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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: December ::
Re: Quartos and Folios
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.2247  Monday, 20 December 1999.

[1]     From:   Simon Morris <
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        Date:   Friday, 17 Dec 1999 16:26:00 GMT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.2239 Re: Quartos and Folios

[2]     From:   Edmund M. Taft <
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        Date:   Friday, 17 Dec 1999 23:29:16 +0000
        Subj:   Explanations

[3]     From:   John Jowett <
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        Date:   Friday, 17 Dec 1999 17:40:10 GMT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.2239 Re: Quartos and Folios

[4]     From:   Anthony Burton <
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        Date:   Friday, 17 Dec 1999 13:20:48 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.2239 Re: Quartos and Folios; "scientific" reasoning

[5]     From:   Terri Mategrano <
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        Date:   Saturday, 18 Dec 1999 13:00:18 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.2232 Re: Quartos and Folios

[6]     From:   Steve Urkowitz <
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        Date:   Saturday, 18 Dec 1999 16:58:52 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.2239 Re: Quartos and Folios

[7]     From:   Peter Groves <
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        Date:   Monday, 20 Dec 1999 20:23:40 +1100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.2239 Re: Quartos and Folios


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Simon Morris <
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Date:           Friday, 17 Dec 1999 16:26:00 GMT
Subject: 10.2239 Re: Quartos and Folios
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.2239 Re: Quartos and Folios

>OK, that is the background.  Here is my question.  Has anyone a way of
>evaluating the analogy?  Should the preference for elegance apply to
>theories of bad quartos (or as Maguire prefers, suspect texts)?  In not,
>why?  How is the logic of problem solving different for science than for
>these quartos?  I can't find a difference, but would appreciate the
>insights of this list.

One difference is that scientific theories make predictions that can be
tested against new experiments, which theories about quartos don't
(unless we discover some new quartos).

Another scientific version of Maguire's point is that good scientific
theories are ones that are easy to disprove. The theory that everything
that happens in the world happens only because a supreme being wants it
to is a bad theory, because there's no way of disproving it. It
"explains" everything somewhat as Maguire claims that memorial
reconstruction "explains" quartos, but that doesn't make it a good
theory.

The "preference for elegance" in science is a little different.  It's
true that scientists prefer theories that are small, but explain lots of
things, in the way that one simple theory of gravity explains apples
falling from trees and planets' orbits. But memorial reconstruction (I
think Maguire would claim) doesn't explain anything in the same way,
because it's really a different theory for each text. The putative
memorialiser who makes different mistakes for each text is analogous to
the putative supreme being who runs the world on whim.

S.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund M. Taft <
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Date:           Friday, 17 Dec 1999 23:29:16 +0000
Subject:        Explanations

Mike Jensen's observation that hypotheses in science and in the arts
seem to be evaluated differently is certainly correct.  When I was
defending my Ph.D. thesis years ago, I offered a theory attempting to
explain why back-to-back scenes in 2H4 seem repetitive (4.1 and 4.2).
No matter the theory, the response I got was that I had explained too
much!  As one member of the committee put it, "If you explain
everything, you explain nothing!"

I was nonplussed by this observation at the time, but I think I
understand it now.  Because invariable, mathematical laws operate in
science, a single, elegant explanation can serve to explain everything.
Apples fall because of gravity-period.  But in the world of letters,
human agency is much more complex, and one single explanation MAY be
right, but often is not.  In the case of MR, an alternative might be
that the quarto in question is an acting version of a play.  That
hypothesis also may seem to fit the facts.  And there may be others, or
even combinations of reasons why a text appears as it does.

When we move from texts to the interpretation of them, the problem
becomes a bit clearer.  Consider, for example, the famous observation
that Hamlet takes five acts to kill Claudius because, if it were not so,
there would be no play! Now, here is an example of Ockham's razor at its
best (worst?)!  It's simple, elegant, and in at least one sense
undeniably true!  As I understand it, this theory was often quoted in
the first part of the century as an all-purpose explanation of why
Hamlet does not kill Claudius right away.

But as we all know, the problem with this theory is its assumption that
Hamlet should kill Claudius immediately after his visitation by the
Ghost.  Later 20th-Century scholarship has argued that Hamlet has to
solve some pretty sticky problems before he can feel justified in
killing the king.  So the difficulty with this particular all-purpose
explanation is that it rests on a misunderstanding of the play and its
complexities.

Advocates of Ockham's razor run into this problem over and over again in
interpreting the arts.  In opting for "common-sense" or "obvious" or
"simple" explanations, they reduce the work of art to less than it
really is.

This seems like a fundamental difference between the arts and the
sciences, but in the long run it may not be so.  As many of you know,
some historians of science are now arguing that "the end of science" is
near. What they mean is that all or most of the big discoveries have
been made, and all that is left to do is to "fill in the picture."
Well, maybe. But this sounds like a logical positivist view to me.  I
suspect that as we learn more about the universe, we will see that our
current theories are inadequate to explain it, and, just as in the arts,
even the most basic of theories will have to be replaced by others.  And
on and on it may go.  Pope got it right: the problem is we can only
reason from what we know, and what we know may change and grow forever.

Great question, Mike!

Happy Holidays,
--Ed Taft

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Jowett <
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Date:           Friday, 17 Dec 1999 17:40:10 GMT
Subject: 10.2239 Re: Quartos and Folios
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.2239 Re: Quartos and Folios

I think Mike Jensen is optimistic in suggesting that the theory of
memorial reconstruction is sufficiently elegant to bear comparison with
the theory of relativity.  If 'bad quartos' were a fixed and homogeneous
group, if the evidence for memorial reconstruction could be clearly
differentiated, and if the characteristic features of this group and
only this group could be fully explained in terms of memorial
reconstruction, then I think that would be an elegant explanation.  In
fact the group is far from fixed, the evidence for memorial
reconstruction merges with evidence for other forms of transmission, and
the theory usually is an inadequate explanation that needs supplementing
with theatrical adaptation.  Consequently it falls well short of
elegance.

My own suspicion is that memorial transmission still remains the least
inelegant hypothesis for explaining major features of some texts in a
messy textual world.  Laurie Maguire's book adopts stringent criteria
and shows the difficulty of demonstrating its presence once those
criteria are adopted.  On the other hand, Kathleen Irace has presented a
good case in favour of memorial transmission by actors.  She reaches
different conclusions because she allows herself a method Maguire rules
out, which is a comparative study between the suspect text and its
fuller counterpart.  But there are some loose ends in her account, and
it doesn't amount to a proof.

As things stand it seems to be a choice for some texts between an
insecure hypothesis and shadowy, much less secure, alternatives.  Or no
hypothesis at all, take them as they come, which easily can lead to
solipsistic assumptions that all 'Shakespeare' texts are equally
Shakespearean.

John Jowett
The Shakespeare Institute

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Anthony Burton <
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Date:           Friday, 17 Dec 1999 13:20:48 -0800
Subject: 10.2239 Re: Quartos and Folios; "scientific" reasoning
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.2239 Re: Quartos and Folios; "scientific" reasoning

Mike Jensen asked why scientific theories (Einstein's theory of
relativity) which are deemed attractive and satisfying if they explain a
great many phenomoena at once, are a useful analogue to literary
theories.  Let me offer a suggestion why some are analogous and some
not.

First of all, let me say that logical consistency is essential in all
cases.  In one sense, that application of sound reason to observed facts
may always be considered "scientific"; but that is not where the problem
lies.  Einstein sought to explain features of the observed universe by a
unifying principal operating within the universe, a sort of "foundation
principal" that later turned into his quest for the GUT (Grand Unifying
Theory).  For any set of doubtful texts, all memorial reconstruction
(MR) theories hypothesize facts outside the texts themselves.   Even
assuming that authorial intention is accepted as a unifying principal
within each and among all the variant texts,  the pirate/recorder lies
outside them and therrefore outside the observed universe under
consideration.  The analogue in the scientific field would be to suppose
a divine first cause (or in some theories, a prior universe of which
ours is a "consequence") which created the universe and established the
laws, relationships, and motion which science then proceeds to observe
and explain.  The charactersistics of the pirate/recorder, the divine
creator, or the prior universe are entirely hypothetical, and can only
be guessed at by analogy to what we already do know, which by definition
we find insufficient.

A second family of objections to the validity of any analogy with
scientific theorizing lies in the subject matter  of the observations
themselves.  The world to which scientists direct their observations is
not conceived as one with an inner life, purposes, or temperaments
motivating its elements.  It simply presents itself to us, shorn of
meaning, and scientists formulate laws of relationship, not meaning.  In
the case of literary texts, the existence of meaning is central; indeed,
the whole project of clarification and interpretation of which MR is a
small part has to do with meaning or its absence.  Words, phrases,
plots, rhetorical quirks and everything else to which literary critics
turn their attention have interest only as expressions of human thought
and intention, as others might reasonably be expected to understand them
- by whatever theory of semiotic, cultural, or psychological mechanism
one chooses to consider the literary and dramatic experience.  We do not
explain a word like "word" by discussing the electronic vibrations,
adherent properties of ink to paper, or the angles of the lines in the
letter "W" which bring it to our consciousness, and then go on to do the
same with  the other letters; for most purposes these characteristics
are irrelevant as long as we are sure of the word "word" and know what
it meant to its author.

So, the object of attention in literature is indefinite and debatable in
its essential nature because the author's understanding and
associations, the possibly different understanding that prevailed in his
or her surrounding culture, the chance of inaccurate transmission and,
finally, our own possibly changed understandings are variable in the
highest degree.  With MR, the hypothetical pirate/recorder simply adds a
wild card of uncertain capacities and intentions to the already dizzying
mix.  At every step of the way, literary criticism consists of acts of
faith in the face of uncertainty, and the best we can do is be candid
about the foundations for our faith. We can be logical, but never
"scientific" in the sense of the hard sciences.

Does this explain anything at all?

Tony

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terri Mategrano <
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Date:           Saturday, 18 Dec 1999 13:00:18 EST
Subject: 10.2232 Re: Quartos and Folios
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.2232 Re: Quartos and Folios

This may be equally as speculative as every other textual theory now
seems to be (becoming), but if MR, as John Briggs writes, "nearly always
happens in performance," then how can memorial reconstruction (or
something collaborative in nature) help but be reflected in the printed
text when the promptbook (as opposed to an "original authorial" fair
copy) is used by the compositors who printed the text?

MR as a "stolen and/or reconstructed" text is an unsubstantiated
theory-really far out when one closely examines the business dealings of
16th and 17th century London stationers.

But collaboration reflected within theatrical texts, confusing that
oh-so-vexed question of "authorship". . . well, that's another story.

Terri Mategrano

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Urkowitz <
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Date:           Saturday, 18 Dec 1999 16:58:52 EST
Subject: 10.2239 Re: Quartos and Folios
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.2239 Re: Quartos and Folios

Mike Jensen puzzles about the attractiveness and explanatory breadth of
memorial reconstruction.  He draws an analogy to Einstein's theory of
relativity, also a scheme that explained many different phenomena.  He
asks, "Why was Einstein's theory so readily accepted?"

Well, Einstein could predict physically observable phenomena, such as
the bending of light around massive objects like the sun.

The memorial reconstruction schemes work differently.  They propose
explanations for textual variations in quarto and folio texts.  They
invent agents (almost always non-authorial agents) who would generate
such textual changes either accidentally or on purpose.  When one set of
agents won't fit all the observed changes, the schemers propose other
agents and perhaps other motives.  Such schemes are not a priori
unacceptable.  But in practice they get more and more tangled and less
and less likely.   The supposed agents are required by the schemes to
act in wildly improbable ways unlike any behaviors we know today or have
read about in the past.

The over-riding and continuing problem is that these schemes cavalierly
and irresponsibly dismiss the possibilities that Shakespeare could have
had a hand in these alternative texts.  The authorial revision scheme is
less cumbersome in every way.  Unlike the memorial reconstruction
explanations, authorial revision asks only that authors write and revise
like observed authors.  Memorizing "pirates" function as no other
sentient organisms we've observed.

Most important, ONLY the authorial revision scheme accounts for the
intertextual vocabulary found in the extant playscripts.  Laurie Maguire
coyly ignores Don Foster's findings.  But then we can see similar demure
protestations of unsupportable memorial reconstruction fantasies in the
otherwise stolid labors of Paul Werstine, most recently in the latest
issue of Shakespeare Quarterly.

It's late Saturday afternoon, approaching the millennium, and I've just
finished a couple pints of really good beer.  Let's say it again for
some kind of e-record:

"Memorial pirates are a desperate figment of imaginations unwilling to
consider that authors revise exactly in ways seen in the alternative
scripts of plays like HAMLET, LEAR, HENRY V, R&J, MERRY WIVES, HENRY VI
2 & 3.  No matter who may have been responsible for the alternative
versions, if we look at the alternative scripts as theatrical documents,
we learn a lot about how live theatre grows through changing action,
character, relationships, and language.  If  instead we cling to
memorial reconstruction arguments, we must fantasize about 'pirates' and
transcribers  who magically transform texts just as we see authors do.
And magically these transcribers read exactly the same books, see
exactly the same plays, are sensitive to precisely the same nuances of
grammar and rhetoric as are the 'author-functions' of the 'real'
versions.

Wheeeee!   You want to believe in pirates?  Go right ahead, Peter Pan.
While you're at that exercise, I'd rather be learning the ways an author
tightens an exit, whips an audience into a frothier eruption of
sympathy, or builds antipathy towards an angrier authority-figure as he
moves from one version of a script to another.  Then as a result I  can
deliver crackling action for my actors and audiences.  You can do
whatever else makes you happy.

Joy of the holy season,
Steve Ur-two-pints-equals-one-quart-owitz

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Groves <
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Date:           Monday, 20 Dec 1999 20:23:40 +1100
Subject: 10.2239 Re: Quartos and Folios
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.2239 Re: Quartos and Folios

Mike Jensen writes:

> Since we are looking at Laurie Maguire's fascinating book, she says
> something early on that bothers me very much, but I'm not sure if I
> should be bothered.
>
> She lists things unsatisfying about the memorial reconstruction theory.
> On that list she puts something that is arguably one of its strengths.
> It explains too much.  It explains many, many problems in the bad
> quartos, and Maguire sees that as a weakness.
>
> In science that is considered a strength
> OK, that is the background.  Here is my question.  Has anyone a way of
> evaluating the analogy?  Should the preference for elegance apply to
> theories of bad quartos (or as Maguire prefers, suspect texts)?  In not,
> why?  How is the logic of problem solving different for science than for
> these quartos?  I can't find a difference, but would appreciate the
> insights of this list

I'm not sure that it's a question of elegance.  A theory that
consistently and rigorously explains a large number of phenomena is
clearly a good thing, but I think Maguire's point about memorial
reconstruction as Greg and co.  practice it is that it is unfalsifiable
in a Popperian sense: rather than a theory that makes concrete
predictions that are open to refutation, it is a source of plausible
stories that will support any position you care to adopt (this is what-I
think --  she means by the claim that it explains too much).  In this it
is a bit like other pseudo-sciences, such as Freudianism: if your
analyst tells you that your (say) neurotic fear of bananas means that
you have a concealed desire to roger your mother, nothing you can say
will prove him/her false: an admission will corroborate the desire, and
a denial will corroborate its concealed nature.

Peter Groves
Department of English
Monash University
 

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