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The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0091 Wednesday, 3 March 2010
 From: Gabriel Egan <
 From: Justin Alexander <
John Briggs asks:
>Of course, Shakespeare was passionate about
Francis Meres ranked Shakespeare among the literary greats in 'Palladis Tamia' (1598). Excerpts from his plays appeared in the collections 'Bel-vedere or the Garden of the Muses' (1600) and 'England's Parnassus' (1600). In a quite brilliant essay in Shakespeare Quarterly 59 (2008) pp. 371-420, Zack Lesser and Peter Stallybrass trace the connections between these collections (linked by the circle around John Bodenham), and connect them to the phenomenon of 'common-placing', that is the marking of sententiae, which arose first in respect of prestigious and classical plays. The Bodenham circle was asserting that vernacular plays are literature.
The sententiae in the 1603 bad quarto of Hamlet are highlighted to show the play's literary quality. Q2, Lesser and Stallybrass suggest, was meant to look like Q1 so that undiscerning buyers would be taken in, while discerning ones (who might already own Q1) would spot the improvements and be encouraged to have both. If this is right, we shouldn't treat Q1 (theatrical) as quite unlike Q2 (literary). Our familiar sharp contrast between the literary and the theatrical seems less secure when viewed in this light.
John Briggs wrote: "I have to say that Justin Alexander clearly has a penchant for the Straw Man argument! I clearly wrote (and he quotes) "But Shakespeare wasn't interested in his plays as literature". In case anyone else hasn't noticed, the operative words are "as literature". Alexander chooses to interpret this as "Shakespeare ... must have cared more about the poetry"."
And John Briggs appears to be a pot calling a hypothetical kettle black. I know it's cute to quote things out of context so that you can snipe at them, but I had rather hoped that this mailing list might rise to a slightly higher level of discourse. When you use ellipsis to obfuscate the entire point of the conversation it does you little service.
John Briggs wrote: "The point I am making (and which he is pretending not to see) is that Shakespeare regarded poetry (and especially his narrative poems) as Literature (with a capital L), and that he did not regard his plays as Literature."
A claim for which you have, as I pointed out before, no evidence at all.
John Briggs wrote: "Of course, Shakespeare was passionate about his plays: he spent most of his working life writing them! But he took no interest in publishing them."
Another claim for which you have no evidence at all.
John Briggs wrote: "He regarded performance as more important."
Yet another claim for which you have no evidence at all. And, even if it were true, it wouldn't preclude Shakespeare considering his plays to be literature.
John Briggs wrote: "In the circumstances, it is risible for Alexander to claim that "relatively high quality quarto editions of many of Shakespeare's plays [...] appeared throughout his lifetime". "Relatively" is a fine weasel word! The printing quality varied from reasonably tolerable to execrable."
Yet another misrepresentation of what I wrote. I very specifically said that his plays were published in both good and bad versions throughout his lifetime. But the exact same thing can be said of his poetry. Drawing two different conclusions from the exact same set of data is illogical.
John Briggs wrote: "Of course Shakespeare wrote his own dedications to Southampton, and wrote them specially for the printed publication..."
There's certainly no reason to doubt that Shakespeare wrote the dedications. But, as I pointed out before, there's no evidence that he wrote either the poems or the dedications especially for publication.
Which is, of course, my point: You have weaved an entertaining narrative, but you have done so out of thin air and wholecloth. It may be true. But it is just as likely that it is not. That is the beauty (and the curse) of such empty theorizing.
John Briggs wrote: "... the convention was that patrons rewarded the author with a suitable monetary gift (or so the author hoped!) upon publication."
The existence of this "convention" is, of course, hypothetical. But even if it's true (and it may well be so), your theory would appear to be that Shakespeare thought of his poems as literature because he wouldn't have gotten paid unless he published them. I'm not really sure I'm seeing the connection. This logic would seem to require defining the word "literature" to mean "work for hire". That's an odd definition to use in any case, and particularly given the context implied by this conversation.
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