Prolegomena for the Oxford Shakespeare: A Study in Editorial Method

Prolegomena for the Oxford Shakespeare: A Study in Editorial Method

Prolegomena for the Oxford Shakespeare: A Study in Editorial Method

Prolegomena for the Oxford Shakespeare: A Study in Editorial Method

Excerpt

When in 1929 I began work upon this edition of the plays of Shakespeare in old spelling, I was far from realizing how little systematic consideration seemed ever to have been given to editorial methods as applied to English writings in general and those of Shakespeare in particular. Editors, while often very conscious of the imperfections in the work of their predecessors, appear for the most part to have regarded their task as the solution of a series of hardly related problems, each of which could be dealt with separately as it arose, and to have troubled themselves very little about laying down any general principles for their own guidance or securing any uniformity in the treatment of their author's writings as a whole.

Apart from a few pages contained in the preface to the older 'Cambridge' edition of 1863-6, and Professor Dover Wilson's 'Textual Introduction' to the 'New Cambridge Shakespeare' which appeared in the edition of The Tempest in 1921, there seems to be no connected discussion of the problems which confront the Shakespearian editor, for the question of emendation dealt with in Dr. Greg's valuable Principles of Emendation in Shakespeare, 1928, is, of course, only one part of the subject; and as in both cases the writers had in view the production of a modernized text, though these in their way were interesting and valuable I could derive little help from them. It was therefore necessary for me to construct for myself such a body of rules for editing as seemed both logical and workable. I had first to review the extant material upon which my texts must be based--for I regarded it as foreign to my purpose to discuss at any length the ancestry or provenance of that material or to theorize on the manuscripts or editions no longer extant. I had in particular to consider the criteria according to which the basic texts of my prints of the several plays should be selected; how closely the original texts should be followed both as regards the dialogue itself and its punctuation, and with respect to such accessories as act-division, stage directions, and speakers' names; what should be done as regards the variant readings of other editions than the one on which my text was based, and how such variants as I decided to record should be presented. Lastly, I had to consider the quantity and nature of the commentary, for it . . .

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