The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0095  Thursday, 4 March 2010

[Editor's Note: As I still struggle to find the most efficient ways to edit submissions with Word for Mac and without macros, I need to make clear submission policies that I have stated in the past. First, if you are responded to what someone else has said, PLEASE clearly indicate what is yours and what belongs to the person you are quoting. I did my best trying to figure out what was what below, but I am not omniscient, despite what some might think, nor do I have all of the time in the world. I am committed to making SHAKSPER digests as accurate as I can for subscribers and for future readers of the archives, but I need help from submitters. Second, when discussions become two or three people talking with each other, I encourage that those discussions be taken off-line, unless there is evidence that more readers are interested in the exchanges than just the participants. Also, I shall be making an announcement soon in which I will be requesting technical assistance; I am committed to the listserv format, but I will be asking if anyone might be able to help me with server issues and with redesigning the web site. -HMCook]

[1]  From:      John Briggs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
     Date:      March 3, 2010 4:26:24 PM EST
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0091  Staying Entries 

[2]  From:      John Briggs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
     Date:      March 3, 2010 4:26:24 PM EST
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0091  Staying Entries 

From:         John Briggs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:         March 3, 2010 4:26:24 PM EST
Subject: 21.0091  Staying Entries
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0091  Staying Entries

Gabriel Egan wrote: 

>Francis Meres ranked Shakespeare among the literary greats in 'Palladis
>Tamia' (1598). Excerpts from his plays appeared in the collections 'Bel-
>vedere or the Garden of the Muses' (1600) and 'England's Parnassus' (1600).
>In a quite brilliant essay in Shakespeare Quarterly 59 (2008) pp. 371-420,
>Zack Lesser and Peter Stallybrass trace the connections between these
>collections (linked by the circle around John Bodenham), and connect them to
>the phenomenon of 'common-placing', that is the marking of sententiae, which
>arose first in respect of prestigious and classical plays. The Bodenham
>circle was asserting that vernacular plays are literature.

I wasn't disputing that Shakespeare's plays are literature, or that *some* at the time saw that they were. But theirs was not a majority view. Francis Meres is better regarded as a journalist than a literary scholar. Had it not been for his mention of Shakespeare, Meres and his unreadable book (which is distinctly strange!) would be justly forgotten today.

>The sententiae in the 1603 bad quarto of Hamlet are highlighted to show the
>play's literary quality. Q2, Lesser and Stallybrass suggest, was meant to
>look like Q1 so that undiscerning buyers would be taken in, while discerning
>ones (who might already own Q1) would spot the improvements and be encouraged
>to have both. If this is right, we shouldn't treat Q1 (theatrical) as quite
>unlike Q2 (literary). Our familiar sharp contrast between the literary and
>the theatrical seems less secure when viewed in this light.

Hmm, there quite a bit to unpack here! If "Q2 [...] was meant to look like Q1" (it is mostly the nearly-identical title page) that was more likely because of the Stationers' Register entry -- it was purporting to be the same work for registration and censorship purposes. (Actually, I think that what John Roberts initially registered was the Ur-Hamlet -- most likely an old Queen's Company play -- and he or someone else only later got hold of the copy for Q1. There is no reason to suppose that John Roberts wasn't involved in the production of Q1 -- after all, he later printed Q2.) Q1 is a Bad Quarto by any definition (and a report of the F text) -- there is no reason to regard Q2 as "literary" rather than "theatrical". (Shakespeare wrote long plays: get over it!)

John Briggs

From:         John Briggs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:         March 3, 2010 6:16:59 PM EST
Subject: 21.0091  Staying Entries
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0091  Staying Entries

Justin Alexander wrote: 

>John Briggs wrote: "I have to say that Justin Alexander clearly has a
>penchant for the Straw Man argument! I clearly wrote (and he quotes) "But
>Shakespeare wasn't interested in his plays as literature". In case anyone
>else hasn't noticed, the operative words are "as literature". Alexander
>chooses to interpret this as "Shakespeare ... must have cared more about the
>And John Briggs appears to be a pot calling a hypothetical kettle black. I
>know it's cute to quote things out of context so that you can snipe at them,
>but I had rather hoped that this mailing list might rise to a slightly higher
>level of discourse. When you use ellipsis to obfuscate the entire point of
>the conversation it does you little service.

Well, at least you haven't lowered the tone by introducing any new facts into the discussion! Shall we look at this supposed context? The elided words are: "took an interest in publishing his poetry and not his plays, therefore he". They add nothing of substance to the quote, which in any case is your characterisation of *my* position! In what way is that obfuscating "the entire point of the conversation"? Does one of us not know what we are arguing about?

>John Briggs wrote: "The point I am making (and which he is pretending not to
>see) is that Shakespeare regarded poetry (and especially his narrative poems)
>as Literature (with a capital L), and that he did not regard his plays as
>A claim for which you have, as I pointed out before, no evidence at all.

Well, there plenty of *negative* evidence, as I keep pointing out. I point out for the plays the diffent from the case of the Narrative Poems (and possibly the Sonnets). I point out the complete absence of authorial involvement in the publication of the Quartos. (There is no substantive difference from the publication of the Folio -- and we know Shakespeare wasn't involved with that: he had been dead for seven years!) I compare it with the case of Ben Jonson being involved with the publication of *his* plays. (You have to wonder why Ben Jonson wasn't drafted in to help with the publication of the Folio: perhaps it was thought that he might re-written the plays! Perhaps he would have expected to be paid: Ralph Crane could be put down to company expenses.)

John Briggs wrote: "Of course, Shakespeare was passionate about his plays: he
spent most of his working life writing them! But he took no interest in
publishing them."

Another claim for which you have no evidence at all.

Well, I cheerfully admit that I have no direct evidence that Shakespeare was passionate about his plays: I thought that was self-evident! But I am happy to concede the point if it makes you feel any better. It is also self-evident (as indicated above) that Shakespeare took no interest in the publication of his plays. Many of his plays (and not just the Quartos) are printed from unrevised drafts. A random selection (weighted towards early plays) was printed in his lifetime, with no effort (other than by the printer) to regularise the text.

>John Briggs wrote: "He regarded performance as more important."
>Yet another claim for which you have no evidence at all. And, even if it were
>true, it wouldn't preclude Shakespeare considering his plays to be literature.

Something else that should be self-evident. And if he *did* consider them literature, why didn't he publish them? You know, in careful texts with signed dedications -- just like Literature, in other words?

>John Briggs wrote: "In the circumstances, it is risible for Alexander to
>claim that "relatively high quality quarto editions of many of Shakespeare's
>plays [...] appeared throughout his lifetime". "Relatively" is a fine weasel
>word! The printing quality varied from reasonably tolerable to execrable."
>Yet another misrepresentation of what I wrote. I very specifically said that
>his plays were published in both good and bad versions throughout his

How is it a misrepresentation? I have quoted you directly! And if you did mean that "his plays were published in both good and bad versions throughout his lifetime", then that is so bland as to be meaningless. Or nearly meaningless: it isn't even true. None of the plays published in his lifetime (or afterwards, for that matter) was treated with the same care as the Narrative Poems (or the Sonnets, for that matter.) The "Bad Quartos" are a red herring: there were only five of them, and two (Merry Wives of Windsor and Hamlet) were replaced by Good Quartos. The "Good Quartos" should be included in your "bad versions": there were no "good versions".

You may have mentioned that exactly half the plays in the First Folio had been published as Quartos. But this is a statistic which is so unhelpful as to be meaningless. It can't be used to argue anything, particularly when you look at the list of plays concerned.

>But the exact same thing can be said of his poetry. 

No, it couldn't. It really couldn't.

>Drawing two different conclusions from the exact same set of data is

Actually, the data on plays published in quarto versus published in the folio are amenable to just that! I haven't bothered, but you are welcome to try.

>John Briggs wrote: "Of course Shakespeare wrote his own dedications to
>Southampton, and wrote them specially for the printed publication..."
>There's certainly no reason to doubt that Shakespeare wrote the dedications.
>You would have to be especially obtuse to doubt it: he signed the dedications!
>But, as I pointed out before, there's no evidence that he wrote either the
>poems or the dedications especially for publication.

You've now hoisted yourself with your own petard: "publication" can include circulation in manuscript -- before the invention of printing that was the only form of publication. But the dedication is an open letter to the patron: it has no meaning outside the context of publication (whether in print or in manuscript.) But, congratulations: you now have your own place in literary history -- you are certainly the first person to suggest that the dedications weren't intended for publication.

>Which is, of course, my point: You have weaved an entertaining narrative, but
>you have done so out of thin air and wholecloth. It may be true. But it is
>just as likely that it is not.

Nonsense. There is no suggestion that it is "likely that it is not."

>That is the beauty (and the curse) of such empty theorizing.

I don't do Theory. If you intended "theorizing" as an insult, you succeeded.

>John Briggs wrote: "... the convention was that patrons rewarded the author
>with a suitable monetary gift (or so the author hoped!) upon publication."
>The existence of this "convention" is, of course, hypothetical.

Well, it is evidenced from England and elsewhere at a later date. I'm not absolutely sure whether it is evidenced from Shakespeare's time -- but if it isn't, then you are the first to doubt it.

>But even if it's true (and it may well be so), your theory would appear to be
>that Shakespeare thought of his poems as literature because he wouldn't have
>gotten paid unless he published them. I'm not really sure I'm seeing the
>connection. This logic would seem to require defining the word "literature"
>to mean "work for hire". That's an odd definition to use in any case, and
>particularly given the context implied by this conversation.

Quite the opposite. I am saying that Literature was work for which there was little financial reward (then or now!) with or without publication. He wouldn't have done it unless he believed in it. But he certainly wasn't encouraged by his experience to persist with narrative poems!

John Briggs

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