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Stern Noting Q1 Hamlet

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.018  Friday, 16 January 2015


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

Date:         January 16, 2015 at 12:16:43 AM EST

Subject:    Stern Noting Q1 Hamlet


Professor Holland responded to my inference that Tiffany Stern’s “Noting” was not peer reviewed (as it were):


> Gerald Downs’ post about Tiffany Stern’s article on

Hamlet Q1 includes the following statement: ‘No doubt,

> Tiffany Stern’s article was written by invitation, which

> bypasses the editorial process (I hope).’ 


> As editor of Shakespeare Survey, I want to make clear

> the nature of Gerald Downs’ error over this. Professor

> Stern was invited to give a paper at the 2012 biennial

> International Shakespeare Conference, papers from

> which form some of the contributions to Survey,

> a process which has been the same ever since the ISC

> and Survey both began in the 1940s. The invitation was

> issued by those who run the ISC, not by Shakespeare

> Survey. As usual, Survey’s Board met during the

> conference to decide which of the papers would be

> selected for Survey. No, this is not anonymous

> peer-review but it is review by a large number of the

> world’s most distinguished Shakespeare scholars,

> many more than the two who would normally read

> submissions to journals. This is not ‘bypass[ing] the

> editorial process’ but is instead a rigorous process

> consequent on the link between the ISC and Survey

> for more than 60 years.


Thanks for the clarification. If the cause is reported aright, Stern did write by invitation. As “You’re pre-approved!” is my favorite greeting, I don’t object per se; just wondering how a faulty essay got by the scholarly firewall.


For the same 60 years shorthand has been almost completely ignored by the same most distinguished Shakespeare scholars; so much for authority—almost; voted isn’t vetted, in my book. Hypothetically, scholars-that-be may welcome (invite?) a bad essay blessing bad tradition. But my “asperities of expression” result from trying to understand an article uncorrected before “setting forth,” not to complain about publication.


I was hoping for some discussion about the issues. There are better ways to try than to belabor a bad paper, I grant. But it’s easy to see that Stern’s conclusions, mistakenly manufactured as they are, nevertheless provide an ‘invitation’ to set the bad quartos aside as post-theatrical oddities.


Instead, I recommend rational inquiry; argument, even. Are the bad quartos evidence of theatrical history itself? I think so. And in that spirit I’ll conclude my review of the article with remarks left over from my earlier responses. I’ll gladly discuss any of the issues.


Except for text read to dictation, shorthand implies a memorial transmission. Bad quartos are memorial reports. A theatrical report is first “reported” by actors in performance. Yet Stern allows performing actors little chance to cause any differences between Q1 & Q2: “Sometimes in Hamlet Q1 there seem to be traces of memorial corruption. That, too, can be ascribed to note-taking, however. . . . There is no suggestion, then, that noting precludes memory . . .” (13). That is, ‘noters’ may fail to recall or to reproduce properly what they ‘noted’ or failed to ‘note.’ But there is plenty of evidence in the bad quartos that actors’ memory fails of its own accord.


Stern also examines other kinds of corruption to find that shorthand (or vague cousin ‘noting’) and its aftermath may be their cause. But assigning error isn’t easy; scribes, performers, revisers, printers, and editors all chip in to corrupt the texts. The trick is to identify evidence that admits of as few causes as possible (one?). In the meantime, we are apt to bog down in tangential issues; bad argument obscures matters even more.


Readers may keep the fact in mind that Stern and I both posit a theatrical report (TR) behind Q1. Memorial reconstruction (MR) is not TR, though each is memorial transmission. My own hypothesis (I haven’t thought it through) is that Q1 Hamlet derives from a combination of the two R’s and an extensive textual history; one supposing competent shorthand reporting must assume that even memorial texts have been recorded in performance. That is, I’m not one to argue against MR in every case and I’m not talking about 1602 Globe goings-on.


An obvious circumstance separates ‘pirate’ from stenographer. One familiar enough with a play to report it, even as poorly as Q1, might be expected to get speech prefixes right. The same may be said of the (dis-)orderly team Stern envisions, whose conjectured division of labor might have kept track of matters. But if Bordeaux is to be trusted, the stenographer trusted the recorded dialogue itself to identify speakers. For example, I supposed Q1 s.p.’s ‘Rossencraft and Gilderstone’ would not match Q2. In fact they are shuffled; two peas in a shorthand pod. A pirate may get s.p.’s wrong, but a stenographer will get some wrong. Stern’s “see-what-sticks” method of argument doesn’t consider this issue:


“There are certainly reasons for thinking . . . Q1 a combination of different people’s work . . . . Some sections are ‘right’, then ‘wrong’, and then ‘right’ again, as when the . . . dumbshow consists of ‘the King and the Queene’, while the play it flanks calls the same people ‘the Duke and Dutchesse’. . . . A combined text would explain how this . . . came about – not least because, as in Q2 ‘Gonzago is the Duke’s name’, a version of the play visited by one of the noters might have had a Duke and Dutchess instead of a King and Queen” (18).


Why posit yet another separate version of the play and its ‘noter’ in attendance—only to construct a weak argument? (And what is least?) Q1 assumes (post-transcription, perhaps, since the dumb show is not what it says but what it doesn’t say) that Lucianus poisons his Kingly uncle. Maybe so; Q2 s.p.’s are ‘King’ and ‘Queen’. However, Q1 takes another cue from Hamlet’s chorus line:


. . . mary how trapically: this play is

The image of a murder done in Guyana, Albertus

Was the Dukes name, his wife Baptista,

Father, it is a knauish peece a worke: but what

A that, it toucheth not vs, you and I that haue free

Soules, let the galld iade wince, this is one

Lucianus nephew to the King.


Neither Q1 nor Q2 identifies the speakers in the ‘play within the play’ by its dialogue. In Q1 the s.p.’s are taken from ‘the Dukes name,’ while the ‘dumb show within the play within the play’ picks up on ‘Lucianus nephew to the King.’ A hint to the sequence may be found in Bordeaux, where the scribe informs someone of the placement of the dumb show (‘as you know’) but doesn’t describe the action. Jenkins rightly credits doubt of the Q2 dumb show's authenticity. Q1’s is necessarily made up, at least in its wording. Q2 may simply inherit and improve its Q1 ‘dumb show printer’s copy’ (in Shakespearian style only for a true believer), where the King’s nephew is ID’d. Certainly Hamlet tells the ‘real’ King and Queen that the historical characters are Duke and Duchess.


If we presume the dumb show was not explicit but enigmatic, we can stop wondering why Claudius did not respond to its graphic murder "reenactment." All this is more apparent if Theobald is correct that Hamlet should have said, ‘nephew to the Duke’, an easy mistake for the actor in performance who botched many another line, and who personated a ‘nephew to the King’ himself.


Notwithstanding the textual question, playing, reporting, revising, editing, and reprinting supply all the agents and circumstances we need to explain the text. Stern’s invented additional version and Mutt & Jeff ‘noting audience’ are unnecessary multiple hypotheses. 


Stern grants theatrical reports but not that their corruptions stem from the histories of each play up to and including the recorded performances. Her method of determining who and what caused Q1’s massive corruption is then limited to asking whether an ‘actor-pirate’ or her ‘noting group’ is responsible for the transmission of specific passages in the play. By a series of "mighty" assertions she eliminates the ‘pirate’ to leave the ‘group’ as the last guess standing. I’ll examine some of these assertions and expand the list of agents for comparison.


Q1 Hamlet requires a complicated solution. Stern appeals to different post-notation operations to patch ‘Noting Bee’ holes. But her first agent is a ‘pirate,’ endowed with memory enough not to have spoiled Hamlet’s text. Although the freebooter is a New Bibliography Survivor (on life-support), she advances her theory only by assuming that his recollection would be error-free, which denies the tradition that a pirate’s faulty memory is responsible for Q1. She insists instead that his memory—however and whenever he came by his knowledge—was too good to have produced the corrupt Q1 text:


“Finally, Hamlet Q1 is filled with gaps” (16). So may be textual argument. Stern wishes to show that where the pirate’s memory may be impugned by the MR, a congregation might instead have augmented and worsened their faulty notes:


1) “For an actor-pirate, trained to remember a text by sound and rhythm, a synonym is less obvious than the correct word” (12).


2) “While an actor is likely to remember a word because he remembers its context . . .” (14).


3) “These Q2/F lines . . . might be expected to stick in the mind of an actor, for they are about the trade of playing . . .” (14).


4) “Here an actor might be expected to recall the elongated ‘long Purples’ . . .” (14). Short ‘long purples’ are forgettable, however; or so I've heard.


5) “[A]n actor may have various productions in his head [like elephants, they never forget] – but needs to observe their differences to avoid switching the performance to the wrong play” (16).


One gets the idea that any gratuitous argument will do when the object is to claim that actors’ memories cannot fail. But to take the last example; Stern makes the counter-claim that a “noter who has records of several productions has reason to be conscious of their similarities”. And reason to be oblivious, perhaps. Stern drags in hypothetical “records of other plays” to patch a “gap” in her evidence (as in the ‘Duke’ example above.) In light of Q1’s multiple borrowings from other plays, who would have a supply of dialogue from any number of dramatic works, and who might (consciously or not) retrieve some for use? Who else but a player? Cairncross has some interesting remarks about this likely phenomenon, as does van Dam. Their insights are valuable.


Though Stern’s defense of actors’ memory is weak, some of her arguments against the concept of MR by one or two actors are more meaningful. For example, “if an actor-pirate was playing Voltemand, it is surprising that, in addition to misrecalling his entrance in the last scene, he also cannot remember his name.” But we shouldn’t extrapolate MR expectations too hastily. If Stern and I are right that Q1 Hamlet is a theatrical report, then we must agree on explaining some of its features. Yet it’s mistaken to think every valid argument against MR and its ‘actor-pirate’ applies to reported performance of an entire cast. Straw ‘pirates’ aren’t merely convenient alternatives to ‘noting’ but red herrings hiding performers from the mix, as if MR & TR are alike.


The stenographer’s great concerns are speed, legibility, and accuracy; he probably would not ‘note’ whether Voltimand arrives on the death-scene as an ambassador “back from England.” The identity was probably presumed afterwards because ‘ambassadors’ are called such in the dialogue; someone jumped to a ‘Voltemar’ conclusion. As for the botched names, Stern cites Bales to the effect that two letters suffice for names that can be memorized (or, more likely, recovered from early, full transcription). ‘Gilderstone’ may have been phonetically attempted only once and abbreviated afterwards. Thus stenographers and their prey aren’t subject to all criticisms of ‘pirates’ but they have errors of their own.


Because of this “review” I’ve been reading some interesting old books about shorthand. I may cook up a note on how an early stenographer could have worked. Methods of shorthand were controversial and competitive in later days. Their advocates state their cases and reveal interesting biases to provide some insights into the Bordeaux method and vice versa.


Gerald E. Downs

Authentic Forgeries! (Announcement)

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.017  Friday, 16 January 2015


From:        Joseph Egert < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         January 15, 2015 at 2:24:00 PM EST

Subject:    Authentic Forgeries! (Announcement)


For anyone passing near or through the Baltimore, MD area, Peabody Library is hosting through Feb 7 (not Feb 1) 2015,  an exhibition of 70 “Fakes, Lies, and Forgeries”:


The ‘authentic’ forgeries include:


--- Ben Jonson manuscript verse letter to his “special goode Friende Sr Wm Davenant” at the “Swanne Taverne by Charinge Crosse”, probably an early 19th C. forgery. Davenant was knighted five years after Jonson died.


--- William Henry Ireland’s ‘rediscovered’ Shakespearean play VORTIGERN presentation copy from 1799.


--- The 1796 broadside bill for the above VORTIGERN played only April 2, 1796 at the Drury-Lane Theatre Royal.


--- The same Ireland’s MISCELLANEOUS PAPERS AND LEGAL INSTRUMENTS UNDER THE HAND AND SEAL OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (1796). Includes love letter and (?) “lock of hair” sent to his wife “Anne Hatherrewaye”.


--- The same Ireland’s ‘improved’ copy of John Camilton’s 1610 anti-Jesuit pamphlet containing forgeries of Shakespeare’s signature and of Shakespeare’s anti-Catholic notes.



Joe Egert

Gay Bard

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.016  Wednesday, 14 January 2015


From:        David Basch < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         January 13, 2015 at 12:09:38 PM EST

Subject:    Re: Gay Bard


There are many “dots” to be connected in Shakespeare’s Sonnets in leading to its interpretation. Not only are interpretations difficult but so is the status of the “dots” themselves. Some of the “dots” seen are real, but others are matters of debate or just plain obscure. And then, what about those “dots” that are unknown and unsuspected? Can these be ruled out? As a result, for many, these poems provide something like a huge Rorschach test.  And, as with a Rorschach test, readers, caught in the web of their own frames of reference, will be finding themselves in these texts: their own preoccupations, psychological and factual.


As Hardy Cook observed (12.5.14) in a comment on Ian Steere’s series of associations of individual sonnets to episodes in the poet’s relationship to Henry Wriothesley, “You are not going to prove any of the above [interpretations] by the sonnets themselves... I’m waiting for the so-called ‘smoking gun.’”


And this is true for any interpretations, for which, given the partisan interests involved, scholarly and political, even “smoking guns” are not sufficient to confirm. As Goethe observed, “What is most difficult? That which is most simple; to see with ones eyes what lies before ones eyes.”


So it is not surprising that Ian Steere will find compelling his own view of how individual sonnets synchronize with episodes in a Shakespeare-Wriothesley relationship. Ian’s view, I would wager, is dependent on, along with his readings of the sonnets, his knowledge of the history and how he is willing to regard the poet in the context of today’s popular psychologies. But what Ian may be failing to recognize is how much he has filled the gaps knowledge with imaginative conjectures.



As an illustration of how the same sonnet can yield widely different interpretations, consider Sonnet 40, which has given no end of puzzlement to commentators. In this sonnet, the poet chides his beloved friend, whom he accuses of betrayal. His friend has inflicted on him something most painful. The poet, referring to his friend as “gentle thief,” accuses him of having robbed him of “all his poverty,” a pain particularly poignant since it comes from a beloved.


From Ian’s context, given his view of the relationship of the poet to his patron, Henry Wriothesley, this points to some kind of romantic betrayal, the specifics of which Ian must conjecture from sparse or unclear facts.


On the other hand, the same sonnet can be read as an exercise in theodicy, the reconciliation of the evil that befalls good men. Here the poet’s friend is the Lord who has grievously disappointed the poet, the Lord’s faithful disciple. We arrive at this scenario when it is considered that what makes a poor person poor are his children. Thus to rob a poor man of his poverty means the taking of one of his children away, as did occur to the poet in the loss of his son, Hamnet at age 11.


Other clues to the identity of the poet’s beloved friend is his appellation as “lascivious grace.” This description appears to allude to the Lord in the Bible as a “consuming fire,” a fire that lasciviously licks up all before it. This is an image of the Lord in an all powerful and irresistible guise, doing His will, beneficently or hurtful. This is a force that the poet describes as one in Whom “all ill well shows.” That is, even the ill the Lord is seen to bring is for the good.


The poet, faithful to the Lord, declares, “Kill me with spites,” a sentiment that recalls Job’s faithful response to the scourges that God has permitted to assail him, the poet concluding that despite it all, “we [man and God] must not be foes.” The poet’s moral: no matter what happens, man must not let himself become the foe of God.


The point is not to prove my version as the valid one, but to illustrate how disparate interpretations may be drawn from the same poem. The question is which rings true to the character of the poet.


Ian, deep into his own narrative, is probably not inclined to countenance this interpretive possibility, especially since it would deny his own. But notice, Ian’s interpretations evokes a counterintuitive picture of the poet. Are we to accept a masochistically inclined poet? Such a personality goes against a portrait of the poet as a man of wholesomeness. The latter is the caliber we expect from the fact of the characterizations the poet has given in his plays that, at times, bring forth robust men and woman of great nobility. This I believe would be beyond the ken of the disturbed individual that Ian pictures.


I offer my interpretation of the Sonnets as conveying in allegorical language what the poet believes are essential spiritual forces that vie for expression in our lives. It conveys a view of human functioning in which these opposing forces are integral and necessary elements in life, worthy and complementary friends. These are part of the spiritual dimensions of a religious life which the poet obviously believes is necessary to the good life. I believe that a study of the poet’s sonnets inform us of aspects of these forces.


David Basch

Book and Blog Announcement

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.015  Wednesday, 14 January 2015


From:        Michael Saenger < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         January 12, 2015 at 6:10:47 PM EST

Subject:    Book and Blog Announcement


To all:


This is a brief announcement of a new book from MQUP entitled Interlinguicity, Internationality, and Shakespeare.


In a collection of essays, it addresses how languages and communities overlap, share space and helped to define Shakespeare's time and ours.


Michael Saenger 

Interpretation versus Reading

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.014  Monday, 12 January 2015


[1] From:        Robert Appelbaum < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         January 11, 2015 at 10:11:50 AM EST

     Subject:    Interpretation/Reading


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

     Date:         January 11, 2015 at 7:23:08 PM EST

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Interpretation/Reading 


[3] From:        Lawrence Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         January 11, 2015 at 8:26:03 PM EST

     Subject:    Re: Interpretation vs. Reading 




From:        Robert Appelbaum < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         January 11, 2015 at 10:11:50 AM EST

Subject:    Interpretation/Reading


I wonder if I could intervene a little and comment on the interpretation/reading topic. I really appreciate what Hardy and John have said on the topic and accept with both of them that ‘reading’ is what we are really doing when we are ‘interpreting’, and the ‘knowledge’ produced by a literary reading is always to some extent provisional and relative to the conditions of the reading itself.


Nevertheless, I worry that when we say these things we harm our standing with the public and the administrators, and I worry that we cripple ourselves when we apply for research funds.  If you apply for funding, or if you argue to a dean that a teacher needs extra time in order to conduct research, you are less likely to succeed if you propose to do a ‘reading’. That might work if you were applying to put on a performance, but what funding judges usually want is a ‘positive’ ‘contribution’ to ‘knowledge’, not an acting-out based on personal predispositions.


Meanwhile, I think it needs to be acknowledged that in a field like Shakespeare studies there is a great deal that we can ‘know’, or even know. And one of the things that we can know is what we don’t know and are unlikely ever to find out: autobiographical confirmation of our intuitions about the sonnets, for example. A knowledgeable ‘reading’ of the sonnets ‘knows’ this. Meanwhile, a merely speculative reading of a text can contribute to knowledge if and to the extent to which the reader knows that the reading is speculative. 


Finally, I worry that because of institutional pressures to be empirical, to produce ‘positive’ knowledge based on clear-cut ‘data’ we can be tempted to do empirical work for its own sake.  So, in sum, though I agree with Hardy and John, I am not yet satisfied. I think we need more clarification on these issues, that we need to understand how knowing what one doesn’t know is a function of knowledge, that there is a difference between performing a reading and contributing to knowledge, and how, in spite of all kinds institutional pressures, we might think about how good work in our profession both needs and doesn’t need to be based on hard data, whether it is being speculative or positive.





Robert Appelbaum

Professor of English Literature

Engelska Institutionen

Uppsala Universitet



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

Date:         January 11, 2015 at 7:23:08 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Interpretation/Reading


John Drakakis answers chiefly with autobiography the question of why we find a particular pattern plausible. I would say it also has to do with reasons, though reasons with roots in our lives, including our general sense of how human beings act and how they should act. Claims of knowledge grow most tenaciously from a contrast with the obviously wrong, Oxfordians for example. From my point of view people sometimes are quite clearly, even objectively, wrong, and this tempts me toward faith in the possibility of objective rightness because in this case I’m right. But my own positive rightness in interpreting a character, scene, line, word, or play remains more tentative. The absolute uncertainty reveled in by Derrida, et. al., is not too hard to allow, while relative uncertainty generates some interesting arguments. We don’t simply stand by our sacred opinions. However prejudiced we may be, we at least ostensibly give reasons and evidence to construct the most plausible claim. We argue, and over time select the best interpretations to agree on, tentatively, as the furthest we can see so far. This requires a different form of attention than concentrating on that which there is no such thing as, and helps ground in evidence the reasonable pursuit of truth.


Best wishes,

David Bishop



From:        Lawrence Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         January 11, 2015 at 8:26:03 PM EST

Subject:    Re: Interpretation vs. Reading


John Drakakis and I are actually on the same page.  We seem to agree with each other that “ink marks on a page have no meaning at all until we gather them together in what we consider to be a plausible pattern that will explain their existence” and that, in many cases at least, their significance may be obscure unless we know the historical context in which whey were penned, as the example I gave from Macbeth illustrates. As I also said, however, history is not the sole guide to ascertaining what the author expected the audience to understand from his words; the words themselves, as understood at the time, are the first and principal guide.


I also wholeheartedly agree with John that it is “a blight that comes with the routine professionalisation of the discipline that any critical utterance must be constrained by the ‘ism’ to which it is confined by readers.”  I have been screaming the same argument in the wilderness for longer than I care to remember, so I wonder what it is in my last post that suggests that I believe a critic should strive by all means to be an orthodox adherent to his particular pet Theory.


I also do not follow John’s opening salvo, that “Unfortunately, [I] resort... to caricature to explain the difference between ‘reading’ and ‘interpretation’.”  The four or five ridiculous examples I cite at the end of my post are not “caricatures”; they are accurate descriptions of interpretations offered by genuine or self-styled Shakespeare scholars, including one highly respected professor and published Shakespeare academic.  What is “unfortunate” is that these absurdities (as nonsensical as saying that King Lear is about Leeds United) are taken seriously in some quarters. 

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