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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Munday, Munday (Da Daaa ... Da Da Da)

The other day I discovered that, in the very recent past, someone has written a book on Anthony Munday. Let me repeat that, without links and other distractions. A book. Anthony Munday.

Subsequently, I found that someone else has written another book on Munday, also very recently. Two whole monographs on Anthony Munday, in the last few years. This in fact doubles – as far as I’m aware – the Sum Total Of Books About Munday Written At Any Point Throughout All Time. (The only previous one appeared in the 1920s with the charmingly period title, “Anthony Munday, Man of Letters.”)

But wonders have not yet ceased. Just last year, Ashgate published a new edition of Anthony Munday’s translation of – wait for it – Amadis de Gaule. In case this doesn’t mean much, this is perhaps the most reviled of the whole genre of Iberian romances – a character in The New Inn mentions it among a list of other “publique Nothings; / Abortiues of the fabulous, darke cloister”; actually, Jonson seems to have been a little obsessed with Amadis, since he has Truewit (!) single it out, and then mentions it again in his “Execration against Vulcan,” saying that had his library contained books about Arthur and Amadis, he could understand a little divinely-sent fire. A letter from William Cecil in 1568 uses Amadis as a byword for stories that can’t possibly be believed.

This particular edition – weighing in at a sprightly 1,033 pages – appears in the Ashgate series, “Non-Canonical Early Modern Popular Texts.” Indeed.

At any rate, we’re faced with a real Anthony Munday Renaissance. We might need to declare an Anthony Munday day. Maybe on a Monday.

I find several things odd about this. First of all, when I arrived in grad school, I was repeatedly told, don't write your dissertation on a single author, nobody publishes single-author books anymore, no single authors. It was clearly the kind of thing people were saying at around that time, because one of my undergraduate professors said exactly the same thing to me the year before. But apparently it isn't true. And we're not just talking about some book about Will, Edmund, or John here. Anthony Munday. The man who several teachers of mine, over time, independently, have in passing referred to as the perfect example of a very, very bad writer. The word “hack,” in fact, comes up with a surprising regularity when Munday’s name is mentioned.

The thing is, reading these books, I’m almost convinced that Anthony Munday is the early modern author we should all know more about. First of all, he had an underground life that’s pretty fascinating: Hamilton insists that he was a recusant – largely, I think, on the basis of his connections to various Catholic families and because of a perhaps suspicious trip to Rome in 1579 – but this in the face of clearly documented evidence that, from the early 1580s to at least 1612, he was working as a pursuivant, bringing Catholics and puritans to Topcliffe for a little water-boarding and associated other torments. If he was Catholic, he was clearly a conflicted one. (Hamilton blurs this over by arguing that he was a strong loyalist, but that hardly seems to cut it – it’s one thing to decide to fight Philip II, say, but another to turn ordinary people over to the authorities, especially to as notorious a character as Topcliffe). For another thing, he was a voluminous writer in a burgeoning print marketplace, a real example of Lori Newcomb’s category of “popular authorship,” contributing vitally to a number of print genres or subgenres – newsbooks, prose romances, popular drama, etc. He single-handedly seems to have translated all the major Iberian prose romances into English, in two spurts in the 1590s and again 1618-9. And, as Hill’s book demonstrates, he was closely connected to the developing civic culture of London in the period. All of which makes him perhaps interesting, though still, perhaps, a hack.

In the spirit of this Munday Renaissance, I want to offer up an image that appears at the end of his account of his 1579 trip to Rome, The English Roman Life (where, incidentally, he says that he went to Europe merely to see the world – though he does seem almost immediately to have fallen among the English Catholics abroad, including living for a fairly extended time at the English College in Rome). At several moments in the main body of the text, Munday engages in a little war over martyrdom – he points out that at dinner at the English College, someone will often read aloud from a book of martyrs which includes, along with the grisly deaths of various saints, the much more recent grisly deaths of various Catholics executed by the Elizabethan government; later, he remarks that while executed Catholics die begging and pleading for mercy, Protestant martyrs die in the calm confidence that their deaths testify to God’s truth. Etc.

Then, after the story of his trip, he appends a brief narrative of an Englishman who went to Rome for the express purpose, it seems, of being martyred. On the first day of his arrival, this person accosted a priest carrying the consecrated host through a street; but while grabbing for it, he missed, and the bystanders misinterpreted the whole event as a piece of over-enthusiastic worship, not an attack. So he went back to his lodgings. The next day, he appeared at St. Peter’s and mounted a much more successful attack, emptying out the wine and grabbing for the wafer, while a crowd tried to beat him back. He was taken away, questioned, confessed that he had come to St. Peter’s exclusively for a little eucharist-grabbing, and was executed. Here’s the woodcut, which gives you the whole story in four scenes:

It’s not great quality, but in panel 2 you can see the attack on the elevated host, and the group of fists raised above him in the background. Notice that he seems to have decided to show a fair amount of leg, for this particular occasion.

Not quite as funny as a captioning contest, but there it is. Anthony Munday.

One thing that none of these books explain is why, in 1991, the Violent Femmes would decide to set an Anthony Munday poem as a rock song. Check out this album, track 5. How did they even come across it? There's no album credit, explanation, or comment that I'm aware of. I just happened to be taking an undergraduate survey of sixteenth-century poetry when I heard the song ...

  • At 5/17/2006 10:29:00 AM, Blogger La Lecturess wrote…

    One of my closest friends in grad school wrote a chapter of his diss on Munday. And I have to admit, when he told me about this plan, way back when, I said, "who?"

    As for the Violent Femmes song (which I've long been looking for a reason to play for my undergrads): it's been in The Oxford Book of English Verse since at least the early 1970s--it's the only contribution by Munday to that volume--so that might be one explanation.


  • At 5/17/2006 11:14:00 AM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    If the list of plays ascribed to Munday (via Malone) in that Wikipedia entry is correct (and I am very much a Wiki-skeptic), then Munday has to be one of the least-printed of early modern playwrights.

    10 of his 14 plays seem to have gone unprinted. Not a very good record. Perhaps this testifies to the difference between performance and print markets for drama?


  • At 5/17/2006 11:43:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    Cool post. I am interested in (and not uninvested in) the question of single author books and have been hatching a theory about the advent of their return having to do with newer methodologies and recovery biz. Along those lines, I've been noticing an increase in inquiry--conferences, books, grad seminars--organized not only by a single author, but by a single text. And yet these are all marked by transdisciplinary and sometimes transhistorical perspectives. Just thinking in pixels, on a Wednesday, inspired by a Munday.


  • At 5/17/2006 11:49:00 AM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    I agree, hey we, and I think the return of single-author books has something to do with what we might call second-wave (or is it third-wave by now?) theory. In the 80s and 90s, the canon needed expanding, contextualizing, historicizing, politicizing, and the most immediate way to do that was to write books on a wide range of texts rather than a single (canonical, white, male) author. As the profession has pretty much internalized and assimilated the theory of that period, I think there's less impetus to avoid the single-author study, because now even a single-author study will incorporate what we've learned from the theory of the past 20 years, and will be politicized and contextualized and will no doubt incorporate the work of many other writers in its study of the single author.

    Actually, Shugar's book on political theologies in Measure for Measure, recently much discussed here, is an example of this--it's ostensibly a single-text book like the panels you mention, but of course it takes in much, much more than that. Not that it's particularly interested in the work of 80s and 90s theory, but you see my point. Perhaps.


  • At 5/17/2006 12:03:00 PM, Blogger La Lecturess wrote…

    Okay, so I just went to the liner notes for the Violent Femmes' Why Do Birds Sing? (which--does this make me cool or uncool?--was actually one of the first CDs I ever purchased), and the credits say this: "All songs written by Gordon Gano...except...'Hey Nonny Nonny,' music and additional lyrics by Gordon Gano, text: 16th C. poem Colin by the Shepard Tonie."

    Does that clear anything up?

    It's actually an awesome song, and probably downloadable somewhere.


  • At 5/17/2006 12:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    I do. There's been a broadening of historiographic and 'disciplinary' methods that at times (and paradoxically perhaps) warrants a narrower textual or authorial focus. And I was looking at the Munday books which seem to follow this sort of broadening pattern as well: Munday is newly relevant as a figure who can help us better understand Catholocism (in the case of one of the book) or the broad civic function of theatre (in another). Perhaps this is one of new historicism's legacies. But the BtR gang would know better than I.


  • At 5/17/2006 12:12:00 PM, Blogger La Lecturess wrote…

    Oh, and re: single-author dissertations: when I started grad school in 1999 the program held a series of "professionalization" meetings for first and second year students that were an effort to get us to think ahead about such things as publishing, attending conferences, planning the dissertation, and so on, and at one such meeting my future advisor made a strong case for reconsidering "unfashionable" forms such as the biography, the edition, and the (less unfashionable) single-author dissertation.

    I do know a very small handful of people who are doing or who did single-author projects, usually on either big names like Shakespeare or Fielding, but also on understudied 20th-C. authors.

    The two things *we* were warned against were 1) the thematic but period- hopping diss (you know: one chapter on Shakespeare, one on Jane Austen, one on Pound...), and 2) jumping on something that's currently trendy ("The Body," e.g.), which surely wouldn't be by the time that we were ourselves trying to publish and get jobs.

    Both of which still strike me as sound warnings.


  • At 5/17/2006 12:26:00 PM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    La Lecturess: Re: liner notes: That's weird. I'm right that it's clearly the Munday poem, though, right? "Beauty sat bathing by a stream" and all that?

    Another book for the New Particularity: that Newcomb book I mentioned in the post: it's all about a single text by Robert Greene, though it then uses that as a springboard for various much wider issues having to do with the nature of the popular, with reading practices, etc. It's a good book. I wonder, though, whether the title -- "Reading Popular Romance in Early Modern England" -- doesn't indicate some level of embarrassment, on her part or on the publisher's, with the idea of a book that basically centers on the much-maligned *Pandosto*?


  • At 5/17/2006 12:45:00 PM, Blogger Greenwit wrote…

    Has anybody written on the fact that Munday's eucharist-grabbing anecdote appears to be the backstory of everyone's favorite castrated pirate, Grimaldi (aka, THE Renegado)? Grimaldi lives to be forgiven by the priest he attacked, but still...


  • At 5/17/2006 01:04:00 PM, Blogger La Lecturess wrote…

    According to Toronto's Representative Poetry Online, the poem was first published under the name Shephard Tonie in Englands Helicon [Poems collected and edited by John Bodenham or L. N.] (London: J. R. for J. Flasket, 1600). STC 3192, "but since it appeared again in a romance, Primaleon of Greece, 1619, by Munday, the poem is usually attributed to him."

    Apparently it was reprinted and attributed to this "Shepherd Tonie" in Francis T. Palgrave's 1875 Golden Treasury of the Best Songs and Lyrical Poems in the English Language. So perhaps it exists under this attribution in other more recent volumes, as well. (See this Bartleby.com page, for whatever it's worth.)


  • At 5/17/2006 01:12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    In response to LL's post: I'm working on a book about a single author's theories of the body. Doh!

    But seriously, it does seem to me that certain topics dismissed as 'trendy' by some actually come into view for sound historical/philosophical/political reasons. I've always been an advocate of keeping such work emphatically tied to those stakes rather than just tossing around trendy terms (which i know happens).

    I'm a little skeptical of people dismissing work as trendy because that dismissal often comes off as somewhat conservative, if that makes sense. I was about to offer a disclaimer about being in a 'traditional' field where I'm sensitive to/surrounded by conservative and/or traditional scholars, but I remembered I'm on blogging the renaissance!


  • At 5/17/2006 01:57:00 PM, Blogger La Lecturess wrote…


    Yes, I was going to add that "trendy" is to me a problematic term, and that it seems awfully hard to predict in advance which subjects are, indeed, going to have only a brief & transient vogue, and which will turn out to have legs. Urging one's students to avoid the trendy is good advice as far as it goes, but it just doesn't go very far! One person's trendy is another person's path-breaking. And vice versa.

    I should add that this same woman was assigned as the out-of-period member on my partner's dissertation committee. She took his advisor aside early on and told him that there was no way he'd ever get a job working on the stuff he was working on, blah blah blah, and it was unconscionable to let him pursue this project.

    In fact, she wound up loving his work, once she read it, and some of the issues he deals with have become very hot, so all's well--but this may tell you something about her predictive powers!


  • At 5/17/2006 02:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    So are you saying bodies have legs? Har.

    Your anecdote has a good lesson: every committee should have a complete skeptic. One of my colleagues, a total traditionalist who says things like 'race and gender won't matter in 5 years,' ended up speaking out very strongly on behalf of my work after reading it. I figure if I could convince him about I could convince damn near anybody. He's on the committee of one of my advisees, and he's back to being a grumpy old skeptic again, but the student will be the better for it, mehopes.


  • At 5/18/2006 06:31:00 AM, Blogger bdh wrote…

    I'm just a little concerned that the area I'm working on has become quite popular in medieval studies of late, and I'm hoping by the time I submit it won't have 'caught on' for early modern... : (


  • At 5/18/2006 10:08:00 AM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    My own feeling is that "trendiness" is not really a problem in and of itself; the problem is when trendiness is substituted for rigorous and interesting scholarship. If you're writing a diss and it suddenly "catches on" before you can publish your book, then if your book is really good that will only increase its marketability. The only danger, I think, is if a bunch of really bad books come out on the same topic, fail to sell, and publishers get skittish. But again, if your book is good, it will find a home and then you will stand as the best book in the field. So I think the fear of trendiness is overblown. People can tell good work from the merely trendy pretty easily.


  • At 5/18/2006 10:43:00 AM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    I think what Hieronimo says is true, though the choice to go with a topic that has seen some "action" can be a risky one. I made that choice -- more out of naivete and ignorance than any real deliberate choosing -- in pursuing a topic on which several books had already been written, or were well in progress; and I had a real problem finding a publisher, I think at least in part as a result. In fact, one editor told me directly that she didn't think she could sell the book to the board, because a previous book in the same area had failed to sell well. (I wanted to ask her what books of criticism *do* sell well ... but it seemed pointless, and in any case I appreciated her candor -- it saved me the time of going through a long process with a small chance of a good outcome.) It is, I think, easier to persuade publishers by saying "this is the first book to do X," than it is to say, "this is the best book to do X."


  • At 5/18/2006 10:48:00 AM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    Briefly emerging from my internet blackout...

    All smart points, to which I'll add only this one little comment on LL's advisor's advice. I imagine by "trendy" she meant something like pursuing a diss. topic simply because others are pursuing it and it seems hot right now, vs. pusuing a diss. topic because you actually have something to say about it. In other words, her advice probably had more to do with how grad students think about deciding on a topic and less with the relative merits of certain "trendy" topics. Is that right?


  • At 5/18/2006 10:49:00 AM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    Yeah, Ink, I was thinking of you when I said that the only danger is if a few books come out and fail to sell (whatever that means for an academic press), but then again, you are now contracted with a great press and soon you will be recognized for having written the best book on the subject. (Well, not recognized by anyone on this blog, of course, but in your so-called "real" life.) So I think the problem with at least some of your presses is that they had published one not-so-good book on the topic, it didn't sell well, and they foolishly mistook the particular book for the general area.


  • At 5/18/2006 11:05:00 AM, Blogger La Lecturess wrote…


    Yes, I think that's what she meant, and the actual examples she gave were beside the point. I suspect she was concerned about the tendency of some students to be attracted to bright shiny things--which is to say, by a sexy new book or issue or theoretical framework they've just encountered--without yet having any deep investment in the content they intend to hitch to that approach. (She also emphasized, and I think this is probably a better form of the same advice, that whatever topic we chose, we'd be living with it for probably ten years, so it had better be something in which we felt a real investment!)


  • At 5/18/2006 11:47:00 AM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    Nice! Anonymous blog props. Well, best book or not, it is coming out.

    Can I use anonymous blog props on the back cover of a book? "'The best book on the subject' -- Hieronimo."


  • At 5/18/2006 04:37:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    It's true: Inkhorn's book is amazing. Head and shoulders above the competition, clearly the smartest one out there, which of course will surprise none of his adoring fans here at BtR.

    Also, nice work, LL, on the publication history of the poem that became a Violent Femmes's song.

    Now, back to my blackout...


  • At 5/18/2006 07:21:00 PM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    Man, it's a lovefest here. But neither of you two have read the whole thing! So maybe it just has a couple of good bits. Which would be fine. Right now I'm revising one of the less good bits. Hoping to make it into a not-quite-so-less-good bit.

    La Lecturess: I'm glad to get that bio of the Munday (?) poem. Is "Shephard" a name? A kind of pastoral romance pseudonym? Very odd.


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