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The Oxford Shakespeare: Othello.

The Oxford Shakespeare: Othello. Ed. by Michael Neill. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 2006. x + 491 pp. 61 [pounds sterling]. isbn: 978-0-19-812920-2.

Michael Neill's Othello is an impressive edition that presents and illuminates Shakespeare's play in a manner that is both accessible and informative. He provides a rigorously annotated version of the play and extensive accompanying scholarly apparatus, such as appendices on the play's dating, Bruno Ferraro's translation of Gli Hecatommithi, and an essay by Linda Phyllis Austern on the music in the play.

Neill also includes in the appendices a substantial essay on the editions of the play and his own editorial principles. Assuming the 1623 First Folio version (F) to be the most reliable of the early texts and choosing it as his copy text, Neill restores all significant passages that appear in the first quarto of 1622 (Q) and also compares both texts with the second quarto of 1630 (Q2). Though suggesting that many of Q's peculiarities may be theatrical in origin, he does not reject the potential additions of the playing company in an attempt to establish an authoritative and stable text, but instead, interestingly, he negotiates between his New Biographical impetus and a view of the playtext as a collaborative effort to contend that the 'theatrical work [i]s an infinitely variable diachronic phenomenon' (p. 410). Admitting that the New Biographical ambition is 'hopelessly chimerical' (p. 409) and the author's final intentions a 'fiction of the modern imagination' (p. 431), Neill nonetheless strives to reconstruct the author's text while simultaneously retaining and highlighting variations in his notes. He concludes by cautioning that this text, like any other, 'is to some extent a synthetic creature, shaped by editorial judgements and aesthetic preferences that are inevitably the product of a particular time and place' (p. 432).

This caution is unnecessary, however, as Neill's presentation of clear notes below the edited text, which highlight additions or minor alterations (only spelling is silently modernized), and an appendix outlining alterations made to lineation constantly elucidate his editorial judgements. A second set of footnotes also provides a detailed commentary on the play, offering definitions, historical background, and possible interpretations. This is complemented by yet another appendix, which offers longer notes on items such as Othello's traveller's tales, rendering this an outstanding edition for students and scholars.

The extensive and lively introduction to the edition further provides for this dual audience. Opening with Edward Pechter's claim that this is a tragedy for the present generation, Neill concurs with many recent approaches to Othello by locating this appeal in the play's tracing of cultural, religious, and ethnic animosities. Yet Neill goes further, proposing that it is a 'foundational document in the history of "race"' (p. 1). Indeed race, its history, and Othello's central location in this history structure the introduction, a point noted by Neill himself as he moves into a subsection on 'Playing Black' when outlining the play's performance history (p. 40). Such an approach renders this a compelling and detailed account of the performance history of Othello, accompanied by pertinent illustrations, and is one of the major strengths of the edition. Although a brief and dismissive account of screen versions (pp. 59-60) is a slight weakness within this, the stage history provided is impressive and draws out diverse local and international historical contexts.

The introduction also attends to the characters and language more generally, to the themes of service and gender, and offers a history of criticism on the play from Thomas Rymer's seventeenth-century comment through to late twentieth-century approaches such as that of Virginia Vaughan. Overall, this remarkable edition is loaded with accessible information in its introduction, notes, and appendices, which draw out the complexities of the play and its history.

Edel Lamb

University College Dublin
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Author:Lamb, Edel
Publication:Yearbook of English Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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