Edward Paleit (University of Exeter) opened the year’s early modern seminars with a fresh look at a little-studied play, Fletcher and Massinger’s The False One (ca. 1619). A leading example of the Jacobean interest in Lucan’s Pharsalia, this play is a sensitive register of literary and perhaps ideological differences, given that the authorship of the different parts has been established with some certainty. Paleit looked closely at parallels with Jonson and Shakespeare to suggest the continuity of divergent dramatic traditions.

In a session held jointly with the Merton College History of the Book Group, Sebastiaan Verweij (Research Assistant, Oxford Edition of the Sermons of John Donne), discussed the challenges of collating seventeenth-century books. He presented a Merton copy of Donne’s Fifty Sermons (1649), which, as can be discovered from the excellent copy notes on the Bodleian’s SOLO catalogue, has an inscription from the publisher: ‘January 4th 53 I doe warrant this booke perfect & the best edition witnese my hand Richard Marriot’. Evidently he meant that the book had been made up from the most completely corrected sheets, a fascinating glimpse into publishing practice. Verweij also demonstrated the ‘Hailey’s Comet’ collator, which to the skilled eye can quickly bring differences between copies into view.

A more interventionist way with early printed books was the topic of Adam Smyth (Birkbeck, University of London). He discussed the ways in which the religious community at Little Gidding developed a distinctive technique of cutting and pasting from printed texts, creating amongst other things a synoptic New Testament, complete with illustrations. Discussion ranged across both the theological and the practical aspects of these remarkable experimental texts.

Katherine Duncan-Jones concluded the term with a paper on ‘Thriving by Foolery in Familiar Letters’. Expanding the familiar theme of foolery from the stage to the social history of the time, she took as one example the ways in which Sir Michael Hickes won the goodwill of his patron Sir Robert Cecil through jokes at his own expense. The paper opened up some fascinating insights into early modern culture, even if it did not necessarily make Cecil’s sense of humour look more attractive.