The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1651  Monday, 6 September 2004

From:           William L. Davis <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Saturday, 04 Sep 2004 13:35:59 -0400
Subject:        Legitimizing the Q1 Hamlet

Dear Readers,

I realize that the subject heading of this topic will have a number of
people wading into the fray with gloves off, ready to battle from the
onset.   I ask, however, that any initial reactions (either for or
against) be held in check for a moment while I explain my decision to
raise this issue.

I have submitted an essay to Hardy Cook, and asked that he share it with
you on the website.  The title is "Shakespeare, [Re]Visionist," and I am
seeking critical advice, as well as an opportunity to open up more
dialogue on the subject.  As I have indicated in earlier posts to the
listserv, I have a background in scriptural translation.  And those
experiences have offered me a viewpoint into textual analysis that comes
from a different angle than what might be traditionally taught at
universities.  In particular, I have worked extensively with a
large-scale, Hebraic rhetorical pattern known as complex chiasmus, and
this essay is based on that work.

I know that many of you will already be familiar with chiasmus (and its
close counterpart, antimetabole), but the style of chiasmus that I am
referencing here is not the small-scale chiasmus found in classical
rhetorical teachings.  Another form of chiasmus, one that is much larger
in scale and can encompass an entire passage in a single chiastic
system, was used extensively in ancient Mediterranean cultures--most
notably, biblical Hebrew.  That style of complex form is generally
believed to have fallen out of use several centuries ago, long before
Medieval, Renaissance or modern day writers came onto the scene.  In
fact, the most complex structural forms of this writing style have only
been rediscovered in biblical passages in roughly the past seventy years.

This brings me to Shakespeare.  A number of years ago, I quite
unexpectedly came across a series of complex chiastic structures in
Shakespeare's work that were frequently patterned on these biblical
forms.  It quite literally caught me by surprise, because it was
considered common knowledge among biblical researchers that this
particular expression of chiasmus was not in use during that time period
(or any time period near it).  I thought it might perhaps be a fluke,
but as I further observed the texts of the plays and sonnets, a great
number of large-scale biblical patterns began to emerge throughout the
passages--some of them in excess of 50 verse lines in a single system.
When I turned to scholarship to find out what had been written about
these complex forms in Shakespeare, I wasn't able to locate anything
published on them (I certainly found many articles and books on the
subject of "chiasmus," but again, those publications dealt exclusively
with the small-scale forms of the classical rhetorical tradition;
nothing was said about the extensive chiastic passages based on biblical
Hebrew forms--and they are significantly different in both size and
composition).  I decided to write something on the topic, and last year
I had an article published in Text and Performance Quarterly; however, I
felt that the full potential of what these forms could reveal had yet to
be realized.  This brings me to the topic of revision.

One of the most interesting characteristics of complex chiasmus is that
the forms are extremely delicate structures.  The ordering of words,
phrases, ideas, etc., have a very specific pattern of arrangement, and
any attempt to manipulate the forms without a knowledge of the chiastic
structural bedrock inevitably results in a disastrous corruption of the
text.  This characteristic is especially valuable when comparing two
variant texts that are based on the same passage, because the process of
identifying a legitimate version against a corrupt version is very easy
to see and identify.

Years ago, I wanted to write a paper that not only introduced
Shakespeare's biblical-style complex chiasmus, but also showed how it
was a valuable new tool in textual analysis.  Because I knew that many
of Shakespeare's plays had "good" quarto versions, "bad" quarto versions
and various other "folio" versions, I wanted to show how an awareness of
these complex forms could reaffirm the theories regarding these texts.
In particular, I focused on the different versions of Hamlet, because I
knew that the Bad Quarto Hamlet was considered to be a memorial
reconstruction by a minor actor (and, after all, if anyone would be
fully capable of bungling up a highly complex rhetorical system, it
would be such a character).  I therefore decided to analyze the Q2/F1
variants against the Bad Quarto, and simultaneously prove the merit of
complex chiasmus as an analytical tool by showing how it could
definitely confirm the presence of a corrupting hand.  But after
engaging the text, using the principles of chiastic structural analysis
to identify the presence of corruption, the conclusion of my
investigation produced an outcome that I entirely did not expect.  And
the final result was so plain and simple it forced me to radically
rethink my position on the variant texts.

The paper that I am presenting to you is the result of that work, and I
look forward to seeing your responses and opening up more dialogue on
the topic.

Finally, please know that I am hoping to eventually get this essay
published, and any thoughts or suggestions, such as which publications
would be appropriate for this material (essays on structure do not
appear to be popular these days), who the editors are that might be
interested in it, etc., would be greatly appreciated.

Best regards,
William L. Davis

S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the
opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the
editor assumes no responsibility for them.

Subscribe to Our Feeds


Make a Gift to SHAKSPER

Consider making a gift to support SHAKSPER.