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Home :: Archive :: 2010 :: January ::
Falstaff in Arthur's Bosom
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0020  Monday, 11 January 2010

[1] From:   Larry Weiss <
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     Date:   Thursday, 07 Jan 2010 22:35:22 -0500
     Subj:   Re: SHK 21.0011 Falstaff in Arthur's Bosom

[2] From:   Gabriel Egan <
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     Date:   Friday, 08 Jan 2010 12:43:49 +0000
     Subj:   Re: SHK 21.0011 Falstaff in Arthur's Bosom


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Larry Weiss <
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Date:       Thursday, 07 Jan 2010 22:35:22 -0500
Subject: 21.0011 Falstaff in Arthur's Bosom
Comment:    Re: SHK 21.0011 Falstaff in Arthur's Bosom

Duncan Salkind's acceptance of Gary Taylor's challenge to make 
convincing sense of the Folio's "table of green fields" by reference to 
backgammon terminology is intriguing.

Here is a more far-fetched notion of my own:

Suppose that <table>refers to a writing tablet (tabula not mensa) and 
<and>should be <[on]>(a plausible misreading), then the image of a pen 
upon a table is apt if some sense can be made of <green fields>. Suppose 
that should be <[Greenfield's]>(also plausible in light of WS's light 
pointing and possible tendency to break up words [cf. Hand D in Sir 
Thomas More]), and that some person named Greenfield was a seller or 
manufacturer of writing tablets; then there might be a topical joke here 
at the expense of the hypothesized merchant. If Greenfield's tables were 
of such a poor quality (inadequately treated ["sized"]) that they caused 
pens to wear out more quickly than usual, the joke is about Falstaff's 
nose becoming dull, or edematous, which I suppose is more plausible than 
a dying man's nose becoming sharper. This fits the common picture of 
Falstaff with a bulbous nose. Or, if <nose>means "penis," dullness 
rather than sharpness is even funnier; and the image of a pen becoming 
flaccid after use is easier to evoke than the contrary. I concocted this 
conjecture as a playful exercise in satirical pedantry, and then I began 
to be charmed by it. Fortunately (or not) the remote possibility 
postulated appears to have been dashed, as Taylor cites Elizabethan 
authority, including medical authority, for the popular idea that a 
dying person's nose becomes sharper, not duller. Can I save the 
conjecture by hypothesizing that Greenfield's writing tablets caused the 
writer's pen to sharpen?

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Gabriel Egan <
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Date:       Friday, 08 Jan 2010 12:43:49 +0000
Subject: 21.0011 Falstaff in Arthur's Bosom
Comment:    Re: SHK 21.0011 Falstaff in Arthur's Bosom

Duncan Salkeld gives the nub of his defence of F's "his Nose was as 
sharpe as a Pen, and a Table of greene fields" (Henry 5, 2.3.16-7).

The word "table", he says, means a point upon a backgammon table. The 
note offering the full version of the argument appeared as "Falstaff's 
Nose" in Notes & Queries 249 (2004): 284-5. I think we can all agree 
that it's possible for Shakespeare to contract the image of "a point 
upon a table" to just "a table". The tricky bit is convincing people 
that unemended "table" makes better sense and is more likely than Lewis 
Theobald's "babbled".

Salkeld makes an argument from grammar: "The Folio capitalizes 
exclusively proper nouns in Hostess Quickly's speech, and the emended 
word was therefore itself originally more likely to have been a noun 
(so, 'Table') than a verb (as in 'babeld')." (p. 285).

But the Folio doesn't do that, does it Duncan? That is, the Folio also 
capitalizes the common (not proper) nouns "Nose", "Pen", and "Table" in 
this speech. Moreover, it capitalizes the adjective "Christome" (meaning 
innocent).

I can't see anything else in the note that goes beyond asserting that 
"Table" is possibly correct because it agrees with the dramatic context, 
and I think everyone will accept that. But remove from your note the 
error about parts of speech and there remains nothing to tip the balance 
of probabilities in your favour. Of course, an editor straining to 
retain "convincing" Folio readings should stick to "table" if she finds 
your note convincing.

Gabriel Egan

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