March 17, 2010

The Arden Double Falsehood: Brean Hammond and Carol Rutter on The Today Programme

In case you didn't catch it yesterday, here's Brean Hammond and Carol Rutter discussing the new Arden edition of Double Falsehood, which was officially released yesterday.


It's an unfortunately short section, and necessarily reductive in the time they've got. There are some interesting questions, though, about the nature of the Arden Shakespeare imprint and what it should be doing. By printing the play as part of this series, Arden have given it "the stamp of the approval, it's now part of the canon", and the interviewer comments that it should only be plays that Shakespeare had a substantial hand in, not things knocked together for a Friday night.

What ARE we interested in? What do we WANT from a "Complete Works"? I'm increasingly bemused and frustrated by this question. Do we want the actual words, an exhaustive list of the specific words that Shakespeare the man specifically chose? Or are we interested in those plays that, in however corrupt a form, were ones that he took a substantive role in devising and shaping for the stage? In that sense, imagine if King Lear hadn't survived. Would we accept Nahum Tate's Lear, with its happy ending, in its place? Would that contain enough of "Shakespeare" to still be considered "worth" something, for what it does preserve of the Immortal Bard?

I'm interested by Carol's assertion that Double Falsehood should be under the "Arden Early Modern Drama" imprint, rather than the "Arden Shakespeare". I don't necessarily argue this. However, I would like to ask - where is the cut-off point? Where does the Arden "Shakespeare" end, and the rest of "Early Modern Drama" begin? Prior to yesterday, the Arden Shakespeare contained only plays with a solid external attribution to Shakespeare: they were either in the First Folio or published in an early Quarto with his name on. Following Double Falsehood, though, the Arden Shakespeare will also be publishing editions of Edward III and Thomas More, both of which have an element of Shakespearean collaboration.

So, how Shakespearean does something have to be to be in the Arden Shakespeare? The editor of the Arden 1 Henry VI expressly admits he doesn't think that there's much Shakespeare in it. The best comparison, though, might be between Double Falsehood (never granted table space before) and Thomas More (increasingly appearing both as the Shakespeare addition and in a full text, such as in the Oxford Complete Works). What is more "Shakespearean"? A play for which Shakespeare wrote a single addition, almost certainly entirely independently of the creation of the rest of the play, yet for which we have evidence of his unique hand writing identifiable lines? Or a play in which probably very few Shakespearean lines remain following adaptation, yet which preserves a lost drama which Shakespeare and Fletcher created together and which Shakespeare may well have been involved in the overall planning of? Where do we draw the line? Do we want our Complete Works to be an anthology of all the words Shakespeare wrote, or a canon of drama which Shakespeare helped create? There's a distinct ideological difference between these two conceptions of "completeness", and I'd argue that this is exactly what is at stake here.

More on the edition once I've had a chance to read it. Provisionally, though, I'm sympathetic towards Arden's wider-reaching conception of canonicity. I'm just interested to see how they present it.

- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. Duncan

    I was delighted to see this getting a mention on the Today programme.

    The BBC Review Show on 26 March is described in the latest Radio Times as discussing “whether Shakespeare wrote all of his plays”. Looking aside from the logical absurdity of the question, I hazard a guess that this will relate in some form to the issues you mention above.

    18 Mar 2010, 00:30

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I’m Peter Kirwan, a final year doctoral student in the English Department at Warwick, and this is my PhD blog.

Conferences, reviews, articles, thoughts and links relating to my interests in the Shakespeare apocrypha, early modern drama, authorship and performance.

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