For the first time in fifty-four years, the editors of Shakespeare Survey have devoted an issue to ‘Editing Shakespeare’. Perhaps they are motivated by a concern that has been gaining in currency since at least as early as 1988, when Randall McLeod chose ‘Crisis in Editing’ as the theme for the annual Conference on Editorial Problems at the University of Toronto. The Division of the Kingdoms had appeared five years earlier and McLeod’s own ‘UN Editing Shak-speare’ a year before that; but ‘Crisis in Editing’ extended its claims beyond the special problems of the Lear text or any particular quarrel with received opinion to suggest that editing itself was in a critical condition.
This idea, in one form or another, has been in regular circulation ever since. In 1993, Margreta de Grazia and Peter Stallybrass, reflecting on the proliferation of Lear versions, foresaw ‘a radical change indeed’ not just in textual criticism but in all forms of Shakespearian practice. ‘As a result of this multiplication, Shakespeare studies will never be the same.’ The editors of two recent collections on editorial matters claim we are in the midst of a transformation analogous to the sweeping institutional and conceptual revolutions – the new maps, the Reformation, print dissemination – of the Renaissance itself. Implicit in these momentous re-enactments is the notion of a paradigm shift and, in the most recent Cambridge Companion, Barbara Mowat adopts this idea as the organizing principle for her analysis, concluding with a catalogue of the recently produced ‘paradigm-threatening’ critiques as a result of which ‘hardly a “fact” supporting New Bibliographical assumptions remains standing’.