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  • The Works of John Webster: An Old-Spelling Critical Edition ed. by David Gunby, David Carnegie and MacDonald P. Jackson
  • Brian Vickers (bio)
The Works of John Webster: An Old-Spelling Critical Edition. Ed. by David Gunby, David Carnegie, and MacDonald P. Jackson. Vol. IV: Sir Thomas Wyatt,
Westward Ho, Northward Ho, The Fair Maid of the Inn. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press. 2019. xxix + 642 pp. £130. isbn 978 0 521 76601 2.

As the cambridge webster has not previously been reviewed in this journal, it may be helpful to describe its rationale—of necessity briefly, given that it occupies over 2,500 pages. In Volume I (1995) the prime mover, David Gunby (University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand) records how, in the early 1970s, ‘after preliminary discussions with D. F. Mackenzie’, he approached David Carnegie (Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand) with a view to collaborating on a new edition of Webster. In 1975 they submitted a specimen scene to the Syndics of Cambridge University Press, who accepted it. ‘Several years’ work (some of it spent, on Gunby’s part, preparing machine-readable texts of the entire corpus of Webster’s works, together with a wide range of control texts by Webster’s contemporaries, for computer authorship analysis by experts who promised much but delivered nothing) convinced the two editors that if the edition were to appear in that century, a third editor was needed’ (I, p. xi).

In 1979 they approached Antony Hammond (McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario) who took over responsibility for textual matters, leaving ‘Carnegie to concentrate solely on theatrical matters’, while Gunby looked after ‘the literary aspects [End Page 392] of the edition, including Webster’s life and sources’. Both scholars have retained their positions across all four volumes, spanning nearly fifty years of continuous work on the whole of Webster, a remarkable continuity in the annals of editing.

When Tony Hammond died in 1996, the editors were fortunate in gaining the services of MacDonald Jackson (University of Auckland, New Zealand), a leading scholar on authorship attribution, whose judicious contributions to the three remaining volumes have incorporated scholarly discoveries. A possible addition to the Webster canon was ‘the Melbourne manuscript’, a four-page draft of a play-scene, discovered in 1988 in the muniment room at Melbourne Hall, Derbyshire. Volume I endorsed the ascription to Webster made by Hammond and Doreen del Vecchio, which Jackson accepted in 2003 (in Vol. II, p. 72). In 2006, however, he published an essay in Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England rejecting the ascription since, as he reported in Volume III (2007), his research had revealed a preponderance of links in phrases and collocations to ‘plays by Shirley and to plays, both by him and other dramatists, written about 1630–35’ (III, p. xxx).

The Cambridge Webster differs from other recent and ongoing collected editions of early modern drama in two respects. A unique feature of this edition is its format, designed ‘to combine literary and theatrical concerns with those strictly bibliographical’ (I, p. xi). Each volume has three introductions: literary-critical, theatrical, and textual. The ‘Critical’ deals with the play’s date, gives a concise account of previous criticism, and comments on the action and characterization. The ‘Theatrical’ is in two parts, first discussing the play’s dramaturgy, costumes, and staging, then tracing its theatrical history (a rather barren topic in many plays of this period, apart from Shakespeare). The ‘Textual’ introduction provides a typographical analysis, discussing compositorial patterns, spelling, punctuation, and lineation. There follow the edited text, a remarkably full commentary, and excerpts from the sources, three sections for which—uniquely to this edition—the three editors ‘are jointly as well as severally responsible for the outcomes’. As they explain here, ‘the aim of the editors has been to work by consensus, and this has been achieved throughout, even to the priority within notes accorded various options where some uncertainty remains as to meaning. Again, as in previous volumes, there is no separation of textual, literary, and theatrical notes, since the rationale for the edition, as discussed above, is the interdependence of these three aspects of play...


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