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Bibliographical situation

The Bibliographical Situation

The Complete Works of James Shirley represent a corpus of around 50 works, including plays, poems, and prose. CWJS will be a modernized spelling edition, based on current editorial standards and theory, with close attention paid to bibliographical understanding of the material copy-texts, including their headlines, ornaments, damaged type, compositors, uncorrected errors, etc. Other Renaissance dramatists have benefited from fairly recent editions, which have been informed by the editorial theory of the New Bibliography. (Even though the New Bibliography has been superseded in recent decades, many of its methods and findings remain useful for modern textual scholars.) Only a handful of Shirley’s texts have received modern bibliographical scrutiny, so the editors of The Complete Works of James Shirley will need to investigate the printing and manuscript circulation of his extensive copy-texts from scratch. Often, many different quartos of the same play were printed during Shirley’s lifetime (see List of Individual Works). And Shirley, unlike Jonson or Shakespeare, does not benefit from authoritative folio collections of his work, so the printing of each of these quartos, with their own sets of printers, compositors, and publishers, will need to be considered. For many of the quartos, this work will involve careful comparison of over 30 surviving copies, often spread over three continents. The editors of The Complete Works of James Shirley will need to do much archaeology and recovery work to shape the edition.

The manuscript situation makes work on Shirley even more complex. P. Beal calls the corpus of Shirleiana ‘one of the best authorial collections of verse in the period’. His Index of English Literary Manuscripts counts 207 manuscript sources for Shirley’s work, of which 133 relate to verse and 74 to drama. Extracts from plays survive in manuscripts from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. Exceptional amongst some 77 items is the documentation of Shirley’s masque The Triumph of Peace (1634), including stage and costume designs, floor plans, cast lists, texts and music, in addition to a number of eyewitness accounts (C. E. McGee, MRDE 5 (1991); J. R. Elliott, EMS 3 (1992)). The number of Shirley’s texts extant in Restoration prompt books remains unsurpassed. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century transcripts of Cupid and Death still exist (for instance: by Kemble in 1786; and in BL MS. Add. 17800 with a musical score by Sir Henry Rowley Bishop). Some copies are annotated by early readers (for instance, the Library of Congress quarto of The Lady of Pleasure). In addition, seventeenth-century comments on Shirley’s plays survive in manuscript (for instance, BL MS Add. 22608). Hence, Shirley gives us a rare opportunity to publish examples of early modern literary criticism. Since the editions of Gifford and Dyce, more manuscripts attributed to Shirley have come to light, such as a fragment which supposedly represents a scene for The Traitor (discovered in 1986; variously attributed to Shirley and Ford; its claim to be included in the Shirley canon is currently under investigation). Gifford and Dyce also missed important poetry manuscripts. Although they collated the 1646 octavo edition of the poems with Bodl. MS. Rawl. Poet. 88, they ignored BL MS Add 33998, the ode ‘To the King’ (pb. 1660 and included in Thorn Drury’s anthology, 1921), and the 1661 compilation Stella Meridiana (which includes one poem not printed in 1646).

Our edition will, for the first time, provide a full collation of all currently known sources, making this fascinating material accessible to modern readers.

The editors recognise the enormous challenge of such recovery work. As a preliminary stage of our textual research, we will work with Eva Griffith, a post-doctoral scholar, who will conduct research with us in Oxford, London, Cambridge, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. This preliminary research will, as its first objective, provide a sample pool of copy-text data upon which to build future editorial work for these specific texts and the edition as a whole. The research associate will also search for new manuscript and print Shirley resources in the archives. Amongst the broader research questions to be considered in this preliminary analysis are:

  • How do the bibliographical conditions of Shirley copy-texts affect potential strategies for editing his works?

  • How much care was taken in the printing of Shirley’s works?

  • Did he, like Jonson, keep a close eye on the print transmission of his texts? I.e. Do stop-press corrections disclose authorial guidance? Do changes in subsequent editions appear to be authorial?

  • What are the characteristics of Shirley’s handwriting?

  • What does the circulation of his manuscripts tell us about his position as a court and theatrical writer?

  • Is there evidence of theatrical or authorial manuscript source material behind the printed texts?

As a further strand of this early research, Peter Holman, an experienced early music editor and expert practitioner (recordings include theatre music for plays by Suckling, Davenant and Shirley), will advise on music. An inclusion of music scores in this edition seems necessary. We are, however, aware that, in certain cases such as Cupid and Death, alternative routes are either currently available or planned in a high-end musicological format. We hope that OUP may offer guidance on how music may be represented in this edition.