The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0387  Tuesday, 18 September 2012


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

Date:         September 18, 2012 8:59:05 AM EDT

Subject:     Re: Lear Analysis


Sid Lubow suggests a “head to head” contest on the various LEAR hypotheses.  Alas, for a contest we’d really have to have some agreement on the rules of engagement and judgment, and as you may have seen over the last several exchanges, it’s rather like seeing one team coming on to play tennis, one to play ice hockey, one to wrestle Sumo-style, one to decide on a disputed IRS audit, and one to compete in playing Rachmaninov.  Rules of evidence? Sure, lots of them, but A won’t even agree that B’s proffered instances exist, let alone should be measured and evaluated.


I’m waiting to lay hands on Stone’s analysis and to look again at Peter Blayney’s.  


But to come down to a particular and peculiar case in Lear that I just noticed for the first time.  When Edmund is somehow chopped by Edgar in the last scene, the first speech following in Q and F has Albany halt the combat:


  Alb. Saue him, saue him.    


(I’m taking this from the Folio, my Q copy is70 miles away at the moment. )  

Now, in the next dozen or so lines, Albany has three more speeches with the identical speech prefix.  Way back at the beginning of the play, the Folio has a somewhat similar speech unique to it, directing Albany and “Cor.”  to intervene, at least verbally, to stop a violent action: “Alb. Cor. Deare Sir forbeare.”


But the Oxford edition (and its derivative, Norton) in 5.3 changes “Alb.” to  “All.” with the explanatory (?) note 


“ALL ] BLAYNEY (Van Dam) ;  Alb.  QF


The Norton note, more generously, reads: 


Both Q and F give this speech to “Alb.” (for “Albany”), which may be a compositorial mistake for “All.”


Cloud-Cuckoo-Land, anyone?   Usually we blame compositors for spelling errors or for mis-reading difficult handwriting.  Somehow in the fifty-odd speeches and their prefixes in the play, the compositors of different printed texts never managed to make that particular error in reading the manuscript(s) handwriting.  


So maybe it was a typesetter’s typesetting blunder? Very unlikely.  Why?  The speech prefix “All” as spelled out by a typesetter goes Italic-upper-case A followed by one piece of type, the italic digraph ligature ll, or double-l; the A-l-b  speech prefix would use not two but three pieces of type, (duhhh), Italic-upper-case A, italic l and italic b.  Tactile memory, I’d propose, would keep a busy-fingered typesetter from setting three types instead of two.   


But thought is free, and let us imagine that the goober setting Q did mistakenly set ALB for ALL.  And no one managed to “fix” it to ALL in the painstaking generation of whatever copy was used to set the Folio.   And along the way, no one would have noticed that “Saue him, saue him” supposedly called out by everyone on stage, and having been written in everyone’s actors’ sides, still appeared in print only in the part of Albany?  Hunh?


But I haven’t seen Peter Blayney’s explanation; it’s on its way through interlibrary loan.


Nevertheless, my overactive Martin Luther gene makes me wince away from imagining how this editorial intervention shows everyone onstage intervening (at least verbally) to save the Bastard where Q and F have it done by Albany alone.  Oxford Guys, Norton Noodles!  you are messing with a moment in the greatest play  ever written.  And for what?  What theatrical aesthetic makes you believe that QF’s ALB ain’t Shakespeare and ALL is?  


“And appointed guard”—the variant that prompts Gerald Downs last long post?  Sorry, folks; whether it was done by compositor, stenographer, Shakespeare, the Archangel Michael, or the Tooth Fairy, maybe, one way or another as far as staging the play those particular couple of words still “ain’t worth a faht” as some of my neighbors here in Maine might say.   Whereas ALB and ALL matter a lot.  Try them out in your next classroom discussion of the play.  


So the game I come to play is putting on plays.  I blow my referee’s whistle when [a] folks like the Oxford editors change the script(s), and [b] when folks like Gerald Downs blow so much smoke about peripheral matters that the central actions disappear from the discourse. Ain’t enough “band-width” in our lives.  


Steve Whistlewitz 

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