Oxford Shakespeare

Letter to the Editor

London Review of Books, 18 May 1988


Sir: May I correct Frank Kermode's claim (LRB, 21 April) that the Oxford ShakespeareTextual Companion sets out 'the material for argument against, as well as for', its 'various assumptions'? Take, for just one example, its crucial assumption of 'memorial reconstruction' by 'actors who, like Bottom, attempted to play the parts of all the characters' and thus created the earliest published texts of 2-3 Henry VIRomeoRichard IIIHenry VMerry WivesHamlet and Pericles. As the Oxford editors themselves concede, this is just a 'hypothesis' which 'seems to us' to be true. It had better be: otherwise, as the editors also concede, each such text can only represent an early Shakespeare play. If so, the Companion's canon and chronology are hopelessly wrong, all because its editors cannot tell eight Shakespeare plays from eight botched corruptions. Its readers should therefore have been told about the dozens of dissenting specialists, and their scores of detailed counter-arguments against 'memorial reconstruction', not one of which has never been refuted. In fact, all but eight of those specialists, and every single one of their detailed counter-arguments, remain entirely unmentioned throughout the 671 pages of the Companion and the 1,432 pages of the Oxford Complete Works


Eric Sams

Sanderstead, Surrey