The shape of things to come
On Saturday, I submitted the first full draft of my fourth, and final, chapter to my supervisor for critique. I say "draft", but this probably suggests something far more sophisticated than I've actually created. I prefer to think of it as my first Technical Rehearsal. The shape of the thing is there, the length and the timing, and it's fully blocked and plotted. However, there are still key components missing, still a lot of elements - the actors, if you will - to be carefully integrated.
Nonetheless, it's a big step. I now have a full 80,000 word dry-run of the whole thing, minus Introduction and Conclusion. While the research/planning stage is essential in shaping my ideas, I find that it's only in the act of writing that I really understand what I'm doing. Now I've reached the end, I can step back and see the whole. There's a great deal still to be done, but now I know what that is.
Chapter Four has ended up being structured around canon theory. I'd been worried about it being essentially a long review essay, but I think and hope it's now much more sophisticated. Taking in turn the RSC Complete Works of Shakespeare, The Oxford Collected Middleton and, in massive shift, the RSC Complete Works Festival, I discuss paradigms of canonicity and completeness, comparing and contrasting the theoretical principles on which the bibliographic, the authorial and the performative canon are made "complete".
I'm still building up the canon arguments. Much canon debate centres around the exclusion of minority groups and the political/ideological mechanics that determine the classics. My work is less political, but the language of selection/exclusion in canon theory, and an understanding of the institutions that invest "significant" works with cultural capital is directly transferable to the determination of the "Complete Works".
Ultimately, I end up arguing that "completeness" - and, indeed, the adjective "Shakespearean" - are highly subjective and contingent concepts, that shift according to purpose and defy homogeneity. The repertoire, however, offers a far more productive understanding of canon as a fluid pool of works that fade in and out of fashion, and act collectively to authorise new and fringe works alongside the canonical. The idea that we might be able to move away from a consumer-led desire for the "complete" and accept a more democratic, flexible formation of canon that removes the boundaries of separation is perhaps currently impractical; but my guess is that the electronic text (allowing playlist style selection of linked plays according to the researcher's interests) may well be the medium through which canonical boundaries finally become truly porous.