"New Contexts for Shakespeare" by Gabriel Egan
This chapter is concerned with recently-emerged new contexts for the work of Shakespeare and how these have affected, and may continue to affect, the criticism of his works. In particular, it will focus on his biography and working habits, his surviving texts, and the archaeological work on the buildings his plays were first performed in.
In the first years of the 21st century appeared several new biographies of Shakespeare, despite the fact that virtually no new knowledge about his life has emerged in the past few decades. It might seem, then, that all biographers can do is fit the existing pieces of an incomplete jigsaw into new configurations, shaped not so much by the facts as by the kind of Shakespeare they want to construct. Thus Katherine Duncan-Jones's Ungentle Shakespeare is driven largely by the desire to dispel the longstanding myths of his other-worldly goodness and to show that, like any ambitious and increasingly wealthy man of his time, Shakespeare was class-conscious and capable of sharp-dealing when his personal fortunes were at stake (Duncan-Jones 2001). That so many of his contemporaries called him 'gentle' Shakespeare should not cloud our judgement of the empirical evidence about his behaviour--such things as his purchase of a title, his enclosure of common land--which need to be understood within the business activities that structured his life.
One of the reasons that the realities of Shakespeare's life have been glossed over is that, because he wrote dramatic poetry, he has been treated as a poet and poets are supposed to be other-worldly. However, since about the mid-twentieth century the drive to have Shakespeare understood as esentially a man of the theatre has tended to strip away this assumed poetic other-worldliness. The theatre of early-modern London was a cut-throat businness operating outside the protection and control of the guild structure of the city. Playing companies were joint-stock ventures that had much in common with other new capitalist endeavours operating under a royal licence (such as the East India Company), and the prize for success was fabulous wealth (as Shakespeare and other company members achieved) while the price of failure was penury (as their rivals frequently found). Thinking about the existing facts of Shakespeare's life in these terms, a biographer may combine the pieces of the jigsaw with a respect to the necessary domestic and professional arrangements that a successful playing company sharer such as Shakespeare must have made.
To take a straightforward example, it is commonly asserted that Shakespeare retired to Stratford-upon-Avon some time around 1613, when his career in the theatre was over. The central biographical facts that underpin this assertion is the evidence that Shakespeare died in Stratford in 1616 and that none of his surviving plays can be dated later than 1613. But in order to retire to Stratford Shakespeare would have to have been living elsewhere, and as Stanley Wells recently pointed out we simply do not know where Shakespeare lived most of the time (Wells 2002, 28-38). It is a reasonable assumption that his work in the theatre industry kept him in London, and there are records of his being resident at certain times, but a life of constant travel between Stratford and London was quite possible. As Wells notes, the essential requirements for his work were a well-stocked library and relative peace in which to read and write, and it is at least as easy to imagine him finding these in Stratford, where he owned a grand house, as in London. Underlying an image of Shakespeare retiring to Stratford may well be an assumption of his long-term abandonment of his wife and family for the duration of an exciting career in the metropolis, and most potently of him giving up this life when he completed his last sole-authored play The Tempest in 1611. Prospero's farewell to the audience is pleasingly read as Shakespeare's farewell to the stage, but of course it can be no such thing, for he went on to co-write three more plays with John Fletcher: All is True, Cardenio, and The Two Noble Kinsmen. We will shortly come back to this matter of collaboration, and how it bears upon interpretation of the works.
[TEXTBOX Plays that Shakespeare wrote in the last years of his career are sometimes called the Romances. Find secondary material that gives you the current scholarly opinion on the dates of composition of each of his plays--a good Complete Works edition should have this--and make a list of the plays from Pericles (1607) to the end of Shakespeare's career. Beside each play title give a brief account of the play's genre, taking into account when it is set, the nature of the plot, and especially such things as whether any bad characters die, whether any good characters die, and whether the outcome is a happy one for the protagonists. Do these late plays fall into clear generic categories?]
The biggest biographical news has been the claim recently advanced by several scholars that Shakespeare was secretly a Catholic, and hence he lived his life in permanent tacit opposition to the state-enforced Protestant orthodoxy. This idea first achieved widespread currency when E. A. J. Honigmann attempted to explain the so-called 'lost years' between 1585, when the baptism of Shakespeare's twins is recorded in Stratford-upon-Avon, and 1592 when allusions to his London theatre life begin (Honigmann 1985). For this missing period, Honigmann placed Shakespeare in the family home of a wealthy Catholic landowner Alexander Hoghton in Lancashire, whose will referred to a William Shakeshafte lodging with him. At the end of the twentieth century, Richard Wilson discovered further connections between Shakespeare and recusant activity (Wilson 1997; Wilson 2004a; Wilson 2004b). The validity of these connections remains a matter of dispute, and Richard Bearman's research has undermined the evidential value of there being a 'Shakeshafte' in Hoghton's will by showing that it was a common name in Lancashire (Bearman 2002).
What would it matter, though, if Shakespeare were secretly Catholic? How would this affect the interpretation of his plays? For one thing, it would put an end to the long-cherished idea that Shakespeare saw both sides of every argument, and indeed was capable of articulating both sides, without ever finally coming down in favour of either. This alleged neutrality of Shakespeare is sometimes known as his 'negative capability', for in a letter the poet John Keats called it that and explained that Shakepeare possessed an enormous capacity "of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason" (White 1987, 34). But the idea of a Shakespeare who secretly favoured one side in the greatest intellectual argument of his day not only forces us to reconsider his representations of religious controversies--say, in 1 Henry 6 where Cardinal Beauford dare not appear at court in his robes until Henry 5 is long buried (Wentersdorf 2006) and in King John where the king overtly denies the power of Rome and comes to regret it--but also to reconsider all those moments where his dialecticism seems to refuse final conclusions to any debate. Could it be that we are just too insensitive to the subtle hints that tell us which side he was on? In any event, the very fact that he had assiduously buried his own feelings (else he would not have so long passed as the poet of 'negative capability') would require a reexamination of every longstanding critical assumption of neutrality.
Let us take a concrete example. The ghost in Hamlet claims to come from Purgatory:
GHOST I am thy father's spirit,
Doomed for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away.
Only Catholics believed in Purgatory and rejecting the idea of a fixed-duration for certain sins--a 'time' to be paid for each 'crime'--was a key tenet of the new Protestant faith and philosophy initiated by Martin Luther. Three scenes before this one, the audience was made aware that Hamlet himself was educated at the epicentre of Luther's influence ("going back to school in Wittenberg", 1.2.113), so the play offers something to adherents of both the old and the new religions. If we imagine a Shakespeare who was secretly attached to the old faith, Hamlet's own education is a new departure from the truth and the father, not the son, represents correct theology.
[TEXTBOX Find other moments in Shakespeare's plays where the difference between Protestant and Catholic doctrine seems important. (If you are stuck finding examples, search an electronic text of the plays for the word 'puritan'; this will not find every relevant moment but it should turn up at least 4 scenes in which extreme Protestantism is mentioned.) Reading these moments in the light of the characters' preceding dialogue and behaviour, can you tell if the audience is encouraged to see either side of this Christian schism as being in the right?]
The play Hamlet is generally understood to be both forward and backward looking, with old Hamlet personifying medieval principles made to clank noisily onto the stage in full armour and presumably carrying a broadsword. At the same time, the younger generation looks forward to the Renaissance present, in which martial skill is transmuted into ceremonial combat with finely wrought weapons: "French rapiers and poniards . . . girdle, hanger . . . most delicate carriages" (5.2.114-7). The 1990 film of the play makes explicit this contrast of old and new ways when Hamlet (Mel Gibson) chooses as his weapon for the final contest not a delicate rapier but a medieval broadsword, and self-mockingly collapses under its weight (Zeffirelli 1990). The old and the new, in theology as well as philosophy and wider cultural practice, are thus put into dramatic conflict, so the play might be thought quintessentially the work of a dramatist sceptical of past and present ideas. But if Shakespeare was a secret follower of the old religion we have to suppose that he was deeply opposed to the Elizabethan present, with its enforced attendance at Protestant mass.
According to Richard Wilson, this long-engrained necessity to conceal his beliefs is itself the reason that Shakespeare's personal views seem so markedly absent from the works. Extinguishing one's personality in order to mouth views that one did not believe was a habit that secret Catholics learnt in order to survive. When Shakespeare came to write plays this habit manifested itself as a highly developed capacity to inhabit the points of view of others and articulate them as though from within. The ventriloquism of drama, then, was especially suited to Shakespeare's religious outlook, if (and the matter is far from settled) he was indeed a Catholic.
The traditional view of Shakespeare's dramatic career has been that, unlike many of his contemporaries, he generally worked on his own. According to G. E. Bentley, most drama was composed by pairs or teams of writers collaborating, but we tend to think of Shakespeare as a loner (Bentley 1971, 197-234). Work on evidence for his occasional collaboration was considerably suppressed for most of the twentieth century by a thunderous British Academy lecture by E. K. Chambers that denounced the early, relatively crude stylometry of F. G. Fleay and J. M. Robertson (Chambers 1924-25). Despite this, the evidence gradually accumulated and Brian Vickers's recent book on the subject counted amongst Shakespeare's collaborative works 1 Henry 6, Titus Andronicus, Timon of Athens, Pericles, All is True (=Henry 8) and The Two Noble Kinsmen (Vickers 2002)
An aspect of this series not dwelt upon by Vickers is the dating of these plays, which in the chronology of the 1986 Oxford Complete Works is 1592 for 1 Henry 6 and Titus Andronicus, 1605 for Timon of Athens, 1607 for Pericles, 1613 for All is True, and 1613-14 for The Two Noble Kinsmen (Wells et al. 1987, 113-34). Between 1592 and 1605 Shakespeare seems not to have collaborated and yet he wrote 21 plays, over half the canon. Shakespeare slowed down towards what we now know--even if he did not--was to be the end of his career. The first 10 plays in the Oxford chronology, from Two Gentlemen of Verona to Richard 2, were written between 1590 and 1595, about two a year. The last 10 plays, King Lear to The Two Noble Kinsmen, were written between 1605 and 1614, about one a year. (In those counts I exclude the lost plays Love's Labour's Won and Cardenio and ignore the poetic output.) So, Shakespeare began and ended his career as a collaborator, working quickly at the beginning and slowly at the end.
An obvious explanation for this behaviour offers itself. At the start of his career, the novice was keen but needed to work with others, like an apprentice, acquiring skills and perhaps being somewhat exploited. Although Thomas Nashe was 3 years younger than Shakespeare, he had established himself as a published writer in the late 1580s and was already part of a well-defined circle of Oxford and Cambridge graduates in London (including Christopher Marlowe and Robert Greene) when he worked with Shakespeare on 1 Henry 6 in 1592 (Smith, Stephen & Lee 1937-38, 101-09). Likewise, George Peele was connected with this circle of graduates when he worked with Shakespeare on Titus Andronicus the same year and he was somewhere between 5 and 8 years Shakespeare's senior (Bowers 1987a, 242-53). When Shakespeare collaborated again it was in 1604-6 on Timon of Athens with Thomas Middleton (Shakespeare & Middleton 2004, 5-6), who was 15 or 16 years his junior (Bowers 1987b, 196-222), and in 1607 on Pericles with George Wilkins. Wilkins's age is unknown and his certain dramatic ouput to that date was a share in The Travails of the Three English Brothers and sole authorship of The Miseries of Enforced Mariage. His body of work was much less than Shakespeare's 31 plays written over the preceding 15 years or so. We may suppose that in this second phase of collaboration Shakespeare no longer had to prove himself, could afford to slowdown (as he undoubtedly did towards the end), and worked with others as a master imparting his skills and benefitting from the junior partner's keenness.
Shakespeare ended his working life somewhat as he began it, but as the master rather than the apprentice. According to Gary Taylor the first few years of the 1600s were hard on Shakespeare, and, mid-career and (early) middle-aged, he returned to collaboration to revive his flagging ouput by breaking a run of mediocrity that began after Hamlet (Taylor 2004b). Whether he achieved this with Timon of Athens we cannot directly tell because nothing is known of its stage history before the Restoration (Shakespeare & Middleton 2004, 89), although we might take this fact itself as indirect evidence that it was not a hit. But indisputably his next known collaboration, Pericles, written probably in the winter of 1607-8, was an immediate, huge, and enduring success (Shakespeare 2004, 2-4, 54-62).
What difference does it make to our interpretation of a play if we decide that Shakespeare collaborated on it? A reader who finds herself disappointed that at the end of 1 Henry 6 Joan of Arc turns out to be precisely the witch and harlot that the English said she was may be comforted by the knowledge that Shakespeare did not write this part of the play (Taylor 1995). The Shakespearian parts of the play seem to be those especially concerned to show that men hurl accusations of impropriety at women who threaten their masculine military dominance, and in particular that being accused of witchcraft was a risk taken by women who refused to conform to prevailing rules of female submissiveness. Someone with a less subtle touch seems to have finished off the play, and by confirming all the English accusations this writer drains from the character of Joan some of the radical power she has in the middle scenes of it.
In another of the early plays, the problem occurs right at the beginning. It has long been a matter of concern to critics that Titus's killing of his son Mutius in a row over Lavinia is out of character and seems too easily forgotten about in a play intensely concerned with family cohesion. One could argue that this is artistically intentional, since Titus embodies the strictest Roman values and places honour above all else. Recent work on the authorship of the play, however, explains the killing of Mutius as an incident added to the play by its co-author George Peele without Shakespeare's knowledge or agreement (Boyd 2004). What should we do about such a case? There is an argument for undoing such interventions in a text if we think that the main author would not have approved of them, but what if (as seems to be the case here) Peele was entrusted with writing certain scenes and simply failed to keep to the agreed plot?
[TEXTBOX Read the first two scenes of Measure for Measure, making a list of the problems with the dramatic material, in particular repetitions and confusions in the events. (Editors often try to fix these things, so you may want to read the text as it appeared in the first, virtually unedited, edition: the Folio of 1623. You will find images and electronic texts of this online in a number of places, including the Internet Shakespeare Editions.) Then read the account of Thomas Middleton's interference in the play after Shakespeare's death (Taylor 1993); does this account explain all the problems you listed? How would your reading of the play differ if, as has recently been claimed, the original setting were not Vienna in Austria but Ferrara in Italy (Taylor 2004a)?]
For some scholars, authorial collaboration is just one expression of the generally collaborative nature of drama in which individuals necessarily submerge their personalities within the group. An intellectual framework for this can be constructed from the writings of the high French theorists of the late 1960s Roland Barthes, especially his essay "The death of the author" (Barthes 1968), and Michel Foucault, especially his essay "What is an author?" (Foucault 1969). These post-structuralists reacted against the veneration of the individual author within French literary studies and insisted upon the social nature of language, and especially the fact that writers draw upon existing materials in their creations, to stress the collective nature of meaning. Applying this to early-modern drama, Jeffrey Masten writes that "Only by eliding or ignoring the theatrical as a mode of (re)production can these texts be read from the post-Enlightenment perspective of individual authorship, the now-hegemonic mode of textual production and the site of Foucault's critique" (Masten 1997, 16). Real materialism, for Masten, would attend to the fact that ". . . theatrical production was itself a sustained collaboration . . " and ". . . the construction of meaning by a theatrical company was polyvocal . . ." (Masten 1997, 14).
Masten is right that drama is a deeply collaborative activity, yet there remain scholars who believe that in the act of collaborative writing the individual writers' voices might not be entirely blended. After all, if the voices were utterly merged we would be unable to detect that the ending of 1 Henry 6 or the beginning of Titus Andronicus were the work of writers other than Shakespeare. To take an example from near the end of Shakespeare's career, the collaborative writing of All is True (by Shakespeare and John Fletcher) is especially interesting because the subject matter is the reforming Protestant king Henry 8 who himself had been a persecutor of Protestant heretics before his conversion to the new faith. As we have seen, if Shakespeare was a secret Catholic then this would be a topic about which he had decided but covert opinions. John Fletcher, on the other hand, was the grandson of a man who assisted John Foxe on the 1583 edition of the standard, hagiographical account of Protestant martyrs called Acts and Monuments (Merriam 2005, 39).
Foxe's Acts and Monuments is itself a source for All is True and according to the traditional division of the two dramatists' shares in the play, they both used it. A sense of how closely Foxe was copied can be got by comparing these extracts, in which the shared words and phrases are highlighted:
Oh Lord, what manner a man be you? What simplicity is in you? I had thought that you would rather have sued to us to have taken the pains to have heard you and your accusers together for your trial, without any such indurance. (Foxe 1597, 8B1v)
What manner of man are you? My lord, I looked
You would have given me your petition that
I should have ta'en some pains to bring together
Yourself and your accusers, and to have heard you
Without indurance further.
(All is True 5.1.118-22)
This one page of Acts and Monuments is used for a whole sequence of borrowings in the play, some in scenes attributed to Shakespeare and some in scenes attributed to Fletcher. As Thomas Merriam pointed out, this has been given as an example of the dramatists working so closely together, drawing on the same materials so extensively, that any thought of untangling their labours is futile (Merriam 2005, 35-40). But what if we do not assume a division of labour by scenes and instead try to work with a finer reticulation?
Merriam describes a new way of testing how rarely certain words appear near to one another in someone's writing (that is, how rarely they collocate), using Chadwyck-Healey's Literature Online (LION) database and incorporating negative checks to improve reliability, which means that one ensures that the material one is hunting appears only in the work of the candidate and no-one else. Merriam tried the technique on phrases from the Thomas Cranmer episodes in 5.1 that use Foxe as a source (as do the Cranmer episodes in 5.2). The phrases "There are that" and "For so I know" appear in the parts of this play normally attributed to Shakespeare, but nowhere else in Shakespeare, but they appear often in the works of Fletcher. Might it not be the case that Shakespeare never used these phrases, and that the parts of this play in which they appear are in fact really by Fletcher? By a series of such tests, Merriam redrew the boundaries between the Shakespeare and Fletcher parts of the play, and showed that ". . . the Cranmer episodes in Act 5 of Henry VIII were written by Fletcher and not by Shakespeare" and that Shakespeare did not use Foxe's book (Merriam 2005, 39). This removes the difficulty of imagining a Catholic Shakepeare using as his source a vitriolic anti-Catholic, anti-Papal work. The bigger problem that this reveals is that we may have been seeing ambivalence or neutrality in Shakespeare's work only because we mistook as his writing parts of the plays that were by other people, and that in truth he was more partial, more opinionated than we have hitherto imagined.
[TEXTBOX Is Merriam right about the rareness of the phrase "there are that"? Use LION to search for this phrase in plays, poems, and prose works from the period. (If you have not done advanced searching of LION before, you may need assistance from the online Help system or from the administrators who provide you with access to LION.) From the list of hits, look for those that exactly parallel Merriam's example, where "there are that" has no explicit antecedent subject, only the implicit antecedent subject 'some people'. Does it matter for the validity of Merriam's argument that other writers besides Fletcher, but not Shakespeare, used this phrase? Repeat your searches, and consider their consequences, using Merriam's other test-phrase "for so I know".]
The versions of Shakepeare's texts that have been considered the best repositories of his subtle genius are the long ones found in the 1623 First Folio, which in many cases are longer than the quarto versions of the same plays that were published in his lifetime. A set of particularly short quarto versions were for most of the twentieth century labelled 'bad' quartos because they seemed textually corrupt and inexpertly cut down versions of the familiar texts. The most notorious of these is the 'bad' quarto of Hamlet that includes a speech beginning, familiarly enough, with "To be, or not to be" but continuing "Ay, there's the point, | To die, to sleep--Is that all? Ay all" (Shakespeare 1603, D4v). There are 'bad' quartos of The Merry Wives of Windsor, 2 and 3 Henry 6, Romeo and Juliet and Henry 5, and at times the early printings of King Lear, Richard 2 and Richard 3 have fallen under suspicion too. Although the means by which these texts were compiled was never fully discovered, the general assumption was that minor actors who had performed in them had got together and produced surreptitious texts by recalling their lines and the lines of the other actors, selling the resultant text to a publisher for an easy and illicit profit.
Although occasionally critics expressed concern that the 'bad' quartos were not so bad after all (McMillin 1972), it was not until the 1980s that the whole theory was systematically questioned and found wanting. Landmark studies by Steven Urkowitz, Paul Werstine, Kathleen O. Irace, and Laurie E. Maguire convinced most people that we simply cannot tell where these short versions of the plays come from, and that they might simply be alternative versions with dramatic merits of their own (Urkowitz 1988; Werstine 1990; Werstine 1999; Irace 1994; Maguire 1996). In 2002 Lukas Erne published an article followed up by a book-length study that presented an entirely new thesis that might account for the 'bad' quartos (Erne 2002; Erne 2003). Contrary to the orthodoxy that began to emerge in the 1950s and achieved dominant expression in the 1986 Oxford Complete Works of Shakespeare, perhaps the plays were not, after all, essentially scripts for the theatre. What if Shakespeare consciously wrote for readers of his plays rather than (or perhaps as well as) for performers?
[TEXTBOX Pick one of the alleged 'bad' quartos--Hamlet, The Merry Wives of Windsor, 2 and 3 Henry 6, Romeo and Juliet or Henry 5--and make a list of its differences from the version one usually reads in a modern critical edition of Shakespeare. (You will find facsimiles of 'bad' quartos at the back of recent Arden Shakespeare editions, and also at various places online including the Internet Shakespeare Editions.) Does the 'bad' quarto strike you as merely a garbling of the good text, or can you see merits as well as corruptions in its differences from the text we usually read?]
The idea of Shakespeare as essentially a man of the theatre writing scripts for actors--the idea that Erne would overturn--is worth considering for a moment before we lose sight of it. English studies is largely a twentieth-century invention, although universities have been around for hundreds of years. The approach to English studies which was dominant in the first half of the twentieth century--when the subject was becoming established--was New Criticism. Championed in England by F. R. Leavis and in America by I. A. Richards, this technique of studying texts emphasized practical criticism and close reading which considered the literary text in isolation from its cultural and historical contexts. New Critics valued poetic texts above others, because these tend to be more densely packed than say a novel: each word carries much more meaning, and so minute attention to the single phrase, or word, or image (which is the New Critic's way) pays off. Indeed, texts which are not poetry might be treated as poetry by New Critics for this very reason, and although T. S. Eliot was not exactly a New Critic we might sense the same tendency in his assertion that the whole of Shakespeare's work is one poem. Eliot seemed to imagine Shakespeare having a sense of his output as forming a large project--a gigantic poem--which he started in his 20s (when he first began writing for the theatre in the late 1580s or early 1590s) and finished in his late 40s when he retired.
This is essentially a Romantic conception of the poet, writing for himself and taking a broad view of his own work as a life's project, and seeking to bring it all together for one purpose: artistic coherence. From about the 1950s, this view of Shakespeare was increasingly undermined, especially in the new university departments in Bristol and Birmingham that studied drama as a subject in its own right, and it rapidly spread to other centres. Under the influence of Allardyce Nicoll and John Russell Brown especially, the University of Birmingham's Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon treated what happened on the theatre stage as every bit as important as what appears in the text. New research in theatre history bolstered the idea that as a working actor, Shakespeare would have considered the mounting of a successful performance as the whole point of his writing (and indeed the way to make money) and that sales of books would be at best a sideline and at worst a distraction from, even an injury to, his main business. After all, 3,000 people could pay to see one's play on any given afternoon in a theatre, while total sales of a book were limited by statute to the 1,500 copies that no print-run could exceed. In utter reversal of today's economics, theatre was the mass medium and book-reading the minority activity.
This new man-of-the-theatre role for Shakespeare fulfilled several desiderata at once. Within education, an active and participatory ('on your feet') mode of instruction could now replace sitting at desks and reciting lines of dense poetry. In the theatrical profession, lack of an English degree need no longer be felt a handicap, for was not Shakespeare himself a working actor with no more than a grammar school education supplemented by adult auto-didacticism? Within academic Shakespeare studies, the recentering of attention upon the theatre meant the stripping away of textual excrescences that belonged to the study not the stage. An often-quoted example of just how far from the stage editors had taken their texts is the opening words of John Dover Wilson's New Shakepeare Titus Andronicus:
[1.1] An open place in Rome, before the Capitol, beside the entrance to which there stands the monument of the Andronici. Through a window opening on to the balcony of an upper chamber in the Capitol may be seen the Senate in session. (Shakespeare 1948)
Not a word of this appears in the two early printings of the play, the 1594 quarto and the 1623 Folio editions, that are our only authorities for the text; the above is all the editor's invention. As Stanley Wells commented ". . . it reads more like a direction for a film than for a play on the Elizabethan stage" (Wells 1984, 84).
Wells, fresh from graduate study at the Shakespeare Institute, worked on the New Penguin Shakespeare with T. J. B. Spencer in the 1960s and developed new ideas about stage-centered editing that received their fullest expression in the 1986 Oxford Complete Works. Whereas their predecessors seemed to want to help the reader imagine the fictional location in which the action took place, the new stage-centered editors of the 1960-80s wanted their readers to imagine the action occurring on the kind of stage that Shakespeare would have assumed he had at his disposal. Knowing that for most of Shakespeare's career performances were uninterrupted by intervals, these editors marked act-breaks as unobtrusively as possible, rejecting the 'start a new page' layout that had long governed editions of Shakespeare. When it began to be apparent in the 1970s that Shakespeare tended to return to the plays he had written and revise them, the new stage-centered editors had to decide just what it was they were trying to represent: the play as originally conceived, or the play as Shakespeare later preferred it, perhaps with changes made in the light of rehearsals and early performances.
Ever since editorial practices began to be properly theorized in the late-nineteenth century, it had been assumed that the ideal to which one was editing--the document, now lost, that one would like to recreate--would be the text as it stood in the first complete authorial version. But with Shakespeare now conceived as a working and practical man of the theatre, the editorial ideal needed to be adjusted. Radically, the Oxford Complete Works attempted to represent the play as it was first performed. If there were two early printings, say a quarto that seemed to be based on authorial papers and a Folio text that seemed to be based on a document used in the theatre, the latter might well be preferred even if it omitted passages in the quarto. Thus, Hamlet's soliloquy beginning "How all occasions do inform against me" (usually appearing at the end of 4.4), from the second quarto but absent in the Folio, is demoted to an appendix in the Oxford Complete Works, on the grounds that (good as it is) it seems not to have made it into the first performances.
These are the practical editorial implications of insisting on a stage-centered Shakespeare studies, and it is these that are in jeopardy if Lukas Erne is right that Shakespeare was, at least from about 1600 when he wrote Hamlet, looking towards readers of his books as much as playgoers. In the 5 years since Erne announced his theory there has been no serious attempt to refute it and we are currently in a period of uncomfortable vacancy: flaws in the theatre-centered orthodoxy have been revealed but no new overarching paradigm has been proposed. What seems likely to occur next is at least a partial rehabilitation of literary-critical sensibilities within Shakespeare studies. Edward Pechter has recently argued that misguided ideas about radicalism and theatrical anti-elitism undervalue the literary in relation to theatre (Pechter 2003). In essence this, like Erne's, is an argument for a revaluation of Shakespeare's literariness. The argument that the short quartos are theatricalized (cut for a fast pace, losing the wordy stuff not needed in the theatre) is, Pechter claims, based on an impoverished sense of what the theatre can do. Fourth acts are often reflective (and female) acts, and cutting there (as many shortened versions do) does not just increase the pace, it changes the gender balance. Thus we should not be afraid to laud the plays' literary qualities. Politics also gets in the way: we are supposed to reject the literary as conservative and elitist and the theatrical as radical and demotic, but in many cases to champion a short (formerly, 'bad') quarto text because you think it more radical than the Folio is to give up the Folio's more interesting political material such as the complexities of Henry 5's heroism and Desdemona and Emilia's discussion of the gender double standard. Moreover, the claimed Romantics' idealization of solitary authorship just is not true: they did not so idealize it, according to Pechter.
While the stage-centered thinking held unchallenged sway, the thing most obviously missing from Shakespeare studies was a clear idea of just what that stage looked like. The American actor Sam Wanamaker's project to build a replica Globe theatre near to the site of the original in London had one watch-word: authenticity. The aim was not to build the kind of theatre we would like to think that Shakespeare used, but rather, by using the best theatre-historical scholarship available, to build the closest possible representation of the theatre he actually used, and then to put on performances that adhere as closely as possible to the original practices. The project was comprehensively mocked by mainstream British Shakespearians in the 1980s, many of whom were Marxists with deep suspicions that the whole thing was an exercize in worshipping the Bard (what George Bernard Shaw wittily dubbled Bardolatry). The project came to fruition in the late 1990s with the opening of the replica Globe in south London and it has become the most successful theatre in the country, judged by how often the 'house' is 'full'.
For the first ten years, the new Globe operated a policy of experimenting with academically-intensive, deeply-researched 'original practices' performances. This meant such things as using teenage boys to play the female roles and wearing clothing that accurately reproduced what sixteenth and seventeenth-century actors wore, which was essentially what everybody wore in those days. That is to say, there is overwhelming evidence that performances in Shakespeare's time were in 'modern dress' in the sense that the actors wore much what the audience wore, rather than trying to reproduce the clothing of the times in which their plays were set. We have to imagine the ancient Romans of Julius Caesar wearing hats, capes, doublets, and hose, not togas and sandals, if we want to picture the first performances. Likewise we have to picture Juliet or Cleopatra played by a boy, and if 'her' gown is designed to show off a bust the boy actor must be put into a corset that pulls the male torso so as to produce one. Or rather, at the Globe we no longer have to imagine these things since the skills of making functional early-modern clothing have been recovered and refined so that actors may experience for themselves just how their characters' movements and postures were constrained by the clothing worn in the first performances. An aristocratically dignified upright posture maintained even during the act of sitting down was, it turns out, not so much a matter of training in deportment as the constraining of the body wedged into the figure-hugging shapes popular for both men and women of high status. This kind of realism has struck many as historical fetishism, but it has an intellectual rigour, and a socio-historical practical usefulness, that we can contrast with the imprecision of the similacra early-modern 'costumes', held together by velco and zippers, used by other troupes such as the Royal Shakespeare Company.
The design team led by Jenny Tiramani that brought this discipline and expertise to the Globe left the project in 2006, and productions there now have much less claim to academic rigour than those mounted in the first 10 years. The theatre building itself, however, remains an academically rigorous replica of the original, and if we think that theatre buildings have an important effect on the performances that take place within them then the project has much more to uncover about early-modern theatre practice. A difficulty arises, however, because it is hard to show that a theatre building has an important effect on the performances, other than in the most general terms. Certainly the dramatic aesthetics of open-air performance by daylight in the mid-afternoon are different from those of indoor evening performance by artificial light. When one factors in the spatial relationships between the actors and the audience--at the Globe the stage is surrounded on three sides by standing spectators that the actors cannot ignore, and who cannot ignore one another as they do in dark indoor theatres--it is clear that modes of address (such as soliloquy and aside) and their associated psychological states (self-communion, appeal to the world outside the fiction) are quite different at an open-air amphitheatre when compared to a conventional indoor proscenium-arch theatre.
However, beyond these main differences, it is hard to justify the Globe's attention to detail, since it is difficult to argue that the authentic construction practices of its builder Peter McCurdy have a lasting impact on the actors' use of the theatre now. (McCurdy is an arch-purist of early-modern construction practices and employed no power tools when erecting the building: all sawing was done using only the kinds of saw available in 1599.) Likewise with the interior decoration, which in fact should be (from what we know of Elizabethan public buildings) as bright and gawdy around the full span of the auditorium as it currently is on the stage. It is difficult to justify extending the decoration to the auditorium on the grounds of anything other than rigour, since it does not seem from performances so far that theatre decoration has a noticeable affect upon the play, beyond the occasional reference such as Othello's "yon marble heaven" (3.3.463) and Hamlet's "this majestical roof fretted with golden fire" (2.2.302-3), both referring to the painted underside of the cover over the stage.
Arguably, however, this point was effectively conceded several years ago when a crucial compromise was made. During an academic seminar on the subject in the early 1980s, John Ronayne presented evidence that the interior decoration of the Globe must have been something between "the English tradition of the ornamented facade, low relief decorating flat surfaces, and the innovation of classical sculptural principles" (Ronayne 1983, 22). Ronayne pointed out that in exterior views the 1599 Globe appears white with stone walls, although it must have been timber-framed. The contract for the Fortune theatre, modelled on the Globe, explains why. It specifies that the building was to be "sufficiently enclosed without [that is, outside] with lath, lime and hair" (Foakes & Rickert 1961, 308). This exterior treatment led to the conclusion that at the new replica Globe "a magpie black and white half-timbering is not acceptable" (Ronayne 1983, 23), it would have to be likewise covered up with plaster. By 1997 Ronayne's position had shifted:
Our re-creation of the 1599 Globe is a timber-framed building, and we have elected to leave the 'green' oak exposed to weather and fade to grey over the years. The majority of buildings in pre-fire London had their timbers exposed (Claes de Jongh's painting of London Bridge, of about 1612, now at Kenwood, shows this vividly). As our reconstruction is the first major timber-framed building in the capital since the Fire, our decision, on balance, was to expose the structure of what is a rare sight in London, rather than cover it up as the Elizabethans may have done, taking for granted the frameworked appearance. For them, outer rendering was grander. For us, half timbering is more generally evocative. (Ronayne 1997, 122)
This shift represents a radical change in the theoretical underpinning of the project, since the stated aim was always recovery of 'what had been' in the Elizabethan period and not 'what is now evocative' of the period.
We can reach further back into the project and find that, despite McCurdy's authentic sawing, compromises were built into the initial conception of the replica theatre. After all, if it were to operate as a professional theatre it would have to meet twentieth-century safety standards, just as McCurdy's building workers had to use hard-hats, harnesses, and light-weight sturdy scaffolding unavailable to the builders in 1599. As the first couple of bays of the replica theatre were being put together by McCurdy's team, Terence Hawkes mocked the project, linking it to the futility of textual work that has cognate aims to recover the past:
The less than edifying spectacle of scholars in pursuit of authenticity is familiar enough in the field of Shakespearean textual scholarship, where the quest for what the Bard 'originally' wrote in pristine and unsullied manuscript form has its own comic and ideologically illuminating history. . . . The good news is that, to conform to modern fire regulations, the [project's two] theatres will have illuminated Exit signs. Light one for me. (Hawkes 1992, 142-43)
That is to say, for all the meticulous scholarship about the archaeology of the Globe, the need to put in modern safety lighting reveals the intellectual bankruptcy of the entire project. We cannot go back to the past, Hawkes insists, at least not without bringing our modern selves along too. For all the architectural work, "What can never be reconstructed", he wrote, "is the major ingredient of all Shakespeare's plays . . . their original audience" (Hawkes 1992, 143). This means that our historical knowledge is always mediated through the concerns of the present, not least the concern to get out alive in the event of a fire. Hawkes went on to develop this insight into what has become the latest trend in Shakespeare studies--or at least the latest to have a single catchy name--which he dubbed Presentism (Hawkes 2002; Fernie 2005; Grady & Hawkes 2007).
This might seem the last word on the subject, but in fact there were objections along these lines well before the project began to assemble the replica's giant timbers. One school of thought had always been that a 'good enough' replica--outdoors, playing in daylight, with boy actors--would be a more useful tool for learning about Shakespeare's dramaturgy than an intensely authentic reconstruction. Indeed, a 'good enough' Globe might be made from flexible units so that if new knowledge emerged the replica could be adapted to take account of it, or indeed if a particular experimenter wanted to try something unusual--say, to lower the stage balcony so that Romeo could leave Juliet's bedroom in a single manly bound--it could be accommodated. At the Wanamaker replica an early argument between architectural experts and theatre practitioners about the proposed location of the stage-posts resulted in a redesigning of the stage cover, which cannot now be moved again. For all its usefulness as a experimental theatre, the existing replica Globe is hamstrung by its very authenticity, since no-one wants to alter it greatly for the sake of further research.
There may be an emerging technical solution to this dilemma. In the 1990s the techniques of Virtual Reality (VR) modelling enabled theatre historians to build replica theatres inside computers. Once built, these theatres could be used to test theories about theatre design, answering such questions as 'what view of the stage could be had from the top gallery?' and 'how is audibility in the stalls affected if we cover the walls with this paper?' In the case of the replica Globe, such a model enabled a fresh testing of the interpretation of the archaeological evidence from the site of the original Globe, which revealed that the Wanamaker Globe is not quite so securely the best 'reading' of the evidence as was once thought (Egan 2004). In the past couple of years Virtual Reality modelling has developed from an academic discipline into a widespread and inexpensive medium for recreation, with millions of users spending time inside virtual worlds such as Second Life.
The THEATRON project that built Virtual Reality replicas of ancient Greek and Roman theatres, as well as a replica Globe based on the Wanamaker project, is now moving its buildings into Second Life. Once there, these buildings may be used not only for academic experimentation but also for 'live' virtual performance by 'actors' (avatars) controlled by computer users who might never meet in real life. The technology is in its infancy, and the human-computer interfaces are notoriously clumsy: most users are limited to a mouse and a keyboard. However, Virtual Reality headsets are available that immerse the wearer in the virtual experience by controlling everything that is seen and heard, and combined with wirelessly-connected gloves and socks these enable an actor-avatar inside the simulation to adopt approximately the stance and gestures of the wearer. It seems likely that performances inside Virtual Reality worlds will become increasingly of interest to playgoers and academics. Even those with sympathy for the Presentist insistence on the thoroughly mediated nature of historical knowledge may wish to engage with such experimentation, and the present author (who has such sympathy) is currently advising on the removal of the illuminated Exit signs from the THEATRON Globe so that the Second Life version may approach even more closely than the full-size replica to the conditions prevailing at the 1599 original, and yet remain adaptable (as the full-size building cannot) to accommodate new discoveries.
Words for the glossary guild; Internet Shakespeare Editions; joint-stock; materialism; puritanism; Reformation; recusancy; stylometry; Second Life; Virtual Reality
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