The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.172 Friday, 4 April 2014
From: Gerald E. Downs <
Date: April 3, 2014 at 7:56:18 PM EDT
Subject: Lukas Erne's Book Trade
Steve Roth replied to my posting on Lukas Erne’s book but I’m not sure how we agree or disagree:
> While Shakespeare quite possibly, even certainly, was not
> “complicit” in publication of his plays, I think Gerald would
> agree that he must have been quite cognizant of it. His works
> were being published.
That’s the presumption for plays not yet written when the stream of publications began. I alluded to this standing observation (Greg, etc.) in my post and in my 2005 Review Essay of Erne’s Literary Dramatist. Knowing one’s work may be published (probably corruptly) and taking steps to publish (& profit) aren’t the same. For example, Heywood lamented the mangling of his plays as reason to forestall thieves by publishing them himself; as did Chapman. Apparently Shakespeare took no such steps; further, he died with no assurance that all his works would be published (authorized or not). “Cognizance” isn’t a good way to claim intentions; it just introduces intentions when evidence doesn’t exist.
> They were being purchased in considerable numbers, read,
> quoted, and commented upon . . . . 2. Significantly—given
> Shakespeare’s positioning as actor, playwright, and company
> and theater sharer amidst the whole poetomachia business—by
> his competitor and compatriot playwrights, and other sniping
> and snippeting literati.
One may suppose. Ben Jonson and H & C took special note of the corruption. Contemporaries probably didn’t enjoy the mangling as much as we do.
> 3. By arguably his most prized audience, Elizabeth and James’
> courtiers. These were also the most educated, attentive, and
> perspicacious of his customers, those who (Shakespeare could
> hope) would plumb the density, complexity, allusions, and
> multilevel ironies he offered up.
Prizes, customers, hope, and levels notwithstanding, Shakespeare didn’t offer up anything, apparently. It’s plumb ironic.
> I’ll just assert baldly: writers want their readers/auditors to
> get their jokes.
All of them? Fortunately, I delete most of mine. I’ve been thinking of showing how Q1 Hamlet players themselves didn’t get the jokes. For example, In Q1 and Q2 the Prince replies to the King’s greeting,
King How now son Hamlet, how fare you, shall we have a play? Q1
Ham. Yfaith the Camelions dish, not capon cramm’d, / feede a the ayre.
King. How fares our cosin Hamlet? Q2
Ham. Excellent yfaith, / Of the Camelions dish, I eate the ayre,
Promiscram’d, you cannot feede Capons so.
Q1’s senseless ‘capon crammed’ is a corrupt transposition of terms (funny, but probably not authorial). An explanation is in order, which might have less to do with perspicacity than density. I guess Q1 buyers felt a bit ripped off. And surely, the player represented in Q1 (Hamlet!) didn’t get the wordplay. Yet Q1, called (obviously) a reader’s text, is light years from Shakespeare. Although Steve has observed that the writer behind Q1 had worked with Shakespeare, in this instance someone tried to memorize lines that were meaningless to him.
> To suggest that Shakespeare cared nothing for those readers
> when writing, that he exerted no effort to cater or deliver unto
> them (especially given his obsession with literary immortality,
> expressed especially and resoundingly in the sonnets), to me
> beggars belief.
All you have to do is believe Erne; as a bonus you get a Biography Decoder Ring: Be-sure-to-drink-your-Ovaltine. No one suggests Shakespeare wouldn’t have liked to be read. I’d like to see his unadulterated work myself. But there’s no use pretending that “what he left us” is what he would have left us, given the extant texts and their histories.
> Like others, I remain befuddled by the evidence (and
> notable lack of same) suggesting that Shakespeare was
> uninvolved in publication. But still: “Shakespeare didn’t
> care about publication” does not suggest, to me, that
> “Shakespeare didn’t care about his readers.”
It’s a mistake for Shakespearians to trust presuppositions (feelings: theirs or his) more than evidence, which indicates no authorial publishing presence. Fuddling arrives with the baggage.
> On the befuddlement, one possible, unprovable, surmise,
> that would explain things rather simply: Maybe Shakespeare
> just hated paying attention to previous works, was always
> moving on to the next: Not at all unheard of, among authors.
Careful, Gary Taylor spank! I’m sure Shakespeare didn’t revise Q1 Lear to F Lear. The thing to remember is that Shakespeare’s return to his texts, however he may have done so, is probably not reflected in the extant texts. In the historical aftermath, we see Q1 Lear as great literature; from Shakespeare’s point of view, Q1 would have been a piece of crap. Heywood’s If You Know Not Me went through seven editions before the author spoke of its crippling reproduction:
And in that lamenesse it hath limp’t so long,
The Author now to vindicate that wrong
Hath tooke the paines, upright upon its feete
To teache it walke,
Heywood was mighty mad about his play of Elizabeth, but he took thirty years to take the pains to fix it. And in the end he invited playgoers to see it, not to read it.
Literary Dramatist treats Q1 Lear by chapterly need: copy “may have been a private transcript, or even a transcript of a private transcript at more than one remove from Shakespeare” (107). Later Erne asserts that “Blayney . . . Warren . . . Urkowitz, and Gary Taylor have made a strong case for the authority of [Q1], thereby disposing of earlier theories that had little to recommend themselves” (185). Well, page 107 is earlier than 185, but I like to note that Blayney has made no case in the 32 years following his suggestion that Q1 copy was Shakespeare’s foul papers. And in 1983 Taylor accepted Blayney’s opinion while asserting that making a new case would be a waste of time. Authority, my eye. In Book Trade Erne plumps for Shakespearian authority, not by argument (why start now?), but by appeal to the notion that Shakespeare “cared about publication.”
> Or maybe he was just a hard-headed and clear-eyed man of
> business when it came to his work: he knew the money was
> in the playhouse, not on publishers row.
I’ve read somewhere that that beggars belief.
> Or both. Two perfectly plausible explanations, neither of which
> implies that Shakespeare didn’t care about readers when writing.
Plausibility is at some point a necessary criterion; but like simplicity it has to mesh with the evidence. In this case, the old view, that Shakespeare had nothing to do with publishing his plays, has sound backing. The old view that his rough drafts and his personally supervised promptbooks supplied the printers isn’t plausible because the evidence doesn’t agree.
Gerald E. Downs