This book begins with the story of a strange birth. London, 1592: a young writer, fresh from the university, is down on his luck; he needs a patron and a meal. At his wit's end, he returns to the haunt of poor literary types, the churchyard of Saint Paul's, where he meets by chance the book trade's purchaser of last resort: the devil. The writer is pleased to learn that this "blind Retayler" is hungry for news from the city—he has, we understand, many interests there—and, if the writer has any scruples, he soon overcomes them. He resolves to send this new buyer a satire on the theme of the seven deadly sins: "And so," he reports, "(in short time) was this Paper-monster, Pierce Penilesse, begotten."
The paper monster thus born was, of course, the devil's satire, the text of which follows this account of its genesis. Then, too, it was the actual book in which both satire and backstory appeared—the book written by Thomas Nashe and published by Richard Jones under the title Pierce Penilesse His Supplication to the Diuell. Nashe's creation, in other words, was a personified text. But it was also a textual person. For, in an ambiguity befitting a paper monster, Pierce Penilesse is the name both of the text and of its desperate young author, the charismatic protagonist who is not made but "begotten" into something curiously like life.
It did not take long for the intimation of uncanny life to be borne out. Pierce may have been conceived in the pages of Nashe's fiction, but he soon moved beyond them—and beyond Nashe's control. Praised, imitated, petitioned, and ridiculed by a series of writers and readers, Pierce took on a life of his own, as if he were a person at large in the literary world of early modern England. Nashe himself died in 1601, but even then his strange alter ego lived on. In 1604, the narrator of Thomas Middleton's The Blacke Booke went looking for Pierce. He found him drunken and disheveled in one of London's shabbiest inns:
I stumbled up two payre of stayres in the darke, but at last caught in mine eyes the sullen blaze of a melancholy lampe, that burnt very tragically vppon the narrow Deske o[f] a halfe Bedstead, which descryed all the pittifull Ruines throughout the whole chamber, the bare priuities of the stone-walls were hid with two pieces of painted Cloth; but so ragged and tottreb [sic], that one might haue seene all neuerthelesse, hanging for all the world like the two men in Chaynes between Mile-end & Hackney . . . in this unfortunate Tyring-house lay poore Pierce vppon a Pillow stuft with Horsemeate, the Sheetes smudged so durtily, as if they had bene stolne by night out of Saint Pulchers Church-yard when the Sexton had left a Graue open, and so laide the dead bodies wool-ward: the Couerlet was made of pieces a blacke Cloth clapt together, such as was scatterd off the railes in Kings-Streete, at the Queenes Funerall: vpon this miserable Beds-head, lay the old Copy of his Supplication in foule written hand which my blacke knight of the Post conueyed to Hell: which no longer I entertaynd in my hand, but with the ratling and blabbing of the papers, poore Pierce began to stretch and grate his Nose against the hard Pillowe.
Pierce here cuts a deeply grotesque and, at the same time, a deeply compelling figure. The narrator of Middleton's pamphlet seems torn between contempt and concern: he is eager to list the squalid, humiliating details of Pierce's room, and yet he seems moved by the indignity in which he finds him. Discovered as if by chance, Pierce looms for Middleton as less a fictional character than a real person. He elicits mixed feelings and mixed motives, like a real person; like a real person, he seems possessed of a will of his own. And he can surprise us, like a real person, by disappearing and going to seed.
The grotesque extremes to which Pierce was carried may have been unique, but the sense of autonomy that brought him there was not. In fact, the last decades of the sixteenth century saw a proliferation of figures like him. Philisides and Astrophil, Euphues and Martin Marprelate, Colin Clout and his cohort of shepherds, the elusive ghost of Robert Greene: it is impossible to spend much time with literature of the 1580s and 1590s without meeting these names again and again. The names identified a cast of strange literary beings: persons that fell somewhere between the poles of author and character, fiction and reality. Continually reimagined, flitting between texts, these figures lived on the terms of their seriality, and in their periodic returns they came to seem like independent agents in the real world of writing, publication, and reception. I call them personae, and Paper Monsters tells the story of their rise.
This story, as we will see, turns out to be a surprisingly complicated one. For while the persona belongs to the longer history of literary form—as a chapter in the development of practices of autofiction and self-representation or, more broadly, in the long evolution of literary character—any attempt to give an account of the persona as a form begins to lead elsewhere. This is because personae were distinctively social forms. They were fictions defined by their mobility, fictions that came to life through the writers who reclaimed them, the stationers who published them, the readers whom they enchanted. As artifacts of the networks that produced them, they bear in sedimented layers the traces of histories that we are likely to consider sociological or material rather than properly "formal": the history of the early modern literary field, for instance, or the history of what we have come to call print culture.
It is complicated, too, by the fact that personae insist on telling their own stories. They are social artifacts, but they are also reflexive ones, and their wandering paths encode the histories (in all of their eccentricity) that the literary field of Elizabethan England was beginning to tell of itself. A last example from the career of Pierce Penilesse—taken from one of Gabriel Harvey's sardonic attacks on Nashe, his longtime enemy—will illustrate the point:
Arte did but spring in such, as Sir Iohn Cheeke, and M. Ascham: & witt budd in such, as Sir Phillip Sidney, & M. Spencer; which were but the violetes of March, or the Primeroses of May: till the one begane to sprowte in M. Robart Greene, as in a sweating Impe of the euer-greene Laurell; the other to blossome in M. Pierce Penilesse, as in the riche garden of pore Adonis: both to growe to perfection, in M. Thomas Nashe, whose prime is a haruest, whose Arte a misterie, whose witt a miracle, whose stile the onely life of the presse, and the very hart-blood of the Grape.
Like Pierce himself, Harvey's potted history of English letters is hard to place. Torn between metaphors, it is also torn between pictures of literary history—between the genealogy's sense of temporal descent and garden's spatial image of a field of writers budding alongside each other. More striking, perhaps, is its divided tone: having begun with genuine praise, Harvey shifts in the blink of an eye to cutting irony, with Philip Sidney and Edmund Spenser giving way to the sprouting weeds of Harvey's nemeses, Greene and Nashe. But the passage's strangest detail may be the inclusion of Pierce, who appears alongside—or rather, in fact, precedes
—Nashe himself. A year earlier, Nashe had begotten Pierce; now, Harvey suggests, persona begets author.
Harvey's subtle reversal marks a literary history that runs aslant those we are used to telling—a history in which the author is displaced and estranged by the figure of the persona. Paper Monsters takes its cue from this reversal. Rather than the authorial corpus, it mines the idiosyncratic archives left by the migratory wanderings of personae. These archives record the wide range of agents—the writers, patrons, editors, stationers, and readers—whose collective efforts lay behind the processes of literary production and reception. But they also reveal the startling agency of personae themselves: their capacity to provoke and persuade, to forge connections across space and time, to accrue prestige and earn notoriety, to win love and sympathy and (sometimes) outrage and disgust. As mobile and migratory fictions, pulled from text to text and writer to writer, personae were the forms that brought a literary culture to life. They projected presence at a moment when a widening public most demanded it, and they grounded a discourse of aesthetic value and identity when an emergent literary field most needed one. It was through its personae that late Elizabethan literary culture turned an eye on itself, and to read them is to encounter that culture in the curious vitality of its animating fictions.
Personae: A Prehistory
The concept of the persona is both an old and a new one. A Latin term for an actor's mask, persona marks identity as a matter of performance: to be a dramatis persona is to efface one identity by assuming another as a role. As a device, the persona (by that name) is a more recent invention, a product of the New Criticism's fastidious separation of poetic speakers from authorial persons. If the discovery of the persona, or later the implied author, ruled out naïve appeals to biography, these terms also risked anachronism, for they imposed a modern rhetorical principle on texts that make no explicit distinction between author and narrator (or "speaker," or poetic "voice").
My own use of the term observes narrower limits. In early modern texts, the words personate and personation carried the force of individual specificity: they could refer to dramatic impersonation, to the adoption of false identities, or simply to the act of referring to someone by name. The personae in this book are perhaps better termed personations, for they rely on the referential force of the proper name and project the narrative particularity of fictional characters. Early modern personation found a rhetorical cousin in the figure of prosopopoeia, the attribution of speech or action to an absent or imagined person. In his poetic manual The Arte of English Poesie (1589), in fact, George Puttenham gave prosopopoeia the English name "the Counterfait in personation." One could perform oneself or personify someone or something else, and Elizabethan personae drew on both possibilities, functioning at times as self-representations even as they relied for their continued survival on the narrative imagination of their readers. Here the New Critics' use of persona is instructive: for them, the device is unmistakably a method of reading—a way of establishing an interpretive relation to texts by imagining a particular kind of person behind them. But Pierce and Colin Clout and Philisides were not implied authors or unnamed speakers in need of critical excavation: they were right there on the surface. It was their full realization as characters, indeed, that gave them their peculiar power. Granted the specificity of narrative, the personae that occupy this book emerged as discrete and seemingly autonomous agents—and as agents capable of courting the appropriative attentions of their readers.
At first blush, there was little new about such characters. Early modern writers inherited a venerable tradition of "figures of the poet," a tradition with roots in Virgil and Ovid and modern archetypes in Dante and Petrarch. Such figures were typical of epic—announcing themselves in order to invoke the muses, if nothing else—but also of satire and pastoral: Virgil's Tityrus and Jacopo Sannazaro's Sincero were key sources for the shepherd alter egos of Sidney and Spenser. This tradition of poetic self-reference made its way into English verse through Geoffrey Chaucer, who inserted himself, in the opening lines of The Canterbury Tales, into the company of pilgrims gathered at Southwark, "redy to wenden on my pilgrimage / To Caunterbury with ful devout corage." The innovation of the Tales was ironic humor: "Chaucer" turns out to be a delightfully incompetent poet, telling the derivative "Tale of Sir Thopas" in some of the work's crudest verse. Of course, this deflation is of a piece with the self-reflexive play that characterizes metafiction more generally: in its own way, it draws attention to and works to secure the poet's place in a literary tradition. Because of their role in shaping this tradition, poet-figures became strategies of allusive affiliation, from Dante's journey with Virgil in the Inferno to the Homeric resonances of John Milton's loss of sight in Paradise Lost. Chaucer's pilgrim quickly inspired allusive encounters of his own, encounters that canonized Chaucer even as they legitimated his readers-turned-imitators. In the most well-known, Harry Bailly greets a fellow pilgrim in a Canterbury inn. "I answerde my name was Lydgate," reports the narrator, naming the work's poet as a new member of Chaucer's band and framing the poem that will follow—The Siege of Thebes (c. 1421-22)—as one more tale in their ongoing game of tale-telling.
If one line of descent moves through winking metafictions, however, another emerges in a very different sort of figure: the unattached, authorless stock characters of the satiric tradition. Perhaps the best example is Chaucer's near-contemporary Piers Plowman, the allegorical center of William Langland's alliterative poem of the same name. Piers Plowman's bitter anticlerical satire gave the poem special resonance in the reformist upheaval of the sixteenth century; in the years after Robert Crowley's 1550 print edition, numerous imitations and responses appeared, beginning in 1553 with Pierce the Ploughman's Crede, that centered on Piers himself. These responses, unlike John Lydgate's invocation of Chaucer, did not hinge on any reference to the poet's person; rather, the plowman's appeal stemmed from his anonymity, his availability to anyone who wished to speak in his rustic, willfully marginal voice. While the attribution of Piers Plowman remained a matter of editorial conjecture—several manuscripts identified the poet as Robert (rather than William) Langland—Piers emerged as a character at large: a free agent with, as Sarah Kelen puts it, "his own 'authority function' separate from Langland's author-function."
Chaucer the pilgrim and Piers Plowman thus mark out two competing genealogies for the late sixteenth-century persona: on the one hand, a strategy of poetic self-representation tied to a laureate tradition and, on the other, a store of stock figures, free of ties to particular authors and hence available for repeated, anonymous appropriation. It is tempting to approach personae as "fictions of authorship," in Katharine Wilson's term: as gestures of self-reference made possible (and given meaning) by the textual presence of the author. For modern readers, this logic of reference may be inescapable. We grasp Stephen Dedalus as a persona, after all, inasmuch as he is a recognizable cipher for James Joyce. The personal signatures that abound in modernist and postmodern texts can thus be subsumed into the broader category of what Aaron Jaffe calls the "imprimatur": the reification at the level of form of an individuality that is unmistakably the author's. Until the consolidation of the author function in modernity, however, the relation between the concept of authorship and the production of textual personae was a contingent rather than a necessary one. If, in the cases of Chaucer and Lydgate, authorial self-reference carries a claim to literary canonicity, Piers and stock characters like him make clear that personae did not depend in any simple way on authors. Personae do not simply encode something external (the mark of the author) in the body of the text, nor do they remain the property of the authors who invent them. Instead, they arise along boundaries, as characters that point beyond themselves, to a world outside of any particular text—and that, in the process, invite others to reimagine them.
My aim here is not to insist on the hard and fast separation of categories that were in fact fluid. Satiric personae could be reflexive author-figures or stock characters: the nimble irony of Erasmus's The Praise of Folly, for instance, urges a paradoxical identification of Erasmus and Folly. In English writing in the sixteenth century, moreover, such seemingly distinct traditions as popular satire and classical pastoral substantially overlapped, a point made in different ways by Mike Rodman Jones, who traces in the rise of the plowman figure a strain of "radical pastoral," and Rachel Hile, who finds in Spenserian pastoral a new mode of "indirect satire." Elizabethan personae emerged at the intersection of different forms of personation, blending character and author and straddling the putative divide between popular and literary modes.
This fluidity was already clear in the intertwined afterlives of Piers and Chaucer: early printed editions of The Canterbury Tales notably included a plowman text, The Plowman's Tale (c. 1400). Such syncretic blends flourished in what was a culturally omnivorous book trade. One characteristic form was the jestbook: an anthological collection of witty vignettes organized (at least in its later versions) around the unifying charisma of a single comic protagonist. Jestbook heroes usually were not, and did not pretend to be, the authors of their books—often they were not even their narrators, but rather the subjects of storytelling, their witty antics providing the punch line to each jest—and yet in Merie Tales . . . by Master Skelton (1567), in Scoggins Iests (c. 1540) or Tarltons Iests (1613) or Kemps Nine Daies Wonder (1600), they found their way into titles, claiming effective possession of the texts in which they appeared. The presence of John Skelton—"educated & broughte vp in Oxfoorde," as Merie Tales recounts, "and there . . . made a Poete Lauriat"—gives the lie to any attempt to distinguish "literary" Chaucerian metafiction from "popular" stock characters. Indeed, Skelton's afterlife as an antic jester shows how readily a laureate could be claimed for popular entertainment—and how easily he could become just another fictional character. The charisma of this jestbook Skelton owes something to the irreverence of the real Skelton's poetry, but perhaps even more to the genre's fiction of extemporaneous wit. It is no coincidence that the stage clowns Will Kemp and Richard Tarlton also found their way into jestbooks—a form defined, in Ian Munro's account, by its "ambiguous cultural position, balanced between performance and text, and between oral culture and print culture."
Tarlton's example is particularly revealing. By some distance the most famous stage performer of his day, Tarlton found a second life as an antic performer in print. For those who had seen him in person, his appearances in jestbooks, ballads, and pamphlets—in Tarltons Newes out of Purgatorie (1590), for instance—would have summoned memories of the actor's voice and body, grounding his textual persona in a kinetic theatrical celebrity. If performance at some level resists translation into writing, a medium that cannot reproduce the physical experience of the stage, Tarlton's pamphlet ubiquity nonetheless shows just how eager writers and publishers were to derive textual from dramatic charisma. The utility of Tarlton's name, Alexandra Halasz suggests, lay in its suggestion that pamphlets offered a kind of performative entertainment too. His afterlife carried him into Henry Chettle's pamphlet Kind-Hartes Dreame (1592), a dialogue of ghosts that also featured Robert Greene and Pierce Penilesse. Their encounter (to which I will return in the next chapter) makes clear how much textual personation depended on an analogy to theatrical performance. Yet it also helps explain why Elizabethan personae were in the first place a literary phenomenon: their peculiar half-lives exploited text's lack of the theater's immediate, bodily presence, and they relied on the reproducibility implicit in textual circulation. On stage, Tarlton was himself; on the page, by contrast, "Tarlton" became a reimaginable persona, and a style. (So much so that Gabriel Harvey, writing in 1592, could carp at Nashe's "Tarltonizing wit.") While Tarlton became a celebrity in the theater, his haunting afterlife thus depended on the (re)generative possibilities of print, the medium, as it were, through which Chettle conducts his séance of dead celebrities.
The picture that I have begun to sketch is one in which a pair of durable traditions—poetic self-reference, on the one hand, and on the other, the stock character—converge under the pressure of a shifting public culture in the latter half of the sixteenth century. One key factor in this convergence, as Tarlton's posthumous celebrity suggests, was the rise of the public theater. Another was the ongoing expansion of the English book trade. The scale and the frenetic pace of the print market were widely remarked in the 1580s and 1590s, and often with dismay. "It fareth nowe a daies," fumed Nashe, "with vnlearned Idiots as it doth with she Asses, who bring foorth all their life long; euen so these brainlesse Bussards, are euery quarter bigge wyth one Pamphlet or other." When William Webbe, sounding a similar note, deplored "the vncountable rabble of ryming Ballet makers, and compylers of sencelesse sonets," his anxiety pointed particularly to the growth of literary genres as a sector of the market. Indeed, as Alan B. Farmer and Zachary Lesser demonstrate in their statistical analysis of the Elizabethan book trade, poetry and prose fiction alike saw their market shares increase significantly at the end of the century. If reading the products of this market, as Nashe and Webbe suggest, occasioned some ambivalence, so too did writing for the diffuse consumer readerships that it supported. As John Lyly wryly observed in an epistle that prefaced his best-selling romance Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1578), "He that cometh in print because he would be known is like the fool that cometh into the market because he would be seen."
While Lyly's analogy evokes the commodification of discourse in what Alexandra Halasz has called "the marketplace of print," it is instructive also in construing print as a space one might "cometh into." For whereas manuscripts tended to be passed among existing social networks, moving along (sometimes quite extended) paths of personal acquaintance, printed books were typically available to any willing buyer. Print, like "the market," thus functioned for Lyly as a metonym for the public: the virtual space glimpsed in the circuit of communication that linked writers to readers. This public was a social imaginary—a community constituted, in Michael McKeon's definition, by the "explicitating act of self-reference" that brought together writers and readers who might never have met in person. The relative anonymity of this relation provoked elaborate attempts to personalize it: the period's elaborate prefaces, which hailed "Gentlemen Readers," "the well disposed Reader," or "all courteous readers," are perhaps best read as attempts to manufacture tangible communities through the act of address. Meanwhile, the stock figure of Nemo or Nobody (a fixture on stage, in ballads and pamphlets, and even as the sign of the stationer John Trundle's shop) captured the mystery of publicness, which gathered nobodies into that collective somebody known as "the reader." In a certain sense, as circulating fictions of personality and presence, Elizabethan personae answered the challenges of public discourse. But they also embodied publicity's peculiar social logic: like Nobody, they were virtual denizens of a virtual space.
The virtues of virtuality were made clear by the brief but explosive career of Martin Marprelate, the impish face behind which an anonymous group of reformists waged a guerrilla campaign of anti-episcopal polemic in 1588 and 1589. Martin's persona was in the first place a mode of evasion, a way of concealing the identities (and the number) of those who wrote and printed the pamphlets issued in his name, and in the second place, a tactic of argument: lacking an actual identity, he repelled personal invective of the kind that he gleefully hurled. Above all, however, Martin was a fiction of popular dialogue—one drawn in the image of Piers Plowman, who, as Jones points out, was invoked by the Marprelate pamphleteers as Martin's "Gransier." Eric Vivier has recently shown how Martin's irreverent, sardonic voice mirrored the style of his nemesis, John Bridges; in "answering Bridges according to his folly," Martin punctured his air of authority. At the same, the pamphlets' performative energy made them antihierarchical not just in argument but in form. They are boisterously dialogic, their margins filled with notes that, in Jesse Lander's analysis, alternately amplify and contest Martin's arguments in the main text, thus conjuring the public to which they appeal. Moreover, Martin himself seemed a form of plural identity. Both "person and stance," as Joseph Black puts it, "Martin and a Martin," his style encouraged imitators and successors—successors like Martin Junior, whose appearance in 1589 mocked the impotence of the bishops' attempts at suppression. Even the state-hired cadre of anti-Martinists added to the impression of Martin's ubiquity, aping his distinctive style in their counterblasts and thus becoming, despite themselves, versions of their opponent.
The Marprelate pamphlets thus suggest the aptness of personation for print. Yet it is important to avoid the impression that personae were in any simple sense products of the rise of print. For one thing, as we have seen, the traditions that lie behind them significantly predate the invention of the printing press. More importantly, the "rise of print" is itself a narrative in need of qualification. As Wendy Wall, Arthur Marotti, Harold Love, H. R. Woudhuysen, Margaret Ezell, and others have shown, the book trade did little to displace the production of manuscripts. Manuscript circulation, in fact, offered certain advantages over print: at least notionally, manuscripts could be kept closer than publicly sold books, and they were therefore especially fit for politically sensitive writing. Such sensitivity may partially explain Sidney's request to his sister to keep the manuscript of The Covntesse of Pembrokes Arcadia "to your selfe, or to such friendes, who will weigh errors in the ballaunce of good will." The felt difference between the two mediums—between print and "disclosure," in Wendy Wall's subtle account, and the comparative closure of manuscript circulation—itself concentrated the class and gender tensions that in Wall's argument underwrote changes in the styles of authorial self-presentation in early modern England.
But it can be equally misleading to frame the relation between manuscript and print in oppositional terms, for the mediums in many ways complemented each other. Presentation copies of printed volumes often came adorned with authorial additions or marginalia in script. Readers, of course, annotated copiously, scribbling in the margins of their books, adding indexes and finding aids, or copying poems and sententiae into commonplace books of their own. Printed books themselves solicited such uses, encouraging commonplacing, for instance, by marking sentences with inverted commas or manicules. Nashe's Haue with You to Saffron-Walden (1596) went further, including on one page a framed, empty box in which readers were urged to render their own judgments of Nashe's enemy, and the object of the pamphlet's satire, Gabriel Harvey. In a superb analysis of this pamphlet, Jane Griffiths shows the defamiliarizing force of the blank, which works against the printed page's finality "in order to convey what is incomplete and impromptu." The space points up the hybrid status of the book, gesturing both to the medium in which readers encounter the pamphlet and to the medium in which they are invited to complete it. Such gestures were typical of the media consciousness that the coexistence of manuscript and print cultivated. Observing that the earliest recorded use of the word manuscript dates to the 1590s, Peter Stallybrass suggests that the concept is itself "parasitic upon printing": "Before printing, there was writing, no end of writing, but no manuscripts." Once the choice was no longer automatic, the fact of medium (and of mediation) could emerge from the background.
The complex interactions of manuscript and print thus focused attention on the dynamics of textual mediation, and personae (as beings that lived in and through their ongoing circulation) were a signal instance of this attention. This much is clear simply from the frequency with which they generated reflexive fictions of textual transmission—in many cases fictions that meditate directly on the passage between manuscript and print forms. Greene's ghost, in his eerie visits from the grave, is perpetually in search of someone to deliver his latest manuscript to the press. We meet Pierce Penilesse, too, as a writer with a manuscript to sell; and when he returns in Haue with You, the text unfolds as a conversation among Nashe's friends, who inspect a manuscript draft of the soon-to-be printed pamphlet. (That the conversation itself forms the pamphlet's foundation is a characteristically defamiliarizing paradox). Colin Clout, for his part, stands at the center of Spenser's elaborate experiment in paratextual intervention, The Shepheardes Calender (1579). In these cases, personae concentrate a fascination with the processes by which writing finds its way to readers, their stories emplotting the mechanisms, and incorporating the multiple agents, of manuscript transmission and print publication. We might say, in fact, that they encode a form of identity that inheres in its mediation, that obtains precisely in its passage through the circuits of textual communication. Hence Nashe's description of Pierce as a paper monster: Elizabethan personae, that label suggests, are the prodigious embodiments of their media.
Such conflations of text and person were ubiquitous. In A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres (1573), George Gascoigne inserted his surname into the titles of poems like "Gascoigne's Woodmanship" and "Gascoigne's Anatomy." These possessive nouns do double duty—framing Gascoigne as at once the authorial subject behind his poems and as their narrative object—and in doing so they encourage readers to grasp identity as a textual phenomenon, arising from the relations among the poems scattered across the volume. A still more striking example is the remarkable popularity in the 1580s and 1590s of Euphues, the young prodigal first introduced in John Lyly's 1578 romance Euphues. The Anatomy of Wyt. Spurred by the book's success—the first edition was followed by two further editions in 1579, with more to follow—Lyly published a sequel, Euphues and His England, in 1580. But Euphues also began to migrate into the work of other writers. The earliest appropriation, Anthony Munday's Zelauto (1580), framed itself, in its extended title, as "a freendly entertainment to Euphues, at his late ariuall into England." Robert Greene used the name in Euphues His Censure to Philautus (1587) and Menaphon Camillas Alarum to Slumbering Euphues (1589). Thomas Lodge cited him in Rosalynde. Euphues Golden Legacie (1590) and Euphues Shadow (1592), and two years later John Dickenson put him in the title of Arisbas, Euphues Amidst His slumbers (1594). Seemingly ubiquitous, Euphues was, in the description Douglas Bruster, "the first textual citizen of early modern London, an artificial person whom one could expect to meet with some frequency in this rapidly expanding metropolis."
Euphues's emergence as an autonomous, untethered character at large owed much to the way Lyly represented him. In a prefatory epistle to the women readers of Euphues and His England, Lyly assumed the secondary role of intercessor, addressing them "in the behalf of Euphues." The epistle treats Euphues as a strange conflation of person and object: in one passage, Lyly recommends the book as after-dinner reading, noting that it is better "to hold Euphues in your hands, though you let him fall" than to prick yourself while drowsily sewing. The personal pronoun is the grammatical signature of the epistle's broader prosopopoetic strategy—of the implication that book and character might have thoughts and desires of their own. This way of talking about Euphues is partly a function of the romance plot. Having forsworn his prodigality at the end of Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit, Euphues returns in the sequel as an oddly retiring protagonist. He accompanies his old friend (and erstwhile rival) Philautus from Athens to Italy and then England, but avoids the romantic intrigues that entangle Philautus. Leaving his friend to woo in London, Euphues returns to Athens, where he begins to write: the final pages of Lyly's sequel are dominated by Euphues's treatise on England and Elizabeth and by a letter of advice on marriage that he sends to the newlywed Philautus. Euphues seems at last to have outgrown Lyly's plot. No longer a character within the narrative, he reconstitutes himself as a voice of sententious moral authority speaking from beyond its borders.
On the other hand, Euphues's retreat to the margins is a reminder that his own narrative trajectory remains unfinished. Unlike Philautus, whose marriage marks his turn away from romance wandering and into the quiet of domestic stability, Euphues remains unmarried, alone, and (for all of his scholarly resolve) restless—determined, we are told, "to sojourn in some uncouth place until time might turn white salt into fine sugar; for surely he was both tormented in body and grieved in mind." It is a sojourn that seems more midpoint than end; but the story, Lyly implies, will not be his to resume: "And so I leave him, neither in Athens nor elsewhere that I know. But this order he left with his friends, that if any news came, or letters, that they should direct them to the Mount of Silixsedra, where I leave him either to his musing or his muses." Lyly's valediction is striking for the independence it grants his protagonist, who is given not just a farewell but a forwarding address. Euphues and His England has gradually reduced Euphues to the textual forms that carry his wisdom back to Philautus (and to us) from afar; now the prospect of his future mediation carries him beyond the boundaries of the romance altogether. Waiting to receive (and perhaps to send) further news and letters, he is released into an afterlife whose final chapters will be left to Euphues to write for himself—or, rather, left to his readers.
Euphues thus seems to move beyond Lyly's romance at precisely the moment when he is most fully seen as a mediated presence. Or, to reverse the logic, it is when we recognize Euphues as an independent, extratextual being that his textual medium is brought forward to our attention, realized as a virtual space that he (and others like him) might inhabit. Martin Marprelate would enter the same space a decade later, and their crossed paths point up their similarities. Both are possessed of prodigious verbal styles that simultaneously distinguish them and compel imitation. Both are fictions that move beyond their sources: Euphues in the works of Lyly's imitators, Martin in the counterblasts that he inspired. And both are sustained by a constitutive hybridity: they are caught between the poles of author and character, narrator and narrative agent, real person and imaginary being. The same is true of the personae examined in the chapters that follow. Each one occupies a different place on the line between fiction and reality, but all of them court the confusion of the one with the other. It was this ambiguity that encouraged writers and readers to imagine them as autonomous beings.
In their autonomy and mobility, Elizabethan personae bear a striking resemblance to the "detachable" characters of eighteenth-century fiction whose reception David Brewer has traced. Brewer's account of "character migration"—the process by which readers imagined the further adventures of Lemuel Gulliver or Pamela Andrews—aligns the phenomenon with Franco Moretti's concept of the "social canon": the collective preservation of a set of shared texts that forges "a sense of ongoing kinship with one's fellow readers." Brewer's characters may belong to a later moment of literary (and media) history, but the social canonicity they disclose is hardly restricted to the novel. Gavin Alexander and Mike Rodman Jones have shown how imitations of Sidney and reappropriations of the plowman figure, respectively, sustained communities of early modern readers (and writers) across time and space. Most recently, Natasha Simonova's study of rewritings of and sequels to fictions from the Arcadia to Clarissa discovers the continuation as a genre of its own—a genre defined by a project of collaborative writing and reading. The sense of "ongoing kinship" that these studies explore mattered a great deal to the readers whose efforts propelled the afterlives of Elizabethan personae, for one of their central effects was to give shape to the communities of readers who recognized them and welcomed their returns. "The fact that all writers of continuations must begin as readers of the source text," Simonova writes, "means that each continuation is also a record of reading and reception." The same is true of personae: in a way that few other literary artifacts are, they are manifestly the products of collective and collaborative imagination, with each rewriting an explicit and concrete instance of reader response.
Personae had much in common, then, with other forms of appropriative reception. Like continuation and rewriting more broadly, they concentrated the diverse forms of agency at work in early modern literary culture: they were the products of the writers who brought them to life, the stationers who sold them, the editors who curated their afterlives, the readers who (touched or outraged by them) picked up their pens in response. In important respects, however, personae were different. For one thing, as fictions of literary production and reception, they were naturally reflexive, and so they cultivated a particularly self-conscious brand of social canonicity. As we shall see, to read or rewrite Greene's ghost or Colin Clout was necessarily to be drawn into a reflection on the very terms of literary community.
More importantly—and more strangely—personae seemed not only to focus the agency of others but also to exert an agency of their own: they accosted readers, wooed them, pleaded with them, and in the process demanded the writing of their afterlives. Personae are in this sense examples of the nonhuman agency that lies at the heart of Bruno Latour's revisionist sociology. For Latour, action is "borrowed, distributed, suggested, influenced," effected by subjects and by objects alike. Such agency may be in some sense an allusion—a displacement of our own action—but perhaps it is better to say that it is the job of culture to make things that wield a power of their own. In leaving Euphues on Mount Silixsedra, Lyly honors his protagonist's ability to act on us: to hail the audiences who remember him, to inspire imitations, to elicit concern or curiosity or nostalgia, to bring together those who participate in the telling of his ongoing story. Personae demonstrate the power of literary forms to do things to readers, even as they underscore our tendency, when confronted with such agency, to personify it. They are artifacts that act like persons.
Literary Public, Literary Field
In telling the story of such personae, Paper Monsters joins a growing body of work on what we can call, for lack of a general term, early modern personation. One branch of this work closely tracks the social dynamics of literary (and especially print) culture. Andrew Hadfield, for example, identifies "self-publicity" and personal insult as key tactics in the hothouse climate of polemical dispute in the 1590s. Richard McCabe's recent study of early modern patronage, on the other hand, positions the persona as a central trope in the "art of dedication" by which writers cultivated patrons and, implicitly, readers. Personality emerges in these studies as a way of navigating the demands of writing at a moment when literary production straddled economies (patronage and market) and media (manuscript and print). The contextual focus of such criticism is usefully complemented by a rich vein of formal and theoretical work on problems of character and personification. Most recently, Andrew Escobedo has argued that personifications in early modern texts disclose an understanding of the will as something separate from and in excess of the individual agent's judgment and control: they are, he writes, "trajectories of volitional energy that have taken on a life of their own." The theory of agency that Escobedo recovers has much to say to the personae I study here: personae share what he calls the "wayward independence" of premodern personifications. Indeed, in describing their "transactional" force—their function as relays between agent and world—Escobedo points the way back to the questions that concern Hadfield and McCabe. Personae continually find their way into the more prosaic transactions of polemical confrontation and patronal support precisely because they move between inside and outside, person and object.
Douglas Bruster arrives at this insight from the other direction. In "The Structural Transformation of Print in Late Elizabethan England," a chapter in his Shakespeare and the Question of Culture, Bruster traces the emergence, at the end of the sixteenth century, of "a new fluidity between person and thing," a fluidity that reframed "the relationship between authors and books, between characters and persons, and between readers and books." For Bruster, this "embodied writing" betrays the workings of a "nascent public sphere," albeit one characterized by the very opposite of impersonal debate—by "a personalism that licensed readers' attention to paper bodies." My own argument differs in key respects from this one. I take Elizabethan personae to be less the products of "the personalization of print," for instance, than of the reflexive consciousness of a hybrid media culture. Perhaps more significantly, I eschew the implicit teleology behind Bruster's invocation of the Habermasian public sphere. Nevertheless, this book is crucially indebted to Bruster's work. For not only were the personae I study here central examples of the embodied writing of the 1590s, they were also at the heart of the period's reckoning with the conditions of literary publicity.
The publics traversed by Pierce, Euphues, and Colin Clout were in no necessary way linked to the rise of the rational-critical sphere that Jürgen Habermas influentially traced to the end of the seventeenth century. They were, instead, something more malleable and plural—"forms of association," in the language favored by the recent Making Publics project at McGill University, that arose outside of preexisting communities and were sustained by the circulation of discourse. "A public," writes Michael Warner, "is a relation among strangers," a relation grounded in the premise of mutual anonymity; hence, it is "a space of discourse organized by nothing other than discourse itself." Publics are in this sense fundamentally rhetorical things, existing, as Warner argues, only "by virtue of being addressed." For Elizabethan writers, the abstractness of this relation could seem strange, albeit increasingly unavoidable, as the emergence of consumer readerships left them to wrestle with the challenges (to borrow Nashe's phrase) of "mak[ing] ourselues publique." Publicity came with exposure, but it also brought distance—the distance that separated writers from diffuse and unpredictable audiences that could be reached only via the mediating efforts of printers and booksellers. And this distance meant that acts of public address rested on a tacit act of imagining: on what Warner calls "the poetic function of public discourse."
The serial, semifictional personae of the 1580s and 1590s arose in part as responses to the publicness of late Elizabethan literary discourse: they were the virtual persons called forth by emerging forms of virtual community. At the same time, they were central to the production of publicity: their charismatic fictions of address, their projections of personality onto the page, were a way of conjuring public sociality into being. In their periodic returns, moreover, they conferred on their reading publics a sense of durability: the sense that Pierce and Greene and Philisides were returning again and again to "us." Personae made publics, then; but they also made them objects of attention. Their stories were stories of circulation and social formation, stories that foregrounded the readerships who awaited their appearances. In this sense, as I will argue in Chapter 1, personae enabled a reflexive discourse (albeit a fictional one) on the terms of Elizabethan publicity—and on the questions of identity and value that arose in an increasingly public literary culture.
This discourse reflected the formation of what Richard Helgerson influentially called the early modern "literary system," that "system of authorial roles" made necessary by the "sudden increase in the production of poetry" in late sixteenth-century England. As it became more visible, literary production demanded a conceptual framework to support it, and Sidney, Nashe, Puttenham, Webbe, and others obliged. Over the course of the 1580s and 1590s, literature began, in Georgia Brown's words, "to be conceived as a valuable activity in its own right, with its own personnel, rules, history, and conventions." The personae that I study here were one of the ways that literary culture reflected on and systematized itself—not least by framing the writing, circulation, and reception of texts as processes that were themselves worthy of narrative reconstruction. Yet they also reveal the essential unruliness of late Elizabethan literary culture, an unruliness belied by the concept of a literary "system," with its divisions (Helgerson's key insight) into the dialectically opposed categories of amateur, professional, and laureate. It is a scheme that illustrates brilliantly the self-fashioning strategies of Helgerson's laureates—those poets who refuse both the amateurs' haughty retirement and the professionals' popularity—and yet its categories are suspiciously slippery. Sidney, for instance, takes his place as an amateur, a poet who professed not to have elected his vocation, but what are we to make of his installation, some years after his death, as something very much like a laureate? For that matter, what distinguishes amateurs from professionals, many of whom evince a characteristically amateur distaste for print? Are these issues of self-fashioning alone, or should circulation and reception—processes that are surely constitutive of any literary culture—matter as well? Helgerson's model breaks down, Brown suggests, when it treats as firmly established categories that were still in formation. For her, the period's "emerging discourses of literary professionalization" were distinctly paradoxical, rooted less in the production of authority (laureate or otherwise) than in the languages of shame and marginality. Pierce in his pennilessness and Colin Clout in his abjection suggest the force of Brown's argument, which asks us to approach the literary system from its fluid margins—from the boundaries where questions of literary legitimacy and aesthetic value were contested.
To attend to these contests, or "struggles," is to frame a system that looks more like what we might call a literary field. While my approach draws on theories of publics and publicity, then, it is informed equally by Pierre Bourdieu's sociology of cultural fields: those spheres of cultural production in which the symbolic capital of artistic legitimacy competes with the economic capital that predominates in the broader "field of power." The two approaches are, in fact, closely linked: for Bourdieu, cultural fields emerge against the backdrop of a consuming public, but they are also effects of, and engines for, the differentiation of distinct publics. Bourdieu's case study is nineteenth-century Parisian intellectual culture, where an energetic avant-garde positioned itself against mass culture (on the one hand) and the middlebrow prestige of bourgeois institutions (on the other). In the avant-garde's rejection of a mass consumer public, Bourdieu detects the logic of a subfield of "restricted production," in which writers value symbolic capital among peers over the material benefits of popularity. It is through this sphere of restricted production that a literary field attains relative autonomy, a term that, for Bourdieu, indicates less an escape from the field of power than a reversal of its incentives: the elevation of internal criteria of value over economic ones—of prestige over profit.
As an account of how a work "might index . . . the social world around it," Bourdieuian sociology has in recent years found increasing sway in literary studies. Yet its value to early modern studies is far from clear. Early modern London lacked nineteenth-century Paris's avant-garde, with its commitment to "art for art's sake"; more significantly, it lacked the pronounced opposition between restricted and mass cultural production that would ground such assertions of aesthetic autonomy. The most productive applications of Bourdieu to early modern studies have therefore worked to excavate the specific logic of a very different literary culture. Lori Humphrey Newcomb, for example, has traced the emergence of the distinction between popular and elite literature between the sixteenth and the eighteenth centuries; Edward Gieskes, meanwhile, has examined the tensions between an existing patronage economy and a nascent "self-legitimating field of cultural production" on the Elizabethan stage. My account of the early modern literary field is careful to observe these differences too; the skirmishes for prestige and legitimacy that I trace appear here as fitful and ambivalent movements toward the relative autonomy that would characterize modern cultural fields. It was a process that routed itself through the self-reflexive fictions of Elizabethan personae: if their ubiquity in the 1580s and 1590s depended on their embodiment of the virtual logic of public, textual community, it also hinged on their ability to make visible the symbolic stakes of literary competition.
At the same time, I suggest a new path for sociological work on early modern texts—one that construes aesthetic artifacts not merely as products or reflections but as active mediators (to use a term of Latour's) of distinction and affiliation. Because they were social artifacts, personae encoded the networks in which they circulated, and in turn they gave those networks structure: they constellated groups of writers and editors and printers and readers, marking off insiders from outsiders, poets from hacks. More fundamentally, in giving the texture and continuity of narrative to the processes of literary production, they allowed late Elizabethan literary culture to conceive of itself as a unified sphere—that is, as a field.
Persona and Author
The fact that these processes of field formation were realized through personae, rather than authors, is striking. For Bourdieu, struggles for legitimacy in the literary field are closely tied to the author function. "It is clear," he writes in The Rules of Art, "that the interest in the personage of the writer or the artist grows in parallel with the autonomization of the field of production and with the correlative elevation of the status of producers." Indeed, it is not hard to see authors as the heroes of Bourdieu's account: their determination to "make their mark," he suggests, is what spurs the dialectical wheels of cultural change. Authorial names are where the symbolic capital at stake in the field accrues.
In this sense, Bourdieu's literary history is entirely typical, continuous with the broad current of scholarship that sees authors as functions of capital, symbolic or otherwise. In Joseph Loewenstein's influential account, the literary author function emerged in tandem with the gradual rethinking of copyright in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Largely determined by the competition among stationers, authorial rights were born "as back-formations within the development of industrial copyright," and not until the passage of the Statute of Anne in 1710 was intellectual property decisively shifted from publishers (who had long controlled it through the guild regulations of the Stationers' Company) to authors. There is, then, a risk of anachronism in the centrality of the author to literary histories of early modern England. To be sure, scholars have long recognized the difficulties involved in the concept; much of the finest historical criticism of the last two decades, in fact, has sought to reevaluate the category of authorship. Marcy North's work on anonymity, for instance, has contested narratives that too readily attribute to the Renaissance the rise of authorial individuality; instead, she suggests, the withheld name can point to overlooked forms of social authorship. Kevin Pask, on the other hand, has historicized those narratives themselves, locating them in the emergence, over the course of the seventeenth century, of the genre of the poet's life-narrative. Historians of drama, for their part, have demonstrated the collaborative nature of Elizabethan and Jacobean playwriting, emphasizing the distance between modern expectations of artistic autonomy and the demands of the early modern theater. And Stephen Dobranski and Natasha Simonova have explored the relation between writers and the readers who continue, rewrite, and adapt their works—testing their own agency by measuring and working with or against the author's. I have learned a great deal from each of these studies, and in the rest of this book I rely on them often. But I want to suggest that our rethinking of the author as literary category has not yet been thorough enough. For even the most skeptical approaches tend to preserve the author, however reconceived, as their object of analysis, as do (if only implicitly) the monographs that continue to divide their chapters on the principle of authorial identity.
A literary history read through its personae looks very different. The motive agents of such a history are fictions that are, in their own way, real—fictions whose peripatetic afterlives bring into view the full range of literary producers and disclose the self-reflexive discourse of the culture in which they move. The personae I follow here cross genre and medium and authorial corpus; they link different writers to each other, and, as documents of constant rewriting, argue the inseparability of literary production and reception. Exploring their archives offers a view of Elizabethan literary culture that is both stranger and truer than the one that we have come to know.
One of my aims is to write a literary history without authors. But one reason to do so is to better understand the fictional imaginary that lies behind our relation to them. For the characters I study here are a special kind of person: they are fully textual creatures, beings who are treated as real despite existing only on the page and in the minds of readers. They exhibit, in short, the sort of abstracted and delimited identity that we now associate with authors, those odd persons who exist only as functions of the circulation of discourse. In Foucauldian accounts, the author function is a means of delimiting the field of reader response. Elizabethan personae, by contrast, animate and expand it. They allow us to see authors, too, as collectively imagined fictions—as abstracted, virtual selves called into being by the publics that receive and reimagine their texts. Like personae, authors are material forms; they are characters come to life.
In each of the chapters that follow, I trace the path of a particular persona, developing a diachronic account of its individual path—however idiosyncratic—through various texts, and through time. Those paths frequently intersect: 1592, in fact, is the year in which Robert Greene died and the year in which Thomas Nashe published Pierce Penilesse—the respective subjects of Chapters 1 and 4. The narrow timespan recognizes the historical specificity of late Elizabethan literary culture, a culture in which semifictional personae pervaded the pamphlets and poetry sold in print and in which Spenser and Sidney could find their personae crossing paths with those of the popular pamphleteers Greene and Nashe. While the book's argument is in important respects progressive—beginning with the foundational problems of circulation, publicity, and textual community in the first half before taking up issues of literary distinction and value in the second—its central force is therefore cumulative: it is in the intersecting microhistories of Robert Greene's ghosts, of Colin Clout, of Philisides and Astrophil, and of Pierce Penilesse that their complex negotiations of publicity and circulation, of poetic distinction and aesthetic value, at the turn of the century come into view.
The first chapter explores the picaresque afterlife of Robert Greene. Greene's final writings had come to center on the story of his fitful journey from prodigality to repentance, a story that culminated in a trio of startling pamphlets—all published immediately after his death in 1592—in which he set aside romance fiction in order to address his readers (and declare his penitence) directly. In the ensuing months and years, Greene would be repeatedly resurrected as a ghost, returning each time with a new text intended for his old readers. His hauntings positioned Greene as a fictional character rather than biographical person, and in doing so they gave the lie to his late writings' performance of penitent sincerity. At the same time, they pointed up the essential virtuality of the publics for whom Greene wrote—publics that could now be seen, like the writers who addressed them, as evanescent, purgatorial fictions.
A key dimension of Greene's appeal was the fantasy of presence that his charismatic voice fueled. Presence was an especially vexed question for lyric poetry, a mode oriented by an idea of oral "voice" but one that circulates, inevitably, as text. My second chapter examines the paradoxes of lyric dissemination—at a moment when the migration of manuscript verse into print foregrounded them—by following Spenser's pastoral alter ego, Colin Clout, through his serial appropriations. For those who invoked him, Colin grounded a fiction of community oriented by a myth of spontaneous pastoral song that, as citable, iterable textual commodity, he simultaneously discredited. This tension, I suggest, manifests in Colin (both in Spenser's poetry and beyond) in the form of an oddly proleptic nostalgia: a sense that he is somehow already lost and gone, even as he roams the literary circles of the 1590s.
Colin's fiction of community was compelling because it was open to whoever invoked him and yet evoked the privileged remove of a world apart. In Chapter 3, I explore the busy afterlives of Philip Sidney's twin personae, Philisides and Astrophil, taking them, too, as examples of the power of personae to affiliate and to exclude. Introduced in the old Arcadia and Astrophil and Stella, respectively, Philisides and Astrophil were characters whose esoteric personal allegories marked them as written for an audience of familiars—and thus as devices designed to hold at bay more distant readers. This dynamic shaped the manuscript circulation of Sidney's texts, but it also sustained an important countercurrent in his posthumous print reception: a current that reimagined him as an exclusive coterie figure even as his works gained wide popularity. Placed in opposition to the public at large, the coterie that Astrophil and Philisides grounded emerged as an image of restricted production set apart from (and in opposition to) the broader literary field.
Distinctions like these—between coterie and public, popular and elite writing, good poets and bad—occupied a central place in turn-of-the-century literary discourse, provoked in part by a book trade that brought elite texts like Sidney's into the same arena as cheap pamphlets. The book's fourth chapter pursues the discourse of distinction in the strange life of Pierce Penilesse, and in the notorious pamphlet quarrel between Thomas Nashe and Gabriel Harvey, in which Pierce played a starring role. Never quite sure what to make of Pierce, critics have been particularly torn over the question of his sincerity: does Nashe deploy the persona in earnest solidarity with London's "penniless" print writers, or to insist on ironic distance from them? This debate, I suggest, reproduces the terms of the Nashe-Harvey quarrel itself, which unfolded as a battle over whether Nashe ought to be identified with or distinguished from his fictional double. The resulting confusion concentrated the quarrel's central concerns: the viability of distinctions of literary value and the nature of the authority that might enforce them.
While the first two chapters tackle the problem of virtual personhood, the latter two thus unpack the embeddedness of such persons in systems of status, authority, and value. Together, they discover in the persona the idea of a specifically literary identity. I therefore conclude with a coda that follows the persona into the seventeenth century, and into a collision with the author whose path it had helped to pave. Two brief case studies—the lyric anthology Englands Helicon (1600) and Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621)—illustrate, first, the persona's place in the conceptualization of the abstract, literary identity that we now associate with authorship and, second, the persona's conversion into a fundamentally authorial and characteristically ironized mode of self-reflexive metafiction.
This book, then, is a literary history—a history of a form. It may thus seem to belong to one side of the endless (and, one begins to suspect, largely ritual) debates between form and its opposite of the moment: between form and politics, form and history, form and the material. But I find myself skeptical of these oppositions. The last two decades of scholarship in the history of the book have made it clear that literary "forms" are never quite immaterial: that a genre's history is inseparable from the history of its mediation, a poem's effect from its setting on the page. "Literature exists, in any useful sense," writes David Scott Kastan, "only and always in its materializations." On the other hand, material culture (precisely insofar as it is a "culture") is never free from form; hence, as András Kiséry and Allison Deutermann suggest, "we also need to ask how literary forms shape the perception and use of the medium." Asking such questions steers us away from the risks of naturalization. It urges us to see media not as the agents of history, bequeathing manuscript or print culture to us, but rather, to borrow Lisa Gitelman's definition, as "socially realized structures of communication." Elizabethan England's personae dwell in and give life to the social realization of their structures of communication. They are paper monsters: born to and sustained by the forms of textual circulation that bring them back again and again—and to which they impart their own uncanny vitality.