ENGL 518 A: Shakespeare

Editing Shakespeare

Meeting Time: 
MW 11:30am - 1:20pm
SAV 162
William Streitberger

Syllabus Description:

(More of a lab than a traditional seminar. Prerequisites: an interest in Shakespeare’s texts.

Requirements: lead class discussions as assigned based on reports or reading; practice in editing based on various theories; write a substantial essay on a course related subject.)

We’ll examine the main paradigm shifts in editing Shakespeare’s texts from the late 18th century to the present and trace their influence in editions commonly available today. We’ll begin with Cappell and Malone in the late 18th century who determined that over a dozen plays in the First Folio had been printed from earlier quartos. From that time on the folio and quartos—rather than the later editions-- have become the basis for editions of Shakespeare’s plays. A paradigm shift in the early 20th century was inspired by the work of Pollard, Greg, and McKerrow who argued that most of the quartos and some the folio plays were printed directly from what they theorized were “foul papers”’ and “prompt books”. Borrowing techniques from classical and medieval manuscript editing the New Bibliographers produced editions purported to be closer to what Shakespeare actually wrote than any of the surviving printed texts. Many editions still in circulation are products of this method, which is often called eclectic editing. In the 1980s another paradigm shift was inspired by scholars, like William B. Long, and editors, like Werstein, Bate, Rassumsen, and Mowat, who doubted the New Bibliographical theories about “foul papers” and “prompt copies”. Rejecting the notion that manuscript origins could be identified or that relationships between Shakespeare’s early texts could be certainly determined, they evaluated the quality of surviving texts and chose the one requiring the least editorial emendation as copy text for their editions. In classical and biblical editing this is called the “best text” theory. Over the past thirty years or so in English departments it is most often referred to as “versioning” or “single text editing”. Many current editions of Shakespeare’s plays employ this method.

Eventually we’ll move on to consider whether another paradigm shift might be in the offing. All theories of editing from the late eighteenth century to the present are shaped by Romantic notions of Shakespeare’s presiding authorial genius or at least by the notion that the plays are finished, organically whole texts. Recently scholars (Palfrey, Stern, Massai) have argued that plays were more likely composed of a number of elements, not all of which were under the supervision of the playwright. While he may have written the detachable “parts” distributed to the players for rehearsal, he may not have devised the plot, nor would he necessarily have written the songs, and possibly not even the prologues, epilogues, choruses, and other set pieces. The play was an event composed of a number of elements brought together in performance. We’ll consider what impact this notion might have in editing.

Last updated: 
October 26, 2018 - 4:28pm