Shakespearean Originals King Lear

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.139  Saturday, 31 March 2012

 

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

Date:         March 30, 2012 2:05:44 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: Shakespearean Originals King Lear

 

After replying to my note on Holderness’s “Originals” King Lear, Steve Urkowitz is “likely not try to engage in more polemic with the MR folks,” among whom he may include me. Nevertheless, I will address some remarks and questions to him (and others) based on the reply and his 1980 Revision. Though for a discussion group there aren’t many ‘engaging folks’ here anyhow, I am willing to discuss Lear textual issues of importance (Shakespeare-wise). With much extant opinion there is no choice but to disagree. The choice is rather when, and how to respond.

 

>It’s fun to imagine the actors sitting around trying to recall

>their parts while someone wrote it all down.  Or maybe some

>shorthand scribe scribbled in the theater and then met with the

>magically script-bereft acting company so they could all whip up

>a temporary script.

 

Offhand comments are often “thought free” when answers take thought and time. While McMillin (Othello), Erne (R&J) and others seriously propose whole-cast MR (by dictation) to explain memorial error, I see the concept as highly unlikely (as I argue elsewhere); alternatively, shorthand theatrical reporting is much better.

 

Competent stenographers don’t scribble. Wordings like this might be examples of what Urkowitz’s critics call ‘valorized language’ (or some such) that may influence the impressionable or be—to more able critics—red flags indicating substitutes for argument, or simply bias.

 

For example, I’ve reported a review of Duthie’s 1949 argument against Willis’s system by shorthand expert William Matthews, who observes that Duthie’s objections “bespeak unfamiliarity with stenographic practice, e.g. the arguments that attached big and little characters might be confused, that memorizing the lists of arbitrary characters would be an onerous task, that small dots and strokes might be misplaced, that angles might become curves in rapid writing. Even tyros take such things in stride in present-day shorthands, and they should have given Elizabethan reporters no difficulty.” Further, Willis himself suggests that shorthand notes may be read “without stopping or staying at any one word.”

 

The text of John of Bordeaux, phonetically transcribed throughout, is remarkably accurate. Some object that readers must agree with my conclusion that the play is a shorthand report before they can accept the implications I describe; that’s true. But I’m willing to put my arguments and the textual evidence to the test. As for the “magically script-bereft acting company whip[ping] up a temporary script,” the facts are there in browns and white: known theatrical hands annotate the text with entrances (two in an actor’s name), sound, and speech headings; Henry Chettle adds a speech. The script is not whipped up, but reddi-whipped and accepted for what it is—a bargain, temporary or not.

 

>(But what service it might provide, without a proper seal

>attesting to its authorization is hard to figure.  But, hey,

>Go-o-o-o Free Thought!)

 

Word has it that two versions of Orlando were held by different playing companies. Are we to suppose the players were deterred by modern imaginations? It may not be coincidence that Orlando is a bad quarto. The players preparing Bordox had no real familiarity with it, but they weren’t deterred either. I might discuss any of these matters, provided we give the “Go-o-o-o” the go-by.

 

>Let me suggest to our buddies here in SHAKSPER-land that

>you look at my book, say for instance the chapter about the

>textual variants in LEAR 3.1.  I may have been much younger

>back in 1980 when my Shakespeare’s Revision of King Lear

>came out, but, hey, those two texts offer a grand set of lessons

>on how a craftsman can shape dialogue and action to make it

>work and then economically reshape the same moment to make

>it work differently, better, sharper, more poignantly, more caught

>up with the issues of loyalty and kindness and trust in an imagined

>storm in a collapsing kingdom.

 

Robert Clare quotes Honigmann in a similar vein before observing that it is typical of revisionists “in the way that it masks its essential subjectivity by deploying a weighted vocabulary—one that involves here a general sense of authoritative intervention and theatrical craftsmanship without actually telling us very much. ‘Strategies of revision’, ‘awareness of the minutiae of characterization’ . . . and ‘dramatic thinking at this level’ are all impressive-sounding phrases, but . . .” Clare also quotes Urkowitz, on Lear 4.7:

 

“Lear’s ingenuous surprise when he awakens to discover Cordelia before him in 4.7 argues against his having any prior knowledge of her arrival from France. And the clear, humble humanity Lear expresses sounds in no way like ‘shame’ (Revision, 53).

 

Clare objects that Lear believes he has waked from the dead and that Cordelia is a spirit. He notes that Lear thinks he might be in France (which can hardly indicate any knowledge of Cordelia’s whereabouts); and that his later offer to drink poison and his asking forgiveness do sound like shame. Who is Salooniotic here?

 

>Without being too grumpy about it, I still think that the

>“revision hypothesis” leaves us with one tougher, smarter,

>and more interesting William Shakespeare,

 

All beside the point. Is the hypothesis true? Never mind the Shakespeare it creates, which probably results from someone else’s corrupted revision. But we can see the driving force—it’s behind the cart.

 

>and the various memorial reconstruction and piracy

>and shortened text theories leave us with a sense of

>Shakespeare as a naif who couldn’t hang onto or protect

>or even re-think what he produced, or who along with his

>fellow actors chose to field on stage diminished versions

>of his long plays (pace Alfred Hart, Stephen Orgel, Andrew Gurr,

>and Lukas Erne).

 

Again the concept insists that the evidence conform. It’s supposed to be the other way round. If texts were reconstructed and pirated those circumstances would say little about the author, especially his own revisions. Remember, F Lear is revised on top of a very corrupt Q1. I’m not at all opposed to the idea that long plays were staged, and Hirrel’s SQ article rearguing the possibility is well done. But who can realistically deny that plays were regularly shortened?

 

As for protection, virtually all of the dramatic canon shows that Shakespeare—for some unknown reasons—exercised no control over the publication of his playtexts. Erne’s case for a participating ‘literary author’ is another imaginary appeal to the credulous. The evidence says otherwise.

 

>Gerald Downs says his ideas depend on “the historical

>condition of reproduction from memory (rather than from

>an unbroken line of transcriptions).” . . . But “the historical

>condition” has the same tangible thingness as the historical

>condition of the Unicorn, or the Green Knight or . . . . Just

>because something is believed in doesn’t mean that it actually

>happened.

 

Can’t say I grasp the ridicule, but I could have been more clear. Scholars (Greg, Kirschbaum, Werstine, etc., etc.,) have historically approached a definition of bad quarto by including the condition that memorial transmission is necessary to the concept. In other words, bad quartos are not produced by mere copying or revision of written text. Much of the confusion surrounding reporting is caused by a general failure to keep this distinction in mind. And the distinction is tangible enough. A text arriving via memorial transmission is a report (if printed, a bad quarto); if transcribed only, it is not ‘reported.’ The question is how to tell. You can’t do that by stirring the muddy water. 

 

>I wrote a book about the Lear texts that still reads pretty well.

 

Steve’s “dog in this fight” got chewed up pretty well by Clare, Edwards, Knowles, and Werstine. I won’t rehash the criticism since the evidence is better seen from the corruption angle than a naive “no-naif” point of view that doesn’t acknowledge the textual problems of Q1 and F.

 

>to date no memorial reconstructor has ever shown me how

>like a crab those later printed versions walked backwards in

>time to become the progenitors of their earlier printed off-spring

>which have all those embarrassing aspects of early drafts.

 

Of course there is no reason why a later-printed book could not be more authoritative than an earlier edition. I don’t know how Urkowitz has missed all the evidence showing later, better texts. And the “aspects of early drafts” usually cited are imaginary, as Werstine has taken so much trouble to show.

 

Incidentally, Gabriel Egan’s new book names the allies in the latest lines of battle over Shakespearean revision, where he seems intent on pushing Urkowitz out of the ‘Wells, Taylor, and Jowett’ revision camp and into the domain of Paul Werstine. But when speaking of critics who “apparently believed that, out of a whole culture, only the author could make a difference in the play,” Werstine observes, “Urkowitz shares with the Oxford editors the view that printed texts can be read virtually as if they were authorial manuscripts—the variants between printed versions wholly explicable as authorial changes of mind” (“Editing After . . .” 51). Surely Egan is mistaken, given Steve’s restatement of the tough reviser.

 

I’ve got some excerpts from Urkowitz’s Chapter 6, which I hadn’t read in a long while. I’ll comment on some of it later. I don’t expect to get Steve’s dog away from the vet, but “best in don’t-show” isn’t much of a claim.

 

Gerald E. Downs 

 

Hamlet's Fat

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.138 Friday, 30 March 2012

 

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

     Date:         March 29, 2012 8:32:00 PM EDT

     Subject:     Fat

 

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

     Date:         March 30, 2012 12:59:12 AM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: KDC/RSC; Baptism; Fat

 

 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------

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

Date:         March 29, 2012 8:32:00 PM EDT

Subject:     Fat

 

I think Marie Merkel has thoroughly examined and has both cogently and beautifully expressed just about everything there is to say about what I believe is both the meaning and intent behind the use of “fat” in this situation.  Of course, what I also can’t help but find compelling about this issue is how the action after the word, the offering of the napkin, resembles a Veronica and Christ type moment.  Of course, Christ’s situation also demonstrates how one can be sweaty and scant of breath while reduced to nothing but skin and bones, which I believe, then, strengthens Marie’s explanation: if Hamlet is, and Shakespeare conceives that Hamlet is, still “in shape,” at his “fighting weight,” and sweating, then Shakespeare most likely would have had Gertrude say, “He sweats,” or “He’s sweating,” or “He’s sweaty.”  I believe that Marie makes a strong case, then, for why fat means fat: again, this doesn’t mean or have to mean that he’s obese, but he’s certainly not a growing boy anymore and Gertrude, on the edge of death, remembers herself, is a mom once again for one final moment, and takes notice of her son’s appearance. 

 

I am very much interested in the concept of topical allusions.  I’m not sure if I wholly, totally agree with what Weiss says about how they “did not advance the action of the play.”  Maybe so.  Nonetheless, it seems to me that they do and can help our understanding of certain clues that advance our understanding of, perhaps, the actors of the play, their attributes, and how they ought to be portrayed. 

 

On the note of carousing.  Since this will most likely be my final note in this thread, I would like to share with all of you a sonnet that I have written about Hamlet that treats this issue of carousing and how it leads to our understanding of how things come to unfold toward the end of the play:

 

In My Mind’s Island

 

His Majesty’s Voice. And our whole kingdom

to be contracted in one brow of woe,

into a Cyclops, and the rest of the play

is its gouging.  His tongue, shriller than all

the music, cries, “Cousin!”  The Prince turns to

speak and when he does, it sounds like he says

“pith” and “rind,” so as to suggest he is

something to be peeled.  Words echo thus.

And when he tells Horatio he’ll teach

him to drink deep ere he departs, that is

exactly what he does, passing the cup

to his mother, his uncle, and himself.

    There is a willow grows askant, eternal,

    unmovable, apart from senseless things—

 

How Hamlet greets Horatio, with this language of carousing, then, is an indication of things to come. 

 

Since I have shared this sonnet with all of you, I would like to add a word about the words of Claudius.  In the beginning of his opening speech he says, “our whole kingdom to be contracted in one brow of woe,” but what happens to that “one brow” but seven lines later? Using Kliman’s enfolded edition: “With {an} <one> auspitious, and {a} <one> dropping eye….” Claudius, who committed treason, immediately establishes himself as an equivocator, then, swearing in both the scales against either scale.

 

Nonetheless, vanish Hamlet and vanish all the world,

 

mz

 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------

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

Date:         March 30, 2012 12:59:12 AM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: KDC/RSC; Baptism; Fat

 

Marie Merkel makes a good try at arguing that “fat” means fat, but I can’t agree. Just to take the line itself, it would seem odd for Gertrude to speak of a persisting condition at this moment. For “scant of breath” to go well with “fat” it would have to be also a general condition of Hamlet these days, or general lack of conditioning, that makes him prone to needing his brow wiped after even a short bout. Though it’s logically and grammatically possible for Gertrude to be saying this, it seems more natural to hear her speaking of Hamlet’s condition at this moment, a condition which adds dramatic energy to the scene by implying that the bout has been strenuous. 

 

Hamlet has both languished and been in continual practice, which cancel each other out, though the thought that he “will win at the odds” adds a vivid detail which supports the latter.

 

Most important, I think, is Hamlet’s character. He is a Dane, but a Dane embarrassed by the notorious drunkenness of his countrymen, a bad public image which Claudius exacerbates with his swaggering upspring reels. Hamlet’s rather puritanical attitude toward sex extends to his attitude toward drink and fat weeds who root themselves in ease on Lethe wharf. This is what he does not want to be. To picture him chowing down while betting on his unrecognized and thus underestimated fencing prowess contrasts with this self-righteous abstemiousness as well as with the melancholy wastage and even the antic Hamlet who eats the air, unlike well-fattened capons.

 

Hamlet is not Falstaff but a recognizable cousin of Hal. I don’t think he has to be notably thin, but I also can't see him as carrying much extra flesh. Put these reasons together and Hamlet is sweating and scant of breath because of the intensity of his match with Laertes. This I believe is more or less the traditional view, for good reason.

 

Best wishes,

David Bishop

 

Shakespeare’s Baptism Day

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.137 Friday, 30 March 2012

 

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

     Date:         March 29, 2012 2:14:56 PM EDT

     Subject:     RE: SHAKSPER: KDC/RSC; Baptism; Fat

 

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

     Date:         March 29, 2012 2:19:19 PM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: KDC/RSC; Baptism; Fat

 

[3] From:        John Briggs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         March 29, 2012 4:57:43 PM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Shakespeare’s Baptism Day

 

[4] From:        Kelly Rivers <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         March 29, 2012 6:50:35 PM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: KDC/RSC; Baptism; Fat

 

 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------

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

Date:         March 29, 2012 2:14:56 PM EDT

Subject:     RE: SHAKSPER: KDC/RSC; Baptism; Fat

 

Google What day was I born?  If it’s right, Shakespeare was baptized on a Wednesday and, therefore, supposed to have been born on a Sunday three days earlier.

 

But the child born on the Sabbath Day,
 Is fair and wise and good in every way.

 

Ward Elliott

 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------

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

Date:         March 29, 2012 2:19:19 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: KDC/RSC; Baptism; Fat

 

In response to Hannibal’s inquiry: it was a Sunday. See http://www.searchforancestors.com/utility/dayofweek.html.

 

Best to all,

Carol Barton

 

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------

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

Date:         March 29, 2012 4:57:43 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Shakespeare’s Baptism Day

 

Hannibal Hamlin wrote:

 

>A quick question that someone surely has an answer for.

>

>What day of the week was April 26, 1564 (the day Shakespeare 

>was baptised)?

 

Wednesday, as I mentioned in my letter to the TLS two weeks ago :-)

 

John Briggs

 

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------

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

Date:         March 29, 2012 6:50:35 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: KDC/RSC; Baptism; Fat

 

It was a Sunday.

 

Kelly Rivers

Instructor

Pellissippi State Community College

 

Hamlet's Fat

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.136  Thursday, 29 March 2012

 

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

Date:         March 24, 2012 1:30:32 PM EDT

Subject:     Topical Fat

 

Thanks to Michael Zito for his reflections on my post about Falstaff as the “fat weed” that Hamlet's father’s ghost warned his son not to be.  Implicit in his analogy of <<King Hamlet : King Henry IV / Prince Hamlet : Prince Hal>> is the idea of Falstaff as Prince Hal’s alter ego.  In 1601 or so, the fat knight probably wasn’t too very far from Shakespeare’s mind as he wrote or revised Hamlet for the next onstage production. 

In my view, Shakespeare’s conception of Falstaff, and the cultural and moral implications of Falstaff’s astonishing fatness, offer a pretty good guide to the why behind Gertrude’s surprising exclamation, “He’s fat . . .”
 

 

Hardy Cook wrote:

 

“So what can we conclude from these commentaries. Well, I do not find the matter conclusively settled: whether fat refers to Hamlet or Burbage; whether fat means corpulent or sweating. The sense seems to imply sweating.”

 


I agree; sweat is certainly implied, when Gertrude offers to wipe her son’s face.  Of course, the word “fat” itself also implies sweat, since someone who carries more weight, like Falstaff, is more liable to sweat, as Shakespeare has Prince Hal remind us:

 

Away, good Ned. Falstaff sweats to death,

And lards the lean earth as he walks along:

Were 't not for laughing, I should pity him.

 


It occurred to me that “sweat” might have been considered an indelicate word for a queen to have on her lips, but then I found that Shakespeare sweetens the sense of “sweat” for the use of gentle Lady Percy:

 

Thy spirit within thee hath been so at war

And thus hath so bestirr'd thee in thy sleep,

That beads of sweat have stood upon thy brow

Like bubbles in a late-disturbed stream;

 


How lovely!  And also, how odd, that those “bubbles in a late-disturbed stream” should foreshadow the death of Ophelia in a different play!  Hmm . .  Could it be that the character of Percy, Prince Hal’s rival or foil, has some connection for Shakespeare with his conception of Laertes, Hamlet’s foil, and brother to Ophelia?   

A treacherous speculation, no doubt.  So back to Gertrude: If Lady Percy can talk of “sweat”, why not Prince Hamlet’s mom?  If Shakespeare had imagined Gertrude as meaning “He sweats”, seems to me he would have written “He sweats”, not “He’s fat”.  Why can’t we take Gertrude at her word?  Or, rather, Shakespeare at his word, a word that he has deemed fit to put in the mouth of a doting mother?  Of course, we have only Shakespeare to blame for our reluctance, given the portrait he paints of young Hamlet, described by Ophelia as:

 

The courtier’s, scholar’s, soldier’s, eye, tongue, sword,

Th' expectancy and rose of the fair state,

The glass of fashion and the mould of form...

 

Through Polonius, however, we get a different vision of Hamlet’s physical appearance—supposedly due to love-sickness—when the play begins:

 

And he, repulsed, a short tale to make,

Fell into a sadness, then into a fast,

Thence to a watch, thence into a weakness,

Thence to a lightness, and, by this declension,

Into the madness wherein now he raves,

And all we mourn for.

 

“Fast”, “weakness”, “lightness”, “declension”: all suggest less rather than more physical presence, a waning rather than waxing of life. Yet later in the play, we know—as readers and scholars—that more time has passed than Shakespeare allows in his given text.  We know that Shakespeare sees his Hamlet as an older man.  May it be that he also sees him as heavier?  The Prince has been back in Denmark for sometime, feeding and drinking with the Danes. Have they fattened him into a moral lethargy, a gross weediness?

 After Hamlet murders Polonius, Claudius likens the Prince to a foul disease, that, through the fault of their over-indulgent love, feeds “even on the pith of life”:

 

But so much was our love

We would not understand what was most fit,

But, like the owner of a foul disease,

To keep it from divulging, let it feed

Even on the pith of life. 

Where is he gone?

 

Given the richness of associations for “fat” and feeding within the play and within Shakespeare’s canon, why look elsewhere for some juicy topical fat?  Though Burbage may well have been of a noted corpulence when he played Hamlet, this line is one of the last that Gertrude will speak to her son before he dies.  If the play had a value to the author anywhere near to what posterity has since bestowed upon it, he probably had some deep reason for hearing an anxious Gertrude cry out that her son is fat, and scant of breath. 

The closest place to look for this reasoning may be within the plays that had most recently appeared onstage, Shakespeare’s as well as plays by his competitors and peers.  As Larry Weiss reminds us:

 

“The Canon contains hundreds of topical allusions, many lost to us, which did not advance the action of the play and arguably had no business being preserved for posterity.”

 


Surely the rotundity of Oldcastle-turned-Falstaff, famous or infamous after someone complained in 1597, would have been the most notable topical allusion for both courtiers and theatergoers in 1601 or 1602, when, just before he dies, Hamlet's own mother cries out “He’s fat”, and then offers to wipe his (obviously sweating) brow. Curiously, the apology that James Shapiro believes Shakespeare offered at court after the Oldcastle commotion, has the fat knight die of a sweat:

 

Falstaff shall die of a sweat, unless already 'a
be killed with your 

hard opinions; for Oldcastle died a martyr and
this is not the man. 

My tongue is weary; when my legs are too, I will
bid you good night.

 


At this point, it might be helpful to recall all three of Gertrude’s lines:

 

He’s fat, and scant of breath.

Here, Hamlet, take my napkin, rub thy brows.

The Queen carouses to thy fortune, Hamlet.

 

The Queen carouses!  Right from the start, we learn that all of Denmark carouses.  Carousing is in their blood, a part of their human condition.  When Hamlet refuses to carouse, he begins to waste away in his melancholy mourning.  Within that mysterious elapsed time, between Hamlet young and Hamlet not-so-young, Shakespeare must have conceived that his hero had begun to eat and drink again, with a good appetite.  Maybe he even caroused again.  Curiously, “Dane”, “dead”, “drunk” and “sweat” all come together in another play, in the mind of Shakespeare's arch-villain Iago:

 

Why, he drinks you, with facility, your Dane dead
drunk; he sweats 

not to overthrow your Almain; he
gives your Hollander a vomit, ere 

the next pottle
can be filled.

 

If Hamlet hadn’t grown fat—with all the physical and moral implications of the word at that time, as embodied by Falstaff and other Rabelaisian figures—would he have avoided that hit from Laertes’ envenomed point?  I wonder if that’s what Shakespeare had in mind. 

 

Marie Merkel

 

Shakespeare’s Baptism Day

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.135  Thursday, 29 March 2012

 

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

Date:         March 23, 2012 2:44:03 PM EDT

Subject:     Shakespeare’s Baptism Day

 

A quick question that someone surely has an answer for.

 

What day of the week was April 26, 1564 (the day Shakespeare was baptised)?

 

Many thanks,

Hannibal Hamlin

Associate Professor of English

Editor, Reformation

Co-curator, Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible

http://www.manifoldgreatness.org/

The Ohio State University

 

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