@ the Table of the
Great: Hospitable Editing and the Internet Shakespeare Editions Project
St. Mary's College
Finn, Patrick. "@ the Table of the Great: Hospitable
Editing and the Internet Shakespeare Editions Project". Early Modern Literary Studies 9.3 / Special Issue 12
(January, 2004): 2.1-29<URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/09-3/finntabl.htm>.
The relationship between readers and writers involves
a certain form of engagement that involves the codes of hospitality. In
cases where critics might describe a text as either readerly or writerly,
following Barthes' classic distinction, we recognize a reference to
the level of welcome afforded by a given text. The cultural history of texts
also bears witness to this correlation. The writings of Marlowe and Shakespeare,
Swift and Pope, of Woolf and Joyce all illustrate a fundamental tension
between the desire to be of the people (that is welcoming) but not of the
horde (too welcoming). Residing somewhere near the heart of this debate
is the editor. Operating as an intermediary between writer and reader, and
often between the past and the present, the editor occupies a special position
in the political economy of literary expression.
Following my title, reception entails an examination of
who is invited to the "table of the great," where "the great" are those
authors deemed worthy of study in the face of seemingly limitless array
of texts. The invitations to textual banquets are the work of editors, whose
editions inherently argue for the value of their authors and whose makeup
can directly affect the interpretability of the work at hand. Both of these
components the decision of whom or what to edit, and how to present the
edition fall within the realm of hospitality.
In order to pursue this argument, it will be useful to
follow three areas of inquiry. First, it is necessary to look at what it
means to talk about hospitality in the context of literature and of editing.
Having established the potential of hospitality as a useful critical category,
we must then test these assumptions by describing what a hospitable edition
might entail. Likewise, we should determine what might be considered inhospitable
by these same terms. After establishing the method, and then demonstrating
its potential uses and/or abuses, we can then turn to an examination of
the Internet Shakespeare Editions (ISE) and test how that project fits within
the established formula.
The result illustrates the ways in which the plays of Shakespeare (at least
in their earliest performance) demonstrated a form of hospitality that migrates
effectively into the digital structures used by the ISE. Of course, it is
not necessary that a work be hospitable in nature to make an hospitable
edition of that work desirable, but we should consider that the special
case of making something that was accessible less so, might be a method
of editing scholars would do better avoiding.
Hospitality and Literature
In its most direct form, hospitality refers to
a kindness to visitors: a friendly welcome and a kind or generous treatment
offered to guests or strangers. As an act, this form of hospitality shows
itself in a number of regions of Shakespearean scholarship. Often entailing
sets of procedures or practices, different forms of hospitable engagement
can be traced to the various technological forms of theatrical performance,
printed reproduction and digital remediation. Shakespeare, it can be argued,
began as an hospitable creator. With the exception of the very rich and
the very poor, audiences for Shakespearean plays at least those performed
at the Globe were socially representative of his time. Apparently, Shakespeare
knew how to throw a wonderful party.
The global accessibility which was afforded Shakespeare's
more immediate audience did not indeed could not carry over to the codified
world of print. While quarto publications were within the reach of many
of London's merchant class, the publication of the First Folio placed the
authoritative works of Shakespeare in the hands of the few. This material
development was only one form of removal. Another came with the institutional
aggrandizement afforded Shakespeare's plays, which culminated during the
19th century, when editors convinced themselves and the public
that The Bard was no longer a progenitor of pop culture, but was
instead the greatest writer of all time. If there were popular versions of the plays and there were
they most often came in the form of intentionally popularized productions
designed with the market in mind. Not that versioning is culturally insignificant,
but the split in accessibility recast lines between editors and readers
in important ways.
Still print did provide one contribution to accessibility.
It made plays available to those who could not physically get to a theatre.
In theory this meant that citizens who were at a physical distance, who
had limited mobility due to physical or cultural reasons or who had commitments
during the times when the plays were performed could access a form of Shakespeare's
We often hear that we have overcome the separations imposed
by the cult of the book. The achievement is a supposed result
of the application of theoretical self-awareness on one hand and digital
supplements to bibliographic challenges on the other. That is, the codex
and its position as a cornerstone of the upper class establishment no longer
bind us. Like Prometheus, we are unbound from the tyranny of the Gods
read classical editors on high. Set free from a punishment meted out for
our attempts to put fire in the hands of the common man. Yet, I would like
to argue that without vigilant methodological work, ready theories and readier
communications could be as exclusionary as any impasse currently regarded
as historical malfeasance. One way out of this at least the way I will
advocate is what I call hospitable editing.
The notion of hospitality permeates Shakespeare studies
through historical, performance and critical perspectives. From the moment
when the players began to attract people to plays to the twenty-first century
decision between links for a transcription of King Lear or for historicist
materials in the Life and Times section of the Internet Shakespeare
Editions, the invitation to communicate to hear and to be heard is a
procedure embedded in the codes of hospitality. However, to twist a line
from a recent film, "if you make it, they will not necessarily come." The
making itself must involve either a form of attraction or welcoming. Otherwise,
it must rely on some form of coercive social obligation.
For the editor in pursuit of meaningful ways in which
to interpret textual transmission, the concept of hospitality dovetails
nicely with social practices of the period in which Shakespeare was writing.
As Felicity Heal points out, hospitality in early modern England was a form
of political exchange that rivaled the politico-juridical forms of governance
with which we are so familiar today. Through an examination of the social history of giving and obligation,
Heal highlights the cultural codes that surrounded the giving of gifts and
the offering of hospitable respite, two themes that arise repeatedly in
the plays. The notion of hospitable obligation was well established by the
time Shakespeare showed audiences the welcoming of the players to Denmark,
the murder of Duncan while a guest in Macbeth's castle and the pursuit of
Polixenes from Sicilia. Hospitality seems intricately bound to the political
economy of Shakespearean drama.
Heal's book argues that there was a move towards a more
secularized view of hospitality from the late middle ages to the early seventeenth
century Further, she provides a critique of a complex social matrix that
saw the household as the centre of hospitality, though the judgments therein
were rooted firmly in the public sphere. Recent theoretical work has made
much of the potential of these traditions of hospitable exchange as a means
to promote equitable relations in society. The works of Marcel Mauss, Emmanuel
Levinas and Jacques Derrida offer a return to earlier ethical, spiritual
or theological representations in a manner that seeks to address some of
the same sociopolitical concerns that Heal records. What we find is that all of these concerns find
a home in the plays of Shakespeare. Following this, the hospitable editor
is in the case of Shakespeare able to edit in a way that seems to strike
harmony with the internal messages of the works in question. In order to
understand this propinquitous relationship, it is necessary to review recent
developments in the theory of hospitality.
Marcel Mauss' book The Gift offers an anthropological
account of rituals of exchange in a number of communities. The book has
given rise to a variety of new studies of the gift and of hospitality. Mauss'
development of the Potlatch system is perhaps his most famous contribution.
In this intricate system of exchange, community is founded on a ritualized
recognition of interdependence. For Emmanuel Levinas, giving can become
an essentially ethical practice, but only after it tears itself free from
injurious or inequitable obligation. Writing after Mauss, Levinas was able
to address issues that arose from the work established in the anthropologist's
work while taking into account the critical objections that arose in response
to The Gift. In particular, Levinas negotiates the passive/aggressive
potential of over-obligating someone with an elaborate gift. He speaks of
responsibility that is determined by the root response the
opening or offering that provides space for the reply of the other.
One of the most effective readings of Mauss comes in Natalie
Zemon Davis' book The Gift in Sixteenth Century France. Davis presents a series of models of reciprocity
that seek to complicate Mauss' original formulations. For Mauss, gift exchange
was a model that could be drawn from our pre-industrial past, as gleaned
through an examination of contemporary peoples who were yet to be civilized.
Davis maintains the belief that the examination of one culture here that
of sixteenth century France can have relevance for all other times and
cultures but adds a layer of complexity arguing for different languages
of giving and levels of reciprocity. In particular, she is interested in the difference
in the relationship of God and people in the Protestant and Catholic contexts.
This latter has also been usefully addressed in Catherine Gallagher and
Stephen Greenblatt's defense of the New Historicism in, Practicing New
Historicism where the authors deliver a thick description of the material
culture surrounding the communion ritual. As with Davis, this book focuses on the nature of exchange surrounding
the consecration, and giving of the communion host. Both formulations are
useful, yet each remain far too specific too object-oriented if you will
(a common practice of New Historicism given its focus on points of power)
to offer a useful model for the economies of textual expression. In order for exchange to serve as a model robust enough for
use as a means to delivering edited texts, we must account for the specific
role of the editor, who, unlike the priest, must be removed from the event
in order to free the exchange between author and the reader.
Jacques Derrida provides a useful example when he takes
the notion of the gift one step further in his book The Gift of Death.
As Scott Foutz points out: "Derrida's aim is to establish the priority of
self sacrifice as grounded not upon utilitarian grounds but upon its status
as radically individualistic gift. This makes the gift of death responsibility
toward mortal others."
Derrida is speaking of a system of practical ethics, of social responsibility
embedded in the act of welcoming that functions as a central tenet of what
he terms The New Enlightenment. In Derrida's formulation, communicators must bring about the
end of their own power to truly allow for an unconditioned response. It
is with Derrida's critique of subjectivity through self-sacrifice that we
begin to glean a policy for the editor. Rather than following the traditional
path of thinking of the death of the author, by considering the auto-annihilation
inherent in good editing we are able to take a step towards a formula of
John B. Bennett echoes Derrida's revisionist approach
in a recent article. In the process, Bennett brings the notion of hospitality
to the scholarly community. In "The Academy and Hospitality," Bennett argues
that hospitable scholars must find a balance between the tripartite functions
of teaching, research and service. Academic hospitality says Bennett, "[is]
the extension of self in order to welcome the other by sharing intellectual
resources and insights [its] intellectual and moral virtue is essential
for the academy." For
my purposes, Bennett's notion of the hospitable scholar and in particular
theintellectual who commits herself to service provides a useful
model for the role of the editor.
The Hospitable Edition
Editors have for years played an important role in the
mediation of cultural materials, not only through the creation of editions,
but also in the publications describing their work. The Times Literary
Supplement, for example has published dozens of articles on the editing
of Shakespeare. The attention the press pays to these issues helps motivate
scholars and keeps readers abreast of new research with which to evaluate
upcoming publications. If, however, editors begin to take over, usurping
the author, then they run the risk of over-obligating the reader. Moreover,
they can silence the voice whose work brought them the spotlight in the
first place. Editorial theory, which has for the last decade been working
to account for the challenges literary theory posed to evaluative criticism,
has settled into a non-resolution or functional agon that stems from
the marriage of information technology and anti-foundational epistemology.
In this sense, the computer's ability to store linked information melds
well with the infinite referentiality that poststructural criticism sought
to foreground. Readers are no longer presented a fixed edition of a text,
but are instead offered an archive; a database of interrelated information
that they can browse at will. The archive in this case is a mid point between
the printed critical edition and the infinite referentiality studied in
George Landow's Hypertext 2.0.
The study of the various forms of Shakespearean editing
has been central to the development of editorial theory as a whole. As Susan
Wofford has indicated in the case of Hamlet, the history of editing
Shakespearean texts can be a useful means by which to study the development
of all intellectual culture in the west.
Moreover, TheOxfordShakespeare's use
of multiple texts of King Lear is seen by many as the most
thoroughgoing challenge to traditional Anglo-American editing yet to pass.
Now as the scholarly world waits for the much-anticipated Arden 3 Hamlet,
which will follow this pathway one more step and split that play into three,
it seems an appropriate time to ask about the hospitability of various approaches.
Which editions are welcoming? Which provide guests with the space necessary
to engage with the text?
The degree to which various editing projects might be
judged hospitable depends on their cultural context. The accessibility of
Charles and Mary Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare reminds me of family
reunions when I had to sit at the children's table. If the Lambs proffered
an invitation one might rather not receive, then R.B. McKerrow's Prolegomena
for the Oxford Shakespeare might be considered an elaborate invitation
to a party that never happened.
In our current context, the scholarly editor's task
that of delivering culture in usable forms is inherently caught up in
hospitality. I would argue that one way we can create editions that are
both accessible and useful is to practice a form of "hospitable editing"
which creates editions and/or interfaces that foreground the interests of
guests, thereby ensuring not only that readers and viewers are invited to
the table of the great, but that they are given the tools to enjoy themselves
while in attendance. Following Stephen Greenblatt's creative reading of
Thomas More from which I cribbed my title the editors are close to,
but not in, the authorial seat of power and must create and undo themselves
through language in a fashion that must end in a form self annihilation
that allows guests to take the fore. The editor in this manner must be prepared
to offer the gift of death.
As examples of hospitable printed scholarship, we could
debate the levels of welcome in the Riverside, or Norton editions
of Shakespeare's complete works, both of which make different attempts at
providing the equipment necessary to participate in the tradition. Running
counter to this though admittedly in a deliberate, theoretical move by
the author we might consider Harold Bloom's Shakespeare and the Invention
of the Human as less hospitable scholarship. This book, which contains
no notes that allow the reader to continue outside the parameters of the
text, seems to fall into the category of cultural obligation so effectively
studied in Michel Foucault's work on western pedagogy. Under that model,
the teacher instills a sense of guilt in the student by demonstrating superior
knowledge while limiting access to the means of attaining the same level
of erudition. This in turn mirrors the challenge that John Guillory has
made about literary theory's assault on the canon. Can non-linear editions
actually serve to erect barriers that only the technologically adept can
negotiate, thereby reinscribing the "cultural capital" of Shakespeare's
plays? In these terms, we might legitimately ask,
is hospitality a function of access to information? And if so, how do the
structure and presentation of editions contribute or detract from accessibility?
Recent discussions concerning the influence of digital
technology make much of the democratizing power of the accessibility fostered
by the World Wide Web. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that more
information is not necessarily better. Providing open access without the
means to make use of the given systems is in fact a mirror of the traditional
conservative political position, that the playing field is equal and we
must "pull ourselves up by our bootstraps." Surely this cannot be the best
means for sharing elements of our cultural heritage?
In much the same way that early modern printers negotiated
an expanding field of information in a climate of technological change,
today's web editors are navigating new ground trying to find ways to create
useful entrance points for readers and viewers. If those editors are to
create anything that is of use to readers, I would like to suggest that
they are doomed to failure if they emphasize a direct link between a postmodern
notion of infinite referentiality and digital publication. Early books such
as George Landow's Hypertext 2.0 made much of the parallels between
these two modes. The comparison was useful in the early stages of electronic
editing, but it is insufficient for our current state of work. Infinite
referentiality is fatal for editing. Thus, in a medium that offers the delivery
of vast amounts of information at high rates of speed, the rejection of
all forms of linearity leads inevitably to high-tech gibberish. The only
way to make sense within vast fields is by turning to some form of systematized
I do not believe that it is ungenerous of me to point
to Jerome McGann's Rossetti Archive project as an hospitable failure. McGann has already discussed the failures of the project on
a number of occasions. As a leading figure in the world of electronic editing,
he feels that these mistakes are a part of a field of experimentation that
will lead to new ways to practice editing and it is hard to disagree. In
the interim however, this means that the Rossetti project has a great deal
of information hidden behind an inadequate interface. For example, even
before we enter, a pop-up window appears on the site, warning visitors that
the current instantiation is insufficient and will be so for some time.
Perhaps a clue to this cacophony can be found in the use of the term "archive"
in the project's title. Like so many other archives, the Rossetti
suffers from clutter that might reward committed souls with ample time to
wander through, but which is ultimately forbidding to the majority of guests.
Rather than having information arranged in easy to follow steps, visitors
must first read through long portions of scrolling text to find out how
to navigate and how to search and how to use the archive. This do-it-yourself
approach to navigation fits well with the freedom espoused by social text
editors, but quickly proves to be a prison of choice. To paraphrase Claudio
in Measure for Measure, we are constrained by too much liberty. A
hospitable archive or society needs an editor who neither abdicates responsibility
nor tyrannizes by forcing certain practices of reading.
The ISE and Hospitality
The Internet Shakespeare Editions takes just such an approach. It provides
free access to a body of information namely texts and transcriptions of
Shakespeare's plays that appear in clear and easy to use interfaces. It
also presents a detailed series of contextual information to support reading
and studying in its Life and Times section. Critical editions complement textual transcriptions
while a performance database and archive of the Shakespeare Theatre Association
of America provide elements of multimedia, performance and community representation.
Its commitment to hospitality is also present in what it does not include.
There is for example, no direct link to a discussion of the Oxfordian debate,
clearly indicating that the host is aware that some of his guests may have
a nut allergy.
If hospitality is useful as a general concept, it must be practically applicable
or it becomes little more than a watered down version of the golden rule;
a position that leads the concept into the diminished state of which John
B. Bennett warns. However, it is in these practical applications that The
ISE most strongly demonstrates its form of welcome. Visitors are greeted by
an image of Hamlet contemplating a mouse. To click or not to click is the
immediate question, as it must always be when a viewer arrives at a web page.
Of more concern is whether the mouse is a trap that will leave us wanting
light. Fortunately, the introductory interface makes decisions clearer than
those the young prince faces.
In order to describe the modes in which hospitality functions
on the Internet Shakespeare Editions site, I would like to discuss three
ways in which the ISE can be put to use. For teachers, the ISE delivers
useful information for students and can be counted on as a solid source
for research papers. While students might have difficulties with more complex
sites like The Blake Archive and the Perseus Project, the
clarity of the ISE's interface mitigates against potential problems. The
searchable transcriptions of the plays also allow those who wish to work
with the texts to access the materials in a free and reliable manner. The
textual accuracy that the site provides is exceptional and is a rarity among
affordable editions of the play; print or electronic. For researchers or
would-be-editors, the clearly articulated editorial methodologies and ambitious
editions create an environment that is friendly to scholars. Further, the
body of accurately transcribed texts affords editors a useful starting point
from which to begin their research, while at the same time serving as a
base for the ISE site.
Freely accessible transcriptions with cogent descriptions
of editorial methodologies and tagging procedures are each components of
a beginning place for hospitable editing. Their continuation occurs in the
ISE's policy of allowing individual editors to introduce their own
approaches to their specific projects. The unifying forces of a commitment
to accessibility and transcriptional accuracy help define the project as
a whole, but the commitment to a humanistic form of research means the ISE
does not fall prey to the notion that all Shakespearean texts should be
edited in the same way.
What these editorial decisions provide is a text that
if useable by the widest possible audience. Early undergraduate students
or general readers can link information from the Life and Times section
to the electronic texts to better understand the context of the work. Graduate
students can study the development of Shakespeare's work, its textual transmission
or more broadly the process of electronic editing. Scholars who are working
on specific pieces can access reliable, old-spelling texts of the plays
that are available to any colleagues with whom they may be working. These
are only a few of the ways the ISE can welcome visitors; a hospitable edition
provides multiple points of engagement and the list of experiences grows
exponentially with the arrival of each new guest.
As Jerome McGann has learned, attempts at editing using
prefabricated documentary definitions seem doomed to fail. It is far better
to edit from project-specific positions, which maintain the research modes
of humanities-based intellectual work that is, scholarship that allows
itself to change as new information presents itself through focused research.
New technologies can be particularly useful for supporting these practices;
but they can also promote short cuts that lead to an instrumental use of
language that dissects texts into lifeless data objects. Hospitality suggests
we choose a different path.
A hospitable edition is one that creates a space where a number of readers
can come and feel welcome. The degree to which this hospitality is realized
is a blend of the work under consideration, but also of the way in which the
editor presents their selected material. While many recent theorists have
made claims for the democratizing power of the Internet it is clear that merely
digitizing and posting texts to the World Wide Web is insufficient and can
in fact lead to an inhospitable environment, particularly when the mode of
delivery is confused. By thinking of the editor as a host, inviting guests
to a visual, auditory and textual feast, we benefit from the crossover of
the title already applied to those who host materials online the web host.
We are only just learning how to negotiate this new virtual community, but
there are already a number of friendly venues to visit; the Internet Shakespeare
Editions offers one such site. Let us hope that scholarly editors will emphasize
the policies of hospitality as they begin to move into the electronic medium.
After all, if they treated us after our worth, who'd scape whipping?
course, the drive towards seeing Shakespeare as the preeminent author in English
began as early as the seventeenth century. My point here is that the case
seemed fixed by the time nineteenth century scholars began contributing commentary
on the works.
an excellent early study of the changing role of the book in the Western world
see Geoffrey Nunberg, ed. The Future of the Book. Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1996.
Heal. Hospitality in Early Modern England. Oxford: Oxford University
Marcel Mauss. The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Communities.
W.D. Halls, Trans. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1990 (1950); Emmanuel
Levinas. Alterity and Transcendence. Michael B. Smith Trans. New York:
Columbia University Press, 1999 (1983). in particular, 97-110 and 131-144;
and, Jacques Derrida. The Gift of Death. David Wills, Trans. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1995 and Jacques Derrida and Anne Dufourmantelle,
Of Hospitality: Jacques Derrida Responds to Anne Dufourmantelle. Rachel
Bowlby, Trans. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000.
Natalie Zemon. The Gift in Sixteenth-Century France. Madison: University
of Wisconsin Press, 2000.
37-38, 55ff. For Davis, there are four languages of the gift, the noble, the
Christian, that of friendship and those of immediate community or neighbourly
100-123. In the brief chapter, "Gifts and the Gods," Davis examines the difference
between a Catholic, vertically reciprocal debt to God for the gift of his
son and the Protestant horizontal reciprocity, which harbours no such belief.
Catherine and Greenblatt, Stephen. Practicing New Historicism. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 2000. (139-62) Greenblatt has visited this topic
in other work, most recently in Hamlet in Purgatory. Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 2001. See in particular 12-16.
John B. Bennett. "The Academy and Hospitality." Cross Currents 50 (1/2).
Susan Wofford. "Introduction" Hamlet, Susan Wofford, Ed. Bedford-St.
Martins Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism, 2000. (2-4).
See John Guillory. Cultural Capital: The Problem of the Literary Canon.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.
The pop-up appears once visitors click on "Enter the Archive." The Rossetti
Archive is now in its second (released Summer 2002) of four installments.
Each installment is intended to improve upon the functionality of the last,
while maintaining the basic structure of the original, which was first released
in 2000. Its editor-in-chief is Jerome McGann. McGann who started as a Victorianist
textual scholar, gained early notoriety for his development of a critique
that challenged the author-centred editing techniques of the New Bibliographic
school that dominated critical editing practices in the English-speaking world
for most of the 20th century. He later went on to become a leading
voice in the world of digital editing and archiving.