Intention in the editing of Shakespeare

2011-10-05T10:56:26Z (GMT) by Gabriel Egan
Play scripts differ from prose narratives and poetry because they are meant to undergo a further transformation by practitioners before being consumed. Shakespeare’s plays come to us via early printed editions showing corrections, unwarranted adjustments, and fresh errors by copyists, compositors, and pressmen. For one school of thought, Shakespeare’s intention all but disappears under these extra textual layers, and another school would have us consider the copyists, compositors, pressmen, and actors to be equal partners with Shakespeare in the creation of his works. Add to that collaborative authorship and multiple revision of scripts, and the temptations of postmodern insouciance about intention overwhelm all but the staunchest defender of the old certainties. Here it is argued that research into the material conditions that produced the early editions of Shakespeare shows that the recent rejection of New Bibliography (which embodies the most venerable of the old certainties) is mistaken and that intention remains a vital notion for editors.