The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0327  Wednesday, 10 July 2013


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

Date:         July 9, 2013 7:14:42 PM EDT

Subject:     Lunch At Tiffany’s


It’s surprising that Tiffany Stern’s book on actor’s ‘parts’ offers so little discussion of the only part available from the era, Edward Alleyn’s lead role in Orlando. Her neglect may stem from the “problem” that the 1594 quarto “records a different version of the play” when “direct comparison between the two texts is less revealing than might otherwise have been the case” (Parts, 20-21). Yet Q Orlando corruption is very revealing on comparison; the texts are closely related, often in ways that contradict Stern’s contentions. It is a mistake to ignore this evidence, as van Dam noted eighty years ago: “Documents which ought to instruct us abound. Among them is . . . Alleyn’s part . . .” (ES XI, 1929). It’s interesting that Laurie Maguire also declines to compare these texts; together they confound her theme. Greg’s detailed comparison shows the memorial character of Q, which itself shows how the play was performed. Van Dam’s commentary corrects Greg, but only to emphasize these points.


“The part includes . . . the hand of a ‘corrector.’ This is quite possibly Alleyn himself” (Parts, 20). “Here is a section of that part, just to show how much Alleyn was and was not given in his script” (P, 21). “Alleyn is here given no hint about ‘blocking’ . . . where or at whom he is to look, how far forward he is to walk, and so on. . . . [We] conclude that . . . more general movements are so ‘stock’ as not to deserve mention, or are simply left to the actor to determine as he cons the part and, of course, when he performs. . . . Amongst the information Alleyn is not given is how long he will have to wait to hear his cues, guidance that all actors seem to have done without. He is also ignorant as to who speaks the cues” (P, 22).


There is no serious objection to Alleyn as the part’s attentive corrector. It’s no stretch to suppose he read the play as he corrected his own dialogue. Wouldn’t he take this or another opportunity to see who spoke his cues, and when? Did he want guys around him who didn’t know diddly about their relative roles? How could he know where to strut (in his block stockings), merely by conning lines? Ditto everyone else? Was the make-or-break first performance where they worked matters out, Buster Keaton style? Besides these unlikely generalities Stern offers only one scene for analysis between quarto (Q) and Alleyn’s part (A). “Extraordinarily . . . [A] gives the actor a complex fight scene in which he knows who[m] to fight and who will win (in the quarto text he consistently wins, in the part he does not): but he is not actually told to whom he is speaking” (24).


Whereas sword-fighting is a single-elimination sport, it’s not surprising to see that Orlando does win all his A fights (N. victus; Oliver victus); Stern may have taken ‘victus’ to indicate the winner and read ‘Oliver’ as ‘Orlando.’ But whether the part says with whom he’s speaking is no big deal, as Alleyn wasn’t constrained by Stern’s imaginary limitations. The alterations in this scene are interesting, though Stern doesn’t carry her analysis further. Who was ‘N.’? Early editors alter the initial mistakenly to ‘M.’ but Greg is probably correct with ‘Names’ (Namus, Naimes), a Charlemagne cronie. Yet in Q, Orlando fights Turpin, another of his 12+ Peers. Why the revision? Shorthand has an answer: the only ‘Peers’ identified in this dialogue are Oliver and Og[i]er (another loser); "any peer in a report," they say, and Ariosto randomly supplies Turpin when Alleyn’s part uses ‘N.’ in its s.d. Such mix-ups can’t be understood (and no use trying) without the abundant indications of reporting throughout the texts. For example, in Docs Stern makes another rare reference to Orlando:


“Concentration on the differences between part and play, and a yearning, for other reasons, to see the full Orlando play as a ‘bad’ quarto (in which the text is not authoritative but corrupted by memory), have allowed scholars not to explore further the moments of extreme similarity between full text and part” (D, 244).


Scholars see Orlando as a bad quarto not because of a yearning but from tons of evidence in the two texts. ‘Moments of similarity’ leave no doubt of a relationship but those of ‘extreme similarity’ are few and far between. Stern cites a five-line instance where Q & A are very close. (The actor remembered them all, for a change. But ‘part-imperfect’ implies poor performance less than it does memorial transmission.)


“A part for acting needs to give certain freedoms to the actor . . . too much punctuation might positively get in a professional actor’s way . . .” Why this might be escapes me; do-it-yourself punctuation is probably a hindrance. The likelihood is that Greene’s well-punctuated text suffered in transmission. How that could happen to A is a good question but it wasn’t to aid actors. On the other hand, ideas that Shakespearean hyper-punctuation (goofy pointing) in the Folio guided players (reducing freedoms, as it were) are­ utterly mistaken; F punctuation is sort of like mine—catch-as-catch-can.


Stern’s only other note on these lines is that ‘sirha who wronged happy nature thus’ (A) and ‘Sirra, who wronged happy nature so,’ (Q) may differ in their last words by scribal choice. Why do ‘thus and so’ rate attention? Both Greg and van Dam expressly state that alterations of this kind occur indeterminately. I suppose Stern is shying away from evidence suggesting memorial transmission. Since that’s what Q & A do, there isn’t much else to say; which calls attention to the problem confronting later generations of scholars. The ‘NeoNew Bibliography,’ seeking to preserve the heritage of Greg, Wilson, Honigmann, Taylor and Jowett--is bound to fail. Foul papers, memorial reconstruction, and authorial revision can’t and won’t explain the early Shakespeare texts. Stern seems to assume that casting a wider net will supply enough evidence from sources other than actors’ memory to account for them. One may as well describe tail and toenail, which won’t explain the rhino in the room: scribes, songs, scrolls, and rolls are more or less trivial. They won’t lead to the how and why of the texts because they ignore what makes bad quartos bad; bad quartos are the how and why.


Stern has the transitional dilemma seen in Michael Warren’s “Greene’s Orlando: Greg Furioso” (Textual Formations and Reformations), a pretty good rundown of shortcomings in Greg's nevertheless impressive analysis of Orlando’s texts. Once past Warren’s belly-aching on Greg’s style, we get to some real issues. He cites my hero: “B. A. P. van Dam is the sole conspicuous skeptic of the early period. He challenged Greg’s work in 1929, arguing for greater error in the transcription of the Orlando Part than Greg allowed, and assuming stenography as the method of reporting the quarto text” (69). It’s Warren’s last mention of shorthand (‘Of course,’ I would say—except Warren says not to say ‘Of course.’). Van Dam would suggest he inferred rather than assumed shorthand. (Much of Warren’s criticism follows van Dam enough to think the later article relies heavily on the earlier.) Warren acknowledges that Greg’s “observation is often acute” (81), that “no one who considers these documents and who works on Greg’s analysis of them can fail to be awed by his ability to marshal great quantities of data and to construct a narrative to account for them” (88), and finally (echoing Chambers) that “I . . . ‘frankly confess that I have no alternative reconstruction of the facts to oppose . . . Greg’s’. At the same time . . . although his narrative could conceivably be true, many aspects of the argument and of the use of the evidence are dubious” (89).


Greg’s case depends less on his powers of analysis than on the evidence itself. Its weakness is in his narrative. But when his critics assume the evidence must point somewhere other than to memorial reconstruction by touring players they share his inability to grasp that shorthand reporting (a form of memorial transmission) explains these texts; A is the control, Q the report. There’s no necessity to prove or to believe that A is problem-free in order for it to be seen as closer to the original than Q. It doesn’t even need to be a transcript of authorial text, as Greg and van Dam had agreed it was; compare it to Q. Greg does a thorough if imperfect job of that; the fact that he’s written a book is no reason for scholars to sidestep the evidence.


Greg, van Dam, Warren, and Stern all discuss the A & Q differences in one passage (Q 647ff), where Orlando finds ‘roundelay’ verses falsely implicating his gal’s dalliance with ‘Medor.’ Comparing the comparisons may give some idea whether Tiffany Stern ‘puts the others to shame,’ in her analysis or conclusions. Ultimately, this evidence is less meaningful than its handling. Stern cites Greg approvingly for her purposes, yet he assigns great importance for his hypothesis to the fact that A does not contain the verses: “As W. W. Greg points out . . . ‘the absence of the roundelays from A . . . is most instructive since it shows that they were not learned as portions of the part but read by the actor from the actual scrolls hung up on the stage’” (Docs, 303, n. 13).


Warren gathers discussion of the verses from three short stints over 130 pages of Greg’s book, observing that Greg’s assessment of “unusual accuracy” in the verses is “an unfounded assumption” when there is no A counterpart to compare. Yet the un-report-like accuracy is essential to Greg’s inference “that the reporter was able to transcribe the actual roles used in performance.” It lets Greg “assert with some confidence that Q was prepared in the playhouse itself by a company which possessed the properties used in the representation” (Greg, Abridgements, 351).


Warren remarks that “if Q is not a reported text in the form that Greg desires, there is no need to perceive the presentation of these [verses] as in any way special” and that the “totality is a fantasy . . .” (W, 79). Stern simply accepts Greg’s opinion about the “properties.” I may add that if Warren (or anyone) were to seriously consider a different form of reporting (shorthand), the problem would go away with the inconclusive evidence; poems were recorded in the same way as other Q dialogue. The truth is, Greg needed his circumstance to put theatrical reporting out of the running. But there’s more reason to doubt Greg’s conjecture. For example (after Greg) Stern asserts, “anything that reduced learning was a God-send; reading a scroll on stage saved the overworked actor from memorizing more text than absolutely necessary” (D, 180). Which Warren calls “an extraordinary act of supposition. . . . [U]nreasonable in assuming that ten lines of verse would make any difference to an actor of a major part of at least five hundred lines” (79). I agree; resorting to this kind of argument points up the weakness of the rest.


Dr. van Dam wasn’t much impressed with Greg’s treatment of the verses either.


> “The first reason why Dr. Greg thinks these roundelays had

> a written source is quite bewildering:


>> 'to a spectator . . . the verses would not be distinguished

>> from the rest of the hero’s part and a reporter would

>> naturally include them therein . . . . This is not how they are

>> treated in Q . . . . Orlando’s name is prefixed as speaker to

>> Q 652 and 660 as though the poems were spoken by some

>> one else’ [Greg].


> "However [the reporter] could distinguish between ['reading'

> and 'reciting one's part.'] By providing the prefixes [he] showed

> where the reading was done” [van Dam].


Of course the prefixes may have been inserted by a compositor. Stern carries Greg’s faulty assumption even further by suggesting the s.p.’s were added to clarify the business for the scribe of the actors’ parts. In this respect she conjectures up, Greg-like, a reason for a 'part-scribe' to have altered the Q text in a way that got through to print. But the numerous instances of ‘unnecessary prefixes’ found by Stern & Warren may have been added by any agents; the clarification is analogous to printing ‘written’ letters in italics to distinguish them from dialogue. This speech-ascription evidence is not of any real value.


Van Dam also cites the same rationalization as noted later by Warren: for Greg, “in the study of the parallel texts the conviction has grown upon me that these lines are word-perfect . . . . Thus the inference both from typographical and textual evidence is that . . . the reporter was able to transcribe the actual scrolls . . .” At the word ‘typographical’ van Dam inserts “[the prefixes!]" The reader is supposed to be impressed with Greg’s bibliographical acumen, but van Dam is rightly scornful of the false distinction; what is typographical about the speech prefixes? He adds:


“Surely, not all their lines are word-perfect. . . . [Q line 658, ‘Then Medor in Angelica take delight,’] is most obviously corrupt, it does not scan. The word take is redundant and extrametrical . . . . [Because 'Medor' is a vocative] Greene meant delight to be a verb, [but in error] for clarity’s sake, take was inserted.” I insert this take because van Dam is right. The playwright would not have written the line as in Q. Stern cites Warren’s article, presumably she has read Greg, and Warren mentions van Dam. Yet her treatment of the texts is no less agenda-driven than Greg’s, despite the scholarly criticism available in these sources.


Stern does take note of the fact that A has ‘what [Italiano per dio] / dare Medor court my venus . . .’ and recognizes that the original verses were probably written in Italian, as is some other of A and Q, though she doesn’t suppose that has anything to do with the absence of roundelays in Alleyn’s part. I think the most likely explanation of the text is that the Italian verse was scrubbed for English replacements. The scribe copied ‘Italiano per Dio’ before he realized the exclamation no longer applied. Further, he had no substitutes while transcribing the part. The probability is that the missing roundelays are not evidence of any significance. But they do show how scholarship is supposed to work; Greg, van Dam, and Warren were getting somewhere.


Good use can be made of Q&A, and to show Greg in a better light. An example from his gallery of corruption shows why confronting the evidence is necessary, not only to the study of Orlando (a crummy enough play), but to the history of textual transmission. A player’s part with a bad quarto doesn’t come along every day. From Greg’s telling category, anticipations and recollections:


> Another complicated case occurs in the last act. Q 1360 makes

> Orlando say to Sacrapant [a villain]:

>          I am thou seest a mercenarie souldier,

> though what he really said was [according to Alleyn’s part]

> ‘a country servile swayne’ (A 384). The change is clearly

> connected with the subsequent line (Q 1490):

>          I am a common mercenary souldier,

> which should be (A 431):

>          I am a slavishe India[n] mercenary,

> and also somehow with the line (Q 1442):

>          And by a simple swaine, a mercenarie,

> which is not preserved in A [but spoken by another

> character, Mandrecard].


Greg’s subsequent conjecture as to how these lines came to differ is a bit too complicated. But he’s correct that poor recollection of the more unusual phrases led to anticipation and repetition, possibly even by another player (who as Mandrecard was on hand for Orlando’s lines, and vice versa). These lines—impossible to screw up this badly by transcription alone and not likely deliberate revisions—are amid other Q corruptions of all kinds in the same scene (as compared to A), including numerous cue alterations. I think the likely explanation is a theatrical report. We needn’t rake up minor documents over centuries to discover what happened to early modern plays between origin and print. The evidence is in the bad quartos.


Gerald E. Downs


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