The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.186  Thursday, 10 May 2012


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

Date:         May 9, 2012 12:53:51 AM EDT

Subject:     Re: Pedestrians Crossing Cairncross


Continuing discussion of some issues I raised; perhaps some good will come of it. Michael Egan responded,


>Gerald Downs lightly and inaccurately dismissed my case

>against memorial reconstruction (along with Steve Urkowitz’s

>more substantial work on the subject), and referred . . . to

>my book Woodstock. It’s actually Richard II, Part One, the

>title Woodstock having been imposed by FS Boas and his

>friends in 1923 precisely to blur the play’s relationship to



I should have said “book on Woodstock.” Forgiving Boas’s imposition, I prefer Woodstock to any other insistent play-title because references are easier. Compromising, I’ll refer to the late edition as The Tragedy. A primary question is whether the play is a memorial report, given its heavy repetitions from other plays and its manifest corruptions. That’s my guess. M. Egan’s anti-MR case is insubstantial. I made this point by quoting his evaluation of Urkowitz’s article. He also agrees that s.d.’s & s.p.’s could not be reconstructed. Since that is no argument, I gather Egan has not thought the matters through either.


Steven Urkowitz replies:


>poor misrepresented Cairncross:


Part of my posting was to counter the “poor Cairncross” and “terminally embarrassing” images created by others’ mistakes on the issues.


>My essays try instead to get people to see how the early

>printed versions work differently on stage and are not

>compendiums of stupidity . . . I hoped my . . . insight might

>get others to look at those early texts as interesting products

>of exploratory minds at work.


Sort of stating the question: Urkowitz apparently assumes professional actors or their agents—if they weren’t Shakespeare—were unable to account for these texts. But “corrupt” and “playable” are not mutually exclusive. I believe players could (and did) redo familiar plays. Steven doesn’t mean “minds,” mind you; he speaks of only one.


>I encourage readers to look at my whole text. You may learn

>something nice. Like, for example, watch how the two texts

>deal with the ACTION surrounding York’s long listing of his

>ancestry. Both versions work elegantly, and you will see that

>the control through speech-commands over physical movement

>on the stage can be precise and elegantly manipulable.


Elegantly put. But York misstates his ancestry. That doesn’t work, as many commentators have shown. I suggest reading the article, but don’t stop there. Read Kenney, Hart, Doran, Cairncross. You will see that such statements as “Alexander . . . dismisses [Q] readings simply because its words don’t match those of the Folio” (246) simply do not apply to the many-faceted analyses of corruption in the early quarto.


Urkowitz’s positive case for Shakespeare’s authorship of both versions is simple enough: “Shakespeare’s first choices recorded in the Quarto were finely Shakespearean. So were his second as found in the Folio”  (243-44). Shakespeare’s choices are Shakespearean. OK, but how do we know they are His?


I’ve begun to reread Steven’s book on Lear, after many years, at his request. I’ll report back.  


>So were memorial reconstructors at work there?  I doubt

>it, but if they were we really have to develop the field of

>Shakespearean Piracy Studies, since they were darned

>good playwrights (and pretty good scholars too in they ways

>they managed to “correct” some of Shakespeare's blunders,

>pulling their texts back closer to the chronicle sources.)


Chronicle sources were not state secrets. The corruptions are key. I fully agree that piracy is in need of further study. Most haven’t thought about it at all, these days. I’ve been trying to interest list-members in my article on John of Bordeaux, with partial success: Steven Urkowitz has studied Ioppolo.


How about reading my article? I’m reading his book.


>There’s everything to be gained by looking at those scripts as lively

>dramatic documents rather than as risible instances of Bardic



Risibilitivity always maintains its value. And yet the possibility of real-time artifacts, 400 years after the fact, is not a laughing matter. That may be the way it was done. Shouldn't every Shakespearean want to find out?


Gabriel Egan remarks:


>Downs offers a defence of Andrew S. Cairncross’s

>bibliographical scholarship regarding Q and F 2 Henry 6

>that I am sorry to say I don’t fully understand. One bit I

>can respond to:


>>The bibliographical fact is, Q influenced F.


>[U]seful works on the problem are omitted in Downs’s

>account. William Montgomery’s 1985 Oxford D. Phil.

>thesis (which shaped his editing of the play in the 1986

>Oxford Complete Works) is important for how it handles

>the ‘spots’ of fairly clear Q contamination of F.


Sounds like something I would have to pay for. I did just pick up a copy of Montgomery’s Oxford Companion piece (with my new little scanner), but I haven’t yet read it. I’m not averse to other thinking, and I would never suggest that my citations are complete. I’m not finished looking into 2H6 and Contention. Hardly started.


>I’d also point Downs to my essay on the problem called

>“Foucault’s epistemic shift and verbatim repetition in

>Shakespeare” that appeared in Richard Meek, Jane Rickard,

>and Richard Wilson’s book Shakespeare’s Book (Manchester

>UP, 2008): 123-39.


I’ll look that up if only to see what the title means.


>>More important, Knowles notes that "much of Cairncross's

>>case for the contamination of F rested on the category of

>>agreement in error. Believing that a few demonstrable

>>instances of contamination indicated large-scale corruption,

>>Cairncross confounded inductive and deductive approaches

>>and duly discovered a large number of instances only a

>>few of which were discovered by other editors" (134).


>>As I recall, Gabriel Egan's new /Struggle/ also faults

>>Cairncross, not for relying on agreement in error (which

>>Egan OK's), but for taking general Q and F agreement as

>>evidence of Q influence, thereby violating some bibliographic



>Knowles is here misread/misrepresented by Downs. Read

>in context, Knowles is not condemning Cairncross for using

>agreement in error as evidence of Q contaminating F but

>just the opposite: he’s asserting that Cairncross was right

>to do so.


I didn’t intend to say that Knowles criticized Cairncross for “using agreement in error.” In fact, as Knowles observes, that’s important; it establishes Q’s printing-house influence. His criticism (following Monty) was that a “confounded” Cairncross duly (dully?) discovered what was not there (else earlier editors would have beaten poor Cairncross to the punch; but that isn’t really how discovery works.)


>The problem is, according to Knowles, that Cairncross also

>used agreements in correct readings as though they were

>evidence of Q contaminating F, which as Knowles rightly

>points out is illogical: two printings may agree on a correct

>reading simply because each got it from its good copy, no[t]

>because one got it from the other.


What Knowles says is that Montgomery “points out that to accept an F reading as correct, as Cairncross does, is in effect to affirm that the reading stood in the manuscript behind F. How, then, can it be claimed that this reading demonstrates a reliance on [Q]” (134).


But that’s not quite what Cairncross does. To accept “a reading” as correct, editorially speaking, is not the same as accepting large doses of agreement with otherwise very corrupt text. As I quoted Cairncross, “The result is that a F passage which looks ‘good’ on the surface, and has hitherto been accepted as good precisely because F and Q agree, is really ‘bad’” (xxxvii). It’s a matter of probability. The text of Contention is a mess. Can it be that all of a sudden, time and again, it gets long passages right? Much more likely F gets its agreement from Q, the printed predecessor. Is that so hard to grasp? No, but I do credit Cairncross. 


>Egan too is not faulting Cairncross for “relying on agreement

>in error” (of course not, that’s how you show dependence of

>one text upon another) but for mostly failing to confine himself

>to that kind of evidence


Agreed on the one point, but where does it say one must be confined to certain kinds of evidence? The knack is to see the other kind.


>and instead using agreement in good readings (which of

>course tell us nothing).


And what tells us the passages in question are “good readings”?


>What Downs vaguely calls “some bibliographic principle”

>is not a vagueness in my book: the principle is simple logic

>and I report that Cairncross was rightly criticized for not using it.


I seem to recall the word “blunder” and reference to a principle of some sort. I don’t have the book at hand. Perhaps G. Egan can cite it for us.


To take an analogous case, Robert K. Turner said of the influence of Q1 The Maid’s Tragedy on Q2: “The whole matter would be clearer if one knew how strong a compulsion was felt by the man who prepared the copy for Q2 to bring Q1 readings into agreement with those of the new authority with which he was comparing the first edition . . . .” And “yet because Q1 corruptions are often not detectable without recourse to the superior readings of Q2 and because there is no assurance that readings of the new witness were introduced into the Q2 copy with equal care, it may be that there are more incorrect readings in sheet H - L than one can recognize.”


If one is pondering influence from a quarto as demonstrably bad as Contention, then agreements of whole passages (when Q influence abounds elsewhere) cannot have come about by the bad text somehow getting them right, but by exclusive use of the quarto as copy—which the compositor would have done every chance he got anyhow. A wish to have “good readings” doesn’t alter the odds. Perhaps the logic isn’t easy to understand, but it seems good to me.


Gerald E. Downs


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