The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0490  Monday, 3 December 2012


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

Date:         December 2, 2012 7:11:31 PM EST

Subject:     Shorthand and R&J


Steven Urkowitz responded to my posting on Q1 R&J.


> For proctology, go with Gerald. Flowers? come with Urkowitz.


Name-calling doesn’t do a discussion group any good. If it’s OK with Hardy Cook, I don’t mind. But this kind of thing can’t help scholarly respect for the forum—and it isn’t argument.


> Daunting Gerald Downs . . .


Daunting argument is good. It might mean we’re getting somewhere.


> He looks at a Romeo and Juliet line from Q2. “That’s the real

> one (maybe).” And he points to the equivalent from Q1: “That’s

> an ERROR. I can tell. It’s maybe from transcription, or maybe

> memory, or maybe a ‘pirate’ or an actor grasping at straws,

> or shorthand. But Obviously it’s an error.”


Those aren’t my words between the quote marks, of course. I looked at a lot of suspected borrowings in Q1 and repeated a number of the most telling. The strength of the argument is in the numbers and in the Q2 counterparts. I suggested that the argument against the borrowing would be to hold out one example as possibly Shakespearean and to ignore the others – which is the way Steven approaches the evidence. I noted that evidence adduced in other categories also strongly points to memorial transmission.


> “. . . This one over here has to be the source misbegotten by

> the evil, stupid or desperate pirate, incompetent actor, or

> well-meaning but technically deficient stenographer. Can’t be

> anything else.”


Again, not my words. I haven’t supposed any of the agents spoiling and preserving Shakespeare’s texts were evil, stupid, or desperate; that the players were incompetent; or that a stenographer meant well or was inept. On the contrary: the Bordeaux reporter was, despite a lack of learning in other respects, an accomplished artisan. He could transcribe speech rapidly; he meant to steal a text and he did. No doubt repertory players were competent enough. Over time memory fails but actors may rely on their talents to overcome that fact.


> it seems to me that . . . William really could have written the

> Titus line, AND that he could have written the Q1 line. And

> (why not go for the whole hog?) he could have fiddled with

> it some more to end up with the Q2 line.


That is a conceivable possibility, as I acknowledge. But for the same sequence to happen over and over with the suspected borrowings, with no other argument than “Why not?” the probability diminishes to far below that of memorial error. Further, the massive corruptions in Q1 noted by many eminent scholars over the decades increase the odds of memorial transmission. There’s no Copernicus analogy here.


> I suppose that Gerald’s implied follow-on to his “Why should

> this be revised?” would be something like, “Our William

> wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t revise a line that he’s already

> changed once.”


No, that’s not what I would say. My take—with Hoppe and recognizing the extent of Q1 corruption—is that a far more likely explanation lies in a history of memorial transmission. An author has reasons for revising, trivial as they may be. But if an individual line is good enough in itself and we can’t explain its revision, “Why not?” doesn’t get it. There are reasons for the alternative textual explanation. And when an otherwise harmless “Why not?” is resorted to repeatedly while “borrowing” makes sense, math takes over. Any particular passable line is not apt to be revised by the author; it could be, but it isn’t likely, going in. Odds are against authorial strings of unrelated, unexplained line revisions if bad quarto characteristics explain them and much of the other corruption.


Gerald E. Downs


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