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There is a conflict within Shakespeare studies about seemingly new methods that count things in the plays and poems, or about the plays and poems. In this article, I will argue that methods employing numbers are nothing new in Shakespeare studies, so we should be used to them; fears that a kind of numerology is invading the discipline are mistaken. And I will argue that the conflicts really arise not over the understanding of numbers but over the understanding of words. I will offer practical advice on how those unfamiliar with this area of Shakespearian research may distinguish reliable from unreliable investigations, taking in aspects of probability, best practices in using digital texts and tools, and the need to demonstrate any new method’s power to make discriminations we care about.
We know Shakespeare's writings only from imperfectly-made early editions, from which editors struggle to remove errors. The New Bibliography of the early twentieth century, refined with technological enhancements in the 1950s and 1960s, taught generations of editors how to make sense of the early editions of Shakespeare and use them to make modern editions. This book is the first complete history of the ideas that gave this movement its intellectual authority, and of the challenges to that authority that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s. Working chronologically, Egan traces the struggle to wring from the early editions evidence of precisely what Shakespeare wrote. The story of another struggle, between competing interpretations of the evidence from early editions, is told in detail and the consequences for editorial practice are comprehensively surveyed, allowing readers to discover just what is at stake when scholars argue about how to edit Shakespeare.
Our account of editorial theory and practice has almost arrived at the present, so the remaining contributions form essentially the current state of the debate and will be treated thematically. We begin with an examination of how New Textualism has influenced mainstream Shakespeare studies – the new series it spawned having already been discussed (pp. 190–7 above) – and then consider the effect of Lukas Erne's powerful and as yet unanswered argument that Shakespeare was not exclusively a man of the theatre, being concerned also with his growing readership. The closing remarks address the future of the theory and practice of editing Shakespeare, focussing on the problems that arise from Shakespeare's practice of co-authorship, the routine theatrical cutting of his plays, and his being a literary as well as a dramatic author.
THE EFFECTS AND LIMITS OF NEW TEXTUALISM
New Textualism began visibly to encroach upon mainstream New Bibliographical practice when Jill L. Levenson edited Romeo and Juliet for a volume in the single-play Oxford Shakespeare series (p. 167 above; Appendix 3 below) by treating Q1 (1597) and Q2 (1599) as distinct versions and giving modernized texts of each (Shakespeare 2000e). New Bibliographers called Q1 a bad or illicit edition because it is short, lacks a Stationers' Register entry, and was poorly printed. Levenson found that only the first of these claims stood up to scrutiny; it is simply a short quarto.
At the height of the trial in the cinematic court room drama The Verdict, a nurse acting as witness for the plaintiff offers as evidence a photocopy of a hospital admission form showing that the victim of the alleged medical malpractice was known to have eaten just one hour earlier and so should not have been anaesthetized (Lumet 1982). Yet she was anaesthetized, which made her vomit into her face mask, causing brain damage from lack of oxygen. The original admission form shown to the court recorded that the victim ate nine hours earlier (and so could be anaesthetized), but the nurse claimed that she photocopied the form before the anaesthetist (realizing his error) forced her to change the numeral 1 to a 9. On an established legal preference for original documents over photocopies, the jury is instructed to forget it ever heard about the nurse and her photocopy. Happily, the jury ignores this instruction and awards damages against the hospital.
The principle that one should ordinarily prefer an original of something over its copy is central to much of our thinking about textual authenticity, although of course there are circumstances under which it should be set aside, as when one suspects that the original was altered after the copy was taken. If the original was altered, one has to ask why and make a judgement based on one's best attempt at an answer. Originals should normally be preferred to copies because copying introduces errors, some random and some predictable.
The origins of this book lie in the negative response I received to a proposal for an edition of All's Well that Ends Well in Michael Best's series Internet Shakespeare Editions in the final years of the last millennium. An anonymous peer reviewer's criticisms of my wildly ambitious plan for the edition were grounded in the belief that the entire edifice of what is known as New Bibliographical editorial theory and practice had recently been overturned and that the most I might offer would be to reprint the Folio text of the play purged of its egregious errors. In making sense of this reader's report and its rejection of my proposal I felt the need for a history of the intellectual tradition of the New Bibliography and an account of the growing influence of its detractors since the 1970s. There was no such history in existence and this book fulfils my desire to write one; I hope it also fulfils a need felt by others for such a history. In the early 1940s F. P. Wilson surveyed the New Bibliographical tradition up to that point, but since then there have been only journal articles and book chapters that address particular parts of the tradition, or briefly summarize the whole of it, sometimes to defend but mostly to attack it. In this book I attempt to tell the full story from the beginning of the twentieth century to the date of writing (2010).
… it is not inconceivable that in the future we can make better texts of Shakespeare than we have today. I do not see any drastic or sensational changes. As long as the current consensus of opinion about the authority of the texts is substantially correct, as I believe it is, there is no possibility of a drastic shake-up; that would follow only the upsetting of our notions of authority.
(Shaaber 1947, 108)
PRECURSORS OF NEW TEXTUALISM
In 1935, C. S. Lewis initiated an exchange of letters in the Times Literary Supplement by suggesting that Shakespeare's primary artistic intention was to create performances rather than write a definitive manuscript, and so modern editors seeking to recover from the early editions the words of the lost definitive authorial manuscript were chasing something that never existed (Lewis 1935a; Bateson 1935; Wilson 1935a; Lewis 1935b; Lawrence 1935a; Wilson 1935b; Ridley 1935; Greg 1935; Lawrence 1935b; Wilson 1935c). Any manuscript Shakespeare created would at best be only the ‘embryo’ of his final object, Lewis argued, requiring others to work upon it and merge their creativity with his in order to produce Shakespeare's intended outcome, the performance. In his contribution W. J. Lawrence cited similar objections to editorial method made in 1917 and 1928. W. W. Greg agreed with Lewis that scripts are not fixed but change over time as they are reworked by their authors, by scribes and (in the case of plays) by theatre practitioners.
The standard primers on how early modern books were made are R. B. McKerrow's An Introduction to Bibliography for Literary Students (1927) and Philip Gaskell's A New Introduction to Bibliography (1972). The former has significant errors of fact discussed above (pp. 63, 73), which are worth encountering in order to understand how the corrections to McKerrow influenced the debates in the middle of the twentieth century. The latter covers the mechanics of printing well into the twentieth century and only its first half, covering the period of the hand-press, is relevant. For readers who do not wish to pursue these matters in close detail, what follows is the minimum information about early modern printing necessary to follow the narrative of this book. The important details of the manufacture of type and paper are covered by Gaskell but for our purposes these may be left aside and we may start with the early modern compositor standing or sitting in front of two typecases comprising boxes of various sizes containing pieces of type. The typecases are supported on a frame that angles them towards the compositor and stacks one upon another so that the upper case contains the capital letters (still commonly called upper-case letters) and the lower case the small letters. The compositor reads his copy (either handwritten manuscript or an existing book) and one-by-one he selects individual pieces of type representing what he reads and places them into his composing stick, a small hand-held tray set to the width (called the measure) of the page he wishes to print.
As we saw at the beginning of this narrative (pp. 12–15 above), the foundational act of the New Bibliography was A. W. Pollard's 1909 reinterpretation of the 1623 Folio preliminaries' reference to ‘stolne, and surreptitious copies’ as denoting not all the preceding quartos but only the bad ones produced by piracy: Romeo and Juliet (1597), Henry 5 (1600), The Merry Wives of Windsor (1602), Hamlet (1603) and Pericles (1609). The following year W. W. Greg identified a possible vector for piracy when he established that the quarto of The Merry Wives of Windsor has scenes containing the Host that are much closer to the Folio text than the rest, suggesting that the journeyman actor who took this role had a hand in making the quarto's copy by recalling his lines (Shakespeare 1910, vii–lvi). Necessarily, an actor's recollection of lines (especially his own) from scenes in which he was onstage and speaking would be better than his recollection of lines overheard from somewhere offstage, which would explain why the quarto becomes like the Folio, the authoritative text, when the Host enters and drifts away from it when he exits. At this early point in the life of the new hypothesis the other bad quartos stood in an unknown relation to the good versions that appeared in subsequent quarto and Folio editions, but over time all of them (and more) were claimed by adherents of memorial reconstruction.
The American advances in New Bibliography became widely known with the launch in 1948 of the journal Studies in Bibliography by the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia, under Fredson Bowers's editorship. Emerging differences of opinion about the reliability of the methods of New Bibliography were counterbalanced by the development of ever more technical means for the analysis of early books, such as investigations of compositors' spelling preferences and the evidence that running titles offer about the order in which formes were machined by the printing press. One might say that post-war confidence about the fruits of new technical developments overcame qualms about the school's foundational principles. The new procedures seemed to offer the clearest glimpse yet of the characteristics of the manuscript copy underlying early editions.
Most excitingly of all, analysis of press variants was dramatically sped up by Charlton Hinman's invention of a collating machine, which he applied to the seventy-nine exemplars of the 1623 Folio held in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC in the hope of speaking definitively about that edition's proofreading and press correction. Together with Hinman's innovative analyses of the frequency of reuse of particular pieces of type (identified by their defects) that revealed the order in which the Folio's pages were set, and the corroborating evidence provided by George Walton Williams's analyses of substitutions forced upon compositors by type shortage, the new discipline seemed to be finding a solid empirical foundation.