Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Actor Who Wrote Hamlet

Great article on the Arden Third Edition of the works, which has taken the bold step of publishing *three* different Hamlets (bad quarto, second quarto, and first folio) as separate texts, rather than trying to blend them.  The author of the post goes on to discuss how the separate scripts demonstrate that Shakespeare was first and foremost an actor who wrote scripts, and not some poetic genius locked up in a room by himself cranking out lines he never blotted.  On the contrary, there's lots and lots and lots of rewrites.

I think the major problem with this theory is that each change between the scripts does not necessarily represent Shakespeare himself saying "Ok, I didn't like that, I'm changing it."  There are many other hands at work, including his fellow actors, the typesetters, and so on.  For any given change between scripts you can't say which one was what Shakespeare intended.


Craig said...

I like the increased willingness these days to look at Shakespearean plays as having "multiple texts," rather than just swirling everything together to make one super-conflated version. With Lear especially, I think the case can be made that either a folio-based or quarto-based text is superior to the conflation of both.

But, if you're going to publish the play for people to read and study, you've got to do it right, and I don't think three entirely separate texts is the answer. What's interesting about having two versions of a play is being able to compare them, see what changes Shakespeare (or some other hand) made and ponder the motivation. This is just super-hard if you have to keep two books open and follow along the text of each with a finger. And its impossible in something like the Oxford complete works, which publishes two separate versions of King Lear.

I think publishers do a lot better by picking one version as a control text and then printing alternative passages either as footnotes or endnotes (which is what the RSC Complete Works just did), or doing a synoptic version with equivalent text on facing pages or in parallel columns. That does more than tell us there are multiple versions--it actually lets us see the diferences, compare them, and judge between them according to our own taste.

I wonder if you've been to the website for the RSC Complete Shakespeare? They have a really interesting essay called "The Case for the Folio" in which the editor discussed the history of textual criticism and lays out his views (which, if the title didn't give it away, favor the First Folio).

Ian Thal said...

It's perfectly fine if a publisher wants to put out multiple versions of the texts whenever multiple versions exist.

Shakespeare is public domain, so no publisher has a monopoly on Shakespeare. I purchase different editions based on what I want-- for instance: I prefer editions which provide lots of scholarly apparati. I can see the value, if I were a student, scholar, director, or dramaturg to want an inexpensive edition the folio, good quarto and bad quarto versions of whatever play that currently catches my interest.