The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0440  Thursday, 5 September 2013


[1] From:        Holger Syme <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         September 4, 2013 3:11:09 PM EDT

     Subject:     Re: Additions to The Spanish Tragedy 


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

     Date:         September 4, 2013 7:53:18 PM EDT

     Subject:     Re: Spanish Tragedy 1602 




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

Date:         September 4, 2013 3:11:09 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: Additions to The Spanish Tragedy


Gerald Downs and others suppose that The Spanish Tragedy had been print “a long time” by the end of the 16th century; Lois Potter notes that “Since The Spanish Tragedy was in print, there was no reason why Richard Burbage couldn’t take over [Alleyn’s] role as Hieronimo.” Brian Vickers makes similar assumptions in the article quoted by a number of participants in this discussion.


I think it’s worth pointing out that there is no evidence whatsoever of a professional company taking over another company’s play(s) without the manuscript playbook changing hands. There is evidence of such transmissions of playbooks in Henslowe’s Diary and in the records of the Master of the Revels. The point of the Malcontent Induction is precisely that when something like this may have happened between the Children of the Revels and the Chamberlain’s (or King’s) Men, it called for retribution and public commentary. (And I’d note that the Induction doesn’t specify whether manuscript or print scripts were involved—neither whether the “Jeronimo” the boys purloined was The Spanish Tragedy rather than The First Part of Jeronimo, which wasn’t in print yet, nor whether the King’s Men has The Malcontent altered after its first 1604 print run or before.)


What’s more, The Spanish Tragedy was first printed in 1592. That may have made it a bit more of a contemporary classic than some other plays, but no more so than Tamburlaine, and I don’t think anyone would claim that that was a free-for-all by the turn of the century.


And finally, there is no evidence whatsoever that links Edward Alleyn to the part of Hieronimo, let alone to Kyd’s tragedy. Burbage, on the other hand, has strong ties to the character, and the King’s Men are repeatedly associated with the play.


I’ve proposed my own reading of the evidence here: <http://www.dispositio.net/archives/1667>. It’s a narrative rather unlike the received account but to mind a better fit with the available evidence.


Holger Syme

Associate Professor of English

University of Toronto


Department of English and Drama

University of Toronto Mississauga



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

Date:         September 4, 2013 7:53:18 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: Spanish Tragedy 1602


A few comments on the NYT report of Douglas Bruster’s article on the 1602 additions to The Spanish Tragedy:


> “What we’ve got here isn’t bad writing, but bad handwriting,”


Bad handwriting was endemic: Elizabethan Typewriter, I’ve heard it called. There seems nevertheless to be some bad writing.


> “We don’t have any absolute proof, but this is as close as you

> can get,” said Eric Rasmussen . . . . “I think we can now say with

> some authority that, yes, this is Shakespeare,” . . . . “It has his

> fingerprints all over it.”


Remember, there’s no proof that Hand D is Shakespeare’s, and significant evidence against it; yet Bruster’s conclusions depend on the prior “close case.” Sometimes we depend too on our metaphors; these aren’t fingerprints.


> “Tiffany Stern, a professor of early modern drama at Oxford

> University and an advisory editor for the Arden Shakespeare,

> praised the empirical rigor of Mr. Bruster’s paper, but said that

> some new attributions were driven less by solid evidence than

> by publishers’ desire to offer “more Shakespeare” than their rivals.


We might keep that thought in mind, though other desires contribute to credulity.


> Mr. Bruster was less persuaded by the linguistic parallels,

> which he calls merely “suggestive.”


The parallels are more than suggestive: but of what?


> And so he turned to perhaps the most literal source of

> authority: Shakespeare’s own pen. Scholars have long

> cited the idiosyncrasies of Shakespeare’s handwriting

> — surviving mainly in three densely scribbled pages held

> in the British Library that are widely attributed to Shakespeare


D’s handwriting is quite good, relatively speaking. “Scribbled” isn’t a good description.


> “What I’m getting at is the DNA of Shakespeare’s words themselves,

> the way he formed those words with his pen on the page,” he said.


DNA, properly exercised, is proven, sure, and extremely specific. Bruster’s arguments can’t compare whatever they may be.


> A printer’s misreading, Mr. Bruster argues, may also explain a

> particularly clumsy and nongrammatical stretch in the Additional

> Passages. During a moving speech, the grieving father, Hieronimo,

> meditates on the nature of a father’s love for his son. The 1602

> quarto renders it: “What is there yet in a sonne? He must be fed,

> / Be thaught to goe, and speake I, or yet. / Why might not a man

> loue a Calfe as well?” But that baffling “I, or yet,” Mr. Bruster

> argues, is likely a misreading of “Ier” — an abbreviation indicating

> the line is spoken by Hieronimo, a name that in Shakespeare’s

> time was sometimes rendered as Ieronimo.

> The passage, Mr. Bruster argues, should really read [modernized]:

> “What is there yet in a son? / He must be fed, be taught to go, and

> speak. / Yet why might not a man love a calf as well?”

> Mr. Bruster once counted himself among the many scholars who

> have thought the passage in the quarto was simply too poorly

> written to be Shakespeare. “But once you realize that it’s

> Shakespeare’s handwriting that’s responsible for the misreading,

> it’s no longer a bad line,” Mr. Bruster said. “It’s actually a

> gorgeous passage.”


This conjecture is problematic, especially as a DNA sample. The lines are grammatical enough (the full stop after ‘or yet’ must be wrong) but their meaning isn’t entirely clear; Bruster’s emendation doesn’t help in that respect. And gorgeous is in the eye of the beholder.


Although this particular addition runs to forty-seven verse-lines, fourteen are irregularly between five and nine syllables. That and a lack of clarity in the contradictory speech leave little to shout about. However, taken as a whole, it isn’t too bad. That’s not to say it points to Shakespeare unless one takes collocations (parallels) into account. My problem is with the details of the conjecture.


1) ‘I, or’, resulting from ‘Ier’, is no more than a guess. But why would this be a speech heading? The whole passage belongs without interruption to Hieronimo. A ‘prefix’ at the end of the thirteenth line is hardly likely.


2) ‘Yet why might not a man love a calf as well?’ is a bad line. Not that little Elsie isn’t lovable; the line comprises a leven (by D DNA) syllables, of which the last is stressed. A decasyllabonic no-no, the odds are firmly against any emendation unlikely to have existed in the prosody of the times. Suggesting that Shakespeare was free to do what he wanted is no supporting argument.


3) Retaining ‘I, or yet’ in the preceding line leaves it hypermetrical. Emended or not, to me the lines have the same meaning, so there’s no argument here. Realizing that Shakespeare wrote the lines won’t make them good. But that gets it backwards anyhow. If alteration doesn’t make it gorgeous, the “passage in the quarto” is still “simply too poorly written to be Shakespeare.” Of course in any of the early dramatic texts there’s a chance of transmission problems before the printing, so I wouldn’t jump to conclusions. Bruster seems to assume authorial holograph for D and the additions. Assumption isn’t fingerprinting.


> Finding some of Shakespeare’s lines embedded in another

> writer’s plays may not carry the frisson of announcing the

> discovery of a previously unknown poem entirely by Shakespeare.


In this, I shudder to think the NYT reporter is mistaken, even though she touches on the motivation to find and prove such “embedded lines”:


> But Mr. Bruster’s paper reflects current scholarly interest in

> Shakespeare as a playwright who frequently collaborated with

> others — including, Mr. Vickers has controversially argued, on

> plays we think of as coming solely from his own pen.


A growing number of canonical plays are apparently partly written by other known playwrights. As far as I know an active collaboration has yet to be proved; it is rather assumed. Shakespearian interpolations in an older play—if certain—will validate the assumption. If the additions are doubtful someone, someday, may point to the assumption in a negative way. Speaking of which:


> “Shakespeare wasn’t a solitary genius, flying above everyone else,”

> Mr. Vickers said. “He was a working man of the theater. If his

> company needed a new play, he’d get together with someone else

> and get it done.”


Although I do believe Shakespeare was in some ways a solitary genius and that he flew above everyone else (just read their stuff), he may have collaborated. It’s a matter of proof. I’ll observe the Stern warning and take a look at the Vickers article.


Gerald E. Downs


Subscribe to Our Feeds


Make a Gift to SHAKSPER

Consider making a gift to support SHAKSPER.