- Shakespeare and the Rise of the Editor
Critics have long concluded that Nicholas Rowe's The Works of William Shakespeare (1709) marks the beginning of the Shakespearean editorial tradition. Noted as the first Shakespeare edition to advertise the editor's name on the title page, scholars argue that The Works prompted the trend for editors to publish their own versions of Shakespeare, versions they presented as more accurate or more complete than any previously published.
Sonia Massai's engaging book Shakespeare and the Rise of the Editor challenges these claims by demonstrating that the editing of Shakespeare's plays began long before 1709. Refuting assertions that English printing houses repeatedly corrupted the bard's works with accidental errors and hasty alterations, Massai shows that early modern correctors consciously and carefully prepared Shakespeare's dramatic copies for publication. These agents of the press were familiar with the fictive worlds of the plays they corrected and sought to perfect dramatic texts with each [End Page 1042] successive publication. Massai's chapters systematically uncover and identify the principles and practices of these often effaced textual agents.
Rather than anachronistically use the term editor, Massai refers to those who performed substantive text correction as "annotating readers," possibly publishers or agents hired to correct a printed copy before the play went to press. While these readers'names are rarely recorded, their labor can be traced by examining textual variations from one printed edition to the next. Extending beyond editorial tasks completed by printing house correctors and compositors who fixed spelling, punctuation, and typographical errors, the annotators in Massai's study read texts and offered deliberate revisions, often correcting speech prefixes, stage directions, and dialogue to improve the plays' readability and marketability.
Massai divides her book into two parts. After an introduction that provides lucid examples of substantive annotation of dramatic copy, Massai explores in two chapters "The Rise of the English Drama in Print" and charts the emergence of the dramatic editorial tradition in England from the first vernacular plays printed in the 1510s. Massai's research on the exchange between English and humanist presses in Continental Europe proves exceptionally valuable and sets her study apart from others that tend to treat English drama as uninfluenced by period Continental discourses.
The second part of Massai's book, "The Rise of Shakespeare in Print," includes four chapters; each explores variants in Shakespeare's texts throughout different stages of transmission. Analyzing the five play quartos published by Andrew Wise from 1597–1600 and the ten quartos published by Thomas Pavier in 1619, Massai shows that plays attributed to Shakespeare were considered valuable acquisitions, worthy of correction and preparation before being reissued. Massai's reading of the Pavier quartos is most provocative, for she suggests the quartos were not surreptitiously printed against the King's Men's wishes, but were published to stimulate interest in Shakespeare's plays before the First Folio was printed. Massai proposes that Pavier included false imprints on five of the quartos so that he could sell all ten of the plays individually and market them as a "nonce collection, that is, a volume gathering seemingly older than more recent editions" (107). Issuing individual or collected plays (both old and new), Pavier and his printer Isaac Jaggard sought to gauge consumers' desires and incite demand for more Shakespeare.
Massai's fourth and fifth chapters examine correction processes in the First and Fourth Folios respectively. Most immediately important may be Massai's argument that variants in the Folio plays set from printed copies did not result from consultation of theatrical authority such as playhouse manuscripts. Through meticulous analysis of Folio variants in Romeo and Juliet and Love's Labour's Lost, Massai reaffirms that annotating readers consciously emended dramatic copies to improve their quality as readable texts.
Overall, this book may appear a bit lopsided with two chapters on pre Shakespearean drama and four on the bard's plays, but Massai strongly unifies her chapters by emphasizing that early modern play texts...