Audience

The term “audience” has only relatively recently come to acquire its dominant modern meaning, referring to the viewers of an entertainment or readers of a book. The earliest such usage listed in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) dates to 1855. Earlier meanings include “[t]he action of hearing” (dating from c. 1374) and a “[f]ormal hearing,” often with royalty or with a judge (from 1377). Derived from the Latin audire, to hear, the term has a special resonance for children’s literature, for the youngest children are not readers but rather auditors of literature, truly an audience. Indeed the broad term “audience” better captures the many ways in which children consume literature—and other aspects of culture—than does “reader,” the generally preferred term in literary criticism.

Raymond Williams (1976/1983a) did not include “audience” in his Keywords. The term does receive an entry in New Keywords, edited by Tony Bennett, …

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