Publication details [#10757]

Tonry, Kathleen A. 2005. William Caxton and the labor of literature in fifteenth-century England. Notre Dame, Ind.. 185 pp.


The arrival of the printing press in Westminster marked a moment in the history of English writing when the terms of literary production shifted, and with them the categories of author, reader and late-medieval "maker." Concentrating on the figure of William Caxton, this dissertation analyzes the ways in which the advent of print intersected with late-medieval theories of literary production, and demonstrates that through his prologues, editorial interventions, and textual selections, England's first printer sustained a rich and markedly literary dialogue with not only the new terms of printed production, but the complex political, economic and legal horizons of his enterprise.The visibility with which Caxton shaped and guided the reception of his texts is an element that is often overlooked by reading Caxton's productions without reference to their precise chronology, or to the specific events against which they were produced. This dissertation, therefore, emphasizes the years of Richard III's reign (1483-85) as crucial ones in understanding how Caxton constructed his press; Caxton's emphasis on his printed work as a type of literary labor reveals the field of incunables as vitally and imaginatively engaged with the complexities of fifteenth century politics. Drawing on the work of the new constitutionalists, the dissertation's central chapters introduce Caxton's interest in courtesy books, and build a framework for understanding Caxton's specific political engagements. Caxton's response to Richard employed a "popular metaphorics," a figurative language of the body that Richard himself advanced through his 'Titulus Regius'. These metaphorics were widely parsed and disseminated through the speeches of Archbishop John Russell; Caxton's editions of the 'Curial' and the 'Book of the Knight of the Tower' rehearse these metaphorics as a mode of response to and critique of the violence that marked Richard's rise to power. This project's conclusion suggests that the changes in Caxton's production during Richard III's reign can be read as a move from auctor to printer, a shift deliberately effected by Caxton as a response to the specific challenges of the 1484 statute. (Dissertation Abstracts)