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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: January ::
Lukas Erne and King Lear
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0042  Wednesday, 7 January 2004

From:           Gerald E. Downs <
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Date:           Wednesday, 7 Jan 2004 02:29:29 EST
Subject:        Lukas Erne and King Lear

In his chapter '"Bad" quartos and their origins' Lukas Erne grapples
with but doesn't explain the origins of these publications. The scholars
he cites for their "economic arguments" are not really very origin-al.
Though Erne credits recent speculations as somehow progressive, they
lead him to this statement:

    This is not to claim that a master key to the "bad" quartos has
    been found that explains how exactly they came into being.
    On the contrary. There is little hope, I believe, of recovering what
    specific effect various agencies had upon the differences between
    the "bad" and the "good" texts. (218)

I believe some keys to the bad quartos have been found but Erne and most
other recent scholars have for various reasons minimized their
importance. This is not always easy to demonstrate because the issues
are complex and made more so by recent misdirection.
Erne notes:

    The theory that the manuscript from which Q1 [King Lear] was set
    up goes back to a shorthand report had numerous supporters . . .
    and has recently had a comeback. The length of Q1 King Lear
    strongly militates against the possibility, however, that the text
    goes back to a transcription of a performance. (186)

Erne rightly attributes the "comeback" of the shorthand theory to Adele
Davidson's recent articles. Readers may notice that his only argument
against Davidson is (after all) non-argument: Q1 is too long to be a
report of an actual performance because Erne has argued in earlier pages
that Shakespeare's plays were always shortened. Or, "Davidson is wrong
because Erne is right."

Those more impressed with Davidson's insights may be inclined to say:
"The evidence that Q1 derives from a report strongly militates against
the possibility that all Shakespeare's plays were shortened for
performance." This issue should have been addressed in Erne's chapter,
"why size matters", where pertinent argument against his position ought
to have been aired in detail.

Erne is to be commended for citing Davidson but he does so in such
fashion as to discourage investigation and to sidestep confrontation.
Adele Davidson has effectively returned to a promising solution to the
origin of many bad quartos. She does not claim to have shown Q1 to have
been a report of performance, but that inference can hardly be avoided.
When Erne considers a shorthand derivation for Q1 HV, he says, "Duthie's
_Elizabethan Shorthand_ largely silenced any such claims." (200)
'Largely' is not necessarily 'completely.'
Davidson noted:

    "In analyzing Elizabethan shorthand, Duthie tackled an abstruse
    subject, and students of Shakespeare have referred to Duthie's
    work without examining fully either Willis's system or Duthie's
    own methods and conclusions. . . . I wish to emphasize the
    limitations of Duthie's study and the consequent necessity for
    further research. (Stenography Reconsidered, 79)

The nature of the manuscript behind Q1 Lear has been debated for many
years. It remains the most important answerable question in the study of
Shakespeare's text. For the last twenty years the dominant topic has
been Shakespeare's supposed revision of Lear, following what might be
called the "Stockdale, Will, Will Formula":
Last things first; first, last; muddle.

For example, in a fifteen-page 1995 SQ article, "Revision Awry in Folio
Lear 3.1," Richard Knowles effectively criticizes "revisionist"
scholars, but devotes only part of one sentence to Q1 provenance, "most
probably derived from a much reworked rough draft." (32)

In a 56-page article ten years before, Gary Taylor states near the end:
"If Q1 is a "bad quarto," then Q -- and hence F -- is pervasively
corrupt." (PBSA 79, p. 73). But I would go further. If Q1 is a bad
quarto, F derives from Q1. That's why it is important to determine the
provenance of Q1.

Lukas Erne agrees that Q1 copy was Shakespeare's "foul papers," though
he offers no argument:

    Peter Blayney, Michael Warren, Steven Urkowitz, and Gary
    Taylor have made a strong case for the authority of the first
    quarto of King Lear, thereby disposing of earlier theories that
    had little to recommend themselves. (185)

Urkowitz argues in favor of foul papers, notably in _Shakespeare's
Revision of King Lear_. What do critics say of his "strong case"?

Richard Knowles:
    Urkowitz prefers relatively simple copy for Lear  -- foul papers for
    Q1 . . . I do not think that the clumsy mislineation of verse in Q1
    has yet been satisfactorily accounted for.

Philip Edwards:
    I cannot think Q was printed directly from the foul papers.

S.W. Reid:
    The first and last chapters of this book are . . . the weakest.
    The discussion of this particular point [Q1 copy], not entirely
    tangential to the main argument . . ., is a little less than lucid.
    There is a slight tendency . . . to rely unquestioningly on
    traditional concepts of Shakespeare's manuscripts that do
    not really fit the case. [Urkowitz's] use of certain critics to
    establish that Q1 represents an early Shakespearean draft
    cannot help but strike one as a bit facile.

Paul Werstine:
    Until the mislined verse in [Q1] is convincingly traced to
    compositors, Urkowitz's claim that printer's copy was
    Shakespeare's manuscript will be hard to accept.

These criticisms make it imperative for Lukas Erne to give his own
reasons for accepting foul papers as Q1 copy. Supportive citations are
made weighty by argument. One may suppose that a list of scholars
somehow makes a bad argument good, but it's often just a bad sign.

Oddly enough, Erne's list shows how poorly recent scholarship has
addressed the all-important Q1 Lear provenance when he extends a series
of citations that is revealing for unintended reasons. Here is a partial
chronology:

1985: T.H. Howard-Hill, "The Challenge of King Lear" _The Library_,
reviewing  _The Division of the Kingdoms_

    By the 1980 Seminar it was well-known that Peter Blayney's
    rigorous analysis of Q1 concluded that it was set up in print from
    Shakespeare's own foul papers. . . . Because the second volume
    of Blayney's great work remains to be published we can only
    assume that Q1's memorial errors are scribal, or, more likely,
    compositorial. (166)

1987: John L. Murphy, "Sheep-Like Goats . . . " PBSA, Another negative
review of _Division_, quoting Stanley Wells:

    "Blayney, in the prospectus to his two-volume study . . . concludes
    that copy for the Quarto was a much altered autograph manuscript
    containing the 'unpolished' but near-final text . . .." Not only has
this
    view won the day, it has displaced the dominant view [that] the
    copy-text of Q is a reported text. . . . When one sets aside this
    view . . . consequences of the most far-reaching sort emerge. (54)

1997: R. A. Foakes, Arden 3 King Lear:

    Although [Blayney] was not concerned to try to identify the nature
    of the manuscript from which Q was printed . . . . (120)

1997: T.H. Howard-Hill, "The Two-Text Controversy" in _Lear From Study
to Stage_

    The consensus established by Warren, Urkowitz, Taylor, Blayney,
    and others understands that Q1 prints Shakespeare's early draft
    of King Lear. (35)

2000: John Jowett: "After Oxford: Recent developments in textual
studies," in _The Shakespearean International Yearbook_

    Quarto King Lear used to be regarded as a superior example
    of a memorially contaminated text, but that view is not often
    heard today. Opposing it is the impressive authority of Peter
    Blayney's work . . . . The revision theory would be vulnerable
    without Blayney's conclusion that the Quarto is for a number
    of reasons an unusually poor piece of printing. Once the
    compositor's propensity to err is taken into account, no
    substantial barrier remains to viewing the copy for Q1 as an
    authorial draft. (78)

2003: Lukas Erne again cites Blayney by name, but no note.

However, Robert Clare's adaptation of his acclaimed article, "Quarto and
Folio: A Case For Conflation" (in _Lear From Study to Stage_) contains
this warning:

    Two important textual studies of King Lear have been undertaken
    in the last fifteen years. In one, P.W.K. Stone argued in favor of
    revision, but by another hand . . . . In the other, P.W.M. Blayney
    investigated the working conditions and practice of Q's printer,
    Nicholas Okes. He did not deal with the text of Q itself, or with
    the textual implications of his findings, which are promised in a
    second volume (still to be published, thirteen years later). Given
    their contention that Q should be considered authoritative, it is
    worth noting that nowhere do the revisionists satisfactorily
    explain in terms of textual transmission the inferior phraseology
    and the baffling and inconsistent imperfections of lineation that
    sporadically mar its text . . . (81)

It is now twenty-one years since the publication of Blayney's first
volume, and for twenty-one years grown scholars have cited him as
authority for an argument that hasn't been published: "we can only
assume. . .  the revision theory would be vulnerable without Blayney's
conclusion . . . when one sets aside this view . . . " But isn't a
conclusion vulnerable without an argument to go with it? Can a
pronouncement alone set aside an opposing view?

These citations, which affirm the main source of opinion in respect of
"foul papers" Q1 copy and represent the backup to flawed earlier
contentions, can be nothing but fallacious appeals to authority.  How
can they be otherwise? Yet they represent the absolute basis for
theories positing Shakespeare as reviser of Folio Lear.

Ten years ago, in a fit of activity similar to the current one, I wrote
to Howard-Hill (perhaps forgetting the stamp) with this same objection:

    You have stated that "At the time his book went to press Stone
    apparently did not know of Blayney's conclusion about Q1 copy,
    for he maintained the position that Q was a report . . ." and that
    "Because the second volume . . . remains to be published we can
    only assume . . . [quoted above]" You seem to have assumed that
    Blayney is correct without having heard his argument. . . . You
    apparently suggest that Stone would have changed his mind had
    he only heard of Blayney's conclusion. Yet Stone arrived at his
    conclusion of a report through . . . open reasoning and by facing
    up to the corruption of Q. . . .

Professor Stone doesn't get a mention in Erne, but _The Textual History
of King Lear_ (1980) is by far the most lucid treatment of the subject
yet. Read in conjunction with Davidson, his research deserves wider
attention. The subject of King Lear is badly done by Erne, though of
great importance to his case.

Gerald E. Downs

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