The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0375  Friday, 10 September 2012


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

Date:         September 10, 2012 1:20:57 AM EDT

Subject:     Heminges and Geeinges


Commentary on Shakespeare’s text is often accompanied by mention of the 1623 Folio blurbs attributed to the players John Heminge(s) and Henry Condell. The understandable yen is to reconcile opinions to their statements (which are not altogether clear) but general readers don’t always have all the relevant information. 


All agree that Ben Jonson wrote the prefatory matter but the players’ remarks may be taken at something like face value: “It had bene . . . worthie to have bene wished, that the Author himselfe had liu’d to haue set forth, and ouerseen his owne writings . . .”


True, to some extent; Shakespeare was far removed from these texts. Recent intimations of his intentions to publish (Erne) are not supported by the evidence. Yet had the Author overseen publication we may have cause to regret the loss comprising the many interesting mysteries and textual puzzles feeding a halting industry.


“His mind and hand went together: And what he thought, he vttered with that easinesse, that wee haue scarse receiued from him a blot in his papers.”


The great variety of critics is doubtful; “fair copy” isn’t evidence of ease (or unease) and Hand D doesn’t seem a work of “the best for blotting.” Ben & Co. meant only another slight deception, though the blots thicken in Jonson’s posthumous Timber: or Discoveries:


“I remember, the Players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakespeare, that . . . he never blotted out line. . . . I had not told posterity this, but for their ignorance, who choose that circumstance to commend their friend by . . . .”


I won’t parse Jonson (depends on what ‘this’ is, what ‘is’ is, etc.); but whatever else is meant by the “nostrati,” Ben ingenuously(?) restates the players’ repeated claim. Further, Jonson says he wouldn’t have ‘told posterity’ something, had Shakespeare’s friends not been impressed by ‘that no blots circumstance.’ This part of the Folio address then seems to have a real basis; it must refer fair copy, whether or not the players knew it. (But not “foul papers with deletions unmarked,” as Honigmann. Would H & C choose that troublesome circumstance to commend their friend by?)


So what happened to the texts subsequent to delivery? Foul papers (rough drafts) don’t come in play without denying testimony (twice over) reported of the players. Moreover,


“But ... his Friends ... [no ‘...’ significance here] haue publish’d them, as where (before) you were abus’d with diuerse stolne, and surreptitious copies, maimed, and deformed by the frauds and stealthes of iniurious impostors, that expos’d them;”


Many Shakespearean (& non-) plays were corruptly published: Hamlet, R&J, Orlando, Faustus. There’s no denying the truth of their statement; the question is, where does it stop? Corrupt texts; F texts printed from quarto (whole or part); and revised quartos all testify to a limited supply of plays in the clean form said to have existed. Even the “mind & hand” candidates are downgraded to rough drafts.


My hypothesizing tends toward F texts more deformed than has been supposed; corruption comes in different sizes. Shorthand reporting—if no mission impossible; if we choose to accept it—is stealing, stealthy, and injurious. But it can be repaired: “euen those, are now offer’d to your view cur’d, and perfect of their limbes; and all the rest, absolute in their numbers, as he conceiued the[m]."


Cured, perfect, and as he conceived them, they’re not. Those are fibs. But is “even those” a reference to all the Folio texts? Surely not, we assume. And yet I wouldn’t draw the line at the traditional bad quartos. I get two important inferences from Bordox: 1) That a job so well done could have been repeated many times; and 2) That no performance (as now) was necessarily immune to recording. When Heywood suggested his play of Elizabeth (If You Know Not Me) was taken by shorthand he notes that “at first” it was well performed. But he was ashamed of the quarto, “scarse one word trew.” Much of the error must be from a bad performance. (As a lot of the text is technically “true” I think Heywood was going cousin Jasper “scant one sentence trewe” one better). What would the quarto have been like if the play had been reported of a good performance or printed from fair copy? These questions might apply to plays of the King’s Men, who complained of corrupt piracies elsewhere.


Gerald E. Downs

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