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TOPIC: The End of Editing Shakespeare

The End of Editing Shakespeare 11 years 3 months ago #15

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The End of Editing Shakespeare

Surveying editions of Shakespeare in 1853, the anonymous reviewer in the Athenaeum concluded: "As the demand increases for the plays of Shakespeare, so new editors will arise--all with notions and new readings of their own,--till it will end perhaps by every intelligent man turning editor for himself." Indeed, the first twenty-five or so years of the reign of Queen Victoria saw the publication of new (and revised) complete editions by Charles Knight, John Payne Collier, Samuel Weller Singer, Alexander Dyce, Howard Staunton, Richard Grant White, W. G. Clark and W. A. Wright, Thomas Keightley, and James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps, among the more than eighty recorded in the British Library catalogue. One hundred and fifty years later the feverish activity does not seem to have abated very considerably. The past sixty years have seen the appearance of editions by Ridley, Kittredge, Neilson and Hill, Alexander, Harrison, Sisson, Munro, Craig, Harbage, Evans, Bevington, three by the Oxford team, as well as Arden 2 and Arden 3, Cambridge 3 and Cambridge 4, Yale 2, Pelican, Penguin, Signet, Bantam, Folger, etc. etc. (not to mention various clones and packagings), to name just a few among the seventeen columns devoted to editions of Shakespeare in Books in Print. While the sheer number does not quite mean every intelligent man or woman is turning out a Shakespeare, it may well indicate that the way is being cleared for Everyman and Everywoman turning editor. Or to put it another way: the plethora of editions stimulates me-tooism; the plethora of editions, born of free enterprise, spurs competition. The motto is: anything you can do I can do better. And, most important, the plethora of editions, like the excesses of ancient Rome, has modified the end--i.e. the extent or goal--and at the same time has spelled the end--i.e. the conclusion--of editions as [page 79] we have known them. A paradox, to be sure, like the fact that since I have so little space at my disposal I may be permitted to do the prohibited: to make sweeping generalizations. And in still another paradox: to attempt to show that such sweeping generalizations, customarily held to be untrue or viewed with utmost suspicion, are in this case undeniably true.

First, let us look at editions. The most striking fact about editions of Shakespeare over the past sixty years--and longer too--is that when all is said and done they are, in their core substance, interchangeable. Granted there are attempts at novelty: Kittredge (1936) retained (with impunity) numerous old spellings--e.g. "murther" and "mushrump"--for which his student, G. Blakemore Evans (Riverside 1974) has been taken to task; Oxford (1986), in its understandable attempt to scrape away the barnacles which have over centuries fixed themselves on the text, has even invented some in reinventing Shakespeare. Nor do I mean to overlook some inspired conjectures regarding single words or expressions. But the overriding fact of the matter is that as far as the editing of the text is concerned, the situation resembles that of an elephant pushing a peanut. Let me illustrate.

In my New Variorum edition of Antony and Cleopatra I fully collated fifty-two editions and partially collated another fifty-one against the First Folio. Although this historical collation was completed before I was able to consider such important editions as the Oxford and Bevington (among others after 1974), it does nevertheless reveal important facts about the stability of the text of Shakespeare. If we concentrate on substantive verbal changes--in, say, the first act--we find that there are only thirty proposed (most of them from the crafty hand of John Payne Collier) in the nineteenth century and only four in the first seventy-five years of this century. I must emphasize that these are alternative readings, assembled according to their mere appearance without regard to the quality of the editor or edition. Not a one of them has found general acceptance. A brief glance at the textual notes of the latest edition of Antony (Arden 3, 1995) reveals that all the substantive verbal changes not found in the First Folio originate no later than in Dr. Johnson's edition of 1765, the largest number already in the Second Folio of 1632, which in the main tidied up obvious misprints and slips in grammar.

[page 80] Of course, it will be argued that Antony, aside from some confusion regarding lineation and the like, is acknowledged to be a good text and/or that my sample is too small or selective--that is, that I have been practicing a sleight of statistics. But if there are only four proposed verbal changes in 613 lines--and each line contains an average of, say, eight words--then the resulting percentage of change is 0.0008156. The conclusion is that either there is a paucity of evidence or imagination or courage on the part of the editors, or more likely that there is little or nothing left to manipulate. Even if larger numbers were conceded--say, twenty new substantive verbal changes per work in editions of the twentieth century, yielding a generous (if not fanciful) projection of eight hundred for the entire corpus--the percentage of change based on eight hundred divided by a total of some 885,000 word-tokens or graphic entities would be 0.0009039. Reluctantly, but inescapably, the conclusion must be that as far as substantive verbal changes are concerned the text of Shakespeare is for all intents and purposes fixed. Even admitting new works to the canon--itself a sign of impatience with the restrictions of a closed system?--would not appreciably increase the potential for manipulation.

The commentary situation is, surprisingly or not, much the same. The historical collation of the commentary notes in my New Variorum Antony reveals that, as far as the glossing of vocabulary (the dominant feature) is concerned, commentary has increased as the distance from Shakespeare has increased. Just as obvious, and natural, is the fact that word glosses have reached a point where there is a consensus as to which words require glossing. Certainly, a comparison of the glossaries which conclude one-volume editions of Shakespeare illustrates this fact. And editions of individual plays, having more space and perhaps a slightly different aim or audience, tend mainly to expand and localize the glosses already found in the one-volume editions or in an Ur-glossary like Onions/Eagleson or its big brother, the Oxford English Dictionary. In short, the vocabulary of Shakespeare has been culled, glossed, and recorded. As with the text, commentary on it is for all intents and purposes fixed. Perhaps more fixed than a comparison of various editions would indicate, for at least forty percent of the words glossed or defined in the Onions/Eagleson Glossary are to be found in a primer for non-English [page 81] speakers, like the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary--certainly even more in any standard collegiate-type dictionary, not to mention bigger brothers.

The advent of hypertext has not altered the basic situation of text and commentary. Hypertext is a form of hypertrophy: an abnormal increase in size, an excrescence which is essentially additive and cumulative in nature. Having at one's disposal all the information that exists--old and new spelling editions, facsimiles, translations, commentaries, illustrations, stages, speakers, actors, directors, professors, and who- or whatever--can lead to a traffic jam, with standstill. However navigable the highway, however fluid the apparent movement, the click of the mouse is more likely to signal lane-changing, with its illusion of rapid forward movement. Ageless and universal, the whole is a kind of digitized mega-variorum. Many of us who come to realize that we use only one or two percent of the expensive software we have bought will be reminded of Socrates, who, strolling through the market-place, was struck by all the things he didn't want or need.

Even if we do not agree that hypertext may be more hype than text, there can be little doubt that, in whatever form or dimension, it can be of assistance to an editor--even if in the actual practice of editing, this often means the same picking and choosing, but from a grandiose environment, with an eye to avoiding what the competition has already picked and chosen. With hypertext, however, Everyman/Everywoman--or shall we say, Hyperperson--is invited to become editor: Hyperperson, rear'd arm poised with mouse, in his livery floppy disks and manuals.

This is not as new as imagined. To a certain extent editors of Shakespeare have been practicing hypertexticity from the very beginning: how else can one describe the attention to the chain of foul to fair copies, quarto to quartos, folio to folios, edition to editions? The aggressive proliferation of editions has been marked by a massive proliferation of information--relevant or not--and, increasingly, of ornamentation. As if sensing or perhaps agreeing (but not admitting) that text and vocabulary were settled, editing has taken to providing textual notes which give alternatives not adopted or even considered as such; has begun restoring the once-banished architectural ornamentation of act-[page 82]scene divisions; has begun reinventing the once-castigated expanded stage directions and even the much-maligned aside; has begun revitalizing stage practice, complete with the de rigueur photographs (often campy) of actors and scenes, and embellished with illustrations, in living color, by commissioned artists and designers. It has, moreover, erected and stocked a supermarket of appendices: glossaries (selected, to be sure), lists of the dramatis personae (commonly with the reader-friendly designation "characters" or, better, "persons of the play"), lists of first lines to the poems, annals, genealogical tables, records, documents, maps, bibliographies, and more more more. Editing has become rampantly encyclopedic, with commentary expanding to include not merely the traditional diversions of sources and parallels but interpretations and possible interpretations, with notes being complemented by longer notes, longer notes by appendices. Editing Shakespeare has become in certain areas infoentertaining, in the manner of hypertext. And in like manner, in attempting to make everything available to everybody, it has come up with products which are essentially uniform and interchangeable--and only moderately or partially useful once the novelty of decoration has worn off, like so many computer games.

Most strikingly, editing shares with hypertext the threat of diffusing the clear outlines of Shakespeare--of, in the long run, contributing perhaps relatively much towards the history of scholarship but commensurately little to our grasp of Shakespeare. It is not simply a matter of losing the forest for the trees (on the one hand) or of overspecialization (on the other), or the obeisance to what the Zeitgeist or the publisher demands: bows to gender, ethnicity, economics, cultural poli-poetics, and the rest. A most recent CD-ROM makes available folios, quartos, and numerous major editions and adaptations of Shakespeare: none, however, in original typography, all inputted (twice, of course, for "correctness"), all in the same standard modern type and with the obligatory search-possibilites, which cannot, however, distinguish stage directions from spoken text. Just announced is the Arden Shakespeare CD-ROM, which is to contain the second Arden edition of 1946-82 (although already being superseded by the third, the consultant editor of the CD-ROM having himself pointed out the need for the third), "facsimile images" of the appropriate Folio and quarto editions of the [page 83] sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Abbott's Shakespearian Grammar (1869, rev. 1871), Partridge's Shakespeare's Bawdy (1955, rev. 1968), to which still other "elements" are "added." It is unlikely that these elements--each with its own set of lemmata and wordforms, differing lineation conventions, and distinctive scholarly perspective--can be connected. That would require an engineering feat beyond the capacity of even all the king's hackers and all the king's netizens. The uninitiated users will doubtless be left to fend for themselves.

There has always been the dream of making Shakespeare available to the masses, a following incidentally which Shakespeare never had. The dream has increased over the centuries as social democracy has increased. And in its own way editing has been at it too, not merely by decorating Shakespeare with appendages but by "translating" Shakespeare, as Bottom was "translated," into another being. It has practiced the dubious semantics of offering a choice of modern dictionary definitions to a reader who is then expected to choose the "right" meaning for a word whose meaning was unknown to the reader in the first place. It has practiced the dubious semantics of giving other instances of a particular word in non-Shakespearean works, as if they were then automatically synonymous. It has practiced--demeaning to editor and reader, if not to Shakespeare--glossing the obvious: fanged, Onions/Eagleson informs us, means "having fangs"; fatherly, "as a father." Most insidious of all perhaps, it has made a patchwork of Shakespeare's language. Here is a small representative sample from a scene (3.10) in Antony. Antony has fled the battle, following Cleopatra.

CANIDIUS [the speech prefix ornamented in caps, comme il faut]
Oh, he has given example for our flight
Most grossly by his own!
ENOBARBUS Ay, are you thereabouts?
Why then, good night indeed.
Toward Peloponnesus are they fled.
'Tis easy to't, and there I will attend
What further comes.
CANIDIUS To Caesar will I render
My legions and my horse.
[page 84] If we integrate the notes in two recent editions into these lines we come up with: "Oh, he has given example for our flight / Most flagrantly by his own! / Ay, is that what you're thinking? (are you of that mind, thinking of desertion?) Why then, that really is the end. (it's all over.) / Toward Peloponnesus are they fled. / It's easy to get there, and there I will wait and see / What further comes. / To Caesar will I give up, hand over, (surrender) / My foot soldiers and my cavalry." No matter that grossly, attend, render, legion, and horse are given in the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary; no matter that we are directed for a definition of a word like attend to "OED v. 13c"; no matter that the absence of information about Peloponnesus seems to imply that the reader is better at geography than English.
This levelling is the natural concomitant of undifferentiated abundance. In this, editing has anticipated hypertext. And hypertext is the creation which will subsume its predecessor. On the surface at least this need not be alarming: civilization itself builds upon civilization, is additive and cumulative: paths become streets, which become avenues, which become highways, which become superhighways. But that is not the story I wish to tell.

If the end has been reached--i.e. the text of Shakespeare is fixed, and the frame for treating it called editing prescribed--then Hyperperson and faithful mouse can do it all too. Hypertext may be challenging for a small few, but it is intimidating for the large many. Like capitalism, the society of practicers of hypertexticity will be composed, on the one hand, of a miniscule minority devoted to the pleasure of luxurious hypertechnical pursuits resembling previous investigations (by an exclusive coterie) of compositors, typographical eccentricities, and assorted gadgetries, and, on the other hand, a megamajority of increasing illiteracy attempting to navigate through a bewilderingly billowing flood of information. Or, to change the metaphor: as the windows multiply and access becomes dazzlingly breakneck, Hyperperson, more adept at managing small games--i.e. window shopping at the corner store--will be confronted by a looming skyscraper with countless windows (each, of course, with "intel inside") which will reveal the ultimate secret of hypertext: the wider the perspective, the more diffuse the image; the deeper the penetration, the darker the picture. It is state-of-the-art [page 85] updating of the reaction more than a hundred years ago of one critic, himself the editor of a sixteen-volume folio edition of Shakespeare, to the second volume of Furness's variorum Hamlet: "There is much no doubt that is exceedingly clever, but, taken as a whole, an almost impenetrable mass of conflicting opinions, wild conjectures and leaden contemplations, a huge collection of antagonistic materials which, if not repulsive, is certainly appalling." In such an environment Hyperperson is, can only be, Hypoperson, with trusty mouse, searching those holes for bits of cheese, and then sending and in return receiving them world wide.

As Hamlet would say: Ay, madam, it is common denominator.

Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität

(c) Connotations 6.1 (1996-97): 78-85
N.B. For purposes of citation, page numbers of the printed version are inserted in square brackets.
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The End of Editing Shakespeare 11 years 3 months ago #16

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The Need for Editions of Shakespeare: A Response to Marvin Spevack

Editing Shakespeare has not come to an end, as Marvin Spevack claims in "The End of Editing Shakespeare," nor is it likely to do so. It may be true that for many plays the text is pretty well settled, but debate rages about the texts of plays that exist in different versions, Quarto and Folio, plays like Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, and Henry V. So, for instance, the Cambridge edition of King Lear (1992) is based on the Folio text, the Arden edition (1997) offers a composite text, incorporating passages found only in Quarto or Folio, and the Oxford edition, now in preparation, will, I understand, be based on the Quarto. In the case of plays that are known only from the First Folio, it may be true that for many of them the text is "for all intents and purposes fixed" (Spevack 80), but this is not a serious reason for calling an end to editing. We can only understand Shakespeare in relation to our own time; his works are constantly being reinterpreted in relation to the concerns of our society, so that new insights demand new editions with new critical introductions. Many of the old Arden or New Cambridge editions now for this reason seem obsolete.

Spevack asserts that "The commentary situation is, surprisingly or not, much the same . . . commentary on it [i.e., Shakespeare's vocabulary] is for all intents and purposes fixed" (80). This astonishing remark shows a gross misunderstanding of the nature of a commentary. In the first place, glosses explaining words form only a modest part of the commentary in the major editions of individual plays. In the second place, critical theorising in recent years has persuasively shown that [page 327] meaning in Shakespeare is contingent and unfixed. Our understanding of Shakespeare's vocabulary is constantly being enriched by a greater awareness of the play of meanings, allusiveness, and cross-connections exploited by the dramatist. As new reference tools become available, in relation, for example, to biblical echoes, to sexual innuendos, and to proverbial links, so hitherto unperceived implications may be noticed. What is simply and inadequately glossed in one-volume editions of Shakespeare may demand a much fuller note in the commentary of a single-play edition.

Thirdly, new aspects of the plays come into focus with each new generation of readers and editors. Many of the old second series of Arden editions, for instance, paid little or no attention to stage directions or staging either in their introductions or in their commentaries. Their main emphasis was lexical, in the wake of the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary in 1933. Consciousness of the plays as staged has recently been raised by the availability of films or videos; everyone can now watch Shakespeare at home. Not surprisingly we have seen the rise of what is known as "performance criticism," and editors now routinely attend to details of staging, and the way these can affect our interpretation of plays. Feminist criticism has opened up new perspectives on Shakespeare's treatment of female characters. New historicist critics have generated new ideas about Shakespeare's relation to events of his time. I could go on; suffice it to say that editors continually need to come to terms with new modes of critical inquiry, so that there will always be a demand for new editions.

Furthermore, editors inevitably vary considerably in what they see as important or as necessary to explicate in relation to their perception of the nature and theatrical significance of a play by Shakespeare. It is not true that commentary is "to all intents and purposes fixed"; rather the commentary in a good critical edition reveals the editor's vision of the play in the light of current ideas and preoccupations. Let me offer one example to illustrate the point. Here are the initial commentary notes in six recent editions of King Lear:

1. The opening dialogue introduces the underplot and gives us a glimpse of Kent before his intervention at l. 119. (Kenneth Muir, "Arden 2," 1952)
[page 328] 2. K[ittredge] gives 'Edmund stands back'. Coleridge (1.56) says that Glo. speaks in Edmund's presence about his birth with 'a most degrading and licentious levity'. Some are doubtful whether the subject w[oul]d be thought too delicate for discussion in Sh[akespeare]'s day. But cf. 'blushed . . . brazed' (ll. 9-10). (John Dover Wilson and George Ian Duthie, The New Shakespeare, 1960)

3. The scene which follows generates all the subsequent action. A short prelude introducing the names and natures of Gloucester and Edmund leads into a headlong ritual of abdication and "auction" of the country. Loyalty and sense are exiled from Britain in the persons of Cordelia and Kent, but taken up by the King of France. Hypocrisy and opportunism are left in charge of self-ignorant greatness. (G. K. Hunter, Penguin, 1972)

4. Lear's canopied chair of state is already placed upstage, between the two entrance doors. In the quiet conversational exchange which introduces both the plot and subplot, Edmund stands upstage, perhaps gazing at the throne and its surroundings to which he has recently returned (line 27), until he is called into the conversation in line 20. (E. A. Horsman, Bobbs-Merrill, 1973)

5. SD GLOUCESTER F spells the name in this way in some SDs and Gloster in others. In SHs, Glouc. is most frequently used, though Compositor E tends to prefer Glo. or Glost. In dialogue, 'Glouster' is Compositor B's preferred spelling, 'Gloster' Compositor E's. Q consistently uses 'Gloster', which reflects the proper pronunciation. (Jay Halio, Cambridge edition, 1992)

6. Presumably a throne or chair of state was placed on the stage to signal a ceremonial scene, and to prepare for the entry of the King; there may have been banners or emblems to mark the court as English; see and n. Although the play takes place nominally in the mythical reign of a king who ruled in antiquity, the characters may well have worn contemporary costumes; see 2 and n. Probably Kent carried a rolled-up map; see 36 and n. (R. A. Foakes, "Arden 3," 1997)

It is evident that these notes are all very different from one another. The first is briefly concerned with plot. The second focuses on Edmund and the propriety of the dialogue concerning his illegitimate birth. The third sums up the scene in terms of a moral and allegorising comment on the nature of the characters. The fourth is mainly concerned to propose a confident idea of staging, the location of a chair of state, and the placing of Edmund. The fifth focuses on the spelling and pronunciation of the name of Gloucester, perhaps partly in order to warn American students to avoid their natural inclination to read it as "Glou-[page 329]ces-ter." The last note comments on some aspects of staging, on costumes, and on the property that will be required later in the scene. The note in the Penguin edition, number 3, may stem to some extent from the emphasis on moral criticism in the 1960s. The different ways of dealing with staging in numbers 4 and 6 no doubt reflect the increasing attention given to performance in recent times. In relation to number 5 the editor's concentration on the way compositors spelled names and the differences between versions of the play is connected with the intense debate about the relation of Quarto to Folio King Lear that erupted in the 1980s.
My concern here is not to make a judgment or state a preference, but merely to point out how radically different these notes are from one another, in accordance not merely with the kind of help an editor thought his readers needed, or with the critical fashions of the day, but also with advances in our understanding of the texts and of the staging of the plays. Spevack thinks such editions contribute "little to our grasp of Shakespeare." In my experience, good editions provide the best possible help for understanding the plays. And if they seem at times to be "glossing the obvious" (Spevack 83), it is because what is obvious to the scholar may not be to the student or reader who has grown up on a diet of television rather than literature, and who may have a limited sense of the nuances of meaning so skilfully exploited by Shakespeare. I don't think we know the implications of hypertext yet, or how to use it, and discussion of it is therefore best left for the future.

University of California
Los Angeles

(c) Connotations 6.3 (1996-97): 326-329
N.B. For purposes of citation, page numbers of the printed version are inserted in square brackets.
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