The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0206  Monday, 28 May 2012


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

Date:         May 27, 2012 7:11:40 PM EDT

Subject:     Richard III and Jowett


On the "Pedestrian" thread Gabriel Egan responded to my statement,


>> Of course, since R3 is probably a memorial report

>> the same questions may arise.


> See John Jowett’s elegant proof that Q1 R3 can’t be

> based on a memorial report (“’Derby’, ‘Stanley’, and

> Memorial Reconstruction in Quarto Richard IIINotes

> and Queries 245 (2000): 75-79.)


I’ll look that up. In the meantime, I think R3 is probably a memorial report but probably not a memorial reconstruction. So I may agree with Jowett and maintain my opinion. Gabriel Egan seems to use the terms interchangeably; I try not to.


I have reread Jowett’s extensive piece from two years before N&Q, “Richard III and the Perplexities of Editing,” from which I’ll quote.


“Of course certainty is impossible.” Now he’s done the impossible with a proof, and elegantly yet. I might agree; Jowett is a good scholar (all the more reason for my disappointment in his Arden3 STM.)


“The Folio is agreed to have been set from printed copy—apparently a complex mix of Q3 and Q6 -- that had been heavily annotated from a manuscript. There are strong indications that this manuscript was not in Shakespeare’s hand, and parts of it may have been defective. Although the marking-up seems to have been relatively thorough, there are two substantial sections where the Quarto copy is reprinted without evident modification with reference to the manuscript. As a partial reprint, F is therefore immediately compromised . . .”


Sound familiar? Q3 sure gets around. I would ask, if all the perceptible shared errors were removed would we take the identical “substantial sections” of Q and F to be coincidental? No; we should agree with Jowett, van Dam, Cairncross and Montgomery


“Yet memorial transmission cannot be discounted entirely. . . . Kristian Smidt’s prolonged and detailed examinations led him to change his mind from scepticism of memorial transmission to acceptance, and the one and only recent systematic study of the textual problem [Davison ‘96] strongly affirms the theory of collaborative reconstruction by actors on tour.”


“[T]he theory of a collaborative reconstruction by actors is no better than possible, and there is a dearth of plausible circumstances under which such an activity might usefully take place.”


Statements like this always get my attention. If shorthand reporting were not so far from their consciousness, scholars might see their own words for what they are—descriptions of dramatic performance (the reason for actors and the thing we are talking about). Performances aren’t useful now (now we have reality TV) but there weren’t enough bears to go round back then. Touring has never been much of a reason for these texts, but it serves to keep the city plays perfectly acted (in scholarly imaginations). Shorthand (if one acquiesces) recorded plays in performance, a plausible (real life) circumstance.


“Davison’s study still has the merit of examining every variant  with a trained bibliographical and theatrical eye, and for this reason it is not lightly to be dismissed. Memorial transmission in some shape or form may well influence the text.”


“This kind of lapse does not, admittedly, require a full-blown theory of memorial transmission as it falls within the scope of scribal, or even perhaps compositorial, error. Nevertheless, as variants like this accumulate, sustained memorial intervention becomes increasingly likely. Other such cases do . . . occur.”


“Nevertheless, for a residual number of variants, no alternative clearly outbids memory. If these variants are after all scribal, one can only say that they lie outside the parameters of professional and dedicated transcription as they are usually understood. Perhaps we need a typology of transcription itself that would open our awareness of the range of transcriptional effects.”


These quotations are quite insightful; yet Jowett's suggested types do not include stenographers. But shorthand covers the whole range of effects: memory, revision, etc. (and etc.).


“It can hardly be supposed that the manuscript would have been prepared for circumstances in which it had no efficacy.”


True, but the quarto ran to at least six editions before the F reprint. That's efficacy up the ying-yang. I tend to agree with van Dam that it began as a shorthand report but was subsequently reprinted with help from better copy, much as has been observed of other playtexts. I may as well quote a bit from van Dam, writing 80 years ago:


“But when we know that there are no good texts in which the synonyms crop up in such royal abundance as in the parallel texts of Rich. III, two conclusions may be drawn [1] it is improbable that any adapter, revisor or rewriter would be so madly disposed as to make these needless changes [2] it is improbable that a scribe’s or compositor’s memory is responsible for the bulk of them. The . . . divergencies . . . indicate the failing memory of some one whose memory is more heavily taxed . . . . the only one who comes into consideration . . . is the actor.”


“ . . . Elizabethan actors did not greatly care to be part-perfect, and at times deliberately made free with their texts. Certainly, this is no sign of their incompetence . . . on the contrary, it shows how clever and gifted they were. In our opinion (me & him, we reckon), nothing can be further from the mark than an aprioristic acceptance of the players' part-perfectness as an argument against the shorthand theory.”


“The F Richard III is, like the F Hamlet, a reprint of the Q, corrected in a slovenly manner by the help of a good text, modernized by the printers, and in various places corrupted by . . . those good intentions wherewith hell is paved.” 


The editor knows how reluctant I am to prolong a posting, but neither do I like to pass over a good comment. On reporting Laurie Maguire’s assessment of Q R3 as not MR, Jowett remarks that her reason is “not least because in her study [Suspect Texts] evidence arising from comparison between texts is discounted entirely. Maguire’s approach . . . aims to adopt rigorous criteria . . . but, if one wishes to address in full the question of the transmission of Q and F, the variants between them are primary and unignorable data, no matter how tricky and undefinitive their interpretation might be.” Because Maguire rejects the evidence of multiple-text comparisons her conclusions are unwarranted and by extension a refusal to learn from multiple texts invalidates her other judgments. Although her book is a handy reference list, I think her pronouncements should not be cited without caveat similar to Jowett’s. Because she also mistakenly excludes other forms of evidence her book itself needs better examination than it got twenty years ago.


Gerald E. Downs

Subscribe to Our Feeds


Make a Gift to SHAKSPER

Consider making a gift to support SHAKSPER.