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This review is taken from PN Review 116, Volume 23 Number 6, July - August 1997.

THE PLAY'S THE THING JOHN JONES, Shakespeare at Work (Oxford University Press) £30

If we love Shakespeare, what exactly are we loving? Are the differences between the various printed sources important to the non-scholar? Jones gives us abundant material for concluding that they are, and makes much scholarly knowledge accessible, though seen from his own somewhat rebellious critical angle. He argues that the differences between the earlier (Octavo) and later (Folio) versions of Hamlet, Othello and King Lear are Shakespeare's own work, and in each case show him revising the play as a whole. The three cases are different. In Hamlet, Jones thinks the two versions are a nearly-draft and a final acting version. In Othello, the second version was made to remove blasphemies, but there were several major additions (including the 'Willow Song'): 'Othello was a play in the company's repertoire that was called back for modification (improvement)'. With King Lear, the two versions are different enough to be called different things; Jones concludes that Shakespeare saw the first version as a Romance and the second version as a Tragedy.

Jones makes his case with a lively and sensitive comparison of the texts. Folio's addition of a line for Othello - 'Being done, there is no pause' - into the middle of a line for Desdemona - 'But half an hour, but while I say one prayer', provokes 'the rhetorical and by now familiar question, who but Shakespeare would have added it?… Why did he do so?' Jones observes Shakespeare divide Desdemona's line 'into two jagged little cries, and ...


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