Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Notes on "Shakespeare and the New Bibliography" - Chapter 1

The working relationship between Pollard, Greg, and McKerrow was a cordial one, which stands in contrast to the work of Shakespeare's 18th and 19th century editors (1). Their cooperative approach to bibliographic scholarship may have been one of the reasons this group did make so many advances in their field; it is perhaps also the reason why the narrative of good and bad quartos and piracy persisted in their ranks.

K. Deighton's The Old Dramatists: Conjectural Readings (1896) is "one of the better examples of that kind of textual criticism which proposes emendation without relation to the origin of the text or inquiry into the cause of corruption" (4). I feel as if I should look this up; one of the arguments that I seem to be evolving is that a performance is, in some ways at least, an island, and to use Dessen's phrase, directors will often find themselves "re-scripting Shakespeare" for modern performance anyway. Perhaps editing for modern production has more in common with the old bibliography than with the New.

When Sidney Lee accused early modern printers of piracy in his 1898 Life of Shakespeare, Greg replied that 'it should be frankly confessed that we know very little about the old copyright regulations' (5).

The strength of McKerrow and Greg's work rested in their recognition of "what they did not know and what they needed to know" to develop bibliographic analysis into more than just a guessing game (6). Maybe I've been too hard on them; when the previous generation is guessing, and you've gone to the trouble of discovering some facts, perhaps that gives you the right to create whatever narrative you want. No, that's not true; not when that narrative means ignoring some very important facts.

The origin of the good quarto/bad quarto theory, and Pollard's melodrama of piracy, originated with Halliwell-Phillipps' defense of Heminge and Condell. Throughout the 19th century, scholar's had regarded their claims of other texts being maimed and deformed as being merely an advertisement for the new works in the Folio (11 - 12).


Whereas earlier editors of Shakespeare confined themselves to readings of the text of the plays, Pollard, Greg, McKerrow, and the rest of the New Bibliographers undertook to understand the materials and conditions under which Shakespeare's plays were printed. In doing so they were able to determine that the Pavier quartos were, despite their title impressions, all printed at roughly the same time, and to determine the lineage of several other printed texts of the period. While their work did involve a good deal of guess work, their guess work was at least grounded in historical and technical fact to the greatest extent that they were able.


Wilson, F.P. Shakespeare and the New Bibliography. Oxford: Oxford UP. 1970. Print.

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