In recent years, Shakespearian editing - long conducted in a quiet intellectual backwater, undisturbed by larger culture wars - has itself become a key battleground for current theoretical controversy. Debate has, however, tended to focus on the handling of the texts themselves, especially the practices of emendation and modernization, while other key aspects of editorial responsibility have received scant attention. The work of annotation, in particular, remains effectively unscrutinized.
This selectivity of vision has left undisturbed the traditional assumption that the rationale and aims of Shakespearian annotation are self-evident and therefore easily defined - so easily, in fact, that no one need devote energy to defining, or debating, them in print. R. A. Foakes has noted, with regret, the complete absence of 'guides to making a commentary on a Shakespeare play', a situation rendered more disturbing, since 'in editions like those in the Arden series the commentary, which is on the same page as the text, may well be the editorial contribution that is most useful and most studied'. Editors themselves generally remain silent about the principles or preferences that shape their style of annotation. Similarly, reviewers of new editions, though they may on an ad hoc basis query this or that piece of annotation, rarely mount a broader challenge to the rationale (or lack of it) discernible in the overall pattern of annotation in a particular edition; and too often they confine their comments to generalities, pausing only to remark that a particular editor's notes are 'judicious' or that another's 'are copious, perhaps sometimes even excessive', but also 'thoughtful and unintimidating'. In neither of the reviews from which those comments are taken is a single illustration offered in support of these judgements.