The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.190  Wednesday, 16 May 2012


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

Date:         May 16, 2012 1:54:46 AM EDT

Subject:     Pedestrians Crossing Cairncross


Gabriel Egan responded helpfully with some references I will follow up. As for Cairncross:


>The back-and-forth about Cairncross can be dispensed with

>quite simply. Taken to task by J. K. Walton for his faulty

>interpretation of variants between early editions, Cairncross

>confirmed his adherence to the principle that “identity of

>reading implies identity of origin” (“Dr Cairncross’s Answer”

>Review of English Studies new series 10 (1959): 139-40).


I think the exchange was about R3, where (simply) “variants between early [R3 quarto and Folio] editions” is not analogous to the question of 2H6 bad quarto agreements with Folio passages. That is, we’re not discussing which derivative quarto was copy for F, but whether quarto or manuscript was copy for the agreeing passages.


Speaking of agreement, I gather that Gabriel Egan agrees (finally!) with Michael Egan and Steven Urkowitz that Contention is not a memorially contaminated text but that it descends by transcription from the hand of Shakespeare. Otherwise, he should see that its corruption exceeds “critical” mass: it can’t switch between horrible and identical (or nearly so) by a will to believe. “Horrible” in quarto(s) is identified by text from a better manuscript and by other features. “Identical” identifies what may have been judged less horrible (by printing-house editors yet), but it’s still probably from the bad quarto. Memorial reports match authorized text only if they are well done. The Contention is not well done, by any rational stretch.


>There’s no point continuing discussing variants with someone

>who thinks that’s true, and Walton didn’t.


So much for discussing apples and oranges. I’ll point out that Walton denied Q2 influence on Folio Lear, which is generally acknowledged now, agreeing with Cairncross. Much of Walton’s work is downgraded; I prefer to take issues as they come and Walton’s input is OK at times. Not once having watched the TV show, I’m no expert. But there is no point in citing Walton here; memorial transmission is the question.


Of course, since R3 is probably a memorial report the same questions may arise. But Walton was talking about Q1, Q3, and Q6 variants, not origins, as I recall. He didn’t dismiss the idea that Q1 Lear is a report, which is unusual for his generation.


>>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.


>The word “blunder” appears nowhere in my book, The

>Struggle for Shakespeare’s Text. The closest match is

>“blindness”, as in “Cairncross’s blindness to the principle

>that only agreements-in-error are strong evidence” (p. 253).

>That restates the principle too. Nothing contentious there, I think.


An advocate of memorial contamination, I welcome all examples of my bad memory. “Blindness” is worse than “blunder,” wouldn’t you think? Poor, blind Cairncross—he’s right again. Perhaps, like me, he suffered from Weisenheimer’s. And a “principle” was there after all, though it doesn’t apply. Is it true we accept 2H6 set directions as coming from Contention because they agree? Is it a principle when we like it and not when we don’t?


Gerald E. Downs

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