The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1797  Tuesday, 25 October 2005

From: 		Gerald E. Downs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date: 		Monday, 24 Oct 2005 03:27:09 EDT
Subject: 16.1698 A Shrew
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1698 A Shrew

Larry Weiss got less response than I expected to his questions on the 
relationship between The Shrew and A Shrew.

 >Is there a consensus, and, if so, for which theory?  If not, how do
 >the various current textual scholars line up for the various theories:

Stephen Miller represents the current scholars well enough when he opts 
for Weiss's  4) A Shrew is a revision of The Shrew, b) by someone else; 
but "cannot say 'who' though the sources were memorial, I feel."

The most-cited authority these days is Laurie Maguire, whose 
_Shakespearean Suspect Texts_ passes judgment on questions of "Memorial 
Reconstruction" as conceived by scholars of the "New Bibliography" 
(Greg, Pollard, Wilson, et al). Maguire's method is fatally flawed, but 
in the case of A Shrew her opinion is suggestive of a modern consensus 
(even if 'consensus' still implies unanimity).

Yet Maguire says nothing directly of the relationship between The Shrew 
and A Shrew because, as John Jowett notes ("After Oxford" _Shakespearean 
International Yearbook_):

    . . . Maguire rejected the comparative approach entirely,
    and based her study on the intrinsic characteristics of the
    suspected text itself 'as if no parallel text existed.' The task
    of identifying intrinsic and distinctive features of memorial
    transmission . . . presents unavoidable difficulties of its own.
    Is it methodologically better to evaluate a text according to
    an abstract conception of how it should be, rather than
    according to a comparison with how elsewhere it actually
    was? . . . [H]owever plausibly it is justified, the effect of
    excluding comparison between variant texts is to seal off
    a rich quarry of potentially significant evidence. It is not
    surprising that Maguire identifies relatively few texts as
    memorial reconstructions. . . . Maguire's negative results
    need interpreting as 'not proven' rather than 'not memorial
    reconstruction'. Her positive findings deserve treating with
    considerable respect. (77)

I agree with this assessment. Shunning evidence inevitably leads to 
error. Maguire is a bit too glib, "comparisons are odious", and much too 
biased against the orthodox concept of MR to accept her negative 
results. Ironically, her positive judgments, no matter how grudgingly 
allowed, are highly probable. A Shrew passes the tests ("part MR"). 
Comparison with The Shrew easily confirms this but even here readers 
should bear in mind Maguire's method. In her category "Omissions", she 
reports of A Shrew: "Not detectable." Not detectable of course when 
comparison is not allowed. A Shrew is a "bad quarto."

Stephen Miller strongly objects to the term "bad quarto" in "The Taming 
of the Shrew and the Theories" (_Textual Formations and Reformations_ 
Laurie Maguire, ed.) It is best in my opinion not to quarrel with the 
historically assigned terminology. We know what is meant: most quartos 
so labeled are truly bad. I there's the point.  But what do we mean by 
"Memorial Reconstruction"? The general scholarly concept, as construed 
by the New Bibliography, is an unlikely proposition, against which (in 
most cases) I am myself hopelessly biased.

The notion is that actors (singly or with others, in the absence of 
promptbooks), reconstructed plays, the manuscripts of which served 
directly as printer's copy for the bad quartos. Theories arguing this 
form of memorial reconstruction have been effectively attacked 
(primarily by Paul Werstine). As a result, confusion rather than 
consensus rules the investigation of bad quartos. Despite a suggestion 
on this thread that Lukas Erne explains the genre, he instead admits: 
"There is little hope . . . of recovering what specific effect various 
agencies had upon the differences between the 'bad' and the 'good' 

Maguire notes the "paradox" that memorial reconstruction theory is 
"capacious, being able to explain almost any textual problem." (6) She 
lets Greg criticize himself by quoting from his Orlando: "an hypothesis 
which can explain anything is as useless as one which can explain 
nothing." But I think this point is misleading.  Jowett replies that 
"for some texts a capacious theory seems to be needed." Simplistic 
explanations for texts like A Shrew are bound to be mistaken. A 
hypothesis that explains everything is apt to be correct; but that is a 
rare event. What Maguire must be trying to say is that a hypothesis 
exceeding its limits or compounding hypotheses is not explanatory.

A theory is proved by evidence and it explains evidence. It helps if 
there is enough evidence to go round without getting circular.  A theory 
need not explain everything, but it must accommodate all the evidence. 
The trouble with MR is its incompatibility with evidence, and usually 
with common sense.

The theory of memorial reconstruction began (as an alternative) when 
Greg offered that explanation of Q MWW. Other plays were suggested, most 
credibly the H6 knockoffs, but one of the Newest Bibliographers was most 
influential in providing new avenues of explanation (albeit dead-ends) 
for bad quartos. G I Duthie's 1949 _Elizabethan Shorthand_ (a book of 82 
pages) "destroyed," "demolished," "exploded" the dike holding back 
oceans of theories.  Memorial reports, foul papers, and authorial 
revisions were soon ill-conceived in a noble cause to return the stolne 
and surreptitious copies to Shakespeare.

However, the shortcomings of these theories have been attacked in the 
last quarter-century, most notably by Paul Werstine in the cases of 
'foul papers' and memorial reconstructions. As evidence that the 
criticism has been effective, one need only read recent commentary by 
Melchiori in "The Continuing Importance of New Bibliography" (_In Arden: 
Editing Shakespeare_ 2003):

    This caused serious disarray among editors, just at the time
    when new and wide-ranging editorial enterprises . . . were being
    undertaken. As soon as a plausible explanation of the process
    by which a play had reached the printing-house was suggested,
    the editor could be accused of creating fanciful 'narratives'.
    Werstine & his followers created an all-inclusive and all-purpose
    negative narrative . . . . Theirs was not an alternative narrative,
    but simply the negation of all previous attempts at accounting
    for the state in which printed play-texts had reached us . . . (19)

    Their criticism of the New Bibliographers is aimed at demolishing
    the theories of their predecessors without offering anything with
    which to replace them. What they most resent is that Greg's
    theories, though presented as mere hypotheses, had met with
    such wide acceptance. The trouble is that while the theories of
    the New Bibliographers were basically constructive, those of
    their critics are simply destructive, and the would-be editor is
    therefore left in a kind of limbo, not knowing what to present to
    readers and performers as an authentic text of a play. (24)

The word 'narrative' is getting a bit old, I agree. However, 'plausible' 
does not mean 'correct,' no matter how widely an explanation may be 
uncritically accepted. A good negative criticism is always good.  In 
these cases, the negation is earned. No one will deny that good 
alternative theories are welcome when old ones are dismantled.  However, 
they are not necessary to the criticism, and a demand for new theory is 
not argument. Why replace old, fanciful theories with new, fanciful 
theories? What we should resent is too-ready creation and defense of 
orthodoxies that take decades to fail.

 >Perhaps there are still other explanations.

Larry Weiss mentions my favorite category. What I've been leading to is 
an alternative to present-day investigations of the bad quartos that has 
already been applied to A Shrew without any lingering respect these 
days. The theory is nearly as old as the quartos:

    (they which know it) can reasonably take a sermon, Oration,
    Play, or any long speech, as they are spoken, dictated, acted,
    and uttered in the instant.

This reference (cited by Adele Davidson, " 'Some by Stenography'? 
Stationers, Shorthand, and the Early Shakespearean Quartos", PBSA 90, 
1996) is from _The Third University of England_(1612) (in Stow's 
_Annals_, 1615), by George Buc.

Master of the Revels (1610-1622), Nephew and deputy to Edmund Tilney, 
author of the lost _The Art of Revels_: Is it possible that Buc knew 
what he was talking about? I think it is. Testimonials like Buc's lead 
my hero, B A P Van Dam, to observe:

    And we wonder how it is that any critic, in the teeth of these
    positive statements of the men who could know, can have the
    courage to adhere confidently to a hypothesis hanging in mid
    air. . . . Yet, the critics of to-day are simply satisfied with their
    established and inherited disbelief in a shorthand pirate.

When Van Dam wrote in 1928, the boom had not been lowered on shorthand 
transmission. Yet I suggest that even after Duthie's IED, positive 
statements of men who could know are ignored, that disbelief in 
shorthand transmission is largely inherited, and that the replacement 
theories are hanging in mid air.  For these reasons I advocate a reading 
of Van Dam's 'other explanation' in "The Taming of a Shrew" (ES, X, 
1928, 97-106)

Van Dam's publications are seldom cited and even more rarely discussed. 
For example, in "Greene's Orlando: W W Greg Furioso" ((Textual 
Formations), Michael Warren notes:

    B A P Van Dam is the sole conspicuous skeptic of the early
    period. He challenged Greg's work in 1929, arguing for greater
    error in the transcription of the Orlando part than Greg allowed,
    and assuming stenography as the method of reporting of the
    quarto text. (69)

End of discussion. Yet Van Dam's review of Greg's explication of the 
Orlando part and the bad quarto is well worth reading.  Van Dam was a 
vocal critic of the New Bibliography, though his criticism seldom got 
replies. For the interested I will repeat some of Van Dam's argument. I 
don't pretend to embark on a full reassessment of shorthand theory of 
play transmission.  But knowing the ho-hum response any mention of it 
gets now, I would be happy to see the subject reopened.

Over the years some features of a supposed shorthand-derived play-text 
have struck me as important. First, it is a memorial reconstruction that 
is not imaginary. In an effort to overcome objections to MR, recent 
scholars suggest a communal effort before a scribe. As unlikely as that 
seems in any other real circumstance, that's exactly what shorthand 
piracy posits.  But we needn't resort only to fancy for a manuscript 
showing the characteristics one would expect in such a case.

In his seminal "Narratives", Werstine notes: "For a bizarre use of the 
term 'bad quarto' . . . see Harry R. Hoppe, 'John of Bordeaux: A Bad 
Quarto that Never Reached Print . . .(U of Missouri Studies 21, 1946, 

I find enough bizarre in Shakespeare scholarship not to go looking for 
it, though my principle is to look up what others put down. Yet in this 
case I see no reason to take Werstine's comment as criticism because 
I've come to agree with Harry Hoppe's title, if not his theory of 
provenance. In Greg's "Mislineation and Stenography" we find his opinion 
that a stenographer

    does not produce mislining directly. His shorthand report
    will contain no indication of line-division at all. And it was
    a longhand transcript of a report, undivided metrically and
    practically unpointed, that I postulated as copy [for Q1 Lear].

Hoppe gives "a fair sample" of John of Bordeaux,

    worthi soporter of the Iermaynes stat Huan of Burdiox
    was myn Awnsester and at his honers do I ame my thoughtes
    I prise my prince a bove my privat selfe and Cuntries Credit
    mor then losse of blud, mounst all the favors from yor (etc.)

Hoppe supplies plenty of reason to call this short and corrupt play a 
bad "quarto". Yet in postulating memorial reconstruction he never 
considers the possibility of a shorthand report, where the play's 
various features would occur much more naturally.  And, naturally; 
Maguire: Not MR.

Because a shorthand report is necessarily memorial, many of its features 
will derive from agents outside the reporter's control. The corruptions 
of the stenographer will be added to the mix, ultimately to be presented 
to the hapless compositor.  The process cannot help but be capacious. 
Getting the method of transmission right is the first step in solving 
the mysteries of the bad quartos.

Van Dam discusses much about A Shrew that is familiar, beginning with 
the borrowings from Marlowe:

    These very lines . . . appropriately serve Faustus to introduce
    the conjuring up of a devil. In our play they are used by a
    gentleman, coming home from a day's hunting, as a preface
    to his orders to feed the dogs. Such grotesqueness at once
    leads to the presumption either that the text is highly corrupt
    or that its author is a very poor dramatist.

After a comparison of A Shrew and The Shrew focusing on the parallels 
adduced by Hickson (N & Q, 1850), Van Dam gives a brief history of 
opinion, ending with this judgment:

    Hickson and Creizenach have proved that the ground work of
    A Shrew is the primary Shrew of Shakespeare. This is the main
    fact we have to reckon with. Scarcely less important is another
    fact that most of the discrepancies we have mentioned are not
    to be ascribed to the author but that they are recognizable or
    can be explained as actors' mistakes.

Van Dam develops this theme elsewhere and applies it to A Shrew in 
various ways, a few of which I will quote. No one will suppose his 
article to be a complete examination, but I would like to see it lead to 
new discussion. According to Van Dam:

1) Only when oral delivery dependent on memorization is a link between 
the original MS and the printed issue is there occasion for a distorted 
printed play. An exact presentment of a play is scarcely possible . . . 
. And, of course, every actor was liable to omit, to vary, to repeat, to 
transpose, and to slip in his utterance . . . (103)

2) Not only mistakes of the spoken text but also many stage-directions 
provide us with convincing evidence that they were written by an utter 
outsider who knew nothing of the play . . . .  Here is the first 
stage-direction when the play before Sly begins, Sc. III: 'Enter two 
yoong Gentlemen, and a man and a boie'.  Of course, the note-taker was 
not yet acquainted with the names of the characters . . . . This not 
knowing and not catching of a name . . . affords a simple explanation of 
the impossibility that the character Valeria played both the musician's 
and the father's part before Alfonso . . . . The note-taker . . . 
recognizing Valeria [that is, the actor doubling Valeria and another 
servant] credited Valeria with that other servant's part. (104)

3) Of late years, English scholars have tried to saddle the piracy upon 
an actor who, in possession of his own authentic part, complemented the 
rest of the play from memory. Their hypothesis preadmits . . . an 
essential and strongly marked difference between the accuracy of the 
text of one role against all the other parts, and this difference does 
not exist [MR hypotheses suggesting the use of actors' written parts 
have not retained much currency.  Yet claims that "strongly marked" 
qualitative differences in the bad quartos serve to identify the 
actor-reporters have been condemned as greatly exaggerated in another 
careful article by Paul Werstine, "A Century of 'Bad' Shakespeare 
Quartos", SQ 50, 1999, 310-333.  This critique has perhaps helped lead 
others to adopt a 'communal' hypothesis] . . . On the spur of the moment 
any mistake is possible, but we think it extravagant to credit an actor 
with all the faults the surreptitious Quartos swarm with. On the stage 
he may make many of them . . . (105)

[One might add that a report of an actual performance comprises all the 
parts as played; good, bad, and inconsistent. This decided flaw in the 
orthodox MR hypothesis is naturally accommodated by the added step in 
transmission. Further, many close agreements between 'bad' texts and 
'good' texts are accounted for by the compositors' preference for 
printed copy over manuscript.]

4) The shortness of the surreptitious Quartos has given rise to the 
belief that they in some way or other represent abbreviated texts for 
provincial playing. This belief has no sound basis. [Long before Lukas 
Erne, Van Dam asserted that all of the long plays would have been 
curtailed for performance. I believe this was generally, but perhaps not 
always the case. At any rate, modern scholarship is beginning to agree 
that touring doesn't factor in.] (105)

5) A Shrew is a play reported by an outsider, but this does not explain 
the relation between its text and Shakespeare's Shrew.  It is impossible 
that Pembroke's men played Shakespeare's Shrew, and that A Shrew is a 
report of it. . . . . Is it conceivable that the whole play was 
something like an improvisation of the actors? . . . . Could they not 
have revived Shakespeare's Shrew by changing the names of the 
characters, altering the plot a little, especially the courting of 
Bianca, and by each actor contributing more or less extempore the 
wording of his part? (106)

Van Dam's guess of a memorial reconstruction in the form of a 
deliberate, improvised revival can be said to agree with Maguire's "part 
MR" assessment. Van Dam adds another memorial report in the form of an 
actual stage presentation transmitted by shorthand, transcription, 
(adaptation?), and printing. That has the advantage of allowing 
visualization of a production unspoiled by the corruptions piled on by 
imperfect actors and exceedingly faulty transmission.  I see no reason 
why professional players could not have worked up A Shrew of their own, 
and it probably would not have been too 'bad.' The real importance of 
this play is not its theatrical history, but the history of its 

Gerald E. Downs

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