Recently, my vegetative roommate and I have been at odds on the issue of space. Bartholomew has lately suggested to me that perhaps I don’t need all those copies of Doctor Faustus and The Spanish Tragedy which litter “his” bookshelf. Considering, however, that I’m the one who rescued (and paid for) Bartholomew, and also that he owes his very name to the early moderns with whom he resides (we shall recall that his namesake is the clownish Bartholomew Cokes from Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair), I think this attitude is a bit ungrateful.
Let’s consider the situation carefully. Of major Elizabethan and Jacobean dramas, I have multiple versions of Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy (five editions), Lyly’s Endymion, Greene’s Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, Udall’s Ralph Roister Doister, Peele’s The Old Wives Tale, Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi (three editions each), Heywood’s A Woman Killed with Kindness, Middleton and Rowley’s The Changeling, Marston’s The Dutch Courtesan and The Malcontent, Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday , Massinger’s A New Way to Pay Old Debts, Beaumont and Fletcher’s Philaster, The Maid’s Tragedy, and The Knight of the Burning Pestle, and Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore (two copies of all of these).
When considering two of the more-anthologised dramatists of the period, Marlowe and Jonson, things begin to get ridiculous:
By Christopher Marlowe:
Complete plays (London: Penguin, 2003).
Doctor Faustus (three single, five anthologised)
Edward the Second (one single edition, two anthologised) [i]
Tamburlaine, Part I (one single edition, one anthologised).
Tamburlaine, Part II. (single edition)
The Jew of Malta (two, anthologised).
By Ben Jonson:
The Complete Plays, Vol. 1 (London: Dent, 1915/53) [2 copies]
The Complete Plays, Vol. 2 (1963).
Volpone (two single editions, five anthologised).
Bartholomew Fair (single edition).
Epicoene (three, anthologised).
The Alchemist (three, anthologised).
Every Man In His Humour (two, anthologised).
Sejanus, His Fall (one, anthologised).
I’m not even going to attempt to fully catalogue my Shakespeare editions: I have two Oxford folios (the compact 1959 edition and Wells and Taylor’s 2005 Complete Works), as well as a cheap Wordsworth edition [ii], and a nigh-complete four-volume Norton set (minus the Histories), as well as my incongruous collection of Revels-New Mermaids-Methuen-Arden-Penguin-Norton Critical-Longman-Signet-Dover single editions of the plays (not to mention anthologised versions).
So many editions might seem to demand explanation; indeed (as you probably suspected) I can provide one. Actually, I can provide several.
My early modern collection (as with most who become interested in this period) began with Shakespeare. In high school, however, I didn’t much appreciate or even understand the differences between editions: simply owning the plays was enough, and, when one’s economic resources are scarce (as they are for most 16-year-olds), one tends to purchase the most inexpensive editions available: single Dovers [iii] and (because some of the plays are not so readily available in single editions) Wordsworth folios. Gradually, these were replaced with editions which included line numbers, introductions, and footnotes; then, as I became more involved in the university, I upgraded to editions with contextual essays, and introductions and notes by reliable Shakespeare scholars, whenever I could find them.
Then I started researching the other early moderns, who, because they are sometimes difficult to find, I bought in any edition (out of date, or in massive and entirely unpragmatic anthologies which included yet another version of Doctor Faustus [iv]. Again, whenever I found more recent, better (notes and editing), smaller, or sometimes just different editions of these plays (with different critical perspectives), I would add them to my collection.
The most uneven collection I have is, perhaps oddly, Jonson’s. This is mostly because there are only three widely-available complete folios of his works (if you don’t include the original 17th century prints or EEBO facsimiles thereof) available. Of these, the Oxford collection, by CH Herford and Percy and Evelyn Simpson, is 11 volumes, each ranging from about $200-$450 (Canadian),[v] and the Cambridge online/print complete works which is not yet available (and bound to be out of the typical student’s price range). Felix Schelling’s two-volume set (originally printed in 1910) is both compact and generally available at used book stores, but contains no line numbers, and so is not suitable for citing in academic work. The easiest way to obtain scholarly editions is to order single or anthologised editions of the plays: doing so, however, results in owning several copies of “The Alchemist (& other plays).” Even then, there’s no guarantee in finding all the plays, and I’ve had dreadful luck locating any of the later works: readily affordable W. Gifford editions contain notes but, like the Schelling, have no line numbers (and so are like the Dover editions of Shakespeare). The more critical Revels editions of Anthony Parr’s The Staple of News, Michael Hattaway’s The New Inn, and Peter Happe’s The Magnetic Lady are anywhere from $70-$200 [vi].
I don’t mean to sound at all complaining about uneven publishing: such are the conditions of my field of study, and other scholars have their own peculiarities with which to work. I simply offer these facts as a justification for the several editions of early modern drama that I own, and which I promise I will continue to buy.
Not that any one has demanded I do justify my multiple books[vii]. I have, however, been wrestling with my conscience on this matter for the last week or so, and the problem came to a crisis today. Earlier (after a quick stop to my favourite used bookstore), Gaurav and I stopped by Chapters, to sample the books we don’t already own, and see if there was anything that could break our resolve not to spend money, especially on books that, admittedly, we would likely only read part of before new ones came along to distract us. Two in particular tempted me: Ernesto Laclau’s Emancipation(s), and Baudrillard’s The Perfect Crime. My resolve won out[ix], due to no real strength of my own, but because of the pressing knowledge that I’ll be fairly weighted down with critical/theoretical readings for the next month while I finish the thesis.
Still, the Baudrillard was tempting, if only because his essays are concise (the longest in The Perfect Crime is 12 pages, and clearly written). My good sense won out in the end, though, especially as I remembered that I had already bought a little collection of Baudrillard essays less than two months ago, whose title I couldn’t remember, and out of which I have only yet read a pair of essays. I had to wonder though, which other Baudrillard could possibly have won out over The Perfect Crime, whose end cover describes the text as an investigation of “the murder of reality,” (and is thus an obvious follow-up to his Simulacra and Simulation, which I had been reading for most of last term for both my first chapter and my final paper in Lit. Theory redux).
None of the other books in the store seemed familiar, so I assumed that whatever book I had bought must now be out of stock. When I went home, then, I began to search for my Baudrillard text: I looked in the piles of “new” and “in use” books on the floor (since the Baudrillard was both new, and, because of chapter one, also potentially associated with the “in use” category), and on both my “general” and “favourite” theory shelves. The only Baudrillards I found were the much-abused Simulacra and Simulation and, oddly enough, The Perfect Crime.
Oddly enough, because I have absolutely no memory of having bought this text: try as I might to recall this experience, I cannot recollect standing in line and eventually paying for, this book; too, I still could not remember the name of the other text from which I remembered reading the pair of essays (“Holocaust” and “History”). Another twenty-minute search unearthed no other Baudrillard. Eventually, it occurred to me to check again whether those essays are not, in fact, included in The Perfect Crime. They aren’t.
They are, in fact, in Simulacra and Simulation.
This whole experience has confirmed for me, a few realities:
1. I am not aware of the books I own.
2. I am not aware of the books I buy (and may in fact, be spending vast fortunes on hundreds of books I already own). [x]
3. I am not aware of the books I read.
4. I am running out of space on my floor.
I fear I am fulfilling all sorts of stereotypes [xi]. I also fear I am encountering extremely early senility. Or perhaps I am a scholar wise beyond my years. Consider reality 3. in comparison to the following, for example:
To compensate a little for the treacheries and deficiencies of my memory, which are so extreme that more than once I have picked up, thinking it new and unknown to me, some book that I had carefully read some years before, and scribbled all over with my notes, I have adopted the habit for some time now of noting at the end of every book — I mean those that I do not intend to read again — the date when I finished it and the opinion I had formed of it as a whole, my purpose being at least to remind myself of the character and general impression of the author that I had conceived when reading it. (Montaigne, “On Books,” 171-172). [xi]
Except Montaigne never wrote for a plant. Also, I somehow think my note-taking skills are less uniform and disciplined as his were. Well, if in ten years or so I am still keeping this archive, and I happen to write a review of Orlando, or The New Inn, hopefully you will direct me to my notes on the same.
[i] Edward the Second. I will, of course, be adding Martin’s Broadview edition of this play to my collection when it comes out next year. (After all, I am transcribing/annotating sections of it.)
[ii] Wordsworth edition. The kind where the print comes off in your hands: I owned this one prior to receiving the better-edited Oxfords.
[iii] Dovers. Dover editions usually cost between $1 and $5, and are inexpensive because they are drawn from public domain sources and translations, and involve little editorial mediation (which is one of the more expensive aspects of re-publishing). This means, however, that you may be getting out of date notes (or none at all) or inaccurate or poor quality translations (these are not Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf, or Fagle’s Aeneid. On the other hand, some famous and lasting translations (for example, Longfellow’s Inferno, Smollett’s Quixote, or Chapman’s Iliad) are public domain.
[iv] Doctor Faustus. Not that I mind Doctor Faustus, I’m just puzzled why this play, of all of Marlowe’s appears in nearly every anthology of early modern, or British literature. Edward II and Tamburlaine are my personal favourites though, as a rule, nothing really goes amiss with Marlowe.
[v] Herford and Percy Simpson. This edition was originally released in 1925, and, while it has been updated several times, according to the people at Cambridge, no major changes have been made reflecting recent interrogations of the critical history surrounding Jonson’s work; I suppose we shall have to wait to judge the differences between the Oxford and Cambridge editions.
[vi] Revels editions. With The Magnetic Lady not being available in Canada. I’ve been relying on interlibrary loan for all of these works.
[vii] my multiple books. Outside of Bartholomew, and you may have realised by now I do a lot of, we shall say, “creative interpretation” for him.
[viii] resolve won out. At least temporarily for the Laclau. I have a feeling I’ll be looking at this text again in a month or so.
[ix] I already own. I may be acquiring these vast fortunes through bank thefts and other devious schemes: it stands to reason that if I am buying books unawares I may be involved in other unconscious crimes. For all I know, I have secret warehouse and overseas storage boxes of two or three hundred copies of Moby Dick and The English Patient.
[x] all sorts of stereotypes. If I ever buy a cat, it is the end of me.
[xi] “On Books”. For an interesting reading of this essay and the relationship between books and memory in general, see Pierre Bayard’s How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read (Vancouver: Raincoast, 2007).
Montaigne, Michel de. “On Books.” Essays. Transl. J.M. Cohen. London: Penguin, 1993. 159-173.
14 June 2008 ~ St. Catharines