Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: February ::
Re: "Leaking" Plays
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0292  Wednesday, 7 February 2001

[1]     From:   Paul E. Doniger <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 6 Feb 2001 19:30:12 -0800
        Subj:   SHK 12.0278 Re: "Leaking" Plays

[2]     From:   David Kathman <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 7 Feb 2001 00:16:16 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0267 Re: "Leaking" Plays


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul E. Doniger <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Tuesday, 6 Feb 2001 19:30:12 -0800
Subject: Re: "Leaking" Plays
Comment:        SHK 12.0278 Re: "Leaking" Plays

Whoever published the Second Quarto (probably under the leadership of
The Lord Chamberlain's Men), isn't it more likely that his/their purpose
was to prevent rival companies from usurping the play's revenues. Once a
play was published (in these days of no copyright laws or performance
rights), it was available for anyone to produce and sell admissions to.
At least, by publishing a "corrected" version, the company could recoup
some of its revenues through sales of the corrected copy. I doubt very
much that it had to do with Shakespeare trying to protect his own
posterity as a writer.  Sometimes a great artist can also be a good
business person.

Paul E. Doniger

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Kathman <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 7 Feb 2001 00:16:16 -0600
Subject: 12.0267 Re: "Leaking" Plays
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0267 Re: "Leaking" Plays

Don Bloom wrote:

>This whole business of the early quartos seems to have gotten lost in a
>labyrinth of inadequate information, leading to soothsaying not
>criticism.  If a reasonable degree of historical fact about the
>publishing of plays cannot be established, then any argument based on
>cultural history is irrelevant.

I agree.  That's one of the reasons I like Laurie Maguire's
*Shakespearean Suspect Texts* -- she actually surveys the available
historical evidence, hewing to that as closely as possible and trying to
avoid the rampant speculation that so often marks the study of these
texts.  She considers evidence about what people said about these texts
at the time, what kinds of mistakes people have historically made when
they have tried to memorially reconstruct texts, what kinds of changes
authors have historically made when revising their own texts, and
various other kinds of interrelated evidence, which she then applies
systematically to each of the texts which has been labeled a "bad
quarto" at one time or another.  Whether or not one agrees with her
conclusions, I recommend this book to all with an interest in these
questions.

For similar reasons, I also highly recommend Peter Blayney's chapter on
"The Publication of Playbooks" in *A New History of Early English Drama*
(1997).  This chapter uses a lot of cold, hard facts to throw serious
doubt on some of the central tenets of the "pirated memorial
reconstruction" scenario first popularized by Pollard in the early 20th
century.  And it also has the best discussion I've seen of how the
London book trade actually worked in Shakespeare's time, a subject which
is often misunderstood.  In the same volume, Eric Rasmussen's chapter on
"The Revision of Scripts" and Paul Werstine's on "Plays in Manuscript"
are also very relevant to this discussion, and well worth reading.

>If we go back to the texts we find that we probably ought not to
>generalize too much. Some are quite satisfactory Elizabethan plays,
>though arguably inferior to the later versions. Some are pretty badly
>butchered, with a good deal of very inferior material mixed in with the
>same or roughly equal texts as the later versions. For this latter
>group, the "pirated-memorial-reconstruction" theory works out most
>logically.

I'm not so sure.  In many cases we've become so familiar with the
edited, standard version of a play that we instinctively label any
variance from that version as "wrong" or "out of order" or
"nonsensical".  But the variant version often (usually?) makes good
sense on its own terms, especially when it has been edited like the
"good" version to smooth out the errors that are endemic to virtually
every Elizabethan play quarto.  The recent success of many companies in
staging Q1 *Hamlet* comes to mind.  Now, I'm not saying that Q1 *Hamlet*
is necessarily as aesthetically pleasing as the Q2 or F1 versions even
with all these precautions, but I don't see why the bulk of the
differences, at least, couldn't be due to authorial revision.  I'm not
positively asserting that they *are* the result of authorial revision --
just that it's a possibility that deserves to be explored more often
than it has been.  A lot of people react to a text like Q1 *Hamlet* --
or even Q1 *Romeo and Juliet* -- with a kind of visceral revulsion that
I actually find fascinating.  They always trot out the Q1 version of
Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy -- always with original spelling
and punctuation, of course, to make it even more foreign to a modern
reader -- but that speech actually makes pretty good sense with a few
emendations.  Sure, it's not as complex or poetic as the Q2/F1 version,
but why couldn't that be because it's Shakespeare's first draft?

And by the way, we definitely need to keep distinct the concepts
"pirated" and "memorial reconstruction", because they're quite
independent despite being often conflated.  A "pirated" text would not
have had to be textually corrupt (for example, if an outsider stole a
copy of the script and sold it to a stationer), and a "memorial
reconstruction" would not have had to be pirated (for example, if the
company as a whole memorially reconstructed a play in the absence of the
physical script, as some people have suggested for such texts as Q1
*Richard III*).

>Now then, if you wish to attack the PMR theory and offer a substitute,
>you need show how your theory explains the available data (that is, the
>first/bad quarto as compared to the second quarto and first folio) more
>completely than PMR. Arguing from other quartos, like arguing from hazy
>and disputed history, gets nowhere.

I'm not sure what this last sentence is supposed to mean, but Steve
Urkowitz and others have made what I consider to be pretty good
arguments for treating the "bad quartos" as much more coherent and
sensible than they're often accused of being.  I think a combination of
authorial revision and some degree of corruption by intermediaries
(printers, copyists, etc.) is at least as plausible a scenario as
memorial reconstruction, at least for most of these texts.

>(For my money, the fact that a good second quarto always seems to appear
>after a first, inferior quarto is going to take a lot of explaining. But
>I'm open to reasonable argument.)

Why does it need a lot of explaining?  How about this scenario: a
company plays one version of a play for a while.  Then the author
revises it substantially, presumably making it better, whereupon the
company sells the earlier script to a stationer for printing.  The
earlier version is then on bookstalls as a sort of promotion for the
new, better version being acted in the playhouse.  Eventually the
company stops playing the revised version, and maybe sells that to the
stationers too.

Such a scenario may be hard to comprehend for those who are imbued in
traditional ideas about the printing of plays in Shakespeare's time, but
I would urge such people to read Blayney's chapter cited above if they
haven't already done so.  He throws some cold water on the traditional
idea that the acting companies were always fighting against stationers
desperate to print their plays, and makes an interesting case that plays
were printed primarily as a form of promotion for an acting company's
current repertory.

Dave Kathman

 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.