The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0725 Thursday, 18 March 2004
From: Gerald E. Downs <
Date: Wednesday, 17 Mar 2004 18:16:55 EST
Subject: Hamlet, 2 Harry 4, Lukas Erne
Lukas Erne hypothesizes in _Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist_ (as
possible reason for the century-end reduction in publication of
Shakespeare's plays) that the dramatist meant to collect his works for
publication -- as his fellows lamented his missed opportunity, and as
Jonson achieved for himself in 1616 (an example Jonson must have had in
mind when he wrote the players' Folio blurb).
It is the nature of an hypothesis . . . that it assimilates every
thing to itself . . . . This is of great use.
That's one man's opinion, but it describes Erne's agglomerative method.
No stone is left unmentioned, though the skeptical reader (turning them
over himself) may not approve the mosaic. Erne says, for example:
Anyone who argues that Shakespeare died unmindful of his
plays' afterlife and that plans for a folio edition did not take shape
until after his death would have to account for all those texts
which were not simply set up from "good" quarto editions. (113)
As everyone knows, some quartos served as copy for F plays; but a few
quartos not condemned (in modern times) as "bad" were not used directly
in the printing of F. Erne implies that these "not bad" quartos weren't
needed because Shakespeare had in some way prepared manuscript copy for
the printing of those particular plays.
Erne does not argue this point, which apparently seems to him
incontestable, but says that anyone who questions his conjecture that
Shakespeare actively planned a collection must explain the use of
manuscript copy when a quarto was available. Thus Erne takes these plays
as evidence without his own justification:
After all, it would have been easy enough to base plays like
_Hamlet_, _Troilus and Cressida_, and _2 Henry IV_ on the
"good" printed editions. It is surely suggestive that the hand of
a "literary editor" can be detected in the [F text of 2H4] . . .(113)
Well, what of these texts? In _Shakespeare's Anonymous Editors_ (1981),
a study of the differences between Q & F 2H4, Eleanor Prosser says:
I thus propose that the copy for the Folio text of 2H4 consisted
of a transcript based solely on Qa and Shakespeare's foul
papers. For some reason, the transcript was prepared for a
reader of exclusively literary tastes. It was not prepared to serve
as copy for the Folio, an inference that seems self-evident in
light of the unique sophistication of the text. . . . Solely on his
own authority, he extensively revised the dialogue . . . (17)
By "foul papers," Prosser means the same manuscript that served as Q
copy. She made no attempt to justify the designation "foul papers," but
accepted prior judgment, concentrating instead on the relationship
between F and Q.
So, if Prosser is credited, Q 2H4 was used at one remove as copy for F.
Because the editions exhibit so many differences introduced by an
"editor" virtually obsessed with improving the text, one must assume
that direct use of the lowbrow quarto was precluded, and suppose the
"literary" hand was quite readable. What circumstance occasioned the
manuscript, and how it came to be used as copy, we may not learn. But it
wasn't Shakespeare "mindful of the play's afterlife."
Hamlet is a more involved and interesting question, as usual. It is
hard to imagine a Shakespeare who didn't care about the future of this
play, but that's not the issue. The question is: does the evidence we
have support conjecture that the author took an active role in its
publication? This may be addressed by any number of citations, but my
direction of approach will be limited.
It is certain that the manuscript behind F Hamlet did not derive
directly from Q2. But the quarto was extensively used as copy and as a
supplement to F copy. Obviously, the printer was under no compunction to
rely solely on the manuscript.
In his SQ article "The Textual Mystery of Hamlet," the careful scholar
Paul Werstine writes:
The only . . . grounds for privileging Q2 and F with unassailable
integrity would be evidence that each is independently linked to
Shakespeare. While the historicity of the variants discussed in
this paper is evident from the printed documents themselves,
just as the historicity of the playwright Shakespeare is well
documented, there is no document to link the variants to the
playwright. As purely aesthetic patterns the variations . . . can
have no claim to historicity . . . . To claim that such patterns
must originate with Shakespeare is to abolish the distinction
between history and aesthetics. (24)
Yet no matter how much the concept of Shakespeare the author
is distended, it fails to include the publication of the Folio . . . .
Such an attempt to force the Folio text to yield up the history
of its transmission merely reveals the persistence of the same
desire to recover lost origins that produced the more conventional
accounts . . . To project all the Q2/F variants upon Shakespeare
is to substitute one fiction of origin for another. (25)
Some of the Q2/F variants, however, can be useful in helping to judge
Erne's suggestion that Shakespeare actively prepared copy for F Hamlet.
Erne cites the title page of _Duchess of Malfi_, where Webster twice
refers in the dedication to his play as a "poem." Erne seems to find
more significance in the use of that word than Webster probably meant to
convey. Granted, a play in blank verse may be called a poem, if waxing
hifalutin, but the thing's a play, isn't it? Erne's artificial
distinction suggests that a version the author approved for print would
restore theatrical cuts. But it seems too that theatrical additions
would be removed, especially if they damaged the "poem."
Harold Jenkins in the Arden 2 Hamlet addresses actor's additions:
That the habits of the actors have indeed left their mark upon F
appears from a further category of variant. There are little scraps
of dialogue incorporated in F for which Q2 gives no warrant. These
are . . .That all these and others like them are additions in F rather
than omissions in Q2 follows from the fact that their absence does
not impair the sense while their presence sometimes vulgarizes
the dramatic effect or damages the metre. . . .
The notion that the actors' deviations and elaborations might be
deliberately recorded in the promptbook has, not surprisingly,
been ridiculed; but with a simple theory of promptbook origin
inadequate to account for F, other hypotheses are possible,
and the difficulty of explaining, with this as with some other Folio
texts, how the actors' modifications came to be incorporated
must not prevent our accepting that they did. (63-4)
The number and variety of instances of such corruption cited by Jenkins
is to me convincing, and they raise a couple of issues in respect of
Erne's theories. First, since these additions arise in the theater and
seem to be instanced throughout the F text, how can they be reconciled
to Erne's assertions that the full text was never played? Would actors'
interpolations have any reason for being in those parts of the text not
Second, the numerous interpolations destroy the meter, which is the
defining characteristic of a blank verse "poem." If that is the case,
how could a "literary dramatist" actively engaged in preparing his work
for the press allow such unnecessary and destructive additions to stay?
Would he actually transcribe them himself? Erne must surely say no, but
there they are.
Erne indirectly addresses the same issue for Q2 itself:
. . . the second quarto of _Hamlet_ . . . stresses on its title
page that it was printed "according to the true and perfect
Coppie" and gives no evidence of performance. (76)
Whether Q2 shows evidence of performance is debatable, though I suppose
it isn't debated. Consider 1.1.128ff, where Horatio confronts the ghost:
But soft, behold, loe where it comes againe
Ile crosse it though it blast mee : stay illusion,
If thou hast any sound or vse of voyce,
. . . if there be any good thing to be done
That may to thee doe ease, and grace to mee,
. . .
If thou art priuie to thy countries fate
Which happily foreknowing may auoyd
. . .
Or if thou hast vphoorded in thy life
Extorted treasure in the wombe of earth
For which they say your spirits oft walke in death.
Speak of it, stay and speake, stop it Marcellus.
An eloquent, metrical appeal. Where I've left three dots,
Q2 has: Speake to me,
Speake to me.
These words are premature, redundant, and disruptive of the meter. The
"poem" seems better off without them. No doubt they may be effectively
delivered onstage and might easily "suit the action," but they
categorically qualify as evidence of performance. One may reasonably be
of the opinion that Shakespeare is not responsible for them.
In 1923 Van Dam noted the categories:
Insertions . . . are rendered conspicuous by more or less
characterisitc peculiarities. They are redundant, they break
the metre, they are inferior, and -- what is no less important
-- they suit some purpose.
The first two tests are absolute. It is, in most cases, easy to
determine whether words and short sentences are redundant;
it is not so easy to determine, however, whether they are at
variance with Shakespeare's blank verse . . .
The test of inferior quality is not absolute, it only holds in
general, and we must allow for exceptions. No author, not
even Shakespeare, is always free from imperfection. Besides,
the test of inferiority entirely depends upon the point of view of
the critic. . . .
Without a definite purpose no one will add anything to a text
written by another. Whoever does so must have intended to
improve the text . . ., or at least to adapt it to a definite object
. . . . As this object need not always have been the same, we
shall be able to classify interpolations . . .
Insertions to suit the acting . . . Explanatory insertions . . .
Smoothing insertions . . . Insertions to avoid giving offense.
Van Dam's many examples are hard to deny on the whole and it is wrong to
say that Q2 shows no evidence of performance. One may not accept the
evidence, but it is there. Should it be accepted and combined with the
interpolations in F, I think it is difficult to avoid the inferences
that Hamlet was played in full and that the received texts are not the
author's literary versions but copies that passed somehow to the press
from the theater -- without capability of proof that Shakespeare took
part in the process.
Lukas Erne takes advantage of the reasonable assumption that
Shakespeare, as resident playwright, would have actively worked to
produce his plays in print. But his attempt to prove the assumption
ignores too much evidence to the contrary. It's too bad that Erne's
book is receiving uncritical, perhaps anti-critical, approval.
Gerald E. Downs
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook,
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>
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