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  • Cited by 2
  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: March 2007

Editing Shakespeare’s Plays in the Twentieth Century



Shakespeare editing in the twentieth century involves a history of practice, and a history of ideas about the text. The present article will deal with each in turn, recognizing the problematic relation between them. Both were grounded in the work of the New Bibliography, a movement that would determine the direction of Shakespeare textual studies and editing for most of the century. As will become evident, the New Bibliography had lost much of its erstwhile prestige and authority by the end of the century, though the editorial methods it advocated had been subject to development rather than outright rejection. Its inheritance to the twenty-first century currently remains subject to negotiation.

A. W. Pollard’s close intellectual companionship with W. W. Greg and R. B. McKerrow formed the first keystone to the movement. Pollard’s follower John Dover Wilson soon joined the three. The New Bibliography may be characterized by its mix of commitment to scientific rigour in investigating every aspect of a text’s transmission and a sometimes credulous optimism in its project of finding the techniques to identify and eliminate the errors accrued through that process. From its beginnings as a small clique centred on Trinity College, Cambridge it expanded to establish an editorial orthodoxy and to place textual issues firmly on the curriculum for the study of Shakespeare. By the mid-century it had developed beyond its original concern with Shakespeare and early modern literature to offer a set of editorial principles that it aimed to apply to all canonical works.