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Scholarly review of critical apparatus of this edition, not a review of the play.
on 28 September 2011
This is a review of the scholarly textual apparatus of the Arden edition of the play edited by Ms. Leah Marcus. It is not a review of the play itself.
School and university students: this is an edition full of useful notes and information and although irritatingly 'trendy' in parts it is the best current edition for you, as the footnotes are very extensive and the introduction has much that is useful.
Academics, researchers, specialists: a huge amount of work has of course gone into this edition and much of the work - indeed most of it - is useful and thorough. However, the negative aspects are so conspicuous that it is almost shocking that the edition was released without any publisher's final checking. I list below some observations about these faults, some of which are relatively minor and some egregious.
Style: a) LM indicates that writers were reserved about publicising their membership of livery companies (p4) but we have to wait for two pages to be told why;
b) appropriate formal style with sudden descents into bathos: Webster warns readers 'not to expect the play to conform to the classical rules ... because of his need to fit in to the scruffy venue of its performance.' (p7); the real duchess 'avoided the sexual profligacy that characterized the behaviour of some of her close relatives ... until she became front page news in Italy.' (p17)
c) LM draws our attention to 'the images of fragmentation and dismemberment [which] link up with contemporary issues like Protestant fear of engulfment by Catholicism ...' (p9) but then says nothing more about the matter.
d) LM frequently writes two paragraphs as one so that one finds oneself in the middle of the text suddenly being addressed about a completely new topic. The worst example is p44, 'Similarly ...' Judge for yourself.
Anomalies: a) LM tells us that the Duchess is a 'relatively good' person (p15), but on the next page she is 'an exemplar of heroic constancy.'
b) UK readers - this is a British edition from a UK publisher - do not need to be told that a 'pavement' is a 'walkway' (note to 5.ii. 317); in fact they may be confused by such a note. Also, the word 'moot' (t.n. to 1.ii.297) has an opposite meaning in Britain to that prevailing in the US.
c) LM quotes two sententiae (p51) which she describes as 'conflicting moral adages'. They are not. Judge for yourself.
d) the 'they' of t.n. to 5.i.6, ' 'cheat', has no obvious referend. The lands? The letters?
Absurdity: a) LM's commitment to a feminist reading of the play leads her in strange directions. Evoking parallels between the eponymous heroine and Chaucer's Griselda, she argues that allowing her brothers to abuse and vilify and ultimately murder her, far from being any kind of weakness, is triumphantly assertive. Thus, she says of Griselda that 'she never says no to him and therefore never allows him to override her own wishes. Griselda therefore deconstructs the power of the tyrant by showing it to be without limits. Similarly, paradoxically, the Duchess preserves her identity and self-mastery precisely through her constancy and her acquiescence in her brothers' long list of torments.' (p38) By what grostesque intellectual contortions, initiated by the necessity to follow the latest academic fad, however lunatic, can a university teacher allow herself to pen such fatuous statements? We do not, in the real world, in a lawcourt for example, argue that a murderer has been worsted by her victim.
But it gets even worse, for the paragraph ends with the view that the tormenting brothers are actually themselves the victims: 'they vicariously punish their own unacknowledged appetites by tormenting her.' (p38) [Actually, they are indulging those appetites ...] This is bad even by the standards of American anti-intellectual christo-fascist ideology.
b) Webster's play reflects details about the 'real' duchess' story which he could not easily have known. LM suggests this explanation: 'perhaps he was so preternaturally attuned to the Duchess' story that he "invented" circumstances that were, unbeknownst to him, supported by the historical record.' This is shocking drivel, even for someone living in a supernaturalist theocracy.
Textual: a) the discussion of Q2's deviation from Q1, the base text, involves farcical over-reading of the differences. See p85 ff.
b) Q4's emendation of 'they'd take me hell' (1.ii.183) to insert a 'to' is ignored by LM; her reasons are flimsy.
Errors: a) a 'roaring boy' (t.n. to 2.1.18) does not mean someone 'foppish' - quite the reverse, it's much closer to British English 'yob'
b) LM's paraphrase of 5.ii.96-7 is wrong. 'For, though I counselled it,/ The full of all th'engagement seemed to grow/ From Ferdinand. ' does not mean that the Cardinal is 'disclaiming responsibility for the precise method employed in the Duchess' death' (t.n.) but that Ferdinand was more energetic and forceful it putting the plan into operation.
Plagiarism; scores of notes are borrowed from the 1964 Revels edition of J R Brown, without acknowledgement. Many are almost verbatim. See, for example, LM's t.n. on 'Switzer' (2.ii.37) which is almost identical. LM mentions Brown's edition at the start of her lengthy acknowledgements (xvi-xviii) but does not indicate that she has received any help, guidance or information from it. This is the worst, and most outrageous aspect, of LM's edition.