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Shakespeare and the Book

von David Scott Kastan

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Shakespeare and the Book is a lively and learned account of Shakespeare's plays as they were transformed from scripts to be performed into books to be read, and eventually from popular entertainments into the centerpieces of the English literary canon. Kastan examines the motives and activities of Shakespeare's first publishers, the curious eighteenth-century schizophrenia that saw Shakespeare radically modified on stage at the very moment that scholars were working to establish and restore the 'genuine' texts, and the exhilarating possibilities of electronic media for presenting Shakespeare now to new generations of readers. This is an important contribution to Shakespearean textual scholarship, to the history of the early English book trade, and to the theory of drama itself. Shakespeare and the Book persuades its readers of the resiliency of the book itself as a technology and of Shakespeare's own extraordinary resiliency that has been made possible not least by print.… (mehr)
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Kastan's work was an excellent companion to The Book of William. I read them one after the other and found Kastan's to be the more theoretically grounded, which makes sense for the type of publication (i.e. academic).
Shakespeare and the Book focuses on the textual history of the plays. The materiality of their production and circulation is brought to the fore. The research is solid and there is little that stood out as a revelation after reading Collins. However, Kastan was writing earlier and has more formal notes and an index.
Kastan can be repetitive at times, but I think that part of this is explained by the newness of his argument. It is relatively new to consider the physicality of early modern works. The focus has been aesthetic and literary rather than practical or material. Kastan points out that aesthetic work is liable to faulty and anachronistic logic when it fails to proceed from a grounding in how the text under consideration came into being. He does not argue against aesthetic work, but rather hopes to reorient it from a platonic concept of the authorial intention or textual perfection marred by others (e.g. printers, publishers, adapters).
The book is quite short (only 137 pages of text) and left me wanting more examples and examination. There are a number of title page reproductions, which help make the argument clearer (except in instances when Kastan treats a title page that he does not reproduce).
I did have some serious reservations about Kastan's fourth section. He writes about the shift from print to electronic texts and seems to have a wide-eyed naivete about the possibilities of electronic media. I was taken aback by his assertion that "there is no technological reason why it (the e-book) cannot approximate 'the charming little clothy box'" (114) of a book. While Kastan is otherwise clearly theoretically grounded in his argument he seemingly uncritically accepts that an "approximation" is both possible and equally desirable. He does talk about desire and fetishization of the book, which I agree undoubtedly occurs (I am not always immune) but his argument in part IV has a serious flaw: Kastan never discusses preservation. He has one sentence about the issue: "The issue of how long sites will be maintained, like the related issue of how compatible the always improving technolgies will be with the one they render obsolete, is an important one for thinking about the electronic environment as an alternative to so-called 'hard copy'" (131). In the next paragraph, however, this concern is merely a "caveat." Kastan is absolutely convincing in his discussion of the approaches to Shakespeare scholarship but his work (of 2001) seems overly willing to accept without critique the ways in which electronic texts are made available and kept available. Digital preservation is in its infancy. He does mention control over sites (with these digital texts) but this is also a "caveat." Rather than exploring in more depth who "owns" Shakespearean texts Kastan simply expounds on the possibilities of hypertext. I share his enthusiasm but also realize that preservation isn't happening. It is barely past the stage of first standards and it is glacially slow, especially compared to the rapid changes in computer hardware and software.
This book is highly recommended for those interested in early modern books, the formation of reputation, the life of texts, and Shakespeare. However, the book is not without its flaws. Given that Kastan repeats (and repeats) that Shakespeare never evinced any interest in publishing his plays, more discussion about the "ownership" of Shakespeare after the 1709 copyright act would be useful. Kastan does mention a great deal about the early stationers and their legal milieu, but he gives little depth as the book progresses beyond the 17th century. ( )
  rheaphine | Jan 17, 2011 |
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Shakespeare and the Book is a lively and learned account of Shakespeare's plays as they were transformed from scripts to be performed into books to be read, and eventually from popular entertainments into the centerpieces of the English literary canon. Kastan examines the motives and activities of Shakespeare's first publishers, the curious eighteenth-century schizophrenia that saw Shakespeare radically modified on stage at the very moment that scholars were working to establish and restore the 'genuine' texts, and the exhilarating possibilities of electronic media for presenting Shakespeare now to new generations of readers. This is an important contribution to Shakespearean textual scholarship, to the history of the early English book trade, and to the theory of drama itself. Shakespeare and the Book persuades its readers of the resiliency of the book itself as a technology and of Shakespeare's own extraordinary resiliency that has been made possible not least by print.

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