The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0487  Saturday, 1 December 2012


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

Date:         November 30, 2012 4:36:42 PM EST

Subject:     Shorthanded yet again? More matter for a winter’s morning.


Changing venues away from “play length” for a moment, faithful readers, let’s put on our heavy gloves and trench-coats to patrol the now-wintry perennial-borders of Bad-Quarto Gardens, where the Daunting Gerald Downs once again is tossing the fetid fragments of “textual corruption” over our leaf-less hedges.


His way of working continues to match those of the old guard memorial construction gang he so respects. He looks at a Romeo and Juliet line from Q2. “That’s the real one (maybe).” And he points to the equivalent from Q1: “That’s an ERROR. I can tell. It’s maybe from transcription, or maybe memory, or maybe a ‘pirate’ or an actor grasping at straws, or shorthand. But Obviously it’s an error.” And he points to a similar line from somewhere else, another play, or another spot in the same play, or another author. “See, they’re similar. This one over here has to be the source misbegotten by the evil, stupid or desperate pirate, incompetent actor, or well-meaning but technically deficient stenographer. Can’t be anything else.”


I’m out here patrolling the perennial borders because for decades this kind of dystopic reasoning worked and worked and worked. Kind of like pre-Copernican “epicycles” that for centuries explained the observed motion of the planets. Then along came Copernicus to show that the apparent motion could be explained and predicted much more effectively and consistently using a different theory and a different point of view. The benefit of the Copernican solution to the explanatory issue was that the observations then fit into far stronger models of how and why objects actually move where we see them. But for generations lots of smart folk went on comfortably riding their epicycles hither and thither just like before. 


Like a well-maintained epicycle, the pirates / stenographers / rogue-or-forgetful actor theories work if and only if you don't look anywhere outside the limited box of smoke and mirrors the Bad Quarto Chorus holds up for us to view.  


Here’s one triplet of lines, cited as evidence for his theory by Gerald Downs, that I would say could very well be altogether the product of a certain vividly engaged actor who also wrote plays, the William Shakespeare guy, rather than a pirate / stenographer / actor / printer. Clipped from Downs’ last post, where he draws on Harry Hoppe:



From Hoppe’s 161-5.


TA 3.1.156

And that shall be the ransom for their fault.


R&J 1.1.90

Q1 Your lives shall pay the ransom of your fault.

Q2 Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace.


Q2 does not echo TA. If Q1 is an early version with an authorial self-borrowing, why should this be revised?



Come along with me here: Say William rather than a collaborator wrote the line that Aaron the Moor says at Titus Andronicus, 3.1.156: “And that shall be the ransom for their fault.” And even if he didn’t, because William gets to hear this line whenever his company puts on that popular play, it sticks in his mind. So, further envision the possibility that William is writing another play, and suppose there he pens a line that goes like this: “Your lives shall pay the ransom of your fault.” Closely echoing the Titus line.


Now here’s the odd disconnect in Gerald Downs’ epicyclic reasoning, and I ask that you consider just how odd it is.  


The line “Your lives shall pay the ransom of your fault.” appears in print in the 1597 First Quarto of Romeo and Juliet: (at what in the Second Quarto is R&J 1.1.90). In the Second Quarto, not printed until 1599, the equivalent line reads like this: “Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace.” “ransom” becomes “forfeit,” “fault” becomes “peace.” Out here on patrol, pretty much in contact with real authors who write things and then later revise them, or with seeds that when dropped into mud eventually turn into flowers, it seems to me that our guy William really could have written the Titus line, AND that he could have written the Q1 line. And (why not go for the whole hog?) he could have fiddled with it some more to end up with the Q2 line.  


But Gerald sees the Q1 line as an effort by the corrupting other (stenographer, actor, pirate) who was trying to recover the Q2 version that Shakespeare wrote.  Gerald says, 


“Q2 does not echo TA.” Okay. “If Q1 is an early version with an authorial self-borrowing, why should this be revised?”


Urk would say in response to that rhetorical gambit, “Why not?” (Oh, us pithy Bronx rhetorical counter-punchers!)


But I suppose that Gerald’s implied follow-on to his “Why should this be revised?” would be something like, “Our William wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t revise a line that he’s already changed once.” Thus, by default, Q1 since it couldn’t be on-the-way towards the Q2 version, in Gerald’s eyes “is manifestly corrupt.” The real William for Gerald Downs is capable of the Titus line, and he is capable of the Q2 line, but (if I’m following him here) he isn’t capable of writing the Titus line, then the Q1 line, and then the Q2 line. I would say instead, “No, it is manifestly an authorial revision of “an authorial self-borrowing”, and furthermore I can point to similarly-variant triplets which abound in our three-text play, Hamlet.”  (See my essay, “Back to Basics: Thinking about the HAMLET First Quarto,” in Thomas Clayton, ed., The Hamlet First Published (Q1, 1603), (1992), 257-91 (esp. 283-7).


Starting with E.A.J. Honigmann and running down through Grace Ioppolo many critics have shown that (contrary to Gerald’s belief) in fact authors do “self-borrow” and even “other-borrow.” AND they even revise what they so borrow.  


“Manifestly corrupt,” Gerald declares?  How about calling it, “Manifestly earlier and tentative, like a draft?”  


Gerald lists a series of these kinds of alteration, never allowing that William could have written things that looked sort-of-Shakespearean or on-the-way-to-becoming-truly-Shakespearean. After listing a lot of these, Gerald instead declares: “I wouldn’t characterize these examples as a berg-tip since the corrupt Q1 is wholly visible and described elsewhere. The memorial evidence is overwhelming in every category.”


If you look at the memorial / shorthand / actor / etc. arguments and accept them, then you are left with great piles of corrupt disjecta membra produced by malignant agents. But if you are (like me) underwhelmed by his “memorial evidence,” I’ll show you instead how those grotty bits in Q1 are really nascent flowers, later appearing in their fuller, blossomed glory in Q2.  You want to follow Gerald Downs along the hard paths of textual proctology? Fine, but don’t be surprised when everything you investigate starts looking like a rectum. Swift, I think, in the grand old days of public whipping said, “Last week I saw a woman flayed, and you will hardly believe how much it altered her appearance for the worse.” Flay them textual variants? If that’s your wish. But will you improve your understanding of how the variant texts actually work?  


For proctology, go with Gerald. Flowers? come with Urkowitz.


Or look at other critics work: most recently Elizabethan Zeman Kolkovich, “Pageantry, Queens, and Housewives in the Two Texts of The Merry Wives of Windsor,” Shakespeare Quarterly, 63 ( 2012), 328-54, where the “stuff” of the quarto and that of the Folio are both examined to great benefit.  


Let’s try to be nicer to those early quartos which we find whilst patrolling the perennial boundaries of our textual gardens; they don’t really do any harm, and they may yet grow up to be Later Quartos or even FOLIOS!   


Steve Gardenowitz


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