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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: January ::
Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0038  Monday, 8 January 2001

[1]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Friday, 05 Jan 2001 09:58:37 -0800
        Subj:   SHK 12.0024 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

[2]     From:   David Knauer <
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        Date:   Friday, 05 Jan 2001 12:01:37 -0600
        Subj:   Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

[3]     From:   Mari Bonomi <
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        Date:   Friday, 5 Jan 2001 13:04:13 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0024 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

[4]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Sunday, 07 Jan 2001 23:30:40 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0024 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Friday, 05 Jan 2001 09:58:37 -0800
Subject: Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare
Comment:        SHK 12.0024 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

Addressing various comments:

> While words are definitely important, it is their
> 'performative' aspect (Professor Hawkes' term) that theatre uses most,
> and this performative aspect is defined by the particular physical
> characteristics of production.

As a performance guy, even I have to admit that the words exist even if
there are no actors around.  I can read the play at home.  I don't have
to go to the theater to hear it.  On the other hand, there is something
a bit chicken and egg about all this if the plays were written for
performance.  By this line of reasoning, which I believe, Shakespeare
would not have bothered to write plays if he had no expectation of
performance, and therefore a paying audience.  In this sense,
performance had priority, though not chronological priority.  While I
hear arguments that he valued his plays as literature, I have seen no
evidence so far.

> That this great artist wanted to see his work published in the best possible
> format and as close as possible to his final version seems as much a
> given to me as that he required food and sleep.  Anything else makes no
> sense at all.

Where to begin?  I'll keep it simple.  Shakespeare's motives and
priorities were not that of an American in the year 2001.  They were
mostly of his own psyche informed by his time and place.  The usual
argument is that he was paid for the work and moved on to the next
project.  Given what we know about working in the theater in his time,
that makes a lot of sense, but it cannot be definitive.  It seems likely
to me that if he cared so deeply about this, he would have seen his
plays into publication in "the best possible format and as close as
possible to his final version."  I don't see much evidence in the
printed texts for this confidence.  That is why modern scholarship sees
the texts as so unstable.

> When would a glover like Shakespeare's father
> have the time to read a play?

Just a point of fact, it is widely believed he was illiterate.  Nobody
knows for sure, but when John Shakespeare was a city official he signed
documents with a mark rather than his signature, and no signature from
him is know to survive.

Mike Jensen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Knauer <
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Date:           Friday, 05 Jan 2001 12:01:37 -0600
Subject:        Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

Stephanie Hughes asks,

"What are the two cases [in which a company performed a play licensed to
one of their contemporaries] you refer to that caused loud protest? (Is
one Nashe's reference to the sale of Orlando Furioso to two companies by
Robert Greene?)"

Sorry, the two cases may be more accurately described as one. In the
Induction to The Malcontent (1604), the King's Men claim that The
Spanish Tragedy was stolen from them by the Children of the Queen's
Chapel, and that the King's Men are therefore entitled to play The
Malcontent, which was the Children's play.

Stephanie continues,

"Was there some underlying reason for this long wait or was the
determination to publish on a case by case basis involving many factors,
not all perceived by us, so that we can't come up with a single
explanation for this usual hiatus between creation and publication?"

I'd quibble a bit with the "long wait" between performance and printing
of plays, since there are many plays by Jonson (perhaps an unfair
example), Dekker, and others that were printed within a year or two of
their first recorded performance. But my own reading into this question
(Chambers, Albright, Kirschbaum, Honigmann, Blayney, and several others
I'm forgetting) suggests that you're basically right: it's very
difficult to generalize with any certainty about arrangements between
theatre companies, playwrights, and printers. Some playwrights actively
pursued the printing of their plays; others claimed to resent it (not
always sincerely). Theatre companies do not seem to have discouraged the
printing of their plays because they thought it would reduce demand for
performances or allow theft by another company. They weren't opposed to
printing per se, but surreptitious printing, which seems understandable,
given the fact that the play was their property and they were entitled
to the 6 pounds it would bring. As Blayney has convincingly shown,
printed plays were not a hot commodity regardless.

Paul E. Doniger asks,

"Is there any evidence from anywhere that suggests that Shakespeare
actually DID have any interest in seeing his plays published? I know of
none, but would be curious (and surprised) to see it."

Honigmann, in The Stability of Shakespeare's Text, argues that the
appearance of the "good" quartos is evidence for Shakespeare's interest.
No one else, he argues, had a significant stake in replacing the "bad"
ones. Not very convincing, perhaps, but there it is.

Don Bloom asks,

"Does anyone have any facts on levels of literacy in general and the
make-up of Shakespeare's audience?"

Andrew Gurr and Ann Jennalie Cook are good on Shakespeare's audience,
which seems to have been a pretty representative cross-section of
society-at the Globe, at least. David Cressy is the best source I've
found on Elizabethan-Stuart literacy, and he estimates a 30 percent
literacy rate for England at this time. The rate for London and other
urban areas was higher, but still well below 50 percent. There are
numerous problems, which he details, with compiling an exact statistic.
And keep in mind that reading and writing weren't necessarily
complementary skills in the period.  Signing their names may have been
the only writing that lots of Elizabethans ever mastered, and some of
those who could only make their mark could probably read some printed
text.

Thanks to all for the stimulating discussion on one of my favorite
topics,

Dave Knauer

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mari Bonomi <
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Date:           Friday, 5 Jan 2001 13:04:13 -0500
Subject: 12.0024 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0024 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

S. Hughes writes:

>That this
>great artist wanted to see his work published in the best possible
>format and as close as possible to his final version seems as much a
>given to me as that he required food and sleep.

May I suggest that it is we, the heirs of his brilliance, who see him as
a great artist.  I am not aware of (and no one has suggested here on
this list, so far as I've read) any evidence that Shakespeare considered
himself a "great artist" or writer.

I am excepting his sonnets and long narrative poems from this statement
and speaking of Shakespeare as writer of plays for performance.

Can anyone point me to such evidence?  Absent something fairly
definitive, I don't see how we can postulate what if anything
Shakespeare wanted done w/ the dramas he crafted... the ideas he cobbled
together into structures to support his company's performances.

Mari Bonomi

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Sunday, 07 Jan 2001 23:30:40 -0500
Subject: 12.0024 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0024 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

.>When would a glover like Shakespeare's father
> have the time to read a play?

Pat Dolan's question is a good one.  I have read someplace that in
Chaucer's time one day in four (Sundays, saints' days, etc.) was a
holiday-no work, time to read.  Does anybody on the list know how the
Reformation affected the workingman's schedule during later C16?

Dave Evett
 

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