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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: October ::
Re: Date of Composition of _Othello_
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2344  Monday, 15 October 2001

From:           David Crosby <
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Date:           Friday, 12 Oct 2001 11:54:40 -0500
Subject: 12.2334 Re: Date of Composition of _Othello_
Comment:        RE: SHK 12.2334 Re: Date of Composition of _Othello_

Tony Burton objects to using references to "verbal echoes Shakespeare
may have stolen from himself" as evidence in trying to determine the
dating of Othello. He continues:

"We are not talking about two different authors, one of whom was
creative and the other a magpie. Shakespeare's inner creative vision
gave rise to both examples (in every such case), and HE is the authentic
source of each one.  To say that he copied, echoed, or borrowed from the
earliest example of a particular expression is entirely absurd,
especially in light of the problematic issue that we don't know whether
he had written copies of his scripts lying around to which he could
refer."

Since I am the one who introduced this notion into the discussion,
perhaps I should try to clarify it a little. First of all, I was not
proposing nor defending the thesis that Shakespeare borrowed from
Othello in composing Hamlet, merely reporting that some scholars have
cited this as a factor in trying to establish a pre-1604 date for
Othello (the notion goes back at least to Alfred Hart in the 1930s). But
this use of the texts is not as absurd as Tony Burton argues.

The Hamlet text in question is Q1, which is still generally conceded by
editors to be a very corrupt text: either the product of memorial
reconstruction (not a fashionable notion just now, but still a possible
interpretation), or, as the Oxford edition describes it, "...a very
imperfect report of an abridged version of the revision." All modern
editions I am familiar with reject Q1 as having any textual authority,
and base their texts either on Q2 or F.

Since we don't really know how the text of Q1 was cobbled together, it
is unwise to assert, as Burton does, that "Shakespeare's inner creative
vision gave rise to both examples" and that "HE is the authentic source
of each one." If Q1 is a memorial reconstruction, the "echoes" of
Othello may very well not have come from Shakespeare's "inner creative
vision" but from the faulty memory of an actor or auditor who was
familiar with both plays. In which case, Othello would have had to exist
by 1603 when Q1 was published.

If the textual critics have taught us anything in the last century, I
think it should be a certain skepticism about what exact words
Shakespeare wrote, when he wrote them, and how they got onto the stage
and into print. Sweeping assertions about "authentic" sources are not
very helpful.

Dave

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