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First Advisor

Ken Jackson


Early modern play-readers and play-goers were not a passive audiences: they borrowed and adapted from print and performance by copying dramatic extracts, that is, selections from plays. By examining how manuscript compilers adapted, responded to, and recontextualized dramatic material, this project adds to our knowledge of both manuscript circulation and early modern reading and writing habits.

My first chapter offers a historic overview of dramatic extracting, with particular attention to the historical, social, and literary forces that led early modern manuscript compilers to start excerpting from English drama in the 1590s. In my second chapter, I focus on the manuscripts of William Sancroft (1617-1693), best known as the non-juring Archbishop of Canterbury. Sancroft's dramatic excerpts reveal his taste in plays, his perception of the Shakespearean canon, and his participation in the print and manuscript circulation of drama. In chapter three, I argue for a reconsideration of the “occasions” of occasional drama (masques and entertainments) by examining moments of manuscript compilation rather than the moments of performance. Bringing together the significance of manuscript compilation, political context, and delivery of performance, my final chapter examines the inter-related oral, print, and manuscript transmission of one proverb from Love's Labour's Lost. The proverb did not circulate in manuscript because of Shakespeare's reputation or the play's popularity, but rather because of the dramatic excerpting that led this couplet to become proverbial. To conclude this dissertation, I return to the larger question of “what is a dramatic extract?” and explore the generic indeterminacy inherent in these extracts.

This analysis of dramatic excerpts in seventeenth-century manuscripts considers issues of print and manuscript circulation, cultural and social history, and performed and literary texts. Ultimately, this study reveals what seventeenth-century audiences took, literally and figuratively, from the plays they watched and read.

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