The Riverside Shakespeare
The Riverside Shakespeare is, and seems intended to be, a monument to itself. It declares otherwise; a preface by the publisher begins by putting the needs of prospective customers momentarily foremost: “In the words of the First Folio of 1623, The Riverside Shakespeare is addressed ‘To the great Variety of Readers. From the most able, to him that can but spell.’ In the plainer language of our day, this means that the book has been designed with the general reader, the student, and the scholar equally in mind.” To make the plainer language of our day plainer still, the book has been designed for three purposes: (1) to join Winston Churchill’s multiple memoirs on genuine maple bookshelves; (2) as a textbook for university Shakespeare courses; (3) to be favorably reviewed.
The one-volume Riverside Shakespeare is a big ugly book. The cover is shiny chocolate in color and has a stripe of picture around it. The picture purports to reproduce “a section of a sixteenth-century embroidered valance.” It may be a good reproduction of a very ugly valance. There is also a two-volume edition, recommended for totem purposes by a high price, a Harvard crimson cloth binding, and a cardboard box, which splits if the buyer takes the books out.
What is printed inside the covers of The Riverside Shakespeare is not much more successful. The edition fails because, from its opening pages onward, its concerns are usually different from, inconsistent with, and invidious to the concerns of those who will read it.
The title page presents a hierarchy of near-heraldic complexity. After the title the page says “TEXTUAL EDITOR”; under that is “G. Blakemore Evans Harvard University.” Two spaces lower is “GENERAL INTRODUCTION” and under that “Harry Levin Harvard University.” Two spaces lower come five names and institutional designations. The first four are in alphabetical order (Herschel Baker, Anne Barton, Frank Kermode, Hallett Smith). The fifth entry is “Marie Edel Houghton Mifflin Company.” What should that nonalphabetical position portend? After another two line drop come two lines saying “WITH AN ESSAY ON STAGE HISTORY BY” and “Charles H. Shattuck University of Illinois.”
The title page’s concern with ranking the contributors becomes more explicit on the next leaf in a “Publisher’s Preface,” a sort of grammar school prize day, signed by the president of Houghton Mifflin Company:
The plan of the volume was ambitious from the start. The central spire of its accomplishment is a completely re-edited text, generally modern in spelling and punctuation, yet sensitively reflecting the rhythms and modulations of the Elizabethan voice. This text and its appurtenances, including full textual notes and a history of Shakespeare textual scholarship and editing, is the sole work of G. Blakemore Evans….
Harry Levin’s general introduction then gets a paragraph to itself, one that manages to patronize both Levin and all classes of readers. The next two paragraphs parcel out credit—full shares, half shares, and honorable mentions: Baker provided introductions and explanatory footnotes for the history plays, Kermode for the tragedies, and Smith for the romances and poems. Anne Barton wrote introductions for the comedies but not notes; the notes for the comedies were begun by Lloyd E. Berry of the University of Missouri (who did not make the title page), and completed by Evans and Edel. Evans “also supplied a fully edited version—the first to be included in a one-volume Shakespeare—of those additions to [the multi-authored play called Sir Thomas More]…which are thought by many to be Shakespeare’s and partly written in his hand.” Evans prepared two appendixes, “Annals, 1552-1616” and “Records, Documents, and Allusions.” Evans and Baker get fractional extra credit for choosing the illustrations.
Any reader will see from the scorecard that Evans wins and wins big. This is G. Blakemore Evans’s edition (a fact admitted only in the Library of Congress catalogue card: “Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616./The Riverside Shakespeare./…Evans, Gwynne Blakemore, ed.”). Evans undertook and completed an awesome task. One can work up a considerable scholarly reputation by mastering the textual details and problems for any single Shakespeare play; Evans has done so for thirty-eight plays (The Two Noble Kinsmen is included), the Sir Thomas More fragment, and the poems. Why didn’t he admit his accomplishments openly? Had he written the preface, instead of the publisher, it would have been in English prose.
I am spending all this space on the preface because it is an emblem of the whole. Evans’s text, the chief selling point of the edition, is skewed by an inappropriate sense of its relation to its audiences. The text is presented as if its purpose were to be tested by textual scholars, who do not need it and cannot use it, but this edition will be bought and used by undergraduates, who will be more intimidated by it than informed. Evans’s textual apparatus is not, should not be, and does not pretend to be, exhaustive; the edition cannot be used as a reliable short cut in scholarly research. On the other hand, its appeal is exclusively for scholarly approval. The edition seems to care more about not being wrong than about being right; it seems always to be looking over its shoulder for people trying to catch it in failures of scholarly decorum.
Evans’s editorial procedure is essentially sensible and could have resulted in a text as useful as it is scrupulous. Where there is more than one authoritative Shakespearian text—say one or more quartos printed in Shakespeare’s lifetime and the 1623 folio—Evans chooses one as his copy text, modernizes it to the extent he thinks necessary, lists his significant departures from it, and records significant variations in the other authoritative texts. (The decisions on what is significant are necessarily Evans’s own; they are erratic, but they generally lean toward recording too much rather than too little.)
However, Evans’s text and apparatus are confusingly complicated. He is ostentatiously scrupulous about the nature and sources of his text—the particular edited text he has prepared for this book. The pedigrees of its particulars are printed in awe-inspiring detail, and the bulk of detail is such that a student can think that he knows more about Shakespearian texts than he wants to know, when in fact he only knows more about this hybrid than he wants to know.
Consider, for example, the textual notes on 2 Henry IV, six pages of small type set three columns to a page. This is a typical entry, that for line 34 of Act II, scene iv: “34 s.d. Exit Francis.] Capell (subs.).” That means that this exit, suggested by the preceding dialogue but like many such exits not indicated by a stage direction in the quarto or folio texts, was first inserted by Edward Capell in his ten-volume Shakespeare of 1768, and that Capell said something other than, but substantially the same as, “Exit Francis” (Capell said “Exit Drawer”). I don’t know whether this information is worth its weight in a one-volume Shakespeare (Capell doesn’t need the credit and no one could think ill of Evans for silently appropriating and revising another man’s stage direction), but I would not mind its inclusion if it and thousands like it did not take up space that could be better used to record emendations and additions that are traditional, inviting, and wrongheaded.
For instance, neither the quarto, nor the folio, nor Evans specifies a speaker for the epilogue to 2 Henry IV. Alexander Pope did, and most modern editors have followed him in tagging the epilogue as spoken by a dancer. Pope’s addition is justified (some of the verbal wit of the epilogue derives from the fact that its speaker has just danced or is about to do so) and also misleading (it suggests that the speaker is a specialist, a dancer, rather than one of the actors who joins the rest of the cast in the dance that seems to have been a customary lagniappe for Elizabethan theatergoers). Evans also spends page upon page crediting earlier editors for introducing particular commas and modernizing particular spellings; he could have better used a line of type to mention the stage direction and mark it as an eighteenth-century interpolation, thus clearing up the confusion of readers who remember schoolmasters telling them, as one told me, that “Epilogue: spoken by a dancer” testified to Shakespeare’s democratic opposition to the star system and to his sympathy with chorus boys.
Since this edition makes such a show of textual punctiliousness, omissions in the textual notes amount to misrepresentations. For instance Evans’s text of the 2 Henry IV epilogue begins “First my fear, then my cur’sy, last my speech.” “Cur’sy” is the quarto reading and probably approximates the usual Renaissance pronunciation of “curtsy” in any spelling. Evans’s textual notes are silent on “cur’sy” and thus suggest that the quarto spelling is somewhat clearer evidence of pronunciation than it is; the folio gives “Curtsie.” My objection about “cur’sy” is trivial, but appropriately so. However, my quibble is also illegitimate—and that brings me to some new complaints. If before consulting the textual notes to. 2 Henry IV (pp. 923-929), one has acquired a lawyer’s command of the editor’s contractual obligations as densely set forth on pages forty and forty-one, and if one has then searched through the small print of the general note on the text of 2 Henry IV and found the sentence that says “Q was almost certainly printed from Shakespeare’s ‘foul papers’ and here serves as copy-text, except for some 156 lines found only in Fl,” then one will know that The Riverside Shakespeare is furnishing not an edited text of 2 Henry IV but an edited text of the 1600 quarto of 2 Henry IV and that Evans is not obliged to mention any particular deviations from that text except those that he chooses to adopt in his own version.
Therefore I have no legal appeal against the textual notes, except perhaps under the doctrine of attractive nuisance—a doctrine generally applicable to this edition. In being so insistently authoritative, The Riverside Shakespeare automatically incurs an obligation to be scrupulous about everything. An edition that calls attention to the liberty it takes in listing some servants as “strewers” when the folio calls them “groomes” cannot afford a footnote that simply dismisses the last four lines of the folio text of Titus Andronicus as “non-Shakespearean.”
Some of the nuisance is not attractive at all. Evans’s policy is to interrupt the text on the page by brackets to indicate even minor deviations from whichever text he has chosen, but not to indicate major (or famous) differences between quarto and folio readings. Thus, since he follows the 1604 quarto for Hamlet, Evans gives the fifth line of the first soliloquy as “How [weary], stale, flat, and unprofitable,” thus acknowledging (and incidentally exaggerating the significance of) the quarto spelling, “wary,” which he duly records in the textual notes along with the fact that the folio has “weary.” In the first line of the same speech Evans prints “O that this too too sallied flesh would melt”; a footnote explains that “sallied” is another spelling of “sullied,” and a textual note records the folio reading, “solid.” If one is going to hobble one’s text with brackets, surely sense should supersede system to the extent of letting “weary” pass smoothly and reserving one’s typographical fuss for “sallied.”