The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0959 Sunday, 29 October 2006
From: Gerald E. Downs <
Date: Friday, 27 Oct 2006 00:28:19 EDT
Subject: 17.0929 Ron Rosenbaum's The Shakespeare Wars
Comment: Re: SHK 17.0929 Ron Rosenbaum's The Shakespeare Wars
Larry Weiss objects to this interpretation of his words
>>When Weiss suggests that Blayney's opinion has "come down to
>>us by oral transmission" he seems to be saying that an informal
>>written (not oral) repetition of one man's opinion may serve
>>as the foundation of the most-discussed textual question of
>>the last thirty years.
>I merely paraphrased the point that Downs made.
And I tried to paraphrase Weiss's point, where he says that I begin "by
taking Rosenbaum to task for implying . . . that Blayney's rejection of
the memorial reconstruction theory of Q1 was expressed in Volume 1 of
Blayney's work, when in fact it was intended to be developed in the
abortive Volume 2 and has come down to us by oral transmission."
Admittedly, I didn't grasp what is meant by "oral transmission" other
than to assume Weiss meant that various scholars at the center of Lear
scholarship were repeating each other in accepting Blayney's announced
conclusion. If so, then Rosenbaum may be legitimately faulted for
accepting the conclusion himself (without having seen the argument)
while noting that subsequent theory depends on it. If Rosenbaum may not
be faulted, then it is OK for scholars to base their own theories on
announcement rather than reasoned argument.
>In fact, after reading Rosenbaum's book I am left with the
>impression that he also has no strong opinion on the subject.
Rosenbaum falls back on his theatrical sense to offer a cloudy
conjectural use of Pericles to favor (I think) Lear's last words in F,
but not to "claim to have resolved the problem" (154). However, he
emphasizes the importance of the textual case for two Lears:
"And so what I believe are absolutely absorbing and consequential
developments in Shakespearean scholarship have not been made
well known to the general public. This is one modest aim of the book.
For instance, most well-educated people I've spoken to outside the
academy were unaware that there may be two Lears" (xiv).
"Believe me, I've wrestled with the question for some years" (117)
"It's fascinating to me that controversy over the two Lears and
revision hasn't broken out into the public realm among educated
non-specialists. The apparent unsolvability of the two-Lear
problem is a . . . breach in literary culture . . . . I use the term
"scandalous" for this situation . . . . It's something worth caring
Sounds like strong opinion to me.
>All I did was to point out that Downs was unfair to Rosenbaum
>by carping that he omitted the kind of extreme detail which
>might be appropriate in a scholarly monograph but is out of
>place in the kind of book Rosenbaum wrote. Downs evidently
>has a strong opinion on the Lear matter that leads him to object
>to Rosenbaum's description of one side of the controversy --
>Rosenbaum also presented the other side. I have no idea what
>inspires Downs to be so heated, perhaps he will tell us. But,
>as I have lost interest in this combat, I now withdraw from the
>arena. Ron Rosenbaum is well equipped to defend himself if he
>thinks it is necessary.
Looks like I'll have the last word. I suppose authors are reluctant to
discuss their work on Internet groups. Rosenbaum's book led me to
comment; wasn't hot then, nor am I now. In some of his same topics I
long ago took interest, much as the 'non-specialist' Rosenbaum hopes to
I do have opinions on the controversies, but didn't offer any. My
comments were to correct a Rosenbaum mistake and to express
disappointment that he did not notice another error. These errors are
not in doubt; when repeated or passed over they obscure the topic
Rosenbaum has studied diligently. I did express the opinion that he did
not seem well-read on the Lear revision theory. But then, neither do the
theorists. This impression may have been caused, now that I think of
it, by the difficulty of the subject-matter, when 'well-read' and
'well-versed' are not synonymous. For example, Rosenbaum read Lear From
Study to Stage, containing Robert Clare's excellent article, "Quarto and
Folio", where we find:
"[Blayney] did not deal with the text of Q itself, or with the textual
implications of his findings, which are promised in a second
volume (still to be published, thirteen years later). Given their
contention that Q should be considered authoritative, it is worth
nothing that nowhere do the revisionists satisfactorily explain
in terms of textual transmission the inferior phraseology and
the baffling and inconsistent imperfections of lineation that
sporadically mar its text--an inferiority that created for Greg at
least "the difficulty of believing that Shakespeare writing at the
height of his powers, could ever have written the clumsy and
fumbling lines in Q, or that these could in general represent
a stage in the development of F" (81).
Up to the Greg quote this is a very good, succinct remark.
Unfortunately, Rosenbaum may have taken the typo literally, where
Clare's intended "worth noting" was "worth nothing" when caution about
Blayney's unpublished book was not heeded: a caution not of an "extreme
detail" but of the foundation of the structure of Lear revision theory.
One cannot be wrong to note the failure to argue an essential stance, as
I believe major scholars have been somewhat embarrassed by the
diminishing returns of Blayney's prospectus. After all, when Howard-Hill
leaned on it in 1986 no one doubted publication. As the years wear on,
references become more circumspect. I suspect that will continue until .
. . when?
The 'general reader' is outranked, though most acknowledge a
responsibility to the class. In respect of which, John R Searle recently
remarks: "There are risks to writing such a book: among the worst things
we can do is to give readers the impression that they understand
something they do not really understand, that something has been
explained when it has not been explained, and that a problem has been
solved when it has not been solved" (Mind, 2004, 10).
For the most part Ron Rosenbaum conscientiously stresses to his reader
the ongoing nature of controversies that are more often treated as
settled or inconsequential. On a secondary level he can be fairly
criticized here and there for giving readers a wrong impression, though
I believe that is a function of his experience and not his attitude.
Contending scholars are often less reliable.
Gerald E. Downs
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
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