Thursday, January 6, 2011

Notes on "Inventing Shakespeare"

"Every time an editor emends a text he is, to an extent, reconstructing its author in his own image" (124).

The foundation of modern editorial practice is in creating emendations that are "transparent" and "anonymous" in that they manage to correct the sense or the meter of a line without adding anything to the dramatic context (127).

"The principle of anonymity is a false principle. In the first place, anonymity must always yield to plausibility; in the second, when probabilities are equal, anonymity must yield to individuality" (128).

Much as eighteenth century editors emended Shakespeare's plays to conform to their own eighteenth century aesthetics, modern editors tend to emend Shakespeare in a way that anyone could have written the words. What an editor should attempt to do is create an emendation in keeping with the words Shakespeare wrote (128). Of course, creating an emendation that seems "Shakespearean" requires creating that emendation given the author's sense of their audience's interpretation of what is Shakespearean; i.e. exactly what the eighteenth century editors did.

W.W. Greg, Alice Walker, and Charlton Hinman all advanced studies of printshop, specifically compositorial practice that advocate for a greater degree of emendation to texts than most modern editors, who tend to follow the tradition of McKerrow and Bowers, would be comfortable making (131).

"When the fact which confronts you is an absence, you can offer no mechanical explanation for that absence until you have conjecturally filled it, and that conjecture is a work of pure imagination" (132).

"In general the more words that have been omitted the less confidence we can have in replacing them" (134).

Analytical bibliography is most useful when providing the tools to decide between two reasonable alternatives in a text, but it is less useful at the point where readers and actors most need assistance: where there are literal gaps in the text (142).


Taylor agrees with Greg in finding that the practice of textual emendation is an "art" rather than a science (141). He argues that gaps in the text should be filled with our best approximation of what Shakespeare would have filled those gaps with, and as his title implies, this is based purely on our conception of who Shakespeare is. By filling in the gaps left in the printed texts, editors invent Shakespeare for their readers.


Taylor, Gary. "Inventing Shakespeare" Shakespeare: The Critical Context. Stephen Orgel and Sean Keilen Ed. New York: Garland Publishing. 1999. p. 124 - 142. Print. Dual pagination is given for all works in this volume, but since the table of contents follows the pagination running at the bottom center of each page, this is the pagination that I have followed in my 

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