Editors and Actors: Capell

Edward Capell, who also served as censor.

Working on this edition nearly broke me. That’s an exaggeration, but not much of one. Starting out, things looked to be plain sailing, with a brief introduction and a relatively unadorned text to the plays. I spotted, though, a few footnotes directing me to the ‘notes’, which I dutifully called up from the bowels of the University Library. When those notes came, they came in three massive volumes, filled with double-column pages all in tiny print. As an estimate, Edward Capell probably produced around 800 such pages of footnotes, many of them far longer than they needed to be, and all of them written with what I shall charitably call idiosyncratic punctuation.

What did I find? A few small things, confirming a starting hypothesis that the energy present for these later editors in the idea of the actor was on the wane. Capell’s Notes and Readings date from 1779-1783, and it is often the case that Capell is far more interested in attacking the shoddy labours of what he calls the “modern editors” (Pope, Theobald, Hanmer, Warburton, Steevens) than the original player-editors. The poor state of the first Folio is now taken as a given, and – instead of blaming players and so on – later revisers are criticised for not doing enough to counter what were unavoidable and now glaring errors. This long note (actually quite short by Capell’s standards) about the witches’ songs in Macbeth will give an idea of what I mean:

Black spirits, &c. ] That this song’s remainder, and that of one in p.49 (l.3) were left out by direction, there is no foundation for thinking: the likelier cuase of their miss, is – the author’s negligence, and that of his publishers; his copy wanted them, and they forbore resorting to papers that were certainly in their power, out of which they might have cured the deficiency. Whether the thing neglected by them was performed agterwards with any fidelity, we have no external assurance from those who have filled up that of this page in the following manner; – Black spirits, and white | Blue spirits, and grey | Mingle, mingle, mingle, | You that mingle may: – moderns take it from one another successively, and each obtrudes it upon his reader in deep silence leaving him to imagine tha the whole song has the same authority as the other parts of the play: But the supplementary words of it, their leader received (as we believe) from an altered Macbeth, brought upon the stage by sir William Davenant after the restoration: many papers of Shakespeare, and of the old stage, were doubtless in his possession, among the rest – their music; and to them sir William might go, for what the player editors should have done, – the song in 22: question – but the whole is precarious, and rests (as the reader sees) on surmises; the validity of which he must determine for himself, aided by what internal conviction the supplement itself offers, which is not inconsiderable: in the meanwhile, the editors (it is presumed) will stand fully excused by him for not making it a part of his text.

The real subject here is not that of whether Davenant and the larger borrowings and transmissions of the theatre world could provide reasonable support for emendation, but more simply that modern editors have never even considered the provenance of the lyrics sung by the witches.

So far, I am aware I may have over-emphasised certain aspects of Capell’s attitude to performance. I’ll now try and correct this by looking at the ambiguities of this editor’s position. First of all, Capell only rarely speaks of actors in the vast expanses of his notes. Second, there are almost as many cases of antitheatricality (errors introduced by “some player” and all that) as there are moments in which this editor tries to imagine what’s happening on the stage. Two biographical detail are also worth mentioning, for they further add to a rather conflicted picture of Capell’s attitude to the stage. First, Capell was good friends with Garrick and, with the manager, helped create a version of Antony and Cleopatra performed at Drury Lane. This performance is mentioned in volume one of Capell’s Notes, although the editor does not reveal his authorship. It does, however, make for an extremely rare reference to the contemporary stage in an edition of Shakespeare. Second, Capell was also censor to the British stage, meaning that he must have had a detailed knowledge of performance, something which he rarely exercises in this edition, perhaps indicating a division in his own thinking between editorial labour and censorship work.

There’s one other rarity to note here, and this occurs in Capell’s introduction. Once he’s argued that everything from the lack of concern for posterity to the many errors in the quartos are proof of Shakespeare’s genius, Capell then – after a brief Steevens-like passage on how the quartos are superior to the folio – sets out to justify the status of Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Taming of the Shrew and Titus Andronicus as plays written by Shakespeare. I’ll spare you the details for the first two plays, but the justification for Titus Andronicus deserves quoting in full.

[Titus Andronicus] came out at the same time with the plays above mentioned, is most exactly like them in almost every particular; their very numbers, consisting all of ten sylables with hardly any redudant, are copy’d by this Proteus, who could put on any shape that either served his interest or suited his inclination: and this, we hope, is a fair and unforced way of accounting for Andronicus; and may convince the most prejudiced – that Shakespeare might be the writer of it; as he might also of Locrine which is ascribed to him, a ninth tragedy, in form and time agreeing so perfectly with the others.

The important word here is “Proteus”, and I have a hunch that this may be one of the first times it is applied to Shakespeare. Even if it isn’t, the word is remarkable since such a nickname is most commonly given to actors (Burbage, for example) in this period, before Shakespeare starts to receive such a designation from later, romantic critics of the early nineteenth century. In all these cases, the ‘proteus’ is someone able to imitate character, to take on the role of another, either to perform that role as an actor (roughly, the eighteenth-century view of the great actor), or to write it down as the inspired author (roughly, the early nineteenth-century view of Shakespeare). Yet for Cappell, Shakespeare’s protean qualities aren’t so much to do with understanding human nature but rather to do with his ability to imitate artistic styles.

In a way, I suppose it’s fitting that this great producer of footnotes sees in the Protean Shakespeare, not an imitator of human nature, but rather someone rather like himself, a close reader of Elizabethan and early Jacobean drama.

The Contrivances

A cross section of Drury Lane.
Harry Carey’s The Contrivances has a problem: the severe lack of what I will call dramatic tension. Admittedly, as an afterpiece to be performed in a rowdy and perhaps intellectually satiated theatre, I suppose suspense is not an absolute requirement. Still, it would have been nice, not least because this plot is once more along very familiar lines. Argus (the aptly-named curmudgeon) has a daughter Arethusa. Arethusa is in love with Rovewell but Argus wants her to marry Squire Cuckoo. Helped by Rovewell’s resourceful servant, Robin, Arthusa and her lover eventually outwit Argus and finish the play in each others’ arms. The problem with all this is that there is also the character of Hearty, who, after a chat with a despairing Rovewell at the start of the play, has this soliloquy for the audience:

How have I been deceived in this boy! I find him the very reverse of what his stepmother represented him; and am now sensible it was only her ill usage that forced my child away – His not having seen me since he was five years old, renders me a perfect stranger to him – Under that pretence, I have got into his acquaintance, and find him all I wish – If this plot of his fails, I believe my money must buy him the girl at last.

Such a speech makes it very clear that, whatever the hijinks of the play to come, there will be a happy ending, and thus robs the audience of any kind of suspence. As I write this, I’m starting to suspect that I’m being too harsh with Carey: as now with almost all romantic comedies, I think eighteenth-century audiences would be sure of a happy ending to this play whether or not Hearty reveals himself. That he does so is a fault, then, not against any notion of suspense but rather for being redundant: he assures the audience of a sweet conclusion that they were already pretty certain to have anyway.

There are three other things I want to point out about this play: one quite typical, and two a little odd. First, there is Robin, the typical resourceful servant, who disguises himself in no less than three different ways. First, he becomes a rustic servant, accompanying a cross-dressed Rakewell who is posing as Squire Cuckoo’s sister in the first – and unsurprising abortive – plan to elope with Arethusa. Second, he tries on the guise of a lawyer, this time managing to buy enough time for the lovers to make their escape. Third, he is a constable and so makes sure the mob that Argus calls on for help ends up doing nothing at all. All this is in the tradition of the cunning servant, and Robin does kind of run away with the play. The scenes with the mob contain some of the funniest lines, including this exchange with Argus:

ARGUS …they [the soldiers who accompanied Robin as a lawyer] gagged and blindfolded me, and offered forty naked swords at my breast – I beg of you, assist me, or they’ll strip the house in a minute.
MOB Forty drawn swords, say you, Sir?
ARGUS Ay, and more, I think, on my conscience.
MOB Then look you, Sir, I’m a married man, and have a large family […] I’ll call a constable [i.e. Robin].

Now for the two odd things. First, I find it strange and revealing that Squire Cuckoo never appears in the play. The fact that we don’t feel his absence as a problem reveals perhaps how strong the conventions of this kind of comedy are: having seen the older and patently unsuitable suitor brought to life in so many other productions, we don’t need yet another rendition here to be able to imagine him. The other oddity is one that I find quite touching (or as touching as an afterpiece can be): just before Hearty reveals himself as both Rovewell’s father and Argus’s best friend, a despairing Argus, feeling that his daughter is lost for ever, tells the mob,

ARGUS Would they had stripped my house of every pennyworth, if they had left my child.
MOB That’s a lie, I believe, for he loves his money more than his soul, and would sooner part with that than a groat.

I don’t know about other readers of this play, but I find the Mob’s judgment of Argus here a little unjust. This is surprising, since avarice is one of the typical characteristics of the over-protective fathers in these comedies, but Argus here is felt at least by me to have broken from that tradition a little. Pairing this with Hearty’s guarantee of a happy ending in the opening scene and one has a play that is both problematic but also – and most interestingly of all – seemingly written as if Carey himself was slightly tired of the constraints of this form.

The Non-Juror

Colley Cibber’s The Non-Juror is a bit of an odd comedy. Nicholas Rowe’s prologue, however, gives the gist:

Tonight, ye Whigs and Tories both be safe,
Nor hope, at one another’s cost, to laugh:
We mean to souse old Satan and the Pope;
They’ve no relations here, nor friends we hope.

To expand on this, the general idea of Cibber’s play is to unite the audience in a happy mockery of non-jurors, those clergymen who refused to swear allegiance to William and Mary in 1688. Yet if this is the aim of Cibber’s comedy, it remains a little superficial. A quick summary of the plot will show why.

We start things off with Sir John Woodvil talking to his son Colonel Woodvil about Mr Heartly’s wooing of Maria Woodvil, Sir John’s daughter and the Colonel’s sister. Sir John, like all good curmudgeonly fathers in these plays, does not want his daughter to marry Heartly. A bit of prying from the Colonel reveals that Sir John has been influenced in his decision by the arguments of Dr Wolf (the ‘non-juror’, although Sir John doesn’t know it yet). As the Colonel tries to unmask Dr Wolf and so arrange marriage between Maria and his friend Heartly, more information comes to light. First, we learn that Wolf’s servant, Charles, is really a nobleman who fell into obscurity after taking the wrong side in the Glorious Revolution but now repents and joins the plot against the Doctor. Second, we discover that the Doctor wants to prevent Heartly’s marriage so as to marry Maria himself.

William Sancroft, a real-life non-juror and Archbishop of Canterbury. Nothing like Dr Wolf.
Actually, this second development, so foreseeable in that the Doctor is here playing the role of the stereotypical elder-lover preferred by the father and hated by the daughter, is a red herring: the Doctor only wants to marry Maria so as to get close to Lady Woodvil, Sir John’s wife and the true object of his affections. At this point, then, the Doctor’s crimes (leaving aside his lack of an oath of loyalty) total: deception, temptation, lust, and – as he makes a spirited attempt to cheat Sir John out of his inheritance – greed. His villainy is such that the non-juror stuff comes to look a bit superfluous.

Doctor Wolf, of course, soon over-reaches himself. He makes the mistake of relying on Charles, who is not only indebted to the Colonel for clearing his name but has also fallen in love with Maria. Soon the Doctor is unmasked in a clever coordinated effort, Charles restored to his family and willing to give up Maria to Heartly; the latter then promptly receives her hand in marriage from Sir John who has seen the error of his ways and everyone cries “huzzah”.

Peculiarly for me, I picked out relatively few passages as I was reading, being more interested I guess in the way that the question of non-jurors was approached in the strongly marked framework of eighteenth-century romantic comedy. I realised how strong the lines of character were when reading a speech by Maria, to her father, about the differences between her character and that of Lady Woodvil:

I don’t say my Lady is not in the right; but then you know, papa, she is a prude, and I am a coquet; she becomes her character very well, I don’t deny it, and I hope you see everything I do is as consistent with mine: your wise folk lays down what rules they please; but ’tis constitution that governs us all…

Now one can imagine this speech getting laughs from the audience, since it is so knowing in its reference to the kind of characters one finds in comedies of this period. That said, it also has a serious point, for Sir John explains that it was his “Ductile heart” that made it so easily for Dr Wolf to deceive him into supporting the non-juror cause. Of course, though, such things cut the other way too, and the best short line of the play is that spoken by Doctor Wolf when Maria reveals her part in the countermeasures against him. Frustrated, the villain calls her the one thing we may have thought she was, but now certainly is not:

Distraction! Outwitted by a brainless girl.


Here’s another bit of decent dialogue, this one in the line of dim and unintentionally funny servants:

BETTY O dear madam! I shall faint away, there’s murder doing.
SIR JOHN Who? Where, what is it?
BETTY The doctor, sir, and Mr Charles, were at high words jsut now in the hall, and upon a sudden there was a pistol fired between them: oh! I am afradi poor Mr Charles is killed.
BETTY Oh, here he comes himself sir, he will tell you more…

Editors and Actors: Blair/Reid

An unflattering portrait of Blair, produced in 1798, two years before his death.
In order to look at this Scottish edition of Shakespeare, edited by Hugh Blair and John Reid, I had to take my first trip to the British Library. Even in this collection, the only version available was a 1753 London reprint of the original 1752 Edinburgh edition. It was all I needed to see, though, and I garnered a few bits of information for my first chapter, as well as a three-year membership of the BL, which I’m sure will come in handy.

This edition is both very lightly and very heavily edited. The voices of Hugh Blair and John Reid only really appear in a very short preface at the beginning of the first volume, where they announce their methodology. That methodology could be accurately described as an amalgamation of all the judgments of Pope, Warburton and Hanmer. Following these august figures, this edition marks all those passages found to be beauties by them (one comma for Pope, two for Warburton) and relegates everything thought to be unworthy of Shakespeare (either to the bottom of the page, like Pope and Hanmer, or between brackets like Warburton). As a result of all this textual disturbance, the presence of editing is very clear indeed, even if it is not orginally that of Blair and Reid.

Given that Blair is now famous for his lectures on rhetoric and his role in an effort to improve literary discernment, such wholesale incorporation of such discerning judges as Warburton, Pope and Hanmer is not too hard to understand. The absence of Theobald from this list is a good indication of how effective Pope’s attacks on this rival were: Pope and co. are models to look up to as models of good taste, Theobald – smeared by Pope – is not. On top of the comments of three editors, Blair and Reid also include an index that allows readers to find those passages marked by Dodd as beauties in his popular anthologisation of Shakespeare. Thus the reader can find even more easily those passages responsible for Blair’s own description of the playwright, found in his lectures:

…[he] pleases by his animated and masterly representations of characters, by the liveliness of his descriptions, the force of his sentiments, and his possessing beyond all writers, the natural language of passion: beauties which true criticism no less teaches us to place in the highest rank, than nature teaches us to feel.

Needless to say, such a beauty-driven approach to the plays of Shakespeare (the result of the thinking that underwrites the above quote) comes close to removing all connection with the world of the theatre. Even following the text of a play from start to finish, let alone imagining its performance, is hard when navigating the various relegations and marginal markings.

One other thing in this edition also caught my attention, and that is a potential connection to the work of Morgann and Richardson. At the end of volume eight, there is a fascinating set of indexes (based, I suspect, on those found in Warburton’s edition) that allow you to find pretty much any specific passage, whether you’re looking for something in terms of “character” or “sentiment”. Regarding character, one can choose between “fictional” and “historical”. In the case of the former, some characters have potted biographies at the beginning of their entries: Hamlet is “ an accomplished young prince unfortunate”, Juliet “ beautiful, constant, and unfortunate in love”. Having read this, I then turned to Falstaff, and encountered this monster of an entry:

Falstaff, Sir John, resolves on an intrigue with Mrs Ford and Mrs Page, i. 190. His billet-doux 195. Settles an assignation with Mrs Quickly, 203. His discovery of it to Ford, disguised like Brook 208. His first address to Mrs Ford 218. Surprised and escapes in a basket 220, 1. His account of his being thrown into the Thames 226. Another assignation with Mrs Quickly 227. Makes a full relation to Ford of his former disappointment 228. Meets with Mrs Ford, and is again surprised 232. Escapes undiscovered in the disguise of an old woman 237. His soliloquy on this occasion 246. He relates to Ford his late disappointment, ib. He meets Mrs Ford in Windsor park 248. Surprised, and seized by Mr Ford 251. His course of life described by Pr. Henry, iv. 82. He concerts a robbery with the Prince, 85. His horse taken from him in the adventure 98. Insults the Prince, to conceal his own cowardice 107. Personates the King, to chide Prince Henry 114. The tavern-bill found in his pocket 118. His rallery on Bardolph’s red nose 131. Quarrels with the hostess 131. His description of his new-raised company 139. His description of honour 148. His behaviour in the battle at Shrewsbury 151. Wounds Percy after he was dead, and assumes the merit of killing him 157. He rails at his page, the Prince, and the mercer 167. Reprimanded by the Chief Justice 179. Pacifies Mrs Quickly and borrows more money 180. His letter to the Prince 184. Treats Doll Tearsheet 188. Revenges her quarrel on Pistol 192. Surprised with her by te Prince whilst he was railing at him 193. Enlists soldiers before Justice Shallow 202. His character of the Justice 208. Takes Colevil prisoner 218. His encomium on the virtues of sack 220. His character of Justice Shallow and his family 233. Receives news of Henry IV’s death 241. Presents himself to Henry V. 243. Reprimanded by the King, and ordered to the fleet 244, 5. An account of his sickness 262. Host. and of his death 269.

In case you missed it, what is remarkable about this summary is the way it occludes what happens in which play, so that it reads almost as a list of all the major incidents in the life of Falstaff. In embryo, then, one finds here a biographical approach that Morgann will push to the extreme. This is important evidence for me, as I originally presumed that Morgann’s approach had its roots in stage illusion above all. However, I must now take into account the precedent of the biographical impression such index-based anthologisation gives. This shouldn’t be a problem: I don’t think many others have commented on this at all, not least because of the relative scarcity of Reid and Blair’s edition.

Editors and Actors: Steevens

George Steevens’s edition of twenty plays of Shakespeare, being all those works published during the playwright’s lifetime, has a clear, and wonderfully scholarly, aim: disgusted at the variously exaggerated and insufficient efforts at collating Shakespeare’s plays so far, Steevens aspires simply to have “collected materials for future artists”, by making the quartos accessible to a wider audience. Steevens was helped in this by David Garrick, who loaned him a great many rare early editions of Shakespeare’s plays; yet while Steevens was on very good terms with contemporary actors, he has a predicatbly low opinion of the players of Shakespeare’s time.

George Steevens, an 1800 engraving of an earlier portrait by Zoffany.
It all begins on the eighth page of Steevens’s “Advertisement to the Reader”, where he quotes Pope‘s view of “the general character of the quarto editions”, which was that these versions were superior to the First Folio, since this latter was stuffed with “additions of trifling and bombast passages” by its player-editors, Heminges and Condell. If such disparagement of the player-editor was not enough, Steevens goes on to enumerate further errors due to actors and found in the First Folio, such as “an unusual word changed into one more popular”. This would never have had the “consent of the author: for he would hardly have unnerved a line in his written copy”, but the actor – ever a figure who panders to public demand – must have committed this atrocity. Indeed, the only thing the player-editors are praised for is their “caution against profaneness”, which allowed them to remove much swearing from the quartos.

As well as criticising the First Folio, Steevens does much to praise the quartos. Perhaps taking his cue from the title pages he reproduces, which often mention the text being “written by William Shakespeare” or “newly corrected and enlarged”, Steevens holds that these early editions allow us to see Shakespeare’s mind at work without the interpolations of the players getting in the way. These are his words:

In the plays [this book] contains, the poet’s first thoughts as well as words are preserved; the additions made in subsequent impressions, distinguished in italics, and the performances themselves make their appearance with every typographical error, such as they were before they fell into the hand of the player-editors.

The idea that these texts allow an entry into Shakespeare’s creative process is interesting since it makes a claim for textual scholarship that was previously made for performance. Betterton, and later Garrick, were both believed to have, as skilled actors, a closer relationship to Shakespeare than others, yet now, by studying textual evidence, non-actors, scholars can have such insight too. Such process is encouraged by Steevens as he includes the non-Shakespearean History of King Leir (note the spelling) as a source that, when compared to Shakespeare’s Lear will reveal how much greater this writer was than his contemporaries.

Steevens’s view of the difference between quarto editions and the First Folio is very interesting, but it also raises some tricky questions. If Steevens was inspired by the publication dates and title pages of the quartos to emphasise Shakespeare’s involvement in their production, what does he make of the fact that all these editions also announce performances, and in some cases describe where the play was acted and do not give the author’s name? At the very least, this might suggest that printers and readers, even during Shakespeare’s life, were in fact more interested in the text as property of the actors than as property of the author. Of course, the riposte to this has already been articulated by Pope (and reprinted by Steevens): such reference to performance is just proof of how Shakespeare was obliged to lower his genius to the level of the theatregoing public. A slightly harder question to ask of Steevens would be why he imposes Folio act and scene divisions on the quarto of Richard II, or why he seems to suggest (amongst much contempt for the Folio elsewhere) that the Folio edition of King John is proof that Shakespeare rewrote the quarto to improve it.

There’s no way of getting an answer to these questions, but they all lead back to the enduring curiosity about Shakespeare’s methods, and the extent to which the workings of his genius were recoverable. Perhaps the most important point of this edition, then, for me, is Steevens’s wholehearted belief that textual scholarship offered a way of getting past the corruptions of the stage to at least perceive Shakespeare at work. Revealingly, Steevens first elaborates this idea with a metaphor drawn not from the world of letters but from that of painting. I’ll conclude with this passage, which occurs when this editor wishes to explain why such a collection of quartos is necessary for those who are true aficionados of Shakespeare.

Of some [plays] I have printed more than one copy; as there are many persons, who not contented with the possession of a finished picture of some great master, are desirous to procure the first sketch that was made for it, that they may have the pleasure of tracing the progress of the artist from the first light colouring to the finishing stroke.

Small pricks to their subsequent volumes…

An “overview”, courtesy of a CC-BY-SA search on flickr.
My supervisor asked me to write an overview of my thesis as it currently stands. I thought it would be a useful text to post here, under a title drawn from a rambling speech by Nestor in Troilus and Cressida: “in such indexes, although small pricks / To their subsequent volumes, there is seen / The baby figure of the giant mass / Of things to come at large.”


Much has been written in recent years to show the centrality of the theatre to eighteenth-century society. Part of this work has included some exploration of its cultural impact. This thesis proposes, within this larger field of research, a reflection on the literary critical value of the idea of acting in the period. Such a reflection differs from other studies by bringing a great variety of different sources together, sources written both by people closely associated with the theatre of the period and by those violently opposed to it. The breadth of material is contained by maintaining a strong focus on Shakespeare’s connections to the idea of acting, since, as many have shown already, the eighteenth century is the period in which Shakespeare rose to cultural prominence as a national poet, a paradigm shift with no small ramifications for thinking about the stage. As well as exploring the literary critical value of the idea of acting, however, this thesis should also cast new light on Shakespeare’s position in eighteenth-century theatre culture. Although much work has been done on stage adaptation and the impact of particular actors (notably Garrick), it is rare indeed that Shakespeare’s reception in this period is considered with reference to a wider definition of theatrical discourse. Overall, therefore, I use Shakespeare to focus my enquiry into the literary critical value of the idea of acting in the period, and I use the idea of acting to broaden our current appreciation of Shakespeare’s eighteenth-century theatrical reception. The thesis will be divided into five chapters, each reflecting this double focus. They are: first, editors and actors; second, the art of acting; third, the theatrical illusion; fourth, stage practice; and fifth, the theatrical ambassador.

1. Editors and Actors

The aim of this chapter is to demonstrate the way Shakesepare’s major eighteenth-century editors – Rowe, Pope, Theobald, Hanmer, Warburton, Johnson, Steevens, Capell, Reed and Malone – employ the idea of acting when preparing their editions. As this chapter aims to offer an overview of the reception of Shakespeare in the period, it will comment on each editor listed above, with a slight emphasis on Pope, Theobald and Johnson.
Rowe (1709-10): this edition of Shakespeare serves as a foundation for those that follow it. Written by a playwright, it bears many marks of the eighteenth-century stage, from the insertion of act and scene numbers to the stage-business depicted in its plates. On top of this, Rowe’s biography of Shakespeare depicts him as both player and author. While Rowe describes Shakespeare as a better writer than an actor, his mention of Shakespeare the actor creates a topos that both editors and other literary figures in the period respond to. Similarly, Rowe’s use of anecdotal evidence from Betterton and other performers also looks forward to later conjunctions between Shakespeare and performer, such as claims for Garrick’s privileged access to the mind of the national playwright made in the 1760s.
Pope (1725): in marked contrast to Rowe, Pope paints the stage in a very poor light indeed. His focus, admittedly, is the stage and performers of Shakespeare’s time, whom he makes carry the blame for many of the writer’s apparent errors. Such phrases as “interpolation of the players”, instituted by Pope, go on to become commonplaces of many later editors. The idea of acting used here (that of performance as generative of deviation from the author’s vision) is thus useful to Pope as a kind of guarantee to the editor’s authority: if any part of any text by Shakespeare could have been corrupted by an actor (as Pope makes it out to be), then any part of any text by Shakespeare must be scrutinised and potentially altered by an editor. In a way, the editor’s very authority depends upon the status of Shakespeare’s text as something acted.
Theobald (1733): this edition, while loudly correcting many of Pope’s errors, also makes interesting use of the idea of acting. On one hand, there is still some inherited hostility here, particularly as regards the “blunders” of Heminges and Condell when preparing the First Folio. On the other, Theobald occasionally demonstrates a remarkable sense of the imaginative possibilities performance offers. He claims, for instance, in his preface that Shakespeare’s “employment as a player gave him an advantage and habit of fancying himself the very character he meant to delineate”. Elsewhere, Theobald will occasionally justify emendation by imagining how the text would be performed by an actor, arguing for repunctuation in order to facilitate the clear vocal communication of emotion. This balanced approach towards players and player-editors is also perhaps the result of Theobald’s equal attention to the faults of “poet-editors” such as Pope and Rowe. While Pope builds his authority on the errors of players, Theobald employs a similar conceptual move to raise himself above the blunders of poets and players alike, up to a position from which to comment on Shakespeare.
– With Hanmer (1743), acting is conceived along very similar lines to Pope as a source of textual corruption. That said, the engravings to Hanmer’s edition (by Garrick’s friend Hayman) do still bear some traces of stage practice.
Warburton (1747) also follows Pope in his attitude towards actors and acting, although he gives by far the most strident and clearly delineated portrait of the actor. Always anonymised as ‘some actor’, these figures are importers of nonsense and smut, lacking in intelligence and learning, favour sound over sense, and, above all, possess with very little agency indeed. When Warburton comes to analyse the ‘Hecuba’ speech in Hamlet, he does so by thinking of the actor as someone who gives “nature its free workings on all occasions”, an extreme version of the dictum that the best actors were the most feeling (explored in chapter 2) that only confirms Warburton’s hostility.
Johnson (1765)’s preface is of use to me both for its thought on theatrical illusion (chapter 3) and for its ability to erase the need for performance to be taken into consideration. True, he repeats much of what Pope says about player-editors, but Johnson’s real innovation is an inversion of what I might call Theobald’s ‘theatrical imagination’, the capacity to use imagined performance as a guide to editing. Johnson inverts this when he writes, for example, a note about how “in Isabella’s declamation there is something harsh”: this is not to say that the actor playing Isabella should declaim harshly, but that the character herself declaims so. In this and other examples, there is no need for a performer: the play acts itself as it is read, and the actor has been forced from “scenes…occupied by men” (- “Shakespeare has no heroes, his scenes are occupied by men”)
To be continued…

2. Arts of Acting

This chapter argues that Shakespeare’s cultural prominence added a particularly English bent to arts of acting (many of them inspired by French models) written in the eighteenth century. Equally, such arts of acting were also places where the power of Shakespeare’s genius was articulated in new and surprising ways. If the general thrust of chapter one was anti-theatrical, this chapter will look at how such arts of acting use Shakespeare as part of a larger effort to raise the actor’s profile. On top of this, the ramifications of certain theories of acting (such as the belief that actors perform largely from instinct) will also lead us back to Shakespeare’s editors, and some of the assumptions about performance that underwrite their comments about the actor’s influence over the text. The crucial work for this chapter will be John Hill’s The Actor (in both its 1750 and 1755 editions), yet – as arts of acting have rarely been considered in terms of new thinking about Shakespeare’s literary genius – I shall also range more widely, beginning with Gildon’s Life of Betterton and going at least as far forward as Bowell’s articles on ‘The Profession of an Actor’ in the mid-1770s.

3. Theatrical illusion

Many arts of acting give the creation of a convincing theatrical illusion as the performer’s goal. At the same time, several critics of Shakespeare in this period, notably Elizabeth Montagu, argue that Shakesepare’s texts – because of the deep understanding of human nature that underlies his depiction of characters – produce uniquely powerful illusions for the audience. In the first part of this chapter, Montagu’s Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespeare will be read as a defence of what she called in her letters the ‘dramatic Shakespeare’ both (overtly) from Voltaire’s aspersions and (covertly) from Johnson’s sweeping claims about stage illusion, called “delusion” in the Preface. This analysis will then lead to a rereading of some of the more unusual writings on Shakespeare from the period, such as Morgann’s On the Dramatic Character of Falstaff and Richardson’s Essay on Shakespeare’s Dramatic Characters. While often taken as texts that sever the characters discussed from their theatrical context, I will show that Morgann and Richardson are both in fact highly concerned with the stage and that their writings represent the culmination of a belief in the power of Shakespeare to create characters that seem real when performed. As part of this, aspersions that Morgann in particular casts on actors who have played Falstaff badly will be connected back to current thinking about the art of acting in order to show that, although in error, the actor nevertheless should theoretically have a privileged position from which to understand Shakespeare’s characters.

4. Stage practice

Each preceding chapter has made some comment on stage practice: editors will often attribute incongruous lines to the accidental inclusion of prompters’ notes; arts of acting include advice on choosing costume as well as training sensibility; and Johnson’s attack on stage “delusion” draws much force from insisting on the physical limitations of performance. This chapter, based partly on the work of Tiffany Stern and Kalman Burnim, will ask to what extent the practical side of performance possessed elements of literary criticism. Can, for example, casting choices be used as an eighteenth-century interpretative framework for Shakespeare’s characters? Polonius, considered a buffoon, was, for instance, a part often given to the lead comic actor. The choices made in adapting Shakespeare will also be considered here, with particular emphasis on what they meant for actors: whether, for example, they were altered to give performers opportunities to demonstrate those skills recommended to them in arts of acting.

5. The theatrical ambassador

This final chapter will build upon the description of practical processes in chapter 4, by considering several moments where the actor played an important role in the transmission of Shakespeare to a non-anglophone audience. To do this, I will compare the experiences of Voltaire (watching English plays during his exile in Britain from 1726 to 1729), Diderot (present when Garrick performed vignettes from Shakespeare during his visits to Paris either side of the Seven Years’ War), and Ducis (who never saw Garrick perform, but both wrote to the actor and gazed at his portrait as he composed his adaptations of Shakespeare from 1769 to 1816). By comparing each of these situations, I intend to bring together the various threads of this thesis, arguing that, when looking through foreign eyes, the close connection between Shakespeare and the idea of acting unearthed in English culture of this period becomes evident. The writings of Diderot and Ducis, stretching as they do beyond the rough date range of my research will also permit me to sketch, by way of conclusion, the evolution of the idea of acting that occurs in the early nineteenth century. Ducis’s melodramatic versions of Hamlet and Macbeth represent French analogues of much of what romantic literary critics in England found distasteful in English productions of Shakespeare, while Diderot’s nuanced description of the cold actor executing a preconceived, ideal version of his part anticipates Hazlitt and Lamb’s emphasis on the ability for imagined performance to far outstrip anything an actor can do.