Sunday, July 25, 2010

Interesting Textual Variants

Stern has a lot of good ideas about how "Shakespearean" texts were made, how they got on the stage, and how they were printed, and I have this funny feeling like her work will be extremely handy in bringing The Merry Devil of Edmonton to life, but as part of this project involves the creation of my own new critical-edition of Merry Devil, I am struck by two things: first of all is the overwhelming regularity of the three quartos that I have so far collated; few variations exist between them.

Where these quartos differ most, however, falls in a seemingly trivial moment early in the play, when Fabell and Raymond accuse Frank Jerningham of taking part in the plot for him to steal Milliscent away from Raymond. Frank describes his affections for another lady:
                              ...but thou know'st
That Essex hath the saint that I adore,
Where ere did we meet thee and wanton springs,
That like a wag thou hast not laughed at me,
And with regardless Jesting mocked my love?
That's the text from Q1. Q2 reads thusly:
                               ...but thou know'st
That Essex hath the saint that I adore,
Where ere did'st meet me, but we two were jovial,
like a wag thou hast not laughed at me,
And with regardless Jesting mocked my love?
Note the changes in bold. Also note that Q2's line is less poetic. One must be cautious about such proclamations in a play like this, where characters of all classes regularly change between verse and prose throughout, but Q2's line change creates a metrically irregular line in an otherwise regular passage. One might also make the argument that "wanton springs" is more idyllic than "we two were jovial."

The delightfully apoplectic W. W. Greg summarizes his analysis of the variant texts thusly:
I think that if a rough author's draft (after having served for the production of a prompt-book) had been severely cut with a view to preparing an abridged version of the play, and had then come into the printer's hands, the resulting edition might have been something like what we find in the extant text (130).
So why the variation? Stern points out that country audiences were generally less sophisticated than their London counterparts, and thus the plays were cut (145-146). Her further suggestion that prompters themselves would be a common source of emendation to might lead one to think that the Q2 printing followed from a prompt copy further edited from the original (144). Of the four extant copies of Q1, none are identical, which is not necessarily odd given the practice of stop-press correction that was common in London printing houses (Greg, 125). Greg, however, traces the lineage of Q2 to a cousin of what he calls Q1B with one exception, and this based on a line that occurs just a little bit later in the passage I have examined above (127). It may serve us to examine that variation. Q1 is as follows:
Before I would give o'er the chase, and wrong the love,
Before I would wrong the chase and leave the love,
Before I'd wrong the chase and o'ergive love,
 I'm apparently working from Q1B, because Greg gives the reading of Q1A as
Before I would unage the chase and overgive love (127)
The plot thickens, eh? It's difficult to say why such variation would arise. Pretending that "unage" is a misreading for "wrong," there seems to be an almost casual swapping of verbs in the line. If Greg is correct and the Q1B reading represents the text in an intermediary state of printing, that would simply confirm the statistically likely possibility that Q2 was not printed from one of the four extant Q1s (127). Nothing Earth shattering there, but why the other edits?

Lets play the game "everybody is right." If I'm right that there are emendations to the text that represent changes made out on the road between Q1 and Q2, that means that Arthur Johnson needs to have got his hand on those changes. If he wanted to do a simple reprint, he could have either printed from an existing Q1, or from the papers that he had from that printing. The advantage of the latter could derive from dissatisfaction with the first printing; he did change printers from Henry Ballard (Q1) to Thomas Creed for Q2, after all, and his further change to G. Eld for Q3 seems to indicate that he may have had a more habitual dissatisfaction with printers.

Yet it is also worth considering that the book that the King's Men supplied Johnson for printing was the touring prompter's book. No copy of the text would be more dispensable than an edited for touring text when the London theatres were open, after all. If Johnson printed Q2 from this book, which would likely have been edited over years of use, that may account for some of the variation in this passage. It would, of course, be just as likely that the line had been edited back for subsequent printings (if Johnson continued to use the touring book), or perhaps, unable to obtain it, he printed from one of the variants of Q1.

Maybe I even get a little bit of support for the ever-changing touring prompt book theory from the evolution of another line within this same passage:
Q1: I have taught the watchful Nightengale to wake,
Q2: And I have taught the Nightengale to wake,
Q3: I have taught the Nightengale to wake,
Q3 bears markers of both Q1 and Q2 in this case.  Again, Q1 seems the more poetic, and depending on the pronunciation of "have" may read as a regular verse line. Q2 omits the description of the nightingale, but is metrically regular without elision. Q3 is what a music director friend of mine would describe as a hot mess. It just doesn't work as verse. Through these three printing, we see the evolution of a line of verse into a line of prose. 

Anything I've said here needs to be read in light of the disclaimer that this is all mere conjecture. Yet given the evidence that Stern has put forth in Making Shakespeare, it is worth examining the book printing industry and the playing companies as having more of a symbiotic relationship than some would suggest. If Johnson regularly obtained copy for subsequent printings of The Merry Devil from the King's Men, the printed history of The Merry Devil may reflect an increasing simplification of dramatic writing.

Works Cited
Greg, W. W. "The Merry Devil of Edmonton." The Library: Transactions of the Bibliographical Society. 1944. London. Oxford UP. vol. s4-XXV 3-4 p. 122-139.

Stern, Tiffany. Making Shakespeare: From Stage to Page. Routledge. London. 2004.  

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