A careful consideration of Shakespeare's dramatic texts reveals that their author was a professional man of the theatre who always wrote with a nuanced understanding of the specific requirements and limitations of his acting company. Many readers of Shakespeare may never have noticed that his plays are exquisitely structured to enable the practice of doubling – having individual actors portray more than one character. By this means, Shakespeare could write plays with as many as seventy speaking parts for a company that generally had no more than a dozen or so actors.
In order to facilitate this doubling of roles, Shakespeare constructed his plays with a meticulous oscillation of parts. In Hamlet, for instance, the thirty-one speaking roles could be performed by eleven actors (eight men and three boys), because characters such as Laertes and Guildenstern or the Ghost and Claudius never appear onstage together. Thus, one actor could begin the play as Laertes (who figures in 1.2 and 1.3) and then change costume to re-enter as Guildenstern in Acts 2 and 3 (in which Laertes does not appear). Guildenstern's role continues through the first three scenes of Act 4, after which Laertes returns at line 109.1 of 4.5 (the first hundred lines of dialogue would presumably have provided time for a costume change). Similarly, a single actor could play both the Ghost of Hamlet's father and Claudius: the Ghost appears in 1.1; Claudius in 1.2; the Ghost in 1.4; Claudius in 2.2–3.3. The Ghost reappears at line 93.1 in 3.4, then exits at 127.1; during the subsequent seventy lines of dialogue between Hamlet and Gertrude, the actor could change his costume in preparation for his entrance as Claudius at the opening of 4.1.
The publication of a book by Stephen Greenblatt is always a significant event and Shakespeare’s Freedom is no exception. Opening with a claim that may surprise many, Greenblatt asserts that ‘Shakespeare as a writer is the embodiment of human freedom’:
Though he lived his life as the bound subject of a monarch in a strictly hierarchical society that policed expression in speech and in print, he possessed what Hamlet calls a free soul.
Addressing Shakespeare’s ‘free soul’, here construed as a kind of capacious creativity, Greenblatt explores the contest between an ‘absolutist world’ and ‘literary genius’ and ‘the ways that Shakespeare establishes and explores the boundaries that hedge about the claims of the absolute’. Drawing on his usual eclectic range of theoretical models Greenblatt interprets a selection of plays with all that was original and refreshing about new historicism – reading against the grain, historical anecdote and an acute sense of Shakespeare’s interest in power on display. The book is structured around five major themes and their dramatization – absolute limits, beauty, hatred, authority and autonomy. Shakespeare is seen as a supremely creative free thinker, working within an absolutist society but with an apparently infinite capacity for imaginative investment. Thinking outside the confines of his culture, Shakespeare was able to create and destroy versions of these concepts, enabling us to recognize the depth of his achievement. Taking on morality, for example, in Measure for Measure, Greenblatt examines Barnadine’s peculiarly comic refusal to die:
Barnadine, so unnecessary and so theatrically compelling, serves as an emblem of the freedom of the artist to remake his world. But this strange character is – by Shakespeare’s careful design – a most unlikely emblem of artistic freedom; penned up, drunken, filthy, and rustling in the straw, the convicted criminal Barnadine is the embodiment of everything that is mortal, bodily and earth-bound.
This has not been a good year for the texts of Romeo and Juliet. Apparently, though, the worst is not so long as we can say ‘this is the worst’. I was ready to pronounce an edition prepared by two relatively inexperienced editors, in which I found forty-one substantive errors (see below), the worst edition under review. And yet, that distinction belongs, utterly surprisingly, to the work of a veteran editor: Jay Halio's new parallel-texts edition of Romeo and Juliet contains an astounding 108 errors in the text of the play.
The experience of reading Halio's edition is an emotionally variegated one for a critic concerned with textual accuracy. I laughed at the howlers (e.g. instead of calling for a mattock as he enters the tomb, Friar Laurence requests a ‘hammock’, Q1 5.2.21; his poison resides not in the infant rind of a weak flower but in its ‘instant rind’, Q1 2.2.23); I cried at the invented words (e.g. at Q1 1.1.222 ‘with beauty’ unaccountably becomes ‘with heaven's beauty’; ‘rest’ at Q2 4.5.6 becomes ‘sleep’); and I got angry at variants appearing in lines which are identical in Q1 and Q2 (e.g. whereas both Q1 and Q2 read ‘I lent him’ at 2.2.81, Halio's text of Q1 reads ‘I gave him’; both Q1 and Q2 read ‘poison’ at 4.3.20 but Halio's Q1 reads ‘potion’). All told, I found seventeen lines with invented words, twenty-one lines with omitted words, twenty transpositions, ten instances in which a different preposition is substituted for the one in the copy-text, an omitted line (at Q2 2.4.127 add ‘him than he was when you sought him; I’), and thirty-nine further assorted textual errors. A parallel-text edition of Q1 and Q2 has obvious potential utility, but the unfortunate textual editing throughout renders this one all but useless.
The programme note is an undervalued genre. Although the programmes sold in the lobbies at major Shakespearian productions often include superbly incisive accounts of the play and its reception history, usually written by a prominent figure in the profession, they are virtually never cited in scholarly discourse. So it comes as a pleasant surprise to find programme notes given pride of place in Roger Warren’s new Oxford edition of The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Warren begins his introductory essay by quoting at length from Hilary Spurling’s description of the world of the play in her programme note for a 1970 RSC production. The next section of the introduction similarly opens by citing Anne Barton’s programme note for her husband’s 1981 production, in which she defines the central topic of the play as ‘how to bring love and friendship into a constructive and mutually enhancing relationship’.
Warren’s unconventional use of programme notes is one of the features that distinguishes this edition as the work of a man of the theatre. Whereas the ‘stage history’ in many editions can be a tired distillation of previous reviewers’ accounts,Warren’s descriptions of productions over the last forty-odd years draw extensively on his firsthand experience. Warren does not suffer bad acting gladly. He witheringly characterizes the BBC Television version of the play as a ‘vilely spoken’ production in which ‘few of the actors know how to speak verse – the main fault is to stress personal pronouns when the text doesn’t’. When Warren’s recollection of a given production differs from that in a published review, he attempts to adjudicate the discrepancy by tracking down the original players. In reviewing Robin Phillips’s 1970 production of the play, Robert Smallwood reported seeing ‘a little enigmatic flicker of a smile’ on the face of the actor playing Proteus, Finbar Lynch, before he began to speak his crucial lines in the final scene. Warren, however, ‘recalled a clenching of the mouth that spoke of inner tension, even resentment’, and so asked Lynch ‘to cast his mind back fifteen years to that moment’. Lynch reported that ‘both he and his director believed that Proteus’ repentance was genuine’.
Few new editions of Shakespeare can deservedly be called 'magisterial', but The Winter's Tale in the New Variorum Shakespeare is one of those happy few. Robert Kean Turner and Virginia Westling Haas have produced a great and glorious piece of scholarship, representing a lifetime or two of detailed research and careful synthesis. After going through its 974 pages with fairly fine combs, a graduate assistant and I found only a paltry number of trivial errors. Although variorums are generally used as research tools rather than reading texts – and the searchable PDF file that comes on a disk bundled with this book will certainly make the vast amounts of data therein more readily accessible – the subtle brilliance of Turner's work also rewards sustained reading.
A New Variorum commentary note standardly provides the most salient remarks of previous critics, interspersed with sometimes lengthy responses by the editor. (In Marvin Spevack’s variorum edition of Antony and Cleopatra, for instance, the fairly typical note on tln 3305 includes forty lines of quotation from critics and an additional twenty-five lines of commentary from Spevack.)
Turner’s approach, on the other hand, is a model of elegant concision. He tends to preface each critical quotation with a single adverb or, at most, an adverbial phrase. Turner’s adverbs are comparative, evaluative, perspicacious and playful. Moreover, the use of adverbs rather than adjectives signals that the focus is (unapologetically) on the act of criticism, as the voices of commentators through the centuries are introduced with such modifiers as ‘more gently’, ‘less exactly’, ‘oddly’, ‘questionably’, ‘wrongly’, ‘more accurately’, ‘fruitlessly’ and ‘too delicately’. In the rare instances in which he ventures more than a single-word critique, Turner is nonetheless incisive, and often withering: ‘Parry alleges that few people worry about such things, though it is evident that Sh. did.’
This annus mirabilis in Shakespearian editing welcomed two monumental editions: the Arden3 Hamlet and the Oxford Othello. I don't imagine that there are many Shakespearians on the planet who did not know of Arden's long-announced plan to present a groundbreaking edition of all three textual versions of Hamlet. The fact that Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor have prepared critical editions of q1, q2 and f – the latter two being the longest texts in the Shakespeare canon – in about a decade is an extraordinary achievement (it took Harold Jenkins thirty-six years to finish his Arden2 edition). Just as the 1982 Arden2 Hamlet marked the culmination of the tradition of conflated editions, Arden3 is a milestone in the recent history of version-based editing.
Thompson and Taylor have produced unapologetically conservative editions of all three texts. Those of us who have criticized version-based editions that do not follow their control texts will find much to applaud here. This is version-based editing at its best. Their Second Quarto text makes remarkably few emendations (128 compared to Jenkins's 297) and their Folio text preserves many more f readings than any previous Folio-based edition. My personal favourite comes in the opening line to 1.4 where Folio editors such as Gary Taylor, Philip Edwards and G. R. Hibbard all emend f's 'is it very cold?' to Q2's 'it is very cold'. Thompson and Taylor are surely correct in retaining this small but essential difference: Hamlet in the Folio is so distracted that he does not know whether it is cold or not and has to ask.
Nearly two decades ago, Gary Taylor concluded the revolutionary Oxford Shakespeare on a note of philosophic calm: ‘with our own task now behind us’, he wrote, speaking for himself and his colleagues, ‘we look forward to our future obsolescence’. The publication this year of a second edition, however, suggests that the editors are not yet ready to go gentle into that good night.
The Oxford Shakespeare Complete Works (1986) was an undisputed landmark in Shakespearian editing. It may rank as the best-selling edition in history, having sold somewhere in the neighbourhood of 600,000 copies to date, and it was certainly the most influential edition of the twentieth century. Although some of the Oxford innovations never got much traction – no subsequent edition of Henry IV has featured ‘Sir John Oldcastle’, nor have the alternative titles The First Part of the Contention or Richard Duke of York been embraced by any later edition of King Henry VI Parts 2 and 3 (not even those in the Oxford single-play series) – the decision to include both Quarto and Folio Lear was of major significance, inspiring numerous two-text editions of that play and launching discussions of version-based editing that have reshaped every branch of editorial theory and practice.
But if the Oxford Shakespeare was once a youthful iconoclast, it has now become a middle-aged member of the establishment. Whereas the rhetorical insistence upon groundbreaking uniqueness may have been appropriate in the first edition, that same rhetoric now seems out of place. A new ‘User’s Guide’ to the second edition claims that ‘because this edition represents a radical rethinking of the text, it departs from tradition more than most’ and lists among its ‘most radical departures’ the abandonment of ‘the tradition of conflation’. It goes on to assert that ‘most drastically, we present separately edited texts of both authoritative early editions of King Lear’.
There is an uncanny connection between the Arden Shakespeare and the Oxford Shakespeare. An Arden editor and an Oxford editor can be at work on the same play for many years, have virtually no contact with one another and yet produce their separate editions nearly simultaneously. Such was the case when the Arden2 Troilus and the Oxford Troilus both appeared in 1982, and again when the Arden3 Henry VI Part Three appeared within weeks of the Oxford edition in 2001. Since it seems implausible that the two publishers would conspire to flood the market with new editions of relatively unpopular plays, I take it that these are coincidences rather than instances of collusion. This year has brought one more: the appearance of the Arden3 Pericles, edited by Suzanne Gossett, and of the Oxford Pericles, edited by Roger Warren.
Comparison of such twins is inevitable, and seems particularly called for here. Gossett presents her edition, in part, as a response to the ‘conjectural reconstruction’ of the play in the Oxford Complete Works, which she views as an ‘extreme’ example of rewriting that often ‘cannot be justified’. Adopting what she describes as ‘a moderate approach, neither reconstructing nor refusing to emend’, Gossett seeks ‘to create a credible, bibliographically defensible, reading and performance script’. Warren, in marked contrast, offers ‘a conjectural reconstruction of the play that lies behind the corrupt text of the Quarto’, basing his text on the previous Oxford reconstruction. Whereas the Arden3 title-page advertises a single-handed encounter between the editor and her text – ‘pericles, Edited by Suzanne Gossett’ – the Oxford title-page is awash in authorial and editorial agents: ‘A reconstructed text of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, by William Shakespeare and George Wilkins, edited by Roger Warren on the basis of a text prepared by Gary Taylor and MacD. P. Jackson’.
Brian Vickers’s Shakespeare, Co-Author: A Historical Study of Five Collaborative Plays makes a case for George Peele’s authorship of part of Titus Andronicus that has rocked the profession – or at least sent palpable tremors through it, with the Arden 3 editor of the play publicly recanting his argument that ‘the play was wholly by Shakespeare’. The study’s other conclusions – that Middleton co-wrote Timon of Athens, Wilkins co-wrote Pericles, and Fletcher co-wrote Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen – have had less of an impact, since the attributions in question are already widely accepted by Shakespearians. But Vickers – determined to confound what he views as a lingering ‘orthodoxy of Shakespeare the Non-Collaborator’ – has performed a valuable service by assembling an impressive array of evidence for his claims, including stylistic and verse tests put forward in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, corroborating results from more sophisticated statistical tests undertaken in recent attribution studies, and some original evidence of his own.
Indeed, Shakespeare, Co-Author may be seen as a culmination of the growing interest in Shakespeare as collaborator, which perhaps had its beginnings in Kenneth Muir’s book on the subject in 1960. It was further fuelled in the 1980s by the editors of the Oxford Shakespeare (who presented detailed cases for collaborative authorship of several plays), and has most recently been made manifest on the title pages of critical editions, such as the Oxford (1999) and Arden 3 (2000) editions of Henry VIII, which feature other authors’ names alongside Shakespeare’s. Shakespeare, Co-Author now provides a compendium of the relevant evidence pointing to collaborative authorship, a treasure-trove of data that future editors of Titus, Timon, Pericles, Henry VIII, and The Two Noble Kinsmen will be bound to acknowledge.
When Harold Bloom talks, people listen. In Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, Bloom gave his imprimatur to one series ('I recommend the Arden Shakespeare') while dismissing another edition out of hand ('I have avoided the New Oxford Shakespeare'). Although Bloom's ex cathedra pronouncements have occasioned some spirited responses, I'm not particularly anxious about their influence - save that my review of this year's additions to the Arden and Oxford series coincidentally confirms Bloom's prejudices: whereas I can highly recommend the new Arden 3 editions of 1 Henry IV and Richard II, I would advise serious students to approach with caution the new Oxford edition of the poems.
The Oxford Complete Sonnets and Poems, edited by Colin Burrow, is one of the most error-riddled critical editions of Shakespeare in recent memory. All told, there are twenty-six substantive errors in the text, including several that could significantly affect interpretation: for 'breathes' read 'breeds' (Venus 742), for 'reweaves' read 'unweaves' (Venus 991; a mistake that not only weakens the Penelope allusion but invents a word, reweaves, that does not appear in the Shakespeare canon), for 'sweet' read 'swift' (Venus 1190), for 'will' read 'ill' (Lucrece 91; the slip is exacerbated by a substantial commentary note on will), for 'wretch' read 'wench' (Lucrece 1273), for 'ringing' read 'hanging' (Lucrece 1493). I should make it clear that these are not intentional emendations, but unintended errors that often render the lines in question nonsensical.
Genuinely monumental studies of Shakespeare’s texts tend to appear, with curious regularity, once every nineteen years: the recent milestones being 1963 (Hinman’s Printing and Proof-reading of the First Folio of Shakespeare), 1982 (Blayney’s The Texts of ‘King Lear’ and Their Origins), and now 2001 with the publication of Anthony James West’s The Shakespeare First Folio: The History of the Book, the first of four projected volumes presenting the results of West’s decade-long census of the extant copies of the First Folio. Through a combination of careful archival research and tireless legwork, West has located 228 copies – a remarkable seventy more than were listed in Sidney Lee’s 1902 Census of Extant Copies. The first volume in West’s study reports on the sales and prices of copies of the First Folio since it left the press in 1623 through 2000; the forthcoming Volume ii will provide concise descriptions of each extant copy including its location, condition, provenance, and binding; West is currently engaged in the further Herculean labour of collating all of the 228 copies world-wide and recording full bibliographical descriptions of each, to be presented in Volume iii; Volume iv will then round out the project with a cultural history of the First Folio, a biography of the book.
Single-text editions of Shakespeare have recently bulked up considerably. The editions published this year are more than double the size of those produced a generation ago: the 197-page edition of 2 Henry VI in the Arden 2 series, for instance, is now superseded by the 491-page Arden 3; the 215-page Arden 2 Henry VIII gives way to the 506-page Arden 3. The text of the play, of course, remains more or less the same but it now occupies a much smaller proportion of the overall edition. Given that today's editors are responsible for producing an unprecedented amount of original introductory material and commentary, the fact that they may ultimately have less time to devote to the text itself should surprise no one.
It is worth bearing in mind, however, that the text of the play is the one element of an edition that every user will read. And yet, several of the editions under review here contain multiple errors in the play's text. These are not simple misprints that could be easily spotted by readers but more insidious sorts of substantive errors that produce seemingly valid readings. Proof-readers in seventeenth-century printing houses realized that this type of error, 'Words altered into other Words by a little wrong Spelling', could have profound consequences: 'the Sense made ridiculous, the purpose of it controvertible, and the meaning of the Author irretrievably lost to all that shall read it in After times'. Indeed, for the serious student who trusts the scholarly authority of an edition - and who is unlikely to consult more than one while studying a given play - some meanings might in fact be irretrievably lost.
Whereas previous generations of editors blamed the early printers as the agents responsible for the errors in Shakespeare’s texts, today’s editors tend to blame previous editors. The fault, it turns out, is not in the compositors but in ourselves. In the textual studies under review here we are told that the New Bibliographers created ‘a clairvoyant world, where the metaphysics of presence endorsed editorial decisions’, that the Oxford Shakespeare ‘dematerializes the text’, that ‘much of what editors have done is an obstacle to staging the work’, that ‘the texts of Shakespeare have been occluded by the labours of privilege’, and that ‘the most difficult problem’ for editors working today is ‘how to shake off the eighteenth-century hand of Nicholas Rowe and those who have followed him’.
early editors are more likely to be reviled than revered, the appearance of the Pickering & Chatto seven-volume facsimile of Rowe's 1709 edition presents something of a problem. Should we clasp the hand of the past, shake it off, or engage in some intermediate, compromise gesture? Peter Holland's introduction asserts Rowe's claim to importance as 'the single greatest determinant' of the way Shakespeare's plays appeared in edited versions for nearly three centuries: 'From the names by which we know some of Shakespeare's characters, the definition of where scenes take place, the list of characters or the act and scene divisions to the spelling, along with hundreds of emendations to the text and the way in which Shakespeare's language is punctuated, Rowe's work defined the methods and the details by which we think we know Shakespeare in print' (p. viii). By
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