When times change, we have to learn new ways of reading. Currently, we’re learning how to cope with electronic texts, even though the support that they give to serious readers through their limited typographic palette is pretty miserable. At the turn of the seventeenth century, as the reformation finally turned England from a catholic country into a protestant one, new kinds of reading became possible, indeed, were required by law.
Connecting with scripture became a personal act of commitment to a text, not a social act, as reading the Bible in English replaced having chunks of it read to you, in Latin, as part of a collective ceremony. James Shapiro writes of the internalization of religious experience in 1599, and the confusion it caused. ‘[In] an imaginary dialogue, two churchgoing women [are] confused by all these changes: “Alas, gossip,” one says to her friend, “what shall we do now at church, since all the saints are taken away, since all the goodly sights we were wont to have are gone, since we cannot hear the like piping, singing, chanting, playing upon the organs, that we could before?” ’ The reformers’ answer was ever-closer study of the Bible, and printers declared how their editions enabled this.
‘ ❦ THE PRINTER to the diligent Reader.
‘Deare Christian Reader, to the intent that thou mightest the better enjoy the benefit of these notes or expositions vpon the New Testament: I thought it not amisse to declare vnto thee the vse of the same. And first, forasmuch as the quotations or citing of places of the Scriptures in the margent which direct to other places, conteining like phrase or sense, haue been so placed, tht none without great labour could find out the texts alledged, I have made these sixe severall figures or marks, ✣ ♣ ·.· ✜ ❉ ★, and haue set them aswel in the margent as in the text, so that thou mayest easily find that which thou desirest. For example, in the first worde of the first Chapter of Matthew is placed this first marke ✣ : looke out the like marke in the margent, and there thou shalt finde Luke 3.23. which place agreeth to this in Matthew: and so likewise thou shalt finde in the residue. But if many quotations belong to one place, word, or sentence, the first is onely marked, and those that follow vnmarked, appertaine to the same. And if it fall out that there be more then sixe directions in one columne, then is the first repeated againe, and the residue following in order as at the beginning: as it appeareth in the first columne of Matthew, where both in the text and margent also, they are all two times set downe, and the foure first repeated againe.
‘The notes which are directed by the figures of Arithmeticke, as 1. 2. 3. 4. &c. thorowout the Euangelists and Acts, declare the effects of summe of the doctrine contained between one of the said figures, and the next that followeth: as for example, from the figure 1. in the first line and first worde of Matthew vnto the figure 2. in the 18. verse of the same Chapter, the doctrine there gathered is set down in the margent in this sort: 1 Iesus came of Abraham of the tribe of Iuda, and of the flocke of Davide as God promised. And in the Epistles in like sort they declare the methode and arte which the Apostles vse, and how euery argument or reason dependeth one vpon another: thesee figures are begunne againe at the beginning of euery Chapter.
‘Lastly, the Notes which goe by order of the letter of the Alphabet placed in the text, with the like answering them in the margent, serue to expound and lighten the darke wordes and phrases immediatly following them. As in the first line and second worde, the letter, a, being referred vnto a, directly against him in the margent, sheweth that this worde, Booke, signifieth A rehearsall as the Hebrews vse to speake: as Genes. 5.1. The booke of the generations. These letters beginne at the beginning of euery Chapter, continuing vnto z. and so beginning againe with a, if there be so many Notes that they do exceede in number the letters of one Alphabet. This haue I faithfully done for thy commoditie, reape thou the fruit, and giue the prayse to God.
The New Testament. Imprinted at London by Robert Barker, 1610/11 (Aaa2r)
James Shapiro, 1599: a year in the life of William Shakespeare, London: 2005 (p. 171)