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The Invention of Shakespeare, and Other Essays

University of Pennsylvania Press

"Stephen Orgel is one of the greatest Shakespeare and early modern scholars of our time, and every single one of these pieces is engaging, exhilarating, revelatory, through-provoking."—Peter Holland, University of Notre Dame

In his own time, Shakespeare was not a monument, but a man of the theater whose plays were less finished artifacts than works in process. In contrast to a book, a thing we have come to think of as final and achieved, a play is a work for performance, with each performance based only in part on a text we call a script. That script may well have had imperfections that the actors may or may not have noticed as they turned it into a performance. There were multiple versions of the scripts and never a "final" one. Every revival of a play—indeed, every subsequent performance—was and always will be different. Nevertheless, when we study Shakespeare, we are likely to come to him via printed texts that are scripts masquerading as books, and the impulse is to turn them into finished artifacts worthy of their author's dignity. 

In The Invention of Shakespeare, and Other Essays Stephen Orgel brings together twelve essays that consider the complex nature of Shakespearean texts, which often include errors or confusions, and the editorial and interpretive strategies for dealing with them in commentary or performance. "There is always some underlying claim that we are getting back to 'what Shakespeare actually wrote,'" Orgel writes, "but obviously that is not true: we clarify, we modernize, we undo muddles, we correct or explain (or explain away) errors, all in the interests of getting a clear, readable, unproblematic text. In short, we produce the text that we want him to, or think he must have written. But one thing we really do know about Shakespeare's original text is that it was hard to read."

Stephen Orgel is Jackson Eli Reynolds Professor in Humanities, Emeritus, at Stanford University. He is author of many books, including most recently Wit's Treasury: Renaissance England and the Classics, also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

About the Author

At Stanford Since: 1985


Stephen Orgel has published widely on the political and historical aspects of Renaissance literature, theater, art history and the history of the book. His work is interdisciplinary, and is increasingly concerned with the patronage system, the nature of representation, and performance practice in the Renaissance. His most recent book is Spectacular Performances (2011), and The Reader in the Book is forthcoming in 2015. He is also the author of Imagining Shakespeare (2003), The Authentic Shakespeare (2002), Impersonations: The Performance of Gender in Shakespeare's England (Cambridge, 1996), The Illusion of Power (Berkeley, 1975), Inigo Jones (London and Berkeley, 1973, in collaboration with Sir Roy Strong), and The Jonsonian Masque (Cambridge, Mass., 1965). He has edited Ben Jonson's masques, Christopher Marlowe's poems and translations, the Oxford Authors John Milton, The Tempest and The Winter's Tale in The Oxford Shakespeare, Trollope's Lady Anna, and Edith Wharton's The Custom of the Country, The Age of Innocence and The Reef in the Oxford World's Classics. He is the general editor of Cambridge Studies in Renaissance Literature and Culture, and of the new Pelican Shakespeare. He has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, NEH Fellowships, and ACLS Fellowships; he has been a Getty Fellow, a visiting fellow at New College, Oxford, and the Clark Lecturer at Trinity College, Cambridge. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and on the board of the Associazione Malatesta in Italy.