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No cloudy stuff to puzzle the brain : Fair Editing’ and Censorship in John Benson’s Edition of Shakespeare’s Poems (1640)

Abstract : The small octavo entitled Poems: written by Wil. Shake-speare, Gent., and published in 1640 for John Benson has long been considered as little better than a pirated edition of the Thomas Thorpe 1609 edition. It has been described by Colin Burrow, among others, as a ‘bowdlerized’ edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, although the term is anachronistic. As is well-known, Benson changed the sonnets’ order, omitting eight, and organized them into thematic sections with titles reminiscent of the miscellanies popular in the period (‘cruel deceit’, ‘faithful concord’, etc.). His most decisive intervention concerns the merging of individual sonnets into larger poems, but he also corrected the gender of the persona’s addressee in two sonnets to the ‘fair youth’, which, although critics differ as to the exact significance of the revisions, has generally been interpreted as a sign of active censorship. Writing in 1998, David Baker’s argues that Benson’s 1640 Shakespeare was packaged as a “Cavalier Shakespeare”. More recently, Cathy Shrank has argued, however, that Benson's miscellany has been unfairly treated by the critical tradition, and deserves to be taken seriously as a significant edition of the poems. This chapter goes back to the question of Benson’s interventions as an editor of Shakespeare’s Sonnets to interrogate the limits of editing and question early modern notions of censorship. I will show that we need to historicize both our notions of editorial intentions, and the reception of the miscellany to understand its significance. As will become apparent, the importance of the paratext and the material history of the book need to be foregrounded for us to reassess an edition all too easily dismissed as flawed, but whose historical importance has been tremendous.
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Contributor : Line Cottegnies <>
Submitted on : Monday, February 4, 2019 - 3:35:28 PM
Last modification on : Monday, January 11, 2021 - 6:44:02 PM
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Line Cottegnies. No cloudy stuff to puzzle the brain : Fair Editing’ and Censorship in John Benson’s Edition of Shakespeare’s Poems (1640). Sophie Chiari. Freedom and Censorship in the Early Modern Literature, Routledge, pp.177-190, 2018, 9781138366534. ⟨hal-02006361⟩



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