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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: October ::
Shakespeare's "first serious critic" revealed by
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1951  Tuesday, 7 October 2003

From:           Clifford Stetner <
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Date:           Monday, 6 Oct 2003 12:43:52 -0400
Subject:        Re: Shakespeare's "first serious critic" revealed by Stanley
Wells in TLS

It's one thing to find something stuck between the pages of a book, but
I can't suppress a twinge of resentment that any private person should
pointlessly hold onto a document of such potential value to academic
research. But I don't want to discourage someone else who might be
hoarding Cardenio. In any case, I have a couple of observations:

1) Scott's criticism of the verse of RII seems to assume it was written
for "readers," as well as playgoers. He himself discusses it as poetry
with Sidney, Spenser, Daniel, Wyatt, Surrey, and even Chaucer, rather
than as drama (for which he "harbors a degree of contempt" according to
Wells) and quotes the text accurately like someone who has studied it
(which he did, apparently, Gorboduc, the only other play he seems to
have mentioned). This settles the question whether Shakespeare's work
was read (perhaps exceptionally, it being "well conceited" and "very
well-penned") in his own time as literature. Wells puts Scott's interest
in RII down to his being a "literary theorist." Scott, however, seems to
assume that treating it as poetry requires no justification.

2) Scott may anticipate Hanmer's emendation of the lines:

"That when the searchinge eye of heaven is hid
Behinde the globe that lightes the lower worlde "

but he does not consider it an erratum. He recognizes the ambiguity as a
matter of word order, the sense being:

"That when the searchinge eye of heaven [that lightes the lower worlde]
is hid Behinde the globe"

Perhaps the confusion between earth and sun is intentional in a comment
on Aumerle's (and Bolingbroke's) confusion between divine and earthly
power and of hiding sedition from the searching eye of the state?
Assuming the play is written for readers, "let"s and "rub"s can be used
to force closer readings.  Richard seems confused too, as he turns from
his discourse on divine election to question Salisbury about the state
of the troops coming to defend him. The scene is fraught with
ambiguities. Carlisle's claim that "...that power that made you king/
Hath power to keep you king in spite of all" necessarily implies "hath
power to depose you."

3) As Wells observes: "belief that the play about the reign performed by
the Lord Chamberlain's Men on the eve of the 1601 rebellion was
Shakespeare's has been questioned, reasonably enough, in a recent
article by Blair Worden. But Scott's references show at least that it
was familiar to one of the men involved..."

I would add, moreover, that Scott refers to it as the "tragedy of
Richard II" (and never mentions Shakespeare by name) which seems
unlikely if there were more than one tragedy of Richard II on the stage.

Clifford Stetner
CUNY
http://phoenixandturtle.net

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