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Shakespeare's Modern Collaborators.

Shakespeare's Modern Collaborators, by Lukas Erne. In Shakespeare NOW! Series, edited by Simon Palfrey and Ewan Fernie. New York and London: Continuum, 2008. Pp. 129. Hardcover $90.00, Paperback $19.95.

If every audience is a fiction, Simon Palfrey and Ewan Fernie can be credited with imagining a sympathetic fiction for Shakespeare NOW!, a new series seeking to bridge the gap between the specialized conversations of scholars and the discourse of "regular playgoers, readers, or indeed actors" (ix). Palfrey and Fernie imagine a readership of nonspecialists who both enjoy Shakespearean drama and can be engaged by "powerful, cutting-edge scholarship" articulated in "shareable" language (ix-x). That audience is a sympathetic fiction because it points to a public domain inside which ideas from the academy can circulate energetically, and even more so because it suggests an academy responsible for explaining itself to a public beyond. What a pleasure to conceive of scholars called upon to justify "why [they] are bothered with these things [these Shakespearean plays] in the first place. Why [they] read? Why [they] go to plays? Why . . . they [are] important?" As its scope, then, Shakespeare NOW! promises compact, clearly written, lightly documented volumes by top-notch academics communicating scholarly labors as (what the editors assert they are) "intellectual adventure stories" (x). All this verbiage about fiction has a point, but first it would do well to consider one distinguished contribution to this series in relation to that promise.

Lukas Erne's Shakespeare's Modern Collaborators offers a defensive maneuver as prelude to a ground-clearing operation: against the ordinary person's vision of the editor as harmless drudge and the rival academic view of the editor as harmful obfuscator (pace Michael Warren or Leah Marcus), this short, dispassionate, lucidly argued volume seeks to illuminate the value of a fully mediated, "fully edited" version of the plays (7). It is worth noting the book's dispassion because while its title nods in the direction of sometimes self-indulgent celebrations of the editor as poetic compatriot (i.e., collaborator), Erne's argument is conspicuous for its moderation. Editors give us a more accessible and (important for Erne, author of Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist) a more readable Shakespeare: instead of wearing the poet's pants, Erne's editors spend their time mending textual breeches. And as Erne's first two chapters engagingly recount ("Establishing the Text" and "Framing the Text"), there is much mending to do. Addressing nonspecialists, these chapters describe the editor's job of updating spelling and punctuation, making emendations, and introducing lineation, and act and scene divisions. Even comparatively unexciting discussions about variant names of Shakespeare's characters yield reader-friendly facts about individual figures like Lady Macbeth--universally known as such, but never named "Lady Macbeth." Erne also explains the value of annotations, collations, footnotes, and introductions, and attends to complicated questions of canon selection and play titling. With every new point, a new illustration appears verifying the editor's virtue as mediator of things Shakespearean.

In two more chapters, Erne records contemporary debates about editing stage action--as he details the rise of performance criticism--and current discussions about how to edit (indeed, how to identify) the "real" King Lear. These are the most revealing chapters in the volume, partly because of the complexity of the issues raised--Is the play heavily edited with stage directions an aid to appreciation or an editorial intrusion? Is the reader of Lear better served by a single conflated text or by two different Lears? Partly, too, these are the most revealing chapters because they highlight the virtues and the vices of the Shakespeare NOW! series format. Concise discussion has its appeal, but Erne clearly does not have the necessary space to explain both the complexity of debates about performance-based editing or to illustrate fully his preferred alternative to the performance paradigm in contemporary practice: a new-style "literary" edition enabling readers to visualize both "the staged theatrical representation" and "the represented dramatic fiction"--both Hamlet leaping "under the Stage" and Hamlet leaping "into the Grave" (84-85). Constrained by limits of space, Erne has even less room to clarify why debates about the status of the text as performance script or literary artifact have such currency or to contextualize those debates in relation to the shifting paradigms of scholarly discourse from Foucault (and death-of-the-author deconstruction) to Kastan (and after-theory materialism). If Shakespeare NOW! hopes to create a public discourse that really engages ideas, it needs to provide sufficient space for ideas to be engaged.

More than constraints upon space are at issue. There are also assumptions about that imagined audience of readers that bear questioning, especially as they concern scholarly efforts to address a broader public. After a concise, critical review of editions of Lear from the early modern to the postmodern, Erne notes that in the last twenty-five years "scholarly editors [by virtue of contrasting textual mediations] have produced more than ten radically different Lears and a similar number of Hamlets" (101). That point is preliminary to his claim that "the real Lear no longer exists but has given way to the editor's Lear"--to various editions (that is) as "performances" in print, none of which can ever seek to be definitive (101-2). His ontological argument is as familiar to academics as a footnote. However, to the volume's wider readership, hoping (say) to scarf a cheap online edition from Amazon, the academically familiar is likely to seem strangely disorienting, informed now (as they are) to purchase not one, but two (even ten) Lears with the knowledge that the "real one" doesn't exist. Erne's ontology may be right, but some explanation seems needed about why substituting the "editor's Lear" for what ordinary readers would assume is Shakespeare's Lear is either valuable or useful--valuable or useful to anyone, that is, besides the professionals, commercial and scholarly, who profit from it. Instead, that substitution is presented as a fact of professional life, a construction determined by shifting forces of cultural change and editorial logic. (The "manifold operations" of editing "are often of considerable complexity and continue to be subject to change" [103].) Earlier efforts on Erne's part to argue for the meaning and value of editorial practices give way to arguments from necessity. Could Erne have introduced such arguments? Perhaps so. The fact that he does not speaks to the difficulty of academics--to our collective difficulties--in communicating beyond the walls of the academy (101-2).

We are not accustomed to clarifying the value of what we do to a larger public, to entertaining real, complex discussions about why what we do matters. We are not so accustomed because even in a series like Shakespeare NOW!, edited by academics producing books written by academics for review in a forum read by still more academics, we are still obsessively talking among ourselves and to ourselves--whatever the stated intentions of series editors. The nonspecialist audience of Palfrey and Fernie's introduction is revealed in the conclusion to Erne's volume to be a fiction indeed. "I have written this short book," the conclusion reads, "in the conviction . . . that students have much to gain from their own hands-on editorial experience, an exercise to which this book might serve as prolegomena" (105). Erne's fine book is an excellent prolegomena for academics who would like to teach the complexities of editing (and therefore reading) Shakespeare--and an excellent book for graduate students pursuing that study themselves. It is also, however, a reminder about the limits of academic discourse--even high-quality academic discourse--in communicating across that real gap between scholars and non-specialist readers and audiences of Shakespeare. A truly public discourse is a fiction that contemporary Shakespearean scholars have yet to make real.

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Author:Stillman, Robert E.
Publication:Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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