John Jowett "Editing Shakespeare: What Does It Matter?": A keynote at the Fourth Symposium on Textual Scholarship (2007) at the Centre for Textual Studies, De Montfort University

       I have the impression that, for textual scholars looking from outside, we Shakespearians are an odd and insular lot, cantankerous among ourselves and preoccupied with issues that for other textual scholars either don't apply or have been left behind.  The task of this paper is to try to explain something of us to you, whilst acknowledging that Shakespearian textualists and other textualists belong to the same intellectual community.  In this paper I will list six particular characteristics the textual situation in Shakespeare, and suggest how together they peculiarly define the task of the editor.

1.  Shakespeare's pre-eminence in cultural authority.  

     This needs no immediate comment. It is the spring from which much else in my discussion flows. And, for example, it informs my second point:

2.  The wide dispersal of the text to non-elite readers.

     This is a point about the degree of specialism—or non-specialism—afforded by Shakespeare editions.  Shakespeare has a greater volume of non-elite readers than any other pre-twentieth century literary writer.  This throws into relief a phenomenon common to much textual editing: there is a potential gap between the edition that the textualist sees as a responsible and scholarly outcome and the edition that is likely to sell in the bookshops.  It is the disjunction made familiar by the two pages of an opening in the Gabler edition of Ulysses: the heavily codified synoptic text on the left, and the critically edited, clutter-free, linear text on the right.  Textualists love the synoptic text; the linear text has been widely criticised for its artificial and ideal extrapolations from the unfixable materials on which it is based.  Yet most readers would consider it sheer madness to undertake a reading of the whole novel following the synoptic text.  Gabler's edition is out of print.

The relation between the edition and the reader is therefore a key element in editorial theory.  Michael Bristol has referred to editions as participants in a specific sociology of reception.  This is not to say that the editorial role is passive.  Editors may wish to intervene in this field.  The Oxford two-text presentation of King Lear challenged fundamental assumptions about what the play was, what sort a writer Shakespeare was, and the textual condition itself.  I as an editor see interventions of this kind as a validation of the editorial project.  In Shakespeare studies, there is no need for editions in first instance, for there is an abundance of them, but there are recurrent needs for editions that undertake specific cultural work.  For instance, when I worked on Timon of Athens I wanted to put beyond reasonable doubt that the play is a collaboration between Shakespeare and Thomas Middleton, and, more to the point, to assert the importance of thinking about the play itself as a dialogue between writers, and about Shakespeare as a collaborating dramatist.  I am not, therefore, taking a passively stoical view of Bristol's sociology of reception, which would lead us to pessimistic conclusions as to the whole point of editing (we can only tinker, because the conditions of reception are dictated to us).  On the other hand, we cannot ignore the world of readers that our editions address.  This obvious pragmatic point needs building securely into our theoretical models of editorial process.  Peter Shillingsburg's invaluable and rightly influential model of the poles of editorial practice should be read within a model of decision-making that asks basic questions concerning the cultural value of the editorial act, about how the cultural landscape looks before and after.

Increasingly, it seems to me that editors need to be self-declaratory about the envisaged readership and what the edition takes upon itself in the name of that readership.  I can think of no other reason to modernise Shakespeare's spellings and punctuation.  Indeed, the word 'modernisation' itself embodies a recognition of historical difference: that things without strangeness or difficulty when they were written have become strange or difficult to readers today—for reasons connected with the subsequent and therefore arbitrary development of language, rather than for any intrinsic quality of the text as a sequence of letter forms.  Embedded here in my account of the modern reader is therefore, as a corollary, a point about the historical position of Shakespeare within the evolution of the English language.  It is the liminal position of early modern English in relation to modern English that creates the specific climate in which modernisation can be justified—the liminality inherent in the term 'early modern' itself, with its contradictory suggestions of falling within and falling beyond modernity.  But we must add to this the extreme and mostly non-functional instability of spelling in the period. The case in favour of modernization is especially cogent as the spelling and punctuation in the early printed texts of Shakespeare's plays demonstrably is for the most part that of the printers' compositors, and bears limited relation to the features that one would find in the underlying manuscripts.

The distinction between accidentals and substantives has been much criticized for its lack of rigour.  It makes an unavoidable fudge between a distinction of form—'words' versus 'spellings and punctuation'—and a distinction of significance—matters of 'substance' or meaning versus matters of 'accidence' that are not intrinsic to meaning.  It is undeniable that the distinction between form and meaning is arbitrary, and that features of the text removed through modernization have the potential, to some extent, to signify.  The meaning of a modernized text has been imbued with a certain amount of definitude and limit.  The justification is clear: modernization aims to remove kinds of miscommunication and non-communication that are not inherent to the text but have accrued through the passage of time.  Its practice may never be perfect.  But modernization is necessary if the early modern text is to be fully realized as an active part of today's landscape of reading. As an overall strategy for editing and publication, the option seems better than leaving it ossified in a form a little richer in potential meaning but much narrower in readership and a lot poorer in meaning achieved.

So here is one area where the historical belatedness of today's readers can be invoked to justify an editorial procedure that is not warranted by reference to document, history, text, or author.

I would regard the more conspicuous changes that editors make to stage directions as falling under the same heading as modernisations.  Editors seek to identify a semiotics of action that (if the objective is fulfilled) would have been articulated in early performance, and would have included physical figurations and movements critical to the meaning of the play.  By and large these would not have been scripted in any document.  Recent work has pondered on the uncertainty of knowledge in these circumstances, and M.J. Kidnie has wondered whether editorial stage directions might be presented in a more physically separate way, and written in a more permissive and exploratory spirit that would accommodate variants of action.  Her comments highlight the peculiarity of this whole area of editorial intervention.  But I would suggest nevertheless that the provision of editorial stage directions in any presentation is some important respects analogous with modernisation of spelling.  Both lie outside the historical text, drawing out what is latent in the text to address the expectations and competencies of today's readers.

The contours of all editing are changing with the development of electronic projects and resources, not least in the field of Shakespeare, where the Shakespeare Internet Editions project based at the University of Victoria, BC, is leading the way.  It might be alleged that Internet Shakespeare Editions is compromised in its commitment to the print medium as well.  Conventional edited texts will be published in print by Broadview Press.  Perhaps it is useful for the project to signal that the two media can both find place in the overall integrated project.  Perhaps this symbiosis of media represents a more mature stage of development than the Utopian vision that became familiar a decade or two ago of electronic text inexorably sweeping aside the older technology.  Certainly it draws attention to the relatively conservative structure of Internet Shakespeare Editions even before the print series was attached to it.  The project's emphasis on quality of editorial input and effectiveness of output will lead to selective, limited, and carefully structured electronic editions centred on a text edited in a similar way to print editions.  The editorial guidelines are based on those devised by David Bevington for the Revels series of print editions of non-Shakespeare plays.  As is declared on the website, 'Much about the editions will be the same as those prepared for print: the same high standards of scholarship, the same activities involved in arriving at the modern text, and the same kinds of supporting discussions on the text.'  An Internet Shakespeare Edition may still aspire to conform to Jerome J. McGann's description of a critical edition as having the 'ultimate goal of critical self-consciousness', a phrase that usefully suggests a line that might be drawn between an edition and a database.

This is certainly not to say that Shakespeare Internet Editions is simply an online version of a print edition.  The files will be capable of being manipulated by the user, and there is considerable scope for and expectation of additional files, along with links to external websites.  What emerges is that, despite the rapid changes in patterns of reading and research that have taken place since computers became the primary mode of scholarly communication, the aesthetics and pedagogy of studying a Shakespeare play are sufficiently robust for the readable and therefore conventionally edited text to retain its centrality.

3.  The contestation of Shakespeare's authority.

       Although Shakespeare today remains a key cultural icon, it has lost its privileged position within the curriculum and within culture at large.  Postmodernism, of course, challenges hierarchies based on idealist concepts such as intrinsic worth and absolute value.  It is no coincidence that arguments about the stability, singularity, and knowability of the Shakespeare text arose in the wake of challenges to the scope of the traditional literary canon, as Speed Hill has suggested. Textual studies have been fuelled by new interest in the study of manuscript (largely irrelevant because only a fragment of Shakespeare's dramatic writing survives in manuscript), in women's and other non-canonical writing, in informal, non-literary writing, and in the history of the book.  More local study of the individual physical, material book, the paratext, or marginalia, identify symptomacity as lying elsewhere, not in the literary text as such.  Post-Foucauldian challenges to the authority of the author potentially disallow the pursuit of editing as understood as a practice based on a distinction between authority and corruption.  This description is no doubt valid for all canonical literary authors, but Shakespeare is the site par excellence for these issues to take root.  Moreover the existence of Shakespearian texts of uncertain provenance whose distinctive features are often hard to reconcile with authorial origin offer opportunities to install an anti-hierarchical textuality in which the authorial text has no claim to greater legitimacy.  I refer to the so-called 'bad quartos', and will return to this issue later.

4.  The historical centrality of Shakespeare to the rise of the New Bibliography.

        In 1906 the leading lights of the New Bibliography founded the Malone Society, 'for the purpose of producing accurate copies of the best editions of early plays'.  As a current member of the Society's editorial Committee I wholeheartedly endorse the importance of its almost unbroken series of valuable and scholarly publications over the course of a century.  What is striking is, of course, that the early New Bibliographers devoted themselves so energetically and so narrowly to early modern drama, providing texts of little-known plays whilst neglecting all other areas of literature.  If one ranges the Malone Society publications alongside projects such as Pollard and Redgrave's Short Title Catelogue, with its cut-off date of 1640, Greg's Bibliography of English Printed Drama (cut off at 1660), his numerous publications on the early modern book industry, and his investigations of Elizabethan play manuscripts, both the scale and the specific emphasis of these scholars' work is self-evident.  Much of this work circled around the central objective: to equip the new generation of textualists to tackle the primary challenge of editing Shakespeare.

To this period belong the first series of the Arden Shakespeare, the inception of the Cambridge complete works under Quiller-Couch and Dover Wilson, and the founding of the Oxford Shakespeare under R.B. McKerrow.  We live in the wake of the New Bibliography in that our editorial procedures and protocols remain strongly influenced by it.  And the layout of the text, and its placement on the page alongside textual notes and commentary, usually follows a form established in this period.  We also live in the wake of New Bibliography's failure to deliver the logical and recognised outcome of its early phase: a defining old-spelling edition of Shakespeare's complete works.  So I turn to:

5.  The fall of the New Bibliography.

       I begin here with the expansion of the New Bibliography rather than its death: Fredson Bowers's move away from Shakespeare, which led eventually to refinements and innovations of technique and the loss of any sense that the theoretical model developed around Shakespeare is a generalisable one.  The major phase in the decline of New Bibliography belongs to the 1980s.  Major challenges came from scholars outside early modern period: McGann (Romanticist), McKenzie (Restoration), Gabler (Joyce), Greetham (Medieval) and so on.  The problem is that New Bibliography was indeed designed for goodness of fit to Shakespeare and his contemporaries: the work undertaken outside the early modern period had implications that were troublesome to those within it: suggestive, important, unignorable, but lacking in goodness of fit.  When D.F. McKenzie advanced his highly influential case for the sociology of texts, he most influentially did so by examining the relation between William Congreve, his publisher Jacob Tonson, and the printer John Watts.  What Shillingsburg calls 'the institutional unit of author and publisher' is the source of authority for a sociological orientation, but this unit applies scarcely at all to Shakespeare's plays.  Subsequent discussion has sometimes universalised McKenzie's argument, but his original point drew on the contrast between Congreve's early eighteenth-century practice and what he identified rightly as the 'professional disjunction of playwrights and printers' that was typical in the century before.  His critique of Greg's 'Rationale of Copy-Text' is not so much that Greg's approach is flawed as that its goodness of fit to Shakespeare does not extend to other authors writing and published in different situations.  McKenzie studies Congreve's intention to mean in print.  In contrast, it seems that Shakespeare intended to mean primarily in the theatre.  I will explore this issue further.

Within Shakespeare textual studies itself a strong anti-editing movement of varying complexions emerged in the 1980s.  Graham Holderness and Byan Loughrey: declared that there was no philosophical basis for emendation.  This formulation, even as it disallows evaluation and castigation in the editorial discipline, actively evaluates and castigates within its own discipline.  The position characterises a cultural materialism based entirely on artefacts and without regard for the processes of textual making and circulation.  Randall McLeod similarly claimed that editing was a process of falsification, insisting on the need to encounter the text directly in its early material forms.  Paul Werstine's sustained critiques of New Bibliography, written over two decades, have undertaken to knock away the props not only of New Bibliography as a historical movement but also of critical editing itself.

Such developments are consonant with the recent emphasis on the history of the book as a discipline that can be applied to the textual study of Shakespeare.  This has, by and large, been a positive and welcome development.  It has unpacked the information wrapped up in the tomes of Greg's BEPD to produce (at best) clear narratives of Shakespeare's emergence as a canonical author—that is to say, of the authorial Shakespeare as a product of print culture—and of the complex relation between theatre culture and print culture.  David Scott Kastan's Shakespeare and the Book is exemplary in this respect.  In Andrew Murphy's rich and carefully nuanced chronology of Shakespeare in print from 1594 to the present we have an impressively broad picture of Shakespeare editions and their place within textual culture and publishing history over the entire period.  The book both offers a major contribution to knowledge and redefines the field.  The implication is clear: the New Bibliographers focussed too narrowly on defining the authoritative early editions and paid too little attention to anything else, creating a hierarchy of value based on the needs of editors to the exclusion of other, less immediately author-centred approaches to Shakespeare editions.  The corollary is that an approach to Shakespeare informed by the History of the Book movement forecloses on the initial term Shakespeare, except insofar as Shakespeare is a product of marketing strategies.  The effect is all.  Study of the plays as dramatic literature is marginalised.

In the 1990s it became a routine or even mandatory tactic to foreclose on the question of the author by referring to an undifferentiated catalogue of other agents involved in the making of the Shakespeare text: actors, scribes, theatre book-keepers, censors, publishers, printers, compositors.  The implication can be seen in the case of King Lear, which was identified in the Oxford Shakespeare as a two-text play with the Folio text the product of authorial revision.  That there are two texts of King Lear was welcome news.  But the Oxford editors could only translate an obvious truism, that there are two distinctly different early printings of the play, into the achieved editorial outcome of two different printings in the Oxford Shakespeare itself, by appealing to the author as reviser.  Gary Taylor rigorously insisted on authorial agency, hence the changes made by the author combined only with such theatrical changes as the author could be understood to have legitimated.  He excluded the possibility of other revisers such as Massinger, he defined but minimised the scope for censorship, and he disallowed any potentially contaminating link from the original theatre playbook to the revision.  There was, of course, rhetorical intent in this.  Though it was rhetorical intent backed with evidence and tenacious argument, scope remained for other critics to suggest other forms of agency to explain specific features of F.  Is it really a coherent strategy of authorial revision to omit the so-called 'mock-trial' episode?  Might Lear die never saying 'Look there, look there' in Q for the mere reason that the compositor was short of space?  Such arguments needed attention.  Where what we might call the post-revisionists succeeded in offering convincing alternatives to authorial revision, they severely called in question both the application of the specific procedures adopted in the Oxford Shakespeare and the very foundations of those procedures.  It seems to me that it is entirely proper and indeed valuable to raise such issues.  What is far less palatable, and indeed unacceptable, is that the merely rhetorical invocation of actors, scribes, theatre book-keepers, censors, publishers, printers, compositors should be put forward as an a priori way of discrediting textual analysis.

Paul Werstine's attempts to destabilise the very categories that enabled the projects of the New Bibliography deserve special mention here.  His voice has made a major impact within the field of Shakespeare textual studies, and I suspect that it is heard clearly from beyond.  But his work in and since his 1990 essay 'Narratives About Printed Shakespeare Texts' needs reading with care, because his accounts of the New Bibliographers as constructors of narratives rather than of knowledge are in themselves highly polemical narratives.  They sometimes strain too hard at disproof, as in his attempt to argue that there is no valid evidence for supposing that Hand D in Sir Thomas More is Shakespeare (there is).  They sometimes imply beyond what they demonstrate; for instance his critique of the theory of memorial deconstruction at no point demonstrates the implausibility or inapplicability of the theory, and offers no better alternative to it.  They sometimes over-generalise from a particular, as in his attempt to dismantle the association between irregularities in printed quartos and authorial manuscripts.  They sometimes indulge in pure invention or wishful thinking, as in 'Shakespeare More or Less' where he describes Pollard bullying Greg into accepting the case for Hand D in Sir Thomas More being Shakespeare, and so overcoming Greg's actual strong scepticism. There is very considerable cautionary weight to his arguments, but some of those cautions are already implicit in the writing of Greg and others. Greg did not simply construct binary categories on the assumption that all texts would fit into them; he established a working vocabulary for describing texts that he knew well would usually fail to conform simply to any generic label.

Recent Shakespeare textual criticism has therefore been affected very particularly both by the focus on Shakespeare in the New Bibliography and the reaction against the New Bibliography.  And there is clearly a problem with the very word 'bibliography' itself in relation to Shakespeare: analytic bibliography can seize on Shakespearian books, but the text of Shakespeare slips between its fingers as it does so.

6.  The liminal position of Shakespeare at the interface of theatre culture and book culture.

       This is the crux of the whole matter, and the issue to which I will devote most time.  There is a profound disjunction between theatre and print.  The plays of Shakespeare and related drama were written to be performed first in time.  If one correlates the chronology of the writing and performance of Shakespeare's plays with the chronology of the printing of those plays such as appeared during his lifetime, it is clear that there is almost always a significant lapse of time between the original performances and the first printings.  That time gap is typically at least two years in the case of quartos, but ranges upwards from that figure to about thirty years in the case of Shakespeare plays dated around 1590 such as Two Gentlemen of Verona that were first published in the 1623 Folio. The consequence cannot be ignored: the printed texts on which we wholly rely are always belated forms of publication.

In addition to this purely chronological belatedness, the question of priority has another dimension to do with an evaluation of the nature of the text.  This might be described in terms of authorial intention, or primary arena of socialisation (theatre culture versus print culture), or textual genre (performance text versus literary text).  It would be hard if not impossible to maintain that Shakespeare's plays were originated in order to be printed and that performance is a secondary phenomenon.  I will briefly rehearse the reasons:

1.  Over a third of Shakespeare's's plays were not published during his lifetime.

2.  Of the published plays, some were first issued in authorially debased form.

3.  There are no signs of any ongoing project to print Shakespeare's plays during his lifetime: quite the opposite.  In the appearance of plays in print, neither the criterion of literary value nor the criterion of popularity is followed in any discernible way.  Whereas Ben Jonson personally supervised the translation of his own plays from theatre text to printed text, even to the extent (if we believe him) of removing the contributions of a collaborator in Sejanus, there is no direct evidence at all of Shakespeare's involvement in the publication of his plays.

4.  Specifically, there seems to have been a deliberate decision to suspend publication after 1603.  Of the seventeen mature and late plays, only King Lear and Troilus and Cressida were first published in his lifetime, and after his death only one play, Othello, was first published before 1623.

5.  There was no immediate collected edition after Shakespeare's death.   The Folio did not appear until seven years later, and ten years after his latest known work as a dramatist.

6.  The Folio does not prefer authorial texts over theatrical texts; indeed just the opposite, as we will see.

           Nothing defines the Shakespearian textual condition more sharply than this simple fact: the disjunction between a primary lost arena of textual circulation and a secondary surviving one.

That inventory of actors, scribes, theatre book-keepers, censors, publishers, printers, compositors to which I have already referred collapses this vital distinction.  Its intent is to blur the New Bibliographers' attempts to separate originating author and corrupting agents of transmission.  In doing so, it also blurs the two different arenas of agency, and two completely contrasting realms of textual culture: those associated with theatre and with print.  Of course, the problem is that the texts available to us come to us with this blurring of agency already built into them.  Therefore, either we resign ourselves to the realm of print, divorcing Shakespeare from theatre and installing him within book history; or we commit ourselves to textual investigations that are based on optimistic hypothesisation.  To a point, this is familiar ground to all textualists: it is the debate between materialist and idealist forms of editing.  But I want to stress two points.  First, with Shakespeare the distance between available textual materials and their antecedents is sometimes large and frequently problematic in nature.  Second, the departure from material documents is necessary not only in pursuit of a castigated authorial text, but in pursuit of any text whatsoever apart from the absolutely unaltered material document, and so, specifically, in pursuit of the theatre as the first arena of textual materialisation and the first platform for publication.

My emphasis on this disjunction between theatre and print may seem surprising in light of Lukas Erne's work defining Shakespeare as not simply a working theatre dramatist but a literary writer.  I regard his book Sh as Literary Dramatist as a valuable corrective, but not a fundamental revolution in our understanding.  Erne's most important point is about the unusual length of Shakespeare's plays—along with those of a few other 'literary' dramatists such as Jonson.  It seems implausible that they should have been performed on stage in full.  References in the period to the performance time as being two hours (as in the 'two hours' traffic of our stage' in R&J), the shorter average length of public-theatre plays in the period as a whole, and the shorter length of some alternative Shakespeare texts, all urge us to regard the standard texts of Shakespeare's plays as over-length.  The suggestion in the work of Erne, and similarly in Andrew Gurr's discussion of 'maximal' and 'minimal' texts, is that the shorter texts known as 'bad' quartos represent the play as performed.

If I were to look at the scene from the outside I would see the prospect of a new consensus emerging from Erne and other recent work.  Memorial reconstruction is discredited; shortening for performance is accredited.  The former 'bad' quartos are now the performance texts.  The 'good' quartos are the texts of the 'literary' dramatist of whom Erne writes.  As Paul Eggert argued at the Shakespeare World Congress in Brisbane in 2006, one can anticipate an outcome in which literary and performance texts are both considered legitimate objects of editorial representation, on the strict understanding that the editor is explicit about kind of edition he or she is preparing.

I fear that this recipe, despite its non-hierarchical appearance, would have the effect of devaluing the concept of the performance text and the place of performance in our conceptualisation of Shakespeare beyond anything that can be inferred from Erne.  It was, after all, no mere Manichean dream that led to the coining of the term 'bad quartos' in order to characterise these texts whose features encompass but sometimes go far beyond what we understand of adaptation for performance.  Though it is undoubtedly true that these texts differ one from another, to the extent that they barely represent a self-contained category, and that they usually display performance-related features, what cannot be denied is that the key texts also show a traumatic break in the line of textual transmission as developed through copying and deliberate adaptation for the theatre.

Some of the suspect quartos clearly lie at a remove from anything that can be thought to have been performed on the Shakespearian stage.  A substantial difficulty in crediting them as performance texts is how to correlate them with the Folio texts.  The Oxford Shakespeare consolidates the arguments for regarding the Folio texts, and therefore not the bad quartos, as relatively close derivatives of the plays as performed on the Shakespearian stage, and the new RSC edition agrees on this.  We are faced, therefore, with two competing and radically different accounts of what a performance text is like.  One sees it as a slightly shortened and otherwise discreetly modified script that generally runs close to the more authorial base text, but may accommodate authorial revision.  The other sees it as a drastically shortened and strongly degraded variant on the authorial base text.  We need to be clear that the opposed types contrast in quality as well as length.  We must recognise too that the extraordinarily diverse range of Shakespeare texts includes those that fall in between these extremes.

The contrast is seen most clearly in Hamlet, where we can compare two texts with what is wholly agreed to be the more authorial base text (Q2); we will look at this example in more detail in the seminar after lunch. It would be incautious if not absurd to suppose that all the shortening of Q1 Hamlet and other 'bad' quartos arises from deliberate cutting for the stage.  But the problem of length still faces us with F, which at 3906 lines. Gurr estimates that up to 3000 lines could be performed in three hours (p. 86), a figure designed to suggest an upward limit to what could be staged in one performance.  By this reckoning F is about one-third overlength.  Q1 and F Hamlet may well offer false alternatives in determining the form of the play as actually performed.  But the evidence for many Folio texts showing theatrical features remains strong.  It seems, then, that the mss behind the Folio are mostly 'maximal' theatre playbooks, that the shortening in the 'bad' quartos reflects both abridgement for actual performance and (in some cases at least) loss of text through the failures of memory, and that the detailed verbal texture of these quartos, where it devolves from the authorial, reflects neither the playbook nor the words spoken on stage.

The problem is that, whereas neither text may bear accurate witness to actual performance, or prescribe the exact form of the text as it is to be performed, both can be said to accrue to themselves the authority of performance.  On the face of it, the principle of deriving authority on performance is alluring.  It recognises the purpose for which Shakespeare's plays were written, or at least primarily written.  But in itself it cannot lead to a coherent editorial practice.  The notion of performance authority is capable equally of elevating the 'bad' quartos and the First Folio.  Is all performance equally valid?  If not, what and where is the performance that bestows authority?  From the point of view of evidence of a past and weakly documented event, how do we know it?  How can one negotiate between Q1 and F Hamlet without invoking, once again, the author?

Which brings me to the RSC edition, which has appeared too recently for me

to evaluate it properly.  It claims to be the first edition ever to base itself on the First Folio.  Jonathan Bate, the general editor, offers this advocacy:  'whenever possible Hemings and Condell were trying to present the most theatrically inflected versions of Shakespeare that they could find. It surely follows that a Folio-based complete works is the best starting-point for a theatrically-inflected Shakespeare today.'  'Starting point' is a vital phrase, for this edition too has been edited 'with the assistance of the Quartos', and therefore is to some extent conflated.  We have, then, to distinguish between broad gestures of position-taking and the detail of practice.  This is clearly not in any sense an edition of the Folio in the sense that Jeri Johnson's Ulysses is an edition of the 1922 text of that work.  Some of the differences between F and the RSC edition are writ as large as large can be: the edition includes texts such as Pericles and the non-dramatic poems that the Folio excludes.  It thus conforms to the modern model of 'Complete Works' and the title that goes with it, rather than the 1623 model and title of 'Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies'.  The text makes no attempt to follow Folio presentation of the text, and is in modern spelling and punctuation.  By virtue of these two macro-editorial decisions, the scope for the edition differing from other Complete Works is considerably narrowed.  In one other large-scale respect the Folio is followed: the sequence of plays, where the Folio editors were concerned with notions of book presentation and genre, along with availability of copy, but were not conceerned, for instance, with the history or chronology of performance.  This is an artefactual choice, not a performance choice.  As for the editing of individual plays, the editorial debate as always will focus on those plays that were set in the Folio from earlier quartos, the majority.  Many quartos followed as copy were annotated from manuscripts.  The extent of annotation varies from the very slight to a process of mark-up so detailed that it is hard to see how the outcome could have supplied the compositor with effective copy.  The manuscripts from which these readings derive were usually of a theatrical quality, hence the claim that the RSC edition reflects performance.  But the Folio on the whole gives us not so much a text of these manuscripts as a reprint of print copy modified with greater or lesser reference to them.  And the print copy itself often contains demonstrable errors accumulated between first Q and second, second and third, and so on.  The paradox is that in the name of avoiding conflation and remaining fairly true to a version, the RSC editors commit themselves to following an edition that itself maximises conflation, and that fails to print directly from manuscript copy almost wherever the opportunity to do so arises.

Bate's claim that the edition goes further than the Oxford Shakespeare means that it goes further towards a separation of Quarto and Folio versions, but in terms of establishing a performance-oriented text the edition actually retreats from the Oxford position.  The reason is that already suggested: that the layer, or rather multiple layers, of print obscure and alter the theatrical manuscript; so too does the post-theatrical transcription that clearly stands between the theatre playbook and the Folio in many plays.  That playbook manuscript cannot be retrieved, but it is certainly possible to come much closer to it.

To follow the Folio in preference to an approach of this kind amounts to delegating editorial responsibility to the Folio editors, on the basis that they were associated with the theatre—a tricky foundation on which to proceed form the outset, as we do not know who actually undertook the editing.  On this basis Bate and the textual editor Eric Rasmussen bestow legitimacy on readings that would otherwise clearly be defined as printing errors.  But the Folio editors' rationale was a far cry from that of modern textual scholarship.  Their primary concerns were actually to protect the actual playbooks from direct use in the printing house and, as Margreta de Grazia and others have shown, at all costs to bolster the book's doubtful prospects as a publishing venture.

In promoting the book as a saleable object, the senior actors who presented it to its readers were not averse to lying.  Without discrimination, Hemings and Condell castigated the previously available quartos as 'stolne and surreptitious Copies'.  In this, the earlier editions contrasted with the Folio itself, printed, they claimed, directly from the author's papers, which, thanks to Shakespeare's facility as a writer, showed 'scarce a blot' and so gave almost unmediated access to his mind.  Hence the phrase conspicuously printed on the title page, 'Published according to the true original copies'.  The words are placed directly above the famous engraved portrait of Shakespeare.  No-one (apart from a few modern scholars led by Greg) could escape the implication that the printer's copy was the true original, and therefore that these are pristine authorial texts.  Yet nothing could be further from the truth.  And the contradiction between a proclaimed ideology of uncontaminated authorial purity and an actual practice of producing highly processed, highly synthetic texts could not be more marked.  Whether or not a creditable Quarto edition had been published previously, the Folio almost always actually takes us away from the true original copy.

The familiarity of the Folio and its preliminaries can blind us to both its radicalism and its effrontery.  The title-page engraving shows the author and nothing but the author.  Avoiding the iconic symbolism of columns, architraves and allegorical figures, it seeks the end it found, which was to make Shakespeare iconic.  To this end the editors denied the collaborative and unstable nature of the theatrical text.  The claim about 'true original copies' relates directly to the effective denial that Shakespeare was a co-author.  Although it remains true that Shakespeare collaborated with other dramatists less than many of his peers, there are between eight and ten surviving plays in which Shakespeare shared with other dramatists, plus the lost collaboration Cardenio, and a further two that were very probably adapted after his death by Middleton.  The Folio simply does not recognise collaboration, and offers no conceptual apparatus for dealing with it.  The volume's claim is to provide all of Shakespeare's plays, all of them directly from his pen.  This claim rigidifies the canon and squeezes out the important hinterland where Shakespeare's work overlaps with that of his collaborators Thomas Nashe, George Peele, Anthony Munday, Henry Chettle, Thomas Heywood, Thomas Dekker, Thomas Middleton, George Wilkins, John Fletcher, and probably at least one other dramatist.  As we have seen, in the practice of editing individual plays the theatricality of the manuscripts used in preparing the Folio clashes with the anti-theatrical bias of its presentation.  In questions of canon and canonicity, the bias against theatre and its collaborative practices is fully aligned with the Folio editors' choices.


          By no prescription can Shakespeare be edited satisfactorily.  But the imperative to generate editions that suit the needs of successive Shakespeare readers, students, and performers remains.  My own feeling is that students of Shakespeare as a dramatist in print in early modern textual culture are well served by the extremely high quality digital images of the quartos and Folios that are now available freely online.  An edited text is definitively a departure from these materials and is based on agendas other than those of book history.  It traces the relationship between itself and those materials, but it is not necessarily bound by those materials.  The question as to what should be the choice of base text and what kinds of intervention are justified depends on the nature of the editorial act as an enablement of certain defined kinds of reading.

It may seem that in my advocacy of the Shakespearian text is set entirely against the Shakespearian document.  I want to suggest that is not so by referring to the play I am editing currently, Sir Thomas More.  The editing of Sir Thomas More presents a range of distinct challenges. They begin in the circumstance that here, in contrast with other Shakespeare plays, we are not dependent on printed texts. The manuscript itself lies directly before the editor. But that manuscript is a complex document, and the text contained in it is intrinsically multilayered and incomplete. A compromise needs to be reached between two aims: to respect the disjunctions, conflicts, and discontinuities of the manuscript text, and to achieve something that approaches the continuous and seamless presentation of a critical edition of a Shakespeare play based on various copies of printed quartos and/or the 1623 Folio.

The revision in which Shakespeare was involved is not so much an outcome as a process. It is essential that the reader should be given some insight into that process, and how it relates to the edited text. In my edition the alternative readings within the revised state of the text are both presented, and typographically indicated as such. The reader can make informed choices based on the explication provided in this edition and/or the perspective of interpretation. He or she can choose between a censored text and a maximal text, a passage as an authorial fragment or as part of a theatre work, and so on. It has also been considered important to draw the reader's attention to the relationship between the different constituent parts of the edited text. Editorial signalling enables the reader immediately to identify the patchwork of revisions in which Shakespeare was involved, and their relation to the Original Text.

This, then is an edition that highlights Shakespeare in the act of collaboration, with other dramatists, with a theatre annotator, and, in a sense, with the censor whose concerns led Shakespeare to revise the key insurrection scene.  The manuscript on which it is based contrasts utterly in the image of Shakespeare it provides with the First Folio.  Correspondingly, the edition will contrast with plain-text editing that offers a polished outcome rather than a rugged and incomplete textual process.  Here all the issues appear writ large: the intransigence, instability, and incompletion of textual materials, the impact of textual theory, the rhetoric of authorial configuration, the interests of readers. In editing Shakespeare generally, there are no straightforward answers, and, with Shakespeare perhaps more than with most writers, to edit is to betray any singleness of principle.