"To the General Reader:" How 16th-Century Paratexts Evolved the Reader

Madison Bennett Forbes, Fordham University


This dissertation is concerned with how authors conceived of readers reading their texts in 16th-Century England. With the advent of print on the British isle, authors, editors, and printers wrote for an ever-expanding readership. As a response, 16th-century book contributors used and developed the paratext, a rhetorical device that created a threshold of space for author and reader to interact, before, during, or after encountering the text. The first chapter examines the ancient rhetorical theories on paratexts as well as medieval paratextual devices, which all influenced the 16th-century paratexts. The second chapter surveys the varied and sprawling examples of early-and mid-16th-century paratexts. Over the course of the century, more and more authors include a paratext "to the general reader," rather than only personal letters to friends or dedicatory epistles to patrons. The third chapter narrows its focus on one author: Edmund Spenser. Spenser, more than anyone in this period experiments with paratexts in order to create and respond to specific kinds of readers: general, patronal, or friendly. The Coda explores how the work in the following chapters could helps us understand relationships not only between authors and their readers but relationships created in dramatic performances, as in Shakespeare's plays.

Subject Area

Literature|Rhetoric and Composition|Classical Studies

Recommended Citation

Forbes, Madison Bennett, ""To the General Reader:" How 16th-Century Paratexts Evolved the Reader" (2023). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI30485452.