Few new editions of Shakespeare can deservedly be called 'magisterial', but The Winter's Tale in the New Variorum Shakespeare is one of those happy few. Robert Kean Turner and Virginia Westling Haas have produced a great and glorious piece of scholarship, representing a lifetime or two of detailed research and careful synthesis. After going through its 974 pages with fairly fine combs, a graduate assistant and I found only a paltry number of trivial errors. Although variorums are generally used as research tools rather than reading texts – and the searchable PDF file that comes on a disk bundled with this book will certainly make the vast amounts of data therein more readily accessible – the subtle brilliance of Turner's work also rewards sustained reading.
A New Variorum commentary note standardly provides the most salient remarks of previous critics, interspersed with sometimes lengthy responses by the editor. (In Marvin Spevack’s variorum edition of Antony and Cleopatra, for instance, the fairly typical note on tln 3305 includes forty lines of quotation from critics and an additional twenty-five lines of
commentary from Spevack.)
Turner’s approach, on the other hand, is a model of elegant concision. He tends to preface each critical quotation with a single adverb or, at most, an adverbial phrase. Turner’s adverbs are comparative, evaluative, perspicacious and playful. Moreover, the use of adverbs rather than adjectives signals that the focus is (unapologetically) on the act of criticism, as the voices of commentators through the centuries are introduced with such modifiers as ‘more gently’, ‘less exactly’, ‘oddly’, ‘questionably’, ‘wrongly’, ‘more accurately’, ‘fruitlessly’ and ‘too delicately’. In the rare instances in which he ventures more than a single-word critique, Turner is nonetheless incisive, and often withering: ‘Parry alleges that few people worry about such things, though it is evident that Sh. did.’