Monday, 3 October 2011

Keeping the rainforest at bay

A goodly haul of mostly Renaissance literature today, carrying on my Greenblatt enthusiasm: The Stanley Wells/OUP edition of King Lear and the R. A. Foakes Methuen/Arden King Lear (my third and fourth editions of this play), and Susan Bruce's edition of More's Utopia, Bacon's The New Atlantis and Henry Neville's racist dystopia The Isle of Pines. Bringing up the rear is Budge Wilson's Before Green Gables: solely for completist reasons, and because my Anne paper speculates about her origins, I was interested to see what guesses other people have made.

I don't mind having multiple editions of some texts - in the case of Lear, editorial alterations are culturally significant, so it's good to be able to go through the differences in class, exploring how cuts and alterations change one's reading of the play. With Lear, there are major differences between the 1608 quarto edition and the 1623 First Folio version: it's not even clear whether some speeches (e.g. in Act 1, Scene 3) are alternative versions or supplementary. The Arden Lear is pretty good at highlighting the differences. The Oxford Lear is bolder, which I'm not so keen on: declaring that it follows the 1608 Quarto, 'the version closest to the original manuscript and performances'. That raises a lot of question: how plays were performed is very open. Plays were altered to suit new venues, actors and audiences. How does Wells decided which text is the 'ultimate' one? Does the play 'as performed' automatically qualify as superior? What if Shakespeare sat down in quieter moments to refine Lear after its first theatrical run?

On the other hand, the Wells edition does have some very useful contextual material, such as the 'Ballad of King Lear', and a fascinating account of the play's critical history.

Also in today's post: Steve Reich's new piece WTC 9/11 and - from a different cultural universe altogether, Credit to the Nation's Take Dis.

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