"Desunt nonnulla": Reading the incomplete text in early modern England

Rebecca Ellen Stark-Gendrano, Fordham University


My doctoral dissertation investigates the ideological operations that shape readers' understandings of a given text as incomplete, a decision which is seized upon in order to effect an "improvement" of the text itself. The judgment of incompletion makes a text vulnerable to editors and writers who encounter it; their rewritten texts thus reflect not the original author's creation, but the same ethical guidelines that led to the charge of "incompletion." Focusing on the late Elizabethan and Stuart eras (1590-1714), I examine early modern responses by editors, adaptors and sequel-writers to texts deemed incomplete. Judgments about a text's completion are highly subjective, dependent not simply on aesthetic factors but also on the ethical merits of the narrative. Accordingly, I suggest that completion is often not an inherent feature of texts, but rather a socially constructed one. Texts branded with the charge of incompletion become contingent entities, dependent upon readers who attempt to repair them according to received ideas of appropriate textual behavior. The dissertation contains chapters examining continuations of Christopher Marlowe's Hero and Leander (1598), adaptations and editions of William Shakespeare's Timon of Athens (c.1607), and editorial emendations to Elizabeth Joscelin's A Mothers Legacy to her Unborn Child (1622). Each chapter interrogates the often instinctive process of categorizing texts as either whole or deficient. All of the texts I examine have, at one time or another, been deemed incomplete by readers, publishers, or critics. Other readers, however, have made compelling claims for these texts as complete in and of themselves. By paying attention to the ethical debates invoked by early modern readers engaged in modifying texts, I hope to create a more nuanced understanding of ways in which the charge of "incompletion" could be used, by some readers, as a mechanism of both textual and ethical control.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Stark-Gendrano, Rebecca Ellen, ""Desunt nonnulla": Reading the incomplete text in early modern England" (2014). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3630187.