Editing for performance: Dr Johnson and the stage

Peter Hollland


I want to begin by quoting one of Dr Johnson’s notes on Hamlet, a passage that, though entirely characteristic, may be less than familiar to many. Johnson is commenting on the punctuation of a passage and is concerned about a sequence of dashes towards the end of the play:
To a literary friend of mine I am indebted for the following
very acute observation: “Throughout this play,” says he,
“there is nothing more beautiful than these dashes; by their
gradual elongation, they distinctly mark the balbuciation and
the increasing difficulty of utterance observable in a dying
man.” To which let me add, that, although dashes are in
frequent use with our tragic poets, yet they are seldom
introduced with so good an effect as in the present instance.
(qtd. in Wells 1: 69)
Johnson’s reliance on others—and their cloaked identity—is something we are used to. So too Johnson’s yearning here both to generalize about tragic practice and to praise the particular local effect in Shakespeare can be paralleled frequently elsewhere.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.5007/%25x

Copyright (c) 2005 Peter Hollland

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