From TLS: Manuscript Drama

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.172  Wednesday, 26 April 2017


From:        Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Subject:    From TLS: Manuscript Drama


The Play’s the Thing

By Rhodri Lewis


James Purkis


Canon, collaboration, and text

312pp. Cambridge University Press. 


As Margreta de Grazia has recently reminded us (see TLS, February 3), it is difficult to draw any firm conclusions about the relationships between Shakespeare’s works as they were printed – in various quarto editions, and in the 1623 First Folio – and the handwritten documents from which these printed books were set. The more so because these handwritten documents were profoundly social texts: the work of playwrights (singular or collaborative), yes, but also of acting companies, actors, scribes, censors, playgoers, would-be pirates and a seemingly endless list of potential others. All of this before such documents arrived in the hands of printing house personnel.


How can we tell if a printed Shakespeare text is authorial, authoritatively copied by another, or in some sense counterfeit? If a slip or alteration to the text is the doing of Shakespeare, a note-taker, a typesetter, or someone’s faulty memory? How can we establish an order of priority between two printed versions, perhaps differing significantly, of the same work? How can we decide whether a printed text leans on a more or less scrappy draft in Shakespeare’s hand, a fair copy of something like his final draft, his acting company’s playbook, or something else altogether? When we are faced with questions that do not have ready answers, the only ways forward belong to inference, hypothesis and informed supposition – in a word, conjecture. The disciplines of analytical bibliography and textual criticism offer editors some tools with which to construct conclusions, and to assess those of others. But for book historians trying to tell a story about the production of the Shakespearean corpus, there are no comparable crutches: the shortage of good data condemns them to struggle with extrapolation and the enticements of the crystal ball.


James Purkis offers to put things on a more solid footing. By turning to “the study of dramatic manuscripts”, he promises “to rethink what we can know about early-modern dramatic texts, how dramatists wrote, how their plays were altered in the play-house, and how . . . Shakespeare may be regarded as a dramatic ‘author’”. These are bold claims, and if Purkis does not quite justify them, it is not through any want of industry or scholarly acumen. . . . 


[ . . . ]


Purkis is alert to the challenges posed here, and sedulously avoids interpretations that exceed the dimensions of his archive. His six substantive chapters are divided into two sections of three chapters each: the first is concerned with the collaborative nature of playtext production in and around early modern playhouses. The second is concerned with the play Sir Thomas More. . . . 


[ . . . ]


There is much to admire in this book, and it will surely become one of the standard accounts of the manuscripts it examines. It also does salutary work in emphasizing that if we don’t think ruthlessly hard about the nature of early modern play manuscripts when considering the likely provenance of printed playtexts (Shakespearean or otherwise), we will blunder. But, as the absence of a concluding chapter tends to confirm, the limits of the archive mean that James Purkis’s larger ambitions go unrealized. Faute de mieux, conjecture it is.




From TLS: To the Manner Born

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.171  Wednesday, 26 April 2017


From:        Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Subject:    From TLS: To the Manner Born


To the manner born



Don-John Dugas


Ben Greet in early twentieth-century America

404pp. Society for Theatre Research. £30.


Since their earliest performances, Shakespeare’s plays have survived many shifts in theatrical fashion. Lecturing in 1840, Thomas Carlyle commented “Alas, Shakespeare had to write for the Globe playhouse: his great soul had to crush itself . . . into that and no other mould”. Carlyle thought of Shakespeare as a historian, and recognized that the resources available to him in early modern theatres limited the extent to which he could achieve accurate depictions of history. Victorian actor-managers, by contrast, were able to augment the plays with crowds of supernumeraries, elaborate three-dimensional sets and complex stage machinery.


The “antiquarian” Shakespeare performances of Carlyle’s contemporaries had matured – or perhaps decayed – by the turn of the century into the style that became known as “Spectacular Realism”. Magnificent set pieces involving large casts and complex scenery meant that some scenes were rearranged and scripts were heavily cut for time; to allow for scene changes, performances would be divided by several lengthy intervals. Such performances tended to be star-driven: the most famous practitioners of Spectacular Realism included Henry Irving, Herbert Beerbohm Tree, Edwin Booth and Richard Mansfield.


The tide changed in the twentieth century. Authentic Shakespeare performance was no longer understood to be that which staged, for instance, The Merchant of Venice in a grand reproduction of sixteenth-century Venice, but that which replicated the conditions of the play’s first performance, with limited set, early modern costume, and full (or nearly full) texts. Credit for this sea-change has often gone to William Poel – who staged the first quarto of Hamlet without scenery in 1881 and went on to found the Elizabethan Stage Society – and to Harley Granville-Barker, whose Shakespeare productions at the Savoy Theatre in 1912–14 prioritized ensemble acting and replaced naturalistic sets with minimalist, symbolic backdrops. In this book, Don-John Dugas argues that Ben Greet, a collaborator of Poel’s who popularized some of his methods, especially in the US, was a more significant contributor in this regard than has thus far been recognized. And the debate over “authenticity” is not yet over. The furore last October surrounding the news that Emma Rice’s artistic directorship at Shakespeare’s Globe would be cut short proves that the value and nature of “authentic” performances of Shakespeare’s plays are still hotly disputed. Rice had installed more extensive lighting and sound equipment in the reconstructed theatre than previous directors, and some commentators saw this as a departure from the theatre’s true raison d’être of giving, to quote Greet’s promotional slogan from 1906, “Shakespeare’s plays as Shakespeare wrote them”.


[ . . . ]


Given the relatively sparse published research on Greet, Dugas’s chronological and apparently near-exhaustive account is valuable. He draws on newspaper reviews and archived correspondence for the details of Greet’s career (in particular, Greet’s letters to his friend Lucy Love and the actress Sybil Thorndike’s letters home while she toured with the company). Nonetheless, it is undeniable that the strict chronological approach makes the book less engaging than it might have been – a great deal of space is given over to lists of the plays included in any given season and longer lists of the venues where they were played. If more of this information had been left to appendices, Dugas would have had more opportunity to provide detailed accounts of significant events and to flesh out his arguments about Greet’s contribution to Shakespeare performance and education. Although the research is thorough and careful, Don-John Dugas rarely reflects on his methodology after a brief explanation in the introduction. This is striking when it comes to the photographs reproduced – these are often cited as evidence of what specific productions looked like, without any mention of the difficulties presented by photographs to the theatre historian. For instance, he suggests that a photograph of a dance during A Midsummer Night’s Dream “illustrates how the various elements came together”, without acknowledging that a promotional photograph taken in 1909 is likely to have been taken from a pose rather than snatched opportunistically during performance. Shakespeare for Everyman is an important contribution to theatre history, nonetheless – and not least because its focus on a touring company demands the acknowledgement that innovations in London and New York were only as influential as the practitioners who took them further afield.




From TLS: Dover and Out

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.170  Wednesday, 26 April 2017


From:        Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Subject:    From TLS: Dover and Out


[Editor’s Note: The following is a free offering from this week’s TLS. I have reproduced it in its entirety. The next two articles are excerpts. If you do not have access to TLS and would like a copy of the full article, contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .  –Hardy]


Dover and out



Michael Pennington


274pp. Oberon. £14.99 (US $36.95).


Jonathan Croall


Gielgud to Russell Beale

250pp. Bloomsbury. £40 (US $88).


Theodore Leinwand


Writers reading Shakespeare

232pp. University of Chicago Press. £24.50


Among Shakespeare’s plays, Hamlet has enjoyed tragic pre-eminence for more than two centuries. Yet we seem to be now penetrating ever more deeply into the age of King Lear. The play has much to offer to our mostly dark, chaotic and godless world – a world in which no equivalent to Horatio survives to tell the protagonist’s story. The conclusion gazes backwards: “the oldest hath borne most”. Performed at Christmas for King James and his Court and proclaimed thus on its title page in 1608, Lear invited a distinguished audience to contemplate the grim but remote spectacle of an ancient, divided, confused and doomed Britain, in total contrast to the now flourishing Stuart monarchy. Two of these three books focus exclusively on Lear – a play once found too painful to contemplate if not sweetened by Nahum Tate’s merciful ending. The third, in turn, includes many responses to Lear expressed by nineteenth- and twentieth-century poets.


King Lear in Brooklyn shows the actor Michael Pennington to be as generous and good-humoured a player offstage as he is on, despite some distinctly challenging encounters with the icy streets of New York. Shouted at from an upstairs window, Pennington found himself “within fifty yards of home, felled by a proud lip of paving stone”. As well as being extremely painful, the fall took him entirely by surprise, even though “a lifetime of falling down dead in the line of professional duty has left me aero­dynamically quite sound”. At night, too, New York’s physical environment put Pennington’s good humour to the test as he struggled with the “nocturnal clanking of radiators” in his apartment – “Still troubled by the radiators’ hissing noise at 3 a.m.”. Towards the end of six and a half weeks of rehearsals, in the spring of 2014 (when there were several other major productions of the play), Pennington finally moved to a different, airier, flat – which proved to have radiators that were equally noisy.


Yet there is no note of complaint here – only witty and good-humoured amusement. As the rehearsals rolled on, Pennington discovered with relief that “I find the fluency I thought I’d lost”. One unusual fascination of King Lear in Brooklyn is its blend of the mysterious ancientness of Lear with this production’s austere and hyper-modern setting in TFANA, New York’s Theatre For A New Audience. Given generous time and dedication, Pennington adjusted himself sensitively to the play’s young woman director, Arin Arbus, a richly variegated cast and the still-in-progress structure of the about-to-open performance space. With typical generosity, Pennington allowed every performer a voice in the ensuing book of the production. It is fascinating for what it tells us both about a hyper-modern rendition of Lear and about a wide variety of effective routes into the text.


A logistical problem arose in the final scene, one that quite often arises in modern productions of Lear. Cordelia is performed by a splendid grown woman, Lilly Englert, who could not physically be carried on stage by the septuagenarian Pennington. It is, of course, important not to raise a laugh at this point, as I suspect Henry Irving may have done occasionally when he trundled the dead Cordelia on stage in a wheelbarrow. But a practical solution was eventually discovered, and it doesn’t appear to have provoked laughter in TFANA:


. . . a long piece of black masking would be hung behind the back row of the central block, with a gap in the middle to allow for a clear route down the runway . . . you might have assumed that Lear was . . . crawling on his belly like the serpent.


As a whole, King Lear in Brooklyn chronicles an actor’s varied and fascinating responses to a major and often problematic play, as with Michael Pennington’s earlier books about Hamlet and Twelfth Night. His openness and generosity evidently set the tone for the whole cast.


Pennington had already contributed a brief account of his “American” Lear to Jonathan Croall’s wide-ranging study, Performing King Lear, where it takes its place among a wealth of accounts of the play – forty-one in all – some of which are “based on . . . unique interviews with twenty of the most dis­tinguished actors to have undertaken this daunting role during the last forty years”. These should provide a very attractive and accessible resource for students and young readers, whether studying Lear or modern performance styles or both.


There is, however, a modern tragedy within the ancient one: Nigel Hawthorne’s imperfect rapport with Yukio Ninagawa, the distinguished Japanese director of the RSC’s Lear in the Barbican, in 1999. I was lucky enough to see that production twice, and found Hawthorne’s performance lucid, memorable and entirely compelling. His surviving script and notes are characteristic:


When Albany says of Lear “He knows not what he says”, Albany is wrong. Lear knows exactly what he’s saying. He knows his sanity comes and goes. 


He knows that Cordelia is dead.


But the production got some poor reviews, and “for Hawthorne the critics’ reaction ‘hurt like a deep knife wound, and I shall never be able to erase it from my mind’”.


Sadly, this turned out to be Hawthorne’s last major performance: he died in 2001.


For literary scholars, the most durable of these three books may prove to be The Great William, Theodore Leinwand’s powerful and subtle investigation of seven “Writers reading Shakespeare”, as the subtitle has it. Leinward turns up a remarkable number of connections between his chosen writers, who include Coleridge, Keats and Virginia Woolf; all of them engage adventurously with the lively immediacy of Shakespeare’s writing.

Shakespeare is apt to bring out the preacher/lecturer in Coleridge, for example:


As the Audience knows that Juliet is not dead, this Scene is, perhaps, excusable – at all events, it is a Strong Warning to minor Dramatists not to introduce at one time many different characters agitated by one and the same Circumstance.


Keats’s responses to Coleridge are discussed and illustrated in the second chapter, along with some lively battles with Johnson – “Fie”! – as well as between youthful poet and long-dead playwright:


Glimpses of Keats, settling, learning, wafting, and prostrate (also underlining, asterisking, and cross-hatching) help us to imagine both a more or less literal physiology of reading and a variety of metaphorical stances towards Shakespeare, any one of which may be our own.


Turning to King Lear once more, Virginia Woolf picks up on the interrogative, conversational rhetoric of her own responses to reading: “Why is there a fool?” she asks. “What does this gibberish mean?” And three troubled American poets – Charles Olson, John Berryman and Allen Ginsberg – have grappled in numerous ways with “The Great William”, at times truly furiously and truly madly: “Olson (like Hughes) writes that scholars are too ‘timid’ to ‘risk’ an edition like the one he has in mind”.


At other times those noisy writers mingle their confusion with considerable delight:


Hours spent studying Shakespeare could feel ruinous to Berryman, but they also made for a salutary discipline (recall Virginia Woolf: “Shall I read King Lear? Do I want such strain on the emotions? I think I do”).


It is Theodore Leinwand’s own deep engagements with “The Great William”, as well as the play’s many recent appearances on stage, that make me wonder whether the period of Hamlet’s unchallenged supremacy is now beginning to give way to fascination with the darker, deeper, grimmer and less resolved age of King Lear. The answer to Virginia Woolf’s question may be that nowadays most of us do “want such strain on the emotions”. This development has not come about because we have all become jaded sensation-seekers, but because we are too grimly aware of our world’s abundance of “poor naked wretches”.




Stylometry as Merit Badge

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.169  Tuesday, 25 April 2017


From:        Jim Carroll <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         April 25, 2017 at 10:11:26 AM EDT

Subject:    Stylometry as Merit Badge


It appears that it has become fashionable for scientific types to involve themselves in studies of literary style. Now Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has a paper on the subject, and Brian Vickers’ “Shakespeare, Co-Author” is cited as an example of a “successful” stylometric analysis. You can’t know how good this makes me feel, given that some of the author affiliations are Harvard (Neandertals were flower children! Negative absolute temperatures!).  The paper is “Quantitative criticism of literary relationships”, 2017 114 (16) E3195-E3204; doi:10.1073/pnas.1611910114. Here’s an excerpt from the abstract:


“Authors often convey meaning by referring to or imitating prior works of literature, a process that creates complex networks of literary relationships (“intertextuality”) and contributes to cultural evolution.  In this paper, we use techniques from stylometry and machine learning to address subjective literary critical questions about Latin literature, a corpus marked by an extraordinary concentration of intertextuality.”


Jim Carroll




Query: New Oxford

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.168  Tuesday, 25 April 2017


From:        Andrew Fleck <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         April 24, 2017 at 2:08:32 PM EDT

Subject:    Query: New Oxford


Dear Friends,


My university is considering whether to purchase various part of the New Oxford Shakespeare. I haven't had a chance to see how they all work up-close and in-person. I wondered whether anyone has had a chance to use them, particularly some of the digital tools/database packaged with them. I'm supposed to write up a justification for whether to acquire these different items and would welcome your input on their usefulness for scholars, for students, and/or for the general public.


With thanks in advance,

Andrew Fleck




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