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The Riverside Shakespeare, 2d ed.

General and textual ed., G. Blakemore Evans. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. xx + 2057 pp. $59.95. ISBN: 0-395-85822-4.

Three new or revised one-volume editions of Shakespeare have appeared in 1997. I suppose they are mainly used by students who lug one or other of them in dangerous back-packs into class. Teachers may like them because they can select any range of plays for study, and because students who start using such an edition may be tempted to read more widely in Shakespeare's plays. The new second edition of The Riverside Shakespeare comes with a publisher's blurb claiming that it has been "For decades hailed as the definitive modern Shakespeare." It is neither "definitive" (what edition could be?), nor "modern," if by "modern" is meant up to date - though when the first Riverside appeared in 1974 it set a standard for a well-illustrated, carefully edited one-volume edition, with all kinds of supplementary material to provide the user with relevant information. But is it, as the blurb goes on, "the beautiful cornerstone of any home library"? The image of a "cornerstone" is perhaps not inappropriate given the size and weight of the book. The first Riverside had 1927 pages plus preliminaries; the revised version, which can be had in two volumes, has 2096 pages. Cornerstones are often monumental, and once set in place they usually stay put; but I don't suppose that in using this term the publishers were thinking of the effort needed to hoist the Riverside on to a desk or table.

It seems as though the commercial cliche "the bigger the better" rules in the marketing of one-volume Shakespeares. It is not clear to me why this should be so. In the updated fourth edition of The Complete Works of Shakespeare, David Bevington as editor explains that he has not printed two texts of King Lear in part because to do so would "add considerably to the cost and bulk of a one-volume Shakespeare" (vi). Questions of bulk and cost all the same did not prevent him from expanding this updated edition from 1648 to 1706 pages, not counting the general introductions or the additions in the appendices. The volume is swollen by the inclusion for the first time of The Two Noble Kinsmen and "A Funeral Elegy for Master William Peter." The first Riverside included The Two Noble Kinsmen as jointly authored by Shakespeare and Fletcher, and the latest edition, also expanded, adds Edward III, a play of disputed authorship, and the "Funeral Elegy," which many scholars do not believe was written by Shakespeare. If students and teachers are the main users, it seems strange that these editions would compete by growing bulkier and by adding texts that few students are likely to look at.

The third newly published one-volume edition is The Norton Shakespeare, with Stephen Greenblatt as general editor. The text is derived "with very few changes" from The Oxford Shakespeare, general editors Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, published in 1986. This means that the text is thoroughly modernized and theatrical versions are preferred over authorial ones: "the Oxford editors prefer, when there is a choice, copy based on the prompt-book to copy based on the author's own draft" (72) . The Oxford edition was notable for introducing a great many new stage directions, and although these sometimes clutter the page confusingly, they are, on the whole, a great improvement over most previous editions. Students who have little experience of theater can find it difficult to make sense of dialogue exchanged between a group of characters, and they are helped especially by directions that tell them when a character is directing words to another one amongst a group on stage; so the Norton has numerous directions of the "to HAMLET" kind.

The aim of the Norton edition is to present the Oxford Complete Works "in a way that would make the text more accessible to modern readers" (74). The changes made in the Norton are significant. One is the addition of marginal glosses and paraphrases at the foot of the page. A second is the insertion into the text of Hamlet of quarto passages (1603, 1604) not found in the Folio, but here identified by being printed in italic; in the Oxford edition, these lines were printed after the Folio text as "Additional Passages." A third is the inclusion not only of separate quarto (1608) and Folio texts of King Lear, as in the Oxford, but in addition, a conflated text. A fourth change is the restoration of some character names, such as Falstaff, altered from Oldcastle in the Oxford edition. Finally, the Norton edition includes some poems of dubious authorship, recently ascribed to Shakespeare, notably the song beginning "Shall I die? shall I fly," and "A Funeral Elegy." This edition is printed with a single column of text on the page, in a smaller format than the Riverside and Bevington editions, and runs to 3400 pages. The publishers have kept the weight down by using a light-weight paper that is almost transparent and puckers or scrunches up rather easily.

In the Norton edition the plays are arranged not in the order of the First Folio as comedies, histories, and tragedies, but in order of their supposed chronology - I say supposed because there is insufficient evidence to establish the sequence with certainty. Furthermore, the titles of some plays are changed, so that, for instance, 2 Henry VI becomes The First Part of the Contention of the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster, a title derived from the quarto of 1594, which seems to be an abbreviated acting version, probably a memorial reconstruction. The control text nevertheless for the Oxford and Norton editions is the longer Folio version, so that the use of the earlier title may be confusing. In a similar way, 3 Henry VI becomes Richard Duke of York after the octavo edition of 1595, which also may be a memorial reconstruction. The student user of the Norton volume may be very puzzled to find 1 Henry VI printed after Titus Andronicus, which follows the second and third parts of Henry VI, although "No one knows for certain whether these plays were written before or after 1 Henry VI" (436). The poems are intercalated amongst the plays, King John comes after Richard II, Hamlet precedes Twelfth Night, the Sonnets follow Troilus and Cressida, Coriolanus comes after Pericles, and The Winter's Tale before Cymbeline.

The effect of this reordering is disconcerting. The Merry Wives of Windsor appears between the two parts of Henry IV, and Much Ado about Nothing is printed between 2 Henry IV and Henry V. This rearrangement of the works, like the inclusion of three versions of King Lear, is in some measure a deliberate attempt to destabilize the works of Shakespeare, and to stress process over product, in conformity with much current theorizing about editing. Textual theorists argue that multiple or indeterminate texts that provoke resistance should be preferred to unproblematic, stable texts. The aim of the editor, it is said, should be related to the idea of un-editing, of undoing the accretions of past scholarship in order to reveal and compensate for the stranglehold of an editorial tradition derived from the eighteenth century. This aim may seem fine in theory, but in practice has little relevance to students who have a limited experience of studying Shakespeare's works.

Fortunately, as it happens, one-volume editions cannot do much to destabilize play-texts other than the somewhat random reordering and renaming of plays that marks the Norton edition. Only one play, King Lear, is presented in multiple versions in this edition, as a kind of showcase for a play in process. Other plays that exist in variant quarto and Folio texts, such as Othello and Henry V, are presented in a single conflated text, as is Hamlet, though in this text quarto passages are printed in italic. King Lear is treated as a special case, so that the unwary reader might think its textual differences unparalleled and quite different from those in other plays. The quarto and Folio versions are printed on facing pages, but in modernized texts, and each of them is corrected against the other, so that they have only a limited usefulness for readers who wish to study the differences between them. The inclusion of three texts of this play seems, in other words, to be a gesture towards acknowledging instability, the equivalent of saying, "Look how up to date we are!" The Norton edition is inconsistent in this regard, inevitably, because of "the economics of publishing and the realities of bookbinding" (xii). The Oxford edition was issued with very brief prefaces to the plays, no notes at all on the page, and a simple glossary at the end of the volume. This made sense in an edition that drew attention to its rejection of conventional ways of ordering and presenting the texts of the plays. In the Norton edition, the addition of introductions and annotations to each play actually tends to reinstate the fixities that the edition ostensibly rejects.

In the updated fourth edition of The Complete Works of Shakespeare, David Bevington, the general editor, offers a further reason why he has not printed two texts of King Lear. it is because to do so might "ask the student reader to deal with complex textual issues before the reader has had a chance to become acquainted with the play." This statement indicates the commonsensical awareness of this edition that it is designed primarily for students. Textual notes are placed in the back of the volume, with simple indications of the "copy text," and with no explanation why, for instance, the quarto is chosen for 1 Henry IV and the Folio for Henry V, but probably few students concern themselves with such matters. The plays are grouped chronologically by genre roughly in accordance with the arrangement in the Folio, as comedies, histories, tragedies, and romances, an arrangement which is convenient for teaching purposes, and helps students to see thematic relations between, for instance, the history plays.

As do the Norton editors, Bevington thoroughly modernizes the texts, and the latest update is improved by the expansion of contractions like "lov'd" to "loved," and the use of accents to indicate a final "-ed" that scansion requires to be voiced. Of the three editions, only the Riverside has resisted modernization of this kind. The Riverside also remains cluttered with a range of archaisms over which many a reader stumbles. In Hamlet, for example, "inbark'd," from Q1, is preferred to "imbark't" (F) or the modern form "embarked" at 1.3.1; "studient" (Q1) is printed rather than "student" (F) at 1.2.177; "incestious" from Q1 rather than "incestuous" (F), and "bedred," which G. Blakemore Evans, the textual editor, believes to be Shakespeare's spelling, for "bedrid" (Q1 and F) . The intention is to suggest "the kind of linguistic climate" in which Shakespeare wrote (68), but the selection is arbitrary, and the effect puzzling for students who have enough problems anyway with Shakespeare's often difficult language.

At the same time, the Riverside is the most thorough in dealing with textual problems. The textual notes that follow each play have been expanded, sometimes considerably, as, for instance, in the case of 2 Henry VI, to take notice of recent work. This edition also is the only one to alert the reader to editorial choices of words or phrases by the use of brackets, as in the line, "How [weary], stale, flat, and unprofitable." where "weary" (F) is preferred to "wary" (Q2). The editor's love of what he takes to be Shakespeare's archaic forms, however, produces some inconsistencies, as in this same speech he does not bracket "sallied" in "O that this too too sallied flesh would melt," in spite of the often preferred variant "solid" in E The Norton also prints textual variants after each play, but only those from the control text, which can be confusing where the control text includes "additional passages" from some other source, as in the case of 2 Henry IV. Also, the notes in the Norton can reflect a particular view rather than a statement of a problem, as in King Lear, 1.1.159, where the note on the speech prefix reads "s.p. ALBANY and CORDELIA Alb<any>. Cor<delia>." Both Bevington and the Riverside prefer to interpret the speech prefix "Cor." (F; not in Q) as an abbreviation of Cornwall, rather than Cordelia, but the Norton textual notes ignore this possibility. (Oddly, the conflated text of this play in the Norton, separately edited by Barbara K. Lewalski without textual notes, also assigns "Dear sir, forbear" at this point to Albany and Cornwall.)

The Riverside and Bevington editions have glosses at the foot of their double-column pages. In the Riverside lines are numbered by fives, and the reader searches for a note as need be. In Bevington's edition the numbering of lines indicates a note, so that the user's attention is drawn to the presence of a gloss. The Norton tries a new way, with glosses printed in the margins against the line, and longer paraphrases at the foot of the page. The Riverside seems to say to its readers, "we assume you can understand most of the text, but if you need an explanation, look for it at the bottom of the page." The Bevington and Norton editions (with students in mind, no doubt) appear rather to warn, "you may not understand this line unless you look at the gloss we have marked for you."

Glossing the text of a play by Shakespeare is no easy matter, given the rich wordplay and nuances of his language, and editors will differ in their emphases. Consider, for example, the word "hell" in Lear's famous misogynistic attack on women:

But to the girdle do the gods inherit, Beneath is all the fiend's. There's hell, there's darkness . . . (4.6.126-7)

This is glossed as follows:

Norton: "Shakespeare's frequent term for the female genitals" Riverside: "Traditional slang for the female genitals" Bevington: No note.

The Norton note is doubly misleading: first, because it suggests that Shakespeare was a misogynist himself, when it is a character speaking these words; and second, because in Shakespeare's works "hell" in fact rarely has anything to do with female genitals and has many metaphorical applications. The Riverside note is also misleading; in slang usage "hell" could refer to many things, to prisons or any dark hole or place of suffering. So Bevington does well to leave this line to the imagination of its readers.

The Bevington edition, on the whole, seems in fact to be the most fully glossed, spotting difficulties that the other editions ignore, as in "Be it lawful I take up what's cast away" (King of France in King Lear, 1.1.257), explained "if it be"; the other two editions have no note on this subjunctive. Bevington also sees a difficulty in Cordelia's line, "But even for want of that for which I am richer" (1.1.234), but supplies only the somewhat odd note on "for which" as meaning "for want of which." At least this is an attempt to help with a line that could puzzle a modern reader, though a note explaining "even for want" as roughly equivalent to "simply for lack" might have been more useful, in commenting on the two words that have changed in meaning since Shakespeare's time. The Norton and Riverside again have no note at this point. One more example: at 1.4.68 Lear attributes his sense of a neglect on the part of Goneril's servants to his "jealous curiosity," which the Norton glosses as "paranoid concern with niceties." "Paranoid" strikes me as overpitched; if Lear were paranoid here, he would have done something about the problem. Bevington has "over scrupulous regard for matters of etiquette," which is much better, as explaining why Lear has not acted. The Riverside has no note here.

The Bevington edition gets high marks for its glosses, but not for the introductions to the plays, which are the simplest and most basic in the three editions; the best of them perhaps are those prefacing the history plays. The introductions describe the main characters, treating them as "persons," and comment on basic themes in the plays. They tend to tell the reader what to think rather than bring out ambiguities: "In her final testing Isabella shows greatness of spirit" (406) "these two persons [Othello and Desdemona] represent married love at its very best" (1120); Henry V "manages always to be true to himself' (851); "Lear is sadly deficient in self-knowledge (1169); the great lesson "of savouring life's pleasures while one is still young has not been learned by Orsino and Olivia at the start of Twelfth Night" (327); "Shylock is unquestionably sinister" (180); Imogen is, "like Helena and Desdemona before her, a virtuous woman who responds to her undeserved tribulations with forbearance" (1436). It is not really fair to extract odd sentences in this way, but they perhaps illustrate something of what I mean. Should we take Regan's assertion about Lear at face value? Is Shylock "unquestionably sinister"? Should any of these statements pass unquestioned? Well, they may feed, but they will not challenge students who are coming to the plays for the first time to think for themselves.

Like Bevington's edition, the second edition of the Riverside Shakespeare retains the Folio arrangement by genre, as well as the glosses and introductions to the plays found in the first edition of 1974. These introductions vary in kind according to their authors, and here the weakest are those to the histories written by Herschel Baker, who appears to think well only of the Henry IV plays; Richard III is for him "mainly rough apprentice work," while in Henry V Shakespeare "had to try for grandeur - and settle for the grandiose" (977-78). The best are those to the comedies by Anne Barton and those to the tragedies by Frank Kermode. These are more wide-ranging and incisive than Bevington's; in relation to Much Ado about Nothing, for example, both editions comment on the plotting of the play and the pairs of lovers, but Barton goes further to take up the dramatic weighting of the "confrontation with death" in the play, and to consider in some detail the importance of Dogberry in relation to the play's treatment of language. The introductions in the Riverside are more likely to caution against a simple reading, and are also more demanding in their range of reference. In his account of King Lear, for instance, Frank Kermode summons a roll-call of critics writing in the 1950s and 1960s, including Kenneth Muir, John Holloway, L.C. Knights, C.J. Sisson, Ernst Kantorowicz, Enid Welsford, and Norman Maclean, in relation to his primary concern with the issue of justice in the play. Nevertheless, his introductions to the tragedies, like Anne Barton's thoughtful and complex prefaces to the comedies, remain helpful and interesting. Neither edition has made any attempt to update these introductions to the plays, but this may not matter for undergraduate courses.

The Norton edition is the most "modern" in the sense of having the newest introductions to the plays. Instead of the usual assignment of comedies to women and tragedies to men, as in the Riverside, here a woman, Jean Howard, writes about Julius Caesar, and a man, Stephen Greenblatt, introduces Much Ado About Nothing. Their introductions are marked by changing perceptions of gender and cross-dressing, and more generally, a resistance to traditional readings. In relation to the comedies especially, the Norton introductions seek out darker resonances of meaning and give little sense of the sheer joyousness of the plays as acted. Stephen Greenblatt, for instance, looks closely at the language of Much Ado and finds it "saturated with violence" (1384). He casts doubt on whether Benedick and Beatrice are really in love at the end, taking a jaundiced view of marriage as "a social conspiracy." Writing on As You Like It, in pages displaying sixteenth-century illustrations of female sex organs, Jean Howard argues that female cross-dressing "always threatened to expose the artifice of gender distinctions" and for her "erotic possibilities" in the play "never seem to stop" (1596). So she suspects that Rosalind may be dallying not only with Orlando, but with Phoebe, while Celia may be in love with Rosalind, since their friendship "is remarkably close."

These introductions, some also contributed by Walter Cohen and Katherine Eisaman Maus, are generally intelligent and sophisticated, if sometimes committed to a particular way of reading the plays, as in Greenblatt's interesting commentary on "the communitarian spirit of language, and with it a sense of the inescapability of the social" in Romeo and Juliet (869). Oddly, in an edition which boasts of the preference, taken over from the Oxford Shakespeare, for printing texts based on prompt-copy or what they regarded as the "theatrical embodiment" of a play (72), there is not much concern with staging or performance in the introductions to individual plays. These introductions seem aimed at teachers rather than students. The zealous junior slogging his way through sentences such as "Even with the general darkening of tone, the play eschews a homogenized outlook" (Cohen on Troilus and Cressida, 1827) might well give up: "Hey, prof, what's 'eschews'?" Equally, the sophomore tackling Julius Caesar might puzzle over the notion that its characters are "not entirely free to invent themselves; they are limited to the cultural materials at hand" (1529). How do characters in a play "invent themselves"? And what are "cultural materials"? The introductions can be a bit opaque in this way.

The general introduction to the Norton edition has sections on "The Fetishism of Dress" (rather than "Costume" or "Disguise") and "The Paradoxes of Identity" (rather than Bevington's "The Nature of Humankind"), reflecting concerns that have invaded critical writings on Shakespeare in recent years, and have affected ideas about character and dress. The Norton edition, in other words, is of its time, and the only one that can claim to be up-to-date in these introductions. It remains to be seen whether, with its materialist and feminist loading, it will age as gracefully as the other two. The introductions in Bevington and Riverside are, I suspect, more accessible to students, while those in the Norton may better energize instructors. The Bevington and Norton editions differ in their approach, but both have wide-ranging general introductions that locate Shakespeare's life and works in relation to the history and ideas of his age. The Norton adds a well-illustrated appendix, "The Shakespearean Stage" by Andrew Gurr, which takes note of the reconstructed Globe on Bankside. The general introduction in the Riverside focuses much more closely on Shakespeare, and the latest version includes a very good new essay on twentieth-century Shakespeare criticism by Heather Dubrow.

There is something paradoxical about these one-volume Shakespeares. They keep adding new material - works of dubious authorship, three texts of King Lear, more commentaries and appendices - as if striving for a completeness that can never be attained: Greenblatt ends his general introduction by asserting "with Shakespeare, the boundaries are and must remain forever open" (76). It is as if Shakespeare has become an infinite space for further exploration. The Bevington edition alone claims to contain The Complete Works, though the updated fourth edition is more "complete" than its predecessor by about a hundred pages. Yet these volumes are addressed basically to students, most of whom are probably not going even to look at more than a handful of texts. They become heavier with each updating, making it more work for students to carry them to class. They inform readers about the Elizabethan stage, but treat the plays as texts to be read, even when, as in the case of the Norton, there is a modish vision of the plays as "working scripts . . . written primarily for the stage" (Greenblatt, 68-69). They enshrine the idea of Shakespeare as a universal genius, though the Norton rejects the authority of the solitary writer in favor of a concept of the plays as "part of a collaborative commercial enterprise" (68). But evidently they satisfy a demand, and since they manage to be so different from one another, each will no doubt continue to have its following. if only we could have the glosses in the Bevington edition, combined with the best of the introductions in the Riverside and Norton editions, the design of the Riverside, with its generous margins, the ancillary materials from the Norton, and Dubrow's essay from the Riverside . . . but no; let's be grateful to have a choice. Given the steady increase in the size of these editions, it will be interesting to see whether the one-volume Arden edition, due to be published in the Fall of 1998, will compete with them; it will include the poems, the Folio plays, and The Two Noble Kinsmen, in alphabetical order with brief introductions and a glossary, and will run to a modest 1350 pages.

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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Foakes, R.A.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 1998
Previous Article:Heavyweight Shakespeare.
Next Article:The Complete Works of Shakespeare, 4th ed.

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