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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: October ::
Re: Date of Composition of _Othello_
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2313  Wednesday, 10 October 2001

[1]     From:   David Crosby <
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        Date:   Monday, 8 Oct 2001 12:47:39 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 12.2307 Date of Composition of _Othello_

[2]     From:   Steve Sohmer <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 9 Oct 2001 11:17:26 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2307 Date of Composition of _Othello_

[3]     From:   John Briggs <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 10 Oct 2001 12:12:26 +0100
        Subj:   RE: SHK 12.2307 Date of Composition of _Othello_


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Crosby <
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Date:           Monday, 8 Oct 2001 12:47:39 -0500
Subject: 12.2307 Date of Composition of _Othello_
Comment:        RE: SHK 12.2307 Date of Composition of _Othello_

David Bevington, in his 1988 introduction to the Bantam edition, asserts
that Othello was "written seemingly about the time of its performance at
court by the King's men...on November 1, 1604...."

Stanley Wells, in his 1986 introduction to the Oxford Shakespeare
Complete Works, cites the same later limit and mentions that
"information about the Turkish invasion of Cypress appears to derive
from Richard Knolles's _History of the Turks_, published no earlier than
30 September 1603, so Shakespeare probably completed his play some time
between that date and the summer of 1604."

Presumably those who argue for an earlier date dispute the allusions to
Knolles or consider them later interpolations into a play that was
already complete before September 1603. They may also cite apparent
echoes of _Othello_ in the "bad" quarto of Hamlet published in 1603.

Best,
David Crosby

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Sohmer <
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Date:           Tuesday, 9 Oct 2001 11:17:26 EDT
Subject: 12.2307 Date of Composition of _Othello_
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2307 Date of Composition of _Othello_

1603. Next?

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Briggs <
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Date:           Wednesday, 10 Oct 2001 12:12:26 +0100
Subject: 12.2307 Date of Composition of _Othello_
Comment:        RE: SHK 12.2307 Date of Composition of _Othello_

Ernst Honigmann is a brilliant scholar who stands like a colossus over
Shakespearean studies.  Unfortunately, some of his brilliant insights
have caused more chaos over the years than the effusions of more
pedestrian minds.  Two instances which spring to mind are the early
dating of "King John" (before The Troublesome Reign) and the Lancastrian
hypothesis.  The early dating of "Othello" seems destined to join that
group.

The problem of "Othello" is this.  It is widely accepted that the Q text
derives from Shakespeare's "foul papers".  There is similar agreement
that the F text derives from an edited "fair copy", presumably by
Shakespeare himself.  Now, the Willow Song is present in F but not in
Q.  It has "obviously" been cut.  There are several possible solutions
to this, but Honigmann's is that during the preparation of the play the
voice of the boy due to play Desdemona broke, and Shakespeare cut the
song, marking his cut (along with others) in the foul papers.  Honigmann
suggests that Shakespeare was writing "Twelfth Night" at the same time,
and re-assigned the songs there from Viola to Feste (as the same boy was
due to play Viola).  This means that the date of composition of
"Othello" needs to be moved back to that of "Twelfth Night", which in
turn can only be stretched to 1602...

There are, of course, several alternative explanations which could seem
to be more plausible.  Our own Pervez Rizvi has argued that it is, in
fact, the F text which derives from the foul papers, and the Q text is
the edited text, with the Q cuts as, well, cuts.  Another explanation,
which I associate in my mind with Gary Taylor, although it may not be
his, is that the Willow Song is a later interpolation (by Middleton?).
After all, the song is probably not by Shakespeare, and in any case this
is not Verdi...  The re-assignment of the "Twelfth Night" songs may be
due to the presence of Robert Armin, rather than the absence of a boy
singer.

The upshot of all this is that there are multiple explanations for the
problems that Honigmann's solution is supposed to help, and it in fact
causes more problems than it solves!

John Briggs

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