IN the oddly titled ‘General Editors’ Preface: A Complete Works’, which is really the preface to just this volume of The New Oxford Shakespeare, this statement is made: ‘Our Attribution Advisory Board—Hugh Craig, Gabriel Egan, MacDonald P. Jackson, John Jowett, and Gary Taylor—has been exceptionally active and helpful in reading, critiquing, and improving all the work published here’ (vi). Three of the five members of the Advisory Board (Taylor, Jowett, and Egan) sign the Preface and all of the members of the Advisory Board except Jowett have one or more essays in this volume. I suppose all of us have our own ideas about what an advisory board might be and do, but I don’t think many of us would think it was just a meeting of authors to approve the articles that they have written and are now publishing. Thirteen of the twenty-five essays in this volume are written, or co-written, by people on the Advisory Board. We used to call this ‘studies for the buddies’, but I suppose we may call it something else now. In any case, it inspires very little confidence in the fairness and objectivity of what is published here, and an examination of this volume confirms this lack of confidence. Of course these days there is nothing wrong with a group of colleagues getting together and publishing some of their own work along with the work of others and calling such a volume anything they like, but this volume is billed as 25 per cent of the project which is TheNewOxford Shakespeare (hereafter NOS), made up of the Modern Critical Edition (2016), the two-volume Critical Reference Edition (2017), the New Oxford Shakespeare Online (described by OUP thus: ‘The New Oxford Shakespeare Online comprises the Modern Critical Edition [with modern spelling], the Critical Reference Edition [with original spelling], and the Authorship Companion, integrating all of this material on OUP’s high-powered scholarly editions platform. This unique online edition provides the perfect resource for the future of Shakespeare studies’), and the volume under review, and so I believe its credentials matter a good deal more than usual. However, there is much less here than meets the eye, and one has the general feeling that a great deal of computing time has been spent to demonstrate that water is wet and that the sun rises in the east. It would be irresponsible of me not to point out that Terri Bourus, one of the General Editors of that portion of the NOS which is the edited texts, both modern and old spelling, though not of this volume, and the co-author of one very brief (four-page) contribution to the volume under review, was my doctoral student over a decade and a half ago. This is why I have chosen to review only this volume and not the entire project which is the NOS. By page 66 of this volume we have been shown, again and again, what scholars such as Brian Vickers, Donald Foster and his SHAXICON, and others have done, always concluding with the notion that NOS has always done it better. Whether or not one agrees with this, demonstrating it once would have been sufficient, twice would have driven the point home, but after sixty pages what seems inevitable is boredom or the notion that the lady doth protest too much. We are not helped by the chapter, ‘Who Wrote the Fly Scene’ (67–91), by Taylor and Doug Duhaime, which deals with the fly-killing scene in Titus Andronicus. We are treated to mockery of Jonathan Bate for his Arden Third Series edition (1995) and are told that Vickers has got it right. This makes quite a remarkable change from what has come before, but it will not last. After adventures in LION and EEBO-TCP, in which the data does not provide the correct result but rather points unfortunately toward Peele, or even Fletcher, computers are abandoned in favour of ‘Deep Reading’ which turns out to be our old friend literary criticism which can be made to yield the desired result: Middleton wrote it. One needs to remember that Taylor has a considerable vested interest in this, having edited Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works for Oxford in 2007 and needing to shift the copies of the 2,016-page paperback edition produced in 2010. So can scholarship serve commerce. There is also an almost perverse need to describe or explain things afresh when that has already been done satisfactorily by others. For example, Bodleian Manuscript Rawlinson 160 is treated to detailed and confusing description which hardly advances what the Bodleian has done for it already. By the way, the reason for caring so much about this manuscript is that it contains the notorious ‘Shall I die’, and this produces this astounding statement by Taylor in the essay’s penultimate paragraph: ‘But all this additional research should be undertaken by someone other than myself. No matter how scrupulously I did the work, some readers would always suspect that I am a biased observer’ (230). And of course there is a worry about any research undertaken by Taylor and some others which produces ‘Williams Junior’ meaning Franklin B. Williams, Jr. (14), ‘Leeds J. Barroll’ meaning J. Leeds Barroll (367), and, even more troubling, the statement on p. 21: ‘Even if copyright had existed in the sixteenth century . . .’ Of course copyright did exist from the charter of the Stationers’ Company in 1558 (see, for example, my ‘“vnder the handes of . . .”: Zachariah Pasfield and the Licensing of Books’ in Shakespeare’s Stationers: Studies in Cultural Bibliography, ed. Marta Straznicky [Philadelphia, 2012], 63–94), and so this statement indicates an ignorance of the biblio-historical situation which is very troubling. But unless I make this entire collection seem totally bleak, I must say there are two essays which live up to what one might expect to find in a scholarly book such as this. David Gants’s ‘Mine of Debt: William White and the Printing of the 1602 Spanish Tragedy … with new additions’ (231–40) describes in brief but clear terms how the 312-line addition to act three of Kyd’s play appears in White’s printing, how White worked as a printer and Stationer, and, most interestingly, how all the bibliographical study in the world is not going to be able to absolutely assign an author to these lines. Because Gants’ careful study has not yielded the ‘correct’ answer there follows a brief (241–5) essay by Hugh Craig, one of the members of the Attribution Advisory Board for this volume, which does a little statistical dance which does provide the ‘correct’ answer: William Shakespeare; and a much longer (246–60) essay by Taylor, ‘Did Shakespeare Write The Spanish Tragedy Additions?’; I am willing to bet most of us can guess the answer to that question. However, Taylor’s various tests do not quite produce the results he wants, giving us as great a chance that Thomas Heywood wrote some, or all, of the additions as did Shakespeare, so, ‘I [Taylor] commissioned [John V.] Nance to research “The Painter’s Part” because (a) it is the passage most often cited and celebrated as Shakespearean, and (b) it is written in prose … ’ (259). The choice of words in this sentence alone tells us a good deal about how things work at the NOS, and just for a second when we see ‘commissioned’ an image of a Pope, a painter, and a Vatican chapel ceiling might pop into our mind. Taylor could have said, ‘asked’ or ‘suggested’ or ‘wondered aloud to’ but I think the tone is fairly set with ‘commissioned’. Of course Nance’s research does the trick and his ‘Shakespeare and the Painter’s Part’ (261–77), although it does not totally remove Heywood, provides enough statistical information to make Shakespeare the big winner. The other bright spot is Bourus and Farah Karim-Cooper’s ‘All’s Well that Ends Well 4.3: Dramaturgy’ (303–6). They have been asked by Taylor ‘which, if any, parts of Act 4, scene 3 of All’s Well that Ends Well are absolutely indispensable for the play?’ In their short piece they answer this question and survey what has been done with the scene in the history of the play’s performance. Their conclusion is that it is hard to tell what could be cut and what was added and that it is almost impossible to tell who did either of these things if these things were done. Of course this will not do, and so there follow essays by Rory Loughnane (307–20), Nance (321–36), and Taylor (337–65) asserting Middleton’s authorship of parts of All’s Well, particularly 4.3, so that we can have by page 320 the unqualified statement ‘Thomas Middleton added new material to All’s Well that Ends Well, most likely as a revival for the King’s Men … ’ and by page 365, ‘The chapters in this volume have established, beyond reasonable doubt, that Middleton added material to 1.1, 2.3, and 4.3 of Shakespeare’s original play.’ And this yields on pages 366 to 384 Roger Holdsworth’s ‘Shakespeare and Middleton: A Chronology for 1605–6’. It is a very easy move from ‘maybe’ to ‘certainly’ with the way work is done here. Since this is a book by—one is almost tempted to say about—Gary Taylor, one is not surprised to find that pages 385 through 416 contain two essays about the authorship of Cardenio, or The Double Falsehood as it is known to the unconverted. And that brings us to the final chapter in this book, co-authored by Gary Taylor and Rory Loughnane, ‘The Canon and Chronology of Shakespeare’s Works’. At 185 pages (417–602), it is not so much a chapter as it is another fair-sized book. They point out that Taylor provided a ‘Canon and Chronology’ for the 1986 Oxford Complete Works and the 1987 Textual Companion to the Oxford edition, and they ‘retain the essential structure, and some of the prose, of Taylor’s original essay’ (417). One wonders two things about this chapter. First, why is it not part of either The Critical Reference Edition or The Modern Critical Edition where every user of the edition would encounter it? Second, why is it not published as a reasonably priced small scholarly book within the reach of all students of Shakespeare who want its information? I have no answers for these questions, but I wonder if anyone outside the ‘Attribution Advisory Board’ posed them to Taylor and the others. Sitting here at the end of the volume, this chapter makes the preceding four hundred pages seem utterly disconnected. Of course, had this chapter been positioned as Chapter 1, I wonder if anyone would have gone on to the other chapters. In the end the problems with this book are twofold. First, the intent of the volume appears not to be so much the advancement of the scholarly discussion of Shakespeare’s works as it is the justification of previous held positions and attacks on those who hold different positions. Too much of it is personally tied to the major members of the Attribution Advisory Board, particularly Gary Taylor. Thus, we are treated to statements such as: Although I have encouraged their [Loughnane, Bourus, Karim-Cooper, and Nance] investigations … , I have not tried to influence their conclusions, which have all been reached independently. But I am personally entangled in the history of this play [All’s Well] and of the Middleton canon, and I am cited by Maguire and Smith, and by Vickers and Dahl, as an authority. I have therefore felt it necessary to return to these issues myself, and re-examine my previous assumptions. (337) This, I submit, is not scholarly discussion as it is usually practised, and I am sorry that this volume will weigh heavily on the reputation of the New Oxford Shakespeare. Second, it is operating with the old assumptions about the text of Shakespeare or, indeed, any text from the English professional theatre from anytime from the 1570s until now. These texts are not the controlled scriptures of non-dramatic poetry and prose but are fluid and constantly altering ‘things’, regularly changing in mid-run, and sometimes mid-performance. For modern plays it is usual for a goodly number of these developing documents to survive and be commented upon. For example, Joshua Maguire, who played Guildenstern in the fiftieth-anniversary revival of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in 2017, said of his long and rather complicated speech in the opening of the play, which he had already learned and was performing: Tom said to our director, David Leveaux, that he might try to edit that speech because he says he liked to dot the i’s twice and cross the t’s thrice when he was younger, and now he likes to knock the corners off a bit and be a bit more streamlined. But David came in the next day and said he’d had a text from Tom saying, ‘I had a look at my rewrite and I think I’ve made it more complicated and longer.’ (28 February 2017, The Times) And so Maguire did not have to learn the new version, but he might have had to. It is not hard to imagine similar things happening at The Theatre, or The Curtain, or the Rose in the 1590s, but all we have is that sliver of text, that bit of unique survival which is Q1 Titus Andronicus or F1 The Tempest. That it would represent anything other than the document mainly by Shakespeare, but with the textual fiddlings of others, would be a wonder. Therefore, all the statistical tests in the world are not going to tell us things which cannot be known because the evidence is not made up of chemical formulae but of the messy strugglings of human creativity. Such studies as those found here can suggest, but they cannot prove. © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: email@example.com
Notes and Queries – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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