The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0350  Friday, 24 August 2012


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

Date:         August 20, 2012 8:20:53 PM EDT

Subject:     King Lear Analysis


For some years (off and on) I studied the history of the early texts of King Lear before submitting an article for publication almost two years ago. I may try again after Richard Knowles’s Variorum edition appears because it may help to focus on the issues. If I record my views here they may be of interest in comparison. Some of the Lear puzzles can be far-reaching, should they be solved.


My introduction to them was P. W. K. Stone’s The Textual History of King Lear (1980) – the most perceptive and best of the last generation of Lear scholarship. His work was influential yet should have been more so; he may never get his due. Another especially creditable resource is P. W. M. Blayney’s ‘82 bibliographical study—the best of a kind. I made circles in a few libraries before realizing that v.2, his textual analysis, doesn’t exist. Some still list it as “forthcoming,” thirty years on. Other publications are less useful; some serve to confuse the issues. Except as needed, I prefer not to argue with the worser angles but to follow Blayney and Stone and let the Blarney Stone be.


Determined to resolve every issue, Stone was misled for reasons a bit unfair to his substantial intellect. Prior scholarly assumption caused his faulty explanation of Q1 mislineation; that’s where I try new thinking to reduce the complications of his otherwise sound theory.


Blayney criticized Shakespeareans for assuming that printers didn’t correct playtexts before printing began (foul-proofing) and consequently that stop-press correction was the only method used (where evidence is apparent in corrected and uncorrected formes). Foul-proofing is hard to detect since proof pages were not usually retained. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen; Moxon describes a set procedure and common sense advises that printing can’t well begin until a forme is inspected for serious error. Nevertheless, editors today may speak of variants as if they are the whole story.


That was Stone’s error when he took on notorious Q1 mislineation (in its messier examples) to elaborate his hypothesis that a longhand theatrical report was printed as it stood in printer’s copy. (Mislineation can’t easily be explained if printing was seriatim: Blayney proved that Q1 was printed page-by-page rather than from “casting off” copy to print by formes (the more efficient printing-house method); but Stone gets credit for presuming seriatim printing.) Here I mark pentameters for convenience:


Glost. Good friend I prithy take him in thy armes,

I haue or’e heard a plot of death vpon him,

There is a Litter ready lay him in’t, / & driue towards Douer frend,

Where thou shalt meet / both welcome & protection, take vp thy

If thou should’st dally half an houre, his life / with thine    (master,

And all that offer to defend him / stand in assured losse,

Take vp the King / and followe me, that will to some provision

Giue thee quicke conduct.

            (Q1 3.6.95-104 [TLN 1780-87; G4v7-14])


Stone proposes first that an actor’s pauses before his delivery of “where thou shalt meet” and “take up the King” were taken to signal new pentameter lines by a reporter aligning the phrases expectantly, leaving gaps to be filled in at later performance(s); second, that the full text, fitted to a limited space, was replicated by the Q1 compositor.


There’s a better explanation; G4v9-13 is crowded, with space-saving use of two &’s and the turned-down “master,” indicating restoration of three lines. Having set “take vp” at line 10, the compositor’s eye fell on “take vp” at line 13, to omit copy from the end of line 10 through line 12 (including omission of one “take vp”). Regularized (as copy may have read), the text should have more printed lines:


There is a Litter ready lay him in’t,

And driue towards Douer frend, where thou shalt meet

Both welcome and protection, take vp [thy master,

If thou should’st dally half an houre, his life

With thine and all that offer to defend him

Stand in assured losse, take vp] the King

And followe me, that will to some provision

            (G4v9–15, conjectured; omission bracketed)


When the eyeskip error was noticed during foul-proofing four lines already set were adjusted to accommodate restoration of the omission. As far as I know, early correction has not been suggested as a general cause of Q1 mislineation. Blayney would no doubt suggest it, since he describes at least one instance of foul-proofing miscorrection. In this case (and many others in Q1, which are not too hard to spot), the text is explained by everyday printing house goings-on. That doesn’t explain all mislineation but it indicates, by a sort of empirical evidence, that foul-proofing occurred. A pair of “take vps”, downturning, and crowding (and like cases) show not only that compositors were prone to this error, but that correction before printing occurred regularly.


In a contemporary Blayney review, Antony Hammond adds: “no Okes foul proof survives, though some of his revises do, which suggest that most hypotheses constructed to account for press-variants are likely to be grossly mistaken, and that as many as a third of such ‘corrections’ are likely to be miscorrections.”


I don’t know where the “third” comes from but I see that if foul-proofing carried the heavy load of reading against copy, stop-press corrections might often be conjectural, which seems to be the case. Large numbers may suggest that more of F usually ascribed to Shakespeare is actually caused by printing errors. Moreover, other surviving Q1 miscorrections, whether F monkeys with them or not, reinforce the idea that F’s primary ancestor is the corrupt quarto itself.


The upshot of eyeskip evidence is that mislineation can’t decide the Q1 printer’s copy (though it may help to decide how F came to be). Still, a Q1 theory must accommodate mislineation. Shorthand reporting is an alternative cause, what with revision, actor error, and evidence that stenographers had no time or inclination to line verse. Yet lineation is neither decisive, nor as answerable as once was hoped.


Gerald E. Downs


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