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Making Shakespeare's Books: Assembly and Intertextuality in the Archives


Scholars have long been interested in the mutability and combinability of Shakespeare's works in early print culture: how parts of Love's Labour's Lost were mixed with texts by other poets in William Jaggard's The Passionate Pilgrim (1599), or how John Benson's 1640 Poems volume changed the order of the Sonnets (and at times, the gender of Shakespeare's addressee). This article reveals that early modern book owners physically combined and compiled Shakespearean works, creating bound multi-text volumes to suit their tastes and needs. Surveying extant compilations from numerous British and American archives, I demonstrate that the combinatory activities of publishers like Jaggard and Benson reflected a more general readerly desire for flexible, adaptable works in print. These works, with each new assembly, gave rise to different juxtapositions and different forms of canonicity, many of which are surprising to us today. But in rare book archives, especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, most of these early compilations were disassembled, their texts rebound separately, eliminating the evidence of previous uses in favor of a Shakespearean text that looks modern: slim, self-enclosed, bound alone in fine morocco. This article argues that such assembly practices play a role in generating meaning—that the parameters of reading and interpreting Shakespeare are frequently established, and sometimes imposed, by the collectors, compilers, conservators, and curators who, in a very literal sense, make books.

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