Review by Choice Review
Long overdue in an otherwise publication-saturated area of scholarship, the Oxford Complete Works is providing the first radical rethinking of the Shakespeare texts in almost a century. The old-spelling volume, reviewed here, shares with the previously available modernized-spelling volume (CH, Mar '87) the same up-to-date general introduction by Stanley Wells, a useful chronology of contemporary allusions to Shakespeare, brief introductions to individual works, and a glossary. Additionally, it also includes an essay on Shakespeare's language by Vivian Salmon. (Promised for early 1987, but alas, still unavailable, is the commentary volume, which contains the textual apparatus for both.) Shakespeare's popularity with nonspecialist readers has always given the edge to editions that modernized spelling and punctuation. Accessibility creates problems, however, not the least of which is the illusion that Shakespeare is our contemporary. One serious consequence is to obscure the links between Shakespeare and his fellow playwrights, most of whom exist for us in standard scholarly editions that reproduce the spelling, punctuation, and typographical conventions of their age. Textual editors have little confidence that in such matters the Quartos and Folio represent anything that Shakespeare wrote, wanted, or would have approved. The old-spelling editors have, accordingly, reproduced the spelling and punctuation of whichever early edition seemed closest to Shakespeare's manuscript. For emendations, they used the conventions of the original text or, when it could be conjectured, of the manuscript behind it. None of their solutions is likely to be accepted as definitive, but the Oxford editors have made what must be recognized as a major contribution to an ongoing debate that will continue as long as Shakespeare is read, performed, and studied. Undergraduate libraries should acquire the modernized-spelling and commentary volumes, but cost and the specialized nature of this old-spelling volume recommend it for graduate libraries only.-R.P. Griffin, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.