April 03, 2007


The website of the RSC Complete Works Edition is now live, so this blog is moving house. Past history is being carried over, but will also remain live here. There will, however, be no more new entries on this Warwick Blog site, so in the unlikely event that you have bookmarked it, please change your bookmark to
The Editors’ Blog
There are two new entries there already, one of them by my co-editor Eric Rasmussen.

March 02, 2007

Coountdown to publication

We have spent the last couple of months building the edition website and writing an array of articles to appear around publication time in April. The big one is a massive essay on the justification for using the First Folio as base text for all the plays. But there’ll also be a podcast with actor Michael Pennington illustrating the workings of Shakespearean verse, something from RSC chief associate Artistic Director Greg Doran, a highly opinionated bibliography by me (on which comments will be very welcome!) and ‘RSC Stage Histories’ of each of the plays, drawing an amazingly thorough A-Z of Stratford productions, actors, directors and other personnel on the web, which is run privately and out of sheer love of the theatre, by Simon Trowbridge – well worth checking out at Stratfordians: A Dictionary of the RSC.

January 10, 2007

Obsessing about minutiae

RSC Chairman Christopher Bland points out that in correcting Christopher Ricks’ error in a famous line of Housman’s at the very end of my last (very long) blog entry, I introduced a new error: it should be “of lost content” but I typed “of the lost content”. I promise that this was not deliberate: rather it is a perfect illustration of how easily error creeps into texts (and in this case destroys the rhythm of the line of poetry). Dealing with questions of this sort – is that extra ‘the’ an error or not? – is one of the main tasks of the Shakespearean editor.

Here’s an example:

The first printed text of Much Ado about Nothing was the quarto-format edition of 1600. Since it is a good quality text and since the 1623 Folio text derives from it, all modern editors use Quarto as their ‘copy-text’ for Much Ado (on the nature of ‘copy-text’, see previous entry). But it is in the Folio text alone that we find a very nice Dogberryism (malapropism) -“statues” in place of “statutes”. The quarto, presumed to be based on Shakespeare’s original manuscript, has “statutes”, which is semantically the right word but dramatically the wrong one. We simply do not know whether the folio editor restored a Shakespearean joke that had been obscured by a quarto misprint or inserted a joke that Shakespeare should have made but didn’t. Shakespearean editors agonise about this distinction and 10,000 others like it. Because textual orthodoxy demands that they follow quarto, they leave out the joke. I say relax: it’s a good joke, it’s there in the Folio, an editor should print it and an actor should speak it. If that means accepting the anonymous folio editor of Much Ado as one of Shakespeare’s ‘co-authors’, along with his actors and the other dramatists with whom he sometimes worked in collaboration, then all well and good.

To give an idea of what has been involved in preparing a new edition of the Complete Works, here is the list of queries that my textual editor, Eric Rasmussen, raised for just one play – Hamlet – and which we then had to resolve together. Textual editing: not a game for the faint-hearted or easily distracted …

1.1.125 The cock could crow at any point along here, might be a good place for a double-headed arrow (which my version of Word doesn’t seem to have)

1.1.152 cap ‘Saviour’s’?

1.1.157 Any reason to consider F’s ‘No fairy talks’?

1.2.0 SD I don’t see any textual warrant for deleting Ophelia from this scene, as Hibbard does

1.2.65 Some early editors marked this as an aside. Worth a question marked ‘Aside?’ ?

1.2.70 for ever or forever?

1.2.118 I assume this is not an Oxford comma?

1.2.160 I’m not convinced that ‘my heart’ is vocative, so haven’t used the F4 comma.

1.2.206 I’ve followed F’s punctuation, although most editors render the line ‘goes slow and stately by them. Thrice he walked’

1.2.255 I’ve tentatively emended to ‘walk’ but F’s ‘wake’ is certainly a provocative reading

1.3.18 This is the first of many instances in which the F compositor apparently anticipates a word from later in the line and repeats it earlier: ‘feare … feare’. I think in all such instances we’re justified in importing the Q2 reading, but it’s difficult to say what we’d do if we didn’t have Q2!

1.3.121 F’s ‘Giues’ works in context — indeed, one could argue that if the soul’s being prodigal it’s giving rather than lending — but the compositor probably picked it up from ‘Giuing’ in the next line.

1.3.124 F’s ‘For’ is universally emended to ‘From’ but isn’t ‘For this time’ idiomatic for ‘For the time being’? Also, ‘daughter’ is extra-metrical, and was probably picked up from 121. Delete or retain?

1.4.1 All editors follow Q2’s ‘it is very cold’ and they all miss the boat: F Hamlet is so preoccupied that he doesn’t even know if it’s cold and has to ask. A fantastic variant reading.

1.5.33 This line doesn’t quite work without the ‘I’, but its absence from both Q1 and F may be instructive.

1.5.76 ‘barked’ is a great word, but could F’s ‘baked’ also possibly make a kind of sense in context of the blood boiling?

1.5.85 too many commas?

2.1.4 F’s ‘you make inquiry’ can certainly be defended (if there’s an implied ‘if’ in the sentence) but ‘to make inquiry’ might be cleaner, bringing in the ‘to’ from Q2.

2.1.27-8 lineation okay?

2.1.38 perhaps one of those happy few instances where an interrupted line completion deserves to be staggered?

2.1.117 need a note on ‘speed’

2.2.10 need a note for ‘deem’

2.2.117 An incredibly difficult line. Should one ‘these’ or both be within the quotation marks?

2.2.222-4 These exclamation marks seem called for, given F’s question marks

2.2.282 SD The question here is whether Rosencrantz speaks this aloud to Guildenstern or whether in an aside.

2.2.303 cap ‘lenten’?

2.2.354-5 Surely we need notes on mad north-north-west and hawk from handsaw!

2.2.362 Hibbard unaccountably cites F’s ‘Prophesie. Hee’ as the source for his punctuating ‘prophesy he’. I think a colon is a fair rendering

2.2.366 Without the imported ‘was’ the F line could be appositional: ‘When Roscius, an actor in Rome—’

2.2.372 I rather like ‘pastorical’ – it’s downright Polonian!

2.2.410-11 Probably an accidental omission from F, but I’m uneasy about importing whole lines from Q2. Do we want to shade this if we retain it?

2.2.416 Indent or not?

2.2.430 Is ‘So, proceed you’ necessary? Nothing is lost without it, but it does appear to be a printer’s error rather than an intended revision.

2.2.440 ‘His blow’ makes sense, but the ‘his’ was probably picked up from the next line.

2.2.491 I don’t know that ‘lived’ has to be emended to ‘live’, does it?

Actually, a bit of a crux whether some of the players exeunt with Polonius while Hamlet and a/First player remain behind.

2.2.500, 504 F has just ‘Player’ for SHs. Most editors give the lines to the First Player, although Oxford uses ‘Players’ (from Q1) which doesn’t make much sense if Hamlet’s addressing a singular ‘old friend’. I’d prefer A PLAYER, which is faithful to F, both here and at 3.2,12 and 28

2.2.545 The F version of this line works, so long as ‘murderèd’ has a syllabic ‘e’. Any reason to emend?

3.1.33 Could ‘there’ work here (as it were)?

3.1.49-50 These SDs will have to be juggled to get them both on the same line, but there’s not room on the typescript.

3.1.61 F has an exeunt for Claudius and Polonius and a re-entrance at 162, which I’ve retained, although editors usually have them withdraw or hide behind the arras without leaving the stage

3.1.66 Okay to punctuate the ‘Whether’ question with a question mark?

3.1.149 Dashes marking shift in address here, where the line or parts of it seem intended for Claudius, or is that too heavy-handed?

3.2.7 & 10 I think we’ve got to be more trusting of such plausible F readings as ‘see’ and ‘could’ than editors such as Oxford and Hibbard have been, even through they’re supposedly using F as control text.

3.2.32 Should ‘needful’ be considered? Might work as ‘necessary’ attention. Interesting that F4 corrects to ‘heedful’

3.2.99 The Lying down at Ophelia’s feet SD favoured by some seems too proscriptive to me

3.2.142 What do you think of retaining F’s ‘BAPTISTA’ speech prefixes for the player queen, while using ‘PLAYER KING’ for her counterpart, analogous to our use of GERTRUDE and KING?

3.2.161 Jenkins marks Hamlet’s ‘Wormwood, wormwood’ as an aside, but most other editors do not.

3.2.227 Need a note on ‘mis-take’

3.2.229 Put ‘the croaking raven … revenge’ in quotation marks, as Hibbard does?

3.2.357 Need a note on ‘somever’?

3.4.13 A tough call whether to emend. The pattern of the first two lines suggests that Hamlet spits back Gertrude’s line only changing a single word, and ‘you question with an idle tongue’ would be in keeping. But it’s pretty likely that the compositor picked up ‘idle’ from the previous line.

3.4.42 brazed okay?

3.4.134 emend to ‘whom’ from Q2, F2?

3.4.139-41 These are certainly exclamations, but difficult to say how many (or few) exclamation points are called for.

3.4.208 Take the plunge and not mark a new act division here? The scene is certainly continuous in F.

3.4.244 Oxford comma?

4.2.37 Tricky bit of staging here. Most eds have Claudius address this to ‘attendants’ who then go to look for the body (Hibbard forgets to provide an earlier entrance for them – no doubt they were lurking in Gertrude’s closet). If not attendants, then either Rosencrantz or Guildenstern must do it – Oxford opts for the former – which means that only Guildenstern remains for Claudius’s concluding speech, which seems like it ought to be addressed to the pair.

4.2.65 need a note on ‘conjuring’

4.4.27-30 If Horatio exits, Gertrude could have a short soliloquy (her only one in the play), otherwise she must speak these lines aside

4.4.119 F’s punctuation ‘King, sirs? Stand’ might be possible.

4.4.169 Jenkins gives ‘Let her come in’ to Claudius, but that doesn’t seem right. Okay to assign it to the followers, as part of the ‘noise within’?

4.4.213 Most editors have Gertrude exit with Ophelia (although Jenkins does not) and F’s ‘Exeunt Ophelia’ certainly gives warrant for that.

4.5.5 Q2 has multiple sailors but F’s entrance and SHs are singular

4.6.40 SD Does the messenger give both letters to Claudius? (And, if so, it’s interesting that Claudius apparently does not read the letter addressed to Gertrude.)

4.6.58 I’m a big fan of the ‘diest’ emendation

4.6.125 The F reading can just barely work

5.1.69 need a note for ‘o’er-offices’

5.1.73 Caps for ‘Lord Such-a-one’?

5.1.123 Is ‘Hamlet’ appositional to ‘king’ (‘our last king, Hamlet, ...) or is it ‘our last King Hamlet’?

5.1.155 I’d lean toward retaining the repetition of ‘this same skull, sir’ as the gravedigger’s attempt at a rhetorical flourish building toward the revelation of the identify of the skull.

5.1.166 I can’t imagine that even compositor E would set a copy-text ‘grinning’ as ‘Ieering’, but I don’t know what ‘No one now to mock your own jeering’ means. And if we emend from Q2 to ‘Not one now’ what does that mean?

5.2.23 a hard line to punctuate. Set it off with dashes perhaps?

5.2.94 I assume that F’s ‘if your friendship were at leisure’ can mean ‘if the two of you are done talking’, but we surely need a note. (Strange that Hibbard doesn’t provide one.)

5.2.105 Necessary to add a SD to the effect that ‘Hamlet moves him to put on his hat’ (Bevington’s rather wordy one)? Or fine without it?

5.2.302 This may be dumb, but could it be a ‘shout within’ (F’s reading) rather than a ‘shot within’?

5.2.362 ‘Take up the bodies’ is more familiar, but Q1 corroborates F’s ‘body’

You made it to the end of that list? Now answer all the questions and do the same for all Shakespeare’s other works and you’ll begin to get an idea of what it’s all about. There’s a good layman’s guide to some of the textual controversies of recent years in Ron Rosenbaum’s The Shakespeare Wars

December 06, 2006

What is it and where did it come from?


This entry was originally written as a diary from the origins of the project through to the delivery of the book, but I’ve now turned it around to make it conform with the reverse chronology that is characteristic of blogworld. Query: if everybody starts blogging and gets used to reading personal histories backwards, as the form dictates, how long will it be before biographies begin to be written in reverse chronology? 1616-1564 instead of vice-versa would at least be a novel way of writing the life of Shakespeare … In a sense, what I’ve tried to do in a lot of my work on Shakespeare’s ‘afterlife’ is a kind of reverse chronological biography, treading the road back from Shakespeare Now to Shakespeare Then … So, read on, for the journey from delivery back to conception (gestation metaphor intentional – cf. figure of ‘begetting’ in dedication to WS Sonnets).

6 12 6: we’re only days away from the moment when the files are sent from the typesetter in India to the printer in China (ah, globalisation…), and I’ve just discovered that in the revised proof of The Rape of Lucrece line 731, which was fine in the first proof, but just needed an extra indentation, now begins “gl-end rid=“templ01118”/>”, which doesn’t actually sound like Shakespeare’s most elegant line of verse. What has obviously happened is that the setter failed to hit the ‘<’ key, with the result that the code for the indentation has gone into the text. It’s alarming that this has happened so late in the day—but this kind of thing happened in the Folio back in 1623, where there are examples of the compositor going in to make proof corrections and in so doing introducing new errors. In the end, editors are powerless to stop this sort of thing, because it’s the typesetter who is the last person to handle the text. I remember the fiercely accurate Christopher Ricks being shocked when I showed him that his Penguin edition of A E Housman printed that poet’s most famous line as “This is the land of lost content”, when it should have been “That is the land of the lost content”. He swore that it was correct on the proofs.

December 2006: the introductions are written, amounting to the equivalent of 350 page book in themselves. The texts are done: nearly a million words of Shakespeare, thousands of textual notes, some 300,000 words of explanatory notes on language. Tables, charts, key fact boxes which I’m particularly proud of (especially the lists of parts in descending order of size – who would have guessed that Sir Toby Belch has the largest role in Twelfth Night?). 2550 pages. Proofed, revised proofed, press proofed. Great pics of RSC productions, beautiful production values. Yummy jacket, especially – see it on the Amazon link ...
and Amazon offering a 30% discount: over two and a half thousand pages of Shakespeare freshly edited, in readable single column format (not ghastly double column like some competitors), with introductons, illustrations and amazingly detailed exlanatory notes all for £20 in a handsome hardback … I’m pinching myself to find the catch. I must stop: this is becoming a commercial, not a blog.

When I recover, I’ll offer something more analytic.

March 2006: one of the things the press got interested in at the launch was my suggestion that we’re not going to be coy when it comes to the ripe seam of bawdy innuendo in Shakespeare: this has now been followed up with a story in The Observer under the rather lurid headline Bard’s Secret Sex Text Message
... I guess all publicity is good publicity, but I want us to become known as the Folio-inspired Shakespeare and the theatre-focused Shakespeare, not the filthy Shakespeare. We’ve actually been rigorous in EXCLUDING many purported double entendres, particularly some of those that fester in Frankie Rubinstein’s Dictionary of Shakespeare’s Sexual Puns (1995). We’re much keener on the more measured and amazingly thorough analyses of Gordon Williams, in his 3 volume Dictionary of Sexual Language and Imagery in Shakespearean and Stuart Literature (1994) – though we’ve also found a bunch of interesting stuff that he didn’t spot.

July 2005, top of the Telecom Tower in London: Things have moved very fast, mainly thanks to Eric’s phenomenal work-rate (and the quality of his assistants) together with the team I’ve recruited to work with Heloise on the explanatory notes (not to mention the seemingly endless process of checking, rechecking, reading back against Folio, correcting, debating hundreds of individual choices of punctuation, emendation and so forth). We’ve taken a high risk decision: we’re going to announce the edition in public, in tandem with the announcement of Michael Boyd’s extraordinarily ambitious plan to mount a Shakespeare Complete Works Festival. Over the course of a year in Stratford-upon-Avon, all 38 plays, plus the poems and sonnets, are going to be performed. There’s not been anything like it in the 400 years of Shakespeare’s stage life. The synergy is just too good for us to miss the opportunity of publishing the edition at the climax of the year’s work. So Eric and I are at a press launch, which includes a neat little film by Michael Wood where I explain what we’re doing that’s new. We’re atop the Telecom Tower, a London panorama revolving around us, at the invitation of Sir Christopher Bland, the RSC chairman, who’s also chair of BT, and whose energetic leadership has combined with that of Boyd to pitch the RSC straight from its worst times to some of its very best.
But a public announcement means that the pressure is on to finish on time. All stops need to be pulled out.

April 2004: I’m in a sweltering bar in New Orleans during the conference of the Shakespeare Association of America. Jazz on the street outside. My mission, over a beer, is to recruit the best and brightest young Shakespeareans in the world to my editorial advisory board. I’ve already got Jim Shapiro, the smartest Shakespearean of my generation in America. I hook Tiffany Stern from Oxford, who’s done brilliant work on Shakespeare’s original acting ensemble. As textual advisor I want Eric Rasmussen from Reno, Nevada: he’s the ultimate bibliographic high roller, whose devastating reviews of new textual work in the journal Shakespeare Survey have been known to drive sloppy editors to Prozac or worse. If he’s on my board, he can’t review me. “How much involvement are you looking for?” he asks. As much as possible, I say, though I know he’s busy on other things, like textual collation of every surviving First Folio in the world, not to mention work for the lovely Internet Shakespeare Editions. “Sure, I’ll do the text for you,” he says in his unflappable way. I splutter into my beer. “What, you mean all of it!?!” This man is offering to work through nearly a million words of Shakespeare, collating quarto and folio variants, modernising spelling, examining every punctuation mark, every speech heading, every stage direction.

I know at once that with Rasmussen as co-editor, I’ll be able to complete the job. And that it’ll be good.

But why has he agreed? The simple answer is that I had a very simple idea about the text, and he loved it. Here’s the idea:


I’m not going to get into the tehnicalities of Shakespearean editing here – lots of that will follow in the coming weeks and months, but here’s the thing, the key innovation.

What we mean by editing a text from the age before standardised spelling and ‘rational’ grammar-led punctuation, is (1) MODERNISING (the spelling and the punctuation – but not the words themselves, we’re not talking about changing Shakespeare’s ‘thou’ to modern ‘you’), and (2) CORRECTING the printing errors (of which there are a lot in early texts). But WHAT do we modernise and correct? What is our ‘copy text’? Editorial theory usually suggests that we should work from one of the following
(i) the author’s manuscript
(ii) the first published text
(iii) the final published text authorized by the author.
In the case of Shakespeare, (i) is impossible because all his manuscripts are lost, save for one scene he wrote for a play called Sir Thomas More, (ii) is OK for some plays but not others, because some of the first published texts (which were in ‘quarto’ format, rather like modern paperbacks) are of questionable provenance and riddled with errors, while (iii) doesn’t exist … except maybe an approximation to it does exist, if we extend the rule and embrace “the published text authorized after the author’s death by his friends and closest colleagues, the people who knew his plays best because they performed them” ... by which I mean the First Folio, the original “Collected Works of Shakespeare” published in 1623 and overseen by WS’s fellow-actors John Hemings and Henry Condell.

Nearly all Shakespeare editions offer a mix of (ii) and this extended interpretation of (iii), that is to say of quarto-based and folio-based texts.

At that same New Orleans conference where I recruited Eric Rasmussen, there was a session on Shakespeare editions, at which one of the seminar leaders said that she’d heard that Jonathan Bate was doing a new edition for the RSC and she couldn’t for the life of her see why – why on earth do we need yet another edition? The shelves are groaning with them, etc. etc.

I could see her point: I wouldn’t have taken it on if I’d just been going to do what all the other editions do. But I’d had my light-bulb-coming-on moment: I’d realised that there IS an edition we need, but don’t have. Why follow the crowd and offer a mix of (ii) and (iii). Why not go consistently for (iii)?

Proposition: THE SHAKESPEARE FIRST FOLIO IS THE MOST IMPORTANT BOOK IN THE HISTORY OF WORLD DRAMA AND YET NO ONE HAS EDITED ITIN THE SENSE OF CORRECTING AND MODERNISING ITSINCE (depending on your interpretation of ‘editing’ and ‘modernising’) EITHER 1685 or 1709. Yup, we’ve had facsimiles and modern-typography-but-original-spelling versions, but no proper edition. A FOLIO-BASED COMPLETE WORKS FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THREE CENTURIES. That was what Rasmussen saw it would be worth signing up for.

Early 2004: the work has been going on: thinking through the theory, devising the editorial principles, digitising the base texts to give me a ‘shell’ on which to make the more complex editorial decision. I’ve hired a brilliant assistant, Heloise Senechal, to work on the explanatory notes – making the explication of Shakespeare’s multivalent language much stronger than that in rival editions such as the Penguin and the Norton will be one of the main aims of the project (the Oxford edition is not even a rival here – it has no explanatory notes, only a glossary at the back, which is more or less useless because readers don’t want to be thumbing back and forward to find it, and, besides, the glosses lack the specificity to context that is crucial to the understanding of Shakespeare). With several assistants working on the notes, we’re well on schedule with that aspect of the project. But the finalisation of the texts themselves is slow, slow, slow. Was it over-optimistic to say that this could be delivered in 5 years?

December 2003: Meanwhile at the RSC … an amazing turnaround is under way. New Artistic Director Michael Boyd has reversed Noble’s three key errors: the Stratford theatre will be transformed rather than razed down, the ensemble principle will be not just sustained but extended, and there is to be a commitment to regular playing in London. Noble’s ill-fated metaphor of turning Stratford into a “theatre village” is replaced by Boyd’s metaphor of the Stratford “campus”. In his vision, “research” is an integral part of the process of making Shakespearean theatre. He and I have been doing research together on the text and interpretation of Hamlet. And he’s balancing the financial books, so the suits on the Board are happy bunnies.

March 2003: the two long poems, Venus and Adonis and Rape of Lucrece are done – but they’re the easiest part of the project, since Shakespeare authorised their publication and the original printing is very good.

December 2002: my biography of John Clare is delivered and I’m still on a full-time research fellowship, so I get seriously stuck into the establishment of editorial principles and the initial work on preparing the text.

June 2002: almost before turning round, I find myself on a flight to New York. Mighty Random House are interested. They were on the point of revamping the superannuated Shakespeare in their Modern Library series of classic texts – a Shakespeare prepared in the 1920s, using the editorial principles of the Victorian Globe edition. They can’t resist the opportunity to create a marriage between a very high-class American literary brand and a world-class Shakespeare brand.

May 2002: another meeting, this time with the managing director, Chris Foy, and the man that the RSC has hired as its literary agent: Andrew Wylie. Wylie is known as The Jackal – the man whose roster includes Roth, Mailer, Mamet, Amis (famously poached), Rushdie, the Joyce Estate, the Borges Estate, the Bellow Estate. Now, it seems, he’s representing Shakespeare. Could be interesting. The RSC is not happy with the very limited benefits of its endorsement of the Penguin Shakespeare edition. It wants closer involvement with Shakespeare in print.

Penguin cannot be players: they’ve just commissioned new introductions for their editions and are not up for the investment of time and money that would be required for them to redo the text and notes. But the text and notes are a disaster: forty years out of date, oblivious to the revolution in Shakespearean editing brought about by the Oxford edition in the 80s and the needs that 21st century students and playgoers have when it comes to Shakespeare’s
language. See my review

April 2002: a meeting with the Chairman, Bob Alexander, over tea and scones in the House of Lords. He persuades me to come on board and drops a hint that my worries about the direction in which Noble is taking the company should not be a deterrent. Little do I know that earlier that afternoon he has taken Adrian’s phone call offering his resignation.

March 2002: a call from the Royal Shakespeare Company. Stanley Wells is soon to retire from the Board. Would I be interested in a conversation about succeeding him in the role of academic voice in the running of the company? I agree to a meeting, though harbour serious doubts: the company is in freefall as a result of Adrian Noble’s plans to quit the Barbican, pull down the theatre in Stratford and abandon the ‘ensemble’ principle of keeping an acting company together for long runs of repertory work. Not to mention a massive financial deficit.

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  • great blog more please. by christopher bland on this entry

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