The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0269 Saturday, 11 July 2010
From: Hardy M. Cook <
Date: Saturday, July 10, 2010
Subject: SBReview_7: The New Kittredge Shakespeare: Julius Caesar
_The New Kittredge Shakespeare: Julius Caesar_. Ed. Sarah Hatchuel.
Newburyport, MA: Focus Publishing, 2008. ISBN-10: 1585102601. ISBN-13: 978-
1585102600. 144 pp. US$8.95.
Reviewed by Alisha Huber, Mary Baldwin College
The New Kittredge Shakespeare series clearly began with a commendable idea: to
make George Lyman Kittredge's editions of Shakespeare's plays available to a new
generation of scholars. Kittredge's detailed and insightful footnotes and
prefaces give the reader a window into two worlds -- Shakespeare's and
Kittredge's. Kittredge's voice, in his notes, is strong and specific. When he
glosses a masque as "a half-dramatic social entertainment," the reader hears,
not only a definition of the word, but also Kittredge's own opinion of such
Reading Kittredge's introduction to _The Tragedy of Julius Caesar_, one can
imagine what it must have been like to sit in one of his Harvard lectures. He
begins by refuting the commonplace that the play would be more aptly titled "The
Tragedy of Marcus Brutus." Kittredge argues that although Caesar dies at the
midpoint of the play, his supernatural revenge makes him an ever-present figure,
causing the conspirators to "turn our swords / In our own proper entrails."
Caesar's pervasive presence makes the play a whole piece, rather than two
disjointed stories yoked together.
Kittredge follows this unified reading of the play by examining each character
in turn. Here, his depth of knowledge is especially apparent. He explains
Caesar's awkward tendency to refer to himself in the third person as
Shakespeare's continuation of a long-standing stage tradition. He perfectly
summarizes Cassius' mixed motives: "[His] passion does not burn with a clear
flame, for his noble scorn of servitude is tainted with ignoble envy" (ix).
Character readings like the ones Kittredge proposes would give an actor a good
starting place in his own relationship with the character.
Kittredge closes his introduction by arguing in favor of a challenging reading
of _Julius Caesar_: Shakespeare does not take sides. "The verdict, if there must
be a verdict, he leaves to history," giving all of the principal characters
admiring eulogies (x). This reading is challenging because, although Kittredge's
evidence clearly points to this conclusion, Caesar is an easier story to tell if
it is about freedom fighters overthrowing a dictator, or a good leader viciously
assassinated. Telling both stories -- and neither -- requires mental
flexibility. Kittredge's introduction serves the commendable function of asking
readers, before they even enter the world of the play, to work at holding both
truths in their minds -- that Caesar was "the foremost man of all this world,"
and that Brutus was "the noblest Roman of them all."
Kittredge bases his introduction firmly in the text. His writing is clear and
purposeful. He carefully chooses points that will enhance the reader's
experience. Shakespeare neophytes will get a gentle introduction to the issues
the play raises, but seasoned scholars will find new information and new
perspectives on the play. The second introduction in the edition, by editor
Sarah Hatchuel, is less clear. Hatchuel puts forward a mix of literary criticism
and performance history that would not prepare a lay reader to engage with the
play. She seems to have designed some sections of the introduction, such as the
performance history, for people who are unfamiliar with theater history more
generally -- a high school English class, perhaps. Other sections, such as her
analysis of the symbolism in Antony's funeral oration, make sense in the context
of a discussion among serious scholars. The tenth graders who would find the
stage history enlightening would giggle helplessly when they read, "It is as
though Antony's voice and tongue were now fertilizing Caesar's wounded,
feminized body" (xiii).
The text itself is easy to follow, with clear speech headings and stage
directions and no awkward hanging lines. The page layout system separating
Kittredge's footnotes from Hatchuel's is difficult to follow at first. While
Kittredge's footnotes provide glosses for words that have fallen out of usage,
Hatchuel's describe film versions of the action. She accompanies these notes
with stills from various films. As film is her particular academic interest,
Hatchuel's focus on film adaptations is unsurprising. It might help readers who
have limited access to staged performances of _Caesar_, which, unlike _Hamlet_
or _A Midsummer Night's Dream_, is not in heavy rotation.
Most of the editorial stage directions are helpful, and the editors carefully
bracket them. Generally, a reader can tell where Shakespeare leaves off and the
editors fill in. One notable exception is the silent emendation in II.1.40, of
Brutus' question, which appears in the Folio as "Is not to morrow (Boy) the
first of March?" Kittredge, like many other editors, silently changes "first" to
"ides." He also provides a note that I.3 "takes place on the night of March 14."
This adjustment, which makes the play's chronology more sensible, is
objectionable because of its silence. Had the editors pointed out this change,
the reader could have decided for herself whether Shakespeare meant to have
Brutus so distraught that he lost two weeks, or whether the compositor made an
error in setting the scene.
Following the text, the editors provide materials that would help students
envision the play, including a short essay on "How to Read _Julius Caesar_ as
Performance." At the end of an edition that largely focused on filmed
adaptations of the play, this acknowledgement of the theater audience as a vital
part of the performance was a welcome surprise. Hatchuel paints a gorgeous
picture of how "the audience at the Globe theater [ . . . ] could become part of
the Roman crowd, totally immersed in the dramatic events" (104). Her assertion
that the actor and the spectator "both were united in the same communion of
entertainment and imagination" was genuinely moving (104). In writing about the
power of theater, Hatchuel should not have couched it in the past tense. Actors
and spectators continue to create theater because of that communion, and not
just in "original practices" spaces. Hatchuel's homage to the theater is
backhanded at best -- it was beautiful; too bad it is over.
The remainder of the end material -- a timeline of Shakespeare's life, a solid
bibliography, and a collection of discussion questions on the play -- would be
useful to a teacher in a high school or undergraduate classroom, but probably
not of interest to a graduate student or serious scholar. This confusion of
audience is the most pervasively unsatisfying element of the New Kittredge
Shakespeare. Preserving Kittredge's distinctive voice is a worthy exercise for
the scholarly community. Reprinting his editions directly, without all of the
additional material (or with material more clearly directed to an audience of
specialists) would have fulfilled this audience's needs quite well. A classroom-
oriented edition is also a creditable project. Many of the materials provided
would be useful to a classroom teacher. However, undergraduate or high school
students might find Kittredge's original material mystifying. Some of his
footnotes, literally, have footnotes. A student audience would have an easier
time with an edition that was not also attempting to preserve the scholarship of
the previous century. Actors and directors would benefit from an edition with
less cluttered pages. The New Kittredge Shakespeare is a well-intentioned
project, but it stumbles in trying to be all things to all people.
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook,
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>
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