Academic journal article Shakespeare Bulletin

Dislocating Shakespeare: Scene Locators and the Place of the Page

Academic journal article Shakespeare Bulletin

Dislocating Shakespeare: Scene Locators and the Place of the Page

Article excerpt

In 2004, a slender stem pushed its way into the field of Shakespearean offshoots. A historical novel treating the Duke of Gloucester's murderous ascent and shuddering end, this ripping yarn ranges from the streets of London to the palaces of Westminster, from the Tower of London to Pontefract castle, Derby's home to Salisbury, and from Staffordshire to Bosworth Field. For all its generic conventionality, the novel is formally radical, set with Nabokovian panache in the footnotes that undergird the text of Richard III in David Bevington's fifth edition of Houghton Mifflin's Complete Works of William Shakespeare.

Bevington's Complete Works is not alone, of course, in footnoting a specific geographical site for each new scene in Shakespeare's plays. The Houghton Mifflin scene locators mirror those found in the new Penguin Shakespeare (2002), the Norton Shakespeare (1997), the Riverside (1974), the Pelican (1969), Hardin Craig's Shakespeare (1931), etc. For centuries, editors have been selecting fictional locales for each new scene in Shakespeare's works. For a play like Henry V, the editor is as good as a chorus, if not identical.

Editors of drama have a difficult job: they must redact performance scripts into reading texts (or rather, redact earlier reading texts into reading texts with different warrants). The task involves an inherent paradox. Scripts are written to be activated by a group of people for a group of people; they are therefore social in more than just Jerome McGann's sense. Reading texts, contrarily, are to be used in isolation by a lone reader. T.H. Howard-Hill describes the problem thus:

   Readers who understand that they cannot read a dramatic edition 
   solely as if it were a dramatic poem or a narrative fiction 
   nevertheless require aid from the editor in order to read the 
   work as a script for performance. Only editions of the last 
   generation or so have attended fairly conscientiously to this 
   exceptional dimension of dramatic texts.... [R]eaders need help 
   to imagine what their eyes do not see. The modern editor must 
   find a comfortable compromise between the expectations of readers 
   and the requirements of the theatre. (247) 

Despite Howard-Hill's regard for the conscientiousness of recent editions, we can ask, "the requirements of which theatre?" The post-Brooks Shakespearean stage has largely returned to nonlocalized settings, a fact that discomfits scene locators. In Howard-Hill's terms, today's collected works of William Shakespeare frequently ask readers to envision a play alien both to Shakespeare's theatre and our own.

When modern texts do attend to the "requirements of the theatre," it is often the theatre of the early eighteenth century, for any attempt to edit or "un-edit" Shakespeare must first confront the colossal influence of Nicholas Rowe, whose 1709 multivolume edition of Shakespeare established the way Shakespeare's plays have looked on the page for nearly 300 years. Rowe's modern editor does not overstate when he claims for Rowe the preeminent place in the editorial tradition: "Between 1709 and 1986, when the radically rethought Wells-Taylor edition appeared, Rowe's edition was the single greatest determinant on the way Shakespeare's plays appeared in collected editions, in some respects even more important than the early quartos or the First Folio" (Holland, 1: vii). In any number of particulars, modern collections of Shakespeare bear Nicholas Rowe's imprint.

For instance, Nicholas Rowe's was the first edition of Shakespeare to provide scenic markers, and he prefaced most plays with a general location following the dramatis personae. He tells his reader that the scene for A Midsummer Night's Dream is "Athens, and a Wood not far from it" while As You Like It "lyes first near Oliver's House, and afterwards partly in the Duke's Court, and partly in the Forest of Arden" and so on. …

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