From TLS: Dover and Out

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.170  Wednesday, 26 April 2017


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

Date:         Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Subject:    From TLS: Dover and Out


[Editor’s Note: The following is a free offering from this week’s TLS. I have reproduced it in its entirety. The next two articles are excerpts. If you do not have access to TLS and would like a copy of the full article, contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .  –Hardy]


Dover and out



Michael Pennington


274pp. Oberon. £14.99 (US $36.95).


Jonathan Croall


Gielgud to Russell Beale

250pp. Bloomsbury. £40 (US $88).


Theodore Leinwand


Writers reading Shakespeare

232pp. University of Chicago Press. £24.50


Among Shakespeare’s plays, Hamlet has enjoyed tragic pre-eminence for more than two centuries. Yet we seem to be now penetrating ever more deeply into the age of King Lear. The play has much to offer to our mostly dark, chaotic and godless world – a world in which no equivalent to Horatio survives to tell the protagonist’s story. The conclusion gazes backwards: “the oldest hath borne most”. Performed at Christmas for King James and his Court and proclaimed thus on its title page in 1608, Lear invited a distinguished audience to contemplate the grim but remote spectacle of an ancient, divided, confused and doomed Britain, in total contrast to the now flourishing Stuart monarchy. Two of these three books focus exclusively on Lear – a play once found too painful to contemplate if not sweetened by Nahum Tate’s merciful ending. The third, in turn, includes many responses to Lear expressed by nineteenth- and twentieth-century poets.


King Lear in Brooklyn shows the actor Michael Pennington to be as generous and good-humoured a player offstage as he is on, despite some distinctly challenging encounters with the icy streets of New York. Shouted at from an upstairs window, Pennington found himself “within fifty yards of home, felled by a proud lip of paving stone”. As well as being extremely painful, the fall took him entirely by surprise, even though “a lifetime of falling down dead in the line of professional duty has left me aero­dynamically quite sound”. At night, too, New York’s physical environment put Pennington’s good humour to the test as he struggled with the “nocturnal clanking of radiators” in his apartment – “Still troubled by the radiators’ hissing noise at 3 a.m.”. Towards the end of six and a half weeks of rehearsals, in the spring of 2014 (when there were several other major productions of the play), Pennington finally moved to a different, airier, flat – which proved to have radiators that were equally noisy.


Yet there is no note of complaint here – only witty and good-humoured amusement. As the rehearsals rolled on, Pennington discovered with relief that “I find the fluency I thought I’d lost”. One unusual fascination of King Lear in Brooklyn is its blend of the mysterious ancientness of Lear with this production’s austere and hyper-modern setting in TFANA, New York’s Theatre For A New Audience. Given generous time and dedication, Pennington adjusted himself sensitively to the play’s young woman director, Arin Arbus, a richly variegated cast and the still-in-progress structure of the about-to-open performance space. With typical generosity, Pennington allowed every performer a voice in the ensuing book of the production. It is fascinating for what it tells us both about a hyper-modern rendition of Lear and about a wide variety of effective routes into the text.


A logistical problem arose in the final scene, one that quite often arises in modern productions of Lear. Cordelia is performed by a splendid grown woman, Lilly Englert, who could not physically be carried on stage by the septuagenarian Pennington. It is, of course, important not to raise a laugh at this point, as I suspect Henry Irving may have done occasionally when he trundled the dead Cordelia on stage in a wheelbarrow. But a practical solution was eventually discovered, and it doesn’t appear to have provoked laughter in TFANA:


. . . a long piece of black masking would be hung behind the back row of the central block, with a gap in the middle to allow for a clear route down the runway . . . you might have assumed that Lear was . . . crawling on his belly like the serpent.


As a whole, King Lear in Brooklyn chronicles an actor’s varied and fascinating responses to a major and often problematic play, as with Michael Pennington’s earlier books about Hamlet and Twelfth Night. His openness and generosity evidently set the tone for the whole cast.


Pennington had already contributed a brief account of his “American” Lear to Jonathan Croall’s wide-ranging study, Performing King Lear, where it takes its place among a wealth of accounts of the play – forty-one in all – some of which are “based on . . . unique interviews with twenty of the most dis­tinguished actors to have undertaken this daunting role during the last forty years”. These should provide a very attractive and accessible resource for students and young readers, whether studying Lear or modern performance styles or both.


There is, however, a modern tragedy within the ancient one: Nigel Hawthorne’s imperfect rapport with Yukio Ninagawa, the distinguished Japanese director of the RSC’s Lear in the Barbican, in 1999. I was lucky enough to see that production twice, and found Hawthorne’s performance lucid, memorable and entirely compelling. His surviving script and notes are characteristic:


When Albany says of Lear “He knows not what he says”, Albany is wrong. Lear knows exactly what he’s saying. He knows his sanity comes and goes. 


He knows that Cordelia is dead.


But the production got some poor reviews, and “for Hawthorne the critics’ reaction ‘hurt like a deep knife wound, and I shall never be able to erase it from my mind’”.


Sadly, this turned out to be Hawthorne’s last major performance: he died in 2001.


For literary scholars, the most durable of these three books may prove to be The Great William, Theodore Leinwand’s powerful and subtle investigation of seven “Writers reading Shakespeare”, as the subtitle has it. Leinward turns up a remarkable number of connections between his chosen writers, who include Coleridge, Keats and Virginia Woolf; all of them engage adventurously with the lively immediacy of Shakespeare’s writing.

Shakespeare is apt to bring out the preacher/lecturer in Coleridge, for example:


As the Audience knows that Juliet is not dead, this Scene is, perhaps, excusable – at all events, it is a Strong Warning to minor Dramatists not to introduce at one time many different characters agitated by one and the same Circumstance.


Keats’s responses to Coleridge are discussed and illustrated in the second chapter, along with some lively battles with Johnson – “Fie”! – as well as between youthful poet and long-dead playwright:


Glimpses of Keats, settling, learning, wafting, and prostrate (also underlining, asterisking, and cross-hatching) help us to imagine both a more or less literal physiology of reading and a variety of metaphorical stances towards Shakespeare, any one of which may be our own.


Turning to King Lear once more, Virginia Woolf picks up on the interrogative, conversational rhetoric of her own responses to reading: “Why is there a fool?” she asks. “What does this gibberish mean?” And three troubled American poets – Charles Olson, John Berryman and Allen Ginsberg – have grappled in numerous ways with “The Great William”, at times truly furiously and truly madly: “Olson (like Hughes) writes that scholars are too ‘timid’ to ‘risk’ an edition like the one he has in mind”.


At other times those noisy writers mingle their confusion with considerable delight:


Hours spent studying Shakespeare could feel ruinous to Berryman, but they also made for a salutary discipline (recall Virginia Woolf: “Shall I read King Lear? Do I want such strain on the emotions? I think I do”).


It is Theodore Leinwand’s own deep engagements with “The Great William”, as well as the play’s many recent appearances on stage, that make me wonder whether the period of Hamlet’s unchallenged supremacy is now beginning to give way to fascination with the darker, deeper, grimmer and less resolved age of King Lear. The answer to Virginia Woolf’s question may be that nowadays most of us do “want such strain on the emotions”. This development has not come about because we have all become jaded sensation-seekers, but because we are too grimly aware of our world’s abundance of “poor naked wretches”.




Stylometry as Merit Badge

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.169  Tuesday, 25 April 2017


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

Date:         April 25, 2017 at 10:11:26 AM EDT

Subject:    Stylometry as Merit Badge


It appears that it has become fashionable for scientific types to involve themselves in studies of literary style. Now Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has a paper on the subject, and Brian Vickers’ “Shakespeare, Co-Author” is cited as an example of a “successful” stylometric analysis. You can’t know how good this makes me feel, given that some of the author affiliations are Harvard (Neandertals were flower children! Negative absolute temperatures!).  The paper is “Quantitative criticism of literary relationships”, 2017 114 (16) E3195-E3204; doi:10.1073/pnas.1611910114. Here’s an excerpt from the abstract:


“Authors often convey meaning by referring to or imitating prior works of literature, a process that creates complex networks of literary relationships (“intertextuality”) and contributes to cultural evolution.  In this paper, we use techniques from stylometry and machine learning to address subjective literary critical questions about Latin literature, a corpus marked by an extraordinary concentration of intertextuality.”


Jim Carroll




Query: New Oxford

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.168  Tuesday, 25 April 2017


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

Date:         April 24, 2017 at 2:08:32 PM EDT

Subject:    Query: New Oxford


Dear Friends,


My university is considering whether to purchase various part of the New Oxford Shakespeare. I haven't had a chance to see how they all work up-close and in-person. I wondered whether anyone has had a chance to use them, particularly some of the digital tools/database packaged with them. I'm supposed to write up a justification for whether to acquire these different items and would welcome your input on their usefulness for scholars, for students, and/or for the general public.


With thanks in advance,

Andrew Fleck




Texts of King Lear

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.167  Monday, 24 April 2017


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

Date:         April 24, 2017 at 12:49:30 AM EDT

Subject:    Re: Texts of King Lear


After comment on two interesting, dense prose pages (I3v–I4r) I’ll suggest (for no good reason) that an F addition could restore Q omission (in preparation for “good reason” examples). Coincidentally, 4.6 was cited recently, though without exhausting the issues. [F in Blue]:


[Lear.]        . . . giue the word ?    Edg. Sweet Margerum.

Lear. Passe.           Glost. I know that voyce. (Q1 4.6.90ff)

Lear. Ha Gonorill, ha Regan, they flattered mee like a dogge,


‘Ha! Gonerill with a white beard?’ [If that’s a restoration (and ‘ha Regan’ a Q cop-out), I suppose Lear recognizes Gloster but responds to the “blindfold” (bandage) as a reminder of his ‘unseeing’ daughter. Stone: “on the whole, Shakespeare is at pains to avoid portraying Lear’s madness as mere delirium” (209). Bordeaux writes ‘ha’ when modern ‘ah’ is appropriate; BQ spellings mean little.]  


and tould me I had white haires in my beard, ere the black ones

were there, to say I and no, to euery thing I saide, I and no toe,

was no good diuinitie . . .


To say I, and no, to euery thing that I said : I, and no too, [As usual, F mispunctuates: ‘they said I was wise young (Foakes): to say “aye and no” to everything I said “aye and no” to was irreverent’ (Matt. 5.36–37.) Shakespearians say Shakespeare didn’t punctuate only to excuse Hand D (a copy). Q1, Q2, and F Lear show that can’t be true.]


Glost. The tricke of that voyce I doe well remember, ist not

the King?

Lear. I euer inch a King when I do stare, see how the subiect

quakes, I pardon that mans life, what was thy cause, adultery?


[Lear has Gloster’s ‘Wanted Poster’ in his hand.]


                                                     . . . let copulation thriue,

for Glosters bastard son was kinder to his father then my daugh-

ters got tweene the lawfull sheets . . . 


[However, Lear must not yet suspect Edmund’s character; only Regan could “proclaim” Gloster’s death. Lear speaks of Gloster’s supposed “crime.”]


behold yon simpring dame whose face between

her forkes presageth snow, that minces vertue . . .


[Of ‘forkes’, Furness had “no inclination to emphasize an unsavory question by discussing it.” Snow is a bit ambiguous: Eskimos have a million words for it.]  


Glost. O ruind peece of nature, this great world should so

weare out to naught, do you know me?

Lear. I remember thy eyes well inough, dost thou squiny on

me, no do thy worst blind Cupid, ile not loue, reade thou that

challenge, marke the penning oft.


[Now the bandinage says Cupid. Lear again shows Gloster the “proclamation.”]


Glost. Were all the letters sunnes I could not see one.

Edg. I would not take this from report, it is, and my heart

breakes at it.


[Edgar reads his father’s death warrant and learns the cold, hard ‘facts.’]


            . . . Lear. Read. Glost. What! with the case of eyes

Lear. O ho, are you there with me, no eyes in your head,

                          . . . yet you see how this world goes.


[Hey, you really are blind!]


Glost. I see it feelingly . . .

Lear                        . . .  thou mightst

behold the great image of authoritie, a dogge, so bade in office,

 . . . through tottered raggs, smal vices do appeare, robes &

furd-gownes hides all, [Place sinnes with Gold, and the strong

Lance of Iustice hurtlesse breakes, Arme it in ragges a Pigmies

straw does pierce it. None does offend, none I say none Ile

able ‘em, take that of me my Friend, who haue the power to

seale th’accusers lips.] get thee glasse eyes, and like a scuruy po-

lititian seeme to see the things thou doest not . . .

Edg. O matter and impertinencie mixt reason in madnesse.

Lear.                                           . . . I knowe

thee well inough thy name is Gloster . . .

Gost. Alack alack the day.

Lear.                     . . . wee are come to this

great stage of fooles, this a good blocke. It were a delicate stra-

tagem to shoot a troupe of horse with fell, & when I haue stole

vpon these sonne in lawes, then kill . . .


[F corrects the spoonerism to ‘shoo . . . with felt.’ I guess blocke results from confusing shorthand b with p again; cke misreads tte. Read plot for block, for a theatrical ambush.]


Q1 evidence indicates omissions (restored or not) in its printing. F adds lines. It’s not difficult to imagine a Q1 omission about the size of the F interpolation above. However, I don’t suggest these lines were accidentally left out, or their independent excision. But if omission occurred elsewhere in composing the crowded pages, the printer’s options were limited: leave the lines out; adjust several formes to enable restoration; restore partially; or replace unimportant text with the omission (to its different spot.)


Stone observes that F additions are generally irrelevant to the sense or action of the play, so much so as to question their motives as revisions. He seems to go out of his way to fault the reviser. But on reading the interpolations as if they formed part of the “original” Q1 text, most are not noticeably out of place. Reading them as candidates for removal to gain space plausibly suggests investigation of nearby text for like-sized restorations in foul proofing. Results consistent with that hypothesis not only explain unlikely “revisions”; they establish a probability that even more F additions are restorations from Q1 copy or the printer’s records. Stone offers a number of instances of possible F recoveries (alongside failed correction of Q error) and Sir Brian Vickers supposes many F restorations.


Gerald E. Downs




Vickers' Review of New Oxford and Norton3 Shakespeares

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.166  Monday, 24 April 2017


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

Date:         April 21, 2017 at 12:20:30 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: From TLS (Vickers)




That Brian Vickers has bad things to say about the New Oxford Shakespeare is no surprise. He didn’t like the 1986-7 Oxford Complete Works of Shakespeare either, although it was done along entirely different lines from the New Oxford Shakespeare and the two projects should not be conflated the way Vickers’s conflates them in his review.


SHAKSPERians with long memories may have noticed that Vickers tends to vehemently disagree with an idea right up until the moment he accepts it, at which point he flips into not only endorsing the idea but also pretending that he had endorsed it all along and that it was other people, not himself, who just could not see that it was correct.  He even gets exasperated by the blindness of those who just cannot see the truths that he himself not so long before had rejected.


Reviewing the 1986-87 Oxford Shakespeare’s Textual Companion, Vickers was scathing about its claims that Shakespeare co-authored a substantial body of his writing. He found that this claim relied on the work of “a very miscellaneous group of scholars who tried, over the last century, to quantify Shakespeare’s style” (Review of English Studies 40 (1989):

402-11, p. 410).


Which miscellaneous scholars exactly? Vickers was happy to name them and they included “E. K. Chambers . . . Karl Wentersdorf . . . [and] Ants Oras” (p. 410). At this point in his career, Vickers was deeply sceptical of co-authorship, which he found “so often bruited in the past and so often discredited for inadequate evidence” (p. 405).


Fast-forward 13 years, and Vickers signals his change of mind by publishing Shakespeare, Co-Author (Oxford University Press, 2002). But he doesn’t acknowledge that he has changed his mind. Instead, he laments “the ingrained resistance that still exists whenever the question of Shakespeare’s co-authorship arises” (Shakespeare, Co-Author, 43-4).


And what of that “very miscellaneous group of scholars who tried, over the last century, to quantify Shakespeare’s style”? Vickers now approves of them. E. K. Chambers is approvingly cited many times (on 21 pages, says Vickers’s index) and he provided “the most reliable data” (p. 127) for verse tests. Karl Wentersdorf is now credited with “providing convincing documentation” (p. 42) of Shakespeare’s collaborative writing and “recent research by [A. C.] Partridge, [David J.] Lake, and [MacDonald P.] Jackson has confirmed” (p. 132) what Wentersdorf found. Verse tests went out of fashion for a while, but “their validity was confirmed by the introduction of far more rigorous metrical procedures by Ants Oras” (p. viii), whose “work has many important implications for Shakespeare studies” (p. 54) and was based on “meticulous computation” (p. 55).


Same scholars, different Vickers review. I won’t be surprised if the new authorship attribution claims in the New Oxford Shakespeare one day get endorsed by Vickers and he complains about the “ingrained resistance” of those who resisted them.


Gabriel Egan

General Editor, The New Oxford Shakespeare




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