The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0438  Wednesday, 31 October 2012


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

Date:         October 30, 2012 9:41:22 PM EDT

Subject:     Lear 5.3 & 4.2


When students are first introduced to Shakespeare (and often for a long time after) they naturally assume the dialogue is the dramatist’s own—every word of it. For the few who retain an interest a series of footnotes and other intrusions may weaken the assumption but it almost never reduces to the best level for textual study. There are reasons for the supposition: much of the canon is well transmitted and Shakespeare teachers teach Shakespeare, don’t they? And (despite the hoopla late last century) plays have authors.


But the fact is, the surviving dramatic works are more or less corrupt. The publishers of the Folio said so and the texts demonstrate the fact. The editorial problem (and the industry’s primary concern, if it cares) is to identify the corruptions and to restore Shakespeare’s text. That’s the goal; it can’t be denied, even if it can’t be met. Part of the beauty of the text exists in (most often modest) achievements in that direction.


While recognizing revision in King Lear from Q1 to F, and not assuming (as before) a faulty transmission from F to Q1, scholars have dropped the editorial ball by reverting to the “Shakespeare wrote it” assumption in at least three ways. 1) They fail to come to grips with the corruptions in Q1, often by turning a blind eye their way. 2) They refuse to consider Q1 derivation from any other source than an authorial draft manuscript. 3) They accept (tyro-like) Q1/F variants as authorial, no matter what. If corruption is brought to their attention, that’s OK—the rest is authorial, no matter what.


This last is manifested in making Shakespearean mountains out of molehill corruptions, when emendation often has a better claim to authorial text. Conjecture is scorned nowadays in the face of “what Shakespeare wrote,” even if he didn’t write it. But if one starts with the many certain errors in Q1 and proceeds to the less certain, it becomes easier to see that the first printing of Lear has suffered a great deal in transmission; that the Folio edition has not escaped the resultant corruptions; that F must derive from Q1; that the essence of the play resides in the 1608 edition itself; and that Q1 (perhaps rivaling Q2 Hamlet) can’t be studied enough. That’s my take, if I poke into Lear only now & then (like now).


After Steve Urkowitz’s post on “All” of 5.3, I turned to another example from Stone’s analysis (which doesn’t suffer from the above ills) with the idea of asking Steve to face corruption showing how Q1/F agreement is not necessarily of value; and further, simply to throw another instance on the corruption pile. There is a bit more to it than I supposed—which I’ll work on here. Not surprisingly, my speculation is speculation—a few hours’ worth—but I am always impressed with Peter Stone’s analyses, one of which I quote in part, on or about 4.2.28:


Q1a: My foote vsurps my body.     F: My Foole vsurps my body.

Q1b: A foole vsurps my bed.


> It is extremely unlikely that the Q compositor could

> have mistaken A for My, bed for body. A misreading

> of foote for foole would be more credible . . . The Qb

> reading is certainly a thoroughgoing sophistication of

> the corrector's, who was evidently doing his work here

> as elsewhere in a somewhat near-sighted way. . . .

> Goneril has bestowed a favour and a kiss upon Edmund,

> with hints of greater rewards in future. His reaction . . .

> ('Yours in the ranks of death.') . . . is both a vassal's

> profession of fealty and a courtly lover's vow [& a nice

> double-nintendo]. With this, it is natural to suppose,

> he throws himself at her feet. . . . If he were at the

> same time to kiss his hand and place it on Goneril's foot

> . . . her next words to him are explained

> (221, "Q1 Readings Unnecessarily Altered").


Respecting Q1 as the closest we get to Shakespeare and seeing that the Q1 compositors transcribed according to their lights without getting too heavy into meaning, this passage passes the Qa test. Corrupt as it may be, it reflects Q copy better than Qb (where the corrector’s guess may not be better than ours if the forme was read against copy during foul-proofing but not during stop-press correction). Qa is probably right and it’s also better theater, seems to me. F’s ‘My fool usurps my body’ is vapid if not meaningless. Goneril is thinking about Niagara Falls, not Albany.


Surrounding dialogue makes clear an influence of Qb on F:


Qa: It is the cowish curre of his spirit  4.2.12

Qb: It is the cowish terrer of his spirit

Q2:                        curre

F:                           terror


Stone (Misreadings in Q1, 183) emends: “tenor (= quality . . . the way in which a thing continues . . . . Terror seems too strong a word for the faint-heartedness in Albany . . . . A neutral word seems required to throw the emphasis on cowish. The Q copy spelt it, perhaps, tenner.”


Qa:                . . . ere long you are like to heare

       If you dare venture in your owne behalfe

       A mistresses coward, weare this spare speech,

Qb: A mistresses command, weare this, spare speech,

Q2:                     coward

F:                        command. Wear this;


Now, try as I might, I can’t make sense of “you are like to hear a mistresses command,” though it sounds like it means something. It’s the type of thing that needs thought more than a “Shakespeare” label. “Coward”, of course, is wrong, not that the compositor cared; he saw ‘coward’ and that was that.


Taking the ‘curre’ above I’m reminded that the easiest misreading of all is “c” for “t”. Schmidt observes of “toward” that Shakespeare can mean “willing, apt, ready to do”: then fell she on her back, fair queen and t. Sounds like Goneril to me. That suggests a mishearing analogous to “answerer” for “answer her.” Perhaps Goneril says that Edmund “was like to hear, in his behalf, a mistress is toward.” If that’s right, F is wrong—and not Shakespeare.


Q2 has “My foote vsurps my head.” from Qa and a substitute. It isn’t fair (to Shakespeare), but F seems to be influenced by Qa, Qb, and possibly Q2: “My” from Qa, Q2; “fool” from Qb; and “body” from Qa. I guess the quibble got through to Q2 all right, where “my body” was baudlerized to “my head.” The Q1 corrector must have missed it; Qb’s “A fool usurps my bed” (common sentiment no doubt, to this day) just doesn’t work here. F isn’t Shakespeare (not completely, anyway), but I can’t make out how it came about. If the reviser didn’t have Qa (or the Q printer’s copy) the one-letter difference is coincidental error. If he is Shakespeare, revising a line for F to ruin, then as usual he inexplicably overlooks all the other errors. And the next lines may also be corrupt:


  Stew. Madam, here comes my Lord.          Exit Stew.

  Gon.  I have been worth the whistle.         (rude wind

  Alb.  O Gonoril, you are not worth the dust which the

Blowes in your face, I feare your disposition (Qa 4.2.28-31)


I don’t see why Goneril would say she has “been worth the whistle.” She can’t be addressing anyone but Albany, whom she has summoned. If the line belongs to Albany he is noting that he must not be completely disregarded by Goneril because a proverbially useless dog is not even “worth a whistle.”


Goneril quickly picks a fight by assuring Albany that he is worthless. At this reply Albany answers, “I fear your disposition”, whereon he begins to preach to her. Not only is Albany the one in the doghouse, it seems unlikely that he would begin religious moralizing with a hateful response that could only anger his Queen (She’s the one who suggests Gloster’s eyes should be plucked out). But he loses control soon enough.


If a compositor omitted a line by eyeskip (‘worth the’ to ‘worth the’) he restored it in foul-proofing. The elements could be confusing, especially if ‘whistle’ is misassigned and ‘O Goneril’ is at first omitted. It might be that ‘Goneril’ in dialogue was an internal speech heading (a la Bordox) mistaken for an address by Albany. A prefix would not be preceded by an ‘O’, however.


At any rate, something must explain Albany’s fourteen syllable reply to ‘whistle’, with ‘rude wind’ turned up at the margin; as elsewhere in Q1, restoration supplies an answer. Using typical John of Bordeaux text as a template, I propose the printer’s copy looked something like this:


Stew. Madam here comes my Lord

I have been worth the whistle) Gonoril O(?) you

are not worth the dust which the rude wind

Blowes in your face) Alb) I feare your disposition


The foul-proof would be rendered:


  Stew.  Madam, here comes my Lord.          Exit Stew.

  Gon.  I have been worth the dust which the rude wind

Blowes in your face.

   Alb.   I fear your disposition


The corrector’s instruction would mean to restore “the whistle Gonoril O you are not worth” but the mistaken ascription (to Goneril) of the prior line caused the omission to be given to Albany, with some adjustments. I transpose “O Goneril” mostly to assert that such matters are subject to compositor/corrector/scribe/actor whim anyway.


With the announcement of Albany’s arrival no entry and no s.p. were necessary—as far, perhaps, as the reporter cared; exits, entrances, and speech ascriptions were guesswork likely left to customers. Here in Q1 there’s no exit for Edmund and no Albany entry. If the compositor assumed that Goneril spoke & if he didn’t have a chance to correct the error (having failed even to read the next line), he may have consulted his own notions—rather than the copy—to get a readable restoration. From the point of view of the workmen, careful editing of a corrupt text would in many respects be wasting time (money). Q1 shows that very attitude time and again; the printer, Okes, would be under no illusions.


Gerald E. Downs

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