The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0319 Thursday, 3 May 2007
Date: Monday, 23 Apr 2007 00:41:36 -0700
Subject: That "New" Poem by Shakespeare
Friday and over the weekend a couple of London papers gushed about a "new"
poem by Shakespeare (Google News collection at http://tinyurl.com/2lvwnv).
The poem was apparently found 30 years ago by two American scholars,
William Ringler and Steven May, who were searching through collections of
British court poetry. The news, it seems, is that the 18-line poem,
called "To the Queen" or "'To the Queen by the Players," has been given
scholarly imprimatur and included in the new edition of the complete works
informally called the "RSC Shakespeare," edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric
Rasmussen (published in US by Modern Library at $65, in UK by Palgrave
Macmillan at 30).
The poem was read on BBC Radio 4 Saturday but the actual text has been
difficult to find online. Here it is, followed by Bate's blog comments
about the to-do.
'To the Queen'
As the dial hand tells o'er
The same hours it had before,
Still beginning in the ending,
Circular account still lending,
So, most mighty Queen we pray,
Like the dial day by day
You may lead the sessions on,
That the babe which now is young
And hath yet no use of tongue
Many a Shrovetide here may bow
To that empress I do now,
That the children of these lords,
Sitting at your council boards,
May be grave and aged seen
Of her that was their fathers' queen
Once I wish this wish again,
Heaven subscribe it with
Bate wrote Friday on the book's blog (http://palgrave.typepad.com/rsc/)
this note on the poem's provenance and the flurry of publicity:
The one "new" poem -- poem not firmly attributed in any previous edition,
not modernised in spelling and placed with the other poems -- in which we
have faith is "To the Queen by the Players".
Unusually, this has both internal and external evidence for attribution.
Externally, it can be tied with precision to the performance given by
Shakespeare's acting company before the queen at Richmond Palace on 20 Feb
1599. Internally, its metre, grammar and vocabulary are all deeply
Shakespearean (note especially the genitive-without-an-apostrophe, "their
father queen", and compare "my father house" in Antony and Cleo).
So we're the first edition to give it true canonical status (Oxford
ignores it, Riverside and Norton bung it in the back in old spelling with
assorted background documents). It was Jim Shapiro's book 1599 that made
me think it was worth investigating the attribution in detail. We arranged
for it to be read on the "Today" programme tomorrow [Saturday] morning by
RSC actor Geoffrey Streatfeild, the conceit being that it is Queen
Elizabeth II's birthday and here is a little-known poem by Shakespeare in
honour of Queen Elizabeth I.
But the result of announcing the upcoming broadcast was that a single
journalist got the wrong end of the stick and published on the newswire
that we'd found a hitherto unknown Shakespeare poem.
The real story is less dramatic, though still a story: on considered
reflection we have upgraded a poem discovered some thirty years ago from
dubia to canonical status. What is scary is how within minutes of the
exaggerated story being put onto the wire, I had tabloid journalists from
several national papers on the phone.
But for some rapid news management, a false story would have been flashed
around the world. I hope the story will now be reported modestly and
accurately, but the way that it nearly went big without good cause shows
how Shakespeare's cultural capital is close to an all-time high.
[End de Bate]
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