Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Notes on "Shakespeare and the New Bibliography" - Chapter 5

Pollard argued that printed texts of Shakespeare's plays, especially the Folio, were closer to his manuscripts than most earlier editors had thought, and that several of these were probably set from his own holograph (65).

"The problem of deciding whether a play was printed from the prompt-book is often difficult and sometimes insoluble (66).

Evidence for Folio texts being set from authorial copy, whether foul or fair papers, derives from the inclusion of several named actors in the speech prefixes who flourished at the time the plays were written, but were no longer in the company by the time the Folio was printed. It is likely that, were these plays set from playhouse prompt-scripts, those names would have been replaced by either characters or other actors (67 - 68). And yet Wilson ignores the possibility that it could be both; as he himself notes that prompt-book annotations usually appear in a different hand and form than the surrounding play-text, and are easily excluded by a compositor so directed (67). Again, Wilson is relying on an early 20th century interpretation of a job that had begun to disappear from the professional stage at the time he originally wrote (his original essay, upon which this book was written, first appeared in 1945).

NB: research the role of the prompter in 20th century theatre. I need to figure out where the prompter would have been known as primarily the task of the previous generation. I'm pretty sure that the job would have been obsolete by the mid-20th century. As Stern and Gurr describe the task, early modern book-keepers didn't necessarily need to have uniform prompt copy, and from my own experience, it is often easier to track an actor by their proper name than it is by the diversity of characters they may play in a single production.

Wilson acknowledges, as Gurr notes, that the prompt-book would be too valuable a commodity to hand over to the printers, as it would contained the authorizing signature of the Master of Revels, which is what allowed the play to be performed anywhere in England. Wilson theorizes that authorial draft, from which the prompt-book would have been set, would make a more logical choice to turn over to the printers (71). A more logical choice, perhaps, but certainly not the only choice; and if it was not uncommon practice for audience members to make transcriptions of plays they heard, it is equally possible that the KM might have hired someone to transcribe the play as it was performed one afternoon. Or else they might have sent over a collection of parts from a company member who no longer needed them because they were memorized. Or maybe the one supplemented the other.

A licensed prompt-copy of the play may have been submitted for license for printing, while a different copy, such as foul papers, submitted to the printer (72).

Wilson talks about "O, o, o, o" after "the rest is silence" as being a notorious idiosyncrasy of Burbage (74).

"In choosing to reprint these plays [in the Folio that were reprinted from earlier quartos] from the handiest instead of from the earliest and best texts, the Folio not inexcusably falls far short of the textual standards of modern scholarship" (77 - 78). Which is a key, here; modern scholarship cares about things that the KM or their printers never would have bothered about.

It is also possible that some of the Folio texts were printed from copy that was based on prompt copy, in whole or in part (79 - 80).

Greg, in his 1910 edition of Merry Wives, concluded that the quarto text was memorially reconstructed from the player who played the Host; this study laid the foundations for further study of the bad quartos (81). Naturally, I want to get my hands on this, as quarto Merry Wives is a cousin text to Merry Devil.

Two other "bad quartos" exist: The Battle of Alcazar, and Orlando Furioso. In the case of the former we have the original plot, and in the latter the actor's part, as a point of comparison, and from this Greg determined that The Battle of Alcazar was a case of "simple abridgment," although Orlando Furioso was "impoverished" by the addition of more comic scenes (82). Quality and causation judgments aside, this is fascinating.

"In 1608 [Thomas] Heywood speaks of some of his plays being 'copied only by the ear', which is ambiguous. In a prologue written c. 1632 and printed in 1637 he mentions 'Stenography' as responsible for the corruption of his If You Know Not Me (1605)" (86).

Even into the eighteenth century, memory played a more significant role in the pirating of live performance than did note taking or actors parts (86 - 87).

If shorthand notes of a reporter were available for use in reconstructing a performed play text, they would have likely been augmented by the memories of one or more witnesses to the theatrical event, however G.I. Duthie conclusively demonstrated that Elizabethan short hand was not up to the task of reconstructing a play text from a performance in Elizabethan Shorthand and the First Quarto of 'King Lear' (88).

The memorial reconstruction of a play text from dictation might account for "bad-verse lineation, light stopping, mishearings, and actors' phrases" (90).

When a dramatist wrote that their play would take two hours to play, they probably meant two hours and not much longer than that. The same can be said when they said "three hours" (91). I don't think the playwrights should be taken so literally as Wilson seems to feel compelled to, especially in light of the article I recently read by Hirrel.


It seems to me the crucial flaw of the New Bibliography was when the New Bibliographers presumed they knew anything about the theatrical practices of Elizabethan London. Their interpretations of playbooks and other evidence of the playhouse seems based on their own limited experiences of the modern stage, and those are insufficient grounds to serve as the foundation for any argument about how the materials were used. It also seems likely that they committed similar mistakes regarding the literary value, as the players or the reading public of early modern London saw them, of printed plays. Their work with the materials is groundbreaking, and the evidence they have gathered is still extremely useful, but the conclusions that they draw are based on too many suppositions about fields which they knew little.

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