William Drummond of Hawthornden as reader of Renaissance drama

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This essay considers one of the most notable and neglected first readers of early modern playbooks: William Drummond of Hawthornden (1585-1649). Drummond’s commonplace books document his extensive interest in English drama; he left marks of use in his quarto editions of plays, and his poetry and prose make allusion to Shakespeare’s works. In part, this material provides further evidence that early modern readers saw popular drama as material for serious and systematic reading. His notebooks also remind us of the important role ‘commonplacing’ played for such readers: the gathering of memorable reflections and sayings. Yet Drummond’s response to English playbooks is expansive and often surprising. His annotations show that he was equally interested in plot and dramatic process, as much as isolated statements, and in sceptical humour rather than didactic instruction. Furthermore, his allusions to Shakespeare’s plays in his own poetry and prose show a sophisticated response to their specific implications. This essay will concentrate on four plays Drummond owned and read: Jonson’s Volpone, Dekker (and Middleton’s), The Honest Whore, and Shakespeare’s, Love’s Labour’s Lost and Romeo and Juliet. It will propose that Drummond’s eclectic responses invite fresh thought on the range of uses early modern readers could put drama to and the pleasures they took in it.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)676-97
Number of pages22
JournalReview of English Studies
Issue number276
Early online date20 Apr 2015
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2015


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