Sunday, 21 August 2011

RSC Shakespeare Edition Update

Since I have so little time to blog, I thought I'd keep this space ticking over by cross-posting one of my even more infrequent additions to the blog of the RSC Shakespeare Edition:
We have just received the completed text of our final director interview - fittingly, from RSC Artistic Director Michael Boyd himself, on his epic production of the three parts of Henry VI. A few high res pictures still to come from the archive, but otherwise everything is on course for delivery of the last batch of individual volumes. If all goes well in production, our ten year task will be over. We began work shortly before Michael became Artistic Director; we published the Complete Works in 2007, at the climax of the extraordinary RSC Complete Works Festival, and we will bring the Individual Titles to completion as the RSC-produced World Shakespeare Festival gets under way in London in April 2012.

Since the RSC has nearly always produced the Henry VI plays as a cycle, we were always keen to publish all three parts in a single volume.The question then arose as to whether there should be any other joint titles or double volumes. We seriously explored the idea of doing Henry IV Part 1 as both a double volume with Part 2, in the Folio texts, and an individual volume of Part One alone in its Quarto text. This would have got round one of my few regrets about our Folio-based editorial policy: the watering-down of Falstaff's magnificent oaths and exclamations. I argued that theatregoers, who often get treated to paired productions of the two parts (most recently at the Globe), would like the double volume but that students doing Part One as a set text (it is prescribed far more often than Part Two) would like the singleton. But the publishers did not buy this argument.

The publishers' decision is always final: especially now the world of print publishing is so much tougher than it was ten years ago when we began. Being brutally realistic, we had to ask: how many copies will be sold of a solo volume of Timon of Athens or King John? We seriously considered not doing some of the plays in this format (and have, indeed, with regret decided not to do The Two Noble Kinsmen, on the grounds that it contains a fair bit more Fletcher than Shakespeare). A compromise was eventually reached: we are putting King John and Henry VIII together in a single volume -- the two "non-cyclical" histories, paired provocatively together (i.e. the two that are not part of a sequence of four plays, as all the other English histories are). I think it works, not least because they are both plays in which religion and politics go together: King John gives an important part to the dispute with a papal envoy, while Henry VIII turns on the break from Rome. Maybe we should have boldly called them "Two Reformation Histories".

The solution for Timon, meanwhile, was to pair it with Titus. "Two classical plays", bringing together Athens and Rome, the great warrior turning on the city and the great philanthropist turning on his friends. Titus has become a much studied, sold, produced and discussed play: we hope it will help Timon along. The pairing also avoided another publishing problem: Jonathan Bate edited Quarto Titus for the Arden Shakespeare series and there was a non-compete clause in the contract: he could not edit the play again in a single volume for a different publisher. Whilst we could have argued that an edition of Folio Titus was a different play, that might have been pushing it a bit.

Questions of this sort around publishing agreements also explain the non-appearance (yet) of e-books. We have a complex arrangement whereby Random House hold US rights and Macmillan publish us in UK/Europe/Commonwealth. But the enforcement of regional rights in e-books is much harder to sustain, so discussions are ongoing. There are various other rights and related issues to be ironed out, as well as technical ones. Thanks for patience ...

On the matter of "Shakespeare & Fletcher", now I'm off (at last) to watch Cardenio. And any readers who have stayed with this blog despite its long silences may like to watch this space for an announcement coming soon regarding Shakespeare's Collaborative Plays.

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