The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.107  Wednesday, 14 March 2012


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

Date:         March 13, 2012 8:29:29 PM EDT

Subject:     Shakespearean Originals King Lear


In his Introduction to the “Shakespearean Originals” edition of King Lear Graham Holderness offers a history of Q1/F scholarship that shows how close one may come to my thinking on the texts while criticizing—yet remaining tied to—prior scholarship. Since the ‘Originals’ series was the best a generation of ‘outside the box’ Theorists could manage, it is instructive how their hands and feet are stockt, Kent-like (not Clark; Earl), inside a New Bibliography framework.


Although Holderness is right to observe that the “two original printed texts are substantially different,” one should keep in mind the fact that F is more than less a reprint of Q1; so much so that Q2 shared F-copy duty. He notes, “Scholars who believed the text . . . reported also . . . felt that since it approximated more consistently than other comparable Bad Quartos to its 1623 counterpart, it was not perhaps in some ways ‘bad’ enough legitimately to earn the questionable designation of Bad Quarto.”


Once one steps in it (the box), it is hard to step out. Questioning the origin of terms we retain does little good; it is better to define them. My bad quarto definition relies on the historical condition of reproduction from memory (rather than from an unbroken line of transcriptions); thus bad quartos need not be ‘bad,’ consistent, or compared. But if Q1 is consistently comparable to F, why beg the next logical question?


Before we ask whether Q1 reproduces F well, we need to ask if it isn’t the other way round. Blayney observes that F is what was done to Q1. Before we judge Q1 by its offshoot there must be some convincing argument that F has an authority edge. I agree with Stone and Blayney that it doesn’t; if F derives from Q1, then their approximation to one another says nothing of relative corruption of Q1 to its own ancestors. Further, if Q1 whuppins of mass corruption derive from a history culminating in a printed memorial report, it is unlikely that F is an authorial redaction of what (to the author) would be a travesty.


That’s not to say a bad quarto has to be bad, value-wise. Well-done shorthand reports of well-acted performances well-adapted by professional troupes may be presentable even if poorly printed; this is denied by prematurely discounting such reporting, and by assuming authorial foul papers behind the corruptions. Cutting corners inside the box makes for circular reasoning.


Holderness seems to accept the premise that Q1 copy was authorial by rejecting arguments that it was a memorial reconstruction (15). But first he cites Duthie for arguing against a shorthand report, which had been posited by Greg (& Schmidt, long before). As Duthie’s argument was based on F as Q1’s authority, anyone who rules out memorial transmission completely should disagree with Duthie’s case against shorthand. Such is not the case; Duthie is standard grab-bag authority.


Holderness also argues against MR, ending with criticism of Duthie’s post-shorthand theory, which “displayed characteristic ingenuity in stretching the [MR] hypothesis to incorporate the [supposed] atypical consistency of [Q1], by elaborating an engaging fantasy in which the text was reconstructed from memory by the whole cast. Since there is no marked discrepancy in point of approximation to the Folio text among the various roles, all the actors must perforce have been involved in reconstructing the text. Searching for a plausible set of circumstances in which the company might have wanted to undertake such an odd exercise . . .” (15).


Notwithstanding the facts that Duthie abandoned this idea and that others have taken it up for other plays (McMillan, Erne), I agree: Group Theory does not compute. What if we back up a bit? If shorthand is not eliminated, is it so difficult to imagine whole casts ‘reconstructing’ plays from memory? Isn’t that what casts do—perfor(man)ce? What if there is strong evidence for shorthand reporting? We can see how the order of NB argument, most of which is no good no how, dictates to modern and post-modern critics.


They are left with the ‘Wells and Taylor volume[(s) -- Shakespearian revision],’ which Holderness holds to be “innovatory and provocative [innovative and provocatory?],” but “the centrality of ‘Shakespeare’ to the entire enterprise was in no way questioned. In fact . . . the final effect was to extend to Shakespeare an even greater centrality . . . . It can be accepted, since there are two King(s) Lear, that Shakespeare did not after all write only one, as long as it is admitted that he wrote both” (17).


“Texts in this model are related not to historical conditions of production and contexts of cultural appropriation, but to one another, and to their ‘onlie begetter’, the author (20).” Holderness is right on this, but he seems not to question Q1 foul-papers copy, which not only ignores conditions and contexts; it ignores the need for evidence. The author is not just in at the start: the start is the copy for Q1. But what if a long history lies behind Q1? What if its text is a shorthand report? What if that was appropriated by publishers to be ‘cur’d’ quackerly for the Folio? These questions are not allowed by the narrow insistence of the revision model, nor by much of the scholarly tradition.


Gerald E. Downs

Subscribe to Our Feeds


Make a Gift to SHAKSPER

Consider making a gift to support SHAKSPER.