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Material Texts: David Scott Kastan (English, Yale): “The Complete Works of Shakespeare? How Complete Should They Be?”
Monday, October 3, 2016 - 5:15pm to 6:30pm

Class of 1978 Pavilion
Sixth floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library

Please join us next Monday, October 3rd, for the next meeting of the Workshop in the History of Material Texts. We will convene at our usual time and place: 5:15pm in the Class of 1978 Pavilion in the Kislak Center on the 6th Floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library. We will be welcoming David Scott Kastan (English, Yale) for a talk entitled “The Incomplete Works of Shakespeare”

David writes:

“I hereupon offer my own poor endeavors. I promise nothing complete; because any human thing supposed to be complete, must for that very reason infallibly be faulty.” —Herman Melville, “Cetology,” Moby Dick The desire for a “complete” Shakespeare has more or less been coextensive with the desire for Shakespeare himself. From the moment his plays began to be collected the logic of accumulation was to have them “all.” And having them all was the only way to have something that could reasonably be understood as “Shakespeare.” Shakespeare was knowable only in and by the collection. If the so-called Pavier Quartos collected in 1619 were by any account a defective collection, incomplete and inaccurately attributed, the very effort inspired the 1623 Folio to do better. And if it too failed, future editions have continued to seek the desired completeness. I want to think about what The Complete Works are, or, more accurately, if seemingly ungrammatically, what The Complete Works is. It should be obvious: The Complete Works are—or is—all the plays and poems that Shakespeare wrote, conveniently bound together in a single book or set of books. But it isn’t so straightforward. “Complete” means, obviously, “having all the parts it should contain.” But it is that “should” that poses the problem. “Having all the parts it should contain.” Who determines that and what is the principle of obligation? What should a complete a Shakespeare contain? That seems like a question easy to answer, but when we look at the various Complete Shakespeares, some obviously are more complete than others, so clearly the question isn’t quite as straightforward as it seems at first. The Victorian statue in East End London memorializing John Heminges and Henry Condell praises Shakespeare’s two close friends and fellow actors who were in part responsible for the 1623 so called First Folio. A plaque on the plinth reads: “to their disinterested affection the world owes all that it calls Shakespeare.” This talk will explore what is the “all” that it calls Shakespeare.

David Scott Kastan is the George M. Bodman Professor of English at Yale University, having previously taught at Columbia University and at Dartmouth College. He has been a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Copenhagen, at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, and at the American University in Cairo. He is among the most widely read of contemporary literary scholars, with his essays and books translated into many languages (most recently with two books published in Mandarin). His A Will to Believe: Shakespeare and Religion was published in 2014 by Oxford University Press and has just been reissued in paperback. Among his earlier books are Shakespeare and the Shapes of Time, Shakespeare after Theory, and Shakespeare and the Book. He serves as one of the general editors of the Arden Shakespeare, is the co-editor of the Bantam Shakespeare, and is the series editor of the Barnes and Noble Shakespeare. He has produced important scholarly editions of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part One, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus; and he edited the five-volume Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature. Currently he is working on two projects: one, with the painter Stephen Farthing, on a book called Living Color: a History to be published next year by Yale University Press, and a history of the book in twelve micro-histories for Princeton University Press, entitled Book Cases.