Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 2, No. 323. Wednesday, 11 Dec 1991.
Subject: Blayney's Review of Otness's *Census*
Date: Wed, 11 Dec 91 22:10:52 EST
I just received the Winter 1991 *Shakespeare Quarterly*, which
includes two items by our fellow SHAKSPEReans: "The Poetics of
Incomprehensibility" by Stephen Orgel (a version of the paper
presented at the Vancouver SAA this March), and a review of Naseeb
Shaheen's *Biblical References in Shakespeare's History Plays* by
John D. Cox.
This number of *SQ* also includes Peter Blayney's devastating review
of Harold Otness's *The Shakespeare Folio Handbook and Census*, which
Thomas G. Bishop warned us about in June (SHK 2.0169 and 2.0185).
Not only is this review required reading for anyone considering buying
the book (unfortunately the Toronto library has had it for some time
now), but it is also a valuable *caveat* for would-be bibliographers
and a savagely witty review. (I think it's sure to cheer anyone who
thinks they've had a bad time at the hands of reviewers...)
Blayney laments the limitations of Otness's census, summarizing that
his interests seem to lie "in Folios only as expensive and prestigious
objects collected by rich Americans and donated to American
institutions." The book is evidently riddled with typographical
errors (dozens are marked "sic" in Blayney's quotations alone), and
Blayney catalogues some of the many inconsistencies in form and
spelling of names, some of the many oversights and inconsistencies in
cataloguing information, and the inexplicable and inexcusable neglect
of almost the entire Folger Shakespeare Library collection:
"instead of the expected copy-by-copy listing of the nearly
two hundred Folios in the Folger Shakespeare Library, all that
Otness offers is the number of copies of each edition and a
nineteen-line note.... The implication seems to be that if the
Folger Library catalogers have not yet condensed the desired
facts into convenient form for him, Otness can hardly be expected
to have done the job himself."
The result, as Blayney observes, is that "he omitted more than a third of the
institutionally owned Folios in the United States from what he claims
is a `census' of them."
Blayney goes on to outline Otness's many blunders in attempting to
summarize Shakespearean bibliography, "a subject in which he is
hopelessly out of his depth," and compares Otness's sources in Hinman
and McKerrow to the garbled misinformation in the *Census*. Blayney
quotes Otness's declared intention to provide a quick reference tool,
as an alternative to "digging through the erudite but bulky tomes that
characterize the literature on Shakespeare," and to avoid repeating
the background material which "has already been elegantly expressed in
a great number of works." Blayney quips:
"Some of these goals have indeed been achieved. His tome is
not bulky and has successfully avoided both elegance and
erudition--but it is hardly efficient, and I question whether
it is needed. Does `the academic community' need two thirds
of a census of American-owned Folios that limits itself to
provenance and bindings?"
Blayney's final paragraph deserves a wider audience, too:
"Anyone unlucky enough to acquire a copy of this book in
future--any who achieve Otness or have Otness thrust upon
them--would be well advised to thrust it back forthwith.
Those who have already purchased one, and can no longer obtain
a refund, may wish to remember the name of the press that
accepted it for publication. For future reference, it was
Greenwood Press (New York; Westport, Connecticut; London).
[Peter Blayney, rev. of *The Shakespeare Folio Handbook and
Census* Compiled by Harold M. Otness. Bibliographies and
Indexes in World Literature, Number 25. New York: Greenwood
Press, 1990. pp. xii+136. $37.95 cloth. in *Shakespeare
Quarterly* 42.4 (Winter 1991): 493-7.]