The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0222  Tuesday, 7 May 2013


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

Date:         May 7, 2013 2:33:32 AM EDT

Subject:     Playhouse MSS.


In Early Modern Playhouse Manuscripts & the Editing of Shakespeare Paul Werstine analyzes Edward Knight’s transcription of Fletcher’s Bonduca, by which Greg formulated much of his “foul papers printer’s copy” concept for Shakespeare’s plays. Bonduca was printed in 1647, seemingly from fair copy. Differences between these texts reinforced ideas that players possessed manuscripts of varying quality attributable to authorial revision, where the process of composition could be viewed and textual variants explained.


Werstine’s impressive investigation paints a different picture: both texts stem from one copy-text; while the 1647 play is the better transcription, it has non-authorial additions; and variants in Knight’s transcription are largely of his own doing. The argument should be read in its entirety but I’ll call attention to Werstine’s technique in a particular area. Scholarship acknowledges the importance of manuscripts from Shakespeare’s era, yet the last generations of Shakespeare scholars seem uncomfortable with classical methods.


Werstine utilizes another Knight transcription in his investigation, The Honest mans Fortune. The 1647 B&F F text and Knight’s text derive from the same copy (Gerritson). Still, seemingly superficial differences between HMF and Bonduca disguise evidence of Knight’s characteristic scribal error. HMF mistakes are corrected more noticeably and in more numbers than those of Bonduca, which shows concern for appearance and presumably for its care in transcription. However, close study (with printed texts as controls) indicates that Knight habitually mistranscribed in several ways and his desire to produce a better-looking manuscript caused even more textual alteration in Bonduca than in HMF. An added inference is that the variants induced Greg mistakenly to think the print and manuscript texts are accounted for by fair & foul copy respectively.


One of the scribal habits Werstine examines is eyeskip, a surprisingly useful phenomenon (useful to the scholar, not to the scribe). Not always appreciated or recognized in Shakespeare scholarship, it’s a mainstay of classical studies. Eyeskip in its well-documented forms is most often signaled by empirical evidence. Interpretation is subjective to a degree but as evidence mounts general and specific cases are established. Of course Werstine’s argument relies on more than eyeskip and he does a good job.


> Only two of Knight’s obvious mistakes in Bonduca are

> the consequence of . . . eye-skip, but because this kind

> of mistake is frequent in HMF, other variation between

> the Bonduca transcript and the play’s F version should

> be examined as the likely result of this common scribal

> error. . . . In Bonduca, beyond the two . . . there are

> four other places where it is more likely that Knight’s eye

> skipped to the same letter later in a speech than that

> someone revised the speech between ‘foul papers’ and F.

> Three of these, only one corrected, involve repetitions,

> sometimes multiple, of a word or phrase . . . . When there

> is anaphora in Bonduca, Knight was at risk of omitting a

> whole line if he let his eye skip from the first word of a

> line to the identical word at the beginning of the next line

> [homoeoarcton, that is, as opposed to homoeoteleuton;

> eyeskip, as it were]. . . . In the following example, his eye

> skipped, and a line was lost:


F:                          Come, souldiers, seek me,

              *I have robb’d ye of your vertues: Justice, seek me,*

              I have broke my fair obedience, lost: shame take me,

              take me, and swallow me, make ballads of me . . .


Knight:                come soldiers seeke me,

              I have broke my fair obedience, lost shame take me,

              Take me and swallow me. make ballets of me.


> [In another instance], noticing his error, he chose not to

> correct it . . . . Instead, he simply added it after the line

> his eye had skipped to, thus transposing lines. . . . Over

> and over again in Bonduca Knight resorted to the same

> dodge when he had missed a line—but only when the

> lines as he transposed them would make at least some

> sense . . . . Sometimes when Knight accidentally omitted

> a line from his copy, he was evidently unable to find a

> place for it later . . . in such a case, he did not rearrange

> the text to avoid compromising the elegance of his

> transcript. At 2219 he omitted a line . . . and then tacked

> it on to the line that preceded it . . . .


Knight:                                                                    what there

. . . narrow’st eyes. Thy sharpest wishes. *into my soule. and see


see it . . . (pp. 82-85).


Although this omission didn’t result from eyeskip (there are no identical letters or words to skip to) the restoration is obvious, especially as F is invariant. Evidence is stronger when the beginning or ending word of an interpolated line is the same as another strategically placed word in the text. In that case eyeskip is more likely than revision—even when there is no guiding second text. As Werstine observes, a scribe may restore an omission in its proper place, in another place, or not at all. He may, of course, not be aware of his error. Printers have the same options, as I have noted in respect of Q1 Lear, where eyeskip restorations are in evidence—to indicate in turn that foul-proof correction was employed in the printing-house.


> Knight’s method of later recovering lines he omitted

> through eye-skip provides a model for our understanding

> how other variants—variants that Greg thought arose

> from illegibility in the "foul papers"—may have made its

> way into the transcript. While I present some examples

> of how this model may apply . . . I am under no illusion

> that the particular instances about to be discussed

> necessarily arose in the way this model proposes . . . (85)


When the model shows what happened to empirically-backed eyeskip--for which there’s considerable understanding in the first place--a chance that it doesn’t explain “particular instances” of other error can’t refute the model; all evidence must be weighed. Werstine’s convincing case is similar to (and for that reason supportive of) the argument that Hand D of Sir Thomas More is copied: three probable eyeskips (complete with qualifying bibliographical evidence) accompany typical scribal errors.


Werstine notes that in Arden3 STM “Jowett provides a summary of scholarship on the Shakespeare attribution bent on marginalizing what it demonstrates to be widespread recent skepticism about his authorship of the Hand-D pages” (345). Jowett marginalizes (editorial intention?) by stating that “the few items of evidence for eyeskip from one point to another in the supposed copy are interpretable in ways that do not require a pre-existing draft” (439). Other interpretation can’t refute the formulaic eyeskip evidence. The same may be said of numerous other errors in STM.


I may bring up a few other of Werstine’s discussions of manuscripts.


Gerald E. Downs

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