The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.170 Wednesday, 26 April 2017
Date: Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Subject: From TLS: Introductory Editorial Comments on Shakespeare Edition
[Editor’s Note: This week’s TLS highlights articles about Shakespeare. A few days ago, with his permission, I published Brian Vickers’ Review of New Oxford and Norton3 Shakespeares. Today, I publish three other articles from that edition: One, a free offering, in its entirety and two in excerpts. Below is the Editor’s, Stig Abell, Introduction to the edition.
APRIL 19, 2017
In this week’s TLS
It is odd, really, the extent to which we feel that William Shakespeare needs defending. And yet there is no other writer who combines such otherworldly greatness with such obvious vulnerability (biographical, textual, interpretative).
Shakespeare left neither a definitive life-story nor (more crucially) a set of authorized texts behind him. He simply bequeathed to civilization its most wonderful literary achievement and thus a morbid amount of curiosity that continues unsated to this day.
Into the absence has stepped – with more or less good intentions – a cavalcade of editors and critics and biographers seeking to define the man and his work. Such a task is by its very nature quixotic (a term with its origins in Shakespeare’s own age, of course) in that it can never be concluded. Brian Vickers has reviewed two “new” Shakespeares this week: the Oxford and the Norton. The former is the more radical – most radically of all suggesting that Christopher Marlowe (and an anonymous third writer) had a hand in collaborating with Shakespeare on the Henry VI plays.
Caution is required on both sides of the ensuing debates. On the one hand, the work of Shakespeare was always messy and organic, contingent on the requirements of the playhouse, and redolent of a time when notions of authorship were not as sacrosanct as they are today. Shakespeare the collaborator is a historical fact, not a troubling assertion. On the other hand, we must beware the acts of cultural vandalism masquerading as innovation, or of editorial egotism seeking to overshadow its subject.
The New Oxford Shakespeare has the laudable aim to “provide the most and best Shakespeare ever available”. It has done so by diluting Shakespeare’s involvement in the plays, nearly two-fifths of which are judged to be collaborations. It is not possible to say, at this stage, which and how many of its attributions are correct. Vickers diagnoses, though, a case of “Shakespeare envy, an odd mixture of acknowledging his greatness while attempting to whittle away at the canon or introduce foreign bodies”.
We can at least all concur about the greatness of the work. Victoria Rimell sees new productions of Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra in Stratford-upon-Avon, combining to form “a new vista on the epic arc of political tragedy”: the first century BC refracted through the prism of the sixteenth century to be displayed in the twenty-first. Emma Smith experiences afresh the chill of The Winter’s Tale, reinterpreted with its “random savagery” on the Barbican stage. Whatever interpretation we give to Shakespeare, custom can never stale his infinite variety, as someone once nearly said.