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What the English of Shakespeare, et al. Sounded Like

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.157  Tuesday, 24 March 2015


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

Date:         March 24, 2015 at 8:21:12 AM EDT 

Subject:    What the English of Shakespeare, Beowulf, and King Arthur Actually Sounded Like


What the English of Shakespeare, Beowulf, and King Arthur Actually Sounded Like 

By James Harbeck


Let’s hop into a time machine and go back to the England of yore!


If this were a movie, no matter when we got out of the machine, we could walk up to people and start talking. It could be medieval times or the age of King Arthur’s round table, and they’d just say, “Who art thou, varlet?” and we’d reply with something like, “We, uh, would-eth like-eth some beer-eth,” and we’d all party. Yeah, no.


I mean, of course they have to do that in movies, because we need to understand them. But this is reality. We're going to hear what they really talked like. Ready? Buckle up!


Shakespearean England


First stop: the early 1600s. The time of Shakespeare! Of course the English of Shakespeare and the King James Bible may seem flowery, but it’s basically just an older version of what we speak now. In fact, it’s what linguists call Early Modern English. But the way they spoke it was not quite what we probably expect — or what you hear in the movies. Do you imagine some Queen’s English accent? Or perhaps Cockney for the lower classes? Guess what: the way they spoke it would sound to us more like a mix of Irish and pirate. Here, listen to Ben Crystal (son of linguist David Crystal) perform a sonnet in the pronunciation of Shakespeare’s time:


[ . . . ]

Conference Announcement: The Shakespeare Saint-Omer Folio in Context

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.156  Tuesday, 24 March 2015


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

Date:         March 24, 2015 at 9:51:39 AM EDT

Subject:    Conference Announcement: The Shakespeare Saint-Omer Folio in Context




“The Shakespeare Saint-Omer Folio in Context”


26-27 June 2015


Galerie des Tableaux, Hotel de ville de Saint-Omer, Grand Place, 62500 Saint-Omer, France. Attendance is free of charge.


For a complete programme, including practical information, please go to:


This event is organised by PRISMES, a research centre of University Sorbonne Nouvelle, the Institute for Research on the Renaissance, the Neo-Classical Age and the Enlightenment (CNRS/University Paul Valery-Montpellier), and the French Shakespeare Society (SFS), with the financial support of the Communaute d’Agglomeration de Saint-Omer (CASO).


Contacts:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .




Friday 26 June


9:30: Reception of participants


9:45: Opening of conference


Chair: Brian Cummings (University of York)


10:00-10:30: Alison Shell (University College London), “Fathers and Mentors in English Catholic School Drama”.


10:30-11:00: Maurice Whitehead (Schwarzenbach Fellow, Venerable English College, Rome), “ ‘The strictest, orderlyest, and best bredd in the world’: Students and their Educational Experience at the English Jesuit College at Saint-Omer, 1593–1762”.


11:00-11:30: Anthony James West (Independent Scholar), “ ‘Deux-cent-trente-trois’: The Saint-Omer Shakespeare First Folio in the World of 232 Other First Folios”.


11:30-12:15 : questions




Chair : Remy Cordonnier (Bibliotheque d’Agglomeration de Saint-Omer)


2:00-2:30pm : Jean-Christophe Mayer (CNRS eand Universite Paul Valery-Montpellier), “The Saint-Omer Shakespeare First Folio: A Folio for the Theatre?”


2:30-3:00pm: Jan Graffius (Stonyhurst College, UK), “The Saint-Omer First Folio: Drama for Poetry in an English Jesuit College”


3:00-3:30pm: questions


3:30-4:00pm: coffee break


Chair: Roger Chartier (College de France)


4:00-4:30: Line Cottegnies and Gisele Venet (Universite Sorbonne Nouvelle), “The Saint-Omer Folio and Other English Books in the Saint-Omer Library”.


4:30-5:00pm: Eric Rasmussen (University of Nevada), “Commending the Commendatory: New insight on Leonard Digges and the First Folio”


5:00-5:30pm : questions


6:00-7:00pm: Public Lecture (in French):


Chair: Line Cottegnies (Universite Sorbonne Nouvelle)


Jean-Christophe Mayer (CNRS et Universite Paul Valéry-Montpellier) and Gisele Venet (Universite Sorbonne Nouvelle), “Un First Folio de Shakespeare à Saint-Omer: La decouverte d’un livre iconique, et d’un exemplaire riche de mystere”.



Saturday 27 June


Chair: François Laroque (Universite Sorbonne Nouvelle)


9:30-10:00: Emma Smith (Hertford College, Oxford University), “Unclasping a Secret book : Popular Perceptions of the First Folio”.


10:00-10:30 : Richard Wilson (Kingston University London), “From France to England: Catholic Shakespeare and the French Resistance”.


10:30-11:00 : Brian Cummings (University of York), “Shakespeare and the Religion of the Book”.


11:00-11:45: questions


12:00-1:00pm: Public Lecture (in French).


Chair: Jean-Christophe Mayer (CNRS and Universite Paul Valery-Montpellier)


Roger Chartier (College de France), “Relier Shakespeare. Des Quartos au Folio”.


1:00-1:15pm: close of conference. 

Announcement: Funded Ph.D. Opportunity

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.155  Tuesday, 24 March 2015


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

Date:         March 24, 2015 at 6:38:47 AM EDT

Subject:    Announcement: Funded Ph.D. Opportunity


Dear Colleagues,


Please find a call for a three-year funded Ph.D. scholarship in early modern book studies at the University of Montpellier, France.  If you think some of your students might be interested to work with us, feel free to forward them the call. The deadline for applications is 15 May 2015 and all the information (including salary, etc.) is included below.


Many thanks!


Best wishes,

Jean-Christophe Mayer

CNRS and University Paul-Valery-Montpellier



Funded Ph.D. opportunity in early modern book studies at University of Montpellier, France


The Institute for Research on the Renaissance, the Neo-Classical Age and the Enlightenment (IRCL, based at University Paul Valery-Montpellier, France is currently offering a 3-year Ph.D. scholarship in the field of early modern book studies (16th to 18th century).


Priority will be given to candidates whose topics are related to: France; Britain; France and Britain; Europe. The Ph.D. can be written either in English or French. A working knowledge of French at the time of the application would be an asset (see below: “How to apply”).


Candidates are encouraged to visit the Institute’s website to familiarize themselves with its research areas: Programme 4 in particular of the Institute’s research activities is entirely devoted to “The production, reception and circulation of books (16th -18th centuries)”. The centre works also on programmes which involve, to various extents, book history, such as “The circulation of ideas and the renewal of literary forms in the French and British cultural areas (Programme 1)”, “Traditions, their circulation and transmission” (Programme 2), “Drama and the moving picture” (Programme 3).


Here are a few examples of areas concerned by this call. These do not of course exclude other relevant areas:


- authors and publishers in France and Britain during the Classical Age


- major early modern publisher-booksellers


- 17th century promptbooks in France and Britain


- The French book market and foreign publisher-printers


Candidates are reminded that their Ph.D. will have to be completed in 3 years and are thus encouraged to choose topics feasible within that time frame. Ph.Ds. may be co-supervised by two members of the research centre and the successful applicant will be provided with support from the IRCL.




Candidates should send a CV (maximum 3,000 characters incl. spaces) and a precise summary of their Ph.D. project (3,000 characters incl. spaces), in English or French to  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  AND  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  BEFORE MAY 15, 2015.


After shortlisting, candidates will be interviewed (in French) at the beginning of July 2015. Applicants may be interviewed via videoconferencing.


The successful applicant will begin on September 1, 2015. Monthly salary for the three years: 1,500 to 1,800€. She or he may be housed in university accommodation (upon request only and depending on social criteria). 

Gobbo Name

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.154  Monday, 23 March 2015


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

     Date:         March 20, 2015 at 7:05:09 PM EDT 

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: OP (Now Gobbo Name 


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

     Date:         March 21, 2015 at 10:07:27 AM EDT

     Subject:    Re: OP 




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

Date:         March 20, 2015 at 7:05:09 PM EDT 

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: OP (Now Gobbo Name)


It is not Mr. Blanton’s amateur standing which places him in what he calls a “lower caste.”  It is certainly not his legal education and experience as a litigator.  Quite the contrary, the interpretive, investigative, and rhetorical skills possessed by a good lawyer make him or her particularly well-suited to deal with critical and textual issues in literary scholarship.  I can think of a number of lawyers who are well-regarded Shakespeare scholars, notwithstanding that they are “amateurs,” i.e., it is not what they do for a living.


It is not Mr. Blanton’s legal training, but his failure to immerse himself in Shakespeare studies which make his opinions problematical.  He admits: 


>I have studied only one play in depth: MV. I have nothing to say

>about Lear or any other play.


He then acknowledges that


>To my knowledge no higher caste professional has ever analyzed 

>the trial scene as a trial (which it assuredly is not). I believe that I 

>am the first qualified trial attorney to educate himself or herself in

>sixteenth century English law and procedure and to attempt such 

>a thing.


I can assure Mr. Blanton that this is not case; the lapsus is not in the critical literature, but in Mr. Blanton’s knowledge of it.



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

Date:         March 21, 2015 at 10:07:27 AM EDT

Subject:    Re: OP


I start to see how William Blanton is confusing himself when he writes:


> Somebody changed the spelling of 'precedent'

> in Q1 to "President" in F1 [The Merchant of

> Venice]


Those are the two readings, but to use the verb “changed” is to assert that somebody took the first and transformed it into the second, consciously or unconsciously. That’s not what happened.  The two spellings are equally valid spellings of the same word and scribes and compositors were not bound to preserve the spellings of the words they transmitted.


For us, practise/practice are equally valid spellings of one word. For early moderns, the same is true of president/precedent. No significance attaches to the choice of spelling, except perhaps in the mechanical sense that one or other might be preferred by a scribe or compositor for aesthetic or practical reasons.


It’s a difference, not a “change”.


Gabriel Egan

Criticism of Erne

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.153  Monday, 23 March 2015


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

     Date:         March 21, 2015 at 2:38:41 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: Erne Criticism


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

     Date:         March 22, 2015 at 9:06:31 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: Erne Review 


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

     Date:         March 22, 2015 at 5:54:58 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Erne 




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

Date:         March 21, 2015 at 2:38:41 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: Erne Criticism


Gabriel Egan asks about negative assessments of Lukas Erne’s Books. More than ten years ago Douglas Brooks asked me to write a review essay for his Shakespeare Yearbook, based on some of my comments on SHAKSPER. I’ll repeat it in pieces here, minus the notes. At the time I was told journal articles got thorough copy-editing but they were published “as is.” The “faults escaped” are mine. An interesting thing occurred after I had hurriedly sent it off: I woke up in the wee hours one night with a cognizance that I had misspelt eminent as imminent; and so I had. Brooks assured me the error would be corrected, but no such luck. However, I have always taken the episode as evidence that one’s unconscious mind is very capable: awake, I wouldn’t have remembered anything about that usage. The only similarly graphic wakening I’ve had involved critical moves in postal chess games. I can’t play without a board: it’s a bit deflating to know I'm better in my sleep.


Review Essay

Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist. By Lukas Erne. Cambridge, New York and Melbourne: Cambridge U P, 2003. xii + 287pp. ISBN 052182255.


In his introduction to Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist, Lukas Erne observes that by 1609 Shakespeare “could not help knowing that his plays were being read” (25). No one will deny this obvious truth, or that Shakespeare could expect his future work to be printed. For this reason alone he will have consciously written not only for the theater, but also for readers. The concept was expressed by W. W. Greg in 1942: “I do not think that Shakespeare, in his later days at least, wrote for the stage only.” However, acceptance of the dramas as preeminent literature allows a further assumption that they were written primarily with the reader in mind. This is what Erne sets out to prove, denying the assertions of such eminent scholars as Fredson Bowers (74), Andrew Gurr (74), and Richard Dutton (117) that Shakespeare did not actively publish. After citing T.H. Howard-Hill (“No evidence at all suggests that Shakespeare . . . was ever involved in the publication of his plays”), Erne proposes that if this “indifference . . . is more of a long-standing myth than a historical fact, then we cannot so easily dispose of Shakespeare’s intentions for drama” (177). Does Erne’s argument dispose of the ‘myth’? I think not. Although some of his work is valid, he argues from inadequate understanding and method. He often correctly criticizes previous scholarship, but as readily accepts error. Had he read his sources more critically and without the obvious intention of furthering his thesis, a lasting contribution to Shakespeare studies may have resulted.


Erne fails to examine or even to notice the real reason for the opinion that Shakespeare did not actively publish. His plays were printed from more or less corrupt copy-text and scholars find it incredible that a playwright anxious to see his work in print could acquiesce in such faulty production. Erne responds not to this extant negative evidence but to the missing positive evidence. First, he mounts an attack against the ‘myth’ that Shakespeare saw Venus and Adonis through the press and extends his reasoning to the plays, concluding that Shakespeare need not have supervised their printing. Erne does not grasp the import of his citations of John Roe, “Once [Shakespeare’s] carefully prepared manuscript [of Venus and Adonis] was in the hands of the printer . . .” and Howard-Hill, “Middleton’s concern for his play stopped at the printing-house door.” Shakespeare delivered no “carefully prepared” play manuscripts. Greg notes, “The overwhelming probability is that the copy for all but two or three of the quartos generally classed as ‘good’ came from the playhouse and was acquired with the approval of the company . . . . What this copy itself was like is another matter” (17-18).


[Greg mistakes to separate matters. The corruption he implies should nowadays help to recalculate the odds (Overwhelming or not so overwhelming?) that quarto copy was authorized.]


Erne sidesteps this other matter by including the author in an inseparable group, ‘Shakespeare and his fellows.’ Yet a ‘literary dramatist’ of a willing company would have had every chance to insure that his works were delivered to the printer in fair copies. Erne bases his argument that Shakespeare meant to publish on three propositions. First, that the Lord Chamberlain’s Men had a “coherent strategy” to put Shakespeare’s plays into print. Second, that virtually all of these plays were too long for performance, thus indicating they were meant as literature. Erne last theorizes that the low quality of the plays in performance shows that their existence in ‘literary’ versions was more important to the playwright. None of these arguments holds up.


Erne argues a two-year lapse between Shakespeare’s writing of a play and its planned printing, a pattern perceived only for the plays of the 1590’s. However, the chronology is in part based on the assumption that plays were written shortly before their printing. Erne notes but cannot escape this question-begging aspect of his case. His fixing a date for The Merchant of Venice by a ‘topical’ reference to a ship’s name simply shows how weak the evidence is. In consequence he agrees “that much of the above is necessarily conjectural” (85), implying that his concluding argument is stronger, even though it is based on corrupt first printings of Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, Merry Wives of Windsor, and Love’s Labour’s Lost, which probably (over Erne’s denial) followed a corrupt edition. He suggests without evidence that these ‘bad’ quartos “anticipated” the players’ intentions in order to fit them to the two-year pattern:


“All we know about Romeo and Juliet is that it may well have been written c. 1595, that the ‘bad’ edition was published in 1597, and that it was followed by the ‘good’ edition in 1599. Whether or not Q1 anticipated Shakespeare and his fellows’ sale of the manuscript underlying Q2, the time lapse is again one of approximately two years” (86).


Erne promises “economic reasoning,” but 1599 minus 1595 is not even ‘approximately’ two years and Q1 surely cannot reflect Shakespeare’s intentions. Q2 relied heavily on the corrupt Q1, indicating that the printer alone determined the fate of the playscript. When Erne suggests that during this period ‘Shakespeare and his fellows’ could “choose to postpone the publication of a play . . . in the expectation” of selling scribal copies (90), the option of a clean transcription for the printer of a thousand copies apparently never occurs to him. Yet when publication in the early seventeenth century slowed beyond any pretended pattern, Erne does postulate manuscript preparation.


“Anyone who argues that Shakespeare died unmindful of his plays’ afterlife and that plans for a folio edition did not take shape until after his death would have to account for all those texts which were not simply set up from ‘good’ quarto editions. After all, it would have been easy enough to base plays like Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida, and 2 Henry IV on the ‘good’ printed editions. It is surely suggestive that the hand of a ‘literary editor’ can be detected in the [Folio text of 2H4] . . .” (113) 


Implying that some ‘not bad’ quartos weren't needed for Shakespeare’s 1623 Folio because he had prepared manuscripts of particular plays, Erne requires any who question his imaginary planned collection to explain the use of manuscripts when quartos were available – an unfair demand from one who makes no argument. Nevertheless, the example of 2 Henry IV easily meets the challenge. According to Eleanor Prosser,


“[T]he Folio text of 2H4 consisted of a transcript based solely on Qa and Shakespeare’s foul papers. For some reason, the transcript was prepared for a reader of exclusively literary tastes. It was not prepared to serve as copy for the Folio, an inference that seems self-evident in light of the unique sophistication of the text. . . . Solely on his own authority, he extensively revised the dialogue . . .”


[Prosser naively followed the “foul papers” trail (the garden path). When 2H4 is recognized as a corrupt text the possibility that F is Shakespeare’s revision is even more remote, if possible. Further, Erne makes a series of errors in his challenge to “anyone who argues”. The F editions of these plays were set up from corrupt quartos. If they’re augmented by authorized copy then “Erne & Egan who argue” should account for the fact that Ms. wasn’t copy for the whole of the texts; which should only follow the reasoning that the added copy was authorized. Erne merely assumes it was.]


The second quarto of Hamlet extensively supplemented Folio copy. Obviously, the printer was under no compunction to rely solely on the manuscript. In “The Textual Mystery of Hamlet,” Paul Werstine writes: “The only . . . grounds for privileging Q2 and F with unassailable integrity would be evidence that each is independently linked to Shakespeare . . . . [T]here is no document to link the variants to the playwright.” Further, Harold Jenkins in the Arden 2 Hamlet addresses actor's additions:


“That the habits of the actors have indeed left their mark upon F appears from a further category of variant. There are little scraps of dialogue incorporated in F for which Q2 gives no warrant. . . .That all these and others like them are additions in F rather than omissions in Q2 follows from the fact that their absence does not impair the sense while their presence sometimes vulgarizes the dramatic effect or damages the metre. . . .”


[The primary Folio assumptions are that the publishers (read: players) had access to 18 “good” texts of previously unpublished plays and that the players allowed printers editorial sway over the lot, including use of corrupt printed copy for the other playtexts. I would turn this all around, if only to account for the evidence (an unusual practice, I admit): Where were the trusty good copies of plays previously printed? They weren’t used in the first printings; are we to assume they were lost? If so, why should we assume F Ms. copy is authorized? We should at least suspect they were got from sources analogous to those of the quartos. Erne simply takes authority for granted because he wants or has a readership (e.g. Egan) that wants to have a Shakespeare desirous of publication. But a priori don’t get it, inquiry-wise.]


[Gabriel Egan is capable of detailed criticism, as his publications show. He could find fault with Erne’s views if he wanted—the books are very poorly done. I expressed interest in the evidence Erne adduces that impresses Egan. His reply is that the books haven’t been refuted. That doesn’t satisfy my curiosity. Rather, it continues Egan’s pattern of not expressing his own opinions directly. I think straightforward discussion is better.]


Gerald E. Downs



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

Date:         March 22, 2015 at 9:06:31 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: Erne Review 


Continuing my review of Erne’s Literary hypothesis, which I say is fantasy:


The fact that Shakespeare’s plays were shortened for performance has been known from the first notice of the corrupt quartos and Erne is not the first to insist the plays were always shortened. Yet for him this common observation indicates literary aspirations. Erne is to be commended for raising the important subject of play length but evidence that long plays were actually performed will weigh heavily against his rigid inference. For example, the ‘Dering Manuscript’ (c. 1622) conflates and abridges both parts of Henry IV, apparently for a private performance running to 3400 lines. Further, long plays offer more options for production decisions without need for rewriting, which seems a better reason for added length than Erne’s insistence that Shakespeare planned to dumb down literary plays for performance. But speculation is unnecessary if there is evidence that Shakespeare’s dramas were acted at full length. Such may be the case for King Lear. When Erne suggests that copy for Q1 King Lear “may have been a private transcript, or even a transcript of a private transcript at more than one remove from Shakespeare” (107), he fails to understand the relationship between the texts of quarto and Folio Lear. Inherited corruptions indicate that F either derives directly from Q1, or they each stem from the same anomalous Shakespearean rough draft. Erne chooses not to confront these issues but to fit Lear to his hypothesis:


“The theory that the manuscript from which Q1 [King Lear] was set up goes back to a shorthand report had numerous supporters . . . and has recently had a comeback. The length of Q1 King Lear strongly militates against the possibility, however, that the text goes back to a transcription of a performance (186).”


Erne rightly attributes the ‘comeback’ of the shorthand theory to Adele Davidson’s recent articles. His argument against Davidson is that Q1 is too long to be a reported performance. But what if evidence of a report “strongly militates against the possibility” that all of Shakespeare’s plays were shortened for performance? This issue should have been addressed in Erne’s chapter, “why size matters”, where argument against his position ought to have been aired in detail. He makes the same argument elsewhere: “ . . . the length of Q1 Richard III powerfully militates against the possibility that it was performed (and could thus be memorially reconstructed) in its entirety” (188). Textual questions must be answered by textual analysis, not by theories argued back to front. In contrast, Erne barely addresses the shorthand issue: “Duthie’s Elizabethan Shorthand largely silenced any such claims” (200). But Davidson notes: 


“In analyzing Elizabethan shorthand, Duthie tackled an abstruse subject, and students of Shakespeare have referred to Duthie’s work without examining fully either Willis’s system or Duthie’s own methods and conclusions. . . . I wish to emphasize the limitations of Duthie’s study and the consequent necessity for further research” (Stenography, 79).


[I claim my article on John of Bordeaux is a powerful result of further research. To take a line from Gabriel Egan, “no one has refuted it.” The difference is that Bordox is for real.]


The nature of the manuscript behind Q1 Lear has been debated for many years and remains the most important answerable question in the study of Shakespeare’s text. Though he suggests a scribal transcript in earlier pages, Erne seems to agree that Q1 copy was Shakespeare’s ‘foul papers’: 


“Peter Blayney, Michael Warren, Steven Urkowitz, and Gary Taylor have made a strong case for the authority of the first quarto of King Lear, thereby disposing of earlier theories that had little to recommend themselves” (185). 


However, this matter is undecided and Erne should not build on the opinions of others without stating his reasons for accepting them. In one respect Erne unintentionally shows how poorly scholarship addresses the provenance of Q1 Lear. Robert Clare warns: 


“[Blayney] did not deal with the text of Q itself, or with the textual implications of his findings, which are promised in a second volume (still to be published, thirteen years later). Given their contention that Q should be considered authoritative, it is worth noting that nowhere do the revisionists satisfactorily explain in terms of textual transmission the inferior phraseology and the baffling and inconsistent imperfections of lineation that sporadically mar its text . . .”


Scholars have now for twenty-one years appealed to Blayney’s unpublished argument. Erne’s theories rely on answers to these fundamental issues, but after lengthy discussion of the bad quartos, Erne sees “little hope . . . of recovering what specific effect various agencies had upon the differences between the ‘bad’ and the ‘good’ texts.” Yet he cites recent scholarship that “makes it reasonable to suppose that the first quarto of Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, and Hamlet are the products of a more authorized and communal undertaking than has often been assumed” (218). These statements are incompatible, yet they show how even non-evidence supports Erne’s theories. What he endorses is a highly unlikely authorized (Shakespeare), communal (and his fellows), corrupt reconstruction of these plays and he does so merely to support his own theories. With his postulated authority for the short, bad quartos, any problem can be talked away. For example, Q1 *Henry V is too short for Erne to accept as an authorized acting version. That is because someone (presumably outside the commune) further abridged the play. Yet in this case Erne misinterprets his evidence. A minor omission of eight lines in Q1 Henry V at 1.2.75, beginning with “Daughter to Charlemagne” and ending before “Daughter to Charles” more than likely results not from  unauthorized abridgment (209), but a compositor’s eye-skip. Nothing is proved at all by this printer’s error.


[I’m waiting for someone to cite Blayney on Lear foul-paper copy so I can up the wait for his argument to 33 years. Most commentary nowadays hedges on the faith; forthcoming is no longer forthcoming. But foul papers are still desired and still no evidence; what’s a scholar to do?]


Erne consistently misses opportunities to clarify or solve problems, or to point to earlier solutions. In another example, he attributes duplication in Q2 Romeo and Juliet to Shakespeare’s “particular care in composing certain literary conceits” (229), where Romeo’s speech ends 2.2 and the Friar’s lines begin 2.3:


              The grey eyde morne smiles on the frowning night,

              Checkring the Easterne Clouds with streaks of light,

              And darknesse fleckted like a drunkard reels,

              From forth daies pathway, made by Tytans wheeles.

              Hence will I to my ghostly Friers close cell,

              His helpe to craue, and my deare hap to tell.



            Enter Frier alone with a basket.

                Fri. The grey-eyed morne smiles on the frowning night,

              Checking the Easterne clowdes with streaks of light:

              And fleckeld darknesse like a drunkard reeles,

              From forth daies path, and Titans burning wheeles: (Q2, D4v)


Erne seems to suggest (if only to use the word literary) that Shakespeare revised these lines with readers in mind and that we learn of his creative diligence because someone forgot to delete the rejected lines. However, corruption stems not from “particular care,” but its opposite. Erne does not note the fact that Romeo’s version of the lines are missing in Q1, or that the Friar’s lines in Q1 and Q2 closely correspond:


                 Frier: The gray ey’d morne smiles on the frowning night,

              Checkring the Easterne clouds with streakes of light,

              And flecked darkenes like a drunkard reeles,

              From forth daies path, and Titans fierie wheeles: (Q1, D3 v)


It is well known that Q1 aided in the printing of Q2, providing an alternative to authorial revision. When the play was adapted for the performance behind Q1, Romeo’s speech was given to the Friar. The Q2 compositor relied on the fuller manuscript for Romeo’s lines, but reverted to Q1 as convenient copy to begin the next scene, where the Friar’s version of the same speech was also printed. This obvious possibility need not be argued further to suggest that Erne emphasizes interpretations approving his thesis. His biased selection of evidence and opinion should be noticed by anyone familiar with the scholarly literature, but it would be difficult to detect otherwise.


[I have since refined my speculations on how the printers screwed this up.]


Erne makes a similar mistake in discussion of Romeo 2.6 (239n). The danger of these errors is that a book bringing together so many subjects and ostensible authorities will serve as a complete reference more than it should. A case in point is his treatment of Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit.


In his Appendix C Erne suggests that Richard Dutton “depends on the questionable belief that Chettle's apology in Kind-Hartes Dreame was to Shakespeare” (259). In an earlier chapter Erne alludes to the same famous allusion:


“Biographers have liked to believe that Chettle’s reference of 1592 to a playwright that is esteemed by ‘diuers of worship’ and of whom he praises the ‘facetious grace in writting’ is to Shakespeare, though it seems more likely that the reference is in fact to Peele. Earlier the same year, Greene had placed Shakespeare among the players, the ‘rude grooms, . . .’” (67) 


Erne’s 1998 article ably restates the case that Chettle referred not to Shakespeare but to George Peele as the playwright slandered in Groatsworth of Wit and his opinion will no doubt prevail. Yet he commits a nearly identical oversight by repeatedly referring to “Greene’s attack on Shakespeare” in Groatsworth (2-5). Modern scholarship has caught up to the ancient opinion that Henry Chettle himself – not Greene – was responsible for the attack. Erne does not mention the probability, though he must be aware of the issue. Dutton was no more remiss than Erne, if each felt obliged to make a point at the expense of accuracy and progress on a significant issue.


Gerald E. Downs



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

Date:         March 22, 2015 at 5:54:58 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Erne


Has any SHAKSPERian seen a refutation of Erne that I may have missed that they would recommend?


Tooting my own horn, I call to the attention of Gabriel Egan and the SHAKSPER readership my essay,”Did Shakespeare’s Company Cut Long Plays Down to Two Hours Playing Time?” Shakespeare Bulletin 30.3  (Fall 2012), 239-62.  In it I analyze contradictions and flaws in Erne’s work and in related arguments of Alfred Hart, Andrew Gurr, and Stephen Orgel.  The supposed, improbable, and demonstrably contrafactual shortening of long playscripts simply because they were “too long” for Early Modern performances forms one of the foundations of Erne’s work.  My essay cites many instances of very long performances.  I also show that those two-part plays which Orgel, Gurr, and Erne present as having been radically reduced for performance as a single play actually resulted in single plays which were themselves quite long, over 3000 lines, and not brief two-hour tranches of entertainment.  It’s a nice essay, I think.  A few jokes, a silly epigraph from a song by Milton Berle, and a nice bibliography.  Tasty.     


See you all in Vancouver?  


Steven Urquartowitz

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