Date of Award

2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

English

First Advisor

Peter Stallybrass

Second Advisor

Zachary Lesser

Abstract

This project recovers a forgotten history of Renaissance poetry as mail. At a time when trends in English print publication and manuscript dissemination were making lyric verse more accessible to a reading public than ever before, writers and correspondents created poetic objects designed to reach individual postal recipients. Drawing on extensive archival research, “Unfolding Verse” examines versions of popular poems by John Donne, Ben Jonson, Mary Wroth, and others which look little like “literature.” Rather, these verses bear salutations, addresses, folds, wax seals, and other signs of transmission through the informal postal networks of early modern England. Neither verse letters nor “epistles,” the textual artifacts I call “letter-poems” proclaim their participation in a widespread social and material practice of sending verse through the post – a practice which has gone almost entirely unexplored, but which has important repercussions for the way we understand how poetic communication worked.

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