Monday, August 30, 2010

Notes on Re-Editing Shakespeare for the Modern Reader: Chapter 2

"Emending Shakespeare"

While Bowers has proposed that all emendations that can be made have been made, and that the editors task in emending the text is simply to choose their favorite, this attitude is shockingly defeatist. If everything that can be said about the text has been said, why not leave them alone? Of course new editors are learning new ways of interpreting texts for new readers all the time, certainly with each
succeeding generation, and while a more conservative approach may be preferable to an uncontrolled, eclectic one, unthinking conservativism is never the correct position for an editor to take (32).

Emendation is almost certainly necessary when the source text is nonsensical, but even where an emendation may not be necessary an editor still has the right to express doubts about the original, or an alternative or traditional reading, and to offer a plausible alternative (41).

"I do not think we should be inhibited from adopting a superior reading by a fear that we might be improving on Shakespeare rather than on the agents of transmission" (42).

Logical weaknesses, i.e. a weakness in the sense of the meaning, should arouse the suspicion of an editor and open the door to emendation, but so should stylistic weakness. While a modern editor
may wish to avoid being accused of attempting to improve Shakespeare, a stylistically awkward piece of an otherwise polished passage should attract an editors attention, and likewise invite emendation (43).

"An editor's first duty is, if possible, to make sense of the original text, even if he then decides to alter it" (44).

On the regularization of names, Wells notes that, in All's Well that Ends Well Helena's name only appears as "Helena" four times, and only one of those occurences is in dialogue, the remainder being located in stage directions. The shorter "Helen" form of her name appears 25 times, sixteen of those in dialogue, and yet editors generally print the longer form. It would seem logical to normalize the name to the longer form, if indeed it needs to be normalized (47).

A similar, though more complicated case of name emendation is common in Julius Caesar, where the names given in the Folio text are often emended to a more formal Latin form (47-48). This is an altogether unnecessary emendation that reflects the bias of the classicists more than Shakespeare's intent. The place of Julius Caesar as a bridge between classical and English education lends more gravity to the men than Shakespeare meant to give them.

"For some reason-perhaps because an edition can be annotated-one is more willing to confront a reader than a playgoer with nonsense" (49).

While metrical emendation has long been out of fashion, editorial hesitence to amend metre has been taken too far. When the extant text's metrical values are demonstrably deficient, an editor should be
willing to amend a line for the sake of the metre (50). The key words are "demonstrably deficient." Perhaps I am too conservative, but I think the only instance in which I should consider amending metre is when the line occurs in an otherwise highly regular passage, and for which its irregularity cannot be otherwise explained.

There are a couple points in this chapter when Wells proposes a "foul-papers text" being the source of confusion: Taming of the Shrew is proposed (52), as is the quarto of Much Ado about Nothing (46). Yet
I cannot help but think to William Proctor Williams' eminently logical assertion that no printer would have accepted foul-papers copy for the simple reason that it would be more difficult, and therefore take
longer to set than fair copy. Hasty composition is a halmark of a foul-papers text, as described by Wells, but is it inconceivable that hastily composed lines might never have been corrected in the fair
copy that made its way to the print shop?

Summary: emendation is sometimes necessary, and editors ought to not feel too skittish about amending texts of plays when the sense, metre, or style of the line is called into question. While some lines can simply be glossed to impart meaning to a modern reader, this is not always the case, and part of the editors job is to present reasonable alternatives. However, an editor would also do well to make note of the original, and perhaps other emendations and arguments in appropriate foot or end notes.

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