The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.2221 Wednesday, 15 December 1999.
Date: Wednesday, 15 Dec 1999 13:07:32 -0000
Subject: 10.2205 Re: Quartos and Folios
Comment: RE: SHK 10.2205 Re: Quartos and Folios
When Laurie Maguire's book Shakespearean Suspect Texts was last
mentioned a few months ago, I wanted to say something to question it,
but didn't because I was afraid that I was just talking rubbish.
However, here goes...
Maguire considers the symptoms often used to diagnose a text as being
suspect: anticipations, paraphrasing, omissions, misattributions, among
others. She then notes, correctly, that all of these features can also
be found in texts that no one regards as suspect. She draws the
undoubtedly correct conclusion that the evidence for some texts being
memorial reconstructions (MR) is less strong than previous scholars
would have us think. Then comes the bit where I have the problem. She
tabulates 41 suspect texts, giving lots of useful information about
their suspect features, and gives her verdict on each, usually 'Not MR'.
But I could not work out the details of her method.
As far as I could see, she had looked at the evidence of each text, and
ruled out anything that could plausibly be explained by a hypothesis
other than MR. Not surprisingly, this left very little evidence (for
most texts, none at all) that required the hypothesis of MR to explain
it. With this technique it was only to be expected that she found no
texts at all that were 'Certainly MR' and only 4 or 5 that were
'Possibly MR'. [I should say that I read the book almost two years ago,
and it is back at the library, so if I have misrepresented her in any
way, I apologise.]
The problem I have is that I think this technique is fatally flawed. In
textual studies, most evidence can be explained by more than one
hypothesis. If you consider a hypothesis (H) in isolation, admitting
only evidence that clearly supports it and no other hypothesis, you can
quickly rule out H because it appears to have insufficient evidence for
it. You can thus work your way through each hypothesis, until you have
ruled out all of them!
The right way, it seems to me, is to look at all the evidence and all
the hypotheses as a whole, and see if one hypothesis seems to fit the
evidence significantly better than the others. If none does, you should
be honest and say that we don't know how this text has come down to us.
Otherwise, you can make a statement such as 'MR' or 'printed from an
early draft' etc., being aware that all you are really saying is that
this is significantly more probable than the alternatives.
I read reviews of Maguire's book in SQ and SSu (and maybe another one)
but none seemed to me to address this issue, which made me wonder if I
was overlooking something obvious or had misunderstood her method. Does
any one want to put me right?
By the way, despite my reservations, I found it a fascinating and
enjoyable book; I particularly liked her little biographies of people
like Greg and Pollard, who, until then, had been just names on a page to