The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.180 Tuesday, 14 April 2015
From: Gerald E. Downs <
Date: April 12, 2015 at 9:35:05 PM EDT
Subject: Re: Erne Review
Gabriel Egan notes:
> Gerald E. Downs’s account of the weaknesses he sees in
> Lukas Erne’s book ‘Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist’
> runs to over 3,400 words. I hope he doesn’t think I’m
> shirking a responsibility when I say that I don’t want to
> reply to it because I think an email list is not the place
> for contributions of that length. I strongly suspect that
> if I reply at the same length (which is what it would take)
> then Gerald and I would effectively be having a private
> conversation, and SHAKSPER is not the place for that.
> I was looking for a more pithy set of examples of errors
> of fact or logic.
This is a good place for discussion of Lukas Erne’s books because too much “conversation” elsewhere gives him a pass. Critical reviews are sorely needed, as history and most inquiry affirms. However, nice guys should always be given good reviews, except by mean guys.
Gabriel Egan has repeatedly stated that Erne’s first book has not been refuted. That’s an odd way to agree with Erne but Egan seldom expresses opinions directly. He made an exception in replying to Bill Blanton about Erne’s “copious evidence.” When arguing, Egan doesn’t hesitate to shirk responsibility. I saw his “not refuted” statement as a bluff; I called his bluff; he folded. As I posted on the same day as his note, I don’t expect him to reply; the review was meant for those who might be interested.
Some years ago I wrote privately (and critically) to Gabriel Egan about his own Struggle. I then expected a sincere discussion but he said my letter was too long; it wasn’t nearly as long as his book. So much for private conversation. I’m reminded of the words of Muhammad: “He can run but he can’t hide.” Gabriel does Sonny one better—he can hide. But who can believe my Erne refutation is itself refuted by refusing to discuss it? Larry Weiss asks:
>> I also assume that he spent time in Stratford before he died
>> revising his work, and died before he could finish.
> And this assumption is grounded on ... (?)
Assumption needn’t be grounded on anything. Shakespearians assume their lives away and the checks keep coming. I think about that around tax-time. The compensation is, Bozo the student learns (knows) the assumptions are correct. “Anne, methought I left the Hamnet revision on the third best bed. What? Yes, I took out the dvng.”
Jim Carroll further observes:
> . . . this idea that Shakespeare did not have interest in
> having his plays published has never made any sense to me.
That’s OK, because no one says that. The question is whether the evidence (the early editions) indicates Shakespeare’s participation in the process that actually occurred. The answer’s ‘No.’
> The quartos have typographical errors and probably
> misinterpretations by the printers, but how can those
> things be construed as evidence that Shakespeare didn’t
> care about seeing his work in print?
The corruption is far, far more extensive. Say, is Jim Carroll really Lukas Erne? Again, the question isn’t whether the author cared, but whether the evidence shows he cared.
> Otherwise he was a busy man who left such work as
> best as it could be handled.
What part of “best” don’t I understand? When Heywood’s plays were manhandled he was ashamed to assert his authorship.
> Otherwise the best evidence that Shakespeare intended
> his plays to be read is provided by Heminge and Condell,
> who went to the trouble to have his plays printed in folio.
Ben Jonson went to the trouble of speaking for them; of course F was a publisher’s venture collecting the playtexts, “stolne” or not. But they’re only evidence.
Pervez Rizvi suggests:
> Was Shakespeare content to be a secret benefactor to
> his readers by writing long passages just for them, but
> never told the publisher of any of his quartos, and so his
> readers never knew the favour he was doing them?
Pervez assumes the publishers worked with authorized manuscripts and that Shakespeare was in on the process. The evidence indicates something else. Shakespeare and his intentions had nothing to do with the corrupt publications, other than to stand by as they happened. At least Heywood made a public statement.
> If claiming that a quarto had more material in it than
> was acted on stage was a significant boost to sales then
> we should have had many more quartos making that
> claim (truthfully or not).
The claim was often that the quarto is what was acted. Often, I believe it.
> [Erne] answered Hirrel on pages 14-7 of the second edition
> of Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist, CUP, 2013. We can
> debate if Erne’s answer was convincing, but we should at
> least start with the current argument.
That’s good advice.
> With all the negativity in this thread, I hope we do not lose
> sight of something that matters more, and that is the Lukas
> in one of the nicest Shakespeareans working today.
I think that niceness and inquiry are best kept apart. Because Shakespeare scholarship is a closed system (that is, meaningless to most of civilization), most participants are a bit too nice (to the right faction) and way too uncritical. I’m not apt to “attaboy” fantasy, but my criticism isn’t often personal. I try to adopt the Hired Man’s attitude: “I believe all Shakespeare scholars are good / If they’re only understood; / Even bad ones, ‘pears to me, / Are just as good as they can be.”
Gabriel Egan muddies the waters:
> Pervez Rizvi hits the nail on the head:
>> Erne is least convincing when he argues for a
>> 'coherent strategy' of publication in the late
>> 16th century which was abandoned in the 17th century.
> Erne more or less admits that he can’t explain why the
> publication of new Shakespeare plays fell so sharply
> after 1600.
Let’s stay in the 16th century for a moment, where Erne fails to establish his “coherent strategy” for publication. He goes to the extreme of including the bad quartos in the strategy, merely to help imagine a statistical pattern. There’s no pattern: printer’s copy was ‘finders-keepers.’ Why the surprise when the pattern continues not to exist?
> According to Taylor, Shakespeare recovered from this
> by teaming up with younger writers who had “the juice”
> he was now lacking.
Not in a million years.
> As Erne shows in ‘Shakespeare and the Book Trade’, despite
> the dip in the early 1600s of publication of new plays by
> Shakespeare he was by virtually every metric the best-selling
> published author of his lifetime. That he was indifferent to
> this extraordinary success is hard to imagine.
The evidence (corrupt editions) shows success for “the book trade” but not for the author. Erne seems to equate the two. That’s the leap of logic that falls flat. Why buy into it? And why ignore the overwhelming evidence?
> . . . a good deal of this discussion and allied discussions
> . . . seems to presume not so much authorial intent as
> authorial micromanagement. The notion of an author
> sweating over his texts, desperately defending his artistic
> integrity against meddling editors seems very much a
> recent idea.
The idea is as old as the era. What is meant by “stolen and surreptitious”? Why did the King’s Men repeatedly try to stop theft of their property? Why did Heywood grind his axe and teeth? What about the bad quartos? The questions aren’t about micromanagement. Why not compare Q1 & Q2 Philaster? The publisher himself was appalled at the textual blood-letting.
> Most of our problems are matters of literary interpretation,
> not bibliography.
I agree. But editorial interpretation consists largely of the recognition and correction of corruption, which is not often significantly bibliographical. Turning a blind eye to the real severity of textual corruption multiplies the problems and gets history wrong.
> I can’t think of any reason a pirate could not select
> whatever portions he wants.
A play reported in performance is limited to the performance itself, unless the text is subsequently revised. That’s one reason (the likely one).
> I’d like to endorse Mike Jensen’s important point.
> Lukas Erne is one of the kindest, most courteous
> and personable Shakespeare scholars around.
> He is also one of the most invigorating.
Mistakes can be invigorating, even to the extent of pointing them out.
> I set out evidence to suggest that the unusually short
> quarto was an abridgement of the Folio (or a similar)
> version, and compiled partly by dictation but mainly
> from memory. . . . T. W. Craik, in a tightly argued Arden 3
> edition, regarded Q as a text patched together for the sole
> purpose of producing a saleable, printed text. To this I
> merely added that Q largely preserves its speakers’ cues,
> and so seems to derive in part from a performance script.
Someday I would like to see a few persons as perceptive as Salkeld take the obvious step toward the concept of shorthand reporting of performance. Theatrical reporting is memory and dictation in its most likely setting, cues and all. Such a text (e.g. Bordeaux, without doubt) came to be in 2+ hours’ time (with 6+ in transcription); not exactly patched together but recreated.
The hang-up appears to be reluctance to believe players in performance could be behind such faulty texts. In the real world, why not? Heywood and Buc testify to a technology that could capture performance. Once the scales are off and levelled, it gets pretty clear: most questions are immediately answered. For example, that’s where the printers got their copy, and they got it cheap.
> Erne’s proposition that we distinguish between shorter
> theatrical texts and longer literary versions never quite
> holds: (a) some sort of performance script does seem to
> lie behind Q 1600; (b) nevertheless Q may well have been
> produced just as a reading edition;
What else is a Q but a reading edition? Undoubtedly, the texts were edited to enhance the fact.
> I do, however, agree with Erne’s claim in Book Trade that
> some printers and publishers seem to have favoured
> Shakespeare: Andrew Wise entered five Shakespeare
> quartos in the Stationers’ Register, and and Valentine
> Simmes saw nine of them into print, if one allows Q
> Hamlet 1603.
Shakespeare was, and still is, the cat’s meow. But a fence needn’t consult or even know the victim of the theft.
My thanks to Bill Lloyd for the Google Books reminder:
> Here is most of Erne’s Introduction to the Second Edition;
> the reply to Hirrel begins on p.14. Now I want to hear what
> Hirrel has to say in re-reply...
Hirrel says the intro is too long for a reply and this is not the forum. But seriously, Hirrel is a very good scholar. His “Duration” and “James Roberts” articles are the way it should be done. He will be ignored as much as possible, for The Bard’s sake. For me play length is decided, as reported texts like Lear and R3 are beyond the artificial limits. For the same reason I have long been of the opinion that the King’s Men attempted to keep reported texts from print.
I’ll comment on two quotes from Erne’s “defense”:
“After 1603, only three of Shakespeare's plays were newly published before the end of his lifetime, King Lear in 1608 and Pericles and Troilus and Cressida in 1609, although [T&R] had been entered in the Stationers' Register six years earlier. The evidence suggests that, while manuscripts of Shakespeare's plays were sold to stationers with some regularity up to 1603, this was no longer the case after that year.”
The ultimate question, once scholarship wakens, is where the manuscripts came from. Lear is a bad quarto. How bad is hard to say because we don’t have a good text to compare. The author had nothing to do with its publication. Pericles is a very corrupt text—a bad quarto. Nowadays it is described as “collaboration,” but Wilkins simply began his crap on Shakespeare’s reported play
“Hirrel claims to find evidence in “the surviving print texts”, an unreliable source for what was actually performed given that the manuscripts from which the printed texts were set up were often abridged before performance” (14).
This sentence shows that Erne thinks the evidence (the early editions) is unreliable. Imagination is better, presumably. But the texts are just about all we have; they are reliable sources—but of what? I believe they are often records “of what was actually performed” (sometimes abridged, sometimes not). They are identified by characteristic corruptions that at the same time remove them from consideration as authorized texts.
Gerald E. Downs