The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0393  Sunday, 11 August 2013


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

Date:         August 8, 2013 7:31:57 PM EDT

Subject:     Who Edited Shakespeare?


In their 1987 SB article about 2H4, John Jowett and Gary Taylor note per consensus that “Q seems to have been set from Shakespeare's foul papers.” Consensus obviates “rough draft” arguments such as are cursorily supplied by Arden2 editor A. R. Humphreys (“. . . the normal evidence . . . . These loose ends and informalities are the accepted signs of the writer’s work-desk”) and Eleanor Prosser (“the text thus reveals most of the signs that point to Shakespeare’s . . . completed draft”).


In his 1998 Oxford edition René Weis agrees there is “considerable evidence to suggest . . . ‘foul papers’.” He lists some of the “many loose ends in Q, and the further fact that in a single stage direction Q provides the irrelevant information that the scene is set ‘within the forrest of Gualtree’ [that] point to ‘the writer’s work-desk’ (Greg, 1955 . . . .)” A hard-working bunch, us writers. Yet Weis doesn’t mention that the ‘unanimous’ (Prosser) consensus went bust with Werstine’s BQ & FP article (SQ, 1990), which effectively calls into question all the pointy loose ends as evidencing Shakespeare’s (or anyone’s) authorial drafts; they don’t appear in holograph Mss. and aren’t good indicators anyhow.


For example, Weis could have shown the first lines of 4.1 along with the set direction:


Enter the Archbishop, Mowbray, Bardolfe, Hastings, within

                               the forrest of Gaultree.

Bish.   What is this forrest calld?

Hast.   Tis Gaultree forrest, and't shal please your grace.


Does this really point to Shakespeare? It’s more likely bad-quarto stuff, where dialogue provides a dopey set direction. The rest of Weis’s citations are also weak; the ‘usual suspects’ won’t do if “foul papers” is to be reargued, especially in light of Werstine’s latest examination of the extant dramatic texts. Saying Shakespeare wrote ‘on’ for ‘one’ not only begs the transmission question, it’s no argument. Bordeaux’s reporter, for instance, uses it plenty: ‘Enter Iohn of Burdiox at on dor / and rossaclere at the tother’.  Citing ‘yeere’ as Shakespearian spelling of ear (to help prove foul-papers) can’t work either. It’s more likely a phonetic and illiterate spelling induced by ‘the ear’ (= the year, much as Bordox’s ‘the yearth’ = the earth). Seeing how 2H4 anomalies add to the “signs,” we see the circularity of the whole schmeer. Q 2H4 is very corrupt. Uncritically accepting foul-paper origins not only allows editors to downplay, or to fail to recognize corruption indicating unauthorized transmission; it forces very strange behavior onto Shakespeare’s desk.


Shakespeare theorists should directly acknowledge their dependence on such iffy ‘seems,’ ‘signs,’ and ‘suggestions,’ especially when their themes are grounded on foul papers provenance. For example, Jowett and Taylor conjecture that a scene missed out in the printing of Q and added later was a revision to the foul papers that got lost in the shuffle. But if copy was not foul papers, that is virtually impossible. And their admonition that “one should be sceptical of ‘theatrical’ adaptation by any agent other than Shakespeare himself” looks a bit gratuitous when their foul papers foundation is received and forwarded with no trace of skepticism. Which may be said of the “Oxford Shakespeare” supposing that Q1 Lear was revised by “Shakespeare himself.” There’s no chance of that if Q1 doesn’t transmit his (very) rough draft. And yet Taylor and Wells declined to make the case for foul papers Lear copy, deferring instead to Blayney’s (which has not appeared, thirty years downline).


On the other hand, acceptance that alternatives to foul papers deserve consideration makes some cases look better. Prosser argued that F 2H4 derives from Q, Q copy, and a free-wheeling reviser. If Q copy was something other than Shakespeare’s own (very faulty) draft—such as a report—access to an authoritative text (as most editors suppose) would have made Q worthless to F production. Instead, F corresponds to Q corruption throughout. If no foul papers, no Shakespeare—except in the distant past. And that applies to Lear, as Stone argues.


I speak of 2H4 because I don’t much like the play; therefore I haven’t paid much attention to it. But the lessons of Bordox, the most valuable of manuscripts, suggest that “signs of foul papers” may really be signs of reporting. So when a playtext is mentioned in another context, such as “Who Edited F,” I may be induced to apply Burdiox to the topic. My conclusion so far, not surprisingly, is that theatrical reporting offers a very good alternative explanation for not-as-bad, but badder-than-you-thought texts. These include some F-only plays, but I haven’t followed up with them either.


Gerald E. Downs 


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