The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1389  Tuesday, 21 May 2002

From:           David Bishop <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 22 May 2002 00:08:00 -0400
Subject: 13.1379 Recent Editions
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1379 Recent Editions

While I appreciate John Briggs's comments on Colin Burrow's edition of
the sonnets and poems, I don't agree that Burrow's criticism of the
Arden 3 Hamlet is simplistic. I agree with him that this will be bad
news for students and general readers. The Arden 3, from what I've seen,
is going off in the direction of scholarship and history, and neglecting
criticism. The only one I know fairly well is The Tempest, an edition
bloated with performance history and colonial controversies. What actual
criticism can be extracted from it is pretty thin gruel. Frank Kermode's
edition, admirable as it is, is getting old. A new edition is needed,
but it would be good if it were better than his, and better than the
Arden 3.

Printing 3 texts of Hamlet seems to me the height of misguided fashion.
To take one sample of the "new consensus," Ron Rosenbaum presents the
change from "you question with a wicked tongue" to "you question with an
idle tongue" as "one of several instances in which the Folio softens
Hamlet's attitude toward his mother." In the quarto, the exchange goes
like this:

  Queen.  Come, come, you answer with an idle tongue.
  Hamlet. Go, go, you question with a wicked tongue.

This sounds right to me: the intensified counterpoint of "wicked" shows
both Hamlet's mounting anger and his wit. By comparison, "idle" would be
a very limp reply. So limp that I don't believe Shakespeare would have
written it.  The second "idle" looks like the work of an absent-minded
compositor, repeating words he'd just set in the line before.  To give
"idle" and "wicked" equal weight, with "idle" presented as Shakespeare's
final choice, seems to me to lose contact with Shakespeare.  When
editors can no longer hear that any reading is wrong, even in a case as
obvious as this, they may be spending too much time studying texts
instead of reading plays. I think that's a bad direction in which to
lead, or try to lead, students. The great forest of Hamlet gets lost in
the trees.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

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