A Popular Shakespeare. An unsigned review of The Works of Shakespeare, vols. I-III. Introductions by Charles Whibley
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768 ] A Popular Shakespeare An unsigned review of The Works of Shakespeare. Volume I: Comedies. Volume II: Histories. Volume III: Tragedies Introductions by Charles Whibley London: Macmillan, 1926. Times Literary Supplement, 1255 (4 Feb 1926) 76 Of this popular edition of Shakespeare the text is that of the Globe Shakespeare of Clark and Wright;1 there is no commentary or gloss; but a glossary. Comment, therefore, is restricted to the production of the book by Messrs. Macmillan and to the three introductions by Mr. Whibley.2 The arrangement of the plays under the categories of tragedies, histories, and comedies is, in a popular edition, justifiable. Nevertheless, it creates inevitable confusions, and must have somewhat hampered Mr. Whibley in the preparation of his prefaces, each of which is written for the plays in the volume to which it is prefixed. One is somewhat bewildered at finding Pericles and Cymbeline among the “Tragedies,” at reading Mr. Whibley’s delightful and understanding comments on Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra in his preface to “Tragedies,” and wondering why there is no reference to Coriolanus, which we subsequently find with Troilus and Cressida among the “Histories”! But such arbitrary division, for which we do not suppose Mr. Whibley to be responsible, but to which we suppose rather that he had to accommodate himself, is perhaps right in a popular edition; and perhaps any other principle of division into three volumes would have been difficult for the public mind to grasp. We must recognize, in any case, that it has made matters difficult for Mr. Whibley. What has still further encumbered him is the illustrations, provided with inadequate explanation and extenuation, and mostly drawn from the work of antiquated artists. What we have to consider is what Mr. Whibley has performed in the special circumstances of this edition. There are millions of people who can and do read Shakespeare as Shakespeare – and amongst these millions are included all of those educated and even cultivated persons who, whatever their erudition, are not concerned with influences, derivations and collaborations. It is certain that [ 769 A Popular Shakespeare the number of plays included in the popular Shakespeare canon has a unity whoever was or were the authors; and it is probable that most people will profit most by reading this body of work as a whole – if they can be induced to read it at all – without bothering by whom or by how many persons it was actually written. It is therefore desirable that there should be an edition of Shakespeare – like this edition – in which neither prefaces nor notes should cast a shadow of doubt upon the authorship. Is anyone, however erudite or cultivated in other respects (for we cannot all be Shakespeare scholars), competent to advance to such a work as Mr. Robertson’s Shakespeare Canon or similar works until he has assimilated the plays attributed to Shakespeare as if they were all written and altogether written by one man?3 Mr. Robertson writes for the Shakespearian; the present edition is for the man who is not yet a Shakespearian. With this distinction in mind, we can praise ungrudgingly Mr. Whibley’s prefaces. For a popular edition they are, when examined closely, wholly admirable. He follows the method which is the method most useful for those for whom an “introduction ” is desirable. He selects the most important plays of each type, outlines their plots, and calls attention to their beauties. He refrains from indulging in any esoteric theories as to their meaning or significance; he restricts himself to pointing out what, from any point of view, will be their principal excellences. Everybody, except a very small number of technical and philosophical specialists, is a beginner in Shakespeare, and everyone, with the possible exception of these specialists, can profit by Mr. Whibley’s wise and sane introductions. There is only one point upon which we are inclined to exercise caution : that is upon Mr. Whibley’s views of Shakespeare’s political convictions . Shakespeare may have been, and very probably was, in practice a Conservative in politics. But is the lesson to be drawn from such a play as Coriolanus the lesson that democracy leads to anarchy, the lesson of the perfect type of the aristocrat? We might like to believe that Shakespeare had in mind anything so positive. But it is possible to draw another conclusion : the conclusion that Shakespeare was as conscious of the faults and vices of the “aristocrat” as he was of those of...