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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: September ::
Shakespeare's "first serious critic" revealed by
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1866  Friday, 26 September 2003

[1]     From:   Stanley Wells <
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        Date:   Thursday, 25 Sep 2003 13:20:15 +0100
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.1860 Hamnet's Death and That Whole Season

[2]     From:   Al Magary <
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        Date:   Friday, 26 Sep 2003 00:11:12 -0700
        Subj:   Shakespeare's "first serious critic" revealed by Stanley Wells
in TLS


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stanley Wells <
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 >
Date:           Thursday, 25 Sep 2003 13:20:15 +0100
Subject: 14.1860 Hamnet's Death and That Whole Season
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.1860 Hamnet's Death and That Whole Season

Some members of the list may be interested in an article in the current
(26 Sept.)  issue of the TLS in which I describe a previously unknown
manuscript of a treatise on poetry of about 1599 which includes a number
of quotations from, and comments on, writings by Shakespeare.

Stanley Wells

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Al Magary <
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 >
Date:           Friday, 26 Sep 2003 00:11:12 -0700
Subject:        Shakespeare's "first serious critic" revealed by Stanley Wells
in TLS

In the September 25 issue of the Times Literary Supplement, Stanley
Wells reveals the author and some of the content of "a new work of
exceptional interest" which "adds to the corpus of Elizabethan
literature."  It is an unpublished manuscript by William Scott (ca.
1579-ca. 1611) entitled "[The Model] of Poesy or the Art of Poesy drawn
into a short or summary discourse." It includes in its 98 pages some
quotations from Shakespeare--though not cited by name--and Scott's
commentary, particularly on Richard II.

"William Scott may with justice be called Shakespeare's first serious
critic," Wells writes.  The entire article is publicly available at
http://www.the-tls.co.uk/this_week/story.asp?story_id=29022

If this sounds intriguing, the intrigue is likely to linger, for the MS,
"previously unexplored by scholars," is "in a private collection whose
whereabouts may not be disclosed."  In what could be interpreted as a
plea, Wells concludes his article with restrained desire:  "It is to be
hoped that his work will eventually be made available for detailed study
in an annotated edition."

In an endnote he acknowledges the assistance of the unnamed owners of
the MS and Dr. Paul Edmondson, Head of Education at the Shakespeare
Birthplace Trust.  Wells, who is chairman of the trust, is emeritus
professor of Shakespeare studies at the University of Birmingham, and
general editor of the Oxford Shakespeare series and the Oxford Complete
Works.

Here is an extract dealing with William Scott's commentary on
Shakespeare:

Perhaps of greatest interest to modern readers are a number of
previously unrecorded allusions to the drama, and especially to
Shakespeare. Scott never refers to him by name, but quotes directly from
his writings. Here too he is not always unequivocally laudatory,
offering the first known criticism of Shakespeare's versification in a
reference to The Rape of Lucrece, first published in 1594: "you must not
have idle attributes only to fill up your metre (saith Scaliger)."  And,
objecting no doubt to the tautology in "endless" and "never-ending," he
quotes line 935 of Shakespeare's poem, "The endless date of never ending
woe[s]," describing it as "a very idle [ interlined stuffed] verse in
that very well-penned poem of Lucrece her rape." Lines from Richard II,
first published anonymously in 1597 but reprinted with Shakespeare's
name on the title page in the following year, come in for only qualified
praise in a discussion of the commonest grace--

"of our speeches and affections . . . , perspicuity - when our words are
as it were thorough clear and transparent to convey the meaning or
conceit to our understanding (as the object to our sense is carried by a
convenient medium, as the school term is) which is by well-sorted usual
words (as we showed before) and by fit and natural knitting of them, so
as having no ambiguous or obscure phrase the reader proceeds without let
or rub to understand what is delivered; the contrary to this may be seen
in him that thus lays down ambiguously a good conceit:

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

This he says is faulty because "One would take it by the placing his
words that he should mean that the globe of the earth enlighteneth the
lower hemisphere". These comments are not merely the first examples of
precise close criticism of Shakespeare's style; they are, if the
Shakspere Allusion Book (Oxford, 1909; admittedly an out-of-date work)
is anything to go by, unparalleled before 1700 at the earliest, even in
the writings of John Dryden. Even more interestingly, Scott's criticism
anticipates an emendation first made by Sir Thomas Hanmer, in 1744, and
accepted by many subsequent editors who, perceiving the logical
incongruity noticed by Scott, attempt to remove it by emending "that" in
the final line to "and". It is however quite possible that this improves
rather than corrects what Shakespeare wrote.

Elsewhere, Scott is less equivocally admiring of Richard II. At one
point he takes up words from the play into his own prose: "besides there
is much sweetness in the witty conceits, apt sentences, proper allusions
and applications to be dispersed in your poem, like so many goodly plots
of lilies and violets strewed all over the new-springing meadows". This
adapts words spoken by the Duchess of York: "Where are the violets now /
That strew the green lap of the new-come spring". And he refers again to
the play in a comparison with Chaucer:

"Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (for aught I see) are to be counted with
these [ie rustic poems, eclogues] and may be named of travellers or
pilgrims, for the vulgar persons and for their manner is much after
this. The gardener in like sort is with a passing good decorum brought
on the stage in that well conceited tragedy of Richard II."

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