Textual Performances: The Modern Reproduction of Shakespeare's Drama.
The history of the book has been a hot subject in literary studies for several years now, and its popularity among early modern scholars shows no sign of diminishing. The 2006 MLA convention, for instance, featured no less than three sessions devoted to the topic courtesy of the Renaissance literature division. The new collection Textual Performances, edited by Lukas Erne and Margaret Jane Kidnie, deals mainly with one of the perhaps less happening corners of textual criticism: editorial practice. Nonetheless, it is as timely as any of the more cutting edge work being done on book history. This volume should be of interest to anyone who teaches Shakespeare or Renaissance drama on a regular basis, or who cares about how this drama circulates in the world today. Its most pressing questions concern the material traces of these plays as they have come down to us in printed, and more rarely manuscript sources, and how we convert those traces to editions for students, scholars, performers, and general readers. The collection admirably serves as both a primer on the development of what might be called "meta-editorial" scholar- ship in Renaissance drama, as well as an example of some of the most current thinking on editorial decisions.
The thirteen essays in Textual Performances cover a range of topics, from the production of electronic editions of early modern plays to the loaded issue of inferring and inserting stage directions in play texts. With the exception of Leah S. Marcus's essay on editing Othello, there are few if any truly controversial arguments to be found in Textual Performances. Most of the essays seek merely to highlight and de-familiarize some particular aspect of editorial practice, and perhaps offer alternatives to choices that have hardened into critical orthodoxy. The collection is willing to pose questions and offer solutions without being programmatic. The essays tend to call for a more openended approach to editing texts, an approach that cedes authority from editors to readers, or, as some of the essays prefer to term the consumers of play texts, "users."
Essays by H. R. Woudhuysen, Paul Werstine, and Ernst Honigmann nicely survey some of the major figures whose editing practices and philosophies continue to shape the production of texts today, such as W. W. Greg, A. E. Houseman, R. B. McKerrow, and A. W. Pollard. Such mapping of the history of editing the Renaissance allows great insight into many features of edited texts we might assume to be "natural." For instance, Werstine critiques instances where early editors assumed that repetition in a text meant corruption, and therefore found it necessary to determine which lines should be eliminated and which preserved. Michael Warren also usefully takes issue with a tradition of perceived textual corruption and subsequent editorial intervention in the specific case of Coriolanus and its unnamed citizens. The sum idea of this group of essays points to the need for continual reevaluation of the criteria by which editors determine which available texts are "good" and which are "bad," decisions that provide the foundations for the editions they produce.
Sonia Massai brings us into the electronic age with her excellent essay on an Internet Shakespeare Edition of Edward III she recently prepared. Massai is optimistic about the possibilities for editing that electronic media allow, such as the use of animated types to show textual variants with greater flexibility than would be possible in a print edition. A fascinating counter point to Massai's piece comes toward the end of the volume in John Lavagnino's more skeptical take on editing in the digital age. Lavagnino airs fundamental but easily overlooked concerns about, for instance, the display on computer screens, and concludes that "the highly developed technology of the book is not easy to improve upon" (203). While by no means in direct opposition, taken together these papers form a stimulating starting point for a real discussion about the future of electronic editing.
Kidnie and John D. Cox in separate essays take on the challenging question of stage directions and their place in modern editions, especially those designed with student readers in mind. Kidnie puts forth a novel mode of layout in presenting stage directions--both those provided by the original documents and those inserted by subsequent editors--that moves them to the margins of the page and thus, she argues, allows a reader-user more leeway to determine how physical action, entrances, and exits will take place in their own imagined or actual performances. Cox echoes the call for less intrusive stage directions and thus a more "open" text. Alongside these somewhat radical calls for "un-editing" is David Bevington's more moderate take on modern spelling. Bevington surveys a host of examples where modernizing spelling can obscure original connotations and instances of polyvalence, but ultimately concludes with the "bold, but not too bold" assertion that the "benefits [of modernizing the spelling] outweigh the costs by making early modern texts more available to readers in terms of today's idioms" (157). The volume includes also a collaborative piece by Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor on generating a cast list that assumes doubling in original stagings of Hamlet. This may well be the most eccentric essay in the book. Like all casting charts for Shakespeare plays it is necessarily speculative, as the authors freely admit. But as they point out, such questions are more than quaint exercises, for questions of casting have been a central part of efforts to make sense of the Quarto/Folio divisions in textual studies of Hamlet. Textual Performances concludes with a witty essay by Barbara Hodgdon on producing editions with an eye toward stage performance. It is a meditative piece on the new possibilities enabled by a "paradigm shift" (219) in editorial practices that Hodgdon sees happening now. It is a fitting end to the collection for it is consciously an exercise in problem posing rather than an attempt to preserve or enact rules.
It is only Marcus's essay, as I alluded to earlier, that presents a more forceful critique of editing on political grounds. Marcus claims that the Folio version of Othello is more laced with racial "virulence" (30) than the quarto, and that this difference deserves to be better studied, perhaps even in the parallel text tradition of King Lear and Hamlet. The argument as sketched out here is not yet convincing--part of it depends on the assumption that Roderigo, one of the stupidest and easily the most pathetic dupe in the Shakespeare canon, might speak for Shakespeare's own views on the essential meaning of skin color--but it is a worthwhile line of inquiry that reminds us how high the stakes can be when it comes to editorial decisions.
As any teacher of Shakespeare can attest from the catalogs and examination copies that clog up departmental mailboxes, there is no shortage of new and constantly repackaged Shakespeare editions in assorted series from sundry presses. And yet one cannot help but be struck by the sameness amid the seemingly various editions. A fascinating but underdeveloped critique of the status quo that emerges in Textual Performances implicates the rigidities of the publishing industry and the very concept of the "house style" for limiting the ways texts can be presented. A house style assumes that all early modern plays followed the same rules and can thus be converted to the modern print idiom en masse through a uniform, prescribed textual scheme. But we know this is not the case: some plays have come down to us in only one text; others exist in many texts from their era. Some feature heavy stage directions; most are light on the specifics of how physical action can be juxtaposed with spoken language. Given such discrepancy, it seems logical that each play a publisher brings out should be treated according to the specificities of its own condition. This would obviously pose many difficulties for publishers in terms of the logistics of coordinating editorial work and in terms of the physical production of editions. Yet, Textual Performances implies, it is time to consider whether the benefits of giving editors freedom to imagine how their plays might be presented outside the restrictions of a house style sheet could outweigh the hassle.
Along with the recent volume In Arden: Editing Shakespeare: Essays in Honour of Richard Proudfoot (2003), with which it shares some contributors and some conceptual elements, Textual Performances alerts us to issues that we should never lose sight of when working with drama from Shakespeare's era. The title of Textual Performances itself helps to frame some larger concerns about the texts that scholars, teachers, students, and general readers employ: if editions are considered "performances" by an editor, they lose some claim to definitive, authoritative status. Like all performances, they become interpretations--in many cases one of many--based on conscious choices that necessarily suppress alternatives. Textual Performances is successful in, to extend the terminology, going "backstage" in the editing process to bring out into the open some of the assumptions, debates, traditions, and innovations that have been bustling behind the curtain of textual scholarship for the last century or so. Most importantly, this volume opens the door for more discussion and debate about what to do at the editing table or keyboard once we've seen what goes on backstage.
Reviewer: BRIAN WALSH
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|Publication:||Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2008|
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