resource beyond Google. Although Google's good, too. Google could work. Yeah, so that’s been fun for me to work with students in that respect.
TM: Excellent. So, as we wrap up, for our listeners who won't be able to join us today for the talk, what can they expect to discover or gain insights based on your talks later today? Can you provide a sneak peek, one minute or that wraps up, you know, what are you going to discuss today?
AP: I can be very fast. So like, you read stuff about the First Folio. They say the book was advertised at the Frankfurt Book Fair, which was a major fair, trade fair held in Frankfurt twice a year. The First Folio was in a catalog associated in some way with the fair in 1622, before the book was published, and again in 1624. And here's the spoiler: the book was not advertised as being at the fair. It was advertised to English audiences as something available in England. But, the idea that the Shakespeare First Folio was advertised to a Continental audience, the idea that maybe Shakespeare had a reputation beyond England that would help explain why he became the Jesus of literature in this way, the Frankfurt element is part of that mythology. And so really, what I'm going to be doing is just saying, hey, Shakespeare people, maybe actually read some book trade history, and you'd be good to go.
TM: Excellent. Excited for that talk.
TL: So, I'll start the same way Aaron did. If you read Shakespeare studies or work on the first folio, you’re probably going to come across an anecdote that says, “The Bodleian Library banned English plays until 1624 when Shakespeare's First Folio arrived.” Now, I'm making fun of that at this point, just because I'm going to bust the myth, but I believed that.
AP: We were all taught it.
TL: Exactly. And Sir Thomas Bodley has some really great phrases of what he called English plays, like “baggage books”—
AP: —"riff raff”
TL: —“riff raff,” yes exactly. I mean, he's indicating, like so many others had at the time, in terms of literature or scholarship, was that playbooks were cheap and ephemeral. Even Bodley didn't want them in his library because they were too low class. Or janky, like Aaron says.
AP: Deep janky.
TL: Yeah, deep janky. So, what I will be showing is that that narrative is false. There were playbooks in the early Bodleian library, and that Bodley died in 1613, and that it was the libraries who welcomed these onto the shelves. They bound them up together. They weren't necessarily aiming to get English plays. They were free books. They came in from the stationers; they bound them up, put them on the shelf, gave them shelf marks. And when the Shakespeare folio arrived, they really didn't treat it in any way different than the other folios that came in in the same shipment. So, the binding that it has is not special.
AP: It’s a book.
TM: A regular book.
TL: It's just a book. But that's not what, if you look in scholarship, [people are saying]. People made stuff up.
AP: It’s hilarious.
TL: They imagined that the folio had some kind of, the arms of Sir Thomas Bodley, and they imaged that Bodley was still alive when the First Folio was published. So, I think there's gonna be some myth busting, and maybe there's also gonna be a little dragging over the coals.
AP: Just a tiny bit.
TL: And I think part of it is also, like, I think there's a gender dynamic to it too. There’s a notion we want Bodley, who’s a real connoisseur of academic works.
AP: Serious man.
TL: We want to him to pat Shakespeare on the back. Like, there's this desire for that male affirmation, the two giants of the book in this period to shake hands and make up. And I think that's a little weird and creepy. I think it's interesting to see how people were able to take two coordinates in a library history and shape them into something that puts Shakespeare and Bodley at the center.
TM: Great, that was an excellent talk. Thank you for coming onto the podcast.
AP: Thank you.
TL: Yeah, thanks for your interest
TM: I really enjoyed this discussion and learned a lot. And I'm excited to attend the talk.
AP: Cool, we’ll take it.
TM: So, thanks so much.
AP: Appreciate it.