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Professor Publishes Shakespeare Edition

Posted November 15, 2001

HOLLAND -- A new edition of Shakespeare's early history play, Henry VI, Part 3, has just been published by Dr. John Cox of the Hope College English faculty.

Published by itself in a separate book, the edition emphasizes the history of the play's production. For example, Cox was able to establish that 3 Henry VI was performed for the first time in the New World in the early 20th century by descendants of African slaves on the Caribbean island of Roatan, off the coast of Honduras.

"A report of the Honduran production from 1950 indicates that the play was cut and rearranged with a play called Richard III to create a story of deliverance from social oppression," Cox said. "It seems unlikely that Shakespeare would ever have imagined that this early play would be put to such an extraordinary purpose."

The publisher of the edition is the Arden Shakespeare, the leading scholarly publisher of Shakespeare's plays. The Arden Shakespeare began publishing each play as a separate book in the early 20th century. The best Shakespeare scholars were recruited to edit the plays, with each editor usually being responsible for one play. According to Cox, the Arden Shakespeare quickly established itself as a standard of excellence for the quality of its introduction, notes and additional explanatory materials.

The Arden Shakespeare was edited still again, by a new generation of scholars, after World War II. "Just as the world had changed in 50 years, so had knowledge about Shakespeare's plays," Cox said. "New things had been learned about the text, the times, how to understand the plays, and how they were performed."

"The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre had been built in Stratford-upon-Avon in the 1930s," he said. "The Second Arden was widely recognized for its attention to changes in understanding the texts of Shakespeare's plays and for its response to changing critical assumptions. Successive generations of graduate students and scholars relied on the Arden Shakespeare for its wealth of information and judicious opinion.

As the 20th century drew to a close, scholars were again recruited to edit the plays afresh. By this time, Cox noted, still more things had changed, making a new edition desirable. The Royal Shakespeare Company had been formed in the early 1960s. In the early 1990s a replica of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre had been built in London--the first thatched building put up in that city since the Great Fire of London in 1666.

"Plays are produced there without artificial lighting or amplified sound, just as they were in Shakespeare's day," Cox said. "A lot can be learned from such productions."

In 1994 the senior editors of the Third Arden Shakespeare invited Cox to submit a proposal for re-editing 3 Henry VI. His proposal was accepted, and he signed a contract and set to work. Eventually realizing that he could not meet the deadline without assistance, he invited Eric Rasmussen, a respected textual editor from the University of Nevada at Reno, to join the project.

Cox wrote the critical introduction, notes, and appendices and researched the illustrations for the edition. Rasmussen edited the text and wrote the textual notes and textual introduction. Their collaboration took place mostly by e-mail, but it also involved meetings in Reno and Stratford-upon-Avon.

In addition to discussing the first production of 3 Henry VI in the New World, Cox's edition also discusses the latest. In March of 2001, the Royal Shakespeare Company visited Ann Arbor for two weeks, with a production of all three of the Henry VI plays and Richard III. The plays were sold out. Cox was able to see the Henry VI plays on one day and Richard III the next day. He interviewed the director, Michael Boyd, and included some of Boyd's comments in his edition.

Cox earned his undergraduate degree from Hope College in 1967 and his graduate degrees from the University of Chicago. He joined the Hope faculty in 1979, and since 1984 has served as director of the college's interdisciplinary studies program. In 1996 he was appointed to the newly established DuMez Endowed Professorship in English.

He is author of "Shakespeare and the Dramaturgy of Power," published in 1989 by Princeton University Press; coeditor of "A New History of Early English Drama," published in 1997 by Columbia University Press; and author of "The Devil and the Sacred in English Drama, 1350-1642," published in 2000 by Cambridge University Press. He has also published many scholarly articles and book reviews on Renaissance drama and contemporary writers.

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