Internet Shakespeare Editions

4.4. The modern text

4.4.1. Determining the copy text

a) General

In recent years many basic assumptions about the nature of the transmission of the text from Shakespeare's pen to the printed page have come under scrutiny. There has been a rebirth of skepticism in a discipline that had for many years prided itself on its almost scientific objectivity. This has been on the whole a valuable exercise; you are encouraged to return to first principles in determining your copy (or control) text and in deducing what you can about its provenance.

At the same time, remember that the overall objective of the Internet Shakespeare Editions is to provide tools: usable editions for others. The Internet Shakespeare Editions will accept high quality texts from editors with varying convictions about the ability of any modern editor to decide matters of textual transmission; the important point is that for these texts to be useful, the editor's position must be clearly spelled out and justified in the textual introduction. In general, the nature of the electronic medium will make possible a more "inclusive" edition than is possible in print, along the lines of the New Folger editions of Paul Werstine and Barbara Mowat. The eccentric and the merely pedantic are to be avoided; where there are no compelling arguments for changing a generally accepted reading it may be preferable for your modern edition to prefer the familiar and to discuss the issue (if necessary at some length) in the commentary or collation.

See also the list of recent studies below.

b) The provenance of the text

Where it is possible to do so, please make every attempt to achieve as clear an awareness as possible of the process of translation from manuscript copy to the surviving printed edition(s). Where you do not believe it possible to reach a defensible conclusion, make clear the issues that have been debated in earlier editions of the play. Matters which may affect treatment of the text include:

c) Reporting your findings

State succinctly your findings in your discussion of the text, in such a manner as to indicate their likely significance and the nature and degree of their importance for the editing of the text. Where appropriate (e.g. when you are dealing with a subject of some controversy), you may wish to present a fuller and more detailed consideration in a separate file, to be linked both to the collation and the commentary.

d) Editions of plays with multiple source texts

In the electronic medium, multiple modern texts of single plays will be possible. Taking Lear as an example, the site may eventually offer the following:

In addition, of course, the site will have electronic versions of both Quarto and Folio, and digitized images of both texts.

The crucial point is that you should make clear what kind of edition it is that you are offering.

e) Emendations

All emendations and conjectures should be consistent with the proposed history of the text as outlined in the introduction, and you should fully understand, and explain, how the reading of the copy text may have come into existence (e.g. misreading, mechanical error, scribal sophistication, authorial revision).

f) Some recent studies

Specialized studies that may be helpful in cases involving complex or obscure transmission of the text can be found listed in T. H. Howard-Hill, Shakespearean Bibliography and Textual Criticism: A Bibliography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971; a new edition has been announced, but had not appeared at the time of this version of the Guidelines). Periodical articles published between 1933 and 1985 can be found in the Bibliographical Society's Index to Selected Bibliographical Journals, 1933-1970 (1982); and in John Feather, An Index of Selected Bibliographical Periodicals, 1971-1985, Oxford Bibliographical Society (1991). For more recent publications see the annual review of "Textual Studies" in Shakespeare Survey and the relevant section of the Shakespeare chapter in The Year's Work in English Studies. See also William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion. ed. Stanley Wells, Gary Taylor et al. (Oxford UP, 1987).

Recent studies which discuss some of the challenges to long-accepted beliefs about the capacity of the editor to determine textual matters include William B. Long, "Stage-Directions: A Misinterpreted Factor in Determining Textual Provenance," Text 2 (1985): 121-37; Paul Werstine, "McKerrow?'s 'Suggestion' and Twentieth-Century Shakespeare Textual Criticism," Renaissance Drama 19 (1989): 149-73; "Narratives about Printed Shakespearean Texts: 'Foul Papers' and 'Bad Quartos,' " Shakespeare Quarterly 41 (1990): 65-86; "Shakespeare," in Scholarly Editing: A Guide to Research. D.C. Greetham ed. New York: MLA Publications, 1995 (a good overview); Barbara Mowat, "The Problem of Shakespeare's Text(s)," Shakespeare Jahrbuch 132 (1996): 26-43, and relevant chapters in A New History of Early English Drama, ed. John D. Cox and David Scott Kastan (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997). You will also find articles discussing matters of editorial interest in the collection In Arden: Editing Shakespeare, ed. Ann Thompson and Gordon McMullen. London: Thomson Learning, 2003. On compositors, see Charlton Hinman's Printing and Proof-reading of the Shakespeare First Folio (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963).

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