Publishing Shakespeare

 Sarah Stanton
Cambridge University Press



  1. Configuring, in publishing terms, might mean the matching of text to reader, or subject to market. Shakespeare configured his plays for the enjoyment of his own audience, the theatregoing public of his day, and the court. Some of his public were also, apparently, readers of his printed texts, a view which has strengthened since publication of Lukas Erne’s Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist (Cambridge, 2003, 2nd edn, 2013). Shakespeare’s public today is similarly broad, but also international. A whole industry has grown up around this one writer, with school exam syllabi, scholarly reputations and publishing imprints, as well as entire theatre companies, at stake. A publishing house partakes in the industry, and helps to perpetuate it, but it reflects rather than creates the market for Shakespeare. An educational publisher looks for new ways to serve and strengthen that market by investigating what scholars are discovering and what students, of all ages, are seeking. And at the tertiary level of such publishing – higher education – where scholars are researching their topic and explicating it for their peers, authors and readers are often the very same people.

  2. Changes in the academy, particularly in the English-speaking world, have altered that author-buyer/reader mix. In terms of professional advancement, even more is at risk for the author, and, where examination testing is concerned, for readers too. The means of dissemination have also changed, drastically, over the last half-century. Shakespeare, both in the sense of his own works and also the critical work about his writing is now marketed as “content,” to be offered in both print and electronic forms.

  3. My topic is the changes that have taken place – the reconfigurations – in the Shakespeare publishing business during the period from 1980 to today, the 30 years during which I have been working as a commissioning editor. I’ll reflect under three main headings: authors; the business of publishing editions of Shakespeare’s works; and how Shakespeare publishing has been affected by recent developments in technology.

    Authors and readers

  4. “Shakespearean scholars” today are professional people, almost all members of universities, though not necessarily belonging to departments of English Literature. Compared with their forebears of the 1980s, and certainly if we look back even further to the people who first published their books on the Cambridge English list, today’s academics recognise, whether grimly or cheerfully, that publication, quite as much as teaching skill and the recruitment of good students, is a vital means to their own advancement. Today’s author is in more of a hurry to publish, more likely to ask for a contract before bothering to write the whole book. I too am less sanguine than I once was about extending that contract indefinitely.

  5. The Cambridge University Press list, because it is so old, conveniently provides a microcosm of the changing traditions of Shakespeare publishing. Shakespeare was a main plank of the Press’s literature list from the Pitt Press school edition of Shakespeare’s plays edited by A.W. Verity in the 1890s. In the early twentieth century, the typical author was not necessarily a university figure. John Dover Wilson, who, with Arthur Quiller-Couch forged The New Shakespeare (1921–1966) and edited many of the texts in it, worked in secondary schools as an Inspector before he turned to university life. His gift for semi-popular exposition was revealed in The Essential Shakespeare (1932), What Happens in Hamlet (1935), and The Fortunes of Falstaff (1944). Caroline Spurgeon, who wrote Shakespeare’s Imagery and What it Tells Us, was an independent scholar, and she too was published by the Press in 1935.

  6. On the other hand, there was writing based in the theatre, beginning with people like Harley Granville Barker, who started as an actor, later became a playwright and director, wrote his Prefaces to Shakespeare (1927–1948), and co-edited the first ever Cambridge Companion, with G.B. Harrison, A Companion to Shakespeare Studies (1934). There was also a more home-grown Cambridge figure, George Rylands (1902-1999) who made audio recordings of the complete works of Shakespeare and also wrote criticism and reviews. Early volumes of the Press’s yearbook Shakespeare Survey (1948–) trumpeted their appeal not only to the scholar, but to “the theatre-worker and the archivist, while at the same time presenting material likely to be of value to a wider public generally interested in Shakespeare” (Shakespeare Survey 1,“Preface” v-vi). Later, in the 1960s and early 1970s, there were theatre critics and reviewers, like Richard David (1912–1993), whose busy “day job” was as University Publisher in Cambridge.

  7. Alongside the growing number of professional books, there has continued a noble tradition of intelligent amateurs writing books about Shakespeare. Over the years, among the many Shakespeare proposals which languish in a tray marked “Declined” are a substantial number from retired civil servants living in Surrey and Berkshire, or lecturers at Sandhurst. It is as though, like an actor who feels that he has to tackle the role of Lear as his final fling, so an Englishman at the end of his career has to put down on paper what he thinks about Shakespeare. But this too is now something of a dying breed.

  8. The remorselessly academic approach came to dominate, partly due to the pressure to complete and then to publish a dissertation, which in much of Europe and North America has become the main means to university employment, in a way that it wasn’t when I started work. Much of what we publish now on Shakespeare is addressed by academics to their peers, unless specially commissioned as textbook. I don’t want to diminish the importance of the academic monograph. Whether published in print or online, it remains the principal repository of detailed research in the Humanities. But the focus of such books has narrowed. This is not surprising: the topics become more specialised as the industry grows. But by the same token, as an academic press, we are offered fewer wide-ranging books by mature scholars.

  9. However, the Shakespeare market is remarkably diverse. Academic authors are encouraged by popular presses to write learned books which can be read, or at least bought, by a very broad range of readers. For example, there was the massive broadsheet advertising and review coverage given to the blockbuster by Harold Bloom, Shakespeare: the Invention of the Human (Riverhead Books, 1998). Clearly the publisher intended this book to reach a wide market: it was priced at $35, which is and was even then extraordinarily cheap -- and at 745 pages it was a much longer book than an academic press would encourage.

  10. Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt (Norton, 2004) is another example. James Shapiro’s 1599 (2005) and his more recent Contested Will (2010) are given similarly commercial treatment, by Faber. These books were genuinely bought (and, we must assume, read) by a wide public. A steady stream of biographies of Shakespeare is marketed as if for the general reader, the Shakespeare lover.

  11. Other Shakespeareans have turned, quite successfully, to even more commercial ventures. Recall Laurie Maguire, Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, who wrote a self-help book using Shakespeare as a guide: Where There’s a Will There’s a Way: or All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Shakespeare (Penguin, 2006). It makes fascinating reading, and is to be found in bookshops alongside other Mind, Body, Spirit books as well as perched, perhaps incongruously, among academic titles on the Shakespeare shelf.

  12. In 1999 Cambridge launched a very unusual volume by a well-known book illustrator, Walter Hodges. It has a splendid title, Enter the Whole Army, subtitled A Pictorial Study of Shakespearean Staging, 1576–1616. This is an album of Hodges' pen and ink drawings which reconstruct scenes from the plays, showing how they might have been staged in Shakespeare's own Globe or Blackfriars theatres, the illustrations linked by Hodges' remarkable commentary. Such a book might sit uncomfortably astride several disciplines and finally fall between stools. But in Shakespeare studies such risks are worth taking, and it did sell, mainly through the UK trade, but also to the academic community.

  13. Similarly straddling several potential markets is the newly paperbacked and well illustrated book by Michael Dobson on Shakespeare and Amateur Performance (2011), a cultural history of how English-speaking people have chosen to entertain themselves “by performing Shakespeare in locations ranging from aristocratic drawing rooms to village halls, and from military encampments to rain swept cliffsides.”

  14. What do we conclude from this? Of all literary subjects, Shakespeare is the one author (followed by Jane Austen perhaps, and then Dickens) whose appeal is high to low, across school and general public, amateur to professional, including theatregoers, filmgoers and actors.

  15. The disciplinary base of Shakespeare authors has changed in interesting ways.

  16. In the 1960s and 1970s J.L. Styan, who taught at the English department at Northwestern, was one of the first university lecturers to show how to read plays as if they were happening on stage in The Elements of Drama (Cambridge, 1960), Shakespeare’s Stagecraft (1967) and The Shakespeare Revolution (1977), among others. It seems obvious now but it was groundbreaking then. Drama was gradually becoming a university subject in its own right, and some early proponents, such as Glynne Wickham at Bristol, were scholars of the Shakespearean theatre who pioneered and professionalised the study of theatre. In my experience the “author base” for Shakespeare is still largely within departments of English rather than Theatre. There is however greater cross-fertilization between the English departments, where most Shakespeare scholars reside, and Theatre or Drama departments, where many of their souls seem to belong.

  17. There is now a regular traffic of ideas between those who study early modern History and their colleagues in early modern Literature, and a further fertile exchange between Literature and Art History – I think of the books written by Stuart Sillars, such as Painting Shakespeare, The Artist as Critic, 1720–1820 (2006) and between Shakespeare and Film, with books too numerous to mention – one of the most thriving interdisciplinary topics of all. Nevertheless, the vast majority of the authors of Cambridge books on Shakespeare are based, as before, in English Literature departments.

  18. Cambridge is a thoroughly international publisher with a truly global reach. Within Shakespeare studies, the books that sell most widely, into most territories, are the single-play editions. My forbears spent much time selling the Dover Wilson edition (The New Shakespeare) into African schools, for example. Nowadays those old colonial markets have changed, but with 50 offices around the world, Cambridge is well placed to sell English language books wherever they are needed. Romeo and Juliet sells into roughly 90 countries, far beyond the Anglophone world where the bulk of our English literature titles sell. Those countries include, for example France, Norway, Israel and Argentina, and we make significant sales in Japan, Korea and Taiwan. David Crystal’s Think on my Words (2008), which explores Shakespeare’s language, is aimed at a broad student and Shakespeare-lover market and sold into 47 countries, even though the vast majority of copies were distributed in the UK, North America and Australia. Germany has always been a serious market for Shakespeare criticism (nearly 300 copies of Crystal’s book have been sold there) and for scholarly editions of the works. The yearbook Shakespeare Survey sells into 30 countries each year. And the growing internationalism of Shakespeare ensures that, as long as the publisher is equipped to sell throughout the world, if one market declines, due to economic or political factors, another may emerge.

    Editions of Shakespeare

  19. I have mentioned the Cambridge edition of Shakespeare’s works. The publication of a Shakespeare edition is now a highly competitive industry, whether the market is schools, universities or the keen amateur. I count as “full dress” scholarly editions those published by Arden (now an imprint under Bloomsbury Publishing), Oxford and Cambridge University Presses, who over the decades have taken it upon themselves to edit all the plays and poems afresh, going back to the early texts, annotating and introducing them for students and scholars. Those three publishers slug it out year in year out, to try to gain market share. Retail prices are competitive, and cheap, if you consider what the buyer is getting: under £10 for a thoroughly annotated edition of The Sonnets or Cymbeline represents good value – costing not much more than a classic paperback novel printed on poor paper and without notes; or the cost of a plate of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding at my local pub. But such series are massively expensive undertakings to commission and to manufacture, and take years to recover their costs. This was always the case: the investment is huge and the risk likewise. The plays do not sell equally well: for every Henry V there are three parts of Henry VI.

  20. A more recent challenge for publishers derives from significant changes in teaching and buying practices. The old “New Shakespeare” was a rather British affair (editorially too) and had no real sale in the USA. For its part, the one-volume Riverside Shakespeare, whose first modern edition dates from 1974 (Houghton Mifflin) was aimed at the American college market and did not sell much to students in the UK, who traditionally purchased individual play volumes. But now there is a mixing and muddling of those markets, with high risk of failure for publishers. For economic as well as for educational reasons, British undergraduates now quite readily buy one-volume Complete Works instead of separate editions, so the marketplace is potentially transatlantic. Internet sales enable this. Some UK publishers, having the mechanism to sell their texts on both sides of the Atlantic, enlist a proportion of American volume editors and attempt a kind of global relevance in their annotation, hoping to mine the El Dorado of the American college market. So, despite the fact that in many ways the two major markets, British and American, remain stubbornly separate -- with different teaching practices, student budgets and habits of textbook purchase -- the major publishers aim for transatlantic adoptions. While Oxford have commissioned a further one-volume annotated edition (eds. Gary Taylor, John Jowett, and Terri Bourus), Norton have commissioned a third edition of their own Complete Works, (textual editors Suzanne Gossett and Gordon McMullan), starting again from scratch to establish fresh texts, rather than simply buying rights in the Oxford texts, as in previous editions. Both Oxford and Norton no doubt intend to sell their editions on both sides of the Atlantic. Everyone wants everything. And global purchase via the internet makes it all, in theory, possible.

  21. I have to admit that with the plethora of Shakespeare editions on the market, it becomes harder to distinguish the differences between them. I remain grateful for the good sense of the General Editors of the New Cambridge Shakespeare, published from 1984 and succeeding The New Shakespeare, whose ideals have been maintained throughout the 34 years since they first wrote their prospectus. They emphasised that their edition must aim at “the most exacting standards of scholarly thoroughness and accuracy;” but also at practical usefulness: “exercise judgement about what to leave out.” Among their sensible words in the prospectus, revised in 1990, are phrases like “avoid daunting the reader…….becoming over-weight and over-dressed.” Editors are cautioned to transmit the absorbing quality of the play…“not to suffocate it.” The General Editors also pointed out that Shakespeare is studied and performed in non-English-speaking countries, that editors cannot assume knowledge of the Christian Bible, nor that readers are well informed about the history and artistic traditions of Western Europe. In other words, provide ample word glosses. The series guidelines established several other attributes of the modern edition which we now take for granted: the wisdom of contracting a separate editor for each play, drawn from an international team; the use of modern spelling; annotation beneath the text; attention to stage and film history; and the use of illustrations. The NCS emphasis on the play as a script for performance was to be evident not only from the commentary, but also from the drawings by C. Walter Hodges, who was commissioned from the outset to imagine how certain problematic scenes of Shakespeare’s plays could have been staged, either in public or private playhouses.

  22. At the time when the NCS series was first commissioned, in 1979, such a manifesto promised a refreshing breath of air, compared with the second Arden series or the Dover Wilson Cambridge edition, the latter completed in 1966. Oxford started commissioning its own Shakespeare edition at about the same time, and both Oxford and Cambridge editions are now complete. But the distinctions between them are now not so acute. There are clear differences in format and page layout, of course, in the degree of novelty where textual choices are concerned, and in the range of editors. But if you compare the third series of the Arden, the Oxford Shakespeare (World’s Classics) and the New Cambridge editions, each professes an emphasis on theatre and performance, each has undertaken a fresh examination of early texts, a thorough reconsideration of the language, etc. The colliding of ideals here is rather like political parties competing for the Centre Left, or is it the Centre Right? And because it is in fact hard to find good text editors, for the very good reason that the job involves not only a deep knowledge of Shakespeare but a multitude of different skills, the same people are asked to contribute to more than one series. Not surprisingly, their individual personalities are evident in what they write, so the editions they prepare, whether for the Oxford, Arden or Cambridge series, are likely to resemble each other in many particulars, however different the series characteristics and format.

  23. Such series take years to come to fruition: the NCS started out in 1984 and was completed in 2012, that’s 28 years. During a period like that series editors die and are replaced, preoccupations change, student attitudes alter. The early play editors for the NCS: Reg Foakes in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Philip Edwards in Hamlet, for example, were notably brisker in their commentary than many later editors, whose footnotes tended to balloon and had to be reined in so that they would adhere to the aims of the series as a whole. During those years new critical movements flourished, like postcolonial criticism, or books about Shakespeare and religion, or notions of collaborative authorship. Such emerging interests cannot be ignored by editors just because the early series prospectus did not take account of them. Thus a series evolves over time, and results in a set of books that will differ from each other to some significant degree. Early volumes get updated, or replaced, because their editors adopted an approach which may begin to look old-fashioned, or partial, and the series editor and publisher must continually tread a fine line, being aware of the unique selling points of the series as a whole, and the intellectual coherence of any one volume in it.
    Changes in Technology
  24. One remarkable thing about the Shakespeare industry is the very long life of very old books, even after their authors are quite dead. The marketplace, mercifully, is still conservative enough to look kindly on the notion of classics of Shakespeare criticism. Whether as examples of a lost art or because they have something to teach every new generation of students, two of the best-selling titles on the Cambridge list are 77 years old: I mentioned them before: John Dover Wilson's What Happens in Hamlet and Caroline Spurgeon's Shakespeare's Imagery, both dating from 1935. Muriel Bradbrook’s Themes and Conventions of Elizabethan Tragedy was first published in 1952 and still sells. Would I had A.C. Bradley's Shakespearean Tragedy on my list, a book which has sold over half a million copies (Macmillan, 1904).
  25. Back in the late 1970s and early 80s, when we fixed the print quantity and the price of any new title (publishers do those things at the same time, because they are mutually dependent), we would lean back in our chairs, ponder, and come up with a nice round number like 2000 hardback copies and a price of £15. There was no question of a computer pricing program, of carefully costing in royalties, of sweating anxiously about overheads. You never knew how many would sell, but were always optimistic, in that gentler climate. No point in spurious accuracy: you might as well put a wet thumb to the wind, as my boss was fond of saying. Some months later, when we had sold out our stock, we would reprint another few hundred or few thousand copies, with equal sang froid.
  26. One of the most positive publishing developments of recent years has been the ability to reprint in tiny quantities. For Cambridge, and we were ahead of the game, the procedure is only a dozen years old. We call it digital printing, because it involves scanning the book to make a digital file, and reprinting from that file. The program includes reprinting in hardback and making hardback books newly available in paperback in numbers as small as one, or ten, or twenty rather than hundreds or thousands. It has made it possible to bring high-priced hardback books out in paperback and so within the reach of individual scholars and graduate students, if not on publication, then at least a couple of years later. Reprinting on demand is a win-win situation for author and publisher.
  27. Many such books under the old system would have gone out of print because we needed to be guaranteed a minimum annual sale. Now they go out of print only if they involve the renewal of complex or expensive third party rights, for example to reproduce pictures. Shakespeare books do not date as fast as some, and many of the old books on the Cambridge list have been dug up and dusted down, reprinted and given a new lease of life. Not just Shakespeare of course: for example, the mighty ten volumes of Fredson Bowers’ edition of the works of Beaumont and Fletcher have been reissued in paperback.
  28. The Cambridge Library Collection was launched in 2009. It consists of out-of-copyright, out-of-print books which have been scanned from good copies in the University Library in Cambridge and reissued in a new livery. Because they have merit as classics, or perhaps just curiosity value, several Shakespeare titles have been chosen for this treatment. The sales of each are modest, but books like Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes (Lily B. Campbell, 1930) or the four-volume Girlhood of Shakespeare’s Heroines (Mary Cowden Clarke, first published in 1850) are once again available at reasonable prices. The whole of the Dover Wilson Shakespeare is out there again, those same books which, ironically, I put out of print when I first started work at the Press. This is all a good thing, I think. Every now and again I am struck by the thought that we are lending a sometimes spurious validity to some old books that were best forgotten. Wasn’t there a good reason for these books going out of print – that there wasn’t much demand? But judging by the majority response, the CLC imprint is a popular initiative.
  29. The scanned file is also the source for the electronic book. The other major “digital” publishing development which cannot be ignored is online Shakespeare publishing. If you browse among the Humanities titles at Cambridge, the vast majority of books are also available as e-books. Here is the intranet catalogue entry for Emma Smith’s Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare (2007):
  30. Despite appearances, however, we have not yet reached the magic “tipping point” where revenue from online books – the sale of e-books or web-based material, in whatever final form that is transmitted, via Kindle, iphone app or whatever – equals or exceeds that of print. The world of journal publishing has shifted much faster towards online publication. People who read Shakespeare and read about Shakespeare still like printed books, it seems. And caution is justified: there is a great deal of free Shakespeare on the web, so it’s a brave publisher who starts to charge for online access - like the Times Online, whose readership slumped dramatically once people had to pay to view it. If you charge money for access to Shakespeare’s plays and poetry online, users need to be convinced that they are getting something special or extra, not just PDFs looking like the text from the printed book. But that added value costs money. To make an online version of one play, with its complex line breaks, poetry and prose, with text, collation, commentary, introductions and pictures properly searchable and hyperlinked, is an expensive, time-consuming operation which, it is assumed, the publisher rather than the author should fund. Simple narrative, without fancy formatting, as in a book of literary criticism, is much easier and cheaper to upload onto the web.

  31. Complex dramatic editions take time and commitment if they are to be rendered as dynamic play texts. Nevertheless, there are some exciting internet projects, published and in development, within early modern drama. Those I know of have been accomplished with external funding. One successful e-venture is the Richard Brome online free website, developed at Royal Holloway with help from the University of Sheffield, whose start-up costs were funded by AHRC. It seems to me to offer something genuinely new and to make the best use of the internet, using the web’s resources to create a site that gives both quarto and modern texts, linked to commentary, to images, and to filmed sequences. These features could not have been provided in book form. The Ben Jonson website, to be published by Cambridge, will create an archive of Jonsonian riches, with four times as much content as the seven-volume print edition. It will include a textual archive with transcripts or digitized versions of all early Jonson texts – quartos, octavos, folios – and textual essays on each major work; an archive of documents relating to Jonson’s life and his literary reputation; a collection of records relating to Jonson’s masques, a calendar, recording details of all known performances of Jonson’s plays down to 2010, which will be regularly updated; an annotated listing of books once owned by Jonson; and a full bibliography of books and essays about Ben Jonson up until 2009. All will be tagged and fully searchable. Significantly, in order to afford this size of undertaking and complex functionality, Cambridge University Press is collaborating with the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London to build the site, a venture which would be impossible without the help of a grant from the Mellon Foundation.
  32. Another impressive e-venture is the 2004 William Shakespeare in Quarto site developed at the British Library, using quartos from the BL, the Folger, the National Library of Scotland, the Bodleian and Edinburgh University libraries, financed jointly by JISC and the NEH. It consists of digitised versions of 107 quartos of the plays from the period before 1642. The quartos can be viewed separately or in pairs for comparison, with commendable clarity of presentation and instruction, enabling readers to see at a glance, and for free, the differences between these early texts.

  33. Cambridge's new “Explore Shakespeare” apps, devoted to six of the most popular plays, are lively examples of an electronic resource for Shakespeare lovers. We have yet to see a thoroughly integrated Shakespeare site which goes much further than this, to create links, for example, between a modernised text and its quarto or First Folio forbear, linking to a piece of commentary, illustrated by an image or film sequence, and to a relevant passage of criticism from another book or journal. It would be a huge undertaking, because there is simply so much material available to sift and sort, even assuming the availability of rights. Electronic Shakespeare has the potential to unite all those aspects of study – literary and theatrical, popular and studious, text and context – which I was describing earlier; but the material needs to be shaped and controlled, in the manner of the best printed books. Is it fanciful to envisage the user being gently guided through a range of options from the first line of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, for example, to a gloss on the word “witch,” to a performance note on male actors in the part, to a review article from Shakespeare Survey on Garrick or Komisarjevsky, or on the production of the play by Rupert Goold at Chichester, or to an encyclopaedia entry on madness, or costuming, eventually leading back, perhaps, to another part of the same play and a later scene, and all within the same site? The distinction I draw is between an archive and an integrated site, where one discovery leads to another rather than sending the user down a series of blind alleys. A library with directions. Such projects need, I am tempted to say, an author, or at least a shaper and controller with a strong dose of what those early NCS editors would describe as “discriminating judgement about what to leave out.” Now that access to old books and new websites is so easy, and the life of books is so very long, it seems to me the job of online Shakespeare is to offer users a pathway through riches, not just the riches themselves.



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© 2013-, Annaliese Connolly and Matthew Steggle (Editors, EMLS).