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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: February ::
Date of King John
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0325  Thursday, 17 February 2005

From:           Bill Lloyd <
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Date:           Wednesday, 16 Feb 2005 14:34:14 EST
Subject: 16.0268 Date of King John
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0268 Date of King John

I hesitate to extend the debate about the date, performance, etc of
Shakespeare's *King John* since as Michael Egan points out "almost
nothing to do with Shakespeare is 100% certain", but I feel several of
his claims should not go unchallenged.  By the way, I don't think I
"demanded" anything, let alone "impossible levels of proof". I was just
examining the arguments, and their relative weights. Michael feels they
weigh in on his side; for the most part, I don't. (We seem to agree, for
instance, that *Troublesome Reign of King John* [TRKJ] preceded
Shakespeare's play.)

He considers it likely that Meres is referring to TRKJ because it was "a
play everyone seems to have believed Shakespeare wrote or at least
co-authored (which we can document) and which was repeatedly performed
(which we can also document)". To take the second proposition first, his
assertion presumably refers to the 1591 title page's claim that "it was
(sundry times) publicly acted by the Queen's Majesty's Players, in the
honourable City of London". This proves (99%?-- I suppose it could be a
lie) that it was frequently played before 1591, but there is no reliable
evidence it was ever acted again. The reprint of 1611 repeats the claim
almost word for word right down to the parenthetical (sundry times) and
the reference to the long defunct Queen's players, and so is not likely
to have any independent authority. The reprint of 1622 also retains the
parenthetical (sundry times) showing that it too derives from its
predecessor. Both 1611 and 1622 substitute "lately acted" for "publicly
acted" but this is more likely (83%?) to be a publisher's come-on than
an impartial performance record. Authorities on Queen Anne's Men
(1603-19) do not read the 1611 t.p. as a claim that their company (which
had no corporate, personnel, or repertoire connections with the earlier
Queen's company) acted TRKJ.  But perhaps I have missed a performance
record.

"Everyone seems to have believed Shakespeare wrote" TRKJ?  Well, the
1611 t.p. attributes it to "W.Sh." and 1622 to "W. Shakespeare", but
this was long after Shakespeare's name on a title page had been shown to
increase sales of a play. This tacked-on claim should be read in the
context of the t.p. claims of *Thomas Lord Cromwell*, *The Puritan*,
*The London Prodigal* and *A Yorkshire Tragedy*.  It's hard to know if
"everyone" believed the TRKJ t.p. claims, but insofar as some may have
done so, I suspect it was because they were deceived into thinking they
were buying Shakespeare's *King John* [WSKJ] which they had seen at the
Theatre or Globe or Blackfriars. The counting of TRKJ and WSKJ as
equivalent for purposes of copyright is a different issue and hardly
reflects on whether "everyone" thought WS wrote TRKJ. But perhaps I have
missed some other explicit reference linking WS with TRKJ.

As to the discrepancies, contradictions, ghost characters, etc that
Michael Egan feels make WSKJ unperformable... everyone (including
Michael) who has read much early modern drama is aware that such
discrepancies are far from uncommon in printed texts of the period. I
don't see why he thinks the specific discrepancies he finds in WSKJ are
so unusual that they must force the conclusion that it just could not
have been acted (more or less) as it stands. Many scholars now believe
that most plays of the time were not acted exactly in the form in which
they were printed. Most subsequent documented performances of WSKJ,
especially those in the 20th century are (more or less) based on the
Folio text, if that gives any indication as to its stageability. A
competent dramaturge or bookkeeper will have altered whatever was
necessary to be altered.

The proposed pre-1623 references to WSKJ are, as I admitted up front,
not all unassailable; but they are perhaps about what one might expect
to find if what I'll call the conventional position were true-- that
WSKJ was not Shakespeare's most popular play, but it was occasionally
performed by a very popular company, who then included it in the 1623
Folio. I can't prove that it was performed. Michael Egan can't prove it
wasn't. But I don't think that the lack of explicit contemporary
performance records is very telling (there are none for, e.g.,
Coriolanus, Anthony & Cleopatra, All's Well, As You Like It); nor do I
think the state of the 1623 text, or discrepancies in the dramaturgy are
strong arguments that WSKJ "was not performed in its authors lifetime".
It seems to me very unlikely that the savvy King's company would have
not taken advantage of a stageworthy play they had paid for-- and
especially if a rival company were performing TRKJ, in many respects
(more or less) the 'same' play in more pedestrian language.

Bill Lloyd

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