The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.106 Monday, 3 March 2014
From: Gerald E. Downs <
Date: March 2, 2014 at 1:14:02 AM EST
Subject: Mommsen and Jenkins on Hamlet
In The Text of Hamlet van Dam cites Tycho Mommsen (Neue . . . 1855), who “demonstrated that [F] awakens the strongest suspicion of being a text interpolated and modelled by the actors, for it is distinguished [from Q2] by
1) many exclamations, imperatives, and intensive adjectives which seem to owe their origin to the pathos of the actors;
2) words, half lines and larger passages not seldom betraying a purpose connected with the stage;
3) omissions, even of the best passages, meant for shortening the play, and omissions with a view to the economy of the stage;
4) numerous inferior words and expressions only a very few of which are to be attributed to the compositor, which may have arisen through repeated copying, but which are by no means to be viewed as changes made by Shakespeare himself for the sake of the performance;
5) quasi embellishing variants which the original manuscript cannot have contained;
6) grammatical and metrical modernizations;
7) bunglings of the metre by additions, omissions, and sometimes by changes;
8) a smaller number of of variants that may be considered as typographical errors;
9) a more careful punctuation, which, however, is often flagrantly at variance with the context, and
10) many line-shiftings . . . .
Mommsen’s great merit [is] to have understood, more completely than anyone before him . . . [that Q2] is much more trustworthy than [F]” (185).
I’ve cited Harold Jenkins (among the most respected of editors) to the effect that actors’ interpolations in F must be acknowledged. And yet a century-and-a-half after Mommsen’s observations, some scholars seem to trust F implicitly, as if editorial doubt of its fidelity either doesn’t exist, or that it could have no bearing on opinions. But if the above list holds, reflection shows that in Shakespearean verse (which we were discussing), the differences between Q2 and F can be meaningful. Complete listings of categorical examples show the probability that the author had no hand in the alterations. He certainly had nothing to do with Q2’s printing (when Q1 served in part as copy) and F dependence on an imperfect Q2 admits of no trickling down from authorized or knowledgeable “literary” agents.
It’s not enough to know the printers winged it; editors (who were they?), compositors, and correctors (copy in hand or not), had a tough job reconciling F’s manuscript to the quarto. Interpolation would have greatly interfered with verse; many of the listed categories could cause what van Dam calls line-shifting: “mangling of verse by subjecting the individual lines to arbitrary processes of shortening or lengthening, while leaving intact the words of which the lines are made up.” Editors knowledgeable of the process try to set lineation and meter right; but van Dam acutely observes that unfamiliarity with the prosody of the era compounds the problems of repair. Hamlet meddling began in 1603, by which I don’t mean anything malicious (on their part or mine).
Jenkins also concludes that F is interpolated independently of Q2 (the best text), which largely served as F copy. What can be made of these exigencies? Arden2 rates as ridiculous van Dam’s (unacknowledged) theory that actors interpolated the promptbook itself. I agree somewhat with Jenkins; the added F text (however useful and professional) is too diversified, informal, and minute to have been deliberately set down. But it got there (and I agree with van Dam that Q2 is also interpolated.)
Scholars know that printed copy was favored—unduly, if an independent Ms. was preferable by some standard other than workman’s comp. The usual assumption is that written copy was “good” (or much better than an invariably corrupt quarto). But publishers and printers weren’t oblivious to shortcomings; if the book served as copy the Ms. was also faulty; otherwise, it would entirely supersede the bad text. That didn’t happen with F Hamlet because, as we see, its Ms. was spoiled. The “editors” may have had no choice but to cure both texts together without concern for modern editorial priorities. What kind of text would comprise the features of Ms. F copy?
My hypothesis, which works like all hypotheses (until it doesn’t), is that theatrical reporting was adept and so widespread that multiple texts of the same plays found their way to the printing-houses. That goes a long way toward explaining not only the problems of bad quartos but those of Mss. used later to “correct” early texts. (As with Hamlet, the corrections can be good.) The inference helps to understand the habitual preference; if neither text held absolute sway printed copy could justifiably ease the load on the workmen. And it casts a wide net; theatrical additions are just what they seem—embellishments and mistakes in performance.
Virtually all textually mysterious plays and the topics stemming from them are test cases for shorthand transmission. That ‘cause’ was accepted for decades as explaining the worst texts without a systematic investigation other than van Dam’s. Among later scholars there is no clear concept of the features such texts would have in common; yet many “non-suspect” texts suggest unusual methods of transmission (A&C, R2, Troilus, and Othello, to name a few). And yet there’s no need to begin study with these texts, whose bias baggage would enrich Aeroflot.
I believe some playtexts are clearly theatrical reports. First and foremost is John of Bordeaux, which elicits no comment because it is too clear. (If you don’t agree, just try to discuss it and you’ll find that silence is gilded, maybe gelded; but you won’t discuss it.) Next I suggest Q1 Philaster, which even the printer said was a bloody mess; Q1 R&J and Orlando, both no-brainers; True Tragedy & Contention, a pair to draw to; HV & MW, alphabet soup; If You Know Not Me, which the author calls shorthand; and on and on.
Reported texts were played. (They still are: F Lear, deriving from Q1, may be a far cry from Shakespeare; yet it is satisfying enough that some might resist the thought that it is corrupt). Bordeaux was adapted in preparation for another company’s use. Shorthand transmission allows wider scope to such texts as Q1 Hamlet, which is impossible to explain by transcription and revision only. Mucedorus was advertised as playable by a small cast (which may explain its popularity); it is more than likely a report. Orlando was apparently played by independent companies. And so on.
Ben Jonson said Shakespeare’s printed plays were stolen and surreptitious. He was probably not just putting words in H&C’s mouths. A greater awareness of the kinds of error in the obvious reports will enable investigators to see similar features in other texts. For example, the sixty-odd mistaken speech headings in Q1 Philaster help to explain the dozens of wrong prefixes in The Merry Devil of Edmonton; multiple speakers and shorthand don’t mix. Editors who don’t consider stenographic transmission (all of them) can’t answer these questions. Without the answers, systematic study of the verse (among other things) is difficult.
Gerald E. Downs