collection takes a fresh look at configurations—and reconfigurations—of
Shakespeare from the first quartos to the most recent incarnations. It offers
new approaches for studying the packaging of the plays and poems through time,
between cultures and across media. We have been prompted to explore the
potential of the concept of configuration by two sweeping developments in
Shakespeare Studies: the sustained attack on the idea of an authentic, original
text produced by a single, isolated author; and a corresponding attention to
the reformulation and assimilation of Shakespeare’s texts in cultures very
different from the one in which they were created. These two areas (the one
associated with Textual Scholarship and the other with Adaptation, Performance
and Postcolonial Studies) have only recently begun to speak to each other, and
together they pose a set of far-reaching questions which the essays gathered
here seek to investigate:
does configuration end and reconfiguration begin? And where, for that matter,
does configuration begin?
or what is responsible for shaping texts and how does the work of printers,
actors, editors, and readers relate to that of the author?
useful is the distinction between 'original' and 'adaptation,' in theory and in
there is no fixed original form that is later subjected to reconfiguration, are
all versions equally valid?
non-theatrical treatments of the plays have a different status and value from
those produced for the stage?
what extent do our own scholarly frames reconfigure Shakespeare?
a recent number of the journal Adaptation, Natalie Hayton writes of the
way in which “the use of fairy tales and folklore is often overlooked in
adaptation studies,” perhaps because “they are difficult to discuss within
traditional adaptation debates” and as such cannot be debated in terms of how
an adaptation “remains faithful to its source” (38). Although of course
divergent in terms of its textual focus, in conceptual terms the article
suggests some of the issues that are central to the discussions in this
collection. Like much writing about adaptation, it sets up a clear relation
between two texts, an original which is then reinvented through a series of
changes as a rewriting of a source to which it will be more or less faithful.
The terminology varies in different approaches, but the concept remains broadly
similar, and presents a move towards those categories beloved of theoretical
pattern-seekers, the binary opposition and the linear progression. In showing
that the process is one of mutual modification and clarification, such
genuinely comparative study, revealing the process as symbiosis rather than
parasitism, can be genuinely illuminating. But the term adaptation itself acts
powerfully against this openness, almost as if it is attempting to make
respectable the perennial popular complaint that the film wasn’t as good as the
fidelity to a source at the centre of the debate, as Hayton’s article does,
raises problems that are especially insistent in the discussion of
Shakespeare’s texts, and these are amplified by the allusion to adaptations of
fairy tales. By their nature, these exist in a series of variant forms across
and behind the textual record, so finding and defining a single source for a
later version is a contentious matter. Apart from the eighteen plays which
survive only in Shakespeare's First Folio, the rest have various versions, with
anything up to six Quarto versions vying with the Folio, and all subject to the
efforts of later editors to establish a true, original text that might take us
behind the mediation of Shakespeare's actors, scribes, and compositors (Jowett;
Egan; Erne and Kidnie). And the debate does not, of course, end there: how can
a performative entity be given a single finite identity, depending as most
critics now believe on circumstances of individual performance that are as
various as individual actors and as unreliable as the weather besieging the
the end of the nineteenth century, at least, efforts to establish one of the
printed versions as the most authentic have been legion. Most recently,
however, the move has been away from authenticity to multiplicity, with first
the two-text Lear and most recently the three-text Arden Hamlet
that prints the Second Quarto text in one volume and offers those of the First
Quarto and Folio in a separate volume. Still more protean are the Hamlets
offered in the Shakespeare Quartos Archive (http://www.quartos.org), which
presents online thirty-two copies of the five earliest editions held in the
British Library, the Folger and several other international research archives. Are
these Quartos--printed objects and digital surrogates--originals or adaptations?
Or, to modify F. W. Bateson's infamous question, "If the Mona Lisa is in the
Louvre, which one of these (if any) is Hamlet?"
the cult of authentic performance, beginning with Poel (and, though often
overlooked, Planche, in his 1844 Shrew) was for a period dominant, there
has rarely been any consensus in the theatre regarding truth to a source
(Orgel). Instead, validity of performative reading has become the criterion.
From Davenant’s dancing witches and Tate’s married Cordelia onward, few
productions can assume a form that is--in Hayton’s words--“faithful to its
source.” These are perhaps most obviously adaptations, because of the distance
they create between event and language of Shakespeare’s period and that of
their own. But what of the famous Kean crawl in Hamlet, Siddons’ stage
business with the candle, the arbitrarily fractured delivery favoured in many
more recent performances? Are these interpretations, emendations, adaptations?
response to this would be that, since performance has no permanent form, it can
be regarded as something less extensive than an adaptation, of the kind
produced by Davenant and Tate, because that exists in print. Yet the print
versions are incomplete records of the performances, and might themselves well
be called adaptations of the stage versions, which in turn become their source.
The problem becomes much greater when other forms are considered – film, opera,
painting, print-making, and illustrated editions. Unless these are completely
to surrender their own identities and become a series of aesthetically
imaginative footnotes to a source, itself largely artificial, they need to be
seen in a far more balanced way, as elements within a dialogue of some kind
with whatever we think of as Othello, Hamlet or any other play.
They can certainly offer powerful emotional and aesthetic insights into these
earlier structures, but they do so in a way peculiar to themselves. Verdi’s
recapitulation of the kiss motif at the moment when Othello strangles Desdemona
is a powerful insight into the play’s psychology, but it is achieved wholly
through the progression of the music, itself repeatedly at variance in
then, may any progress be made in discussing Shakespeares of all kinds in a
manner that values the identities of each yet allows for their relation to the
ways in which, through accretions of memorialised readings, viewings and
hearings, most of us construct a Hamlet, an Othello or, albeit
with less comparative effort, a Two Gentlemen? The essays in this
collection all seek to arrive at not so much conclusions to this question but
alternative ways in which it may be posed. The term configuration came about
after extensive and contentious efforts to find a term that lacked the deep
assumptions of the word “adaptation,” and would also sidestep the large and
growing number of definitions of this and other terms within what is already a
thriving community of adaptation studies. As the OED's etymology ("Latin configurare,
to fashion after some pattern") suggests, the word helps us to articulate ways
of giving form to something that, while having an earlier existence,
constitutes a new constellation, conflation, or concatenation.
any of the plays into what, in other fields, would be the product of some kind
of mathematical modelling, may at first seem to range from the tendentious to
the absurd. But on reflection it is surely a microcosm of the process in which
all Shakespeareans are involved, a constant revaluation of affect, meaning,
allusion and experience in terms of the known and the newly experienced, in
which any simple notion of a source is repeatedly challenged and renewed. All
of the papers in this collection begin from this conceptual standpoint,
offering readings of configurations that, in turn, become configurations in
their own right. Source and adaptation or edition and interpretation, then, are
far too simple: what we are left with is a performative process, a metaphor,
perhaps, of the way in which the plays and poems, when fashioned, constantly
redefine themselves in dialogue with earlier, and subsequent, forms.
collection opens with two essays which remind us that many of the
transformative phenomena we have described would simply not exist were it not
for the persistence of Shakespeare in print. Andrew Murphy and Sarah Stanton
offer complementary perspectives on how the publishing of Shakespeare’s
works--from the early modern book market to the business of marketing texts for
modern readers--has changed our access to and understanding of Shakespeare. In
“Configuring the Book,” Murphy notes, for instance, that because the vast
majority of Shakespeare’s plays were locked into the Folio format from 1623 to
the beginning of the next century, this created “an ‘all or nothing’ access
point” for potential readers. Questions of size and format determine our way of
relating to Shakespeare and Murphy wonders in his essay how different the
situation would have been if Shakespeare’s plays had been disseminated in
smaller formats, as was the case for his poems. In “Publishing Shakespeare,”
Sarah Stanton shares her experience of working over the last few decades as a
commissioning editor for Cambridge University Press. She too is concerned with
questions of textual access and points out that “configuring, in publishing
terms, might mean the matching of text to reader, or subject to market.” She
looks at the changes in the field of Shakespeare criticism, shares her views
about the marketing of critical editions today and shows how Shakespeare
publishing has been affected by recent developments in technology.
reading of books is inevitably shaped by the orders created by printers and by
editors: according to Roger Chartier, each manifestation of a given text forms
a configured space which at once directs the reader according to conventions
and also opens up new possibilities (vii). William H. Sherman's essay on
"Punctuation as Configuration" examines the crucial (if often
overlooked) role played by punctuation in shaping the Shakespeares we see and
hear. Commas, colons, and full stops have the power to change the pace, emphasis,
and even meaning of the words they regulate, and yet almost all modern editions
silently update the punctuation found in early modern editions to bring it into
line with modern conventions. In asking why they do so and what may be gained
and lost in translation, Sherman explores the modern editor's problem of giving
access to Shakespeare's texts when we cannot identify his original habits or
intentions. In "Shakespeare and the Order of Books," Jean-Christophe
Mayer concentrates more specifically on paratextual material in early editions
of Shakespeare. Mayer highlights the sets of devices through which those who
produce books seek to interact with potential readers. Shakespeare’s editions
thus create what might be described as “an experimental space, which
builds on imaginary elements and constructs.”
parameters of the work," as M. J. Kidnie suggests, "are as flexible
as they need to be to serve the changing purposes of its users" (30). The
next few essays consider what happens when actual readers take these textual
constructs into their own hands.
Jeffrey Knight (“Shakespeare in Bundles”) argues that readers and collectors in
the early modern period were sensitive to the composition and arrangement of
books and to the way single editions, like the quartos published by Thomas
Pavier, could be bundled together. Publishers like Pavier produced plays “in
flexible, linkable formats, which even admitted non-Shakespearean works.”
Today, argues Knight, our criteria
for assembling plays are more author-centred and we tend to see books as
self-enclosed non-configurable entities.
“Updating Folios: Readers’
Reconfigurations and Customisations of Shakespeare,” Noriko Sumimoto goes
beyond the traditional notion of reception to study the way in which a series
of Shakespearean folios were appropriated, “customised” and reconfigured by
their readers. When filling the pages of their folios with notes, these readers
often imported material from eighteenth-century editions, thus creating an
original and often personal dialogue between two publishing eras.
Anne Ferrell (“Extra-illustrating Shakespeare”) is interested in another form
of customisation that puts texts from different periods into dialogue, the
practice of extra-illustrating Shakespeare editions in the nineteenth century.
The practice is also referred to as “grangerizing,” afterJamesGranger (1723-1776), an English clergyman whoseBiographical History of England(1769)
was arranged for the addition of pictorial
materials in a wide range of formats and genres which illustrate and extend the
source text. Ferrell argues that grangerizing was an approach to textual
interpretation (and not just collection or compilation) and that we have much
to learn from it. Indeed, she writes, “grangerizing
was, after all, an expansive and thus inherently exegetical act: one that
located meaning in the relation between words, the mental images those words
inspired, the created pictures that made those words manifest.” In “Thoughts on
the Illustrated Edition,” Stuart Sillars is similarly concerned with the way
illustrated editions of Shakespeare relate to readers who might also be
theatre-goers. He explores the intersections between the textual, the dramatic
and the pictorial, but also reflects on the implications of these transmediations.
Such processes, argues Sillars, point ultimately to “the unattainability of a
single, original and unchallenged text, to which all others are subordinate.”
Thus, illustrated editions, like other acts of configuration, have “a value
that is both immanent and fugitive.”
The next two essays deal with theatrical
afterlives, or reconfigurations, of two plays, King Lear and Titus
Andronicus--both of which are famously based on Shakespeare's configuration
of historical materials. Both approaches suggest that the question “is not how
performance departs from or otherwise ‘adapts’ text, but the shifting criteria
by which both texts and performances are recognized—or not—as instances of a
certain work” (Kidnie 144). In “The
Kingdoms of Lear in Tate and Shakespeare: A Restoration Reconfiguration of
Archipelagic Kingdoms,” Atsuhiko Hirota argues that Nahum Tate’s King Lear,
which is often seen as inferior to Shakespeare’s, is representative of the way
Shakespeare’s work was adapted to serve political ends at the time of the
Exclusion Crisis (1678-1681). Hirota also situates the King Lear
plays, as well as the King Leir stories, within a broader framework—that of
stories concerned with “the ethnic, religious and national groups around the
‘Atlantic Archipelago’ including Great Britain and Ireland.” As a consequence,
these King Lear/Leir stories are seen to share the same cultural sphere, but
their political parameters, as well as their implications from the point of
view of international relations, differ markedly.In “Mythological Reconfigurations on the Contemporary Stage: Giving a New Voice to Philomela in Titus Andronicus,” Agnès Lafont investigates the early modern emblematic configurations of the Ovidian tale of Philomela in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus to explore mythological transmediation. The intersections (or their absence) between the representation of the mutilated mythological figure in emblem books as well as in Illustrated Ovids and its Shakespearean scenic configuration help shed light on how the emblematic code is reworked in two contemporary productions of Titus Andronicus, by Yukio Ninagawa’s (Stratford-upon-Avon, 2006) and Lucy Bailey’s (Globe, 2006). Shakespeare configures Ovid and is being configured through the treatment of mythology: the raped body of the actress and the image of brutal glossectomy induced by the Ovidian intertext become meta-theatrical metaphors to question our modern systems of representation.
The collection concludes with Svenn-Arve Myklebost’s theoretical thoughts
on the concept of configuration itself, which grows out of his research on
Manga versions of Shakespeare. In “Difference vs. Change: The Theory of
Configuration,” Myklebost points to the inadequacy of the term adaptation when
discussing transfers, rewritings, bowdlerisations, stagings, or
translations. He argues that adaptation is used primarily to describe the
differences between an original and a new creation, which is problematic and
does not take on board changes. The value of the term “configuration,” he
contends, lies in “the fact that it effaces the concept of repetition.” Myklebost highlights also a number of
tropes that might help in the analysis of such cultural phenomena. Metaphor, synecdoche
and metonymy are useful to describe change, but also the way “works or
fragments thereof relate to one another.” Acknowledgements
articles and approaches brought together in this collection grew out of two
recent conferences on the topic of "Shakespearean Configurations."
The first, in 2009, was hosted by the University of York (UK) in association
with the University of Bergen (Norway); and the second, the following year, was
hosted by the University of Montpellier (France). We would like to acknowledge
the support of our sponsors, including York's Centre for Renaissance &
Early Modern Studies, Bergen's English Department, and Montpellier's Institut
de Recherche sur la Renaissance, l’Age Classique et les Lumičres (IRCL). We are
also grateful to the speakers whose work does not appear here but who did so
much to make these meetings so productive (including Ilaria Andreoli, Erin
Blake, Judith Buchanan, Dympna Callaghan, Russell Jackson, Florence March, Alan
H. Nelson, Marcus
Nevitt, Varsha Panjwani, Erica
Sheen and Emma Smith).
Chartier, Roger. The Order
of Books: Readers, Authors, and Libraries in Europe between the Fourteenth and
Eighteenth centuries. Stanford Calif.: Stanford UP, 1994. Print.
Egan, Gabriel. The Struggle
for Shakespeare's Text: Twentieth-Century Editorial Theory and Practice.
Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010. Print.
Erne, Lukas and Margaret Jane
Kidnie, eds. Textual Performances: The Modern Reproduction of Shakespeare's
Drama. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004. Print.
Hayton, Natalie. “Unconscious
Adaptation: Hard Candy as little red riding hood.” Adaptation 4.1
(2011): 38-54. Print.
Jowett, John. Shakespeare
and Text. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. Print.
Kidnie, Margaret Jane. Shakespeare
and the Problem of Adaptation. London: Routledge, 2009. Print.
Orgel, Stephen. The
Authentic Shakespeare, and Other Problems of the Early Modern Stage. London:
Routledge, 2002. Print.
Responses to this piece intended for the
Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editors at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.