Academic journal article Shakespeare Studies

Shakespeare and Manuscript Drama: Canon, Collaboration, and Text

Academic journal article Shakespeare Studies

Shakespeare and Manuscript Drama: Canon, Collaboration, and Text

Article excerpt

Shakespeare and Manuscript Drama: Canon, Collaboration, and Text

By James Purkis

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016

As William B. Long famously put it, there are "precious few" extant manuscripts of early modern plays, and yet the scholarship that those few have provoked is myriad and sometimes blisteringly controversial. Successive generations of critics have founded entire theories of play-writing on the supposed evidence of these manuscripts: from the New Bibliography of W. W. Greg, R. B. McKerrow, and A. W. Pollard, through the long, declaredly empiricist "revolt against the New Bibliography" (3) by Ernst Honigmann and Paul Werstine, with a host of other, less readily categorized names (including Long, Stephen Orgel, Brian Vickers, Jeffrey Masten, Gary Taylor, Gabriel Egan, and Grace Ioppolo) weighing in from the sidelines. In one sense, James Purkis's Shakespeare and Manuscript Drama: Canon, Collaboration, and Text is thus merely the latest in a long line of studies of these dramatic manuscripts, but its remit is wider: Purkis aims to show "how manuscript evidence may inform critical practice across several fields of the study of early-modern drama in general, and of Shakespeare's work in particular" (1)--including, but not limited to, textual studies, theatre history, theories of collaboration, authorship and attribution, studies, "the Shakespearean," and the Shakespearean canon.

Purkis's central point is simple but devastating: that all the manuscripts that survive in fact "resist assumptions that shape the current reception of early-modern drama" (1). As he demonstrates repeatedly and compellingly, so many of our go-to critical and editorial terms--play-book, prompt-book, foul papers, fair copy, author, reviser, censor, collaboration--invoke these manuscripts or, more often, a non-extant, "imagined or inferred" version of them that critics have set up as a working model. In keeping with much recent work on manuscripts more generally, Purkis therefore returns to what he terms "local" studies of the documents themselves, considering the inks, hands, cancellations, and additions as "a material ground for rethinking what is assumed by scholars" (2), continually testing the scholarship of the last century against the "resistant materiality" of the surviving manuscripts (136).

Chapter 1 shows how, despite his stated commitment to documentary evidence, Greg's model of theatrical revision (a "thorough playhouse textual supplementation," in Purkis's words) is largely resisted by that same documentary evidence. Purkis demonstrates how the manuscript of John a Kent and John a Cumber (Huntington MS 500) differs markedly from what Greg conceived as "a properly constructed prompt book" (10). The second chapter focuses on The Captives, attributed to Thomas Heywood (British Library MS Egerton 1994, fos. 52-73), a supposedly messy manuscript deemed by Greg and his followers as inadequate for playhouse use; Purkis insists that "the text is sufficient for use in the convention-heavy environment of the playhouse" (10). Chapter 3 revisits the manuscript of The Second Maiden's Tragedy, attributed to Thomas Middleton (BL MS Lansdowne 807, fols. 29-56), to examine "how agency may be assigned to the different figures involved in the document's production" (13), and thus intervenes in one of the most productive current debates, concerning dramatic collaboration. Pushing against the anti-individualist account advanced especially by Masten, Purkis argues that, in differentiating manuscript traces between agents (author, revising author, other reviser, censor, book-keeper) the author remains "a meaningful, even necessary, interpretive category" (13-14) that "need not stand opposed to recognition of the collaborative text" (136). …

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