William Shakespeare. The First Quarto of Hamlet. Ed. Kathleen O. Irace Cambridge UP, 1998. 126pp. ISBN 0 521 41819 4 Cloth US$54.95 ISBN 0 521 65390 8 Paper.
William Shakespeare. King Edward III. Ed. Giorgio Melchiori. Cambridge UP, 1998. 219pp. ISBN 0 521 43422 X Cloth US$54.95 ISBN 0 521 59673 4 Paper.
Christine Mack Gordon
University of Minnesota
Students, scholars, and theatre professionals must all be grateful to The New Cambridge Shakespeare for including these titles in their on-going series. While it has always been possible to read these plays in one form or another, these recent editions enhance their intellectual and practical interest with a fine aesthetic presentation. Both editors have provided editions that include material of interest to scholars, theater practitioners, and others curious about some of the lesser-known aspects of Shakespeare's work and its transmission through history.
In the case of Edward III, I had the opportunity to work closely with the text while serving as dramaturg on a production of the play. Professor Melchiori's text and supportive materials provided the director, the actors, and me with a great deal of helpful information, careful analysis of the play's origins and structure, a discussion of its place in the context of Shakespeare's other history plays, and a stage history. He also includes helpful illustrations: maps, paintings and other historical representations, photographs, and a genealogical chart. The text itself includes wonderfully lucid notes-absolutely essential for anyone working on a production. The materials that follow the text include a textual analysis, and an appendix on the use of sources (which includes a historical chronology of the events in the play). As is often the case in Shakespeare's histories, the events of decades are compressed into what seems to be mere weeks or months; a chronology such as this allows us to get a glimpse of the ways in which the playwright reworked his material into the stuff of drama. That said, Edward III remains a challenge to produce: its first two acts, which deal with the King's relationship with the Countess of Salisbury, and the final three, which focus on the war in France, sit uneasily alongside one another. Arguments for more than a single author are a reasonable hypothesis, but I also feel Shakespeare's hand at work throughout the play, rather than in a few isolated scenes. I hope that the existence of this edition will encourage theatre companies to explore this "new" canonical work.
The first quarto of Hamlet offers its audience an interesting new way of looking at an extremely familiar text. While I had seen the first quarto version of the "To be or not to be" soliloquy as a student, and occasionally used it when I taught to raise students' awareness that Shakespeare's plays did not simply pour forth without effort, it was a revelation to read the full text. Professor Irace has done a superb job of editing this edition, and her thought-provoking introduction allows readers to enter the conversation about the first quarto's genesis. She discusses Q1's relation to Q2 and the Folio, as well as the arguments for this text as a memorial reconstruction, a theatrical adaptation, or some combination. While scholars will undoubtedly continue this debate into the far distant future, the editor does us the great service of laying out the arguments clearly while making her own case. She also includes information about productions of the text: perhaps most interesting was a staged reading at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival done by actors who had recently appeared in a fully staged version of the Folio text. After reading about this event, then reading the play itself, I wondered if some energetic theatrical company might attempt to stage the two versions in repertory-or even if two companies in the same area might collaborate on doing both simultaneously: it would make for a fascinating theatrical experience.
- For anyone who teaches, performs, or simply loves Shakespeare's works, these two editions will be valuable additions to a personal library. We all owe our thanks to the editors for their excellent work, and to Cambridge University Press for their interest in making them available.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.
© 2000-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS)