'The meane peoples capacite': writing readers in early print
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This thesis examines constructions of what we might call popular readerships in early print. Focusing mainly on the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, it explores the ways in which a constituency of readers variously imagined as, for example, 'mean', 'common', or 'simple' are represented, instructed and discussed. As such, it is less an attempt to recover the reading habits of a particular social grouping, as rather an effort to trace contemporary attitudes towards that group‘s engagement with textual productions, and, more particularly, the anxieties that the perception of that engagement provoked. In doing so, I discuss the treatment of books and reading in an early printed conduct book, trace the attitudes of two particularly influential humanist writers, Desiderius Erasmus and Juan Luis Vives to reading, concentrating on their engagement with Bible-reading and women‘s reading respectively, before examining the importance of real and imagined 'common' readers in the religious disputes surrounding the production of vernacular Scripture. Here, I focus on the polemical disputations between English reformists-in-exile, and their conservative opponents, through the analysis of texts by Thomas More, William Tyndale, and, particularly, William Roye and Jerome Barlowe.
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