MV Dialog

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.3784  Friday, 28 August 2015


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

Date:         August 27, 2015 at 2:23:42 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: MV Dialog


“The Chebyshev inequality is not a formula that you can use to calculate things with. It’s a law that probabilities obey.”


Damn!  All along I thought it was a Cold War spy novel.



Predicting the Past of Bad Quartos

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.3783  Friday, 28 August 2015


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

Date:         August 27, 2015 at 7:32:50 PM EDT

Subject:    Predicting the Past of Bad Quartos


Testing a theory by its predictive power is the scientific method’s backbone. Predicting textual history’s past seems contradictory; yet dozens of early modern playtexts may serve as experiments because they haven’t been explained (and no one is seriously trying); all one needs is a hypothesis with some evidence and deductions of its own. My guess (and that of many long-gone advocates): problematic texts are theatrical, shorthand reports. I’ll note two late, offhand predictions and list other kinds.


In Determining the Shakespeare Canon, Mac Jackson points several times to signs of reporting in Arden of Faversham, though he mentions only memorial reconstruction (and then only to discount MR probability). He cites Martin Wiggins (2008), who claims that with the stage direction, ‘Then Shakebag falls into a ditch’, the Arden author “is evidently thinking in terms of a real location, a Kentish marsh” because “stages were not . . . equipped with ditches.” I guessed the phrasing is in the dialogue. Sure enough, Jackson observes that the “Ferryman’s ‘Who is this that’s in the ditch?’ would have created a ditch” (107). Wiggins must either have missed the line or failed to understand that “authorial thinking” is not the best explanation of dopey set directions in corrupt, printed plays. Further, he was obviously not on the lookout for characteristics of suspect texts suggested by the shorthand hypothesis.


Scribes and compositors are responsible for s.d.’s in theatrical reports; they get them from the text, often merely to elucidate it. The derivations are predictable (as a class), as are their often blunted purposes. I noted the same error in Tiffany Stern’s “Watching as Reading” (2003, inexplicably commended by Steven UrQuartowitz):


“Surviving information is minimal, but when Marius, in Thomas Lodge’s Wounds of Civil War, is instructed to “enter . . . solus from the Numidian mountaines” . . . he can hardly enter from the mountains themselves [or from a ditch!] . . . . Perhaps Lodge, while writing the text, has simply become engrossed with the fiction he is creating . . . . But maybe the stage direction embodies a knowledge of the way the play will be (or was) performed. If that is the case, then ‘mountaines,’ which here are associated with a door . . . would need to be depicted in images or words around the door itself” (150).


Stern habitually takes as evidence of her imaginings anything remotely supportive (while ignoring alternative causes). She assumes the printed Wounds is authorial throughout. But neither of her guesses makes sense; actors need no mountains, no sandwich boards, no pre-entry itinerary. Nor does an audience, literate or not. I thought, “$5 says the ‘evidence of mountains’ is in the dialogue.”


And just 16 lines after the “travel directions,” Marius complains that ‘Hunger in these Numidian mountaines dwells’. Stern fails to inform her watching readers of this evidence. But the question is not about an engrossed author or an alpine stage door: why was it necessary to conjure up a set direction in the first place?


Shorthand reports don’t have authorial set directions. We know that from other texts (John of Bordeaux, above all). But it’s easy to deduce and to predict of a suspect text. That’s not to say that s.d. examples taken from the text prove reporting. But if enough such expectations are met it’s a different story. That’s especially true when predicted features are difficult to explain otherwise. Here’s a list of things for “reading watchers” to be ready for (in original editions), in no particular order:


1) Speech assignments: theatrical reporting infers them from the text, often mistakenly, especially when speakers abound. The errors are hard to explain by way of authorship and transcription. Because mix-ups are common they are assumed to be matter-of-course; yet correct prefixes are necessary to production. The evidence bespeaks a cause more common than supposed. The fact that errors are both easy and difficult to correct emphasizes the point. Even the casual reader should watch for instances and trust to judgment.


2) Bad punctuation. Shorthand reports first and punctuates later, if at all. Supposing Shakespeare didn’t care for pointing is a huge mistake caused by the tail wagging the dog; stop trying to fit Shakespeare to corrupt text. I just read of Pericles that commas were added to line-ends for no apparent reason. In Q1 Lear Blayney calls the practice “do-it-yourself punctuation”; here’s a comma, put it where you like. Is that Shakespeare? As F and editors attest, bad punctuation is very troublesome.


3) Bad verse-lining. Shorthand reporting insures botched verse. Authors cared about their poetry; but again, wide corruption has us supposing they didn’t.


4) Interpolations. Meter-spoiling vocatives, for example, are part and parcel of performance. “Good” editions help to identify bad additions, inversions, transpositions, repetitions, and whatnot; but shorthand can’t quite predict texts from better sources. It does predict edited reports, like F Lear.


5) Spelling. Standard treatment of printed spellings is mostly worthless. However, corrupt place names and personal names are expected of shorthand reporting. Sometimes spelling derives from shorthand itself (e.g. the p/b mix-ups in Bordox) but it may not be wise to rely on unclear data. Still, when other traits of reporting are present, the odds go up.


6) Nonsense. Then as now, actors try to memorize lines they don’t understand; as a result one may not only misremember but do so unintelligibly. Shorthand captures the errors but that is not to say they can be identified correctly.


7) Botched Foreign Languages. It happens a lot; editors don’t seem to ask why. But when good text demands careful transcription of other tongues corrupt renderings are suspicious. They’re also to be expected in reports.


8) Publishers and printers. Anything to make a buck, but ethics had little to do with the motive that Shakespeare was the cream of the crop. His plays play a disproportionate role because they were better. They were hard to come by, but where there’s a Will, there’s a stenographer.


I’ve read a large number (for me) of unfamiliar playtexts as if they are reports. That many of them show these traits came as no surprise. However, to others, their frequency makes them seem less like evidence than they are.


Gerald E. Downs




Lover's Complaint Spelling

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.3782  Friday, 28 August 2015


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

Date:         August 27, 2015 at 6:43:23 PM EDT

Subject:    Lover's Complaint Spelling


In Determining the Shakespeare Canon Mac Jackson states that the most compelling part of his renewed case for Shakespeare’s authorship of “A Lover’s Complaint” is the spelling analysis. I’ll accept that but judge for myself just how compelling it is. A “true author” must somehow present a better case than John Davies of Hereford but spelling lists are of little value.


Although Jackson claims to “fully acknowledge the potential effects of scribes and compositors . . . (142), he falls far short of “fully” in argument and in avoiding a bias. He follows J. D. Wilson’s method, which ought to be warning enough in itself. Dover Wilson “had noted certain . . . spellings—mainly old-fashioned and presumably authorial—surviving into quartos thought to have been printed directly from Shakespeare’s ‘foul papers,’ which were in his own handwriting” (141). It’s true that foul papers (rough drafts) are by definition in authorial handwriting but the rest of the statement is doubtful, biased, and old-fashioned.


“Thought to have been” and “were” are different concepts. No Shakespeare playtext is proven to be printed from holograph; grasping at spellings won’t get anyone off the merry-go-round. This is best demonstrated by citations from bad quartos now promoted to (and as) “good” by the very same spell-checkers (New and Newer Bibliographers; Greg, Wilson, Jowett, Jackson).


First, consider Jackson’s remark about a play he knows well: “The four links to Pericles and [TNK] are all to Shakespeare scenes, though the Pericles quarto is probably printed from a memorially reconstructed text” (150). Now why would the two Pericles links even be noted here if they came from a bad quarto? They may show Jackson’s awareness of “potential effects.” The upshot, however, is that the two links count against Shakespeare—they’re spellings by uncertain some-ones (who aren’t likely on the obligatory list of straw authors). When discussing bad quartos elsewhere (Arden of Faversham) Jackson warns that memorial reconstructions may never have happened. But Pericles is a bad quarto and something must explain it. 


Modern(?) New Bibliographers turn recent attacks on the MR concept to advantage by denying or accepting it (as transmitting any particular text) to fit their momentary needs. Because evidence in most cases points to shorthand theatrical reporting I seldom countenance the Sisty Ugler MR; but why equivocate? If not MR, what is it? If MR, what is implied? Pericles spelling supports no Shakespeare attribution and suggests instead that spelling in so many other iffy texts call the whole method into question.


Hand D has one link to LC (150); that seems unimportant, but we should keep in mind the NB’s (and Jackson’s) insistence that every word (less C’s) in three dense pages is of Shakespeare’s own spelling. I don’t recall the link (the book was due), but Jackson remarks that the “form invndation is exceptional in discounting the prefix in . . .” (149). “Also, Hand D’s pages afford analogous usages to . . . invndation with its medial v: advauntage, prevaile,” (159).


The notes are confusing but the topic is interesting. Jackson assumes that invndation is so-spelt because Shakespeare would follow convention by using initial v to spell vndation (whatever that means) but for some reason he opted not to use medial u after the prefix in. Yet prevaile’s v carries a vee sound; there’s no rationale for the medial v for u in invndation. Hand D’s truly analogous usage is ‘Dvng’. The LC medial v is probably a misprint but D’s represents a habit born of ignorance. Why would Shakespeare, of all people, spell dung with a medial v? The question in Hand D’s case is not to search for “rare spellings in data bases” but to compare LC directly; how do significant spellings differ? D has five different ‘sheriff’ spellings in seven lines—too bad the complainer didn’t call the cops.


Mac Jackson agreed some years ago that if D was a copyist the fact would be meaningful. However, he never got back to me after reading my article on the subject. All I might ask is agreement that a scribal copy cannot be ruled out. The evidence powerfully supports that conclusion but I don’t expect any D = Shakespeare advocate to acknowledge an unthinkable probability. On the other hand, it is telling that no one has ever argued against D as a scribe.


“The following plays have three or more rare spelling links to [LC: Hamlet 1604/5 2H4, LLL, Lear, R&J 1599]” (150). I’ve recently advised that LLL is the reprint of a bad quarto. Jackson cites results from other memorial texts (R3, etc.); they show that unknown agents do the spelling and that “what’s thought foul papers” ought to be rethought.


“Shakespeare’s predominance in the results is glaringly obvious. Moreover, the three play-texts that top the table with four or five links have always been recognized as replete with spellings ‘referable to the author’, as Greg put it in discussing [LLL]” (151). What’s obvious is the bias. We saw how referable the speech headings are in LLL. Arden3 editor Woudhuysen has expressed doubt about its spellings.


“The Textual Companion theorizes that F Lear copy was ‘Q2 (1619), annotated from either holograph or scribal transcript of holograph’, but it seems to me much more likely that, although Shakespeare began his revision on a copy of Q2, he transcribed it, and his holograph, or a manuscript dependent on it, served as printer’s copy” (151).


That 2nd Q2 is a misprint since no one will suspect Shakespeare of revision after 1619. Jackson sticks by his 1982 opinion that Shakespeare himself used an actual copy of the exceedingly corrupt Q1 to revise his play. Other revisionists reel at that unlikelihood, even to the extent of imagining Shakespeare’s use of the supposed foul papers (supposed Q1 copy) prior to 1608. Q1 is a memorial report kicked upstairs to legitimize F Lear. Neither text reflects Shakespeare's spelling, punctuation, verse-lining, revision, or anything else that only written transmission can preserve.


Gerald E. Downs





MV Dialog

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.3781  Thursday, 27 August 2015


[1] From:        Gabriel Egan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         August 26, 2015 at 4:25:11 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER MV Dialog 


[2] From:        Pervez Rizvi <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         August 27, 2015 at 4:50:17 AM EDT

     Subject:    Re: MV Dialog 




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

Date:         August 26, 2015 at 4:25:11 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER MV Dialog


SHAKSPERians whose eyes are glazing over at Jim Carroll’s use of such terms as “The Chebyshev Inequality” should still be able to spot the logical incoherence of the following statements:


The probability that the number of occurrences of “man” is greater than say, 37, is the standard deviation squared divided by 37 squared, or 0.021, assuming the standard deviation is 5.4. So the fact that the actual value is 38 appears significant to me.


In the first sentence, the likelihood of the number of occurrences of “man” being greater than 37 is calculated as a small probability (0.021, around a 1-in-50 chance). In the second sentence the “actual value” of the number of occurrences of “man” is revealed to be 38.


If the “actual value” is 38 then the first sentence, as phrased, has no meaning. You cannot in any meaningful way calculate the likelihood of an outcome that has already come out. It’s like trying to calculate the likelihood that it rained here yesterday: the notion of likelihood simply doesn’t apply, since we already know whether it did.


We could ask this question: “Supposing that I didn’t know whether it rained here yesterday, what figure would I have given you the day before yesterday as the likelihood that it was going to rain?” This is NOT the same as asking “what is the likelihood that it rained yesterday?”, but people who use the mathematics of probability frequently treat these questions as equivalent. Doing so makes them commit fundamental errors regarding chance.


What Carroll REALLY means is something like “Suppose I didn’t know the ‘actual value’ because I haven’t gone counting the words yet. Further suppose, as the so-called ‘null hypothesis’, that the ‘actual value’ is determined by chance rather than by something else (say, authorial choice). If only chance were determining the ‘actual value’, what is the likelihood that when we go ahead and count the words to get the ‘actual value’ we will find an ‘actual value’ greater than, say, 37?”


If Carroll were to rephrase his claims using such precise language, and in particular to state just what his “null hypotheses” are, then it would be possible to start making sense of his claims.


Gabriel Egan



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

Date:         August 27, 2015 at 4:50:17 AM EDT

Subject:    Re: MV Dialog


Jim writes:


The Chebyshev inequality is easy to calculate for the results in question.


The Chebyshev inequality is not a formula that you can use to calculate things with. It’s a law that probabilities obey.


The probability that the number of occurrences of “man” is greater than say, 37, is the standard deviation squared divided by 37 squared, or 0.021, assuming the standard deviation is 5.4.


I think Jim’s just making things up now. The calculation he has done is obvious nonsense, as you can see by replacing 37 with any value less than the standard deviation, when the probability will exceed 100%. It’s time to call it a day.




Hamlet Review | The Guardian

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.3780  Thursday, 27 August 2015


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

Date:         August 26, 2015 at 2:20:11 PM EDT

Subject:    Hamlet Review | The Guardian


Hamlet review – Benedict Cumberbatch imprisoned in a dismal production

By Michael Billington


After all the hype and hysteria, the event itself comes as an anticlimax. My initial impression is that Benedict Cumberbatch is a good, personable Hamlet with a strong line in self-deflating irony, but that he is trapped inside an intellectual ragbag of a production by Lyndsey Turner that is full of half-baked ideas. Denmark, Hamlet tells us, is a prison. So too is this production.


What makes the evening so frustrating is that Cumberbatch has many of the qualities one looks for in a Hamlet. He has a lean, pensive countenance, a resonant voice, a gift for introspection. He is especially good in the soliloquies. “To be or not to be”, about which there has been so much kerfuffle, mercifully no longer opens the show: I still think it works better if placed after, rather than before, the arrival of the players, but Cumberbatch delivers it with a rapt intensity. He is also excellent in “What a piece of work is a man” and has the right air of self-doubt: in the midst of his advice to the First Player on how to act, he suddenly says “but let your own discretion be your tutor”, as if aware of his presumption in lecturing an old pro.


It is a performance full of good touches and quietly affecting in Hamlet’s final, stoical acceptance of death. The problem is that Cumberbatch, rather like the panellists in I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, is given a lot of silly things to do. He actually opens the show, sitting in his room poring over a family album and listening to the gramophone, which denies us the propulsive excitement of the Ghost’s first entries on the battlements. Later, in assuming an “antic disposition”, Cumberbatch tries on a Native American headdress and then settles for parading around in the scarlet tunic and peaked helmet of a 19th-century infantryman. At one point he even drags on a miniature fortress – where on earth did he find it? – from which he proceeds to take potshots at the court.


Whimsical absurdity replaces genuine equivocation about Hamlet’s state of mind and the effect is not improved by having him later strut about Elsinore in a jacket brazenly adorned on its back with the word “KING”. All this is symptomatic of an evening in which the text is not so much savagely cut as badly wounded and yet which crudely italicises what remains. A classic example comes in the inept staging of the normally infallible play scene.


The whole focus should be on Claudius’s reaction to this mimetic representation of his murder and Hamlet’s eagle-eyed observation of his uncle. Instead, Turner starts the scene with the spectators in shadow and their backs to the audience. Even when they turn round to face us, Turner has Cumberbatch himself act out the lines of the villainous Lucianus. In consequence, Claudius’s abrupt departure seems less the product of residual guilt than a hasty response to Hamlet’s rude intervention.


The real problem, I suspect, is that visual conceits have taken the place of textual investigation. Es Devlin is a fine designer, but she and Turner have succumbed to the kind of giantism that marked their recent collaboration on Light Shining In Buckinghamshire at the National, which was rather like seeing Samuel Beckett reimagined by Cecil B DeMille. Here, Devlin has created a massive permanent set in which Elsinore resembles a decadent, baroque palace filled with wrought-iron balconies and Winterhalter portraits. I remember a similar design for a visiting Romanian production, but where that evoked the sleazy opulence of the Ceausescu period, this one falls apart in more blatant fashion. In the second half, the palatial set is filled with mounds of rubbish and overturned chairs, just in case we’d missed the point about Claudius’s collapsing tyranny.


[ . . . ]


Aside from Cumberbatch, there is only a handful of interesting performances. Leo Bill’s Horatio is a stalwart, backpacking chum, Jim Norton makes Polonius an anxious fusspot who even reads out his carefully prepared advice to Laertes, and Sian Brooke is a genuinely disturbed Ophelia, with an equal devotion to Hamlet and the piano. But it says much about the evening that its single most memorable moment is a purely visual one: Ophelia’s scrambling final exit over a hill of refuse, watched by an apprehensive Gertrude.


[ . . . ]


Cumberbatch, in short, suggests Hamlet’s essential decency. But he might have given us infinitely more, if he were not imprisoned by a dismal production that elevates visual effects above narrative coherence and exploration of character.


At the Barbican until 31 October. Box office: 020-7638 8891



Subscribe to Our Feeds


Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.