- Shakespeare in Print: A History and Chronology of Shakespeare Publishing
Andrew Murphy’s ambitious project in Shakespeare in Print is to give a general overview of what happened to Shakespeare’s works from the moment they first appeared in print right up through their transformations by twenty-first century scholarly and technological developments. The remarkable thing about this book is that it succeeds in its stated purpose in a little under 300 pages (the remainder being dedicated to a chronological index). Its success is perhaps dimmed by the book’s inability to maintain a strong argument about why it does what it does.
Murphy’s main contribution is, he suggests in his introduction, that he “attempts to meld editing and publishing history, in order to produce as multifaceted an account of the history of the reproduction of the Shakespeare text as possible” (8). And, although Murphy borrows the image of a Tower of Babel to characterize his work, he creates a narrative of admirable clarity that remedies the various limitations that either type of history would suffer from in isolation. Along the way, Murphy tells some familiar and some very new stories about people, presses, and passions associated with the transmission of Shakespeare’s works, drawing on a dense and varied set of records. Obviously, the folios occupy a central role in each generation’s efforts to define their task, and the theories applied to each also figure large here. Samuel Johnson’s insight that “printed texts can be arranged into a logical sequence and that the text presumed to be closest to the author’s own original has an authority which outweighs that of all other editions” (982), while not immediately embraced in fact, eventually led to the privileging of authorial intention over Pope’s contemporaneous aesthetic style of editing. Insights like Johnson’s lead to a struggle, first to control the accuracy of editorial interventions, then to the creation of strategies for either elevating the reader to the position of editor, as in the nineteenth-century unannotated Globe edition (which seemed to allow the reader to “meet” the author on equal footing and without mediators), or elevating the scientific nature of bibliography in the twentieth century, [End Page 104] when the “New Bibliography” seemed to promise the opportunity for a “glimpse over Shakespeare’s shoulder, as he is in the act of creation” (219).
Personalities also loom large in Murphy’s study. Careers were made and lost, and a fair number of editors (and printers) died in the process of creating editions of Shakespeare’s plays. Pope’s and Theobald’s public arguments are recast by Murphy in light of a “Catholic” sensibility based in tradition and consensus vs. a “Protestant” vision of “historically rooted meaning” (69, and to be fair, Murphy cautions against an over-simplified application of this paradigm). The Tonsons are here, referred to by Murphy as Jacobs I, II, and III, fighting to maintain their control as a “Shakespeare cartel”; and John Payne Collier emerges as a “sly” (196) but stubborn fraud, who introduced a forgery into the collection of his patron, the Duke of Devonshire, and then proceeded to capitalize on its supposed unique indications for emending the plays. But Murphy also notes that rivalry and roguery were not always the norm for Shakespeare’s editors and printers, arguing that the close friendship among W. W. Greg, R. B. McKerrow, and A. W. Pollard allowed them to dominate Shakespeare bibliography in the first half of the twentieth century.
One of the particular advantages of Murphy’s work is that he includes the editing and publishing history of Shakespeare not merely in England, but also in Scotland, Ireland, and America, giving the reader a sense of the national and economic interests that led to the appropriation of “the bard” abroad. The special situation of the Irish printers, who were not banned by copyright laws generated in England because they retained their own parliament for a time, gave them the ability to print and export (with dubious legality) cheaper...