Sunday, April 22, 2007


While the RSC was performing the Complete Works on several stages, in a parallel universe Professor Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen were preparing the first corrected and modernised Folio-based edition of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare since, depending on your interpretation of editing and modernising, either 1685 or 1709. And if you imagine this is relatively straightforward stuff, read Ron Rosenbaum’s The Shakespeare Wars, and marvel at the ferocity of the academic rows that can develop over the minutiae of textual analysis. As an example of the tasks of the Shakespearean editor, here is an extract from Jonathan Bate’s blog.

“The first printed text of Much Ado about Nothing was the quarto-format edition of 1600. Since it is a good quality text and since the 1623 Folio text derives from it, all modern editors use Quarto as their ‘copy-text’ for Much Ado. But it is in the Folio text alone that we find a very nice Dogberryism (malapropism) -“statues” in place of “statutes”. The quarto, presumed to be based on Shakespeare’s original manuscript, has “statutes”, which is semantically the right word but dramatically the wrong one. We simply do not know whether the folio editor restored a Shakespearean joke that had been obscured by a quarto misprint or inserted a joke that Shakespeare should have made but didn’t. Shakespearean editors agonise about this distinction and 10,000 others like it. Because textual orthodoxy demands that they follow quarto, they leave out the joke. I say relax: it’s a good joke, it’s there in the Folio, an editor should print it and an actor should speak it. If that means accepting the anonymous folio editor of Much Ado as one of Shakespeare’s ‘co-authors’, along with his actors and the other dramatists with whom he sometimes worked in collaboration, then all well and good.”

The new edition was published last week, a fitting climax to an extraordinary year. It has received extensive and enthusiastic reviews

The RSC Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen. Macmillan. £30


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