The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.160 Thursday, 20 April 2017
Date: Thursday, April 20, 2017
Subject: From TLS: Too Too Solid
Too too solid
By Brian Vickers
April 19, 2017
THE NEW OXFORD SHAKESPEARE
The complete works: Modern critical edition
Edited by Gary Taylor, John Jowett, Terri Bourus, Gabriel Egan et al.
3,382pp. Oxford University Press. £50.
THE NORTON SHAKESPEARE
Edited by Walter Cohen et al. 3,438pp. £60 (US $91.25)
To publish a new edition of Shakespeare’s complete plays and poems is a massive and expensive undertaking. A team of general editors must be assembled, together with those who will edit the individual works. Experts in many disciplines will be needed, from textual criticism to theatrical history; musical and visual resources, maps, and other useful information assembled; and the whole apparatus made available in both print and digital formats. The year 2016 brought us new complete editions from Oxford University Press and W. W. Norton, the two great rivals in the lucrative student textbook market. They once shared this enterprise, for when Norton first published a one-volume Shakespeare in 1997, rather than commissioning a wholly new edition they reprinted the text of the Oxford Shakespeare of 1986, edited by Gary Taylor and Stanley Wells. Now Norton has freed itself by producing its own edition, and there is a quiet satisfaction as its editors record their independence.
The Oxford editors took it upon themselves, for example, to “improve” Pericles, co-authored by Shakespeare and George Wilkins, by versifying passages from a novella by Wilkins (which was probably written after the collaborative play) and inserting them into the text. Lois Potter removes their insertions as having “no textual justification”. Taylor-Wells had argued that the heroine of Cymbeline should no longer be known as Imogen, claiming that this name appears for the first time in the 1623 Folio, and was a misprint for “Innogen”. Ann Thompson in her edition of the play can draw on recent scholarship that has located Imogen in two previous books, a fifteenth-century chronicle and Holinshed. (The New Oxford retains “Innogen”.) These are welcome signs of fresh thinking, but Norton’s editors have had a failure of nerve regarding King Lear. Taylor and Wells made the much-disputed claim that the Folio (1623) version was Shakespeare’s revision of the Quarto (1608). In 1997 the Norton editors followed Taylor-Wells in printing both texts as supposedly separate creations, but hedged their bets by adding the “conflated” text, familiar to readers and theatregoers for 300 years, a compromise that undermined the whole point of the separate texts. In 2016, just when the “Two Versions” theory is losing justification, they retain separate Quarto and Folio versions, on facing pages, together with the conflated (now called “Combined”) version, but now helpfully use italic type to distinguish the passages missing from the Folio. Since the three Lears take up 260 pages, the next printing might choose differently.
Complete editions of Shakespeare have usually carried prefatory material introducing such topics as Shakespeare’s life and times, the Elizabethan theatre, and the nature of hand-press printing; Norton 3 devotes over 100 pages to these matters. The New Oxford seems determined to be different. Two of the General Editors, Gary Taylor and Terri Bourus, ignore this tradition and offer two prefaces, “Why Read Shakespeare’s Complete Works?” (including other important questions, such as “Why read dead white men?” and “Why read plays, when I can watch films?”), and “Why Read This Complete Works?”. As these formulations suggest, the editors choose to address their (presumed young) readers with such snappy utterances as “Shakespeare is the ghost with the most”; “his quotable-quote quotient is higher than anyone else’s”; “Shakespeare’s favourite subjects are monarchy, monogamy, and monotheism; not coincidentally, his most famous speeches and sonnets are monologues. He specializes in one-and-onliness”. Shakespeare may seem difficult – “So what? So is the universe”. In any case, “grappling with difficulty strengthens our minds”, and “the more you exercise those mind-muscles, those neural pecs, the easier it gets”. If our neural pecs aren’t up to it, “every reader can google their own favourite” topic.
The relentlessly up-to-date allusions create a bard for our times, or rather this decade. In 2014 “the influential radio commentator Ira Glass” (who he?), having seen a performance of King Lear, uttered what is here called “the virally retweeted epiphany, ‘Shakespeare sucks’”. “In 2016, a production of Measure for Measure in North Carolina was turned into a protest against the state’s new law banning transgender use of public bathrooms (with Mistress Overdone played by a transgender actor)”. Art had no need to imitate nature there. The editors devote about 1,400 breathless words (a quarter of the length of this review) to the 2016 hip-hop musical Hamilton, by Lin-Manuel Miranda, which “indisputably . . . belongs to the history of Shakespeare’s continuing influence”. Not only did Miranda accept a Tony award by reading “a sonnet (including the very Shakespearean tautology ‘And love is love is love is love is love’”), but his play includes two quotations from Macbeth, “Tomorrow and tomorrow” and “Screw your courage to the sticking place” – although Miranda revealed that “he first heard the phrase in the Disney musical Beauty and the Beast, and as a child had no idea that it came from a much earlier play”. (The editors comment, “We pick up scattered pieces of Shakespeare’s imagination without realizing it”.) Instead of providing help for readers, these prefaces are ephemeral, narcissistic self-display pieces, their main purpose being to appear cool to the presumed college student readership.
Two unusual features of this Modern Critical Edition have been introduced by Professor Bourus, who has also worked as a professional actor. She has provided “Performance Notes in the margin of the text to call attention to more complex staging possibilities”, with special “focus on ambiguous moments in the original text”, and on “choices that would have been possible on early stages”. In practice, these notes are often of the variety, “this scene can be acted slowly, or quickly”, and are thinly scattered. But the focus seems less on what was possible on early stages than on modern productions, as in this note on the Pyramus and Thisbe playlet in A Midsummer Night’s Dream when Flute (as Thisbe) finds Pyramus dead, ready for “a tomb”:
In Hoffman’s (1999) film the campy, tongue-in-cheek delivery suddenly changed in mid-line to an unexpected and powerful seriousness. The young actor playing Thisbe removed his wig, lowered his voice to his natural pitch, and continued in his grief for the death of his lover and for his own suicide. The resultant silence in the onstage audience contributed to the heightened emotion of this scene.
That might be of interest in a separate section discussing theatrical interpretations, but it will seem rather irritating on re-reading the play. Some of these performance notes are truly distracting. Lear’s dying request, “Pray you undo this button. Thank you sir”, receives this note: “The button is presumably on the collar or chest of Lear’s garment, but might alternatively be the collar of Cordelia’s if Lear momentarily thinks she might still be alive”. Would Cordelia’s dress have buttons? Is this relevant?
Bourus is also credited with another “innovative” feature. All recent one-volume editions include a specially written introduction to each play, some of which – for example, those by Anne Barton and Frank Kermode in the Riverside Shakespeare – have permanent value. The New Oxford editors have “dispensed with scholarly introductions”, which they dismiss as “critical monologues”, in favour of “a bricolage: a creatively organized collection of quotations representing different critical perspectives” between 1592 and 2016. Or, as the preface invites us, “You may think of this as tapas Shakespeare, offering a small taste of many different dishes” so that we can discover which flavours we find most appealing, and explore them more fully in our own kitchen. (The editors have some problem with metaphors.) They see these snippets of critical opinion as providing “thousands of different gateways to Shakespeare”. Quotations have been chosen for their “style, memorability, concision, intellectual depth, originality, panache”.
Readers can judge for themselves their quality, such as these on Titus Andronicus. “[It] is, hands down, one of my favourite plays, mostly because it’s absolutely insane.” (Louise Geddes, 2014.) “The stage is piled with corpses, yet the horrible dance of violence has a viciously playful beauty.” (John Kerrigan, 1996.) “[Lavinia is] arguably the most arresting image of a female reader in early modern drama.” (Heidi Brayman Hackel, 2005.) Or this on Othello: “I want my Iago to be a really cool gay guy, an Iago who is all the more dangerous because both Othello and more than half the audience find him attractive”. (Stephen Orgel, 2003.) I have an idea for a new circle of hell, where all these thousands of quotations (“gateways”) are on a continuously playing tape, a cacophony of random opinions. Norton reprints the critical introductions to each play originally written by the general editors, now updated.
But the real justification for any new edition of Shakespeare is the choice and treatment of the text. Texts with such complex origins as these cannot be edited without some clearly articulated theory justifying practice. The New Oxford editors announce that “this Modern Critical Edition . . . builds upon the text established by the Critical Reference Edition”, to which all textual matters, and much else, are postponed. Norton 3, in welcome contrast, presents a “General Textual Introduction” by the newly hired textual editors, Suzanne Gossett and Gordon McMullan, which includes a useful, if brief account of early modern hand-press printing. They explain their concept of “single-text editing”, which requires an editor to maintain differences between texts of the same play that have reached us through different processes of transmission, but “not at the expense of sense”. They illustrate this principle with two unfortunately chosen examples. At the end of the tumultuous first scene of King Lear, Goneril and Regan, beneficiaries of their father’s disinheriting Cordelia, compare notes. Goneril speaks first, in the quarto text: “You see how full of changes his age is, the observation we have made of it hath not bin little”. The Folio text, however, removes the “not”, a claim justified by Gossett and McMullan as showing the daughters’ “expression of regret for not taking notice of these mood swings before they led to the present crisis”. But they overlook several other signs that these daughters have long been observing their father critically. Goneril knows that their father “always loved our sister most, and with what poore judgement hee hath now cast her off, appeares too grosse”. Regan agrees: “Tis the infirmitie of his age, yet hee hath ever but slenderly knowne himselfe”. Goneril reiterates her view, that “The best and soundest of his time hath bin but rash”, drawing a lesson for their future behaviour towards him. The Folio alteration gives the opposite of Shakespeare’s meaning.
Their other example of two readings, both supposedly equally valid, is Othello’s final speech recognizing his fatal error in killing Desdemona. In the quarto he compares himself to “one whose hand, / Like the base Indian, threw a pearle away, / Richer then all his tribe”. The Folio, however, reads “Iudean”, which the editors gloss as “probably being associated with Christ’s betrayer, Judas Iscariot, and thus, for Shakespeare’s audience, with Jews in general”. This facile interpretation ignores the cogent arguments of the late Richard Levin, that “it would be very inappropriate for Othello to compare himself to Judas, whose action was regarded as a conscious choice”, quite unlike the casual indifference with which American Indians valued their precious stones and metals, a fact often noticed in contemporary literature. In Pierce Penniless (1592), Nashe complained that “Artists for the most part are base-minded and like the Indians, that have store of gold pretious stones at command, yet are ignorant of their value”. The Folio compositor could have confused n for u in the manuscript copy; and in any case the metre requires a stress on the first syllable, not the second. For all these reasons “Indian” is the correct reading, not “Iudean”.
Norton 3 comes in both print and digital versions, confronting the material limits of the book with the infinity of cyberspace. Professors Gossett and McMullan are frank about their relative priorities: “we set out to invert the prior hierarchy of page and screen by creating an edition that would reach its fullest potential in digital form”. That is no doubt a future-proof decision, but it down-values the printed edition. At least its editors have the luxury of being able to choose between quarto and Folio for their copy texts, while placing the other version in digital space. In his new preface Stephen Greenblatt promises that the digital edition offers “multiple versions” of the fifteen plays for which “more than one authoritative text exists”. There we can read five of the six “Bad” quartos, unauthorized texts which are heavily cut and contain much non-Shakespearian material, including lines quoted from other plays, probably due to the actors’ failures of memory. The unauthorized 1603 Hamlet, however, is included in the main text, newly edited by Greenblatt himself, who shares the common misconception that it was merely “drastically . . . cut” for performance. It is indeed half the length of the 1604–05 Quarto issued to replace it, but it adds more than 400 non-Shakespearean lines, including several echoes of Othello, which help to date that play. It is certainly a great advantage to have these and seven other variant texts (four “Good” quarto plays and three Folio versions) included in the digital edition, with some passages in facing-page versions. There are two omissions: the Folio text of Romeo and Juliet and the 1598 quarto of 1 Henry IV.
In two instances Norton 3 privileges the digital version. The contents page of the print edition lists both Edward III and Sir Thomas More but in fact the book only includes introductions to the plays and to the texts, the first edited from the quarto, the second from manuscript. Another smaller but troubling omission concerns a scene (3.ii) not present in the quarto editions of Titus Andronicus, and first printed in the First Folio. At a banquet Marcus, Titus’s brother, kills a fly that has landed on his plate. Titus, maddened by grief at the rape of Lavinia, upbraids him for killing “this poor harmless fly”, but when told that it was “black, ill-favoured”, like Tamora’s servant Aaron, he strikes it again. Readers missing this scene will find it in the digital version.
Norton (an employee-owned publisher) has taken great pains over this edition. More than eighty scholars are thanked for providing critiques, and a fresh team of editors has been assembled for the thirty-eight plays. Twenty of them are women, an admirable innovation, for textual criticism has long been a mostly male domain. They have been given some of the hardest texts. Gretchen Minton, editing Troilus and Cressida, estimates that there are 5,000 minor textual variants between the 1609 quarto and the Folio, and 500 substantive ones – that is, with different wording. Clare McManus notes “thousands of differences” between the two versions of Othello, most of them small, but the Folio has around 160 lines not in the 1622 quarto, which has several unique lines. Both editors are more than equal to the challenges, as are Line Cottegnies for 2 Henry IV, Trudi Darby for Much Ado about Nothing, Lois Potter for Pericles and Hannah Crawforth for The Two Noble Kinsmen.
Of the male minority, Anthony Dawson contributes a judicious edition of Hamlet, based on the quarto but incorporating passages from the Folio in italic type. He is the only editor to give serious attention to the notion of a Bad Quarto (a category that these days ranks with Basil Fawlty’s “Don’t mention the war!”). In his edition of Julius Caesar James Siemon defends the apparent anomaly that Brutus twice refers to the death of Portia in the same scene as Shakespeare’s way of showing “Brutus’s character under the stress of the moment”. The most original scholarly work is done by Matthew Steggle in addressing some notorious textual problems in Measure for Measure. When Angelo has pronounced the death sentence on Claudio for having made his fiancée pregnant, Escalus comments (in the Folio text) that some people “rise by sinnes and some by virtue fall: / Some run from brakes of Ice, and answere none”. Nicholas Rowe emended “ice” to “vice” in his 1709 edition, and Steggle checked this reading against the Early English Book Online database, a tool unavailable to previous textual scholars. There he found “brakes” (thickets) collocated with moral states such as “vanity” or “sensuality”, justifying Rowe’s emendation.
The New Oxford Shakespeare employs fewer editors, who are not allowed to introduce the plays they have edited, having been supplanted by the “tapas” of snippets. The absence of textual notes is one of several features suggesting that this “Modern Critical Edition” regards serious scholarly issues as of no interest to its intended audience, who are demoted to second-class citizens. Norton 3 treats its editors, and its readers, with more respect. Each editor contributes a textual introduction for the print edition, and adds longer notes on textual cruxes in the digital version. The print version of Norton 3 also includes a brief performance note to each play by Brett Gamboa, who discusses specific production problems in the digital version. In further side-by-side comparisons Norton 3 comes out ahead. Both editions are profusely illustrated, but those in the New Oxford are marred by the paper’s excessive print-through. Norton’s typeface is clear and legible, New Oxford’s (printed in Italy) is elegant, but small and tiring to read; the editorial matter enclosed in boxes, printed in grey, is scarcely legible. Even worse, the designer has set the prelims and prefaces in a smaller font with tiny margins and single spacing, cramming about 1,000 words on the page. The New Oxford includes the music for the songs “wherever a reliable original score is available”. This is commendable, but they should have been collected in an appendix. It may be disconcerting, on re-reading Twelfth Night, to find five songs inserted into the text of one scene, or the Willow Song in Othello. Norton 3 (digital) provides recordings of all sixty-six songs in the plays.
In its choices regarding the text, the New Oxford Shakespeare makes two decisions, one questionable, the other disastrous. In cases where Shakespeare plays exist in both a quarto and a Folio edition, the 1986 predecessor made much of its preference for the latter, as being “more theatrical”. This decision ignored the fact that the Folio is an edited text, meant for readers (better described as “post-theatrical”), and it resulted in some strange choices. The 1604–05 quarto of Hamlet runs to 3,800 lines; the 1623 Folio text is 230 lines shorter but adds seventy lines. The original Oxford editors, bent on proving that the Folio was Shakespeare’s revised version, chose to omit passages found only in the quarto, printing them as “Additional Passages because we believe that, however fine they may be in themselves, Shakespeare decided that the play as a whole would be better without them”, so they were relegated to an appendix (and should rightly have been called “Subtracted Passages”). This decision raised any number of questions, but, thirty years on, the New Oxford editors abandon that reasoning, since it depends on “fiercely contested aesthetic preferences about which version is the more satisfying work of art, or which version is more ‘literary’ or more ‘theatrical’”. Their new principle is “to choose the version of the work that contains the most Shakespeare”. So now the 1604–05 quarto gets the nod, while the 1603 quarto and the Folio are dismissed. The downside of this new policy is that, as the editors acknowledge, this Complete Works is in fact incomplete, “since the longest version might omit certain lines found in a shorter version”. The reader will look in vain for passages of Hamlet found in the Folio, or those found only in the quarto of Othello. These editors refuse to conflate texts or to assume that “Shakespeare intended to combine all the material ever printed in any existing text”. But to assume the opposite is an assumption, too.
This textual principle is coherent, but can have unfortunate consequences. The text of King Lear, edited by John Jowett, is based on the 1608 Quarto, “which gives the longest eqarly [sic] text”, since it only lacks 102 lines, compared to the Folio’s 285. The New Oxford editor follows the quarto’s reduction of Lear’s “Never, never, never” to three repetitions, leaving an incomplete verse line. In the Folio, his last words are:
Do you see this? Looke on her! Looke her lips, Looke there, looke
Jowett gives us the Quarto’s inarticulate groans “O, o, o, o”. In both texts, Edgar exclaims “He faints my Lord, my Lord”, but the Quarto allots Lear an extra line, to urge a cardiac arrest on himself: “Break heart, I prithee break”, a speech that the Folio rightly gives to Kent. For many readers who experience King Lear for the first and perhaps only time in this edition, this may seem like a botched ending. In the Folio, the Duke of Albany (i.e. Scotland) addresses Kent and Edgar as “you twain”, urging them to “Rule in this kingdom”, in which he has no legitimacy, and they reply alternatively, as they have done earlier. Kent declines, feeling himself near to death, while Edgar implicitly accepts, paying tribute to the suffering of Lear and Gloucester, which he has experienced at first hand: “The oldest hath borne most, we that are yong, / Shall never see so much, nor live so long”. The quarto assigned these lines to Albany, one of several mistaken speech prefixes in this final scene.
Here is the problem for the textual purist: if you follow a longer text, known to be badly printed, do you include all the errors? Or only some? In the text Taylor has adopted dozens of Folio readings which give the correct sense. To ignore its authority here may be the last gasp of the Two Versions theory that these lines were Shakespeare’s first thought, which he later amended to change the balance between Albany and Edgar.
The other, disastrous New Oxford decision concerns Shakespeare’s canon. Answering the question, “Why Read This Complete Works?”, Taylor and Bourus declare: “Our goal is to provide the most and best Shakespeare ever available”. That goal sits oddly with Taylor’s statement to the Guardian last October that their first edition had “underestimated the amount of Shakespeare’s work that’s collaborative. In 1986 eight of the 39 plays were identified on their title pages as collaborative, a little more than 20%. In 2016, 17 of the 44 plays are identified, a little more than 38%, close to two-fifths”. Taylor presents this as an advance, made by “new scholarship, techniques and resources”. To most other people it will seem like a grievous loss – always assuming that the attributions and de-attributions are justified.
It has long been evident that Taylor suffers from Shakespeare envy, an odd mixture of acknowledging his greatness while attempting to whittle away at the canon or introduce foreign bodies. In 1986 he inserted the dismal lyric “Shall I die” (attributed to Shakespeare by one copyist only), which is retained here, albeit with the defensive note “A lyric perhaps written as a poetic exercise” (perhaps?). In a separate note Taylor acknowledges that the poem “has not endeared itself to anyone. I, too, dislike it!” Yet he celebrates its virtuoso “internal rhymes and avoidance of the article the”, adding: “And if (as Donald Foster suggests) the verses belong to a musical-comical-sexual stage jig, performed by a singing and dancing clown at the end of a play, they are far and away the most interesting – and literary – specimen of that dramatic genre”. Can anyone believe this?
In the Oxford Middleton (2007) Taylor appropriated parts of Macbeth and Measure for Measure, plays here described as “adapted by Middleton”. Now he adds All’s Well that Ends Well, claiming over 100 lines for Middleton, who is also credited with adding the “fly” scene to Titus Andronicus. The purchaser of this Modern Critical Edition who might wonder why she is given no evidence for these attributions is told that “you are not, at this moment, looking at the Critical Reference Edition”, where the editors’ reasons will be revealed. Their most contentious decision is to ascribe all three Folio plays of Henry VI to “Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Anonymous, revised by Shakespeare”, with Nashe (rightly) credited as having written the first act of Part 1. As anyone who has studied Marlowe knows, his dramaturgy is wholly unlike Shakespeare’s, his vocabulary is far more Latinate, he seldom wrote prose, and his prosody is completely different, as quantitative studies have shown. If he had in fact written hundreds of lines of verse for these plays, his presence would be detectable by traditional observation. The New Oxford ascriptions are based on some recent hi-tech computerized tests which are not beyond criticism. In this edition we are often told that “stylometric evidence” favours this or that attribution; but there are many kinds of stylometry, some of them unreliable. A proper investigation of these claims must await publication of the arguments and evidence, but it is already evident that Taylor and his colleagues are making a reckless gamble in elevating Marlowe to this position. It is like staking all your money (and your publisher’s) on 17 red. What if black comes up – as it will? For the time being readers should treat with scepticism the claims regarding Henry VI, also Edward III and Arden of Faversham, here credited to “Shakespeare and Anonymous”. In a recent paper given to the London Shakespeare Seminar, Taylor warned that we will be hearing much more about Anonymous in future. Perhaps he hasn’t yet finished with the Shakespeare canon.
I turned to the digital versions rather warily, as a man who has always loved his books. At present, the New Oxford offers a page-for-page rendering of the print version, in a more legible text and with full quality illustrations. Most plays appear in three columns: first, the text (rather cramped, causing many verse lines to be turned over); then both the footnotes and performance notes, keyed to the text; finally, “extras”, which in some cases means illustrations of the Folio text in several versions, from the Bodleian and the Folger Library (the rationale for this is unclear). There are no other special features. Norton 3 has stolen a march on its rival by fully embracing the new possibilities of digital publication. A click on an underlined phrase produces a gloss or a longer note, and a marginal icon brings up longer comments on textual and performance problems. Appropriate points in the text offer links to facsimiles of the First Folio and to selected quarto pages, in some cases providing facing-page versions. In addition to the sixty-six songs, it includes over eight hours of audio recordings of crucial passages and scenes. Teachers can annotate a text for students, making it an invaluable pedagogical aid. The Norton Shakespeare even has its own YouTube channel, with a selection of video resources. Whatever the deficiencies of the print edition, this digital edition is going to be hard to beat.
With its combination of print and digital versions, Norton is complete in itself. The new Oxford Modern Critical Edition is just the beginning of a series. Two further titles have been published too late to be discussed here, an Authorship Companion (741 pages) and a two-volume Critical Reference Edition in old spelling (a further 3,600 pages). That is not the end, though. We are promised, in two or three years’ time, a two-volume set of the “Complete Alternative Versions”, many of which are already included in the Norton digital edition. Verily, of the monetizing of Shakespeare’s text there is no end.