Vickers One King Lear

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.222  Thursday, 9 June 2016


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

     Date:         Thursday, June 9, 2016

     Subject:     One Lear 


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

     Date:         June 9, 2016 at 2:04:49 AM EDT

     Subject:    Re: One Lear (Last One)




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

Date:         Thursday, June 9, 2016

Subject:     One Lear


From The Guardian:


Academic performs 500-tweet hatchet job on new study of Shakespeare

Professor Holger Syme of the University of Toronto turns to microblogging to air damning verdict on Sir Brian Vickers’s The One King Lear


Rather than sounding off in the letters pages of the Times Literary Supplement, a professor at the University of Toronto has taken to the less genteel world of Twitter to unleash an extraordinary tirade of more than 500 tweets attacking a new book on King Lear.


Shakespeare scholar Sir Brian Vickers’s The One King Lear, published by Harvard University Press, argues that the two existing texts of Lear, the 1608 Quarto and the 1623 Folio, should be combined in one version. Vickers contends that they do not represent two versions of the play, as was deemed to be the case in the 1980s. It was published in April, when academics predicted it might prove controversial.


But its author is unlikely to have expected the reaction of Professor Holger Syme at the University of Toronto, who decided three weeks ago to live-tweet his reactions to Vickers’s new text. “It turned into a bit of an all-consuming exercise, as Vickers’s book far exceeded my worst expectations; the final chapter was so brimming with misrepresentations and inconsistencies that I eventually threw my hands up after 200 tweets,” wrote Syme on his blog, where he has collected his 500-plus tweet reading.

“Will be live tweeting my reading of SIR’s The One King Lear. My brain’s likely to melt if I don’t let off a steady flow of steam. #vickers,” he began on 11 May, ending last Thursday with the line: “And that’s it for Chp 8. There’s a Conclusion as well. Predictably it isn’t short. It’s also appalling. I’ll write about it tonight. #1Lear.” He decided not to.


Syme told the Times Higher Education that reading the book was a “dismaying experience” that went against his “scholarly convictions and principles”. Vickers responded that he had “lived” with Lear for more than 50 years and that it took him three years to write the book, which has been anonymously peer reviewed twice by scholars. “One of them is quoted on the dust jacket describing it as ‘a big, bold book, a major piece of scholarship for everyone to engage with’,” he said. “I cannot take seriously the 500 or so tweets that Professor Syme has published, page by page, before he could have taken in the argument of each chapter, and the extensive documentation in the endnotes. His hasty judgments are expressed in bitterly sarcastic terms, and contain many errors of his own. He trivialises literary criticism, reducing it to attention-catching soundbites. Is this the way to go?”


Vickers told the Guardian: “I don’t mind criticism when it is based on a considered judgment, having read and evaluated the whole work, but Syme was tweeting as he read, the equivalent of filling the margins of a book with abusive comments, a form of electronic graffiti.”


Vickers added that “whatever [Syme’s] academic position … he comes across as an internet troll, speciality: character assassination by 500 tweets.”



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

Date:         June 9, 2016 at 2:04:49 AM EDT

Subject:    Re: One Lear (Last One)


Sir Brian Vickers advances textual analysis in The One King Lear with two propositions likely to be played down in response to their undoing of the predominant theory that Shakespeare revised Lear from the version represented in Q1 (1608), to something like F (1623). Vickers argues that Q1’s printer purposely saved space (paper) during production and explains the F additions (equivalent to about one hundred lines) as restorations of text omitted from Q1’s printing (also to conserve paper). He draws the inference from the nature of the additions and his conviction that F manuscript copy derived independently from Q1 copy, whereby Q1 cuts found in situ were restored in the F reprint.


A distinct advantage of restoration from parallel copy (should it be true) is that Q1 lineage and prior scholarship needn’t be consulted to account for F’s added text. However, if earlier study and extant evidence satisfactorily account for many F additions, parallel text may be discounted as unnecessary.


“Two Versions” was welcomed by Shakespearians as blank-filling but condemned in after-years as blank-shooting. Controversy ensued, despite a common intention to preserve Shakespeare-on-the-Hoof: Q1 was the “heat of composition,” F the “cure”; so the foul papers/promptbook “bi(so)nary construct” lives on. Factions excuse corruption to accept F’s authority, despite its reprint status. Seeing Q1 as transmitted in performance by shorthand (as bygone scholars saw), I evaluate the propositions not on Sir Brian’s or “two-text” terms, but “bad quarto” alternatives.


Restoration of omission is ‘a question to be askt.’ Stone: “[T]hat none of the fresh material . . . is strictly necessary may . . . argue . . . omission in Q” (69). To his credit, Vickers’s insight that F additions may be Q1 printer’s deletions, seems especially worthy. But his method—to bypass extant text and analysis on weakly conjectured authority, thereby to assert that virtually all F-only text is restored—suspiciously dodges Stone’s objection that the arguments “can all too easily be turned inside out.” Do F lines “seem to betray their extraneous origin by introducing irrelevancies or inconsistencies into the plot? The plot abounds in [such matter], and these same lines may have been removed from Q in an attempt, however modest, to reduce the number” (Stone, 66).


Thus, to argue one way in every instance suggests bias. But as Stone is speaking here of pre-Q1 theatrical cuts, printer’s necessities weigh in the balance. Further, F additions often appear so pointless as to seem (paradoxically) authorial and inviting of deletion; and I agree that longer F additions are spaced regularly enough (Vickers, 130) to be Q1 cuts meeting a moderate quota.


On the other hand, short additions seem arbitrary and many longer examples are editorial fixes, some of which fail in their purpose, as Stone explains. But, since several substantive F additions probably depend on Q1 printer’s copy, further restoration seems plausible—though not from a parallel text.


Q1 looks intentionally crowded (wide measure, verse as prose), even if other factors condensed the text (such as restorations by foul proofing). As Vickers observes, space-saving saves paper, which is an interesting fact to build on. It follows that Okes’s paper supply was limited to what makes up Q1 (and the size of the edition). Other Q1 features must result from economy, though it proved a money-maker (over time). I guess the project belonged to Okes; Butter and Busby were backers, not bosses.


Production was on a shoestring: in for a dime, Okes probably proofread himself, as Blayney and Vickers suggest. Sir Brian assumes an experienced scribe successfully ‘fair copied’ Shakespeare’s “messy” draft and wonders why Okes didn’t seek the same service. The best model for Q1 copy is John of Bordeaux, a playtext transcribed from shorthand; it well accounts for Lear’s features. The unlined text’s spelling is bad, for example: surviving Q1 anomaly indicates even more in its copy-text; misreadings from bad spelling are likely. Set directions, pointing, lineation, and other kinds of hired editing would be relatively expensive.


The shorthand transcription was a bargain. Shakespearians don’t grasp the process; once adept, stenographers taped speech in real time (after the speaking), to transcribe (and to transliterate) at Will. Busby could tell you it made good copy. Q1 bristles with Bordoxisms; Okes bought a do-it-yourself kit, and it shows.


Shakespeare took a back seat to penny-pinching; the industry was just getting started. If text was left out—no big deal; that doesn’t mean it disappeared. Vickers assumes that Okes edited the text ahead of his apprentice compositors and corrected it behind them; Sir Brian states that printer’s copy was destroyed (in one sentence, before his chapters arguing parallel text). But Q1 copy could survive, intact or in transcription, to emend and restore text in a reprint—If not as Vickers suggests—perhaps achieved with an ongoing (day by day) manuscript redaction of the play; not to save Q1, but to take advantage of hard-earned readings and corrections after the fact. Alternatively, omissions and late alterations might be retained as Cairncross suggests: two individual copies of each sheet had manuscript corrections affixed opposite the corresponding “original” quarto pages, to allow efficient reprinting or redaction before reprinting. We should not forget that F is, after all, a cured reprint and that to the end, compositors got the last word.


Q1 printer’s copy was reproduced, remarkably, somewhat faithfully in Q1. If Vickers is right to suggest that F restores omissions from that very manuscript, the most likely F derivation is from Q1 copy, Q1, Q2, and their agents. Much of the text is editorial. This all happened after the play was recorded by stenography. Because Shakespeare’s manuscripts were not involved, the real possibility of even earlier alterations to the play hasn’t been recently discussed. One King Lear? It didn’t work that way. Without a legitimate second text, we have no way of knowing the real quality of Q1. Still, the author’s own work shines through.


Gerald E. Downs




MV Dialog

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.221  Thursday, 9 June 2016


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

Date:         June 9, 2016 at 5:21:52 AM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: MV Dialog


I find Bill Blanton’s attempt to anchor The Merchant of Venice in a historical analogy with the details of Elizabeth I’s reign fascinating, but not wholly plausible. There have been a number of attempts to approach Shakespearean texts in this analogous way, e.g. Carl Schmitt’s Hamlet and Hecuba that sees that play as referring to the Mary Queen of Scots narrative. Of course, if you read these texts primarily with a view to establishing analogies, then you are inclined to find persuasive any narrative that might fit. Let us go back to the text of Shakespeare’s play.


1. Portia is governed by the ‘law’ of her dead father.  Elizabeth was not.


2. She is a lady ‘richly left’ and this is what attracts Bassanio. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that he might be a version of Philip II of Spain. In practical terms Portia rules her ‘household’ but she does not rule herself (see I.2.)


3. The issues that the play weaves together are ‘usury’ and mercantile activity. But the play weaves an even more complex web of relations between what Aristotle would have called chrematistics and the larger economy of the ‘household’, and male/ female and male/male friendship. 


4. This is all tied up with what the Elizabethans thought about Venice, its republican freedoms, and what Patrick Collinson in 1987 called ‘The Monarchical republic of Queen Elizabeth I’ 


What Bill Blanton does (and he’s by no means alone in this) is to offer a kind of revisionist historicism that operates primarily through analogy: if X happened in reality then Y (the play or the fictional narrative) must refer to it directly and must limit itself to it. Or to put the matter a little more polemically, this seems to me to be a wrongheaded approach to Shakespearean texts. Yes, we might expect to find occasional references to contemporary events in these plays, and we can test them against protocols of historical probability and likelihood. But the appeal of a play like The Merchant seems to me to be far wider than a limited narrative of actual historical events would suggest, or that an even more limited appeal to ‘source’ study as it has been traditional practised would dictate. 


Of course, fur us, reading is a democratic process, and as readers we can think what we like. What we can be certain of is that The Merchant of Venice is not about Leeds United (what used to be a very successful English football team).  Bill Blanton’s reading, of course, is more plausible than that, but not, I would suggest, plausible enough.


Kind regards
John Drakakis





The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.220  Thursday, 9 June 2016


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

     Date:         June 8, 2016 at 5:39:54 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Refusal 


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

     Date:         June 9, 2016 at 4:11:12 AM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Refusal




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

Date:         June 8, 2016 at 5:39:54 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Refusal


I refuse to wish Hardy well in this email. But he can’t keep me from thanking him for the many years in which SHAKSPER has changed and improved the lives of so many Shakespeareans.


I concur.



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

Date:         June 9, 2016 at 4:11:12 AM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Refusal


My sentiments exactly Harry!


As Ever

John D




Vickers One King Lear

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.219  Wednesday, 8 June 2016


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

Date:         June 8, 2016 at 12:21:57 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: One Lear


Julia Griffin observed: “I’m rather surprised by Professor Wells’s applause for Holger Syme.  The series of tweets strikes me as needlessly aggressive, referring to Vickers just as “Sir”, and drenching him with sarcasm . . .”


I read a few Holger Syme entries. The Twitter format invites name-calling; it’s no place for serious scholarship, I suppose (not having “signed up”). I would like to see discussion here—other than my own review, which is nearing an end one way or another. But first—I lately noted the likelihood that Q1’s “coronet” set direction was editorially inferred from the dialogue at 1.1.139, ‘This coronet part between you’ (Q/F), though Vickers suggest the direction was “both authorial and directorial”:


Sound a Sennet, Enter one bearing a Coronet . . . (Q; F omits the coronet bearer, TLN 37).


As a dialogue-inspired entry seemed clear, I didn’t check the context. Now it appears to me that editors significantly misconstrue the staging because of the Q1 error:


  Lear. So yong and so vntender.   107

  Cord. So yong my Lord and true.

  Lear. Well let it be so, thy truth then be thy dower,

. . .

Heere I disclaime all my paternall care,  114

Propinquitie and property of blood,

And as a stranger to my heart and me

Hould thee from this for euer . . .   117

. . .

As thou my sometime daughter.     121

  Kent. Good my Liege.

  Lear. Peace Kent . . .

                         . . . Cornwell,and Albany, 128

. . .

The sway, reuenue, execution of the rest, 137

Beloued sonnes be yours,which to confirme,

This Coronet part betwixt you.    140

  Kent. Royall Lear,

. . . .

Reuerse thy doome . . .  150

Reuoke thy doome . . .   165


Foakes (Arden3) observes of ‘this’ (117): “this moment; but, as [The Cambridge Edition] notes, possibly indicating a gesture. Does Lear point to his heart, the map or the coronet?” Of 140, the editor notes that “Lear presumably takes the coronet, intended for Cordelia, from an attendant.”


Isn’t it much more likely that Cordelia entered wearing the coronet, that Lear removed ‘this’ from her head, and gave it to the Dukes, irrevocably ‘dooming’ his daughter (and himself)? Had there been no set direction, ‘this’ would have been obvious and dramatic. It would also relieve editors and directors of questions regarding the handling and intended purpose of the coronet. No doubt each daughter sported one. F editors, probably aware of Q’s derivation, discounted the “bearer” but failed to give the reader the proper information. The combination of factors indicates Q1 was not printed from an authorial draft.


Gerald E. Downs




MV Dialog

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.218  Wednesday, 8 June 2016


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

Date:         June 8, 2016 at 11:48:23 AM EDT

Subject:    MV Dialog




WHO’S WHO: Portia as Queen Elizabeth


After I became confident that Shakespeare had written Portia as Elizabeth on the Religion/Politics/Current events dimension, I went back to some of the probable sources. I wanted to see what it was about those sources that might have attracted his interest, and what changes he had to make in order to have his play fit with Elizabeth.


On the Source dimension (Il Pecorone), the Lady of Belmonte (with a final e) was the rich ruler of a country, as were both Portia and Elizabeth. The Lady obtained her position and wealth thanks to her deceased husband.


On the Story dimension, Portia inherited Belmont (with no final e) and her vast wealth from her father, who had set conditions on her obtaining a husband. Shakespeare had to change husband from the Source dimension to father so that Portia could maintain her status as a virgin. He also had to change the bed trick to something else for the same reason.


On the Religion/Politics/Current Events dimension, Elizabeth inherited England from her father, who had also set conditions on her obtaining a husband; viz, the Privy Council must first approve of the marriage. Elizabeth was very famously and publicly a virgin. Belmont (with no final e) was the home of the Earl of Southampton’s cousin, Thomas Pounde.


Source dimension. The Lady had a number of suitors (not all of them voluntary) who desired the wealth and power that marriage to her would bring, with all but the final suitor (Giannetto) being unsuccessful.


Story dimension. Same with Portia; all of her suitors except the last (Bassanio) were unsuccessful.


Religion/Politics/Current Events dimension. All of Elizabeth’s suitors were unsuccessful. A number of scholars have noted the connection between Portia’s dismissal of a number of her suitors and the unsuccessful suitors for Elizabeth’s hand. Like the Lady (but unlike Portia), Elizabeth was not at all interested in marriage.


Source dimension. The Lady of Belmonte (with a final e) did not have a name, giving Shakespeare the opportunity to provide one.


Story dimension. Shakespeare gave his Lady of Belmont (with no final e) a name: Portia. In addition, Shakespeare specified the source of the name: Cato’s daughter, Brutus’ Portia. (I.1.166)


Religion/Politics/Current Events dimension. Bassanio represented the Earl of Essex, who had been carrying on a faux romance with the much older Elizabeth. The Earl wanted to control England (and its wealth) by supplanting the Cecils as Elizabeth’s main advisor. By 1596, this desire had become a necessity because the Cecils had won Elizabeth’s favor and Essex had lost it (given the failure of the Cadiz raid). When Bassanio (Essex) married Portia (Elizabeth), he became Brutus, who was famous for only one thing: lending his distinguished family name to the conspiracy to assassinate Caesar and participating in that assassination. By so publicly (if somewhat enigmatically) urging Essex to kill Elizabeth and to take control of England, Shakespeare was committing high treason.


Source dimension. The Lady was something like a pirate, obtaining rich cargo and valuable ships by a bed trick instead of by violence.


Story dimension. Shakespeare had Shylock mention pirates in connection with Antonio’s ability to repay the loan of 3,000 ducats. (I.3.20-22) Shakespeare also had Shylock chide the “Venetians” for their slaves. (IV.1.89-97)


Religion/Politics/Current Affairs. Elizabeth was very much a sponsor of pirates, at least beginning with Drake. Both the Vatican and Philip II called her the “pirate Queen.” Elizabeth was also hip-deep in England’s slave trade.


To be continued.


W. N. Blanton





Subscribe to Our Feeds


Make a Gift to SHAKSPER

Consider making a gift to support SHAKSPER.