Cheap Print and Popular Piety, 1550-1640 Paperback – Nov 19 1993
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"Cambridge University Press deserves our thanks for publishing a monograph that offers such a wealth of bibliographical detail." American Historical Review
"...remarkably creative, exhaustively researched, and consistently engaging study." The Catholic Historical Review
"This important book by Tessa Watt looks at the impact of the Reformation and the print 'revolution' on popular religious belief in England between the mid-sixteenth and mid-seventeenth centuries through a detailed study of the cheapest printed wares produced in London...The end result is a rich and well-researched monograph, compellingly argued, that offers a powerful challenge to many commonly held assumptions about the nature of popular religiosity during this period." Albion
"This is an effective book, not least for its retrieval of often-forgotten sources and its complication of the distinction between godly and ungodly spheres of activity." David Cressy, Journal of Interdisciplinary History
"...impressive study of the popular religious literature of the 'long' Reformation, from Edward VI's reign to the eve of the civil war...." D.R. Woolf, Canadian Journal of History
"...an extraordinarily competent and valuable addition to the growing corpus of work on the culture of early modern England." Phyllis Mack, Journal of Modern History
"It is an important addition to the history of publishing but also offers compelling evidence for revisionist theories about cultural change in the early-modern period." Publishing Research Quarterly
This review of how popular religious belief was reflected in England's cheapest post Reformation printing challenges the current image of a great gulf between Protestantism and "popular culture" by revealing the continuity of many aspects of traditional piety.See all Product Description
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Watt reviews three forms of popular religious publication: the broadside ballad, the broadside picture, and the godly chapbook. From the mid-sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth century in England the broadside ballad was sold to common folk for a fraction of a cent, was performed for nobility by professional minstrels, and included subject matter as diverse as biblical stories to `news' of monstrous births or other supernatural occurrences. The growing use of moveable type allowed printers in London to mass-produce ballads for sale all over England and develop sophisticated marketing techniques. In 1557 the Stationers' Company was granted sole license to print ballads and thereafter sought to get as much product to market as possible. The technical capability to print in greater volume combined with organization structure directed toward greater profit allowed some interesting things to happen. The social influence of the broadside ballad, the broadside picture, and the chapbook is key to understanding early modern Europe, and Watt's interpretation of the documentary evidence is no less than revolutionary.
Watt argues that early modern English culture is better described as overlapping rather than competitive for several reasons. Traveling minstrels and chapbook salesmen crisscrossed the country with their songs, tales, and wares, blurring the traditional divisions between metropolis (London) and country (everywhere else). (22 & 28) Thus culture was not like a spoke, radiating out from London to the rest of the country, but an interconnected web, with influences running both directions. In a similar vein, Watt seeks to emphasize that a sharp distinction cannot be drawn between oral and printed culture. Not only did oral culture seep into print and vice versa, but the printed ballads and broadsheets were not just meant to be read, whether individually or corporately. (258) They were also to be sung or pasted onto the walls of homes and public places. (12 & 149) Thus even the illiterate would have often had contact with texts, whether in church, the ale-house, or the walls of their neighbors. (220) Lastly, and where Watt comes into self-proclaimed sharp conflict with other scholars such as Wrightson and Patrick Collinson, is the relationship between Protestantism and the printed word. She sees neither Protestantism nor print as revolutionary forces, but as "inseparable from and constantly modified by the cultural contexts in which they were found." (325) In other words, these were not forces for polarization, but harnessed towards enforcing societal norms. Both religion and the printed word had a place in the world of popular songs and alehouses. (326)
Watt's turgid prose wearies the reader nearly as much as the enormous amount of woman-hours that went into Cheap Print and Popular Piety must have wearied the researcher. Her trolling through the STC and the Stationers' Register must have consumed an enormous amount of time, and her familiarity with the holdings of a number of major archives speaks to a significant amount of research (see pp. 225 & 274, for example). Her ability to move beyond texts as simply literary objects is also highly imaginative, and she has done a remarkable job of recovering what she calls the "basic mental décor" of early modern print-consumers. For a historian to move beyond just prose documents and delve into music, poetry, ballads, wall-paintings and other decorative arts is commendable.
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