- Shakespeare, Court Dramatist by Richard Dutton
Oxford University Press, 2016
£35, hb., x+321pp.
Richard Dutton's argument in Shakespeare, Court Dramatist is straightforward: that "Shakespeare's plays were frequently and specifically revised for presentation at the courts of Exlizabeth I and James I and that the texts which have come down to us often bear the marks of those revisions" (1). Proving his claim, however, is not so simple. Dutton bucks a good deal of editorial convention in substantiating his case, most notably by asserting that a number of earlier quarto texts of shakespeare's plays were revised into the longer, more familiar, Folio texts in preparation for court performance.
The book has two Parts: (I) Plyaing and the Court and (II) Shakespeare's multiple texts. The first is concerned with the mechanics of dramatic productions at court, the lengths of early modern plays, and the revision of early modern playtexts. Though Dutton necessarily keeps an eye on his wider case, each of the chapters in this section is a gift for the theatre historian interested in court revels, play lengths, and revision. Dutton's theatre history is powerful. Indeed, in making his case he finds time to correct Tiffany Stern, Paul Menzer, and James Marino on the revision of playtexts in relation to their licensing by the Master of the Revels (151-167; especially 152-156). He shows how licences for performance did not allow for added material to be performed without the need for relicensing, and that those who argue otherwise are misguided.
Dutton's major claims come in Part II. He argues that a number of Shakespeare's plays–Henry 5, 2 and 3 Henry 6, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and The Merry Wives of Windsor–underwent a process of elongation or augmentation to prepare them for court performance (173-258). Likewise, Dutton considers "Single Sequence Additions" to Titus Andronicus, Richard 2, and 2 Henry 4 in this light (259-266). Dutton marshals a lot of theatre historical and textual evidence in relation to these plays, though none of it is irrefutable and he is alive to the malleability of the evidence for his hypothesis (6). He also makes an interesting distinction between Elizabethan and Jacobean Shakespeare. James I's accession and patronage changed the practices of the King's men generally and Shakespeare in particular. More court performances were called for and the rate of publication of Shakespeare's plays slowed. Shakespeare wrote fewer plays but more lines: most of his Jacobean plays run beyond the median 2,500 lines of his earlier work (280). Shakespeare sought out new writers for the company and began collaborating again, which was something he had not done since the formation of the Chamberlain's men in 1594 (269-280).
Dutton's thesis is radical and will doubtless be met with some scepticism as it attempts to overturn textual and historical orthodoxies. But, as his book shows, some of those orthodoxies need challenging Dutton's alternative [End Page 194] narratives have the rhetorical force of his vast theatre-historical knowledge allied with a remarkable ability to derive underlying principles from a mass of data.