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Home :: Archive :: 2011 :: September ::
Thomas of Woodstock

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0246  Thursday, 29 September 2011

From:         Gerald E. Downs < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         September 24, 2011 2:18:40 AM EDT

Subject:      Re: SHAKSPER: Thomas of Woodstock

 

Woodstock interests me for its possible relevance to general textual issues. I may get a look at Michael Egan's book(s) soon. Though we can't expect the self-published to put a lid on it, one never knows what might resonate in the midst of an over-long presentation. The book is prohibitively expensive. His subsequent papers seem very faulty from my point of view, but his errors (if not his delivery) are of kinds we fall into (and believe in) when scholarship is otherwise misdirected.

 

Arguments here allow hypotheses more realistic, valuable (and complicated) than "either/or" for Woodstock. I've no quarrel with E&V's premise that plays other than canonic test-passers won't be held as Shakespeare. Why some pass the tests and some others don't is another question; might not a play be corrupt enough to fall off the stylometric charts? Aren't we lucky to have a number of plays preserved only in transmissions removed from the author's hand? What of those further removed? Computers are inherently ill-equipped to deal with corruption beyond a (developing) measure. The same may be said of Shakespeareans generally, even though corruption is what it's all about, textually speaking.

 

Participants in this case seem content to treat Woodstock as if it were hot off the author's quill, or faithfully reproduced (and perhaps influenced in that process by the playmaker himself). I guess rather that the play is not the result of unbroken transcription; that authorship claims are premature, if not impossible; and that the real value will be in the study of its transmission. Though a connection with Shakespeare is hypothetically possible, the worth of the manuscript is not to be found in stylometrics but in it’s helping to show how theater was done. There is actually a lot of neglected evidence elsewhere in this regard; a Woodstock interpretation would be better, however, if it waited on other cases.

 

Still, one might begin to see how an alternative approach compares to Michael Egan's assumptions and I have taken note of a few items that I view differently. I'm not much concerned to do battle or to favor one side of an argument between mistaken camps; it's just that I have now read a few Egan specifics. My interests run from trivial artifacts to the very trivial.

 

I have not yet read Mac Jackson's articles or replies: though I plan to disagree with Jackson, I can't approve of Egan's tone when he criticizes Jackson's treatment of Woodstock 's verse: "predetermined," "magically," 'divining," "hilarious," &etc. (Oxfordian XI, 174). It's one thing to talk like this when you're right; if wrong . . . ?

 

Wood     In my apparrell youle say

lanc:      good faith in all                165-6 MSR

 

In my opinion, modernized texts of Woodstock without concurrent access to the MS ms. reprint are very misleading. This citation is in the midst of a discussion of verse and punctuation, wherein Jackson follows Oras, and Egan questions. Of ms. punctuation here, there's none; not a lot elsewhere; what there is, is often insensible. But in this instance the issue is whether the lines constitute a proper iambic pentameter, split between two speakers; so to be counted statistically. Egan says the line does not qualify because the last syllable of 'apparrel' can't be elided, leaving eleven syllables and metrical anomaly. The result, "in my apple", is "incomprehensible."

 

Syncope teems in dramatic poetry of the day. The proposition is not 'apple' but 'appair'l,' as some of us say 'squirreled' in one syllable. There is no surprise in such lines as "And hearing him, thy pow'r had lost his power (rhyming with flower, V&A 944). It is a bit uncommon for a vowel to be elided after the letter 'r,' but 'var'able', (or synizesis, 'var-yable', V&A 967; 'nour'shing'; 'per'l'; 'per'lous'; 'pur'ty'; 'alar'm'. Closer, 'quar(re)ling'; 'war(ra)nted'. In each case the stressed syllable is preserved. The split line works better than the ridicule.

 

Egan is equally hard on Jackson's treatment of 1155-6:

 

Scroop:       Excellent Tresilian!

Bushy:        Noble Lord Chief Justice!

 

[all] Scroo:  excellent Trissillian

Bush:         noble lord chiefe Iustice   MSR

 

Many lines point to a missing author, often in the treatment of speech headings, a productive topic. But here Egan's problem is with the 13 syllables (really, 12; the feminine ending doesn't matter). Jackson suggests that Scroop's line is elided to 5 syllables. Egan observes that "it is almost impossible to deliver excellent in two coherent syllables, Tresilian in three, and even harder in conjunction" (175). I don't know about that. I say ex'lent a lot, often in front of the mirror; it is exampled in Shakespearean verse (so I'm told). Woodstock itself has, on authority of a schoolmaster (who better?),

 

Blanck Charters they are calld

  a vengance on the villayne

I would he were both flead & bauld

  god bless my lord Tressillian

 

Villain was pronounced two ways. If villian, why not Tressillan or Tressillyan? Vill'nous is used. Adding and removing syllables was common. Yet as Egan suggests, verse lines amidst prose (or corruption) are too iffy for statistics, or certainty. English is iambic, with long stretches incidentally rhythmic. Conversely, though verse was highly respected by playwrights, actors were not always so concerned. It depends on the histories of individual texts. Michael Egan is on better ground while questioning the whole idea of statistical treatment of Woodstock and he should not have got personal or denied the possibilities.

 

Egan remarks that "among the many links connecting Anon to Shakespeare is a strong mutual preference for . . . words prefixed with un . . ." (162). I don't believe 'un-' counts are worth much in attribution studies, especially those around Shakespeare's levels. And this "Anon or Shakespeare" business is a mistake if the assumption is to exclude theatrical and transmission histories from the study of corrupt plays.

 

Egan cites Vickers's "illuminating discussion" of hendiadys. OK, it is a very good discussion, but I don't see how it leads to the cited examples from Woodstock: "to see and shun"; "dread and doubtful"; "rude and bitter." None of these, or the others, is hendiadys, or even hendiadat. They are plain old conjunctivitis.

 

These types of argument do not inspire confidence in Michael Egan's voluminous case (I realize of course that the fueling is mutual). I am not too concerned with circular reasoning (his or theirs) because those who think they have made a case naturally come to think that others will agree and that other evidence will be explained by the proposition itself. A writer tires of "if I'm right" perhaps about the same time as readers (if there are any), but often for different reasons.

 

However, at the moment, my doubt accrues on Egan's loosely stated assertions and assumptions about the author's hovering over the Woodstock manuscript. If Egan reports aright, Mac Jackson accepts the ms. as holograph. For reasons partly my own I agree with Frijlinck (MSR) "that the work is that of a scribe . . . and not that of the author himself." Further, I will be hard to convince that any of the alterations to the ms. were done by, or by order of, the author. Yet Egan's comments in that direction, assured as they sound, aren't much in the way of argument.

 

"[T]he copyist was working blindly . . . without any real comprehension of what he was writing. His job was just to get the words down on the page. Later the author or the copyist under his direction would insert speech-heads . . . (158). The first statement is an exaggeration and can't be proved in any sense. We don't know the state of the manuscript copy-text or its origins. And why was the author necessary (and how can he be proved) to be on hand for the adding of speech ascriptions?

 

Why use a dumb scribe in the first place, when an author's fair copy would be less work for everyone? Why make added work by writing a play without speech headings? Did Shakespeare say, "Now write Scroo"? Why couldn't the playing company handle the job? I believe they did, but it was probably not easy.

 

Egan remarks the "evidence of repeated editing, probably by the author himself. For example, someone heavily corrected the word pelting in 'like a pelting farm' . . . tried various alternatives (petty, paltry, etc.) and then deleted the whole passage. This intervention has to be authorial, since it far exceeds any copier's prerogative. . . . [T]he editing took place at an intermediate point, between the MS's first draft and the insertion of speech-heads by or at the direction of the playwright. . . . We must assume . . . that the author spent some time attempting to alter pelting, finally canceling the whole speech . . ." (158-9).

 

But there is no reason to assume the author's presence. Unless the MSR editor is mistaken, it seems the correction to the word (originally peltry, she thinks) is in the same ink as the text, whereas the excision of the speech is in the ink of the added speech headings. The two needn't be connected. For all we know the scribe owned the text; in any case the players controlled it, prerogatives and all. As the pelting corrections are similar graphically and in meaning there is no real reason to assume other than scribal work.

 

In Woodstock "we have the original manuscript, or at least a contempray copy almost certainly checked, edited and sanctioned by the author . . ." (179). All assumption, none likely.

 

"Actual MS, V.iii.4-5

Lanck: So trayterously betrayed.

yorke:  Alacke good man,"

 

Not to nitpick, but there are no capitals and the second line has no comma. Actual should be actual.

 

"Jackson once again 'takes' it, without evidence, that 'The word "traitorously" is effectively trisyllabic: "trait'rously". Maybe so, but my view here and elsewhere is that had the author intended 'trait'rously,' he would have written it" (190).

 

The evidence for 'trait'rously' is abundant. The part lines are surrounded by verse; the iambic verse of the day calls for the trisyllable. But what evidence do we have of the author's intentions on this matter? This is not the author's manuscript. Whether it is a copy of holograph is, to me, exceedingly doubtful. On what evidence do I suppose so?

 

First, I don't assert "my view" absolutely, but speak of alternatives. Alternatives are eliminated by evidence, not blinders. Historians increasingly consider that many dramatic texts have been altered by their theatrical existence outside authorial control. The idea isn't that plays began as community efforts, but the community got ahold of them. I believe the result is more far-reaching than has been thought and that evidence points to an undervalued method of transmission that not only alters texts, but preserves theatrical alterations. That is to say, performances have been recorded. It is surprising to me how well the evidence fits this concept and how often one may entertain it as an alternative explanation that can't be eliminated.

 

I will lightly examine Woodstock in light of the alternative. It might be interesting to some.

 

Gerald E. Downs

 

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