Category Archives: Textual Criticism

Promptbooks and Publication

As is no doubt evident from my last few posts, I’ve been looking into Francis Gentleman and his work on John Bell’s 1774 edition of Shakespeare quite a lot. I’m now writing my ideas up, and – as ever in this process – there’s quite a lot that won’t fit into my chapter. This includes a bit of work on the copytexts used by Bell and Gentleman for their publication. Continue reading Promptbooks and Publication

Francis Gentleman & Bell’s Shakespeare: A Short Bibliography

This is a new kind of post. I wrote to the mailing list C18-L a few weeks back asking for details of books and articles about the Irish actor, orator, teacher, and critic Francis Gentleman (1728-1784) and his work as the editor of John Bell’s 1774 edition of Shakespeare. I got a few, very useful replies, but also a lot of comments about how little there was out there. Continue reading Francis Gentleman & Bell’s Shakespeare: A Short Bibliography

Editors and Actors: Malone

This is the final, brief and incomplete summary of an editor whose works I am studying for the first chapter of my thesis. It’s taken me a long time to get here, Malone’s 1790 edition of The Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare, since setting out from a summary of Rowe‘s attitudes to actors I made back in Winter 2013. Of all the editions I’ve looked at, Malone’s was also the most challenging: it runs to 11 volumes, and incorporates a wealth of material: not just Malone’s comments and emendations but also those of many of his predecessors, several critical essays, and a great many reproductions of Malone’s sources. Having gone through it all, and produced what LibreOffice tells me is 13 632 words of notes, I can now write this post.

Perhaps the key word when talking about Malone’s approach is ‘historical’: unlike Pope or other early critics, his goal is to “restore” Shakespeare’s works to the condition they were in when they were first created. For this reason, Malone (with apologies) will keep Mercutio’s lines about a “Poperin pear”, the indecorous use of “grunt” in Hamlet, and more, for even if they are offensive to late eighteenth-century readers, they were not offensive to Shakespeare’s original audiences. Shakespeare was of a time, and editorial efforts to refine the playwright into something that suits the taste of another age are misguided, and should be replaced by a method which aims “to support and establish what the poet wrote, to illustrate the phraseology by comparing it with that of his contemporaries, and to explain the fugitive allusions to customs long since disused and forgotten”.

Of course, this is not so straightforward as Malone makes it sound. One peculiar result of insisting on Shakespeare’s historicity is that this edition also puts great weight on the way Shakespeare tends to make all periods resemble his own. Thus characters who could not know the Elizabethan terms for deer hunting use them in Henry IV part II, Coriolanus uses the technical language of Shakespeare’s stage, Caliban knows about the motley worn by fools, and so on. Malone’s observation of anachronisms (or, perhaps better named as ‘jacobo-elizabethanisms’) occurs throughout his notes, and runs counter to an argument made by people like Elizabeth Montague, who held that Shakespeare creates such convincing dramatic illusions as to carry us back to Rome or Henrician England. Instead, Malone is actually much closer to a criticism levelled by English critics at writers like Corneille and Racine, who were accused of Frenchifying everything they wrote about. What separates Malone, however, is that Shakespeare’s way of seeing his subjects through the language and traditions of his time is not a flaw, but rather something integral to his genius and so requiring explanation from the editor.

Edmund Malone, by Joshua Reynolds (1786)

Malone’s efforts to historicise Shakespeare govern his edition’s attitude towards actors. In all the notes, only one actor from the eighteenth century is mentioned: Garrick, whose name appears at the end of Romeo and Juliet in a note pointing out that his adaptation of the work continues a tradition, begun by Otway, of rewriting the tomb scene so that the lovers have a final kiss. In the prefatory materials, Malone provides an ‘Historical Acount of the Stage’, which, as its name would indicate, devotes a great deal of space to the conditions of Shakespeare’s own theatres and acting troupes, finishing only with a brief section on the limited performance of Shakespeare in the period 1616-1741 (i.e. from Shakespeare’s death to Garrick’s first appearance on the stage). Even with such an emphasis on reconstructing the past, Malone does make some interesting points about Shakespeare and actors. He suggests, for example, that Shakespeare may have been a better actor than we give him credit for (although, of course, he was far superior as an author), and – in the odd note here and there – makes the case for Shakespeare’s experience as a man of the theatre influencing his language and choice of incidents. Similarly, his deeper understanding of the historical stage allows him to refute those criticisms levelled at actors since Pope. For instance, most textual corruption is, for Malone, the result of scribal error or restrictions opposed on the stage by the Master of Revels, rather than the corrupting influence of the actors.

Unfortunately, one other side effect of Malone’s clearer understanding of what the stage was like is that it closes down the amount of conjecture and reflection he makes with reference to performance. Whereas Theobald might try and imagine a performance in order to guess at Shakespeare’s decisions, Malone avoids all this. This is clearest when glossing the line “That from her working, all his visage wann’d”, used to describe one of the players in Hamlet. Here, Malone reprints the ideas of previous editors, who argue about whether an actor might be capable of changing his skin tone when in the grip of an emotional performance, but then dismisses this question as “unnecessary to inquire”, preferring to use internal textual evidence from Shakespeare’s oeuvre to prove that the playwright “thought he could”. The real concern, for Malone, is not whether Shakespeare was right about what happened on stage (and thus whether he should be corrected so as to be right about it), but rather if Shakespeare’s opinion can be construed from his other works, regardless of whether his observation fits what actually occurs in a performer.

It is because of examples like this that Malone is my last editor. His historical and historicising approach to Shakespeare’s text represents the end of the figure of the actor as a various and suggestive tool for thinking about Shakespeare, and instead makes performance, along with legal history, old slang, disused customs and more, just another aspect of those historical conditions so necessary to restoring Shakespeare back to his original condition.

Editors and Actors: Capell

Edward Capell, who also served as censor.

Working on this edition nearly broke me. That’s an exaggeration, but not much of one. Starting out, things looked to be plain sailing, with a brief introduction and a relatively unadorned text to the plays. I spotted, though, a few footnotes directing me to the ‘notes’, which I dutifully called up from the bowels of the University Library. When those notes came, they came in three massive volumes, filled with double-column pages all in tiny print. As an estimate, Edward Capell probably produced around 800 such pages of footnotes, many of them far longer than they needed to be, and all of them written with what I shall charitably call idiosyncratic punctuation.

What did I find? A few small things, confirming a starting hypothesis that the energy present for these later editors in the idea of the actor was on the wane. Capell’s Notes and Readings date from 1779-1783, and it is often the case that Capell is far more interested in attacking the shoddy labours of what he calls the “modern editors” (Pope, Theobald, Hanmer, Warburton, Steevens) than the original player-editors. The poor state of the first Folio is now taken as a given, and – instead of blaming players and so on – later revisers are criticised for not doing enough to counter what were unavoidable and now glaring errors. This long note (actually quite short by Capell’s standards) about the witches’ songs in Macbeth will give an idea of what I mean:

Black spirits, &c. ] That this song’s remainder, and that of one in p.49 (l.3) were left out by direction, there is no foundation for thinking: the likelier cuase of their miss, is – the author’s negligence, and that of his publishers; his copy wanted them, and they forbore resorting to papers that were certainly in their power, out of which they might have cured the deficiency. Whether the thing neglected by them was performed agterwards with any fidelity, we have no external assurance from those who have filled up that of this page in the following manner; – Black spirits, and white | Blue spirits, and grey | Mingle, mingle, mingle, | You that mingle may: – moderns take it from one another successively, and each obtrudes it upon his reader in deep silence leaving him to imagine tha the whole song has the same authority as the other parts of the play: But the supplementary words of it, their leader received (as we believe) from an altered Macbeth, brought upon the stage by sir William Davenant after the restoration: many papers of Shakespeare, and of the old stage, were doubtless in his possession, among the rest – their music; and to them sir William might go, for what the player editors should have done, – the song in 22: question – but the whole is precarious, and rests (as the reader sees) on surmises; the validity of which he must determine for himself, aided by what internal conviction the supplement itself offers, which is not inconsiderable: in the meanwhile, the editors (it is presumed) will stand fully excused by him for not making it a part of his text.

The real subject here is not that of whether Davenant and the larger borrowings and transmissions of the theatre world could provide reasonable support for emendation, but more simply that modern editors have never even considered the provenance of the lyrics sung by the witches.

So far, I am aware I may have over-emphasised certain aspects of Capell’s attitude to performance. I’ll now try and correct this by looking at the ambiguities of this editor’s position. First of all, Capell only rarely speaks of actors in the vast expanses of his notes. Second, there are almost as many cases of antitheatricality (errors introduced by “some player” and all that) as there are moments in which this editor tries to imagine what’s happening on the stage. Two biographical detail are also worth mentioning, for they further add to a rather conflicted picture of Capell’s attitude to the stage. First, Capell was good friends with Garrick and, with the manager, helped create a version of Antony and Cleopatra performed at Drury Lane. This performance is mentioned in volume one of Capell’s Notes, although the editor does not reveal his authorship. It does, however, make for an extremely rare reference to the contemporary stage in an edition of Shakespeare. Second, Capell was also censor to the British stage, meaning that he must have had a detailed knowledge of performance, something which he rarely exercises in this edition, perhaps indicating a division in his own thinking between editorial labour and censorship work.

There’s one other rarity to note here, and this occurs in Capell’s introduction. Once he’s argued that everything from the lack of concern for posterity to the many errors in the quartos are proof of Shakespeare’s genius, Capell then – after a brief Steevens-like passage on how the quartos are superior to the folio – sets out to justify the status of Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Taming of the Shrew and Titus Andronicus as plays written by Shakespeare. I’ll spare you the details for the first two plays, but the justification for Titus Andronicus deserves quoting in full.

[Titus Andronicus] came out at the same time with the plays above mentioned, is most exactly like them in almost every particular; their very numbers, consisting all of ten sylables with hardly any redudant, are copy’d by this Proteus, who could put on any shape that either served his interest or suited his inclination: and this, we hope, is a fair and unforced way of accounting for Andronicus; and may convince the most prejudiced – that Shakespeare might be the writer of it; as he might also of Locrine which is ascribed to him, a ninth tragedy, in form and time agreeing so perfectly with the others.

The important word here is “Proteus”, and I have a hunch that this may be one of the first times it is applied to Shakespeare. Even if it isn’t, the word is remarkable since such a nickname is most commonly given to actors (Burbage, for example) in this period, before Shakespeare starts to receive such a designation from later, romantic critics of the early nineteenth century. In all these cases, the ‘proteus’ is someone able to imitate character, to take on the role of another, either to perform that role as an actor (roughly, the eighteenth-century view of the great actor), or to write it down as the inspired author (roughly, the early nineteenth-century view of Shakespeare). Yet for Cappell, Shakespeare’s protean qualities aren’t so much to do with understanding human nature but rather to do with his ability to imitate artistic styles.

In a way, I suppose it’s fitting that this great producer of footnotes sees in the Protean Shakespeare, not an imitator of human nature, but rather someone rather like himself, a close reader of Elizabethan and early Jacobean drama.

Editors and Actors: Blair/Reid

An unflattering portrait of Blair, produced in 1798, two years before his death.
In order to look at this Scottish edition of Shakespeare, edited by Hugh Blair and John Reid, I had to take my first trip to the British Library. Even in this collection, the only version available was a 1753 London reprint of the original 1752 Edinburgh edition. It was all I needed to see, though, and I garnered a few bits of information for my first chapter, as well as a three-year membership of the BL, which I’m sure will come in handy.

This edition is both very lightly and very heavily edited. The voices of Hugh Blair and John Reid only really appear in a very short preface at the beginning of the first volume, where they announce their methodology. That methodology could be accurately described as an amalgamation of all the judgments of Pope, Warburton and Hanmer. Following these august figures, this edition marks all those passages found to be beauties by them (one comma for Pope, two for Warburton) and relegates everything thought to be unworthy of Shakespeare (either to the bottom of the page, like Pope and Hanmer, or between brackets like Warburton). As a result of all this textual disturbance, the presence of editing is very clear indeed, even if it is not orginally that of Blair and Reid.

Given that Blair is now famous for his lectures on rhetoric and his role in an effort to improve literary discernment, such wholesale incorporation of such discerning judges as Warburton, Pope and Hanmer is not too hard to understand. The absence of Theobald from this list is a good indication of how effective Pope’s attacks on this rival were: Pope and co. are models to look up to as models of good taste, Theobald – smeared by Pope – is not. On top of the comments of three editors, Blair and Reid also include an index that allows readers to find those passages marked by Dodd as beauties in his popular anthologisation of Shakespeare. Thus the reader can find even more easily those passages responsible for Blair’s own description of the playwright, found in his lectures:

…[he] pleases by his animated and masterly representations of characters, by the liveliness of his descriptions, the force of his sentiments, and his possessing beyond all writers, the natural language of passion: beauties which true criticism no less teaches us to place in the highest rank, than nature teaches us to feel.

Needless to say, such a beauty-driven approach to the plays of Shakespeare (the result of the thinking that underwrites the above quote) comes close to removing all connection with the world of the theatre. Even following the text of a play from start to finish, let alone imagining its performance, is hard when navigating the various relegations and marginal markings.

One other thing in this edition also caught my attention, and that is a potential connection to the work of Morgann and Richardson. At the end of volume eight, there is a fascinating set of indexes (based, I suspect, on those found in Warburton’s edition) that allow you to find pretty much any specific passage, whether you’re looking for something in terms of “character” or “sentiment”. Regarding character, one can choose between “fictional” and “historical”. In the case of the former, some characters have potted biographies at the beginning of their entries: Hamlet is “ an accomplished young prince unfortunate”, Juliet “ beautiful, constant, and unfortunate in love”. Having read this, I then turned to Falstaff, and encountered this monster of an entry:

Falstaff, Sir John, resolves on an intrigue with Mrs Ford and Mrs Page, i. 190. His billet-doux 195. Settles an assignation with Mrs Quickly, 203. His discovery of it to Ford, disguised like Brook 208. His first address to Mrs Ford 218. Surprised and escapes in a basket 220, 1. His account of his being thrown into the Thames 226. Another assignation with Mrs Quickly 227. Makes a full relation to Ford of his former disappointment 228. Meets with Mrs Ford, and is again surprised 232. Escapes undiscovered in the disguise of an old woman 237. His soliloquy on this occasion 246. He relates to Ford his late disappointment, ib. He meets Mrs Ford in Windsor park 248. Surprised, and seized by Mr Ford 251. His course of life described by Pr. Henry, iv. 82. He concerts a robbery with the Prince, 85. His horse taken from him in the adventure 98. Insults the Prince, to conceal his own cowardice 107. Personates the King, to chide Prince Henry 114. The tavern-bill found in his pocket 118. His rallery on Bardolph’s red nose 131. Quarrels with the hostess 131. His description of his new-raised company 139. His description of honour 148. His behaviour in the battle at Shrewsbury 151. Wounds Percy after he was dead, and assumes the merit of killing him 157. He rails at his page, the Prince, and the mercer 167. Reprimanded by the Chief Justice 179. Pacifies Mrs Quickly and borrows more money 180. His letter to the Prince 184. Treats Doll Tearsheet 188. Revenges her quarrel on Pistol 192. Surprised with her by te Prince whilst he was railing at him 193. Enlists soldiers before Justice Shallow 202. His character of the Justice 208. Takes Colevil prisoner 218. His encomium on the virtues of sack 220. His character of Justice Shallow and his family 233. Receives news of Henry IV’s death 241. Presents himself to Henry V. 243. Reprimanded by the King, and ordered to the fleet 244, 5. An account of his sickness 262. Host. and of his death 269.

In case you missed it, what is remarkable about this summary is the way it occludes what happens in which play, so that it reads almost as a list of all the major incidents in the life of Falstaff. In embryo, then, one finds here a biographical approach that Morgann will push to the extreme. This is important evidence for me, as I originally presumed that Morgann’s approach had its roots in stage illusion above all. However, I must now take into account the precedent of the biographical impression such index-based anthologisation gives. This shouldn’t be a problem: I don’t think many others have commented on this at all, not least because of the relative scarcity of Reid and Blair’s edition.

Editors and Actors: Steevens

George Steevens’s edition of twenty plays of Shakespeare, being all those works published during the playwright’s lifetime, has a clear, and wonderfully scholarly, aim: disgusted at the variously exaggerated and insufficient efforts at collating Shakespeare’s plays so far, Steevens aspires simply to have “collected materials for future artists”, by making the quartos accessible to a wider audience. Steevens was helped in this by David Garrick, who loaned him a great many rare early editions of Shakespeare’s plays; yet while Steevens was on very good terms with contemporary actors, he has a predicatbly low opinion of the players of Shakespeare’s time.

George Steevens, an 1800 engraving of an earlier portrait by Zoffany.
It all begins on the eighth page of Steevens’s “Advertisement to the Reader”, where he quotes Pope‘s view of “the general character of the quarto editions”, which was that these versions were superior to the First Folio, since this latter was stuffed with “additions of trifling and bombast passages” by its player-editors, Heminges and Condell. If such disparagement of the player-editor was not enough, Steevens goes on to enumerate further errors due to actors and found in the First Folio, such as “an unusual word changed into one more popular”. This would never have had the “consent of the author: for he would hardly have unnerved a line in his written copy”, but the actor – ever a figure who panders to public demand – must have committed this atrocity. Indeed, the only thing the player-editors are praised for is their “caution against profaneness”, which allowed them to remove much swearing from the quartos.

As well as criticising the First Folio, Steevens does much to praise the quartos. Perhaps taking his cue from the title pages he reproduces, which often mention the text being “written by William Shakespeare” or “newly corrected and enlarged”, Steevens holds that these early editions allow us to see Shakespeare’s mind at work without the interpolations of the players getting in the way. These are his words:

In the plays [this book] contains, the poet’s first thoughts as well as words are preserved; the additions made in subsequent impressions, distinguished in italics, and the performances themselves make their appearance with every typographical error, such as they were before they fell into the hand of the player-editors.

The idea that these texts allow an entry into Shakespeare’s creative process is interesting since it makes a claim for textual scholarship that was previously made for performance. Betterton, and later Garrick, were both believed to have, as skilled actors, a closer relationship to Shakespeare than others, yet now, by studying textual evidence, non-actors, scholars can have such insight too. Such process is encouraged by Steevens as he includes the non-Shakespearean History of King Leir (note the spelling) as a source that, when compared to Shakespeare’s Lear will reveal how much greater this writer was than his contemporaries.

Steevens’s view of the difference between quarto editions and the First Folio is very interesting, but it also raises some tricky questions. If Steevens was inspired by the publication dates and title pages of the quartos to emphasise Shakespeare’s involvement in their production, what does he make of the fact that all these editions also announce performances, and in some cases describe where the play was acted and do not give the author’s name? At the very least, this might suggest that printers and readers, even during Shakespeare’s life, were in fact more interested in the text as property of the actors than as property of the author. Of course, the riposte to this has already been articulated by Pope (and reprinted by Steevens): such reference to performance is just proof of how Shakespeare was obliged to lower his genius to the level of the theatregoing public. A slightly harder question to ask of Steevens would be why he imposes Folio act and scene divisions on the quarto of Richard II, or why he seems to suggest (amongst much contempt for the Folio elsewhere) that the Folio edition of King John is proof that Shakespeare rewrote the quarto to improve it.

There’s no way of getting an answer to these questions, but they all lead back to the enduring curiosity about Shakespeare’s methods, and the extent to which the workings of his genius were recoverable. Perhaps the most important point of this edition, then, for me, is Steevens’s wholehearted belief that textual scholarship offered a way of getting past the corruptions of the stage to at least perceive Shakespeare at work. Revealingly, Steevens first elaborates this idea with a metaphor drawn not from the world of letters but from that of painting. I’ll conclude with this passage, which occurs when this editor wishes to explain why such a collection of quartos is necessary for those who are true aficionados of Shakespeare.

Of some [plays] I have printed more than one copy; as there are many persons, who not contented with the possession of a finished picture of some great master, are desirous to procure the first sketch that was made for it, that they may have the pleasure of tracing the progress of the artist from the first light colouring to the finishing stroke.