The Elizabethan Top Ten – a rigorous, entertaining and provocative set of studies in the print culture of a defining era

‘The Elizabethan Top Ten is a rigorous, entertaining and provocative set of studies in the print culture of a defining era. Given the number of avenues it opens up, and the new lights it throws upon an apparently familiar scene, Smith and Kesson’s wish that it will prompt more debate seems certain to be amply fulfilled.’    Quite Irregular Blog

‘… The Elizabethan Top Ten offers more than ten compelling reasons for deserving popularity among humanities scholars and students.’   Journal of British Studies

The Elizabethan Top TenEngaging with histories of the book and of reading, as well as with studies of material culture, The Elizabethan Top Ten explores ‘popularity’ in early modern English writings.

Is ‘popular’ best described as a theoretical or an empirical category in this period?

How can we account for the gap between modern canonicity and early modern print popularity?

How might we weight the evidence of popularity from citations, serial editions, print runs, reworkings, or extant copies?

Is something that sells a lot always popular, even where the readership for print is only a small proportion of the population, or does popular need to carry something of its etymological sense of the public, the people?

Four initial chapters sketch out the conceptual and evidential issues, while the second part of the book consists of ten short chapters-a ‘hit parade’- in which eminent scholars take a genre or a single exemplar – play, romance, sermon, or almanac, among other categories-as a means to articulate more general issues. Throughout, the aim is to unpack and interrogate assumptions about the popular, and to decentre canonical narratives about, for example, the sermons of Donne or Andrewes over Smith, or the plays of Shakespeare over Mucedorus.

Revisiting Elizabethan literary culture through the lenses of popularity, this collection allows us to view the subject from an unfamiliar angle-in which almanacs are more popular than sonnets and proclamations more numerous than plays, and in which authors familiar to us are displaced by names now often forgotten.

Below is an edited extract from Andy Kesson and Emma Smith’s introduction to the The Elizabethan Top Ten. You can read the full introduction on the Ashgate website.


After some months dominated by J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, The New York Times Book Review announced a change in policy for its famous book bestseller listings. Their new list of ‘trade paperback fiction … gives more emphasis to the literary novels and short-story collections reviewed so often in our pages’. The aim is clear: to exclude some – in fact, the very top – bestsellers from the bestseller list in order to make space for books whose value was signalled more by their presence in the paper’s review pages than by their sales figures alone. Six months later the paper attempted again to explain the rationale for its decision, but served to further confuse the distinction between ‘trade’ and its tautological formula of ‘mass-market’ bestsellers. In March 2008 Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement was in both charts, ranked 8th and 17th, respectively. ‘You may still wonder’, the paper wrote, ‘why we decided to separate the mass-market and trade best-seller lists. The reason is that mass-market books – no surprise – tend to sell in larger numbers than trade. A list based on the number of copies a paperback sells will usually be dominated by mass-market’.

One might expect that a list headed ‘bestsellers’ would indeed register those books that sold the highest number of copies, but here this is in conflict with a different measurement of value: trade books ‘are the novels that reading groups choose and college professors teach’. ‘Best-selling’ is here in an uneasy relationship with other, less quantifiable indices of value, or, to put it another way, the hyphenated term ‘best-selling’ is under some strain, as ‘best’ starts to serve less as an adjectival modifier to ‘selling’ and more its ideological opposite. Oscar Wilde’s aperçu in his ‘Lecture to Art Students’ seems relevant here: ‘popularity is the crown of laurel which the world puts on bad art. Whatever is popular is wrong’.

This uncomfortable compromise between quantitative and qualitative indicators of value is not confined to newspaper bestsellers. Annual lists revealing which authors are most borrowed from UK public libraries, or the metrics by which Top Ten music charts are calculated have been subject to similar caveats and recalibrations, and indeed the BBC felt itself forced to censor its weekly chart show in the week of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral in 2013. For various reasons, it seems that we want to elide quantitative and qualitative measures. True ‘bestsellers’ are just slightly regrettable, an attitude perhaps still bearing the residual anxiety of what J.W. Saunders influentially dubbed ‘the stigma of print’. Popularity is itself suspect. We want the best-seller list to be the same as that list authorized by reading groups and college professors, and when it isn’t, we tweak the arrangement to get a more satisfactory result. Saunders identified the stigma of print as a specifically Tudor problem. If methodological and ideological questions dog contemporary best-seller lists, where publication and sales data are relatively robust, they are multiplied when turning to the question of print popularity in the Elizabethan period.

This book attempts to raise, rather than elide, the practical and methodological challenges of defining print popularity, and, in particular, the interpretative difficulties for literary critics and cultural historians when our sense of what ought to have been a bestseller – because it is what college professors now teach – turns out not to have been. Our title, ‘The Elizabethan Top Ten’, is self-consciously anachronistic. We have not, for reasons discussed below, tried to tabulate a ‘Top Ten’ on print editions alone (although if we had, the Book of Common Prayer, discussed in Brian Cummings’s chapter, and Sternhold and Hopkins’s psalm translations, discussed in Beth Quitslund’s, would have been there). Rather, we have invited contributors to our Top Ten to either propose a particular popularity case study within a genre – sermons or plays, for instance – or survey a particular aspect of the print market, with an eye to how their focus might form a local contribution to broader issues about writing, publishing and consuming print in the early modern period.

We actively encourage disagreements about what has been left out. We’d be delighted, for instance, if someone angrily proposed another sermon in place of The Trumpet of the Soule: for all the recent revival in sermon studies in the past decade, no sustained ‘top ten’–type argument has broken out. We haven’t got a section on ballads, for instance, despite Adam Fox’s startling estimate that ‘three or four million broadside ballads were printed in the second half of the sixteenth century alone’.

We might have included something else on the range of ephemeral literature, including chapbooks, playbills and forms: Juliet Fleming uncovers early wallpaper as an unexpected representative of this wide and diverse category. We chose to take Shakespeare as our example of literary canonization because the stakes are so high for our own contemporary disciplinary practice: the case of John Lyly, whose 11 print works went through at least 46 editions in 60 years, might have given a different shape to the story.

Above all, our aim has been to stimulate debate, including disagreement. Our contributors seek to further a dialogue about notions of popularity and about the relative roles of quantitative and qualitative methodologies for judging and interrogating popularity in the past. This volume brings together book history and literary criticism not merely to nominate or enumerate bestsellers, nor even to problematize them, but rather to try to understand their hold on the market, and with that, the gap between our own literary assessments and those of the past we seek to understand.

For some critics, statistics suggest that in the Elizabethan period the vast majority of the people were illiterate, and popularity and print are therefore mutually exclusive. Tessa Watt sensibly suggests that ‘in a partially literate society, the most influential media were those which combined print with non-literate forms’, such as musical ballads, illustrated books and books for devotion. But we should still ask whether, in an era before mass literacy, any printed text could truly be described as ‘popular’. Joad Raymond’s intervention is helpful: ‘print culture can be described as “popular” not because it is the voice of the people, nor necessarily because it was widely read among the people or reflected their views, but because the people were understood to be involved in the publicity dynamic, the dynamic by which print came to play a part in public life and the political process’.

This book explores the ways print, in its content, appearance or placement, addresses itself to and is constructed by this sense of the public. Like the contributors to Raymond’s recent Oxford History of Popular Print Culture (2011), the writers in The Elizabethan Top Ten contribute to a reassessment of the role of print in studies of the popular.

Most classic accounts of popular culture disregard print, following Peter Burke’s monumental Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe, first published in 1978, and prefer the reconstruction of the non-commercial practices of a communal, oral folk culture over the commodified entertainment of a learned elite.

But the public for print needs to be seen as extending beyond those who actually bought it and into a more heterogeneous, increasingly print-aware culture. Estimates of the number of print ballads in circulation in the Elizabethan period reach into the millions; religious texts like the ABC and Catechism went into scores, perhaps hundreds of editions; almanacs were printed in the hundreds of thousands.

And although press run for particular print artefacts is not the only indicator of ‘popularity’, it does suggest which works were already, or anticipated to be, commercially successful and which had relatively widespread penetration. We can see that numbers here vary widely, but even at the upper end of the range they remain small, particularly when set against, for example, the capacities of the theatres or the expected crowd at a sermon; on the other hand, we do not know how many people might encounter any one copy of a book. In their contributions to the current volume, Helen Smith cites Gabriel Harvey’s habit of signing his books ‘et amicorum’ and Abigail Shinn discusses Harvey swapping books with Spenser. The study of popularity needs to incorporate a study of human networks and the reception and ongoing use of books, as well as their publication and distribution.

The current book engages with these issues in two sections, one on methodology and the other the Top Ten itself. The first four chapters sketch out the conceptual and evidential issues associated with popularity. Thus Alan Farmer and Zachary Lesser open our discussion by investigating and interrogating how the English Short Title Catalogue represents popularity within the early modern book trade. They provide new categories for a large-scale analysis of the print market, drawing together theoretical, evidentiary and bibliographic themes. Lucy Munro demonstrates how Elizabethan popularity was driven by books first printed before Elizabeth’s reign, so that age, paradoxically, offered new possibilities to a print market often criticized for its fixation on newness and novelty. Helen Smith abandons financial concerns entirely, advocating the early modern book as an object of friendship, conviviality and advice. In the final methodological essay, Neil Rhodes revisits Shakespeare’s writing career to show how ‘the best-selling English author of all time’ negotiated ambitions for exclusivity whilst responding to unanticipated levels of popularity amongst his readers. These four chapters offer sustained, different perspectives from which to rethink approaches to popularity.

The second section of the book is the Top Ten: ten short chapters presenting for the case of a particular genre as popular. Our contributors unpack and interrogate assumptions about the popular, decentre narratives about the canon and rediscover an early modern world which looks both oblique and new. We move from self-writing in almanacs to censored script behind wallpaper, international news to Spenser poems, domestic books to public sermons, psalm books to Munday’s serialized stories and from The Book of Common Prayer to polar bears at the Stuart court.

This Top Ten is not intended to be the final word on the most popular kinds of books available to early modern readers. Rather, we offer here a range of current thinking about early modern popularity, bringing together material textual criticism, the history of the book, conceptual frameworks, empirical data and evidence of reading practices, combining book history and literary studies in order to begin a new conversation about the nature of popularity. This is, above all, a book about people – people who produce, consume and love books and the content of books – and seeks to restore a sense of the vitality and radical implications of the Elizabethan ‘Pop-holy’ generation.


More information about The Elizabethan Top Ten

List of contributors to the book:

Andy Kesson; Emma Smith; Alan B. Farmer; Zachary Lesser; Lucy Munro; Helen Smith; Neil Rhodes; Adam Smyth; Brian Cummings; S.K. Barker; Abigail Shinn; Catherine Richardson; Juliet Fleming; Lori Anne Ferrell; Beth Quitslund; Louise Wilson; Peter Kirwan.

Why We Eat, How We Eat recognised by food think tank

Posted by Katy Crossan, Commissioning Editor

Why we eat How we eatWe’re delighted that Why We Eat, How We Eat has been selected by the American-based nonprofit organisation Food Tank for their Fall Reading List: 20 Great Books About Food which highlights books that entertain, inform, and reaffirm the importance of food and agriculture. Why We Eat, How We Eat, edited by Dr Emma-Jayne Abbots and Dr Anna Lavis and part of Ashgate’s Critical Food Studies series, explores how foods and bodies both haphazardly encounter, and actively engage with, one another in ways that are simultaneously social, economic, political, biological and sensorial.

‘Eating is a bundle of activities and experiences, and involves both destruction and creation. While an everyday practice for everyone, it is both complicated and complex. This book is a masterful examination of the multidimensional nature of eating in symbolic, economic, political, material and nutritional terms, and it is a must-read for anyone interested in food and eating.’    Stanley Ulijaszek, University of Oxford, UK

‘This fascinating book is such a timely and welcome addition to the field of food studies. It sets out to destabilise and challenge what we think we know about food and eating by bringing once separate categories into intimate proximity, to touch each other and produce a sensous map of the contours of eating. Spaces between meaning and materiality, commensality and viscerality, and knowledge and bodily practices are oiled and moved into provocative “conceptual hinges”, revealing complex and layered relations of eating. This work will undoubtedly shift theoretical and applied debates about food and eating to a new level, and will have significance to those many disciplines that have a vested interest in why we eat, and how we eat.’    Megan Warin, University of Adelaide, Australia

‘This fascinating book would be of interest not only to scholars in the social sciences and humanities interested in critical food studies, but to any reader interested in the social, cultural and political dimensions of food and eating practices.’    LSE Review of Books

Ashgate at the Museums Association Conference in Cardiff – we hope to see you there!

Posted by Helen Moore, Marketing Manager

Dymphna Evans and Helen Moore are attending the Museums Association conference at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff this week 9-10th October.

As ever there’s a jam-packed programme of sessions, workshops and keynotes, alongside the exhibition. If you’re attending, visit us on stand 27, see our latest books, meet our authors and chat about any ideas you might have for book proposals. There will be an Ashgate picture quiz with a £100 prize, mint humbugs and huge 50% discounts on display copies, so please come and say ‘hello’.

Even if you can’t attend in person, you can get a sneaky preview of our book display and a 30% discount on a range of Museums Studies, Cultural and Heritage Management books, for a limited period. Take advantage of the 30% discount at

New books which will be on display include:

Crowdsourcing our cultural heritageCrowdsourcing our Cultural Heritage, Edited by Mia Ridge, Open University, UK

Museums in the New Mediascape, Transmedia, Participation, Ethics by Jenny Kidd, Cardiff University, UKNew Collecting_Graham PPC_new collecting

New Collecting: Exhibiting and Audiences after New Media Art by Edited by Beryl Graham, University of Sunderland, UK

Look forward to seeing you in Cardiff.

Gandhi in Political Theory: Truth, Law and Experiment – a guest post from Anuradha Veeravalli

This is a guest post from Anuradha Veeravalli, author of Gandhi in Political Theory.

Gandhi as the ‘Mahatma’ (great soul) or Gandhi as the shrewd politician — opinions have swayed vastly on the role Gandhi played in the Indian freedom movement and the question of whether and what lessons the modern world can learn from his life. It is thus befitting that on the 145th anniversary of his birth, falling on October 2nd, the debate be given a fresh break, pushing beyond these dualities to a discussion of his presuppositions, theory and method.

Gandhi in Political TheoryGandhi in Political Theory argues that the clincher is in Gandhi’s engagement with experiment as an epistemological category and methodological tool. This allows the coming together of theory and practice, and the normative and the descriptive, besides establishing a principle of motion in the context of history, a lacuna which the social sciences have been unable to fill.

Gandhi’s approach then is not merely a moral or spiritual one but a matter of theory and method. It is not an anti-colonial stance as much as it is a considered and systematic response to the presuppositions of modernity and post-Enlightenment thought. The focus of the book then is not on explaining Gandhi’s influences and actions but on locating the principles of his political thought within a philosophical trajectory that systematically challenges the presuppositions of the dominant mode of post-Enlightenment thought.

Thus, on each significant head of political theory – sovereignty, territory, political economy, the relation between individual, civil society and state, equality and difference – we argue that there is not only a response to the immediate issue by Gandhi but a significant and sustained reformulation of the fundamental and perennial problems that inform political theory. The reformulation of these issues pit Gandhi’s thought against mainstream political theory and the result is a thought provoking discussion that bears not only on the foundations of modern political theory but also on modern western philosophy. The book spans across Gandhi’s experiments in civil disobedience, political economy and the controversial brahmacharya (or “celibate sexuality” as it has been aptly called by Vinay Lal) experiments taken up during the partition riots before his assassination soon after India’s Independence putting it in the context of specific issues raised by modern political theory and its implications for the modern nation state.

‘Anuradha Veeravalli provides us with a provocative study of Gandhi’s political theory. Gandhi is seen as a systematic thinker who rejects the many dualisms that dominate much modern political thought. The author not only knows her Gandhi very well but also demonstrates a keen command of Western political thinkers. In this book, Gandhi takes on not only British colonialism but also the Enlightenment and the modern nation state.’    Ronald Terchek, Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland, USA

About the author: Anuradha Veeravalli is an Assistant Professor at the University of Delhi. Her teaching and research focus on issues regarding science, religion and politics and the relation between them through a consideration of their epistemological presuppositions in a comparative perspective.

Theology and California authors Fred Sanders and Jason S. Sexton at Green Apple Books

Posted by Hattie Wilson, Marketing Executive

Green Apple Books in San Francisco are to host an event with Fred Sanders and Jason Sexton. On Wednesday 15th October at 7pm, Sanders and Sexton will discuss theology in California with Kevin Starr, a Californian State Librarian and University Professor at the University of Southern California. You can view their event page here.

Fred Sanders is evangelical Protestant theologian with a passion for the great tradition of Christian thought and a professor in Biola University’s great books programme, the Torrey Honors Institute. With Oliver Crisp he is the coordinator of the annual Los Angeles Theology Conference, and he is a faculty member for the Los Angeles Bible Training School.

Jason S. Sexton is a fourth generation Californian who taught theology at Cambridge while a visiting scholar at Ridley Hall. He is currently a Research Associate at USC’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture, is a lecturer in the Honors Department at California State University, Fullerton, and is the Administrative Convener of the TECC Project. He holds the PhD from the University of St. Andrews on the doctrine of the Trinity and contemporary evangelical theology.

Theology and CaliforniaAshgate have recently published Sanders and Sexton’s new venture, Theology and California. In the book, the editors gather leading theologians, cultural critics, specialists in film studies, theological anthropology, missiology, sociology and history. Exploring California as a theological place, Theology and California renders critical engagement with significant Californian religious and theological phenomena, and the inherent theological impulses within major Californian cultural icons.

Theology and California is available in paperback, hardback and ebook editions.

Nawal K. Taneja: Should airlines offer more than flights?

Posted by Luigi Fort, Senior Marketing Executive

Should airlines offer more than flights?

A recent whitepaper from the Intelligence Unit of The Economist, entitled, ‘The Future of Air Travel’ examined this question. Its main tenet is that airlines who want to succeed should take control of the full travel chain and offer a complete door-to-door service. If they do not other players will enter the market and snatch the initiative.

Nawal TanejaAmong the top industry leaders interviewed for the document was Ashgate Author Nawal K. Taneja, whose latest book De­signing Future-Oriented Airline Businesses is also referenced in the text.

It quotes him: ‘If the airlines don’t re-strategise and become either travel facilitators or solution providers to the problems that people are facing …if they say, “we just fly seats from Airport A to Airport B,” people will still travel, but they will buy their travel services through new inter­mediaries.’

He maintains that new and cheaper technologies enable airlines to offer this fuller service and to a wide spectrum of customers. ‘We’re not just talking about sending limos to first-class travellers. We’re talking about sending a taxi to an economy-class traveller or suggesting to an ultra-economy-class customer “We know where you live; three blocks away is a bus station; that bus will take you to the subway, which will bring you to the airport.”’

Read The Economist whitepaper and for a deeper perspective read it in conjunction with Nawal K. Taneja’s latest book.

Designing future oriented airline businessesDesigning Future-Oriented Airline Businesses encourages airline managements to take a deeper dive into new ways of doing business.  It also provides a framework for developing strategies and capabilities, as well as executing them efficiently.

A key feature is a concluding section comprising five ‘Thought Leadership Pieces’ from senior executives both in and outside aviation.

‘The Disguised Ruler in Shakespeare and his Contemporaries’ Short Listed for the Shakespeare’s Globe Book Award

Posted by Ally Berthiaume and Hattie Wilson

Congratulations to Ashgate author, Kevin A Quarmby for being awarded runner-up for the 2014 Shakespeare’s Globe Book Award for his monograph, The Disguised Ruler in Shakespeare and his Contemporaries. This award, only given every other year, goes to a first monograph published in the last two years that has made a significant contribution to Shakespeare scholarship. The award was judged by a panel of prestigious academics comprising: Patrick Spottiswoode, Director Globe Education (Chair); Dr Farah Karim-Cooper (Globe Education); Professor David Lindley (University of Leeds); Professor Gordon McMullan, (King’s College London); Professor Laurie Maguire (University of Oxford); and Dr Abigail Rokison (The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham, and Shakespeare’s Globe Book Award winner in 2012).

Now among those leaving their footprint in continuing Shakespeare scholarship is Ashgate’s very own, Kevin A Quarmby. Quarmby is Assistant Professor of English at Oxford College of Emory University, Atlanta, and Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the Halle Institute for Global Learning. He is editing Henry VI Part 1 for Internet Shakespeare Editions and also holds the role of Editor for their theatre review journal, ISEC. In addition to his editorial accomplishments, Quarmby has published extensively in a variety of academic journals (Shakespeare, Shakespeare Bulletin, and Cahiers Elizabethain, to name a few). It is a considerable success then to have his first monograph attain short list status for this distinguished award.

We congratulate him on this most recent achievement and are proud to have him among our canon of authors.

The Disguised Ruler in ShakespeareThe Disguised Ruler in Shakespeare and his Contemporaries:

Measure for Measure, Malcontent and other disguised ruler plays are typically interpreted as synchronic political commentaries about King James. Quarmby, by contrast, traces the disguised ruler’s medieval origins and marks its presence on the Elizabethan stage. Influenced by European tragicomedy, the motif had by Jacobean times transformed romantic images of royal disguise into more sinister instances of politicized voyeurism. Market forces in London’s vibrant repertory system fuelled this dramatic evolution.

‘This excellent book fills a gap in the fields of English literature and history, and destabilizes some idée fixes of the Shakespeare field – for instance, the idea, often promulgated, that the Friar in Measure for Measure is a reflection of James I. Written with Quarmby’s typical charm and clarity, this important book is so cogent and accessible that scholars from undergraduates to professors will profit from it.’    Tiffany Stern, Professor of Early Modern Drama, University College, Oxford, UK

‘Kevin A. Quarmby’s The Disguised Ruler in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries offers a convincing rejoinder to a new historicist orthodoxy: that the beginning of James I’s reign witnessed the emergence and brief flowering of a distinctly Jacobean subgenre, the disguised ruler play.’    Studies in English Literature 1500-1900

‘…Quarmby’s monograph is an important contribution to theatre performance criticism which will hopefully lead to a reappreciation of the disguised ruler motif among Renaissance scholars.’    Shakespeare Jahrbuch