The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0321  Monday, 8 July 2013


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

Date:         July 8, 2013 2:01:18 AM EDT

Subject:     Lunch at Tiffany’s


Last May, Steven Urkowitz wrote,


> I heartily recommend Tiffany Stern’s Documents of

> Performance in Early Modern England (. . . 2009).

> I’m only just getting into it . . . but like so much of Stern’s

> work it’s already eye-popping, myth-deflating, witty, and

> illustrated profusely with vivid examples never before

> published or noticed only to have been forgotten. She

> puts just about all previous scholarship to shame . . . .

> I’d love to hear responses to this book from others on

> SHAKSPER. Alan Dessen? Gerald Downs? Gabriel Egan?


Perhaps I’ll test Steven’s love. I hadn’t seen Stern’s book and (following mom’s advice) opted not to say anything about Shakespeare in Parts (2007). Now asked, I’ll comment. My assumption was that Documents, despite a wide range of topics and material, is largely designed to back up Parts. Shakespeareans often devote later works to flawed earlier publications. As Stern is lumped with the ‘New Textualism’ (G. Egan, if memory serves), I also assumed her leanings in Making Shakespeare (2004) would help to fill the Shakespearean textual and biographical vacuum (partial, in more ways than one) left by attacks on the NB’s MR and FP suppositions.


Concentrating on hypothetically reproduced ‘actor’s parts’ (dialogue and cues copied for each player) Stern identifies “numerous ways” in which Shakespeare “meticulously orchestrated and refined” the parts “to produce specific, foreseen responses in his actors” (Parts, 78). Not tricking himself (I suppose), here’s how he manipulated professional players—as I recall:


1) Players didn’t read the plays, or hear them read.

2) They didn’t rehearse and only learnt their parts ‘at home.’

3) They didn’t discuss their roles or evince curiosity about the plays.

4) Players often didn’t know whom to address, or who speaks to them.

5) They didn’t know when or by whom they would be cued.

6) They got confused and angry waiting.

7) Their lines were therefore delivered more effectively.

8) They loved it and their emotional first performance guided the others.


If you believe all that you may be interested in a certain bridge in the Bronx. But these claims of proof by “induction” allow for examples from dialogue, such as R&J 1.3. Stern cites F but most of the scene stems (as all agree) from Q1, via Q2; the rest is from Q2 only. From Q1:


VV: This is the matter. Nurse giue leaue a while, we

must talke in secret. Nurce come back again I haue re-

membred me, thou'se heare our counsaile. Thou know

est my daughters of a prettie age.

Nurce:Faith I can tell her age vnto a houre.

VVife: Shee's not fourteene.

Nnrce: Ile lay fourteene of my teeth, and yet to my

teene be it spoken, I haue but foure, shee's not fourteene.

How long is it now to Lammas-tide?

VVife: A fortnight and odde dayes.

Nurce: Euen or odde, of all dayes in the yeare come

Lammas Eue at night shall she be fourteene. Susan and she

God rest all Christian soules were of an age. VVell Susan is

with God, she was too good for me: But as I said on Lam-

mas Eue at night shall she be fourteene, that shall shee ma-

rie I remember it well. Tis since the Earth-quake nowe e-

leauen yeares, and she was weand I neuer shall forget it, of

all the daies of the yeare vpon that day: for I had then laid

wormewood to my dug, sitting in the sun vnder the Doue-

housewall. My Lord and you were then at Mantua, nay I

do beare a braine: But as I said, when it did tast the worm-

wood on the nipple of my dug, & felt it bitter, pretty foole

to see it teachie and fall out with Dugge. Shake qucth the

Doue-house twas no need I trow to bid me trudge, and since

that time it is a leauen yeare: for then could Iuliet stande

high lone, nay by the Roode, shee could haue wadled vp and

downe, for euen the day before shee brake her brow, and then

my husband God be with his soule, hee was a merrie man:

Dost thou fall forward Iuliet? thou wilt fall backward when

thou hast more wit: wilt thou not Iuliet? and by my holli-

dam, the pretty foole left crying and said I. To see how a

ieast shall come about, I warrant you if I should liue a hun-

dred yeare, I never should forget it, wilt thou not Iuliet?

and by my troth she stinted and cried I.

Iuliet: And stint thou too, I prethee Nurce say I.

Nurce:VVell goe thy waies, God marke thee for his

grace, thou wert the prettiest Babe that euer I nurst, might

I but liue to see thee married once, I haue my wish.


From Q2:

and I should liue a thousand yeares, I neuer should forget it: wilt thou

not Iule quoth he? and pretie foole it stinted, and said I.

Old La. Inough of this, I pray thee hold thy peace.

Nurse. Yes Madam, yet I can not chuse but laugh, to thinke it

should leaue crying, and say I: and yet I warrant it had vpon it brow, a

bump as big as a young Cockrels stone: a perillous knock, and it cryed

bitterly. Yea quoth my husband, fallst vpon thy face, thou wilt fall

backward when thou commest to age: wilt thou not Iule? It stinted,

and said I.

Iuli. And stint thou too, I pray thee Nurse, say I.

Nurse. Peace I haue done: God marke thee too his grace, thou

wast the prettiest babe that ere I nurst, and I might liue to see thee

married once, I haue my wish.


According to Stern, “Both Juliet and her mother have a cue that will lead them to interrupt the Nurse not separately as the text suggests, but in unison, and more than once. The only way to prevent this happening would be to give the two women longer cues. . . . It seems near impossible to prevent Juliet and her mother speaking together”  (159). Stern describes in detail an alternative, arbitrary way of playing the scene for which there is no evidence other than partial repetition of cues. But rehearsal, discussion, questioning, and concern for paying customers would obviate confusion. The actors (boys of the company) could hardly be allowed to wing it in a first performance not likely to produce an effort worth repeating. Is that what Shakespeare intended, or is it imagination run amok?


If Q1 is a shorthand report (as I believe) Juliet’s mother’s unsuccessful attempt to quiet the Nurse was cut for that performance (speaking of interruption!). The audience (and the stenographer) had to hear the dialogue (its recording differs from Q2). Even the sacred cues are not always retained; in Q1 the nurse says, ‘and cried I.’ To a repertory company that wouldn’t mean a thing in a familiar scene; but to Stern, Juliet had to remain silent, waiting for ‘and said I.’ Further, the author surely meant Juliet’s ‘stint thou too’ as a response to ‘It stinted’, and not to ‘left crying and said I.’


Stern observes(?) that the Nurse “is recalling a story that she has told many times before [and is seen] to tire one or both of her addressees.” But the Nurse has just now praised her own memory; this may be the first telling (granting her a past, of course). And it’s not the telling but the subject-matter overcoming the modest ladies. Once was enough, twice got to Mom, and the last suggestion that Juliet was ‘witty’ and soon to be round-heeled was hard on the chaste thirteen-year-old. The scene covers the tot’s unknowing completion of a ieast, its crude prophecy, and Nurse’s exuberance; not just in the face of the coming marriage proposals, but of Juliet’s desire to consummate her whirlwind marriage (in the dark). To me the Nurse is more effective without interruption; preparation is essential and Stern seems to get it all wrong. Yet she is not merely presenting an alternative way of playing the scene; this is history—the “only way.”


Gerald E. Downs


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