The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0390  Friday, 21 September 2012


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

Date:         September 19, 2012 3:51:04 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: Lear Analysis 


Steve Urkowitz argues that Q1 and Folio King Lear’s line “Alb. Saue him, saue him” should not be editorially reassigned to “All”. He may be right, but his technical arguments for this are unsound.


Urkowitz claims that a compositor would set “All” using a double-ell ligature (so two pieces of type in all, an “A” and an “ll”), and would be unlikely to accidentally set instead the three pieces (“A”, “l”, and “b”) needed for “Alb”. Thus, according to Urkowitz, All>Alb is an unlikely mis-setting for a compositor to make, and hence editors should not assume it was made and on that basis ‘correct’ it.


In facsimiles I can’t see any true double-ell ligatures in Q1 or Folio King Lear—that is, two ells joined in the inked impression and printed from a single piece of type that was made from a single matrix—but there are what might be tied letters made by putting two matrices in the mould and casting them together as a single piece of type. In the Folio there are pairs of adjacent ells where both are upside down, which is an unlikely error unless both were on a single piece of type. (Hinman discusses them in Printing and Proof-Reading 1.288-9).


Except where accidentally inverted, it’s not possible reliably to distinguish two ells on a single piece of type from two ells on individual pieces of type, since unlike a true ligature the inked impressions aren’t joined. So there’s no way to even count how many such two-on-one pieces of type were used in a book.


Without any idea of how many such pieces of type were used, there’s no reason to suppose, as Urkowitz does, that using them was the normal practice. And even if it was, there was nothing to stop a compositor choosing on a given occasion to use two pieces of type instead, perhaps because he ran out of the tied ones. (Blayney thinks that Nicholas Okes setting Q1 King Lear was short of ligatures.) Thus, Urkowitz’s argument from “tactile memory” collapses, since in fact we don’t know that setting “All” normally only needed two pieces of type.


Urkowitz thinks it unlikely that the compositors’ copy actually read “All” but this was misread by the compositor who in response deliberately set “Alb”. However, in manuscript this error (seeing “b” where “l” is written) is not hard to make. Giles E. Dawson and Laetitia Kennedy-Skipton’s Elizabethan Handwriting 1500-1650: A Manual shows plenty of hands in which these two letters aren’t terribly different from one another.


Gabriel Egan

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