Book Announcement: Shakespeare’s Symmetries

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.188  Tuesday, 24 May 2016


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

Date:         May 11, 2016 at 11:14:38 AM EDT

Subject:    Book Announcement: Shakespeare’s Symmetries


I am pleased to announce the publication of my book, Shakespeare’s Symmetries: The Mirrored Structure of Action in the Plays.


The book demonstrates that the mature plays are structured chiastically (ABCDCBA), usually with thematic actions as the repeated elements, one to each scene. Shakespeare’s use of chiasmus in sentences, speeches and scenes has been widely remarked, and some chiastic pairings between scenes have been noticed, especially when those pairs flank the central scene: the murders of Caesar and Cinna in Julius Caesar, Coriolanus’s two denunciations of the tribunes in Coriolanus, the wrong choices of Portia’s first two suitors in The Merchant of Venice, etc. This mirrored pairing of actions occurs not only in the central flanking scenes but between all corresponding scenes of the first and second halves of mature plays. The basis of the pairing is not always obvious, for the completed, repeated or contrasting actions may be reported or narrated rather than enacted. For example, Cominius is embraced by Coriolanus in one early scene and in the corresponding later scene reports that he has been rebuffed by Coriolanus. And in some later plays the connection is even less evident. In Cymbeline, for instance, the change in Posthumus is expressed metaphorically: he is a “flyer” in the third scene and a “stander” in the third-last scene.  The structure has gone unnoticed because of the subtlety of the reflections.


This arch-like thematic structure resolves a number of perennial problems, including questions of scene division, the number and placement of scenes, and the structural logic of puzzling plays like Cymbeline. The “thematic arch” explains, for example, the scene divisions in Folio Measure for Measure, Folio 2 Henry IV and other plays whose scene designations are routinely changed. It also suggests—to take one other vexing issue—that the twenty-seven scenes of Folio Macbeth should remain unchanged and that the first Hecate scene contains a non-Middletonian portion that reflects Macbeth’s speech in the corresponding scene and should therefore be retained. Most importantly, the thematic arch illuminates Shakespeare’s constructive practice and reveals the underlying consistency even of such apparently dissimilar works as A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Antony and Cleopatra.


The book is available from McFarland & Company. ( 


James Ryan 




The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.187  Tuesday, 24 May 2016


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

Date:         Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Subject:     Explanation


Dear Subscribers,


I was hoping that I could quietly be out of commission and return without any fuss. Unfortunately, that was not the case, so let me offer an explanation and plead that if you are so inclined to hold off sending me any messages about this matter.


On Thursday, May 12, I had a rather complex surgery with two surgeons on my right foot. Although the procedure was to my mind amazing, out of good taste, I spare you the details. I spent the night and the next day in the hospital. I was told I could put no weight on my foot, so I spent the time from Friday until yesterday in the lower level of my house in my zero gravity chair with my foot elevated above my heart. Yesterday, I saw both surgeons who gave me permission occasionally to climb stair so I could finally get to my computer. 


There were also some issues with Google Domains, but I think we have solved those problems now.


I am back until June 9 when I fly to England for a week again, that is, depending on whether I will require another minor surgery to complete the job.


To save my energy in constructing the Newsletter and your energy in reading that Newsletter, I will distribute the announcements today and the other submissions tomorrow. 


Hardy M. Cook

Editor of SHAKSPER


PS: In reviewing the announcements, I seem to have inadvertently deleted one submissions. If send in an announcement and do not see it in today’s Newsletter, please re-send and accept my apologies.



Vickers One King Lear

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.186  Wednesday, 11 May 2016


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

     Date:         May 11, 2016 at 1:59:22 AM EDT

     Subject:    Re: Vickers One Lear 


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

     Date:         May 11, 2016 at 1:51:12 AM EDT

     Subject:    Re: Vickers One Lear 




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

Date:         May 11, 2016 at 1:59:22 AM EDT

Subject:    Re: Vickers One Lear


Because Q1 Lear is densely printed, most noticeably when verse is irregular or treated as prose, Sir Brian Vickers proposes that (to save space) some Q1 copy was deliberately omitted. Before assessing the policy, One Lear readers should consider that F additions may be editorial rather than restored from a hypothetical second text (F’s manuscript source, a Q1 printer’s copy twin). If questions remain undecided in many instances or if unauthorized additions add up, literary criticism matters.


Sir Brian proposes to investigate “bibliographical evidence of systematic cutting” (130) in Q1. Yet Blayney warns, “bibliographical evidence” often really isn’t, when a “system” may not be justified in calling critical readers off the scent. Vickers cites Eleanor Prosser’s argument that F 2H4 omitted quarto lines to compress text. Prosser sees F as a non-Shakespearean revision of Q while Vickers suggests transcription of the players’ book; in either case, extant early 2H4 text is omitted in the derivative edition.


Vickers bases “Q1 Lear omissions” on text found only in the later edition—a far less certain proposition. The “fuller text as preserved in the Folio” is not bibliographical evidence in any sense that obviates textual criticism or explains his “confident conclusion that these omissions were deliberate” (129).


“In abridging the play, Okes made 89 separate cuts . . . . But it is surprising to discover that the vast majority of cuts were of a few words words only. . . . Evidently Okes was aware of the need to save space by whatever means . . . . the location of these cuts on the page will enable us to identify some patterns and to discover the principles by which they were made” (131).


If analysis suggests that some added F text is editorial, “patterns and principles” may suffer. Vickers gives a chapter to “regularizing Folio Editors,” whom he limits to many small changes. Citing Chambers: “The texts are substantially derived from the same original. There are . . . many verbal variants, and where one is clearly wrong, the better reason, except [in a few] cases, is in F. Subject . . . to its usual sophistications, F must have the preference where the variants are indifferent” (One Lear, 202).


If “the same original” is a report, as must be if Q1 is reported, it will often be clearly wrong; any subsequent agents (including the faithful Q1 compositors) were free to “repair” the text. None would be limited to smaller changes. Preferable F readings are to be expected but the evidence is in iffy alterations.


Analysis may show that assuming Q1 omission, or Q1 omission of F additions, is unsure. The blanket assumption of 89 omissions is suspect. Q1 copy may account for some F additions; others seem freely editorial. These are matters of criticism, not bibliography. Insistence on a “foul-paper” parallel text completely transmitted to F (and therefore not to be questioned) isn’t bibliographical; it just eliminates discussion, such as in Stone’s Textual History.


Gerald E. Downs



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

Date:         May 11, 2016 at 1:51:12 AM EDT

Subject:    Re: Vickers One Lear


Sir Brian Vickers’s Q1 Lear spelling comparison is unconvincing and his argument that Shakespeare’s hand is indicated in Q1 and F is no better; Secretary Hand was subject to generic misreadings. However, he also claims that both texts descend independently from the same “messy” manuscript—Q1 printer’s copy—inferring F derivation from at least two sequential non-Shakespearean transcriptions: the first employs a scribe who “corrects” Q1 (by fathoming the ‘mess,’ not by knowing anything of Q1); the later copy edits extensively and detrimentally. Sir Brian confidently tells which copy is responsible for which F passage; he seldom says why or mentions alternative opinion—which saves close readers time and energy.


Vickers asserts that Stone’s “eccentric study” strengthens Doran’s (temporary) “authorial draft” belief, although “Stone rejected Doran’s case that Q and F derived independently . . . from the original” (193).


Stone also proposed an alternative. “F is so frequently guilty of errors taken over from Q or prompted by Q’s obscurities that the independent manuscript, if it ever existed, must have been often and wilfully neglected” (Stone, 84). “. . . F fails to remedy the corruption. The collator’s failure . . . occurs . . . where he has . . . exercised due care in consulting his manuscript” (88). “Thus [revision], which resolves some of the major difficulties . . . is assisted . . . by the further hypothesis that the reviser [had access to] no separate authority but only the manuscript which had already seen service in the composition of Q” (91).


“The good readings in F are not conjectural emendations . . . but the readings which were evidently[!] in the manuscript from which Q1 was printed, and which were misread by the printer” (188, from Doran). Stone disagrees: “The vast majority of the certain corrections are emendations of Q misreadings, to explain which we need not suppose any recourse to an independent manuscript” (89).


Assuming “the same foul papers” behind two lines of text enables separate inquiry, as if readings from a conjectured playbook are not conjectural; they’re just readings. Q1 history (on its lonesome) includes memorial transmission, anomalous spelling, compositor error and faithfulness, foul proofing, variants, odd punctuation, mislineation, Q2, revision, and transcription; all affecting and somehow matching F. But if access to Q1 printer’s copy persisted, a linear, non-authorial stemma allows “certain corrections” from “conjectural emendation” by all agents before 1623. Acceptance of a foul-paper, authorized parallel text sidesteps extant, historical continuity.


Vickers asserts: “Printers regularly destroyed manuscripts once they had printed . . . so that of King Lear is . . . lost; but it was never ‘mythical,’ for two authentic witnesses to it survive, [Q and F], both deriving from Shakespeare’s handwritten copy” (xii). Regularity can be embarrassing, evidence-wise; tacking Shakespeare’s handwriting to Q1 copy only to destroy it is mythical. If, as Vickers argues, Q1 deliberately omitted Lear text, it may nevertheless have seemed worth saving.


Gerald E. Downs




Mis-Appropriating Shakespeare

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.185  Wednesday, 11 May 2016


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

Date:         May 10, 2016 at 1:16:51 PM EDT

Subject:    Mis-Appropriating Shakespeare


Shakespeare did not comment on cognitive science or colonialism, if the words ‘comment’ and ‘cognitive science’ and ‘colonialism’ are being used meaningfully; that is, in the way that university-trained scientists and historians would recognize. The disagreements that have developed on colonialism and cognitive science in recent posts are at an impasse because each side doesn’t agree on what it means to comment. And it seems to me that the more specious camp is one that uses ‘comment’ metaphorically, art personified as the thing doing the commenting, and in which case it’s not Shakespeare who's doing the commenting in the ordinary sense.


So, if Shakespeare is not doing the commenting, who is? Jason Rhodes suggested that what authors had in mind doesn’t really matter, writing, “Regardless of authorial intent, culture places certain values on symbols” in a previous post. Fine, but who’s placing those values in Shakespeare’s mouth or behind his name? Shakespeare “can comment on stuff that wasn’t around in his time,” Rhodes writes. But how does that work? Especially if Shakespeare’s intent doesn’t matter? How do you comment on “stuff” that you have no idea about? Seems like careless, confused language. Is Shakespeare also commenting on newly discovered methods for detecting gravitational waves? Genome sequencing? Biolinguistics? Or is it just cognitive science?


Meanwhile, Neema Parvini writes that he’s “argued elsewhere that cognitive science does give us some interesting and convincing explanations for the social phenomena described by the Marxist and post-Marxist theory.” I suspect he’s argued the same for phenomena described by Shakespeare. Then he writes, “I do think certain answers lie there, even if cognitive scientists haven’t always pushed their conclusions in those directions.” Well, there’s good reason for that: the science community will hold them accountable to evidence and verification trials and will be refuted and be quickly left behind for maintaining invalid claims. This is basically happened to the saints of New Historicism Althusser and Foucault (whom Parvini mentioned); their carelessness with historical facts and scientific terms, combined with their penchant for confused language, could not be taken seriously by practicing scientists or historians in their time. Indeed, today they’re not canon texts in science nor history courses and should not be taken as authorities in any of those fields. And since Parvini is eager to alert us of his forthcoming book on “Shakespeare and New Historicist Theory,” I hope he is just as eager to defend his methods, should they in any way resemble those of Althusser and Foucault.        


Last, were Shakespeare alive today being asked by NPR what he thought about cognitive science or colonialism or whatever, his most probable comment would be, “No comment, man.” Anyone who has truly appreciated Shakespeare—the great self-effacer and biography-eluder who never seems to take any sides, positions, and doctrines—would generally agree. I think. “Speak less than thou knoweth,” he might say.




Bertram’s Velvet Patch

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.184  Wednesday, 11 May 2016


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

Date:         May 10, 2016 at 1:08:58 PM EDT

Subject:    Bertram’s Velvet Patch


Here is a problem that continues to puzzle me and has resurfaced in recent conversations. My long ago “solution” in 1986 has convinced no one (and I will not trot it out again here), but I would like to hear what others have to say.


The exchange below between Lavatch and Lafew is found near the end of 4.5 in Folio All’s Well.


Clo   O Madam, yonders my Lord your sonne with

a patch of veluet on's face, whether there bee a scar vn-

der't or no, the Veluet knowes, but 'tis a goodly patch

of Veluet, his left cheeke is a cheeke of two pile and a

halfe, but his right cheeke is worne bare.

Laf   A scarre nobly got,

Or a noble scarre, is a good liu'rie of honor,

So belike is that.

Clo   But it is your carbinado'd face.


The playwright (or playwrights if one accepts the Maguire-Smith argument for Middleton’s hand in the play) seems to be preparing the playgoer for something soon to be seen and provides in advance three different ways to evaluate that image. Most obvious is Lafew’s inference that the velvet patch worn by “the young noble soldier” (line 97 in Arden 2) covers “a noble scar” or “a good livery of honor,” a worthy emblem of heroic deeds (the kind of scar one associates with Coriolanus). In contrast, Lavatch’s cynical reference to “your carbonadoed face” suggests that under the patch lurks a scar of less worthy origins, an incision “made to relieve syphilitic chancres” (G. K. Hunter’s Arden gloss). The third possibility is supplied in the clown’s comment: “Whether there be a scar under’t or no, the velvet knows, but ‘tis a goodly patch of velvet.” Bertram’s left cheek, like his right, may be bare of any scar at all.


Here then is the puzzle. No further mention of patch or scar is to be found in the Folio. Given that silence, critics and editors rarely comment upon the patch’s presence or possible function in the final scene; directors either ignore the problem completely or cut the Gordian knot by eliminating Lavatch’s lines in 4.5 or provide some token resolution (in the l977 Stratford Festival Canada production, Nicholas Pennell had a tiny black spot the size of a “beauty mark”).


There are at least three options (and perhaps more that I am missing). 1) The exchange in 4.5 may be an “unrevised first thought,” residue from a Plan A that has been superseded by a Plan B (equivalent to Innogen aka Mrs. Leonato in two early stage directions in Quarto Much Ado). 2) The patch should be visible in 5.3 (perhaps large enough to be an echo of Parolles’ blindfold) but with no resolution of the three options. 3) Some stage business involving the patch though not specified in the Folio (and such s.d.s are often missing in both printed texts and MSS – my mantra is “the norm is silence”) should follow – though that option takes us into the inventive and iffy world of conjecture.


What do you think?


Alan Dessen




Subscribe to Our Feeds


Make a Gift to SHAKSPER

Consider making a gift to support SHAKSPER.