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commonplace books


Subject Literature » Renaissance Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405194495.2012.x


An indispensable tool for Renaissance readers and writers, the commonplace book was a collection of quotations culled from various authoritative sources and organized under a series of topical headings. The practice of commonplacing served as an aid to memory by building and preserving a storehouse of acquired knowledge and, more importantly, an organizational rubric that allowed that knowledge to be retrieved and reused by the compiler. This practice encouraged an opportunistic form of reading in which texts were mined for lines or passages that possessed some practical, intellectual, or stylistic value. Once the appropriate extracts had been gathered and arranged, they could then be redeployed to support a persuasive argument or to embellish a literary work. Widely available printed commonplace books supplied convenient and efficient access to pre-selected and approved texts, offering an essential guide for readers attempting to manage the ever increasing quantity of printed material, while manuscript commonplace books kept by individuals reflected their idiosyncratic interests and intentions. A pervasive practice positioned at the intersection of script and print, composition and interpretation, commonplacing was fundamental to the ways in which people made sense of, interacted with, and actively created their textual world. In classical rhetorical theory, as articulated by Cicero, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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