William Shakespeare is the most influential writer in the English language. Oxford University Press is long established as the most authoritative publisher of critical editions of literary texts. In 1986-7, a team led by Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor produced a groundbreaking new edition of the Complete Works. This was the first edition of Shakespeare ever to publish edited texts of the Complete Works in both modern and original spelling, and to provide a complete discursive textual apparatus. Now, over 25 years later, an inter-generational team of leading scholars, adopting the latest advances in editorial theory and practice, is producing a wholly new edition of the plays and poems of William Shakespeare. This edition will be the standard-bearer for future generations of scholars, teachers, readers and performers.
Hoosier Bard Productions links a theatre company with the New Oxford Shakespeare editors and the Indianapolis performing arts community. New Oxford Shakespeare is the first edition to include an Equity actor, IUPUI English Drama Professor and Hoosier Bard Productions director, Terri Bourus, among its general editors. At every Hoosier Bard production, spectators become collaborators with Hoosier Bard Productions and New Oxford Shakespeare by helping to test new ideas about what Shakespeare created, how it should be edited and performed.
The Creation and Re-Creation of Cardenio
Performing Shakespeare, Transforming Cervantes
edited by Terri Bourus and Gary Taylor
being released Fall 2013
Why edit Shakespeare? Again?
Why are Oxford University Press, and IUPUI, and an international team of scholars investing years of work and hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce a new edition of the works of Shakespeare? Aren’t there plenty of good editions already available in bookstores and libraries and online?
Shakespeare did not publish an authorized collected edition of his own works. Not one of his plays is prefaced by an epistle or dedication signed by the author, and none displays his direct involvement in publishing or proofreading the text. None of his works survives in a signed manuscript in his own handwriting. Consequently, scholars must decide exactly which works he wrote (or co-wrote), when he wrote them, and exactly what the text of each work should be. If more than one early text survives, editors must decide whether the variants between them represent authorial revision, or changes made for posthumous theatrical revivals, or censorship, or just error. Even when a work survives in only a single early edition, different copies of the same edition often contain variants, which editors must identify and evaluate. In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the normal routines for copying manuscript s and for producing printed editions always introduced a certain amount of error, and scholars agree that not one early book of Shakespeare’s plays or poems is completely error-free.
Moreover, with the passage of time many aspects of early modern English usage and of early modern theatrical practice have become obsolete and unfamiliar. Any edition of Shakespeare’s works must therefore pay attention to the gap between an old author and his new readers. In Shakespeare’s own lifetime, and ever since, editions have routinely modernized and regularized the spelling, punctuation, and layout of his texts. Since the early eighteenth century, editions have provided comme ntaries, introductions, illustrations, appendices, and many other kinds of supplementary material. Given the size of Shakespeare’s canon, and the many different kinds of difficulty associated with it, editing his complete works is an exceptionally demanding scholarly task.
But if the task is so difficult, why are there so very many editions of Shakespeare available? Because Shakespeare is the world’s most canonical and commercially successful secular author, publishers have a strong commercial incentive to produce their own editions of his work. But they have less incentive to invest heavily in the interdisciplinary historical research necessary to edit Shakespeare properly. Most editions place an emphasis on product cost or classroom adoption, not scholarly preparation. As a result, most “new” editions are oltrchnly repackaged, not rethought.
What is wrong with simply recycling an older edition? Even an edition by respected scholars—like the 1986-7 Oxford University Press edition—will reflect the knowledge available at the time it was produced. Ideally, a new edition should reflect all the knowledge available at that moment. But even that seldom happens, becaus e few individual scholars are capable of mastering and connecting all the relevant disciplines. Moreover, the relevant knowledge-base is continually expanding, and the pace of expansion has accelerated with the development of new reference works, new databases, new analytical techniques and media technologies. Any intellectually-ambitious new edition will advance new, or revise old, hypotheses about various problems in the Shakespeare canon, but as in the sciences each new or revised hypothesis will need to be subjected to intense skeptical scrutiny by the larger intellect ual community. Some hypotheses will survive such trials; others will not. When publishers simply repackage an old edition, they give readers the illusion that they are getting an up-to-date text, when in fact they are getting a text based, at least in part, on outdated data and long-since-refuted theories.
The New Oxford Shakespeare will not repackage anyone else’s edition. It will work from the ground up. An international, intergenerational team will scrutinizing every element of the earliest texts, rethinking them in the light of the most recent scholarship—and adding to that scholarship, as we go along. Each detail of every text will be evaluated in the light of a comprehensive re-examination of the entire canon. In this way, combining micro-analysis with macro-analysis, we will attempt to bring to readers and actors the fruits of the latest research on what Shakespeare wrote and what it means.
The New Oxford Shakespeare will also recognize that no single format can satisfy the needs of all the many people interested in Shakespeare. We will make the results of our research available in multiple volumes, multiple formats, multiple media—-all linked to each other, and all designed to the high scholarly and aesthetic standards that the world has long come to expect from Oxford University Press. But the New Oxford Shakespeare will also embrace the challenge of making Shakespeare’s world and art accessible to a generation who uses iPods, e-readers, and YouTube. But the thousands of internet sites that students routinely access are often embarrassingly unreliable. The New Oxford Shakespeare will provide an authoritative alternative.
The IUPUI New Oxford Shakespeare project is located in the historic Emilie Building (334 N. Senate, Indianapolis), which also houses the Kurt Vonnegut Library. The new multimedia edition of Shakespeare’s work is scheduled for completion in 2016.