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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: January ::
Which Shakespeare Editions Are Considered Definitive?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0177  Friday, 23 January 2004

[1]     From:   Scott Sharplin <
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 >
        Date:   Thursday, 22 Jan 2004 10:48:22 -0700 (MST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0157 Which Shakespeare Editions Are Considered
Definitive?

[2]     From:   Colin Cox <
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 >
        Date:   Thursday, 22 Jan 2004 09:15:34 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0157 Which Shakespeare Editions Are Considered
Definitive?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Scott Sharplin <
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Date:           Thursday, 22 Jan 2004 10:48:22 -0700 (MST)
Subject: 15.0157 Which Shakespeare Editions Are Considered
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0157 Which Shakespeare Editions Are Considered
Definitive?

I am fascinated by the concept of "definitive" Shakespeare editions, in
the same way that I am fascinated by the Philosopher's Stone, or the pot
of gold at the end of the rainbow.

What would a definitive edition mean? I believe that, when most scholars
use the word, they are in search of an edition which will faithfully
reproduce either A) the scripts as they originally poured forth from
Shakespeare's pen, or B) the scripts as they were performed at the Globe
(or Blackfriars...or in court...or on tour). Some scholars believe that
A and B are one and the same.

The problems with these definitions are legion. Most of the quartos
published during Shakespeare's lifetime were unauthorized versions, and
while they might approximate B (particularly if they were supplied by
actors from the King's Men), they almost certainly differ from A. The
First Folio was published after Shakespeare's death, and therefore could
not have benefitted from his authority. Instead, we have Heminges and
Condell's interpretations of the texts, possibly culled from original
"foul" copies but more likely based upon prompt books.

And who is to say that the plays did not change in performance? Since
Shakespeare was an actor in his own company, he was constantly on hand
to authorize changes. Sometimes alterations are made on the fly, or even
accidentally, and subsequently approved. Theatre is organic and
unpredictable in this way; therefore, a performance script that was
definitive on Monday morning might have become outmoded by Friday afternoon.

Most modern editors take Frankensteinian delight in stitching together
passages from Quartos, Folios, and latter-day emendations by previous
editors. This is fine--in fact, I believe that it is very much in the
spirit of how the plays evolved. But they can hardly call their product
"definitive". To do so undermines the very nature of the scripts, and
ultimately, turns the word itself into a meaningless promotional tool.

Scott Sharplin

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Colin Cox <
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 >
Date:           Thursday, 22 Jan 2004 09:15:34 -0800
Subject: 15.0157 Which Shakespeare Editions Are Considered
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0157 Which Shakespeare Editions Are Considered
Definitive?

 >In order to do this, I am
 >seeking information on documentation for which editions are considered
 >definitive.

When directing one of the plays, I refer all actors to the single Arden
editions. They may not be definitive (I think you'll have a host of
problems with that) but they are wonderful sources of information and
inspiration.

-- Colin Cox Artistic Director Will & Company

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