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January 10, 2007

Obsessing about minutiae

RSC Chairman Christopher Bland points out that in correcting Christopher Ricks’ error in a famous line of Housman’s at the very end of my last (very long) blog entry, I introduced a new error: it should be “of lost content” but I typed “of the lost content”. I promise that this was not deliberate: rather it is a perfect illustration of how easily error creeps into texts (and in this case destroys the rhythm of the line of poetry). Dealing with questions of this sort – is that extra ‘the’ an error or not? – is one of the main tasks of the Shakespearean editor.

Here’s an example:

The first printed text of Much Ado about Nothing was the quarto-format edition of 1600. Since it is a good quality text and since the 1623 Folio text derives from it, all modern editors use Quarto as their ‘copy-text’ for Much Ado (on the nature of ‘copy-text’, see previous entry). But it is in the Folio text alone that we find a very nice Dogberryism (malapropism) -“statues” in place of “statutes”. The quarto, presumed to be based on Shakespeare’s original manuscript, has “statutes”, which is semantically the right word but dramatically the wrong one. We simply do not know whether the folio editor restored a Shakespearean joke that had been obscured by a quarto misprint or inserted a joke that Shakespeare should have made but didn’t. Shakespearean editors agonise about this distinction and 10,000 others like it. Because textual orthodoxy demands that they follow quarto, they leave out the joke. I say relax: it’s a good joke, it’s there in the Folio, an editor should print it and an actor should speak it. If that means accepting the anonymous folio editor of Much Ado as one of Shakespeare’s ‘co-authors’, along with his actors and the other dramatists with whom he sometimes worked in collaboration, then all well and good.

To give an idea of what has been involved in preparing a new edition of the Complete Works, here is the list of queries that my textual editor, Eric Rasmussen, raised for just one play – Hamlet – and which we then had to resolve together. Textual editing: not a game for the faint-hearted or easily distracted …

1.1.125 The cock could crow at any point along here, might be a good place for a double-headed arrow (which my version of Word doesn’t seem to have)

1.1.152 cap ‘Saviour’s’?

1.1.157 Any reason to consider F’s ‘No fairy talks’?

1.2.0 SD I don’t see any textual warrant for deleting Ophelia from this scene, as Hibbard does

1.2.65 Some early editors marked this as an aside. Worth a question marked ‘Aside?’ ?

1.2.70 for ever or forever?

1.2.118 I assume this is not an Oxford comma?

1.2.160 I’m not convinced that ‘my heart’ is vocative, so haven’t used the F4 comma.

1.2.206 I’ve followed F’s punctuation, although most editors render the line ‘goes slow and stately by them. Thrice he walked’

1.2.255 I’ve tentatively emended to ‘walk’ but F’s ‘wake’ is certainly a provocative reading

1.3.18 This is the first of many instances in which the F compositor apparently anticipates a word from later in the line and repeats it earlier: ‘feare … feare’. I think in all such instances we’re justified in importing the Q2 reading, but it’s difficult to say what we’d do if we didn’t have Q2!

1.3.121 F’s ‘Giues’ works in context — indeed, one could argue that if the soul’s being prodigal it’s giving rather than lending — but the compositor probably picked it up from ‘Giuing’ in the next line.

1.3.124 F’s ‘For’ is universally emended to ‘From’ but isn’t ‘For this time’ idiomatic for ‘For the time being’? Also, ‘daughter’ is extra-metrical, and was probably picked up from 121. Delete or retain?

1.4.1 All editors follow Q2’s ‘it is very cold’ and they all miss the boat: F Hamlet is so preoccupied that he doesn’t even know if it’s cold and has to ask. A fantastic variant reading.

1.5.33 This line doesn’t quite work without the ‘I’, but its absence from both Q1 and F may be instructive.

1.5.76 ‘barked’ is a great word, but could F’s ‘baked’ also possibly make a kind of sense in context of the blood boiling?

1.5.85 too many commas?

2.1.4 F’s ‘you make inquiry’ can certainly be defended (if there’s an implied ‘if’ in the sentence) but ‘to make inquiry’ might be cleaner, bringing in the ‘to’ from Q2.

2.1.27-8 lineation okay?

2.1.38 perhaps one of those happy few instances where an interrupted line completion deserves to be staggered?

2.1.117 need a note on ‘speed’

2.2.10 need a note for ‘deem’

2.2.117 An incredibly difficult line. Should one ‘these’ or both be within the quotation marks?

2.2.222-4 These exclamation marks seem called for, given F’s question marks

2.2.282 SD The question here is whether Rosencrantz speaks this aloud to Guildenstern or whether in an aside.

2.2.303 cap ‘lenten’?

2.2.354-5 Surely we need notes on mad north-north-west and hawk from handsaw!

2.2.362 Hibbard unaccountably cites F’s ‘Prophesie. Hee’ as the source for his punctuating ‘prophesy he’. I think a colon is a fair rendering

2.2.366 Without the imported ‘was’ the F line could be appositional: ‘When Roscius, an actor in Rome—’

2.2.372 I rather like ‘pastorical’ – it’s downright Polonian!

2.2.410-11 Probably an accidental omission from F, but I’m uneasy about importing whole lines from Q2. Do we want to shade this if we retain it?

2.2.416 Indent or not?

2.2.430 Is ‘So, proceed you’ necessary? Nothing is lost without it, but it does appear to be a printer’s error rather than an intended revision.

2.2.440 ‘His blow’ makes sense, but the ‘his’ was probably picked up from the next line.

2.2.491 I don’t know that ‘lived’ has to be emended to ‘live’, does it?

Actually, a bit of a crux whether some of the players exeunt with Polonius while Hamlet and a/First player remain behind.

2.2.500, 504 F has just ‘Player’ for SHs. Most editors give the lines to the First Player, although Oxford uses ‘Players’ (from Q1) which doesn’t make much sense if Hamlet’s addressing a singular ‘old friend’. I’d prefer A PLAYER, which is faithful to F, both here and at 3.2,12 and 28

2.2.545 The F version of this line works, so long as ‘murderèd’ has a syllabic ‘e’. Any reason to emend?

3.1.33 Could ‘there’ work here (as it were)?

3.1.49-50 These SDs will have to be juggled to get them both on the same line, but there’s not room on the typescript.

3.1.61 F has an exeunt for Claudius and Polonius and a re-entrance at 162, which I’ve retained, although editors usually have them withdraw or hide behind the arras without leaving the stage

3.1.66 Okay to punctuate the ‘Whether’ question with a question mark?

3.1.149 Dashes marking shift in address here, where the line or parts of it seem intended for Claudius, or is that too heavy-handed?

3.2.7 & 10 I think we’ve got to be more trusting of such plausible F readings as ‘see’ and ‘could’ than editors such as Oxford and Hibbard have been, even through they’re supposedly using F as control text.

3.2.32 Should ‘needful’ be considered? Might work as ‘necessary’ attention. Interesting that F4 corrects to ‘heedful’

3.2.99 The Lying down at Ophelia’s feet SD favoured by some seems too proscriptive to me

3.2.142 What do you think of retaining F’s ‘BAPTISTA’ speech prefixes for the player queen, while using ‘PLAYER KING’ for her counterpart, analogous to our use of GERTRUDE and KING?

3.2.161 Jenkins marks Hamlet’s ‘Wormwood, wormwood’ as an aside, but most other editors do not.

3.2.227 Need a note on ‘mis-take’

3.2.229 Put ‘the croaking raven … revenge’ in quotation marks, as Hibbard does?

3.2.357 Need a note on ‘somever’?

3.4.13 A tough call whether to emend. The pattern of the first two lines suggests that Hamlet spits back Gertrude’s line only changing a single word, and ‘you question with an idle tongue’ would be in keeping. But it’s pretty likely that the compositor picked up ‘idle’ from the previous line.

3.4.42 brazed okay?

3.4.134 emend to ‘whom’ from Q2, F2?

3.4.139-41 These are certainly exclamations, but difficult to say how many (or few) exclamation points are called for.

3.4.208 Take the plunge and not mark a new act division here? The scene is certainly continuous in F.

3.4.244 Oxford comma?

4.2.37 Tricky bit of staging here. Most eds have Claudius address this to ‘attendants’ who then go to look for the body (Hibbard forgets to provide an earlier entrance for them – no doubt they were lurking in Gertrude’s closet). If not attendants, then either Rosencrantz or Guildenstern must do it – Oxford opts for the former – which means that only Guildenstern remains for Claudius’s concluding speech, which seems like it ought to be addressed to the pair.

4.2.65 need a note on ‘conjuring’

4.4.27-30 If Horatio exits, Gertrude could have a short soliloquy (her only one in the play), otherwise she must speak these lines aside

4.4.119 F’s punctuation ‘King, sirs? Stand’ might be possible.

4.4.169 Jenkins gives ‘Let her come in’ to Claudius, but that doesn’t seem right. Okay to assign it to the followers, as part of the ‘noise within’?

4.4.213 Most editors have Gertrude exit with Ophelia (although Jenkins does not) and F’s ‘Exeunt Ophelia’ certainly gives warrant for that.

4.5.5 Q2 has multiple sailors but F’s entrance and SHs are singular

4.6.40 SD Does the messenger give both letters to Claudius? (And, if so, it’s interesting that Claudius apparently does not read the letter addressed to Gertrude.)

4.6.58 I’m a big fan of the ‘diest’ emendation

4.6.125 The F reading can just barely work

5.1.69 need a note for ‘o’er-offices’

5.1.73 Caps for ‘Lord Such-a-one’?

5.1.123 Is ‘Hamlet’ appositional to ‘king’ (‘our last king, Hamlet, ...) or is it ‘our last King Hamlet’?

5.1.155 I’d lean toward retaining the repetition of ‘this same skull, sir’ as the gravedigger’s attempt at a rhetorical flourish building toward the revelation of the identify of the skull.

5.1.166 I can’t imagine that even compositor E would set a copy-text ‘grinning’ as ‘Ieering’, but I don’t know what ‘No one now to mock your own jeering’ means. And if we emend from Q2 to ‘Not one now’ what does that mean?

5.2.23 a hard line to punctuate. Set it off with dashes perhaps?

5.2.94 I assume that F’s ‘if your friendship were at leisure’ can mean ‘if the two of you are done talking’, but we surely need a note. (Strange that Hibbard doesn’t provide one.)

5.2.105 Necessary to add a SD to the effect that ‘Hamlet moves him to put on his hat’ (Bevington’s rather wordy one)? Or fine without it?

5.2.302 This may be dumb, but could it be a ‘shout within’ (F’s reading) rather than a ‘shot within’?

5.2.362 ‘Take up the bodies’ is more familiar, but Q1 corroborates F’s ‘body’

You made it to the end of that list? Now answer all the questions and do the same for all Shakespeare’s other works and you’ll begin to get an idea of what it’s all about. There’s a good layman’s guide to some of the textual controversies of recent years in Ron Rosenbaum’s The Shakespeare Wars


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  • great blog more please. by christopher bland on this entry

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