[Milton-L] text questions

HANNIBAL HAMLIN hamlin.22 at osu.edu
Wed Feb 6 10:27:21 EST 2008

It seems just from this list that there are in fact rational defenses of both alternatives.  To these, I would add Thomas Greene's "Anti-Hermeneutics: The Case of Shakespeare's Sonnet 129" (in _The Vulnerable Text_).  Of course one must consider context.  Introducing Shakespeare or Milton to undergraduates (let alone high school students) is challenging enough, without presenting the additional challenge of original spelling and punctuation.  But we should recognize that this is a species of translation, and that any serious appreciation of earlier writers must consider their writings free of the additions/alterations of later editors, which are always to some degree interpretative.  Early modernists are not the only ones concerned with this problem -- see the history of editing Emily Dickinson or John Clare.

For writers who cared about the printed appearance of their text, and for whom spelling and punctuation, like any other aspect of literary language, were part of the composition, it is especially important to read the original.  Spenser is the easiest example to cite, since as Johnson noted he "writ no language" (i.e., created his own), but there are strong cases to be made for Milton and even, as Greene argues, for Shakespeare, at least in the non-dramatic poems.

In Tom Stoppard's _The Invention of Love_, A.E. Housman (as devoted a textual scholar as there has ever been) says "there is truth and falsehood in a comma."


Hannibal Hamlin
Associate Professor of English
The Ohio State University
Book Review Editor and Associate Editor, Reformation

Mailing Address (2007-2009):

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----- Original Message -----
From: Carrol Cox <cbcox at ilstu.edu>
Date: Tuesday, February 5, 2008 10:09 pm
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] text questions

> Derek Wood wrote:
> > 
> > I was sorry not to see, in the course of this discussion, a 
> defence of modern spelling editions of early modern texts.  . . . .
> There is no rational defense of _either_ alternative. Hence there 
> is a
> powerful defense of both. I suspect very few people are 
> consistent, but
> prefer modern or 'original' spelling of a given author depending 
> on how
> they first experienced that author. For Donne and Pope, I feel more
> comfortable with original spelling; for Milton I feel more comfortable
> with modernized spelling. I am highly sceptical that it makes a dime's
> worth of difference.
> Carrol
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