New Readings in Shakespeare - Vol. 1

New Readings in Shakespeare - Vol. 1

New Readings in Shakespeare - Vol. 1

New Readings in Shakespeare - Vol. 1

Excerpt

The editor of Shakespeare's text is for ever navigating perilously between the Scylla of impertinence and the Charybdis of timidity. Both, according to the ancients, were implacable to the voyager. But the voyage must be undertaken afresh, as knowledge increases, until discovery is complete. Steering southward to the cautious starboard, towards the open water, may lead us to the whirlpool where ships move in circles without progress, and the voyage ends in frustration. Yet on the bolder larboard tack we risk the rocks of Scylla, a more positive danger. It is characteristic, however, of the kindlier critical atmosphere of the fellowship of scholars today that they no longer lie in wait, a hidden reef, in malignancy towards each others' voyages of discovery, and are perhaps more patient of over- boldness than of pusillanimity. It was not always so.

The textual critics of the eighteenth century dealt hard blows indeed upon each other in a mêlée of practised and varied abuse. Certainly the eighteenth-century editors were not lacking in courage, or even in self-confidence, and they hurtled magnificently through difficult waters, each with a fine certainty of his skill and competence. It is proper to observe that when they began their labours these waters were uncharted. And conscious as we are now of their defects, we are more justly inclined to pay tribute to their work than to follow their own fashion of mutual abuse. Never were foundations more solidly laid, and they have endured over two hundred years.

The eighteenth century has many claims to be considered indispensable in the history of thought and art, in nothing more surely than in Shakespearian scholarship and particularly in the study of the text of Shakespeare. The mark of the industry and the taste of eighteenth-century editors . . .

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