On (Shakespeare and) print technology

Adam Max Cohen (2006): Shakespeare and Technology. Dramatizing Early Modern Technological Revolutions. (Palgrave)

67: “Literary scholar Wendy Hall has noted that the analogy between indiscriminate print reproduction and sexual infidelity was conventional during the period: ‘The multiplicity that the press offers becomes associated … with the duplicity of infidelity, an uncontrollable and wanton repetition that deauthenticates writing and creates and unauthorized mingling of distinct elements.’ /…/
Just as sexual reproduction was thought to conserve or preserve the physical or spiritual essence of an individual, the disemination of a printed text was thought to be capable of preserving the author’s mind or soul.
Comparisons between printing and procreating occasionally created gender ambiguity.”

81: “Leah Marcus has commented on the metaphorical union between the human body and print technology during the early modern period:
‘[I]n the early modern era, there was a tendency to assimilate the human organism to print technology: not only were some of the parts of the printing press named after parts of the human body, but people in early print culture often thought of themselves (in a strange adaptation of Cabalistic thinking) as writing, or as half-human, half-book . . . . This hybridization between the human organism and technology, I would suggest, is characteristic of times when a traditional method of communication has been challenged by new methods and is gradually being displaced.’
Hybridization between the human organism and print technology was bilateral. On one hand human beings and their behaviors were described as presses or printed texts, and on the other hand print technologies were personified.”

87: “Perhaps access to multiple texts and multiple editions of individual texts permitted Europeans living during the first full century of the print revolution to a certain perspectival lightness, by which I mean a certain tolerance for contradiction or at least a tendency to accept as valid distinct viewpoints that might have seemed mutually exclusive before. /…/ This seems an excellent gloss of Shakespeare’s creative genius. Shakespeare provides an array of characters with distinct and valid perspectives. Certain characters have more lines to speak than others, and some characters are certainly more sympathetic than others, but rarely are characters given epistemological or ethical monopolies.”


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