Saturday, January 07, 2012

Shakespeare In Print

This is one of those books, like those by Taylor, Greenblatt, Dollimore, et al., that I will have to read in full later on, after I've finished the plays. Andrew Murphy here provides as concise a history as possible of both editing and publishing history of $hakespeare. He does not focus solely on editing or publishing because, as he said, some editions did not sell very well but still had a huge impact on the way we think about editing/$hakespeare; and some texts were not very well edited or unique in their approach, but sold so well and so ubiquitously that they made a huge dent in the history of $hakespeare as a saleable (and readable) commodity.

From what I can tell, Murphy breaks these processes down chronologically into broad-brush phases.

Phase One: Make $hakespeare famous. These editors/collectors, like Heminge and Condell, the collectors of the First Folio, were invested in getting the words of the bard out there, in increasing his fame as a great (the greatest?) English poet/playwright.

Phase Two: Make $hakespeare beautiful. His words are so inspiring, so let's highlight the good ones and emend the bad ones, as Alexander Pope did. Let's also make him elite, a property of the higher classes, the best educated.

Phase Three: Make $hakespeare accessible and popular. These editions were put out in cheaper form without much emendation or critical intervention. The job here is to bring the plays to the people. Everyone should be able to afford and own their own copy of a play, or all the plays, of the most famous (at this point)  English writer.

Phase Four: Make $hakespeare understandable. As he gets more popular and less educated people read him, and as we travel in time away from his era, we need annotations, line numbering, act breaks, dramatis personae lists, to help the average reader make their way through the play.

Phase Five: Make $hakespeare scholarly. Here we need to add as many notes as possible to his works, drawing connections between his works and historical events, possible sources, other works of the time, critical viewpoints. Do we have an edition that includes all known versions yet? No? Let's make one.

Phase Six: Make $hakespeare original. Here the New Bibliographers are gaining/creating a sense of the historical process of writing/publishing, and terms like "foul papers" "promptbook" "quarto/Folio" are gaining credence. The idea here is to dig back through the layers of scribal/publisher/editorial intervention and get to the original text, the work in its purest, least adulterated form.

Phase Seven: Make $hakespeare dead. This is a joke, in the tradition of Barthes idea of the death of the author. In this schema, foul papers and bad quartos and prompter revisions are each a part of the process. There is no ideal or original work and $hakespeare himself is contigent upon the work of others and the process of production (theatrical and literary).

Phase Eight: Make $hakespeare digital. Not sure what this is about yet.

So, that's my broad-brush understanding of the book. As I read it in full, I will come back and emend this hastily drawn up blog, much as $hakespeare and other people in the process emended, revised, and changed the plays that have become a worldwide institution.


Kevin said...

Kate - I like your analysis and breakdown into distinct phases. I'm particularly a fan of phase 7 (Make Shakespeare dead!). Arguably, this was the most influential of the stages in recent history. Particularly in the post-Barthes, post-modernist scholarly environment. The digital Shakespeare movement seems to reinforce the instability of the text. It does not often favor one text/edition over others, but treats each edition with equal merit. I am interested to consider how the digital movement will effect the way in which we read/interpret Shakespeare differently.

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