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The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0245 Thursday, 29 September 2011
Date: September 22, 2011 9:30:43 PM EDT
Subject: Re: SHAKSPER: H5 Finding
Theobald’s “famous emendation” is brilliant; but I wonder if it is correct. The following conjecture, which I admit is farfetched and perhaps whimsical, might be worth checking for possible historical support, as it preserves a great deal more of the copytext: 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 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.) I wonder if it is possible to research whether there was an Elizabethan stationer named Greenfield. If so, it is likely that Shakespeare had dealings with him, or at least knew of his reputation. This speculation is not affected materially by the suggestion that these lines contain bawdy allusions. In fact, 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. But the remote possibility postulated here appears to have been dashed, as Gary Taylor's individual Oxford edition of the play cites Elizabethan authority, including medical authority, for the popular idea that a dying person’s nose becomes sharper, not duller. Can this conjecture be saved by hypothesizing that Greenfield’s writing tablets caused the writer’s pen to sharpen?