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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: February ::
Date of King John
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0303  Tuesday, 15 February 2005

From:           Michael Egan <
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Date:           Monday, 14 Feb 2005 13:05:40 -1000
Subject:        Date of King John

William Godshalk writes:

'Michael Egan describes the MS of 1 Richard II in BL. Egerton 1994:
"Anyone who cares to examine it, even in Frijlinck's MSR transcript, can
see that additional hands, probably a series of stage managers and/or
directors, altered, added, subtracted and in various practical ways
amended the text.  Speeches and lines are deleted or inserted, entrances
changed, speech-heads corrected or redistributed, etc."

Let's assume that this manuscript had been presented to George Eld's
compositors. What would they have made of it? Would it be possible that
the printed version would appear to have been set from foul papers
rather than a theatrical playscript? Might we judge that the printed
version could never be acted in its present form?'

Bill's implication is that the texts of King John F1 and 1 Richard II
MS.  are comparably disorganized, and that therefore John F1 may have
been staged after all.  I admire his tenacity in debate, but what he
says does not survive scrutiny. Despite the signs of heavy theatrical
use indicated by alterations to the original,  the MS of 1 Richard II is
perfectly playable and without the contradictions and mistakes in John
previously itemized. For example-to take a detail not yet
discussed-there are no redundant characters like the non-speaking and
non-reappearing Sheriff who shows up in John I.i-clearly another
carry-over from The Troublesome Reign, where he delivers a small but
important speech.

The only major difficulty with 1 Richard II is that an unknown number of
lines from the final scene are missing, probably censored out because
they depicted the deposition of Richard II. Cf. the omitted deposition
scene from Elizabethan quartos of Shakespeare's canonical Richard II.
The irretrievable loss of 1 Richard II's climax may be exactly the
reason it was not included in the 1623 Folio. Most people don't remember
that Richard was deposed not once but twice, the first in 1387 and the
subject of 1 Richard II. Incidentally, this helps to explain one of the
central mysteries of what I prefer to call 2 Richard II--why the king
gives in to Bullingbrook so easily. This question has never been
satisfactorily addressed in literary terms by the critics. However, both
Richard II and the future Henry IV knew what a successful deposition
looked like; in the second play, Richard embraces his fate as an old friend.

--Michael Egan

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