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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: March ::
Re: Q1 of *Hamlet*
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0174.  Thursday, 3 March 1994.
 
(1)     From:   E.P. WERSTINE <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 2 Mar 94 11:08:18 EDT
        Subj:   HamletQ1
 
(2)     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 02 Mar 1994 23:20:08 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0168  Q1 of *Hamlet*
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           E.P. WERSTINE <
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Date:           Wednesday, 2 Mar 94 11:08:18 EDT
Subject:        HamletQ1
 
In friendly reply to Professors Sprinchorn and Hammond, I want to observe how
their exchange seems to reproduce a debate that has been going on between
advocates of memorial construction and advocates of authorial revision for a
good part of this century without bringing us to any resolution.  For Professor
Sprinchorn, the improbability of "rogue" actors' having produced the so-called
"bad quartos" is somehow to be understood as an indication that they originate
with the dramatist (This well-travelled road is one that my friend Steve
Urkowitz also goes down in his article on Richard III).   Professor Hammond's
well- founded scepticism about any authorial origin for the "bad quartos" leads
him back to endorsing memorial reconstruction. It is hard (for me, at least) to
see why in either case the inadequacy of one theory should be thought to
compensate for the inadequacy of the other.
 
It seems useful of Professor Hammond to introduce the quarto of Richard III
into the debate along with the Hamlet "bad quarto." The vast qualitative
difference between the two texts has long been recognized, and this difference
tells against any theorist who wants to apply the same narrative of origin of
both.  Any single theory that attributes the same origin to such different
texts could be used to account for the origin of just about anything else as
well.
 
Any suggestion that both originated with the same "author" comes up against
Foucault's observation in "What is an Author?" that ever since St. Jerome
western civilization has been constructing its authors according to the
assumption that "if among several books attributed to an author one is inferior
to the others, it must be withdrawn from the list of the author's works (the
author is therefore defined as a constant level of value)."  To suggest, then,
that the same author wrote Hamlet Q1 and QRichard III is simply to use the word
author in an unintelligible way.
 
On the other hand, the theory of memorial construction by an actor or actors
runs up against the historical fact that no one even talked about such a
possibility until a little over a century ago. It's entirely the product of
late nineteenth-century ingenuity (like that of Richard Grant White ca. 1881)
and didn't gain wide assent until well into this century.  There is not a scrap
of even anecdotal evidence for such actorly practice in the sixteenth or
seventeenth centuries.  (We have plenty of stories of the memorial
reconstruction of speeches and sermons by auditors, though.)
 
Why are Shakespeareans still so firmly attached to such ill-founded theories?
 
Cheers,
Paul Werstine
 
|(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Wednesday, 02 Mar 1994 23:20:08 -0400
Subject: 5.0168  Q1 of *Hamlet*
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0168  Q1 of *Hamlet*
 
Surely the same pressures that placed burdens on an actor's memory would also
place burdens on a script-writers writing style.  Shakespeare no doubt felt the
need to produce new plays if only to have new material in a world where plays
suffered a rate of attrition on par with that of Hollywood action flicks.
 
Back in the 1940s, when the need for large numbers of films was even more
gruelling, competent professional script-writers often wrote absolute rubbish,
and competent actors put in terribly performances, if only to get out another
film before the competition.
 
While I'd hate to border on conspiracy theories of authorship, maybe the
brilliance of some of these plays arose when they were changed, after an
attempt in production.  Needless to say, it wouldn't be printed until the
script was (more or less) settled.  In the meantime, a discourse would take
place between script-writer, audience, political factors, actors, physical
limitations of the Globe theatre, and so on.
 
It seems that Shakespeare wasn't absolutely loathe to borrow other men's
material, or work within a group.  If we imagine him stealing a plot line from
Hollinshed (or Kyd, some think, in the case of Hamlet), fiddling with it,
trying it (at least in rehearsal), then adjusting it in line with any number of
factors and probably some help (Thomas More was written by a group, after all)
we might be a little nearer to appreciating Shakespeare as a human like
ourselves, having to think things through, rather than a minor deity presenting
us with a perfect creation.
 
        Just a few thoughts,
        Sean Lawrence (AC.DAL.CA)
 

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