“The rubbish cast on thy fair page”

I have just submitted this paper proposal for the BSECS in early 2014. It also works as a rough overview for part of what I’m currently calling chapter 1.

London Conference, 1832, by Daumier

Pope relegates the “Interpolations” of actors to the bottom of the page; Johnson criticises Heminge and Condell as player-editors who divided up Shakespeare’s plays without “very exact or definite ideas”; Malone denies any utility in the second folio, despite its appearance at a time when Shakespeare remained in the living memory of the stage. Throughout the eighteenth-century, the editors of Shakespeare often appear openly hostile to the role played by the theatre in Shakespeare’s text, minimising the collaborative nature of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama in an effort to establish the expression of Shakespeare’s unique genius. This paper will consider the means by which they do this, and the limits and contradictions of such an approach.

As well as the analysis of editorial attitudes to the stage, I will also argue for the interest of actors, particularly star performers such as Garrick and Kemble, in the work of the editors. Whilst acting manuals urged all performers to study their texts in detail, the cultural prestige inherent in producing an edited volume of the national playwright appears to have been of special interest to the leading lights of the stage. As well as his friendship with many editors, Garrick’s letters contain evidence of his own attempts to gloss Shakespeare’s texts. Later in the period, Garrick’s successor, Kemble, in his Essay in Response to Remarks on Some Characters of Shakespeare (1786, 1817), carries out an attack on Shakespeare’s editors via his footnotes, using the authority and insights available only to a performer as a way of supporting his argument.

Despite, therefore, the apparent hostility between stage and page, this paper intends to show their many connections. In this, it continues work undertaken in Vanessa Cunningham’s Shakespeare and Garrick (2008), but widens its focus, being concerned above all with the figure of the actor and the question of what such stage entertainers contribute to the scholarly establishment of a literary cultural icon.


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