The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0503  Thursday, 6 December 2012


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

Date:         December 5, 2012 9:32:36 PM EST

Subject:     Apologies for Fundamental Disagreablity about Possibly Shorthanded Texts


At risk of falling asleep myself, I will carry on my patrol of the sacred gardens of textual studies. My apologies for implying that Gerald Downs has any proctological leanings. With Sir Andrew Aguecheek I get tangled in metaphor. But the purpose of the rectal allusion was that sometimes we get so caught up in our own way of looking we just can’t appreciate any other. We get bamboozled this way, and in the wonderful workings of our brains, we unavoidably bamboozle ourselves.  


May I tell a brief story? Working on my CCNY MA thesis on Donne’s First and Second Anniversaries, I happened to read Marjorie Hope Nicholson’s very-well-received The Breaking of the Circle, in which she lays out her theory that the news of Copernicus’ findings introduced radical doubt as a new way of thinking that Donne illustrates in these poems commemorating the death of Elizabeth Drury. And to demonstrate the correctness of her thesis, she offers as part of her argument Donne’s variant spellings of the pronoun “she,” spelt variously as either “she” or “shee.” Nicholson, who I hear from those who knew her was a really nice lady, saw that one of the pronoun spellings was used by Donne to indicate that he was referring to the girl Elizabeth Drury, but the other was used to refer abstractly to the goddess Astraea and, by inference, Queen Elizabeth. Nicholson gave lots of examples to demonstrate the validity of her argument. 


At some point in my thesis writing, someone (it may have been the Dean of Humanities, an English scholar) suggested that I do my quotations not from a modern edition but rather using old-spelling taken from the earliest editions. When I did that (just trying to be good and obedient and “teachable”), I had a bit of a shock. It turns out that the text I had used (a Modern Library edition of Donne) and the one used by Nicholson (I can’t recall which specifically, but it was modern) derived from a nineteenth century text edited by (I believe) Grierson.   Grierson’s compositor seems to have noticed that in the copytext he was setting there were lots of “she” and lots of “shee” spellings, scattered about.  And, in the way of the sublunary world governed as it is by gods always deeply ironic, it looks like that nineteenth century compositor just sprinkled the two spellings as he liked them, with no attention to how they were set out in the 1611-1612 printings closest to Donne’s Mss. Like coin flipping, the match-up of the 17th-century she-shees and those of the 19th and 20th were randomized hit-and-miss. So, maybe Nicholson was in fact correct about the broad psychological impact of that astronomer guy, but her spelling evidence was deeply bogus, depending as it did on a text that failed to preserve evidence shee needed to corroborate her theory. But shee evidently believed in her invalid evidence and her theory, despite our “common-sense” experience that the presence of secret literary riddles or puzzles requiring great attention with very little benefit are usually unlikely at best. (Warning: I was at this stuff in 1968; my memory does play its own nasty tricks. Don’t trust it! Though it does brew a nice story or two.) 


To return to my ongoing conversation with Gerald Downs. I’m pretty sure that he and I aren’t going to change one another’s minds, nor are we going to approach any less-opposed middle ground. But I keep on talking in order to keep the air circulating. 


From the get-go in my advanced academic training, I learned that people hold on really tightly to all kinds of theories, especially those that toss lots of data up-and-about. And I’ve spent inordinate amounts of energy teasing out statements and interrogating data they offer in support. And—especially in my formal publications trying to correct what I’ve seen as errors—it appears I pretty much managed only to put lots of textual scholars to sleep with my efforts. I like the SHAKSPER forum because unlike the sometimes soporific refereed journal formats it encourages or at least allows less-than-formal speculations and even irreverent counter-factuals, ironies, spoofs and jiving.


Anyway, since I am getting old, Father William (71 last week), I’ll not take on lots and lots of Gerald Downs’s points (as I have with similar arguments such as those of Peter Alexander). Other fish to fry? Procts to ologize? Whatever.


Here’s a quote from the most recent exchange where Gerald Downs accepts as possible my reading of a variant as a possible instance of authorial revision:


>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.


“For the same sequence to happen over and over” strikes Gerald as unlikely. I disagree.


My model of Shakespeare at work, as I’ve often suggested, is that he would begin working from a source or several sources. He would compose his own “take” on that material, yielding a working draft with many beautiful spots, many ugly ones, some matter quite close to his sources, some far removed, some completely new-coined. This seems to have been the basic process laid out for school-boys’ exercises in composition and translation. Boys were expected to go beyond their initial drafts and to turn in polished fair copies of their weekly exercises (In a chart showing schoolmasters how they might divide up a week’s lessons—perhaps it was reproduced in TW Baldwin, William Shakspere’s Small Latine & Lesse Greeke? – I seem to recall that Thursdays were noted as the days for such polishing.). I want to believe that Shakespeare may have carried on this early-inculcated pattern. Thus he would expand and refine his drafts to generate a more finished (though still not necessarily final) fair copy. (I love a good “thus.”) Thus my “Why not?” is not a frivolous proposal.  


Further, if, as Gerald urges, a poet doesn’t go at his revisings repeatedly using a finite toolbox of patterns (as I imagine our WS did in the transformations of R&J from Brooks’ Romeus and Juliet to Q1 to Q2), how can Gerald support his own claim that the memorial transcribers will repeatedly make the same kinds of errors o-so-regularly as they moved from Q2 (or the unknowable text from which Q2 was also derived which they witnessed in its playhouse avatar) to generate the versions printed in Q1. Bad-guys can produce repeated patterns but good-guys can’t?


Again, what creative universe are we each imagining? I see Shakespeare participating in an imaginative economy of abundance, where the author freely spills over with inventions. Gerald Downs sees that as improbable, and (here I project) his position would be that the author functioned in an artistic economy of scarcity where opportunities to change things were severely restricted. Like I said less politely in the earlier remark about proctologists, you pays your money and you takes your choice. His vision of versions or my versions of vision?


Read over Gerald’s and Van Dam’s stuff that he lays out in the previous SHAKSPER posting. Read over my analyses of some of the same material (S Urkowitz, “Two Versions of Romeo and Juliet 2.6 . . . .” in Parker and Zitner, Elizabethan Essays (1996)  pp. 222-38). From Downs and Van Dam, you may learn something about hypothetical agents acting in very interesting ways that (in my experience in the world) resemble NOTHING that high-functioning human beings actually do (or ever did). The cut-and-paste tale about the “original” composition of R&J 2.6 and its subsequent re-combinations as it appears in Q1 and Q2 reminds me of an early MAD Magazine comic version of Frankenstein with jolly assistants gaily stitching their monster together using a treadle-powered sewing machine. But it’s great to have binocular views—two or more eyes looking at the same object.


Gerald Downs also quotes Van Dam:


“When an author rewrites . . . it is next to impossible that the old and the new version joined together should produce a sound text [and it is] impossible that the combination of the two versions should be better than the rewritten text . . . . Romeo’s l. 1035 is good by itself, but it is much better when we read it in combination with and as a repartee to the lines 16 and 17, spoken by the Friar.” I agree with van Dam. The second effort to break a wanton clinch is good too, explaining the need for a chaperone.


Shakespeare, that guy who Van Dam proposes would somehow have generated the one Monster Supersized Scene 2.6, would love to read such an explanation of his creative process.  In fact he lovingly, laughingly, lustily shows such ratiocination in action where Malvolio painstakingly de-crypts M,O,A,I: by venturing  merely “to crush this a little.” 


And I have to say that the editor of the still forthcoming New New Variorum KING LEAR proposes something quite similar as an explanation of how the long speech by Kent in LEAR 3.1 came to be so different in Q and F LEAR. One giant (and quite clumsy for a Bard-inscription) original yielding two happenstantial derivatives. Being an irreverent wise-ass myself, I’d say that Malvolio, Gerald Downs, Van Dam and what’s-his-name of New New Variorum fame, attended the same learned proctology lectures. (Merde, I’m gonna have to apologize again ‘Twas the devil made me do it.)  I guess when those lectures were scheduled, instead I was reading MAD Magazine and directing plays. 


Okay, if you’re all asleep, here’s a juicy counter-example to rattle your dreams of the van Dam hypothesis about 2.6.  At the end of R&J 4.2, Q1 shows us Poppa and Moms Capulet exiting together:


  Moth. We shall be short in our prouision.

  Capo: Let me alone for that, goe get you in,

Now before God my heart is passing light,

To see her thus conformed to our will.



They both go out, at least so specifies the Exeunt. direction.  And here we can get elegant in our imaginings: At “goe get you in,” the actor playing Capulet should probably direct the boy playing Lady C to exit through the same door as Juliet and the nurse just went through, and he may or may not go out with her. As a director I’d have him go with her, displaying the family-feeling that goes with a heart “passing light.” But Q2 gives a nicely different end of scene:


  Mo.  We shall be short in our prouision

Tis now neare night.

  Fa.  Tush, I will stirre about.

And all things shall be well, I warrant thee wife:

Go thou to Juliet, helpe to decke up her, 

Ile not to bed to night, let me alone:

Ile play the huswife for this once, what ho?

They are all forth, well I will walke my selfe

To Countie Paris, to prepare up him

Against to morrow, my heart is wondrous light,

Since this same wayward Gyrle is so reclaymd.



Poppa sends Mo off to Juliet, with a salutation that starts at “Get thou to Juliet,” and continues through “let me alone . . . for this once.”   After no one responds to his call, “What ho?” Poppa C. exits, but I as a director and the actor alone if he has any experience would choose the door other than the one Mo left through, imagining for the moment that in the fiction of the play, et least for this moment, it leads out towards County Paris rather than in to the domestic chambers. Simple stuff, intuitive to any kid who ever played “let’s make believe.” Also, such exit-changes abound in the alternative printed versions of all of Shakespeare’s variant multiple-text plays. I think Van Dam’s exercise won’t be able to reconcile these variant ends-of-scene.  But (if you are now awake, before falling into textual slumbers) go back to Q1 and Q2 to look at how both versions of 4.2 each work independently.  Same with the entrance into 4.3, immediately following.   


Sure, if you want to play the cut-and-paste game you might with some strategic fudging convince yourself that there was only a single “original” out of which Q1 and Q2 higgledy-piggledy descended. Thought, as we’ve said, is free. But somewhere down the line the costs of maintaining such fictions will overweigh any conceivable benefits. And, I say yet again, the benefit of imagining these texts as authorially revised or as anybody-revised is that we see theatrical imagination at work to produce practical playing texts. Or we can IMAGINE that we see theatrical imagination at work.  In my book, that’s “value added.”  Imagining with van Dam and Gerald Downs, instead we must contemplate the kinds of mish-mash scrambling with agents and versions slip-sliding away from an Authorial Original. That leaves me only with the gut-grinding despair of desecration and mutilated art. Say it isn’t so, please. (I just went through the Gerald Downs / van Dam reconstruction of the 4.4 mourning arias in the hypothetical original that I think was supposedly prior to Q1 and Q2. Whew! I’ve never directed R&J.  If I would have to include that now-hugely-long passage, I’d toss the project. No, no, no, no, I’m just being rhetorical. But what a thunking disaster of a too-long scene is there contemplated. “Would he had blotted a thousand.” Aye, aye.)  


And (don’t despair, I’m almost finished) I have to point out that the “many eminent scholars” (cited in the first quote above) who found all those “massive corruptions” in Q1 R&J were also working with the same crooked cue-sticks pushing the same goose-egg balls around nearly identical hill-and-valley pool tables. Van Dam and Harry Hoppe and others I’ve sweated through ain’t all that eminent, nor are our contemporary supporters of the non-authorial change-makers all working from unblemished copybooks themselves. With all appropriate modesty (cough, cough) I’ve spent a bunch of years showing that “many eminent scholars” despite their eminence still demonstrably may not know squat about how a script actually works, so they call what they don’t comprehend “corruption.” G’night, Gary.) Rather than appreciate the extant versions that we have, they throw away pearls richer than all their tribe, to gain a wilderness of monkeys. 


Ahhhhhh, so maybe Othello realized that he was the proctologist, seeing only deep betrayals where an unjaundiced eye would see slight errors?   Or Shylock, seeing only insults and denying human mercy? Or Brutus, seeing only honor? I think we may have a theme here, and it makes Gerald and Van Dam and What’s his Name and even me look less silly, more human, and though we may, like those quartos we examine, be ourselves perhaps corrupted massively, yet we are flawed humanly, humanely, indeed nobly.


Say goodnight, Gracie.  


Steve Proctolowitz

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