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Friday, November 17, 2006

BtR's Best Book Award

We've been a little delinquent with our reading group -- supposedly one of our regular activities here at Blogging the Renaissance -- because, frankly, it's a lot of work. You can see our detailed comments on the one book we have actually managed to read if you click on the link to Debora Shuger's Political Theologies on the right-hand sidebar. You may also note that it has been some time since we did that.

We will do it again; we're talking about doing it again; it's imminent. However, in the meantime, we've decided to foist the work off onto you, our dedicated readers, while we try to pull ourselves together.

We'd like you to tell us what you think is the best book of Renaissance criticism you've read in the last year. The book doesn't have to be published in the last year; we just want to know what you're reading and what you think about it.

So, if there's a book that you read recently that impressed you, tell us -- briefly, informally, or in more depth, if you feel like it.

Maybe in the future we'll do a worst-book write-in. After we've all got tenure. Or didn't get tenure and no longer care.

  • At 11/18/2006 11:53:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    Maybe our readers don't read books? Or maybe it's just the weekend?

     

  • At 11/19/2006 01:57:00 AM, Blogger bdh wrote…

    I guess I'll get the ball rolling. I've got a couple, so I'll discuss them as nominees in categories.

    In the "teaching" category, I offer Lisa Hopkins's Beginning Shakespeare (Manchester UP, 2005). I love Hopkins's work, and this is such an accessible, engaging survey of current ideological approaches to Shakespeare criticism that I believe it belongs on undergraduate course reading lists. I've reviewed the book in more detail here.

    Another nomination for "best book in Renaissance criticism" is Stephen Orgel's The Authentic Shakespeare (Routledge, 2002), an selection of his critical work previously published elsewhere. I think along with Jean Howard, Lisa Hopkins, David Scott Kastan, and Andrew Hadfield, Orgel is one of the more prominent influences on my own writing and critical approach. Hence the nomination. I could easily nominate titles by each of the aforementioned critics for "best criticism".

    Another book that I think deserves mention is Robin Headlam-Wells, Shakespeare's Humanism (Cambridge UP, 2006). Although much of the volume is geared toward challenging the assumptions of much recent criticism, I found some of the tangents that were explored to be far more interesting and provocative.

    Finally, a nomination in the "best new artist" category: Will Fisher, Materializing Gender in Early Modern English Literature and Culture (Cambridge UP, 2006). I haven't read large chunks of the book, but Fisher has published portions of it elsewhere (Renaissance Quarterly, ELH, etc.) and I was particularly impressed with his essay on beards. It has shaped my own approach to the question of non-genital markers of sexuality and the distinctions between sexual and gender identity in early modern Europe, particularly as it stands in opposition to Thomas Laqueur and his "one-sex model".

     

  • At 11/19/2006 01:59:00 AM, Blogger bdh wrote…

    Ugh. Have just spotted a number of grammatical errors in the last post. How embarrassment...

     

  • At 11/19/2006 09:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    Alas! It's not that I don't read books (although I DO prefer the ones with pictures)--it's that the ones I've read lately have been narrowly tailored to my own obsessions. This means that they're either not going to interest very many other people (like that one book, which is the first monograph on Neglected Author in some 30 years, or that other, which is an exceedingly minor work on some minor Miltonic works), or they're going to be too revealing about my own current scholarship. Or both.

    One book I'm looking forward to reading over winter break, however, is Thomas Luxon's Single Imperfection: Milton, Marriage, and Friendship. I loved Luxon's book on Bunyan and puritan allegory, and this one sounds even better. So, ask this question again in two months and I'll let you know how it was!

     

  • At 11/20/2006 02:02:00 AM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    Me too. It's pathetic that the mere divulgence of a book or two should be so fraught, but it is. Plus, my reading this semester has been very old school, and I've barely cracked any twenty-first century books.

     

  • At 11/20/2006 04:36:00 AM, Blogger bdh wrote…

    My nominations look so lonely...

     

  • At 11/20/2006 10:00:00 AM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    I should also mention that I no longer read any books. Chapters, yes. Articles, yes. Books, rarely.

    I'm clearly going to academic hell.

     

  • At 11/20/2006 12:21:00 PM, Blogger James wrote…

    Another "best new artist" nomination: Henry Turner, The English Renaissance Stage: Geometry, Poetics, and the Practical Spatial Arts 1580-1630.

    Alas, I have no time for a detailed review, not being a tenured epicure. But it's a sparkling look at what would be today be called admirable interdisciplinarity among early modern poets and playwrights, and Turner's one of those critics who does the work--archival and conceptual--that it occurs to you that you ought to have done and are glad someone did.

     

  • At 11/20/2006 07:59:00 PM, Blogger Truewit wrote…

    I like the Turner book too, James. Haven't gotten through the whole thing, and it looks from a distance like some chapters are a bit more convincing than others, but I'm glad he wrote it.

    Also in that category: Mark Dawson's "Gentility and the Comic Theatre in Later Stuart England" (Cambridge, 2005), which is stuffed with useable stuff. (I love books with stuffing.) A bit out of my ken, but I like it all the better for that. I also realize that I wrote a recent footnote (in a draft) calling him Richard Dawson, who is a totally different kind of scholar. One, for example, who is interested mostly in what "Survey says!"

    Anyway, like Simplicius, I've been reduced to chapter-reading (ok, let's face it, acknowledgements and index-reading) rather than whole-book-reading, so I'm not sure what else to put here.

     

  • At 11/21/2006 08:22:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    If this award were to include history as well as criticism, I would mention Jonathan Scott's England's Troubles: Seventeenth-Century English Political Instability in European Context (Cambridge UP, 2000)--far from new, but I read it this year. Excellent.

    Among books of criticism, I'd nominate these--again, they aren't new, but as Prospero says to Miranda, 'tis new to thee:

    Greg Walker, The Politics of Performance in Early Renaissance Drama (Cambridge UP, 1998)

    Marta Straznicky, Privacy, Playreading, and Women’s Closet Drama, 1550-1700 (Cambridge UP, 2004)

    Do I read anything not published by CUP? I think I do...

     

  • At 11/21/2006 11:29:00 PM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    "New to thee" is exactly right: I was curious chiefly about what people are reading now, whether it's old or not. I myself was thinking about sticking John Guillory's *Poetic Authority* up here, and that's as old as, well ... something from 1983. But, embarrassingly, I just got around to reading it this past month.

    One thing I *don't* think we need to be embarrassed about is chapter-reading. Seriously: how many critical books actually sustain a thorough, cover-to-cover reading? Sometimes, in fits of scrupulosity, I force myself to read that way, but I find I just get bogged down in details, lose energy, lose focus, and start forgetting what I even started reading the book for in the first place.

    Oh, if we're talking about cribs for teaching, I have a great one, and it's fabulously old/new. Stanford UP just published it in 2002, though the original (in German) was published in 1961. It's Peter Szondi, *An Essay on the Tragic.* The whole book is about 90 pages, and it's divided into two halves. The first half surveys philosophies of tragedy from Romanticism to the twentieth century. (Yeah, no classical or Renaissance, but that we can get on our own, and this is a great supplement). This is the good part: there's a four-page chapter on Hegel. Imagine. And it's good. Another four pages or so on Nietzsche. Simmel. Kierkegaard. Etc. The second half is less interesting -- there we get readings of plays, and that list of plays has *really* aged. But the first part is well worth it. Great for focusing a discussion about tragedy.

     

  • At 11/22/2006 01:34:00 AM, Blogger muse wrote…

    BDH mentioned Will Fisher's book and I'll just add that it *is* great. And it is also very sadly the last in the Orgel-edited Cambridge Series Studies in Renaissance Culture. Alas for the rest of us trying to get books published.

     

  • At 11/22/2006 04:20:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    Stuart Clark's Thinking with Demons: 700 odd pages of intellectual formalism AND historical analysis, grounded in 1000s of primary texts. A terrific article by J. B. Trapp in the JWCI on visual representations of Petrarch's Laura. Eisenstein's legendary Printing Press as Agent of Change, which bizarrely enough cites hardly any primary texts...

     

  • At 11/22/2006 02:16:00 PM, Blogger bdh wrote…

    @ muse: That's great news about the Fisher book. I should get hold of it. I'm playing the "wait for it to go on sale as a publisher remainder" game. Bummer about the CUP series. There's still a couple of series' put out by Palgrave left. Quick question - is it kosher to have your thesis marked by a member/s of an editorial board for a series you're keen on publishing it in (i.e. in revised form), or is that too Machiavellian?

    @ conrad: Clark's book is very impressive, but it's so easy to get lost in the density and dryness of his prose. Following this thought, I should have nominated something by David Scott Kastan in the first place – his work is not only critically stunning, but it's a pleasure to read. The man obviously has a great sense of humour.

     

  • At 11/23/2006 04:55:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    bdh: actually, I disagree. I find Clark's writing very clear and lucid, which is especially impressive when he dips his toes into the Theory pond. He ably manages to apply semiotics to his field without it becoming the usual unreadable nonsense. It isn't funny, I grant you--but I think it's perfectly clear.

     

  • At 11/23/2006 10:43:00 AM, Anonymous toronto lurker wrote…

    I'm not sure the end of the Orgel series is going to make a vast difference -- as far as I can gather, it doesn't mean CUP is planning to cut down significantly on the number of early modern studies books they publish. From what I've heard, this was Orgel's decision, not the press's. I have slightly mixed feelings about that series anyway (quite a few _great_ titles but also some absolutely mediocre ones, and a lot of very short -- too short, really -- books...).

    As for recent favourites, I'm impressed with the first two volumes in the _Redefining British Theatre History_ series (Palgrave/Huntington) edited by Peter Holland (Holland and Orgel, eds., From Script to Stage in Early Modern England_ and _From Performance to Print in Shakespeare's England_); D. R. Woolf's _The Social Circulation of the Past : English historical culture, 1500-1730_ (OUP, 2005) is really good (but history, not lit crit); I find Clark's book extremely useful and impressive, too; and I've recently re-read Pat Parker's _Shakespeare from the Margins_, which still blows me away, and Bruce Smith's _Acoustic World of Early Modern England_, which remains as original and stunning as it was a few years ago. Oh, and Joseph Koerner's _The Reformation of the Image_ (2004) is as learned as it's theoretically astute and original. Very cool book.

    PS.: Another not so recent favourite: Julie Peters, _The Theatre of the Book, 1480-1880_ (OUP, 2000) -- awe-inspiring in reach and range, if somewhat limited in its usefulness precisely because of that, since she only spends a few paragraphs on any particular moment in the complex and very extended (both historically and geographically) story she's telling.

     

  • At 11/28/2006 09:51:00 AM, Anonymous Crispinella wrote…

    Some belated thoughts... I rarely get to read books the whole way through unless I'm reviewing them, but I really liked these...

    New:

    Sophie Tomlinson, Women on Stage in Stuart Drama (CUP, 2006): excellent on court theatre, as you'd expect, but also interesting and subtle on the influence of female performers on the Caroline commercial stage.


    Not quite new:

    Pascale Aebischer, Shakespeare's Violated Bodies: Stage and Screen Performance (CUP, 2004): an exhilarating and at times gripping account, with some good feminist ire.

    Laura Gowing, Common Bodies: Women, Touch and Power in Seventeenth-Century England (Yale, 2003): a genuinely cover-to-cover read.

    And I've not read all of Zachary Lesser's Renaissance Drama and the Politics of Publication: Readings in the English Book Trade (CUP 2004), but what I have read is superb.


    Old:

    Like Simplicius I've been reading Empson, specifically Essays on Shakespeare (CUP, 1986). How can you argue with that beard? http://www.poetsforum.com/images/poets/empson.jpg

     

  • At 11/28/2006 10:00:00 AM, Anonymous Crispinella wrote…

    Oh, and I meant to say - I agree with Toronto Lurker that the end of the Orgel series doesn't necessarily mean that CUP's early modern publishing will decrease. In fact it might mean that they publish a wider range of early modern stuff.

     


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