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Home :: Archive :: 2010 :: January ::
Shakespeare's Literary "Intentions"
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0012  Thursday, 7 January 2010

From:       John Briggs <
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Date:       Monday, 28 Dec 2009 18:13:23 +0000
Subject: 20.0626 Shakespeare's Literary "Intentions"
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0626 Shakespeare's Literary "Intentions"

Steve Roth wrote:

 >>>Lukas Erne put the silver spike to it quite decidedly a couple of
 >>>years back:
 >
 >>... Shakespeare showed no interest whatsoever in the publication
 >>of his plays. ...
 >
 >This assertion seems to be the primary argument for the non-literary
 >position. Absence of evidence.

No, the evidence is that Shakespeare took the trouble to publish his 
narrative poems, and *may* have been involved in the publication of the 
Sonnets. There is the positive example of Ben Jonson, who took care to 
edit his plays for publication -- and was mocked for his pains. (There 
is no Ben Jonson industry, as there is little work to do...)

 >>All evidence of revision in Shakespeare's plays points to theatrical
 >>intentions.
 >
 >With apologies to the new bibliographers and their descendants, the
 >"evidence" of revision is so variously construed (by equally
 >well-"considered" scholars) as to be utterly inconclusive. (Look in
 >particular at William Long's work on the handful of extant playhouse
 >manuscripts, and many of the bibliographers' surmises start to look far
 >less convincing.)

Does anyone doubt that the differences between the Quarto and Folio 
"Hamlet", and the Quarto and Folio "King Lear" (where the revisions are 
by Shakespeare himself) are theatrical in origin? (As also the Folio and 
Quarto "Othello" where the revisions are by someone else.)

 >>*We* regard Shakespeare's plays as literature -- the question
 >>is, did he?
 >
 >This we can say with complete certainty: Shakespeare knew that his plays
 >were being read, and that they were being read by his best customers
 >(the inns-of-court men, courtiers, aristocrats, and nobles who could
 >afford 1. the good seats, and 2. to buy books): denizens of the
 >galleries at the Globe, the stage seats at the Blackfriars, and the
 >performances at court.

That doesn't answer the question.

 >(As Erne points out, prior to 1603, every one of
 >his plays that was not somehow constrained -- by a competing/preceding
 >stationer's registration or the like -- was in fact published, generally
 >within a year or two of staging.)

I have no high regard for Lukas Erne, but you appear to be foisting 
views upon him.

 >This does not of course definitively prove who Shakespeare was thinking
 >of when he composed. Each can draw his/her own conclusions from it. But
 >we know what he knew when he was writing.

That defies analysis! It is also another non sequitur: the argument is 
about Shakespeare's plays being *published* as literature (whether in 
print or in manuscript.) Whether or not he "knew" that someone else 
might publish them has no bearing on whether he wrote them as 
"literature" in the absence of any action on his part to edit or publish 
them himself. It relies heavily on our definition of literature -- not his.

 >Erne offers a whole raft of other evidence that you gloss over.

If you feel it has any relevance, indicate briefly what it might be.


John Briggs

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