The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0824  Monday, 5 April 2004

From:           Steve Roth <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Sunday, 4 Apr 2004 08:42:57 -0800
Subject: 15.0725 Hamlet, 2 Harry 4, Lukas Erne
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0725 Hamlet, 2 Harry 4, Lukas Erne

Gerald Downs has offered cogent and well-documented counterarguments to
Lukas Erne's assertion (in Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist) that
Shakespeare was actively involved in preparing his plays for print, and
that he was consciously intending a collected edition of his works
before his death. Given the scanty extant evidence, both of those
unorthodox positions are obviously open to serious questioning.

However, that does not really address Erne's central thesis--only to a
portion of the many arguments supporting that thesis. Many of those
arguments, like most or the major arguments in Shakespeare studies, are
not subject to anything like definitive proof. There's just not enough
information. Viz, Erne's argument that the Chamberlain's Men were
engaged in a conscious effort to put Shakespeare's plays into print.
(Possible, but why did that effort seem to end suddenly in 1603? Hard to

Many of the arguments that are central to Shakespeare studies are
subject to "proof" based only on the combined weight of many
sub-arguments. If one of those sub-arguments is questioned or dismissed,
it does not crumble the whole structure of the larger argument.

The centerpiece of the "performance" school of editing and criticism is
that there is no evidence showing that Shakespeare was involved in
getting his plays into print. Erne questions that, and Downs questions
Erne's questioning. But that is *not* the centerpiece of Erne's
argument, or his central thesis.

Erne's central thesis is that Shakespeare was writing not just for
players and playgoers, but for readers as well. His book has been
well-received by critics (myself included) because the thesis is
inherently plausible (or more), and because the combined weight of
Erne's arguments--each of which is necessarily based on typically
inadequate extant evidence--gives strong support to that thesis.


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