The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0429 Monday, 22 October 2012
Date: October 21, 2012 9:46:04 PM EDT
Subject: Re: LEAR 5.3
Let me return to an unfinished bit o’ thread that just grew to a point where I can talk about it. We were disputing around the last scene in LEAR where the line “Save him, save him” happens immediately after Edgar has mortally wounded Edmund. The Oxford / Norton texts produced by what I’ve come to think of as The Little Rascals of Shakespearean Textual Scholarship take the speech from Albany and give it instead to ALL, like, say, Albany and Goneril and the Herald and the soldier(s) needed in a moment to go out after Goneril (if it is not the Herald who chases ineffectively after her) and who else?
I was indeed surprised when I saw this ALL speech prefix, since Q and F both read, clear as clear can be, “Alb.”
When I checked in the Textual Companion to the Oxford Shakespeare, the coy reference given sends one to Blayney, and then one finds that the cited Blayney work must be The Texts of King Lear and their Origins. So through Interlibrary Loan I got hold of Peter’s magnificent book. And then I spent quite a while with his index, trying to find where he discussed his bold choice of ALL over ALB. Found all kinds of other material, reminders of why he is a real bibliographer and I’m a theatre-guy who digs quarto and folio variants. So I wrote to him. And yesterday, modeling the immense communal generosity I’ve found from most bibliographers, he replied. First off, I learned that his suggestion for ALL was from his unpublished second volume of the LEAR textual study. Oops. Second, Peter’s literary interpretation of Albany’s role, quite other than my own, led him to figure that of all the people on stage at that moment, Albany was the least likely to say about Edmund, “Save him.” Now, yes, Peter Blayney knows more about Early Modern printing than anyone in the bibliographical forest, but his opinions about Albany’s characteristics and whether or not Shakespeare might have given that line to Albany or to ALL are based solely on his taste, not his immense bibliographical acumen.
In citing Blayney’s then (and still) unpublished speculation without his own clear explanation that the idea is indeed speculation, the Little Rascals Oxford/Norton editions throw lit-crit dust as if it were (like so much of Peter Blayney’s published bibliographic analysis) textual gold. (I don’t mean to disparage literary critical ideas, but we really should separate them from verifiable textual fact. ALL in this case is a neat idea; ALB is a fact, or rather several facts in Q and F.)
Does Alb. / All matter all that much? As a director I say “yes.” It can, if you want to give the actor playing Albany yet another chance to demonstrate that Shakespeare is “working” this character richly, densely. I’d tell the actor, following my estimate of Albany quite different from Peter Blayney’s, “Okay, Albany wants Edmund defeated but still alive, so he can rub his nose with the incriminating letter intercepted and given to him before the battle by Edgar.” Ain’t very Christian, now. And I’d want to remind the actor (and our readers of SHAKSPER) that fully half of Albany’s speeches are vividly variant between Q and F but not this one. And that maybe Shakespeare himself played that role. Teach your students how to distinguish theory and evidence. Teach them to verify data. Teach them to love the frissons of characters (no matter if they be ALB or ALL) leaping unexpectedly into an ongoing action. “Irish harpers, learn your trade.” (You too, revision deniers.)