English 245 with Dr. G @ SUNY TC3
2. Beowulf 1
3. Beowulf 2
4. Middle Ages
6. Sir Gawain
9. Wife of Bath
11. Biblical Drama
12. Play of Mankind
14. Thomas More
15. Philip Sidney
16. Print Culture
17. Walter Raleigh
18. Twelfth Night 1
19. Twelfth Night 2
20. Civil War
22. Aphra Behn
23. Reading Papers
25. Rape of the Lock
27. New God
*** 16. Print Culture ***
READINGS FOR THIS LESSON
The Technologies of Literature
ASSIGNMENTS FOR THIS LESSON
The lesson includes both a quiz and a journal writing assignment to be submitted on the interactive course site at SUNY Learning Network. See General instructions on Journaling for this course. For a sample journal, see Dr. G's 2007 Brit Lit 1 Journal.
Write for an hour (or more if you have time). Summarize the readings or make notes you will find useful on the final essay. Some journaling ideas for this assignment include:
"Read not to contradict, nor to believe, but to weigh and consider" -- Francis Bacon
NOTES AND COMMENTARY
Left: These symbols, represented in 7th century Lombard stone
carving, might have been understood by illiterate
speakers of many languages. The invention of writing
restricted access to information to those who could
read, even as it also made possible great improvements
in information-keeping and retrieval.
Four Ages of Literature
1. The Preliterate Age of Memory: the time before literature, from and even before the invention of language and development of voice in prehistoric times (cir. 200,000-100,000 BCE?). Literature by definition did not exist in this Age, but ritualization, dance, music, and poetic patterns of sound--meter, rhyme, alliteration--helped to maintain consistency of content from one performance to another.
2. The Age of Manuscripts: the handwritten word from the use of writing (cir. 3000 BCE?) to the printing press (1436 CE in Europe). Memory is strengthened with text. Performance becomes fixed or nearly so (scribes may add new items to old manuscripts). Distribution broadens since copies can be made of the same words, but copies are limited in number because hand copying is tedious. Literacy is restricted to a small professional class of scribes or scholars. Copying becomes a value in itself: literary emphasis falls on the handing-down of authentic stories from old authorities and the close imitation of those models. Most authors are supported by politically powerful and wealthy patrons, so literature typically is priestly, courtly, or aristocratic. Classical literature and medieval literature represent the Age of Manuscripts in European history.
3. The Age of Books: the printed word from the invention of the printing press until the internet. (Mechanical printing with movable type begins in Europe with Gutenberg in about 1436 AD.) Printed copies are nearly identical, so the performersí words are nearly fixed. Low cost and ease of publishing permit both mass distribution and specialization of subject matter. Commercial distribution favors popular literature; writers no longer depend for support on wealthy patrons but cater to the masses. Junk literature proliferates. Literature engages in social criticism, humor, humble subjects, fantasy and pure entertainment. Texts can be authenticated, so prophecy declines. Science is enabled. Ideas are disseminated more quickly and more widely than in previous times. Early modern to modern literature represents the Age of Books in the west.
4. The Age of the Internet: the web word from the invention of electronic text until the next big thing comes along. Use your imagination to describe this one. How fortunate we are to live when such important changes are beginning to take place! Will the Internet Age resemble the Age of Memory since internet presentations are interactive and even "live," unlike old-fashioned books, manuscripts and recordings? Will bards and performing arts make a come-back in cyberspace? How far will machines and simulations take the place of human performers? How different will these robots be from the artists of the first age?
The ages of literature are not absolutely defined by date, of course. We have improvised oral story telling today at the outset of the Internet Age, and we have manuscripts and more books than anybody can read, too. The old ages are with us still, not having vanished, not showing signs of ever going away. From age to age itís the cumulative variety of technology that grows, and the relative emphasis among technologies that changes.
Transitions are gradual. When changes finally come, people tend to see the new technology in light of the old. The works of Homer and the Beowulf poet, for example, are preserved in manuscript, but the words appear to be composed in the oral style of a bard. Within the age of manuscripts, beginning with Roman codexes in the first century AD, handwritten papers were bound together in book-like volumes. Early in the age of the printing press, mechanically published books had manuscript-like illustrations (recall More's Utopia), and for many decades the font styles remained unnecessarily and confusingly ornate, resembling handwriting. Similarly at the start of the Internet Age, we see the new web technology used first for book distribution in Amazon.com, electronic texts, and . . . even this print-heavy course? Meanwhile, the novelties of the new medium, like interactivity, are underutilized, and internet applications that seem wonderfully advanced to us now surely will seem primitive in the years to come.
Here we are in a great transitional time. How will literature change to make full use of electronic text and the world wide web?
Left: early books looked like manuscripts, with cursive fonts such as black letter ("Tudor font") and woodcut illustrations to compete with manuscript illumination. See also Ranulf Higden in Damrosch 1082-1083.
in English Literature
The Old English
exemplifies the first Age in that it bears the markings
of bardic song. Chaucer's Middle
second, as a written record of things that people
are supposed to have said. The Age of Books in England began with
the printer, and it is represented by thoroughly
bookish neo-classical writers like
Philip Sidney (16th century),
John Milton (17th century AD) and
Alexander Pope (18th century) and almost everybody since
their time through the twentieth century. There's at
least rough correlation in history among the Age of
British Empire, and the spread of the English
language around the earth. (Recall
Below: A 16th century print shop including readers, typesetters, ink rollers, pressmen, bookbinders and distributers. Folios were produced by folding the single sheets once. Quartos were produced by a second folding into quarter sheets. It has been estimated that up to 1000 sheets could be pressed in 12 hours.
Sidney's defense of poetry against Puritan censorship is an episode in a much larger story about the acceptable scope of discourse in early modern England. Nearly all writing in the manuscript age had been personal or narrow in its audience, hence fairly limited in its influence. With the printing press and emerging literacy, writing acquired a public dimension and unlimited potential influence. The control of this new technology and suppression of free expression obsessed not only moralists but the church and state in general.
1526. The New Testament is translated into English by William Tyndale. This work eventually would become the basis for the most popular book ever written in English, the King James Bible.
1534. Henry VIII declares himself head of the church.
1536. Henry VIII orders Tyndale to be strangled and burned at the stake.
1539. Henry VIII directs printing of an English translation of the Bible by Tyndale and others, edited by Miles Coverdale.
1557. Stationers' Company is chartered by Queen Mary to control book printing.
1559. In the Second Act of Supremacy, Parliament requires all books to be licensed by the Archbishop of Canterbury or York.
1579. Elizabeth has John Stubbs right hand cut off because of a publication criticizing her consideration of marriage to the French king's brother.
1593. John Penry is hanged, accused of publishing the "Martin Marprelate" pamphlets critical of the clergy.
1678. Pilgrim's Progress is written by John Bunyan while imprisoned for preaching. Sentencing may never have been more counter-productive than this!
Centre for the History of the Book web site
History of the Book from Wikipedia
English translations of the Bible from Wikipedia.
William Harrison, A Description of Elizabethan England (1577) at Bartleby
Francis Bacon, Sir Francis Bacon (includes Bacon's Essays and The New Atlantis) at Bartleby.
John Bunyan from Bartleby.
John Bunyan Archive from Chapel Library
Michel de Montaigne at Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
The Tyndale Society at Tyndale.org
If you know of an excellent website that would wonderfully complement this lesson, please send it to Dr. G.
Copyright 2008 by Gary Homer Gutchess.