Scholars and Gentlemen: Shakespearian Textual Criticism and Representations of Scholarly Labour, 1725-1765

By Simon Jarvis | Go to book overview

4
Lewis Theobald: The Specialist Scholar and his Textual-Critical Practice

DESPITE POPE'S hostility and Johnson's disparagement, Theobald's own edition of Shakespeare has received almost unanimous approval from subsequent, and especially from twentieth-century, historians of the subject. T. R. Lounsbury's lengthy defence of Theobald in The First Editors of Shakespeare ( 1906) was followed by R. F. Jones Lewis Theobald ( 1919), which first made clear the extent of Theobald's indebtedness to the textual-critical techniques of classical philology; later, more general surveys of the field, such as those of McKerrow and Brian Vickers, have singled out Theobald's criticism for praise; most recently, Peter Seary's full-length book has made an extensive and thoroughly documented case for Theobald's attention to Shakespearian bibliography and (more problematically) for his anticipation of the methods and tenets of the New Bibliographers.1 What most of these accounts have in common is their tendency to present Theobald's work as an isolated instance of enlightened editing in a largely unenlightened discipline. It is evident that much of Theobald's theory and practice mark a significant break with the previous course of criticism of English texts. But his theory and practice of editing are more closely related to early debates about the fit editor of vernacular texts and the status of textual criticism, and to the editorial procedure of his predecessors, than such characterizations allow. Seary, although he has rightly drawn attention to the influence of polemics against excessive scholarly minuteness upon

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1
R. B. McKerrow, "The Treatment of Shakespeare's Text by his Earlier Editors (1709- 1768)", in P. Alexander, ed., Studies in Shakespeare: British Academy Lectures ( Oxford, 1964), 103-31 (pp. 123-6); Brian Vickers, Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage, 1692-1733 ( London, 1974), "Introduction", 16-19; Peter Seary, Lewis Theobald and the Editing of Shakespeare ( Oxford, 1990).

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