The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0080 Thursday, 21 February 2013
Date: February 21, 2013 5:34:46 AM EST
Subject: In the Case of Egan vs. Elliott: A Reply to Larry Weiss et al.
Michael Egan thinks I haven’t “answered Partridge’s detailed analysis of the manuscript” of Woodstock/1 Richard II. I think that I have – or at least that I have explained why I don’t believe Partridge’s work proves the play to have been first written in the early 1590s. As I wrote in Research Opportunities in Medieval and Renaissance Drama 46, Partridge simply accepted the general view of his time that Woodstock/1 Richard II belonged to the 1590s, but showed (like Lake) that the extant manuscript contained various contracted and colloquial forms that did not come into fashion before about 1600. So he concluded that the manuscript was of a seventeenth-century revision of a 1590s play. I demonstrated that all the linguistic forms that Partridge called “old-fashioned” (and that could therefore have been present in a play of the early 1590s) remained in common use in the seventeenth century, and so could equally well have belonged to a seventeenth-century composition. There is no doubt that the manuscript of Woodstock/1 Richard II contains handwriting penned at more than one date – there are late marginal additions, for example – but nothing in Partridge’s analysis serves unequivocally to tie anything in the manuscript to the early 1590s.
Michael says I ignore scholarship by Halliwell, Keller, Frijlinck, Rossiter, Sams and many others. But each editor tends to assimilate the scholarship of his or her predecessors. In Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 14, I discussed Frijlinck’s Malone Society edition at length and examined Rossiter’s evidence for an early dating of Woodstock/1 Richard II. In The Oxfordian 12, I commented on some use Michael makes of the editions of Halliwell and Keller. As Michael implies, those who edited the play before he did all dated it to the 1590s. But they also all considered it not to be by Shakespeare. I have mounted a case for believing that they were wrong about the date and that the play was composed in the seventeenth century. Michael has mounted a case for believing that they were wrong about the authorship and that the play was composed by Shakespeare. I think that my case is sound and his is not. He thinks that his case is sound and mine is not. Our only court of appeal is informed scholarly opinion, and even that, like any law court, can make mistakes.
Michael also accuses me of not having explained why “at two different places and times” I have “assigned the early 1590s and the 1610s for the composition of the play.” But I have explained. As I told him in a long attachment to an email of 23 September 2008, in 1983 I addressed a letter to Eliot Slater in which I listed “the anonymous Woodstock” among “non-Shakespearian history plays of around 1590,” and I quoted this letter, for a special purpose and without endorsing the “around 1590” date for Woodstock/1 Richard II, in my Defining Shakespeare (2003). Twenty years before publishing my MaRDiE article on Woodstock/1 Richard II I accepted the current orthodoxy about its date. Much later I came to doubt it and undertook the research that resulted in my arguing for a date of 1598–1609, most likely around 1605 (not “the 1610s,” as Michael says). My email attachment of 23 September 2008 was a riposte to charges he made in his edition of Woodstock/1 Richard II. In ROMARD I mentioned this riposte as being available to interested scholars.
MacDonald P. Jackson