Mary Wroth (1587–1651) was one of the most productive female poets in the first half of the seventeenth century. Her prose romance Urania was printed in 1621 with all the outward marks of status and achievement. Lyric poems appear scattered throughout Urania and, after the romance itself, Wroth also included a sonnet sequence entitled Pamphilia to Amphilanthus. An earlier version of this sonnet sequence also exists in a carefully arranged and formatted manuscript written entirely in her own hand. Although the printed version contains Wroth's later revisions of individual poems and a reorganization of the sequence as a whole, there are significant aspects of the manuscript formatting that cannot be recreated in print. A comparison of the layout of Wroth's poetry in manuscript and print reveals the greater flexibility of manuscript and demonstrates how the choice of medium can limit or empower authors' decisions about how to present their work to readers.
"Formatting" and "layout" are broad, modern terms encompassing the ways in which all of the component parts of a text are arranged, as well as the ways those components are placed spatially on the page. Formatting includes decisions about how to indicate visually logical sections of a work (individual poems, larger subsections of poems within the overall collection, etc.), and other general design questions: what style of font should be used, how much text will fit on each page, how wide will the margins be? Another important consideration of formatting and layout is the use of what Gérard Genette has termed the " paratext," by which he means the elements of a physical text that are designed to facilitate the use of a text (such as a table of contents, page numbers or running heads, for instance) or increase its attractiveness (illustrations or decorative borders) but which are not considered to be part of the text itself.
In the early modern era, print encouraged homogeneity of layout because of the greater ease and cost-effectiveness of setting up typeface in easily repeatable formulas. This conformity could also help readers to internalize the formulas and thus increase comprehension. Because conformity offers no special advantages of economy or ease in manuscript production, however, the medium could be said to encourage authors to experiment with more subtle variations of formatting in guiding a reader's response to a text. The manuscript and print versions of Wroth's Pamphilia to Amphilanthus provide an excellent example of the respective formatting tendencies /conventions/ possibilities of manuscript and print.
Here we provide links to multi-page PDF reproductions of two versions of Pamphilia to Amphilanthus: one from Wroth's manuscript; the other from the 1621 printing, so that you can compare how the sonnet sequence is presented in manuscript and print. The latter pages of each feature a "corona," a series of sonnets linked by the repetition of the last line of each sonnet as the first line of the next (the last line of the final sonnet repeats the first line of the initial sonnet, forming the "circle" of the corona or crown). Print each PDF so that you can carefully examine them and compare them.
Pay special attention to Wroth's layout of the sonnets on the page, and to the paratextual elements like titles, chapter and/or page numbers, table of contents or indexes, and even catchwords, those words in the bottom righthand corner of the page which match up with the first word on the following page.
How does Wroth manipulate the layout and the paratext included in the manuscript in order to create a sense of a carefully arranged and organized sequence rather than a random assortment of unrelated poems? How many different elements of the manuscript's format contribute to this sense of order and organization?
Also, pay attention to Wroth's use of punctuation. In particular, what do you make of Wroth's use of the segno—the symbol that looks a bit like a slanted "$"? Does the way that Wroth uses it seem like she has a specific meaning for the symbol, or is it merely a decorative device?
Now looking at the sonnet sequence, pay careful attention to the layout and paratextual elements of the sequence. What portions of the layout and paratext remain the same in this sub-section of the manuscript? What elements, on the other hand, are different? In particular, how does Wroth use the segno in this section of the sonnet sequence? (Hint: Make sure to look at the final page of the section when answering this question.) What do these changes in formatting suggest about Wroth's understanding of the corona? How might they alter your understanding of the corona's relationship to the rest of the sonnet sequence?
By comparison with the flexibility and variety of formatting in the manuscript sequence, the printed text of Pamphilia to Amphilanthus proves relatively stiff and uniform. Notice how little difference there is between the two portions of the printed text in comparison to the manuscript version. How does this uniformity of layout change the way you perceive the corona and its relationship to the other poems in the collection?
More generally, how does the formatting of poems in the printed text differ from the formatting in the manuscript? Which aspects of its layout and paratext seem similar to the opening section of the manuscript, and which seem similar to the manuscript corona? Which elements of layout and paratext are unique to the printed text, and which elements of the manuscript are abandoned in print?
Once you have identified the differences, try to think about how the transition from manuscript to print might help to explain these changes. Would the elements unique to the print version be more difficult to recreate in a handwritten document? Conversely, would the elements unique to the manuscript be difficult to recreate in the process of printing, or seem out of place in a printed book?
Alexander, Gavin. "Constant Works: A Framework for Reading Mary Wroth," Sidney Journal and Newsletter 14, No. 2 (1996–97) 5–32.
Dubrow, Heather. "'And Thus Leave Off': Reevaluating Mary Wroth's Folger Manuscript, V.a.104," Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 22 (2003) 273–92.
Genette, Gérard. Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation. Trans. Jane E. Lewin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Masten, Jeffrey. "'Shall I turne blabb?': Circulation, Gender, and Subjectivity in Mary Wroth's Sonnets," in Reading Mary Wroth, Naomi J. Miller and Gary Waller eds. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991, 67–87.