The introduction lays the groundwork for Participatory reading by examining how participation and interaction are understood today in digital media, then assessing how reading practices involve acts of participation, creating the basis for assessing participatory reading in late medieval England. In addition, this chapter scrutinizes the benefits of developing a study tracing affinities between the medieval and the digital.
With Chapter 3, the discussion moves from Spenser to a wider circle of influence, starting with two somewhat reductive views from contemporaries of what Spenser “meant” in the literary system of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Two friends, Joseph Hall and William Bedell, wrote works that suggest an image of Spenser as an uncomplicated, straightforwardly decorous poet. Hall repeatedly alludes to well-known Spenserian images, which he imports into his own satires in Virgidemiarum Sixe Bookes in order to contrast them with his own disgusting imagery, suggesting an impatience with Spenser’s well-known delicacy and decorum. The less truculent Bedell implies a similarly uncomplicated view of Spenser in his poorly executed Spenserian poem, The Shepherds Tale of the Pouder-Plott, which takes as inspiration the Spenserian pastoral satire of The Shepheardes Calender and produces instead pastoral panegyric for King James I. In these two views of what “Spenser” meant to the writers of his time, we see the side of Spenser that Karl Marx later immortalized as “Elizabeth’s arse-kissing poet.”