Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Notes on "Shakespeare and the New Bibliography" - Chapter 4

While printed books inherently provide evidence of printshop practices, since there is no extant dramatic manuscript used for printed copy, bibliographers that wish to reconstruct the kind of manuscript a play was printed from have to rely on circumstantial evidence. This includes the information contained in stage directions, textual corruption, and mislineation (50).

Scientific advances in the 20th century have enabled bibliographic work that was impossible in earlier eras. New and improved photographic techniques have enabled photo-facsimiles of printed books and manuscripts, and new and improved scientific instruments have enabled researchers with access to the original documents to discover more about them than would otherwise be knowable (50).

cf Maunde Thompson Shakespeare's Handwriting. 1916.

cf W. W. Greg Henslowe Papers. 1916.

cf W. W. Greg Dramatic Documents from the Elizabethan Playhouses (1931).

"The confusion of the More manuscript would have made it useless for prompting" (57). Gurr and Stern have elsewhere noted that prompting is an anachronistic term, and Wilson's sense of the duties of a "prompter" in the period may be a bit skewed.

"Prompt-books differ very much among themselves" (58). Amen. Wilson goes on to discuss the divers ways in which a prompt-book acquired annotation for use in the playhouse on page 59.

"In one respect, and in only one, prompt-books are alike: they are all in folio" (60).

The only extant part from an early modern play that has survived is is for Orlando in Greene's Orlando Furioso. This part contains evidence of errors and omissions that appear to have been corrected by the owner of he part, probably Alleyn (60).

"The part of the actor who played the title-role in 'Duk Moraud' survives in a fourteenth-century hand on a margin of an Assize Roll for Norfolk and Suffolk of the second half of the thirteenth century in the Bodleian Library; we have also the part of God from a late text of a miracle play (c. 1570-80) which gives one or two stage-directions" (60).

c.f. J.Q. Adams Chief Pre-Shakespearean Dramas.

"In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as portion of forty-two lines was called a 'length'" (60, footnote). Wilson cites the OED.

It is unlikely that most, if any, of the King's Men's playbooks were burned in the Globe fire of 1621, as Sir Henry Wotton wrote three days after the fire that 'nothing did perish but wood and straw, and a few forsaken cloaks.' While the Fortune plays did lose their books and wardrobe when that playhouse burned, the Fortune burned at midnight, and the Globe during the middle of a performance, and it is probable that, if anything of value was stored at the Globe, the actors would have rescued it (61 - 62). Of course, if you believe Gurr, the Globe was perfunctory to the operation of the Kings Men by this time, and so it is plausible that they stored their more valuable materials at the Blackfriars.

"The most serious defect in a text supplied by a man like Crane would not lie in its 'general imperfections' but in its general perfection. In tidying up his copy and clearing away obscurities he might sometimes misinterpret the intention of his author and obliterate all chances of recovering his original" (64).


Extant dramatic documents from early modern London are rare, but they give us valuable glimpses into playhouse practice, which can help us understand how some of the plays came to print. Of particular interest is Wilson's acknowledgement that Crane, as a professional scribe, would have perfected the copy he was working from. As scientific advances in the early 20th century enabled new kinds of bibliographic work, we might also consider the types of advances 21st century has made in determining the future of bibliographic studies.

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