The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.2266 Wednesday, 22 December 1999.
Date: Tuesday, 21 Dec 1999 10:53:32 -0500
Subject: 10.2247 Re: Quartos and Folios
Comment: Re: SHK 10.2247 Re: Quartos and Folios
I am an outside observer in matters of textual scholarship, but I do try
to keep up with the latest science.
As analogies from contemporary science go, perhaps Heisenberg's
uncertainty principle has something to offer. It demonstrates that
there are limits built into the physical universe beyond which
observation (and therefore human science) cannot go. Specifically, it
implies that, if an object of study is changed by observation itself,
then its unobserved state can never be observed.
Objects of human agency such as written or printed texts are subject to
a similar principle of uncertainty. No scientific method can apply,
because the possibility always exists that the text in question is an
intentional fabrication designed to stupefy literary critics. Although
a similar condition might be argued for physical sciences, it is only
necessary to banish one malignant supreme intelligence from the physical
world. The nature of literature lends itself too easily to forgery and
fakery to provide any sort of empirical material.
Textual scholars often seem to suppose a work to be a memorial
reconstruction because it isn't good enough to be Shakespeare. I think
that it is useful to imagine that the first quarto of Hamlet is
Shakespeare's, and the second is a collaborative work up after years of
performance. Perhaps it was Shakespeare the individual who was the
mediocrity, and the consortium who produced the great "finished" works
(n.b. this last is meant as a kind of Einsteinian thought experiment,
not a theory).
I would like to add that it is exciting to see these debates in progress
rather than only reading their published outcomes.