Reading Reformation: The Libraries of Matthew Parker and Edmund Spenser

Jennifer Summit

in Memory's Library

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print August 2008 | ISBN: 9780226781716
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226781723 | DOI:
Reading Reformation: The Libraries of Matthew Parker and Edmund Spenser

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  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)


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This chapter argues that Henrician and Elizabethan library makers, in the process of recovering medieval books for new uses, reshaped the past through its written records, establishing new protocols of reading that stressed the value of history and national “posteryte” over the allegorical and contemplative literacies promoted in monastic libraries. This reading program continues to be reflected in the contents of post-Reformation libraries such as the Royal Library (now a core collection of the British Library) and the library of Matthew Parker, which was donated to Corpus Christi College and University Library, Cambridge, after the archbishop's death in 1579. Both libraries preserve large numbers of books that had formerly belonged to the dissolved monasteries; but these books were carefully selected and even, in some instances, selectively remade to support a reformist view of the English past. The work of collectors such as Parker had wide-scale cultural ramifications, which are evident in post-Reformation literary works such as Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene. In the second book of Spenser's epic, which allegorizes the human brain as a vast library filled with history books, Spenser extends the aims of the post-Reformation book collectors by making the library into an imaginary center of Protestant nationhood, as well as a model for the nationalist poetics and reading practices that underpin The Faerie Queene more broadly.

Keywords: library makers; medieval books; reading; Royal Library; Matthew Parker; Edmund Spenser; The Faerie Queen; Corpus Christi College; Cambridge University

Chapter.  14667 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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