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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: March ::
Re: Transmission of the Quartos
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0197.  Monday, 7 March 1994.
 
(1)     From:   Antony Hammond <
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        Date:   Sunday, 6 Mar 1994 15:01:11 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Q1 of *Hamlet*
 
(2)     From:   E. P. Werstine <
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        Date:   Sun, 6 Mar 94 22:01:20 EDT
        Subj:   Q1 of Hamlet
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Antony Hammond <
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Date:           Sunday, 6 Mar 1994 15:01:11 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Q1 of *Hamlet*
 
I had hoped to hear some more comments from SHAKSPERians before returning
briefly to the fray, but lest Urkowitz think his bovver-boy style of aggro
has wholly abashed me, I'd better say something.
 
Well, mildly be it then, mildly.
 
First I should apologize for not making myself clearer about Patrick.
What I should have said was that IF a memorial reconstruction should
exist, then Patrick offers the clearest theoretical categorization of the
kind of variants we might expect it to manifest.  Actually, I myself am a
little surprised that the "collective reconstruction" theory of Richard
III Q1 has had such a long run.  Whether Urkowitz or Patrick be right
about this particular text is not relevant to the point of my original
letter.
 
I think it surprising that so much has been written about memorial
reconstruction without either much historical evidence for the practice or
without serious experimental test.  As for the first, Paul Werstine is
right in saying that there is no historical evidence that actors undertook
such things, but he of course is aware of Heywood's complaints that some
of his plays were published from texts "coppied onely by the eare", and
the celebrated phrase in the First Folio about "stolne, and surreptitious
copies"  must mean SOMETHING.  As for the second, Gary Taylor reports a
test he tried with one of the minor actors from an RSC production of Henry
V (see Wells and Taylor, Moderninzing Shakespeare's Spelling etc, p.
132n).  In this it emerges that the actor was able to reconstruct quite
well other players' parts, but in his own part created some substitutions
and an interpolation.  Taylor also refers to an experiment by Betty
Shapin, written up in MLR in 1944.  I have not seen this, but Taylor
criticizes its design.  Does anyone know of any other attempts to put the
memorial theory to the test?
 
I ask because I myself am in the middle of such an experiment at present.
Because I am working on the text of Pericles, whose quarto seems to have
been regarded as memorial by everyone who has worked on the play except
myself and my co-editor, I thought it high time to put Patrick's
hypotheses to the best (though still imperfect and obviously inconclusive)
test I could contrive.  It would be premature to describe this experiment,
but the fact that it was in progress, among other things, prompted me to
attempt to reply to Professor Sprinchorn's letter.
 
The point of my letter was to challenge Professor Sprinchorn's statement
that actors retain an immaculate conception of their parts.  As we all
know, even celebrated professionals err.  On the night I saw the 1979 RSC
production of Richard III, instead of `And brief, good mother, for I am in
haste' (4.4.167), Alan Howard said `And hasty, mother, [pause] for I soon
must go', a classic case of substitution, in Patrick's terminology.  This
is one of many possible examples from my own theatre-going experience;
every one of us is surely bound to remember similar things.  Nicholas
Ranson's note reminds us of another possibility.
 
Perhaps inevitably, even Paul Werstine thought I was defending the theory
of memorial reconstruction.  But once again, that was not meant to be the
point of my letter: rather, I wanted to point out what I took to be the
weaknesses in Professor Sprinchorn's case against it.  Those weaknesses
certainly do not prove the case FOR it.  Werstine is also right that the
theory of memorial reconstruction is a Johnny-come-lately in Shakespearian
scholarship, but since the practice is documented in the eighteenth
century, and since theatre is one of the most conservative of all
art-forms, and (further!) since memorial reconstruction of sermons in the
Jacobean period is documented, and even if you don't believe Heywood, it
doesn't seem so impossible, applied to plays, as to justify declaring that
it never could have happened.
 
As for Urkowitz's opinions: they are unchallengable, as all expressions of
opinion must be.  I don't think the interests of SHAKSPERians will be
served by my attempting a tedious defence of my conclusions about Richard
III.  In any event, Urkowitz can take heart: that edition is due to be
superseded by the Arden 3 version before the end of the decade, and
between that, and the Oxford and Cambridge editions, I am sure that the
views he puts forward in his article will be treated with respect.
 
However, the conditions of proof which Urkowitz demands for the
demonstration of memorial reconstruction are so stringent that, like
demonstrations of the existence of God, they are unlikely to be met.
Urkowitz also keeps telling us that people find interest and pleasure in
reading and acting the "bad" quartos.  Why on earth should this surprise
us?  Almost any theatrical script can be a source of interest and
pleasure.  That does not ipso facto make it a Shakespearian script any
more than it makes Gershwin Mozart because Kiri te Kanawa sings both with
evident enjoyment.
 
Mild enough?
 
Antony Hammond
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           E. P. Werstine <
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Date:           Sun, 6 Mar 94 22:01:20 EDT
Subject:        Q1 of Hamlet
 
Steve Urkowtiz has taken the discussion of the First Quarto of Richard III
initiated  by Tony Hammond as some kind of insult to his own work with the
result that he misreads and misrepresents my e-note on the topic in the oddest
way.  He somehow thinks I have no use for and see no value in any of the texts
that he wants to champion--the Quarto of Merry Wives, the First Quarto of
Hamlet, or the Quarto of Richard III.
 
But my note explicitly drew attention to the "vast qualitative difference long
recognized" between the Quarto of Richard III and the First Quarto of Hamlet--a
difference I could hardly observe if I saw no value in either.  He also has me
talking of "'good' Shakespeare" when the word "Shakespeare" never appears in my
note.
 
Perhaps someone less vitriolic could address the issue?
 
In the meantime, at the risk of irking Steve, it might be worth pointing out
that the "treasures of theatricality" that today's actors have been able,
according to Steve, to produce from their use of the so-called "bad quartos" as
scripts does not necessarily tell us anything about the origins of these
quartos. To quote Nietzsche this time, rather than poor Foucault: "There is no
set of maxims more important for an historian than this: that the actual causes
of a thing's origin and its eventual uses, the manner of its incorporation into
a system of purposes, are worlds apart; that everything that exists, no matter
what its origin, is periodically reinterpreted . . . in terms of fresh
intentions."
 
Cheers,
Paul Werstine
 

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