- The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare ed. by Arthur F. Kinney, and: Shakespeare in 100 Objects: Treasures from the Victoria and Albert Museum ed. by Janet Birkett
The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare provides a useful survey of diverse, timely approaches to Shakespeare studies. Directed toward a wide-ranging scholarly audience, the handbook’s essays integrate aspects of Shakespeare’s life, writings, historical circumstances, performances, and appropriations while also tracing recent critical movements in the field. Although the introduction doesn’t advance a particular overarching argument about Shakespeare, Arthur Kinney has compiled “the considered observations of many of the most distinguished Shakespeareans” (12). While this scope might seem overly broad, most of the chapters flow organically from one topic to the next, and the collection is impressive both in its thematic breadth and depth of inquiry. Collectively, the essays open up possibilities in their readings by combining historicist, formalist, and theoretical approaches, while situating Shakespeare in broader networks of circulation, adaptation, and reception.
In this volume, “Shakespeare” encompasses the man, his writings, and the performance of his works. Kinney provides a biographical account of William Shakespeare in his introduction, and many essays read Shakespeare’s works in conjunction with historical information about his life and/or early modern culture more generally, hinging these observations to moments staged in his plays. This is especially true in the “Conditions” section, where chapters describe aspects such as the “Economy” of Shakespeare’s England (Ian W. Archer) and Shakespeare’s “Domestic Life” at his home and in theatrical depictions of domesticity (Catherine Richardson). Elsewhere, Brian Cummings encourages us to view the unsolvable questions about Shakespeare’s “Religion” as “an opportunity” for scholarship instead of “a problem” (679). While the imaginative beauty and profundity of Shakespeare’s language is never far from the authors’ purview, this collection does not present Shakespeare as writing, or his works operating, in a vacuum.
Some chapters offer excellent summaries of familiar scholarly ground while advancing arguments in original directions. Consequently, the fluidity of Shakespeare’s works emerges as a theme. In her essay on the “multiple and complicated” (73) print history of quarto and folio texts and editorial practices concerning them, Ann Thompson notes that “the fluid and unstable nature of early modern [End Page 159] texts (especially dramatic texts) is fully recognized and all texts, even ‘bad’ ones, can be examined as valuable documents in their own right rather than be dismissed out of hand” (82). Adam G. Hooks agrees with Thompson’s interpretation (138–39) in discussing Shakespeare’s “multiple authorial personae” represented in the printed book trade (127). Brian Gibbons reminds us of Shakespeare’s “mingling” of “different generic and stylistic elements in his plays” (258), while Janet Clare highlights the role of “Censorship” in determining what could be staged in early modern playhouses. Shaping Shakespeare extends to “Early Readers” too: Sonia Massai examines early copies of Shakespeare’s works to describe the relationship between reader and text as one in which the text was not venerated, but appropriated, and sometimes even “perfect[ed]” in a way the reader found pleasing (156).
An admirable balance is achieved between textual and performance studies. The “Performances” section merits special praise for its lively analyses of theater history and practice, especially the relationship between theater and audience. Melissa Aaron’s “Theatre as Business” provides a wealth of information about the ownership, practices, income, and expenses of several early modern theaters, including the Globe. Tanya Pollard shows how plays provoked intense emotions for theatergoers: “Writings from the period suggest that audiences responded to plays with pleasure, amorous desire, laughter, tears, and more ambivalent transformations, and that the promise of these sorts of responses constituted an essential part of the theatre’s attraction” (473). Another attraction of the theater was the places to which it could transport its audience. Jane Hwang Degenhardt...