1993

Bottom's Cut Bowstrings

Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 324.  Monday, 24 May 1993.
 
From:           William Godshalk <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Date:           Monday, 24 May 1993 17:24:00 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Bottom's Cut Bowstrings
 
Dear Hardy:
 
I'm sending you my note on Bottom's "cut bowstrings," with the hope that the
members of SHAKSPER will give me their learned advice. Have I come up with an
acceptable solution to the puzzle? Or have I managed to convince no one?
 
Although I've searched the literature and the bibliographies, I haven't found
any similar solution, but, of course, that doesn't mean that I've seen
everything. Does anyone know of a similar explanation?
 
===============================================================================
Bottom's "hold or cut bow-strings" (MND I.ii.106).
 
George Capell was apparently the first to attempt an explanation of Bottom's
words. He asserts that the phrase is proverbial and "was born in the days of
archery." When an archery contest was planned, "assurance of meeting was given
in the words of that phrase." If an archer did not keep the promised meeting,
then the other archers might cut his bowstring, i.e., "demolish him for an
archer." From this "particular usage, the phrase had an easy transition among
the vulgar to that general application which Bottom makes of it."
Unfortunately, later scholars have not been able to verify Capell's
explanation, and there is strong reason to believe that the phrase is not
proverbial since, as far as we can now tell, only Shakespeare or sources which
derive from him use it in this precise form.   John Ray in English Proverbs
under the heading "An Alphabet of Joculary, Nugatory, and Rustick Proverbs"
lists "Hold or cut Cod-piece-point" which of course is a joke and may well be a
parody of Shakespeare's phrase.  In any case, it was first listed by Ray in
1678, more than a half century after Shakespeare's death.
 
George Steevens was able to find two more or less parallel examples in
seventeenth-century drama.  In George Chapman's The Ball, Scutilla asks Lady
Lucina, "have you devices/To jeer the rest?" Lucina answers, "All the regiment
of 'em, or I'll break my bow-strings" (II.ii.127- 129).  I think the context
implied by "regiment" (OED s b 8) is important, since it indicates that the
breaking (or cutting) of bowstrings should be seen in terms of military rather
than civilian archery. The example from Anthony Brewer's The Covntrie Girle: A
Comedie (London, 1647) appears, at first glance, not to be as germane to
Shakespeare's phrase: "Fidler, strike./ I strike you else; -- and cut your
begging bowstrings" (sig. D3v).  The first "strike" means "to play upon" the
fiddle (OED s.v. "strike" vb 29.d.); the second "strike" may again sugge st a
military context (35d) for the cutting of bowstrings, though any reference to
military archery is comic since the "bow" in this case is the fiddler's bow.
 
Bottom's "hold or cut bow-strings" may similarly be placed in a military
context. During the battle of Crecy, according to Froissart, "When the Genoese
felt the arrows piercing through their heads, arms, and breasts, many of them
cast down their crossbows, and cut their strings, and returned discomfited."
Bottom's "hold" may be taken i n a military sense as "hold a military position"
(OED vb 6.d), and "cut bowstrings" is a metonymy for "give up and retreat."
Retreating archers cut the strings of their discarded bows in order to keep the
enemy from using the bows against their former owners. It was the archer's
equivalent of spiking artillery. Bottom's use of a military metaphor is, of
course, comically pretentious. He means, "Either be present at the rehearsal,
or quit the troupe."
 
                                                W. L. Godshalk
                                                University of Cincinnati
 
 George Capell, Notes and Various Readings to Shakespeare (1780; New York: AMS
Press, 1973) 2: 102.
 
 Most modern editors, like Stanley Wells, New Penguin Shakespeare, and Harold
Brooks, Arden Edition, admit that the precise meaning of the expression is
uncertain.
 
 The phrase also occurs in The Merry Conceited Humours of Bottom the Weaver
(London, 1661) sig. A2v.  I owe this reference to Georgianna Ziegler.
 
 John Ray, A Compleat Collection of English Proverbs, 4th ed. (London, 1768):
p. 57, sig. E5r.  R. W. Dent, Shakespeare's Proverbial Language: An Index
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981) 76 (C502), lists Ray, but
gives no other instance. Dent's Proverbial Language in English Drama Exclusive
of Shakespeare, 1495-1616 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984),
gives no other example.
 
 Isaac Reed, ed., The Plays of William Shakspeare . . . Notes, by Samuel
Johnson and George Steevens (London, 1803): IV, 342. Steevens's note is
reprinted only in part by H . H. Furness, ed.,  A Midsummer Night's Dream, A
New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare (Philadelphia, 1895): 44.
 
 Thomas Marc Parrott, ed., The Plays of George Chapman (New York: Russell &
Russell, 1961): II, 557.
 
 Cf. Marlowe's Jew of Malta, ed. N. W. Bawcutt (Manchester: Manchester
University Press, 1978): "Play, fiddler, or I'll cut your cat's guts into
chitterlings" (IV.iv.43). The idea is the same, but the metaphor is quite
different.
 
 Jean Froissart, The Antient Chronicles of Sir John Froissart, trans. John
Bourchier, Lord Berners (London, 1814): 1: 288.  Raphael Holinshed, Holinshed's
Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (London, 1807): 2: 638,  and
Richard Grafton, This Chronicle of Briteyn (London, 1568), sig. AA6v, reproduce
the passage with only minor changes.

Re: SHAKSPER's Uses

Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 323.  Monday, 24 May 1993.
 
From:           David Richman <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 24 May 1993 15:43:23 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 4.0309  Rs: SHAKSPER's Uses
Comment:        RE: SHK 4.0309  Rs: SHAKSPER's Uses
 
Let me add my voice to the chorus of praise for SHAKSPER and gratitude
to Hardy.  For me, SHAKSPER always provides stimulating conversation, restoring
collegiality in an age of increasing depersonalization.  More than occasionally,
I find the postings of professional interest.  (To me, reviews and accounts
of performances are always interesting, though, like Steve Urkowitz, I
prefer those that incline to the generous, the gentle, the humble.)  I have
not yet found an excuse for incivility, and one of the things I value about
SHAKSPER is its almost universal civility.
 
Don't limit the discussion to "central issues."  What are the central issues
in Shakespeare studies?  I suspect there will be as many answers to that
question as there are subscribers.  The wide range of these discussions is
a virtue worth preserving.
 
Finally, of course, there is a special use of SHAKSPER for me, and for other
disabled users.  It gives us information and opinion that is not readily
available in other venues.  I, for one, am grateful to be kept abreast
of what so many fellow sojourners are thinking about.
 
As for Hardy's editorship, Thanks, Thanks, and ever thanks.
Certainly the editorship of SHAKSPER should garner as many kudos with the
deanly set as the editorship of any other publication.  If you, Hardy, are
not getting appropriate professional credit for this, you should be--and I
will gladly write a persuasive letter.
 
David Richman

Re: Filmscripts

Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 320.  Sunday, 23 May 1993.
 
From:           Milla Riggio <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Saturday, 22 May 1993 16:42 EST
Subject: 4.0317 R: Filmscripts
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0317 R: Filmscripts
 
Dear Georgianna:
 
Thanks for the info on the Henry V filmscripts.  I hope the price you quote
means that the Olivier script is STILL available from Ungar.  We had trouble
finding an American reference, but I did not look myself.  I depended on
someone else, and I'll take a look myself.  The Branagh pretty certainly is
available only in England.  So:  I'll take it from there.
 
Best wishes,
Milla Riggio

Re: Talking in Plays

Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 322.  Monday, 24 May 1993.
 
(1)     From:   Timothy Bowden <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Sunday, 23 May 93 06:51:37 PST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0310 Re: Talking at Plays
 
(2)     From:   John Cox <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Monday, 24 May 1993 09:34 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0310 Re: Talking at Plays
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Timothy Bowden <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Sunday, 23 May 93 06:51:37 PST
Subject: 4.0310 Re: Talking at Plays
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0310 Re: Talking at Plays
 
There is a practical measure to be taken in the matter of distractions
by the audience attending plays beyond the elitism implied by complaints
about the tourist class.  For me, it isn't a question of attending in
utter silence a sacremental work of art, but neither is it an obeissance
such as celebrating a mass and not needing to have the Latin translated.
Succinctly, a play of Shakespeare's for me is diction, and if I don't
hear it, I feel I've missed the show.  Whatever the question of original
Elizabethan intent, I doubt the Bard was fielding a mime troup.
 
If you have experiences with a considerate and aware audience in
Ashland, then those aren't the ones I'm writing about.  But if you can
sit through as I have the experience of having whole lines of dialogue
blotted out by stage whispers in the crowd and even fast-food
sack-rattling with complete aplomb, then I respect your equanimity
(if suspect your reason for being there at all).
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Cox <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 24 May 1993 09:34 EST
Subject: 4.0310 Re: Talking at Plays
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0310 Re: Talking at Plays
 
Balz Engler asks whether different periods have different kinds of audience
behavior.  For partial answer, see Marc Baer's *Theatre and Disorder in Late
Georgian London* (Oxford, 1992), which documents a months-long theater strike
by patrons.  Shakespeare was still POPULAR at that point, and the strike was
called to protest management's raising the ticket prices.  Audience behavior
was unimaginable by late-twentieth expectations:  people constantly called out
to actors, heckled, cheered, booed, stood up and turned their backs, etc.  In
fact, the strike took the form of people filling the theater but preventing the
performance by means of noisy and disruptive behavior.  If a quiet theater is
the price we pay for an elite Shakespeare in today's theaters, is it a price
we're willing to go on paying?
 
John Cox

Re: The Chandos Portrait

Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 319.  Sunday, 23 May 1993.
 
From:           Stephen Orgel <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Saturday, 22 May 93 10:21:59 PDT
Subject: 4.0313  Q: The Chandos Portrait
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0313  Q: The Chandos Portrait
 
In reply to Helen Whall, the last I heard the Chandos was being attributed
to Joseph Taylor, both an actor and member of the painters' and stainers'
guild; but it also was being called somebody other than Shakespeare, which
seems to me obviously correct if you look at both its provenance and its
[lack of] relationship to the two unquestioned portraits, the Droushout
frontispiece and the Stratford Memorial.
 
Stephen Orgel

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