Saturday, July 17, 2010

Making Shakespeare Notes: Chapter Three

Apparently, the Prologue was the first Chapter, and the first chapter is chapter two, and so on, so technically last time I was writing about chapter two, and this time I'm making notes on chapter three. I'll just put that in my confused locker and move along.

Heminges and Condell, when they praised Shakespeare for never revising his work, were giving him customary praise for the time. Thomas Randolph, a less well known playwright, was similarly praised by his peers (34).

"The one piece of continuous handwriting that is thought to be Shakespeare's is actually full of crossed words, rewriting and overwriting" (35).

Hand D of The Book of Thomas Moore, whether it is Shakespeare's or not, provides valuable insight into the nature of collaboration. His text, which includes only a crowd scene and a soliloquy, is inconsistent with the rest of the play, and demonstrates a lack of knowledge of the play as a whole. Very little knowledge of a play was required for collaboration (36).

From the Thomas Moore manuscript, we see Shakespeare re-using the "Friends, Romans, Countryman" rhetorical device from Julius Caesar in the form of "friends, masters, countrymen." This is not an isolated example, as Hamlet's "words, words, words" re-appears as Troilus' "words, words, mere words..." Shakespeare clearly re-used linguistic structures that he liked (38).

Berowne's justification for being forsworn is an example of Shakespeare deciding to rework a passage while he was writing it. The complete passage as it has come down to us is highly repetitive, which is indicative that the typesetter did not note a marginal indication to strike one set of the lines, and although it is impossible to tell which ones do not belong, it is almost certain that one of them should not be present in the text (39).

Romeo's description of "the grey eyed morn" in Romeo and Juliet is later repeated by Friar Laurence with subtle changes to the description. There changes make it unlikely that the repeated passage is the result of print-house error, and further implies that the characters are here acting as vehicles for verse passages; the speaker obviously didn't matter to the playwright so much as that the lines were spoken (39-40).

Shakespeare's tendency to recycle phrases and rhetorical devices across his plays suggests an author who thinks in individual passages of text without regard for the cohesion of the whole (42).

"A culture that works with commonplace books has a habit of thinking in snippets, in pieces of removable text" (42). Consider the works of Shakespeare not as long, cohesive works of brilliants, but as snippets of language, recycled rhetorical devices, and borrowed plot points. Consider that Shakespeare was not the first author, he was the first remixer.

Ben Jonson marked pieces of his plays in his Collected Works off in quotation marks, presumably to highlight his best writing and concepts. He breaks his plays back down into the component passages from which they are fashioned (45).

Stern defines bad quartos: bottom of page 46.

Heminge's and Condell chose to avoid both the demeaning term "plays" for the Folio, but likewise wanted to avoid the seemingly haughty term "works" (for which choice Ben Jonson was derided in 1616). Thus the choice to publish the Folio as "Mr. William Shakespeare's Comedies, histories and tragedies," while escaping both the demeaning and pretentious terms necessitated his plays be divided into these genres (48).

An early text of Henry V predicts success for Essex's enterprise in Ireland, but later texts were amended after Essex failed (or after it became clear that he would fail). Even if Essex had succeeded, the passage would have had to have been amended to reflect the past-tense of his victory. Shakespeare must have written the passage knowing he was going to change it, but it was more important that the play reflect the timeliness of the events in his world (51).

Revisions to Julius Caesar, Henry V, Richard II, and 1 Henry IV are only apparent to us because of external factors that alert us to them. It is unknown how many other revisions were made to Shakespeare's plays, with or without his knowledge or consent (52).

Shakespeare demonstrably revised his plays, even if he did so unwillingly, but he also ha a tendency to be willing to strike the lines for which he is now best remembered. Further, it seems clear that his fellow company members were not opposed to revising his plays after his death, as in the case of Macbeth. Revision was a regular feature of early modern playwriting, and Shakespeare was no exception (61).


Shakespeare's texts were fluid. Since he wrote about his times and incorporated contemporary events into his writing, he wrote his plays anticipating that he would need to revise them. Further, the law and royal favor forced him to revise his plays from time to time so they could be performed. Since a revised and expanded text was a selling point for playbooks, it is likewise improbable that Shakespeare felt that he needed to conceal his revisions form the practice of his playwriting. Heminges and Condell, in praising Shakespeare for never having needed to revise his works, were applying a formula of praise that was widely known at the time, and we ought not to read anything more into it than that. Revision was the rule, and not the exception, and even in cases where there is only one text (good, bad, or ugly), there are often hints that a previous version of the text existed.

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