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date: 23 January 2020

Early Modern Anonymity

Abstract and Keywords

This article argues that the study of anonymity rightfully belongs in histories of the book and of authorship. After defining anonymity in terms of reader expectation and situating anonymity in print history, it details anonymity’s particular function in early modern satire wars and in satirical news publications, in which colorful pseudonyms both mapped out topical debates and linked new and old satires through familiar satirical traditions. The discussion of satire illustrates a methodology for the study of anonymity that combines autihorship theory, material conventionality, literary tradition, and book use. The article concludes with a survey of recent scholarship on anonymity.

Keywords: anonymity, pseudonym, authorship, satirical news publication, book use, Martin Marprelate, Piers Plowman, Thomas Nashe, Robert Greene, Joseph Swetnam

To describe early modern anonymity with any sort of historical accuracy and to understand it as Tudor-Stuart readers might have, a scholar must step back from modern notions of intellectual property, literary celebrity, and genius discovered.1 The curious scholar must reimagine a world in which the author’s name was not yet a standard feature on the title page and in which class expectations, dangerous political controversies, and even literary fashions gave many writers good reason to circulate their texts anonymously. In this world, anonymity was both a useful strategy for authors and printers and, on occasion, an inconvenience. It was a condition that marked both dusty old manuscripts and satires hot off the press. It could serve as an author’s taunting provocation or as an unremarkable reminder that many texts required no author. Ironically, although anonymity hid and lost authors, it also made authors.

Anonymity was also surprisingly common. The most useful bibliographic resource for the study of anonymity in early modern English print culture, the revised Halkett and Laing, Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous Publications in the English Language: 1475–1640, lists over four thousand English publications that were anonymous, pseudonymous, or attributed with initials.2 To this number, one can add the many individual unattributed items in anthologies and the hundreds of poems and short literary pieces that circulated anonymously in manuscript. Given how frequently early modern readers must have come across unattributed texts, it is not surprising that compared to modern readers, they were both more accepting of anonymity and more attuned to how it created meaning for and around a text. For scholars of anonymity, the perspective of early readers can open doors to new research opportunities and facilitate connections between the study of anonymity and current conversations about authorship and book use.

Modern definitions of anonymity vary considerably, with some scholars claiming that a publication whose title page lacks an author’s name is anonymous, and others counting as anonymous only those texts whose authors are irrecoverable. This article utilizes a definition that is both inclusive and historically precise. Although anonymity’s causes and consequences were many and varied, early anonymity almost always marked a moment when the identity of a text’s originator or adaptor was obscured from a reader. Sometimes the anonymity was obvious, as when a title page flaunted a comical pseudonym. At other times spurious initials fooled a reader into thinking that an anonymous text was attributed while the author remained hidden. One also finds examples of conventional anonymity in genres such as the tombstone epitaph, whose readers did not even look for an author. Despite the diversity of these examples, in every case one or more readers encountered the text without clear knowledge of the figure(s) who conceived it.3 Early modern anonymity is, then, something experienced by a reader rather than a fixed condition of an author or text. The same text can be anonymous in one edition and attributed in the next, and an author can be anonymous to one reader but not to another. The shifting condition of anonymity does not make it less significant to literary analysis. The study of anonymous readings, especially those particular to one edition or set of readers, often illuminates early political, religious, and class divisions; conditions of print and manuscript transmission; reading and interpretive practices; and early ideas of authorship and accountability.4

Anonymity’s instability magnifies the importance of its many agents, causes, and uses. Early modern readers were acutely aware that both human decisions and material accidents could render texts anonymous, and they applied this understanding to the literature they bought, traded, and read. They recognized that anonymity served authors and book producers who sought to evade censorship and punishment, feign coyness, or claim universal truth. They understood that a missing or disguised name could signify an author’s theological authority or radicalism, nobility or modesty, investment in a literary career, and familiarity with generic and satirical traditions. These same readers would not have been surprised to encounter less deliberate instances of anonymity—names lost in transmission, for instance—in collections of popular jests, manuscript verse compilations, or printed poetic miscellanies containing “vncertain auctours.”5 The fact that anonymity had various causes and agents did not mean that its applications and interpretations were entirely haphazard. Its uses and meanings were often culturally defined, even standardized, because of the frequent employment of familiar conventions in both print and manuscript. Thus readers could anticipate new authors feigning modesty in their first editions or ballad authors publishing broadsides without attribution. A modern scholar hoping to recover and analyze early anonymity must consider not only what a particular reader encountered on the page, but also how the known practices of authors, copyists, and printers molded this reader’s expectations.

Utilizing this inclusive yet context-based definition of anonymity, this article sketches out some of the expectations and traditions that framed early readings of anonymity. Primarily, it aligns the study of anonymity with scholarship on the material text and on book use rather than with attribution studies, which focus on identifying and crediting the authors of particular works.6 The article first looks at the print industry and its practices, since print made conventional many of the authorial postures and generic traditions that readers came to expect in publications. It next glances at the thriving postprint manuscript culture, from which print acquired many of its traditions and anonymous texts. The article then offers a more extensive analysis of one early modern print genre, the satirical pamphlet, that capitalized on reader expectations and on conventions of both authorship and anonymity. Compared to other types of authors, early modern satirists demonstrated a keener awareness of the play and usefulness of name disguises. By employing colorful and topical pseudonyms, they appropriated familiar folk figures or borrowed from past satirical traditions to make the author figure instrumental in the satirical message or attack. In the 1620s, however, satirists mimicking news publications took a different approach, adopting the position of the anonymous reporter, at least until the midcentury news wars brought the pseudonym back into play. This substantial discussion of satirical pseudonyms and news pamphlets points to one characteristic of anonymity that remains wide open for future analysis—namely, anonymity’s close association with particular generic traditions. The article concludes with a look at the recent and future directions of anonymity studies and at those scholarly projects that are establishing anonymity’s place in histories of the author and the book.

Anonymity in the Culture of Early Print and Manuscript

Traditional book history, with its focus on the rise of print, has not done justice to anonymity’s role in early print and manuscript culture. In such research, the printing press is credited with inventing the modern author—that is, the writer who identifies himself or herself as an author by calling, devotion, or profession, and who uses a name to define, control, and profit from the texts he or she has composed.7 What scholars have tended to overlook in tracing the rise of the print author is that the print industry cultivated its broad audience long before—centuries before—it concretized author attribution. Print’s ability to disseminate texts broadly made anonymity of all sorts familiar to readers. Print likewise encouraged authors and readers to associate anonymity with certain genres and publication formats. To give one apt example, the reach and power of print caught the attention of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century ecclesiastical polemicists, who tested the regulatory and material limits of the print industry with a steady flow of anonymous treatises and pamphlets. Those on the heterodox or radical side of the era’s many ecclesiastical debates found that print afforded them much-needed protective anonymity. One can count Catholic apologists such as Robert Persons and the puritan “Marprelate” authors among this group. Orthodox writers such as Bishop Lancelot Andrews also appeared anonymously in publications that touted their humility, claiming, as the printer of Andrews’s Nineteen Sermons did, that “not the workman the worke, but the worke must approue the workeman.”8 When ecclesiastical polemicists exploited print’s broad reach to influence more readers, they also helped make anonymity one of the expected authorial postures on all sides of religious debate.

Histories of the author that describe an abrupt transition from anonymity to attribution are now mostly discredited, but newer histories still fail to acknowledge the ubiquity of anonymity and the interrelatedness of naming and anonymity in early print culture. The slow development of the print industry in Britain meant that the possibilities for professional print authorship were still only emerging at the end of the sixteenth century. Throughout most of the sixteenth century, the names attached to printed books were more likely to be those of continental authors, fathers of the church, and classical authors rather than living English writers, and thus print’s authorial naming conventions did not develop to meet the needs of contemporary writers. Even when the printing press began to market contemporary authors toward the end of the sixteenth century, publishers and printers largely continued to do what benefited the industry rather than the writers. The press was a business controlled by the London Stationers’ Company, which administered almost all aspects of publishing in England, including the rights and profits. Even governmental and church efforts to censor and license publications depended on the Stationers’ cooperation. Authors had little legal control over their texts once they reached the printer, though social clout and their ability to reissue “authorized” editions sometimes gave them marginal influence.9 What industry control meant for naming and anonymity is that attributions became something printers could manipulate if they so desired. Whether an author claimed a text or not before giving or losing it to a printer, the printer was free to reveal an anonymous author or hide a known one. The Stationers’ control also meant that canny authors could capitalize on print industry conventions, hiding behind or creating meaning within the industry’s practices and standards. An author could blame the printer for stealing a then unknown work or disown a text published by a careless printer. Printers could likewise plead ignorance when they published controversial authors anonymously.

Certain print conventions developed to attract buyers and help them locate a favorite genre easily. The title page, for example, advertised the content, printer, location of the bookseller, and somewhat less consistently, the author and context of the work. Material and visual characteristics, such as the frontispiece or the size of an edition, might also grab a reader’s attention. Printers slowly standardized these features so that, across the industry, they were using similar practices for similar kinds of publications. From ballads to sonnet sequences to political pamphlets, standardization allowed publishers to market particular genres to the audiences seeking them. The tight organization of the Stationers’ Company encouraged and even mandated certain practices, such as the inclusion of printers’ or publishers’ names on title pages, but standardization was also a matter of efficiency and practicality. Thus, even when authorial names were available, a name other than the author’s might serve the printer as a better advertisement for a work. Play texts flaunted the name of the playing company, for example, since this association was probably attractive to playgoers turned readers.10 Provocative pseudonyms could advertise a satire more effectively than an author’s name. Certain prominent names could also render secondary authors or coauthors anonymous when printers marketed miscellanies or bundled texts together for publication. The conventional use of initials to identify authors could also complicate attribution, especially for uninformed readers. Due largely to the standards and practices that the Stationers’ Company developed, few of which favored the autonomous author directly, anonymity’s importance to print culture grew rather than declined as the seventeenth century progressed.

At the same time that print standards were making readers more familiar with both anonymity and attribution, manuscript culture was also nurturing authorial discretion. In reaction to growing print audiences, some authors used hand-to-hand transmission to distinguish their more intimate circles from the broader readership. Court and university poets, especially, circulated their poems through scribal networks years before they reached print, and their work was sought out, traded, and preserved in manuscript miscellanies by educated amateur collectors.11 The personal quality of handwriting, the intimacy of hand-to-hand manuscript circulation, and the fashion for verse collecting encouraged and celebrated discretion and inside knowledge; the miscellanies that this culture produced often have more anonymous entries than attributed ones. Even poems by fashionable authors such as John Donne and Ben Jonson appear anonymously in period manuscripts. The fact that insiders did not need to record names initiated much of the anonymity in verse transmission, and once the manuscript poems reached outsiders, the names could not be recovered. The degree to which authors were hiding names is questionable. The “stigma of print,” a term defined by J. W. Saunders to explain the elite disdain for print in the early modern period, does not entirely explain the anonymity in manuscript verse collections.12 As was the case with print, manuscript attributions were more often supplied by producers than authors. Collectors were the ones who guaranteed the anonymity of manuscript verse, some by perpetuating the discretion of authors they knew and whose values they shared, and others by recopying poems already separated from their attributions.

There are striking similarities between the rise of the early modern print industry and the modern emergence of digital culture, and these correspondences have certainly shaped the study of authorship and anonymity. Early print, like modern digital technology, introduced new models of authorship while its standards were inchoate; it embraced borrowing, sharing, collaboration, compilation, and anonymity. Early print culture also offered an alternative to the exclusivity and inaccessibility of manuscript literature, and digital culture promised to increase accessibility as well. The parallels between these two media revolutions, however, are complicated by the fact that digital culture and early manuscript culture also share much. Flash-in-the-pan digital celebrities and anonymous trolls with their biting online commentary find analogues in early Stuart manuscript libels, in which luminaries such as the Duke of Buckingham were mocked by a chorus of anonymous poets and satirists.13 The malleability of manuscript texts; the dissemination of texts through social networks; and the fashion for trading, sharing, and compiling all have equivalents in modern digital culture. Although correlations between early modern print and manuscript and modern digital media are not exact, the expanding models of authorship in digital culture should nevertheless encourage scholars to reconsider the potential sophistication of early modern anonymity. The relative balance of anonymity and attribution can shift in any era when new technologies, financial incentives, and freedoms or restrictions present themselves, but the possibilities for both conditions are always present. It is somewhat misleading, therefore, to associate a single model of authorship with a particular era or to see modern attribution as superior to earlier authorial models. The possibilities and expectations for authorial attribution are constantly readjusting, with different models of authorship becoming more or less dominant as occasion dictates. In early modern England, the balance favored anonymity and pseudonymity more than it does today in Western literary culture, but the balance has been changing and could change again.

As this brief account of early modern print and manuscript culture has argued, print culture created numerous opportunities for authors and printers to employ anonymity and for readers to experience it. Manuscript culture fed the print industry many texts, and its attribution conventions were often disseminated through print as well. The popularization of certain print genres standardized particular kinds of naming and anonymity and cultivated expectations among readers. The genre of satire (and more specifically, the satirical news pamphlet) serves as an apt case study in the second part of this article. Satirical anonymity enabled authors to forge connections to cultural debates and literary traditions and allowed them to orchestrate particular readings of their texts. Because printed satire was often both highly conventional and decidedly topical, satirical publications required some mechanism (often several) to situate them in their relevant literary and political contexts. Satirists found that colorful pseudonyms were more effective than authors’ names at advertising a text’s topical subject and connecting the text to broader satirical traditions. If satire’s objective was to have readers recognize human foibles and corruption through the ironies or inconsistencies in its picture of society, then anonymity was ideally suited to this genre. Anonymity put the burden of identification (in the larger sense of identifying a position or perspective) on the reader.

Satirical Anonymity and the Pseudonymous Author

The conspicuous anonymity of much early modern satire has been readily acknowledged in focused studies of particular authors and controversies, but it remains understudied as a tradition in itself. The way that satirical anonymity complicates modern notions of authorship may partly account for this neglect. Colorful pseudonyms such as Piers Plowman, Martin Marprelate, Pasquil, Democritus Junior, and Thomas Telltruth resist a one-to-one correspondence of author and alias; the evocative personae that pseudonyms construct are often larger than the authors they supposedly hide. These pseudonyms also frequently borrow from established literary, satirical, and folk traditions, thus reaching beyond the single works they pretend to claim.14 There is more than one Piers, Martin, Pasquil, and Tom. Tudor reformists took the figure Piers from the medieval Piers Plowman and attributed their satires to this simple truth teller.15 The puritan satirists calling themselves Martin Marprelate tapped into many traditions, from Martin Luther’s reforms to popular terminology for monkeys, birds, and fools, and later satirists resurrected Martin in the mid-seventeenth-century pamphlet wars.16 Pasquil, the pseudonym used for several late Elizabethan anti-Martinist satires, refers to a statue in Rome where Renaissance writers posted topical satires and epigrams, and it also makes a gesture toward Thomas Elyot’s plain-speaking counselor in Pasquil the Playne (1533). The pseudonym that Robert Burton used for The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621, 1624), Democritus Junior, explicitly alludes to the Greek natural philosopher of the same name, known for madly laughing at human madness. Thomas Telltruth, the name attached to the first edition of the antifeminist tirade The Araignment of Lewde, Idle, Froward and Unconstant Women (1615), is, like Piers, a popular figure for the plain speaker. Both Democritus and Tom were revived numerous times in the seventeenth century.

Early modern satirists found it beneficial to recycle names associated with popular traditions. Familiar pseudonyms offered context, a kind of brand identification, for the highly topical concerns of Tudor-Stuart satire. They also advertised these satires to their target audiences, both friend and foe. Above all, well-known pseudonyms helped readers trace the conversations among satirists as ongoing debates progressed at a furious pace in print.17 Many of the authors utilizing these evocative pseudonyms never intended for them to be read as noms de plume. Although some satirists encouraged readers to guess their names, they more often used their pseudonymous author figures to reach further and say more than named authors might legally or credibly do. Thus colorful pseudonyms functioned simultaneously as characters and protective covers, and their protection was all the more effective when the character’s personality stretched beyond the author’s reputation and connected a satire to familiar motifs and current debates.

The fashionable recycling of pseudonyms should not obscure the degree to which early modern authors made satire their own. In the late 1580s the puritan Marprelate authors, with their invective-filled, ad hominem attacks on the English bishops, struck readers and the government as dangerously novel. The government tracked down and prosecuted those it thought had authored the anti-prelatical attacks in the name of Martin Marprelate, though it was not able to lay blame precisely, and the authors remain somewhat of a mystery today.18 The Marprelate controversy is considered by many to be a turning point in the history of English satire; Martin’s fresh, provocative voice inspired the satirists in the next generation, and his mockery of naming conventions also introduced a new degree of self-consciousness into satire.19 His quick shifts from first to third person and back, using “I” in one sentence and “Martin” in the next, made the author seem at once apprehensible and fictional.20 His awareness of the government’s search for the Marprelate author allowed him to mock the very notion that an author has an identity and location outside the text, with taunts such as, “Did you thinke that he did not know where he was himselfe?” (Epitome [1588], sig. A2). He was known to play with his adversaries’ names and even his own, turning Bishop Thomas Cooper’s surname into a common occupation (a maker of barrels) in Hay any Worke for Cooper (1589) and referring to himself in the Epitome as “Martin Marprelate gentleman/primate/and Metropolitane of al the Martins in England” (sig. A2). When Martin’s anonymous opponents attempted to spoof Martin’s name in their own pseudonyms—Mar-Phoreus in Martins Months Mind (1589), Mar-Martine (1589), and Martine Mar-Sixtus (1591)—they were only doing what Martin had already done.

Thomas Nashe, known to be one of the respondents in the Marprelate controversy, is sometimes credited with the lively anti-Martinist satires attributed to “Pasquil.”21 In the first of these, A Countercuffe Giuen to Martin Iunior: By the venturous, hardie, and renowned Pasquill of England, Caualiero (1589), the satirist borrows and expands upon the playful authorial posturing developed by the Marprelate authors. He threatens, taunts, and rails, to be sure, but he also adopts Martin’s habit of describing himself in the third person. Pasquil thus charts Pasquil’s travels as he researches his promised anti-Puritan volume, “Lives of the Saints,” and warns Martin Junior that “Pasquill is nowe gone ouer-sea to commit it to the Press” (sig. A3). Moving quickly from first to third person and back, he paints an unsettling picture of an author situated between literary character and physical presence. The second publication from this series, The Return of the Renowned Caualiero, Pasquill of England (1589), takes the form of a conversation between Pasquil and Marforius (another Roman statue on which libels were posted), in which Pasquil inquires, “howe hath my Countercuffe beene intreated?” Marforius has only one complaint to report, that his readers “know not what Pasquill is” (sig. A2). The Return is full of internal references to authorship and to the name, Pasquil, including a narration of Pasquil’s life as a Roman statue:

I assure you I haue stoode manie yeeres in the rayne, my face is so tand with the Sunne, and my hyde so hardened with the wether, that I neither blush when I byte any man, nor feele it when any man byteth me.

(sig. A2v)

The allusion to the Pasquil tradition is deliberate and obvious, even more so than Martin’s allusion to Luther. In engaging with Martin, “Pasquil” borrows and even exceeds Marprelate’s self-referential narration and preoccupation with identity, location, and authorship. The speaker in the third Pasquil pamphlet positions himself as the author of the first two pamphlets and claims to be publishing again after a period of contemplation. Indeed, The First Parte of Pasquils Apologie (1590) was published after the Martinist press had been silenced, and Pasquil does seem to lack a clear opponent. Instead of Martin, Pasquil argues with John Penry, one of the authors accused of being Martin. His tone is somewhat more retrospective, except for brief passages in which he threatens future Martins or imitates past ones. Pasquil’s personality shifts subtly from publication to publication as occasion demands, though he never loses sight of the oeuvre that his name unifies. He was initially a statue in Rome, but now he is an English author conscious of having a body of works in print, future projects on his desk, a readership, and an ongoing conversation with Puritan opponents. He may not be able to sustain his claim to “Pasquil” beyond this controversy—indeed, Nicholas Breton borrows the same pseudonym a few years later—but he may not need to. The pseudonym has done its job of weaving a complicated debate together for its readers.

After the Marprelate controversy, satire wars became increasingly popular with print audiences, who followed closely as writers mocked, scolded, and parodied each other. Satirists indulged this readership with intertextual quips and references. The spat between Thomas Nashe and Gabriel Harvey, though largely one in which texts were attributed, built upon these fashions. Nashe began one 1596 attack on Harvey with a mocking dedicatory letter to the barber at Trinity College, Cambridge, Richard Lichfield (Haue With You to Saffron-Walden). In a facetious reply attributed to the barber but probably written by Harvey, The Trimming of Thomas Nashe, Gentleman (1597), the title page twists Lichfield’s name (leach field) into a punning mockery of a Spanish nobleman: “the high-tituled patron Don Richardo de Medico campo.”22 It became an expected characteristic of these satire wars that authorial names, anonymity, and especially pseudonymity would be pulled into the satires and made both textual and interpretable.

Robert Greene’s career and death, which proved one of the triggers for the Harvey-Nashe controversy, exemplifies the process by which authorship becomes satirical. Arul Kumaran argues that the transformation in Greene’s authorship as he moved from popular romance writer to both satirical and repentant author in the 1580s and 1590s was influenced by Martin Marprelate.23 This transformation, according to Lori Newcomb, can be traced in the uses, misuses, and disguises of Greene’s name.24 In the 1580s Greene regularly claimed his romances on title pages, using some form of the phrase “Robert Greene, Master of Arts in Cambridge.” His pride in his academic degree became an object of mockery later. Immediately after the Marprelate controversy, Greene’s attribution practices seemed to change. In what are known as his repentance works—Greenes Mourning Garment (1590), Greenes Neuer Too Late (1590), Greenes Farewell to Folly (1591), and Greenes Vision (1592)—Greene’s name came to preface the titles of his works. Robert Maslen sees this gesture as “a sign both of his growing commercial success and of his growing interest in weaving his own story into his fictions.”25 Around the same time that his repentance tracts appeared, Greene also published his coney-catching pamphlets, which exposed (and celebrated) the pickpocket, card shark, and trickster. Unlike the repentance pamphlets, these works employed initials, internal attribution, and in the last one, a colorful pseudonym.26 With his three coney-catching pamphlets, Greene seems to have fabricated his own multiauthor controversy, for in the final Defence of Conny Catching (1592), the supposed author “Cuthbert Cunny-catcher, licenciate in Whittington Colledge” pretends to answer the two earlier Greene pamphlets, A Notable Discouery of Coosenage (1591) and The Second Part of Conny-catching (1591, 1592).27 Influenced perhaps by genre, by Marprelate’s example, or by his own reputation as a print author, Greene’s late publications are either more attributed or more anonymous than his earlier romances.

After Greene’s death in 1592, both friends and foes appropriated his name and his ghost in a series of publications. Greenes Groats-worth of Witte, Bought With a Million of Repentence (1592) is the best known, with scholars guessing that this odd mix of a moral tale, scolding letter to playwrights, and other short texts is primarily the work of editor Henry Chettle.28 The authorship of The Repentance of Robert Greene (1592) also remains uncertain; at the least, this work was highly edited, probably by Chettle.29 In several other pamphlets it is clear that Greene’s name is simply a pseudonym. In Greenes Newes Both from Heaven and Hell (1593), editor B. R. tells readers that Greene’s ghost handed him these papers to print (sig. A2v). In Greenes Ghost Haunting Conie-catchers (1602), the editor claims initially to be publishing a text by someone else—one supposes by Greene—only to abandon the premise (sig. A2v). Greene’s name serves to link these pamphlets together in an extended conversation about Greene’s life, works, and the popular topics he embraced, though it is interesting that the pamphlets also forge connections to satirical traditions such as the speaking ghost (which Greene used himself in his Vision) and the “news from hell” premise. Although not all of the posthumous publications are satires in the strict sense, the satirical elements in many of them, including those in Greenes Groats-worth of Witte, are amplified when the attributions to Greene are viewed skeptically.30

It is unlikely that readers were deceived by the posthumous misuses of Greene’s name. Although the Groats-worth and Repentance probably attracted readers eager for works by Robert Greene, others were interested in Greene’s sad death, which Gabriel Harvey had described spitefully in Foure Letters (1592), and some readers, certainly, were eager to decipher the authorship questions surrounding the posthumous works. Henry Chettle’s protest in Kind-hart’s Dreame (1593) that he is merely editor of the Groats-worth suggests that readers were immediately suspicious of the Groats-worth’s claim to be Greene’s (sig. A3v-A4v). In a similar disclaimer from Thomas Nashe, he calls the Groats-worth a “scald trivial lying pamphlet,” effectively labeling it a forgery.31 Thus readers recognized that satirists were appropriating Greene’s name, style, literary career, and supposed life story to sell their publications. Lori Newcomb calls it a “posthumous free-for-all.”32 It was a free-for-all in which Greene’s actual name functioned like a pseudonym, allowing multiple authors to contribute to and sustain a branded conversation much bigger than Greene himself.

The cultivation of satirical anonymity continued into the seventeenth century, when it featured prominently in the print debate about the worth of women that Joseph Swetnam took up in 1615. The letter prefacing the first edition of Swetnam’s Arainment of Lewde, Idle, Froward, and Unconstant Women (1615) was addressed “neither to the best nor yet to the worst, but to the common sort of Women” and attributed to “Thomas Tel-troth,” the well known, plain-speaking folk figure (sig. A2–A3v). Almost three decades earlier, in the Just Censure and Reproofe of Martin Junior (1589), Martin Senior had praised his younger brother, Martin Junior, for being a “Tom tell-troth, euen like thy father” (sig. B3). John Lane titled his 1600 moralistic verse satire Tom Tel-troths Message, and his Pens Complaint. There are many other attributions to this plain speaker in the intervening years. In choosing Thomas Tel-troth as his pseudonym, Swetnam invited his readers to see his criticisms of women as unbiased, commonsensical, fair, and true. In his preface, however, he undermined this initial posture with an admission to having been wronged by women and provoked to take revenge. Writing in the “rough of my fury,” he explained, “wronged men will not be tongue-tyed” (sig. A2). Swetnam may have employed the Tel-troth pseudonym to hide these personal biases, but given the culture of post-Martinist satire, it is just as likely that he used Tel-troth to signal to prospective readers that The Araignment would prove provocative, amusing, and satirical. “Tell-truth” was used to advertise the genre of the work rather than the honesty of the author.

Pseudonymous authors Ester Sowernam and Constantia Munda certainly did not view Swetnam as honest and commonsensical. In the mock trial of Swetnam that concludes Sowernam’s Ester hath hang’d Haman (1617), a trial judged by Reason and Experience, Sowernam labeled The Araignment cheap entertainment. “You haue (perhaps) pleased the humors of some giddy, idle conceited persons: But you haue died your selfe in the colours of shame, lying, slandering, blasphemie, ignorance, and the like” (p. 47). Swetnam had abandoned his original pseudonym in his second edition, and Sowernam used her own pseudonym to mock Swetnam’s real name, countering a feigned “sweet” with true “sour.” By aligning her anonymity with Swetnam’s newly revealed authorship, Sowernam explicitly targeted Swetnam’s audience, hoping to amuse them and convince them to take sides against Swetnam. In The Worming of a Mad Dogge (1617), Constantia Munda also addressed Swetnam by name and trivialized his authorship by associating his work with “mercenary Pasquils” (sig. B1) and “illiterate Libels” (sig. B2). Munda reduced Swetnam to a hack writer and then treated him to his fair share of colorful satirical invective. The logic and witty rhetoric in both Sowernam’s and Munda’s responses have led critics to assume that the two pseudonymous responses were written by men.33 Anonymous satire, however, resists such literal attribution. Many satires from this period are experiments in ventriloquism, cases in which the historical author, for the moment, is not himself or herself. These same satires are often more invested in the cover and its interpretive potential than in the physical author beneath it. Readers of Munda and Sowernam may have been more interested in enjoying the possibilities of female authorship than in uncovering male authors behind the pseudonyms.34

Satirical anonymity clearly grew more prevalent in the half century after the Marprelate controversy. Colorful pseudonyms became expected identifiers of genre, markers of ongoing conversations and controversies, marketing hooks for printers and booksellers, and recognizable cues for readers seeking satires with traditional or topical concerns. For both Marprelate and the later satirists, the functionality of satirical anonymity was surprisingly complex; pseudonyms worked paradoxically to identify and conceal, connect and distinguish. In 1589 Martin Senior had claimed to be related to yet distinct from his father Martin and younger brother, Martin Junior. In1617 “Ester Sowernam” used her pseudonym to engage and oppose her nemesis Joseph Swetnam. Confusion was as much a part of this formula as distinction. Many pseudonyms connected texts by concealing the differences among authors, voices, and styles. This certainly describes the authors imitating Robert Greene after his death. The two-sided function of pseudonymity, whereby it can distinguish and erase distinction, is not exclusive to satire, though satire seems to have been a natural place for it to develop. The parodic rhetoric of much early-seventeenth-century satire balanced imitation and distinction as the pseudonym did, using mimicry to connect and separate satire and subject. This dual function of parody and mimicry was so critical to the successful marketing of satires that it was employed in making mock titles, mock printers’ imprints, and mock dedications, too. Of the many parodic conventions that blossomed within the print satire tradition, however, the pseudonym was the most malleable and interpretable.

News Satires and the Anonymous Reporter

The seventeenth century saw the slow development of an industry devoted to news collection and dissemination and the eventual institutionalization of news periodicals in the mid- to late seventeenth century. Many types of news pamphlets were available to readers: corantos offering correspondence from abroad, parliamentary reports, sensational accounts of witch trials and monstrous births, and partisan mercuries, among others.35 A broad range of publications were labeled “news,” not all of which featured factual reports on current events. Satirists nevertheless found enough rhetorical and material coherence in printed news to mock its fashions and employ its conventions in the mockery of others.36 Titles, formats, and claims of truth were parodied, but the primary object of news satire was news itself, or “intelligence,” which inspired subtle mimicry, moral allegorizing, railing detractions, and fantastical reports. The line between informative intelligence and satire was never a clear one in the news industry, which made it easy for satirists to borrow stylistic and topical elements from the supposedly serious examples of printed intelligence. Thus a satire such as J. M.’s Newes from Hell, Rome, and the Inns of Court (1641), sometimes attributed to John Milton, contains both serious and facetious elements. Between an epistle from Lucifer to his popish followers and a legal agreement between Lucifer and the pope, one finds a copy of the petition the peers sent to King Charles at York in 1640, asking him to end the Bishops’ Wars and call a parliament.37 The satire frames the petition as something Lucifer wants suppressed, setting it apart from its fictional context. Here, as with many anonymous news satires, the reader is challenged to parse the serious and satirical elements and, without the advantages of an author’s name, determine the author’s perspective.

As with late Elizabethan satires, anonymity again serves as the conventional signature for seventeenth-century news satires. Within news satires, however, anonymity is somewhat less conspicuous. Nonsatirical news publications were already predominantly anonymous, a fact documented by the entries in the Short Title Catalogue, and satirists embraced this generic standard.38 Mimicking news book anonymity, some satirists adopted the posture of the collector-publisher. J. M.’s Newes from Hell, Rome, and the Inns of Court, for example, is framed as a set of gathered documents rather than a voiced narrative. It is the work’s title and premise, rather than its authorial figure, that identify the publication as facetious. Other satirists modeled their anonymity on the reporter or intelligencer, whose cordial and familiar tone became a generic convention. In Exceeding True Newes from Newcastle (1642), the narrator is initially so courteous and straightforward that the satirical matter catches an uninformed reader by surprise. Documenting life in Newcastle after the 1641 departure of the Scottish army, Exceeding True Newes mocks those citizens, from the gunsmith to the pregnant maid, who profited during the occupation and now curse the peace. The anonymity and narration are complemented by a conventional title page that mimics serious news pamphlets closely. Although Newes from Hell and Exceeding True Newes frame their authors differently, neither the collector in the first pamphlet nor the reporter in the latter signals that his publication is a satire. They exemplify the unobtrusive authorial voices in many of the period’s news satires that ask readers to recognize the satire from the title or discover it in the contents. The “Mercurius” periodicals that emerged in the 1640s inspired a different kind of anonymity altogether. When political crises provoked a feud among the mercuries, authors abandoned the unobtrusive reporter’s voice and molded the titles of their news books into colorful pseudonymous figures, whose familiar address and taunting rhetoric were reminiscent of Martin Marprelate.

The “news from” conceit is not the invention of the printed news industry. It stretches back to the preprint era, so it is not surprising that printed news satires intersect with many well-worn satirical traditions. An early example from 1579 appropriates Piers Plowman as the more skeptical voice in a dispute about legal and punitive fees (Newes from the North. Otherwise called the conference between Simon Certain, and Pierce Plowman, faithfully collected and gathered by T.F. Student). In 1593 Tell-trothes New-yeares Gift being Robin Good-fellowes newes out of those countries, where inhabites neither charity nor honesty was published, an invective against jealousy that again employs familiar folk figures. Newes from Graves-end (1604) begins with a satirical epistle from Somebody to his only patron, Nobody, and here the anonymous Thomas Dekker joins Thomas Nashe, John Marston, and numerous other satirists who used facetious dedications to mock a patronage system thought to be failing the writers of their day.39 Dekker’s “Somebody” shows great familiarity with the developing genre of printed news, though he mocks it more than imitates it. Borrowing the convention of the speaking dead, Vox Coeli, or Newes from Heaven (1624) reports on a celestial consultation in which Kings Henry VIII and Edward VI, Queens Elizabeth and Mary, and Prince Henry Stuart weigh in on the Spanish match. Despite its fantastical premise, the work never relinquishes its claim to be “news,” and at the end God has “foure seueral printed Copies of this their Consultation” conveyed to court and Parliament (p. 85).

Mid-seventeenth-century satirical mercuries also tapped into traditional motifs. Mercurius Diabolicus, or Hells intelligencer (1647), claims Democritus Junior as its author, invoking Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy and more generally, the popular image of the mad philosopher Democritus laughing at the world. The Royalist Mercurius Honestus, or Tom Tell-truth briefly communicating the chiefest occurrences, both foreign and domestick (1660), shows the enduring usefulness of the Tell-truth figure. The traditions on which these satires draw are often at odds with the “exeeding true” premise of news reports, and this confusion of fantasy and fact very much defines the experience of reading news satire. When news reports prove facetious or fantastical, the reader is invited to reconsider the truth claims, the medium, and the authorship of publications advertising themselves as news, possibly finding more truth in fantastical reports than in straightforward ones and more credibility in a trickster like Robin Goodfellow than in a truth teller like Tom.

The anonymity of two particular seventeenth-century news formats, the coranto and mercury, allows for a more detailed examination of anonymous news authors and the potent commentaries that emerge from their combination of anonymity, satirical tradition, and news conventions. Corantos publishing foreign news dominated the news industry in the early 1620s, in part because English readers followed the Thirty Years’ War closely, but also because domestic news was subject to more censorship.40 The corantos published by Nathaniel Butter and Nicholas Bourne set the standard, with titles beginning “News from …” and contents divided by foreign locale and date. Coranto narration is relatively straightforward, and the author often positions himself as the collector of others’intelligence. Documents such as letters or edicts are reprinted wholesale in corantos, and the documents’ authors are often more prominent than the coranto author himself. Satirists were attracted to the premise of coranto news, though they often added narrative elements or a livelier rhetoric to their imitations.41 The foreign correspondence motif allowed satirists to distance their commentary, using facetious locations to mirror English politics or, conversely, collapsing geographic distance to create improbable alliances and dialogues. Several works from the 1620s illustrate this creative borrowing. Newes from Pernassus … printed at Helicon (1622) mimics the coronto’s title page, matter-of-fact tone, and episodic organization, though its parade of monarchs at the court of Apollo is clearly fantastical. The work translates part of Trajano Boccalini’s Ragguagli di Parnaso, a seventeenth-century Italian satire that had already adopted the motif of reported news.42 Nicholas Breton’s Strange Newes out of Diuers Countries, Neuer discouered till of late (1622) takes its title from popular news reports on foreign cultures and describes what seems to be European society (with all of its faults) as if it were a faraway land. Throughout, Breton satirizes “news.” In the preface, “B. N.” feigns concern with the type, quality, and reception of his news, only to confess at the end that his purpose is to entertain:

Newes are more tolde then true, especially if they come farre off; and if they be of state, they are dangerous to meddle with; if of home-spunne threed, it is held little worth. Stale newes are not worth the telling, but a new matter neuer heard of before, will be hearkned after, though they be not worth the hearing…. What is to be read and understood, followes in the leaues following; which if your patience will giue you leaue to peruse, you may finde more matter to laugh at, then imitate. (sig. A3)

In detailing the cultural products of this unnamed land, B. N. describes several news pamphlets found in the ruler’s decidedly worthless library, among them, “Newes of No Importance” with reports from the “the Gulfe of small grace,” “the land of Vnluckinesse,” and “the Iland of Saint Elfe” (sig. B4v-C1). Thus within his pretend cultural narrative, B. N. embeds a facetious coranto organized by location and date and mimicking the familiar coranto phrase, “it was reported …” (sig. C1). The coronto conventions B. N. reappropriates work to expose the pettiness and self-importance of news writers and readers.

In different ways, Newes from Pernassus and Strange Newes manipulate the conventions of news from abroad, borrowing title page and organizational characteristics, capitalizing on the fantastical and familiar possibilities of foreign settings, and hiding their authors behind the genre’s anonymous reporter or intelligencer. As Strange Newes suggests, the credibility and worth of foreign news reporting was often in question, a fact that allowed satirists to tease readers with particularly incredible scenarios. Although coronto publishers sometimes touted the veracity of their news, it is significant that they rarely employed authors’ names for this function. Foreign news was so often compiled from secondary sources that an “author” stood to gain very little from claiming a coranto as his own, and the publisher probably gained even less from attributing his coranto to a single in-house author. The secondary and seemingly insignificant role of foreign news “authors” allowed satirists, in the guise of simple reporters, to take readers to foreign lands, to heaven, to hell, or simply north to Newcastle, where they could ask their readers to connect these fantastical places to contemporary Britain.

The lax print regulations and political tensions of the 1640s gave rise to a fashion in news publication quite different from the coranto. Mercury periodicals rose to prominence during the English Civil War, and although they began as partisan but informative news books, they quickly grew more satirical and more pseudonymous. The Royalist periodical Mercurius Aulicus (1643–1645) and the Parliamentarian Mercurius Britanicus (1643–1646) seem to have set many of the standards, combining biased opinion and satirical commentary with supposedly informative accounts of current politics and events, organized by place and date. In contrast to the corantos, mercuries offered English readers much more domestic news and gossip. Their domestic focus meant, of course, that hostile readers accused mercuries of disseminating false news and misinformation, not to mention libelous and treasonous opinions. They were read as satirical whether they were or not.43 Mercurius Britanicus performs this sort of reading of Aulicus at the beginning of almost every issue:

Aulicus will needs venture his soule upon the other halfe sheet, and this week he lies as compleatly as ever he did in two full sheets, full of as many scandalls, and fictions, full of as much stupidity, and ignorance, full of as much tedious untruths as ever; and because he would recrute the reputation of his wit, he falls into the company of our Diurnalls very furiously, and there layes about him in the midst of our weekly Pamphlets, and he casts in the few squibs, and the little wildfire he hath, and there you may finde him raging, and railing, and beating his braines against them, and dashing out his conceits.

(Mercurius Britanicus 19 [December 28–January 4, 1643/1644], p. 145 [sig. T1])

In an attack in the same year, Britanicus Vapulans exposes the satire in Mercurius Britanicus, only to characterize it as wit wasted on the ignorant:

… your squibs do so flye about the streets here in London, and your wit-crackers so amuse the poore boyes and women when they are at leasure to forsake the Ballad-singer and heare you, that truly my Lord Maiors show or a Bone-fire is not more admired.

(Britanicus Vapulans, 1643, p. 2)

Distinguishing the serious from the satirical in mercuries of this period is almost impossible, given the level of partisan politics, fault-finding, invective, and sheer imitation in this subgenre.44 Mercurius Britanicus, in fact, complains that a copycat Britanicus, of which there were several, is confusing readers:

… they have now set up a Britanicus against a Britanicus: Reader, did you ever live in such a juggling age, in such a time, wherein a man cannot know himselfe, but others puts on the like features and complexions, and I must confesse till I read the Oxford Britanicus, I tooke it for my own, the paper was so like, and the Printing was so like, and the Margin was so like….

(Mercurius Britanicus 29 [March 25–April 1, 1644], p. 223 [sig. Ff1])

This confusion of mercuries generated a new awareness of authorship. Although mercuries remained strictly anonymous, their titles were personified into colorful authorial figures, each eager to complain about the confusion of mercuries around him. Aulicus and Britanicus address each other as distinct individuals and portray themselves as such. One could say that Britanicus, in fact, is partly responsible for creating the character of Aulicus within their debate, transforming the news reporter into an author. The Mercurius titles thus functioned as satirical pseudonyms, distinguishing personalities and political affiliations but also unifying these works in an ongoing political debate. As Britanicus recognized, those eager to join the debate found the generic label Mercurius and the even more specific Britanicus easy to mimic. That is why he goes to such great pains to identify himself as the real Mercurius Britanicus and to end his tirade against his imitator’s pamphlet with “I knew it was none of mine” (sig. Ff1).

The conventional anonymity of news writing still functions in this environment as a counterpoint. The more satirical a mercury narrator became and the more his title functioned as a pseudonym, the more likely it was that he would be associated with biased rather than with informative news. In this climate, news authors had to negotiate between the popularity of satirical rhetoric and the very real market for information. Mercuries claiming to have more accurate news appeared regularly, only to further crowd the bookstalls. The Parliamentarian “truth teller” Mercurius Veridicus (1644), for example, claimed to be “communicating such Intelligence as is brought to him, (which he conceives to be the plain truth) without Favour or Flattery” (title page). Indeed, its tone is less satirical and the news items are more prominent than in other mercuries, although its truth claims may be exaggerated. Amid the mercuries’ lively satirical exchanges, the anonymous reporter and his intelligencers were still very much at work. Much sifting was left to the readers, who, like Mercurius Aulicus in his snide examination of Mercurius Britanicus, embraced the challenge of parsing opinion and information.

Looking back at the spectrum of satirical authorship in late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century England, anonymity appears not so much to hide or reveal authors but to connect work to work, thus demonstrating how even ephemeral pamphlets participated both in very topical debates and larger transhistorical literary conversations. The intent of this article was not to pigeonhole anonymity as a formal rhetorical trope or a type of literary persona, but rather to define it as a dynamic practice.45 What I have tried to do, and what I think the most promising studies of anonymity will do, is to explore how the literary significance of anonymous authorship works, particularly within the immediate historical circumstances that made anonymity necessary or convenient. This balance is more likely to be achieved when the focus of analysis is not simply on the author behind the text, but also on the ways anonymity was employed, interpreted, borrowed, and transformed by collectors, publishers, readers, and censors, among others. What satires teach us about early modern anonymity more generally is that it was rarely if ever just a bibliographic characteristic of a text. Satirical pseudonyms give a shape and face to anonymity’s function as a cover for authors, an instigator of debates, a marker of conversations, and a maker of meanings. But what pseudonyms do explicitly, anonymity regularly does implicitly. The functionality of even the most inconspicuous instances of anonymity is often enabled and rendered interpretable by some combination of immediate crisis and familiar tradition.

Directions in the Study of Anonymity

Given the many rich readings that anonymous texts offer to scholars of early modern culture, it is baffling that such works receive only a fraction of the critical attention afforded to attributed texts. The study of early modern English literature is still organized primarily around authors and their careers, even though historicist, book-historical, and feminist scholarship has expanded the canon considerably and legitimated less author-centered investigations such as the study of readership and collaboration, investigations of early print and manuscript culture, and the recovery of female-authored literature. Ironically, even scholarship on women’s literature is focused on attributed texts; in this case, because anonymity calls into question an author’s biological sex.46 Unfortunately, it is not simply texts that are neglected in more author-focused criticism. So is the very practice of anonymous publication and authorship. We may be missing key contexts for the study of canonical and noncanonical authors because we cannot sufficiently recover the experience of reading their works anonymously. Rather than charting the losses incurred by anonymity’s neglect, however, this final section of my article identifies scholarship that has ventured to analyze anonymity as a meaningful frame for early modern literature. An increasing number of scholars are coming to recognize that the analysis of anonymity’s conventionality and functionality belongs not only in the history of authorship, but also in studies of early modern reception, readership, rhetoric, and literary tradition.

The Anonymous Renaissance: Cultures of Discretion in Tudor-Stuart England (2003), by this article’s author, remains the only book-length study that focuses on anonymity in early modern English culture, though studies of anonymity in other periods have been published or are under way.47 Based on the observation that anonymity was not eclipsed by the author’s name with the rise of print, The Anonymous Renaissance demonstrates the popularity and usefulness of anonymity in both print and manuscript culture. In chapters that define anonymity theoretically and historically and analyze anonymity in formats from lyric miscellanies to ecclesiastical debate pamphlets, the author argues that anonymity was one of the period’s most significant authorial postures and textual frames. The book remains a call for critics to reexamine the modern fixation with attribution and to reimagine, to the extent possible, a more anonymous literary culture.

As this article has demonstrated, the uses and interpretations of anonymity are often historically and generically specific, even when they borrow traditions from the past. This fact makes it challenging for scholars to produce broad studies of anonymity that cross periods or span geographic areas. John Mullan’s 2008 Anonymity: A Secret History of English Literature gathers together interesting anecdotes for a nonacademic audience, but it does not satisfy the need for a definitive history of anonymity.48 A more profitable approach is found in collections of essays, in which contributors can build on their specialties and contextualize thoroughly particular instances or examples of anonymity. Herbert Tucker’s 2002 special edition of New Literary History contains articles from different periods and illustrates varied important critical approaches.49 A 2008 volume edited by Robert Griffin also allows its contributors to pursue specialized topics. Faces of Anonymity: Anonymous and Pseudonymous Publications from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century includes articles from different periods of English literary history with a particular focus on the Restoration and eighteenth century.50 Quite coincidentally, several contributors address questions about the gendering of anonymity and the sex of anonymous authors. Margaret Ezell, Susan Lanser, Susan Eilenberg, Holly A. Laird, Leah Price, and James Raven qualify the myth of the modest and repressed female author, lament the pigeonhole in which authorship studies often leave women writers, and initiate a critically important conversation about how anonymity studies might illuminate women writers and the conditions of their writing. More recently, Barbara Traister’s and Janet Starner’s edited volume, Anonymity in Early Modern England, focuses on the anonymity of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English literature and gathers together essays on both print and manuscript on drama, lyric, and pamphlet literature, and on provocative topics such as the ethics of reading anonymously and the Shakespeare authorship debate.51 This publication is notable for steering away from attribution studies and analyzing anonymity as a cultural phenomenon, as a manipulable convention, and as a textual condition created by readers and editors as well as authors. Anonymity in Early Modern England demonstrates how applicable the study of anonymity is to a broad range of early modern literatures, and its contributors’ facility with archival research and cultural and theoretical approaches to authorship suggests that future anonymity studies should make more use of these methods.

There are a surprising number of other edited collections, several of which focus on continental literature. In 2013 Littératures Classiques published a special issue, “L’Anonymat de l’oeuvre (XVIe-XVIIIe siecles).”52 Also in 2013, Romance Studies devoted an issue to “Naming, Unnaming, and Renaming.”53 A collection of essays on anonymity in German literature appeared in 2011, edited by Stephan Pabst.54 A special issue of Modern Language Notes from 2011 gathers together articles by scholars of early French literature that, building from Foucault’s ideas of the functionality of the author’s name, look at instances of transparent anonymity, forgery, and anonymous authors with signature styles, among other topics.55 Kate Tunstall, Walter Stephens, and Nicholas Cronk, in particular, thoughtfully define anonymity and its various related conventions and remind scholars that anonymity needs to be theorized with the same care that the name has been. What these recent collections suggest is that interest in literary anonymity as a subject is growing, and future research could serve the field well by comparing the anonymity from various periods and literatures. The study of anonymity may require scholars to balance historical and cultural specificity with an awareness of shared traditions and uses, but studies that do so will earn anonymity a place in broader research fields such as the history of the book and the history of the author.


(1) Andrew Bennet, in The Author (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2005), offers an excellent survey of modern theories and histories of authorship.

(2) John Horden et al., eds., S. Halkett and J. Laing, a Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous Publications in the English Language 1475–1640 (Harlow and London: Longman, 1980).

(3) For a more detailed definition, see Marcy L. North, The Anonymous Renaissance: Cultures of Discretion in Tudor-Stuart England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003).

(4) Barbara Traister, “Dealing with Dramatic Anonymity: The Case of The Merry Devil of Edmonton,” in Anonymity in Early Modern England: “What’s In A Name?”, ed. Janet Wright Starner and Barbara Howard Traister (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011), 100.

(5) Songes and Sonnets [Tottel’s Miscellany] (1557), f. 50.

(6) Harold Love surveys attribution theories and research approaches in Attributing Authorship: An Introduction (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002). Hugh Craig and Arthur F. Kinney, eds., Shakespeare, Computers, and the Mystery of Authorship (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012) provides several recent examples of attribution studies. For a materialist approach to anonymity, see Ann Coiro, “Anonymous Milton, or, A Maske Masked,” English Literary History 71 (Fall 2004): 609–629.

(7) For example, Elizabeth Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early-Modern Europe, 2 vols. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1979); Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin, The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing 1450–1800, trans. David Gerard, ed. Geoffrey Nowell-Smith and David Wootton (London: NLB; Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1976).

(8) [Lancelot Andrews], Scala coeli: Nineteen sermons concerning prayer (1611), sig. A5.

(9) For a summary of print industry regulation, see McElligott, “Book Trade,”

(10) Zachary Lesser and Alan B. Farmer, “Vile Arts: The Marketing of English Printed Drama, 1512–1660.” Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama 39 (2000): 77–165.

(11) Harold Love, Scribal Publication in Seventeenth-century England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.

(12) J. W. Saunders, “The Stigma of Print: A Note on the Social Bases of Tudor Poetry,” Essays in Criticism 1 (1951): 139–164. For a counterargument, see Steven W. May, “Tudor Aristocrats and the Mythical ‘Stigma of Print’,” Renaissance Papers (1980): 11–18. Love’s Scribal Publication provides an important reminder that print was not the only publication medium.

(13) Alastair Bellany and Andrew McRae, eds., Early Stuart Libels: An Edition of Poetry from Manuscript Sources, Early Modern Literary Studies Text Series I (2005),

(14) For a pertinent discussion of pseudonyms, traditions, and personae, see Richard McCabe, “Authorial Self-Presentation,” in Oxford Handbooks Online,

(15) See, for example, I Playne Piers which can not Flatter (1550).

(16) Joad Raymond, Pamphlets and Pamphleteering in Early Modern Britain (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 204–205.

(17) Maria Teresa Micaela Prendergast discusses what she sees as the aggressive rivalry of the early modern pamphlet wars and the bonding that resulted from the back-and-forth exchange of invectives. See Railing, Reviling, and Invective in English Literary Culture, 1588–1617 (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012). Eric Vivier also illustrates how shared rhetoric, mocking, and mimicry connect texts in satirical conversations. See “John Bridges, Martin Marprelate, and the Rhetoric of Satire,” English Literary Renaissance 44 (2013): 3–35.

(18) Although many scholars hold with Leland Carlson’s identification of Job Throkmorton as Martin, the evidence is speculative, and Throkmorton’s authorship was never confirmed in the early investigations of the Marprelate enterprise. See Carlson, Martin Marprelate, Gentleman (San Marino, CA: Huntington Library, 1981). Joseph Black sums up the authorship questions in The Martin Marprelate Tracts (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008). Classic and still useful studies of the Marprelate controversy include Edward Arber, Introductory Sketch to the Martin Marprelate Controversy (London, 1879) and Ronald B. McKerrow, introduction to The Works of Thomas Nashe, vol. 5 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958).

(19) Joseph Black, “The Rhetoric of Reaction: The Martin Marprelate Tracts (1588–89), Anti-Martinism, and the Uses of Print in Early Modern England,” The Sixteenth Century Journal 28 (1997): 707–725; Arul Kumaran, “Robert Greene’s Martinist Transformation in 1590,” Studies in Philology 103 (Summer 2006): 243–263. See also Raymond, Pamphlets and Pamphleteering, 32 and North, Anonymous Renaissance, 139–158.

(20) Vivier, in “John Bridges, Martin Marprelate,” argues that Martin’s rhetorical shifting is also a characteristic of the work Martin initially attacked, John Bridge’s A Defence of the Gouernment Established in the Church of Englande for Ecclesiasticall Matters (1587).

(21) McKerrow, Works of Thomas Nashe, V:35–105, especially 49–53.

(22) Halkett and Laing, T252.

(24) Lori Newcomb, “Greene, Robert (bap. 1558, d. 1592),” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004),, (accessed May 17, 2014). See also Lori Newcomb, Reading Popular Romance in Early Modern England (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001); and Steven Mentz, Romance for Sale in Early Modern England (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006).

(27) Newcomb, in Reading Popular Romance, 60, notes that Greene and his publishers were capitalizing on the popularity of sequels in publishing the coney-catching pamphlets. Newcomb (55) is not entirely convinced that the third text, the Defence, is Greene’s.

(28) John Jowett, “Johannes Factotum: Henry Chettle and Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit,” Papers of the Bibliographic Society of America 87 (1993): 453–486.

(29) Jowett, “Johannes Factotum,” 477–481; Lori Newcomb, “A Looking Glass for Readers: Cheap Print and the Senses of Repentance,” in Writing Robert Greene, ed. Kirk Melnikoff and Edward Gieskes (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), 153–156.

(30) Steve Mentz analyzes the satirical elements in Groats-Worth in “Forming Greene: Theorizing the Early Modern Author in the Groatsworth of Wit,” in Writing Robert Greene, 128–129. Kumaran, “Robert Greene’s Martinist Transformation” also establishes connections between Greene’s late and apocryphal works and Martinist satire.

(31) Jowett mentions both instances of reception in “Johannes Factotum,” 454, 474–475. Jowett quotes Nashe’s Pierce Penniless, second edition, for Nashe’s disclaimer and comment on Groats-worth.

(33) Diane Purkiss, “Material Girls: The Seventeenth Century Woman Debate,” in Women, Texts and Histories 1557–1760, ed. Clare Brant and Diane Purkiss (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), 69–101; Dierdre Boleyn, “‘Because Women Are Not Women, Rather Might Be a Fit Subject of an Ingenious Satyrist’,” Prose Studies 32 (2010): 38–56.

(34) In a discussion of Restoration anonymity, Margaret Ezell reminds readers that feminine pseudonyms were “an attractive advertisement rather than a humble excuse.” See “‘By a Lady’: The Mask of the Feminine in Restoration, Early Eighteenth-Century Print Culture,” in Faces of Anonymity: Anonymous and Pseudonymous Publications from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century, ed. Robert J. Griffin (New York and Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 74.

(35) Joad Raymond, The Invention of the Newspaper: English Newsbooks 1641–1649 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996); Raymond, Pamphlets and Pamphleteering, 98–160.

(37) Austin Woolrych discusses this petition in Britain in Revolution: 1625–1660 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 145–147.

(38) Out of 1,154 hits in a search for “news from” in Early English Books Online, 423 items were labeled anonymous and many more were attributed only with initials or a publisher’s name.

(39) Cutbert Curry-knaue (Thomas Nashe) dedicated the anti-Martinist Almond for a Parrot (1589) to the stage comedian Will Kemp, identified in the satire as “That Most Comicall and conceited Caualeire Monsieur du Kempe, Iestmonger and Vice-gerent generall to the Ghost of Dicke Tarlton” (sig. A2). John Marston dedicated his anonymous Metamorphosis of Pigmalions Image (1598) to “The Worlds Mightie Monarch, Good Opinion” (sig. A3). The stinginess of patrons, the failure of the patronage system, and the sycophantic language of desperate patronage seekers is parodied in these and other facetious dedications.

(40) Raymond, in Pamphlets and Pamphleteering, 132–138, offers a brief history of the coranto in England. See also Raymond, Invention of the Newspaper, 7, for the censorship of domestic news.

(42) According to Halkett and Laing (N84), this section of Boccalini’s satire was published separately as Pietro del paragone politico (1615). Thomas Scott was later credited with the translation. See also Raymond, Invention of the Newspaper, 212–213.

(43) For an account of the voices and styles of the 1640s mercuries, see Raymond, Invention of the Newspaper, 127–183.

(45) McCabe, “Authorial Self-Representation,” also tries to find a balance between the literary and more immediate uses of pseudonyms and personae.

(46) Marcy North, “Women’s Literary and Intellectual Endeavors: A Case for the Anonymous Riposte,” in A Companion to British Literature, ed. Robert DeMario et al. (Oxford: John Wiley & Sons, 2014), 142–263.

(47) See Stephanie Newell, The Power to Name: A History of Anonymity in Colonial West Africa (Columbus: Ohio University Press, 2013). For a study that touches on the functionality of anonymity, see Alexis Easley, First Person Anonymous: Women Writers and Victorian Print Media, 1830–70 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004). For a study analyzing anonymity as a cultural phenomenon rather than an authorial convention, see Jacques Khalip, Anonymous Life: Romanticism and Dispossession (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009).

(48) John Mullan, Anonymity: A Secret History of English Literature (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007).

(49) New Literary History 33 (Spring 2002).

(50) Robert J. Griffin, ed., Faces of Anonymity: Anonymous and Pseudonymous Publications from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century (New York and Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).

(51) Janet Wright Starner and Barbara Howard Traister, eds., Anonymity in Early Modern England: “What’s in a Name?” (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011).

(52) Littératures Classiques 80 (2013).

(53) Romance Studies 31, nos. 3–4 (2013).

(54) Stephan Pabst, ed., Anonymität und Autorschaft: Zur Literatur- und Rechtsgeschichte der Namenlosigkiet (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2011).

(55) Modern Language Notes 126 (2011).