Monday, January 3, 2011

Notes on "Back by Popular Demand"

The absence of the choruses from the quarto makes that text fundamentally different from the folio, and where critics like to point to the ambiguity of national politics and militarism that Henry V implies, the textual justification for those implications are found only in the folio text. The only reference to a contemporary event in the canon, the comparison to Essex's expedition, and the reminder that all of Henry's gains will be lost by his successor are both absent from the quarto text (315).

Despite the assumption that the folio text of Henry V is set from the "acting edition" of the play, there is no evidence to support this, and while we will never know what was actually acted on the London stages, it is quite probable that the quarto text actually represents a closer approximation to performance than the folio (316).

Greg's theory of memorially reconstructed texts does not adequately account for the gaps between the quarto and folio text: whole scenes and sense-changing speeches are completely left out, and the theory of an actor with a bad memory creating a transcription cannot account for the absence of such crucial material (317).

Wells and Taylor argue that the quarto of Henry V represents a memorial construction of a previously performed text cut for touring, and argue that the reduction in the quarto removes thirteen speaking parts (321 - 322). King, of course, disagrees.

Taylor himself admits problems with his theory: cast reduction cannot have been the motivation for the removal of the first scene, which casts a cynical eye on the military affair as the English Court tries to invent reasons to invade France, or of the Jamy/MacMorris scene, or of the substitution of Clarence for Bedford, or of some of the cuts in the Harfleur scene (322).

"No single hypothesis is likely to be able to explain all the instances of textual divergence; and... it is better to admit this in advance than be forced to introduce exceptions that shake the primary hypothesis at its roots" (322 - 323).

English monarchs were always interested in controlling the narrative of history, and Elizabeth was no exception. The printing of Q Henry V, coming as it did on the heels of the Essex rebellion, The LC's Men's involvement in the presentation of Henry IV the night before, and in the face of a 1 June 1599 Bishop's Order prohibiting the printing of histories, was likely to be censored if the LC's men did not censor the text themselves; removing the choruses and other controversial scenes turns the play into an unproblematic celebration of a popular monarch, whom audiences would  have likely instinctively linked with Elizabeth (325 - 330).


Theatrical considerations may not be the only ones that lead to the abridgment of a text, whether for print, performance, or both. Patterson succinctly demonstrates how the quarto version of Henry V could represent an edition of the text made for political expediency, and creates an implicit warning about trying to understand the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries outside of the political and professional context of the late 16th/early 17th century professional London playhouses.


Patterson, Annabel. "Back by Popular Demand: The Two Versions of Henry V." Shakespeare: The Critical Context. Stephen Orgel and Sean Keilen Ed. New York: Garland Publishing. 1999. p. 313 - 346. Print. Dual pagination is given for all works in this volume, but since the table of contents follows the pagination running at the bottom center of each page, this is the pagination that I have followed in my citations.

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