Hamlet: The Texts of 1603 and 1623. Ed. by Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor. [Vol. 2.] London: Arden Shakespeare. 2007. xvi + 368 pp. 12.99 [pounds sterling]. isbn: 978-1-904271-80-2.
Editors of Shakespeare are often Jekyll and Hyde figures; they may talk at length about the rational principles that underlie their procedures in their introductions, but their practice is characterized by deeply subjective, literary judgements. Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor's edition has no such darker side; its great achievement is to present three texts, consistently and conservatively edited. Essentially, Thompson and Taylor deliver the texts that the arguments in favour of Shakespeare as reviser, and so against conflation, demand. On those terms, their two volumes provide the most accurate editions of the Q1, Q2, and Folio texts (the first and last in the second volume).
Such consistent and conservative editorial practice produces quite radical effects: the Q2 Prince Hamlet now addresses his '"Seems", madam' speech to his 'cold mother' and not his 'good mother'(i. 2. 77); while the Folio prince, apologizing to Laertes in the fencing scene, talks of shooting his arrow over the house and hurting his 'mother' and not his 'brother' (v. 2. 191). Some will relish the changes; some, who have previously argued against conflated texts, may, I suspect, want to reconsider their positions. Thompson and Taylor have catered for such second thoughts; they lay out neatly the arguments for a conflated text. (Indeed, the thoroughness and intellectual modesty with which they survey the various editorial arguments to date is remarkable.) Might they not have provided such a conflated edition? As they point out, they had no need: Harold Jenkins's edition, it seems, might be considered the third volume of the Arden Hamlet.
In the real world of the undergraduate market, almost no one will be reading or buying two, let alone three volumes; they will buy one, and, if they buy an Arden, that will be an edition based on Q2, as Thompson and Taylor believe Q2 to be the most authoritative text. This is the volume that contains the full apparatus; it can be used as a stand-alone, single-volume edition, while the volume containing both Q1 and Folio texts relies on the reader consulting the detailed textual commentary printed with Q2. How attractive, then, is the Arden as a single-volume edition for the student market? The answer depends more on personal preference and pedagogic intent than might be expected.
The reasons for this are twofold. First, there is the introduction. As a bibliographic survey, this is very good, particularly on the critical reception, creative influence, and theatrical history of the play. As a general introduction to Hamlet, it is less satisfactory; it is not just that it gives us the play without the prince, but that it tends to give us the cultural phenomenon without the play. This is a defensible position: Hamlet's afterlife is so rich that some might consider it now the prime object of interest; and, with so many readings of the play, do we really need another? My answer would be that we do in the introduction to a single-volume edition for students. Secondly, there is the textual commentary. As well as having the necessary freight of knowledge, this is also, at times, illuminating, the editors having a sharp eye for metaphor in particular; yet it is also often too ready to intervene and direct. Thorough glossing may be helpful, but a reader should not be told when lines add tension, or when words are said ironically; a good reading needs to work out its own stagings. Thompson and Taylor's Hamlet, then, is the edition of choice for those who dislike conflated texts, and who are interested in the play's literary and theatrical reception. Those who believe the play's the thing may find other editions more useful.
University of Bristol
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|Title Annotation:||Hamlet: The Texts of 1603 and 1623|
|Publication:||Yearbook of English Studies|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2008|
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