Cambridge Catalogue  
  • Help
Home > Catalogue > The Struggle for Shakespeare's Text
The Struggle for Shakespeare's Text


  • 2 tables
  • Page extent: 332 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.7 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 822.3/3
  • Dewey version: 22
  • LC Classification: PR3071 .E38 2010
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Shakespeare, William,--1564-1616--Criticism, Textual
    • Shakespeare, William,--1564-1616--Bibliography
    • Shakespeare, William,--1564-1616--Criticism and interpretation--History--20th century
    • Drama--Editing--History
    • Transmission of texts

Library of Congress Record


 (ISBN-13: 9780521889179)

The Struggle for Shakespeare's Text
Cambridge University Press
9780521889179 - The Struggle for Shakespeare's Text - Twentieth-Century Editorial Theory and Practice - By Gabriel Egan

The Struggle for Shakespeare's Text: Twentieth-Century Editorial Theory and Practice

We know Shakespeare's writings only from imperfectly made early editions, from which editors struggle to remove errors. The New Bibliography of the early twentieth century, refined with technological enhancements in the 1950s and 1960s, taught generations of editors how to make sense of the early editions of Shakespeare and use them to make modern editions. This book is the first complete history of the ideas that gave this movement its intellectual authority, and of the challenges to that authority that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s. Working chronologically, Egan traces the struggle to wring from the early editions evidence of precisely what Shakespeare wrote. The story of another struggle, between competing interpretations of the evidence from early editions, is told in detail and the consequences for editorial practice are comprehensively surveyed, allowing readers to discover just what is at stake when scholars argue about how to edit Shakespeare.

Gabriel Egan began his academic career at Shakespeare's Globe theatre in London, where, in addition to teaching theatre history and running workshops on the Globe stage, he taught students to print on a replica wooden hand-press using the methods employed in Shakespeare's time. He is the author of Shakespeare and Marx (2004), Green Shakespeare: From Ecopolitics to Ecocriticism (2006) and The Edinburgh Critical Guide to Shakespeare (2007). He edited the play The Witches of Lancashire by Richard Brome and Thomas Heywood (2002), and co-edits the journals Theatre Notebook and Shakespeare.

The Struggle for Shakespeare's Text

Twentieth-Century Editorial Theory and Practice

Gabriel Egan

Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo, Delhi, Dubai, Tokyo, Mexico City

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK

Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title:

© Gabriel Egan 2010

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published 2010

Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge

A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication data

Egan, Gabriel.
The struggle for Shakespeare's text : twentieth-century editorial theory and practice / Gabriel Egan.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-521-88917-9
1. Shakespeare, William, 1564–1616 – Criticism, Textual. 2. Shakespeare, William, 1564–1616–
Bibliography. 3. Shakespeare, William, 1564–1616 – Criticism and interpretation – History –
20th century. 4. Drama – Editing – History. 5. Transmission of texts. I. Title.
PR3071.E38 2010
822.3′3 – dc22 2010029485

ISBN 978-0-521-88917-9 Hardback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party Internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.


A note on references, quotations, names and pronouns
1             The fall of pessimism and the rise of New Bibliography, 1902–1942
2             New techniques and the Virginian School: New Bibliography 1939–1968
3             New Bibliography 1969–1979
Intermezzo: the rise and fall of the theory of memorial reconstruction
4             New Bibliography critiqued and revised, 1980–1990
5             The ‘new’ New Bibliography: the Oxford Complete Works, 1978–1989
6             Materialism, unediting and version-editing, 1990–1999
Conclusion: the twenty-first century
Appendix 1:   How early modern books were made: a brief guide
Appendix 2:   Table of Shakespeare editions up to 1623
Appendix 3:   Editorial principles of the major twentieth-century Shakespeare editions
Works cited


The origins of this book lie in the negative response I received to a proposal for an edition of All's Well that Ends Well in Michael Best's series Internet Shakespeare Editions in the final years of the last millennium. An anonymous peer reviewer's criticisms of my wildly ambitious plan for the edition were grounded in the belief that the entire edifice of what is known as New Bibliographical editorial theory and practice had recently been overturned and that the most I might offer would be to reprint the Folio text of the play purged of its egregious errors. In making sense of this reader's report and its rejection of my proposal I felt the need for a history of the intellectual tradition of the New Bibliography and an account of the growing influence of its detractors since the 1970s. There was no such history in existence and this book fulfils my desire to write one; I hope it also fulfils a need felt by others for such a history. In the early 1940s F. P. Wilson surveyed the New Bibliographical tradition up to that point, but since then there have been only journal articles and book chapters that address particular parts of the tradition, or briefly summarize the whole of it, sometimes to defend but mostly to attack it. In this book I attempt to tell the full story from the beginning of the twentieth century to the date of writing (2010). I engage in the story to the extent of defending certain aspects and certain varieties of New Bibliography as essential to future editorial work, while acknowledging its logical weaknesses and proposing the adoption of certain parts of the critiques that have been made of it. In surveying the attacks on New Bibliography it is striking how seldom its adherents have been proved wrong on the hard facts of a case, and I have taken care to give those rare proofs the fullest possible credence. As will become clear, the main differences of opinion arise from the differing philosophical traditions that underpin the various commentators’ approaches to simple questions of human agency.


Parts of the conclusion to this book first appeared in reviews of recent scholarship (1999–2008) in The Year's Work in English Studies and I am grateful to Lisa Hopkins, Matt Steggle, William Baker and Kenneth Womack for their editorial work on those reviews and to the publisher Oxford University Press for permission to reuse them. Other parts of the conclusion appeared in the article ‘Intention in the Editing of Shakespeare’ published in an issue of the journal Style and I would like to thank its editor Cary DiPietro for permission to reuse the material and for a penetrating critique that improved it. Parts of Appendix 3 were first presented orally at the 2007 meeting of the Society for History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing, in Minneapolis, and I am grateful for the appropriately sharp questions and comments made by members of the audience on that occasion.

For answering specific questions about their work and discussing mine, I thank T. H. Howard-Hill, Andrew Murphy, Richard Dutton, Reg Foakes, Jerome J. McGann, Andrew Gurr, Paul Werstine, MacDonald P. Jackson, Randall McLeod, Gary Taylor, H. R. Woudhuysen, Richard Proudfoot, John Jowett and Stanley Wells. Andrew Murphy also gave excellent advice on the structure and format of this book. For supporting grant applications made in connection with the research in this book I am grateful to Ian Gadd, Suzanne Gossett, Thomas L. Berger, Stanley Wells and John Jowett. Reg Foakes and John Jowett read and critiqued parts of the typescript and generously shared their thoughts on the entire project. Three anonymous readers at Cambridge University Press gave invaluable comments and suggestions regarding the structure and focus of the argument. The idea for the book first took shape over tea with Sarah Stanton in October 2001 and since then she has sustained it with dozens of emails, a series of meetings, and numerous suggestions for improvement. The fruits of all her contributions are gratefully absorbed into the present work. Damian Love’s meticulous scholarly copy-editing of this book many times saved the author from embarrassing slips and improved the sense.

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC and the Huntington Library in San Marino California awarded one-month fellowships that enabled me to consult their collections while completing the typescript, and I am grateful to their grants committees. At the Huntington the early book specialists Holly Moore and Stephen Tabor were particularly generous with their time and expertise regarding such matters as the washing of books; I was not even aware such things were possible. The professionalism and expertise of the librarians at the Folger equalled that of their opposite numbers in California, and I am especially grateful to Betsy Walsh for setting up and demonstrating to me the operation of the Folger's Hinman Collating Machine.

When work on this book began in the first years of the twenty-first century, the only place it could be done was a specialist research library. The library of the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon gave the ideal environment and I am grateful to librarians James Shaw, Kate Welch and Karin Brown for hundreds of responses beyond the call of duty. By the time the book was being completed in 2010, computer technology had transformed early modern literary research. The providers of the following resources enabled the work to proceed anywhere with an Internet connection. JSTOR (an archive of journal article back issues) was the brilliant idea of William B. Bowen of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and was piloted by the University of Michigan. Project Muse (distributing recent and new issues of journals electronically) started at Johns Hopkins University with support from the Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Internet Archive provides full-text access to hundreds of thousands of out-of-print books. The Database of Early English Playbooks (DEEP), hosted by the University of Pennsylvania, was created by Alan B. Farmer and Zachary Lesser and combines essential performance and publication data for plays up to the Restoration, making redundant a number of expensive reference books and greatly enhancing researchers’ modes of access to the information. The commercial database of page images, Early English Books Online (EEBO), is provided by the company ProQuest but its full-text searchable supplement the Text Creation Partnership is a project of the University of Michigan led by Shawn Martin. A commercial database called the Oxford University Press Journals Digital Archive was essential for early issues of the journal The Library.

With the exception of the Internet Archive and DEEP (which are free to all) these resources were provided to me, a state employee, via deals struck by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), the United Kingdom government's provider of information technology to institutions of higher education. I would like to thank JISC Collections for having the foresight to strike such deals and for making the substantial investments required to sustain them. Without these resources this book would have been much delayed, if completed at all.

© Cambridge University Press
printer iconPrinter friendly version AddThis