Amy Lidster: Postdoctoral Fellow (2018-19)

 

Dr Amy Lidster completed her PhD in English Literature at King’s College London in 2017. Her thesis offered a reappraisal of the history play as a genre, both on the stage and in print. Amy’s new postdoctoral project is entitled Challenging authorship and authority in early modern playbook paratexts.

 

 

Early modern playbook paratexts are sites of transformation and transaction: they position and frame the main text, and affect the ways readers engage with the play as a printed book. Strikingly, a majority of these paratexts – which include dedications, addresses to readers, and commendatory verses – concentrate on issues of authorship, authority, and the transmission of plays from stage to page. In a period where the legal rights to publish a text resided with the publishers, rather than the individual(s) who wrote the text, playbook paratexts reveal a varied and lively discourse concerning who owned, edited, compiled, improved, destroyed, elevated, and ‘authorized’ a text. This project represents the first sustained examination into this group of materials and the ways in which they debate ideas of authorship and authority, featuring playbooks printed between 1584 (when the first professional plays were published) and 1660 (when the theatres were reopened following the Civil War).

 

One of the project’s main aims is to question key critical concepts such as ‘author’, ‘playwright’, ‘authorization’, and ‘authority’, and evaluate how they are explored (directly or indirectly) in playbook paratexts. Definitions of authorship and authority will not be restricted to the dramatists and ecclesiastical agents who were responsible for allowing a play for publication; instead, this study will examine how a range of individuals, including dramatists, publishers, patrons, censors, and theatrical companies, ‘authorize’ a text through their inclusion in or contribution of paratexts. By analysing the development, function, and impact of these paratextual discourses, this project will have important implications for understanding early modern perspectives on who controls and owns printed plays, and how readers’ experiences may have been shaped by these materials. It will consider how different views of playbook authorization could be used to inform modern critical approaches to authorship.