Published 2013 (2nd Edition).
Table of Contents:
Preface to the second edition
Part I. Publication:
1. The legitimation of printed playbooks in Shakespeare’s time
2. The making of ‘Shakespeare’
3. Shakespeare and the publication of his plays (I): the late sixteenth century
4. Shakespeare and the publication of his plays (II): the early seventeenth century
5. The players’ alleged opposition to print
Part II. Texts:
6. Why size matters: ‘the two hours’ traffic of our stage’ and the length of Shakespeare’s plays
7. Editorial policy and the length of Shakespeare’s plays
8. ‘Bad quartos’ and their origins: Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, and Hamlet
9. Theatricality, literariness, and the texts of Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, and Hamlet
Appendix A: The plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries in print, 1584–1623
Appendix B: Heminge and Condell’s ‘Stolne, and surreptitious copies’ and the Pavier quartos
Appendix C: Shakespeare and the circulation of dramatic manuscripts
“Whose Shakespeare? Does he belong to the theater or to the academy, is he of the stage or of the page, should we watch him or read him? These are false dichotomies, but the realization that they are false does not mean we can easily escape them. [ ] I argue that the long play texts Shakespeare wrote for many of his tragedies and histories are significantly different from and longer than the play texts spoken by the actors on stage, and that Shakespeare knew so as he was writing them. To call the shorter version “theatrical” and the longer “literary,” as I do in Shakespeare as a Literary Dramatist, is right in that “theatrical” and “literary” refer to the two institutions in which Shakespeare saw his plays materialize, the public theatre and the book trade.”
With this extremely simple statement at the beginning of his book, I was hooked, line and sinker!
Who's there, huh? A Literary Dramatist, a Playwright, or both? On this end - an astonished mind now cognizant of the importance/emphasis of an opening statement. Openers, despite their value, are often taken for granted as simply a first remark or beginning to a conversation, literary work, play, etc. However, this opener, regardless of situation, was not just a simple statement. It was finely crafted for a specific purpose. Is this opening the work of a Literary Dramatist, a playwright, or is the question meaningless?
Let’s delve deeper into Erne’s argument.
Let's use the example of a conversation. A beautiful girl is standing at the other end of a coffee shop - what is the first thing running through your mind? What is the first thing that I should say to her?? You rack your mind for the best possible opener for the situation and you go for it. Unfortunately, the amount of effort that went into this opening statement will not be appreciated. However, when analyzing literature, we can discern the true value of this first sentence and appreciate our interpretation of the author's intentions.
As a habitual reflex, the first thought that entered my mind upon reading Hamlet's opening statement of "who's there" was its companion in the trite, yet pervasive joke of our generation: knock, knock. This onomatopoeia may not have existed in Shakespeare's time, but the underlying message remains the same. The literal meaning of knock, knock is to request the opening of the door. We would not be knocking if we knew in advance that nobody was there; similarly, we would not be asking "who's there" if we had no suspicion of some other entity present.
What is the purpose of the "knock, knock" and the "who's there"? The satisfaction of a curiosity. As mentioned previously, this can be perceived physically as a curiosity for the contents of the other side of the door. However, for our analysis of Shakespeare, this involves the transcending of a boundary that crosses time and space. "Knock, knock" can be represented as our opening of the play and "who's there" can be Shakespeare's request to learn more about the reader. This reader can exist in Elizabethan or modern times, be of any race, socioeconomic status, intelligence, gender, or location. What an opening statement - if one could find the perfect introduction, this is it.
This is why the analysis of literature is pleasurable to all who indulge. Anyone can pick up a play and interpret the work any way he chooses and, simultaneously, Shakespeare opens up the world of his play to all. Unfortunately, finding a similar solution for political and social disarray has not been as profoundly simple.
I think Shakespeare is "learning" which is why it is so easy for us to identify with his characters, they are searching for a new order. Shakespeare reminds me of authors who lived in great transitions like Tolstoy and Faulkner. They are witnessing the decay of an old system which no longer works and searching for an alternative. So they live in that creative tension and mystery which is so true for human existence. Elizabeth I is outlawing Roman Catholicism, she outlaws the Catholic Corpus Christi plays which had been performed in Europe for almost a thousand years and taught most illiterate Christians the stories of the Bible. Now she wants a more literary Drama that will appeal to all levels of society. So Shakespeare gives us many levels of society in his plays. There are plenty of dirty jokes for the groundlings standing in the audience as well as elegant poetry and hymns of ravishing beauty and profundity for the educated audience sitting in the boxes of the theater. He believes in Monarchy and gives much tribute to Elizabeth, but you can feel his restlessness. He knows there is something more than the old chain of being and aristocracy. But Shakespeare can't see it yet. It will take the American Revolution to birth Democracy. I don't think Shakespeare could have accepted the destruction of all aristocracy as happened in the Bolshevik Revolution for example. But he also wouldn’t quite accept the injustice of royalty either, because he is as torn as we are so often searching for a resolution of different extremes of our nature. And that tension, that tension is the truth of who we are, capable of the highest flights of imagination and magic but also so subject to foolish pride and cruelty and blindness.
Shakespeare as a Literary Dramatist. I always believed that Shakespeare can have a dual “approach”, i.e., we need the stage and the text to make him fully available to me. The “Who’s there?” opening is one case. Another case pointing to Shakespeare as Dramatist is the so-called “greenery question” or the Garden in “Romeo and Juliet”.
The enclosed garden is a western literary tradition’s way of telling us by means of scenery that there is someone trying to get inside someone else’s space, mind and heart. “Romeo and Juliet” both have a very intense first encounter in the party. But it is in the garden where they become vocal about it. Let's remember this is Juliet's (or her family's) garden. I want to really think about how the scene develops. Romeo wanders in the garden voicing his thoughts about Juliet. Juliet comes out from her window to the balcony and into the garden. Because of a happy coincidence she speaks first and Romeo can hear what’s in her secret mind about him (by the way this window scene reminds me of a window scene in “War and Peace”). There is really no wooing, whatever wooing Romeo made he made at the party, there’s only the free interchange of thoughts, silliness and vows.
I think there’s no place else where this could have happened. And I think this is so because the garden is not a place entirely domesticated nor entirely wild. There is some sense of safety there, which is why Romeo hides in there. And maybe this is why Juliet decides to speak her mind there instead of inside her rooms. But also some sense of danger from being found out by her relatives. There is also a tug-of-war between proper behavior and letting loose. First we see Juliet kind of flustered by being discovered. But this quickly changes into a mood of confidence towards her lover. I think the contrast could be also between acting civil and acting passionate.
So that’s why I think the Shakespeare used the balcony and the greenery, the two levels: above and below. To convey that what´s going on here is an impromptu meeting between two people in love, and to convey the sense of safety and danger that surrounds this couple. I think this is also why their wedding night happens at her place and their second exchange here at the same balcony.
Another literary imagery is the one about the Forest. Shakespeare places his characters in the primeval forest, beyond the bounds of civilization – and he stands in a great literary and cultural tradition by doing so. He would have known books, performances, and oral tales that used the woods as a place where anything goes. At night in such woods, people were liberated from the strictures of class, gender, law, perhaps even physics. But, equally, they were placed at the mercy of others liberated from those strictures, and of powerful supernatural forces that could usually be held at bay in the daylight of villages, towns, homes, and churches.
To Shakespeare’s forebears and contemporaries, a forest could be a place of magic, of terror, of transformation; “of adventure, love, and spiritual vision… exile and hunt… destiny and prophecy, or, perhaps, many of these at once. Other writers often foregrounded the forest’s terror. Before Shakespeare, in “Morte D’Arthur”, Malory sent two of King Arthur’s knights into the forest to die. Writes Corinne J. Saunders in “The Forest of Medieval Romance”, “the forest landscape through which [Balin] journeys acts against him… the forest is presented as a landscape possessed of its own potentially sinister order… the result is destruction and death.” Long after Shakespeare, Hawthorne sends his Puritan protagonist Young Goodman Brown into the woods surrounding his New England village; there, Brown either discovers or imagines that everyone in his village is in fact serving the devil, and finds an incurable darkness in his own heart that he can never lose.
Shakespeare’s vision of the forest is more benign, though certainly not completely so. He puts Helena and Hermia through plenty of human misery. He never does release Demetrius from his love spell, leading one to question the foundation of Demetrius’s marriage to Helena; the other marriages have their all-too-familiar problems as well.
Still, people have been partnered, roughly as comedic form and Shakespeare's audiences thought they should be. Nobody has died, departs in shackles, or fears eternal condemnation. In contrast with, say, “Romeo and Juliet”, “Othello”, or “King Lear”, nobody’s actions have proven irrevocably catastrophic. And if something happened that you didn’t care for, it can be very easily remedied: “Gentles, do not reprehend. If you pardon, we will mend.” Some problems are fixable, after all. When you are called to waken, it is not from a nightmare, but from a very pleasant dream indeed.
Bottom-line: This book came from left field, and some of the arguments are pretty convincing.
Facts “demonstrated” by Erne (enclosed in commas, because Karl Popper wouldn’t agree with these proofs…):
- Shakespeare was by a long way the most successful dramatist in print in his lifetime and for decades after, i.e., considering the number of editions published between 1590 and 1616;
- “Shakespeare, apart from being a playwright who wrote theatrical texts for the stage, was also a literary dramatist who produced readings texts for the page”;
- “Shakespeare was aware of and not indifferent to the literary reception of his plays in print; he and many of his contemporaries considered his printed plays as more than discardable ephemera, as literary texts of some prestige, and passages from them were included in commonplace books and anthologies”;
- Shakespeare and his fellow players of the Lord’s Chamberlain’s Men were in favor of the publication of his plays while he still lived;
- Shakespeare outsold all other dramatists by a wide margin (on average 20% of plays were reprinted within 9 years of the first publication, but in terms of Shakespeare’s it was 60%);
- Misattribution of plays to Shakespeare as publishers tried to cash in on his popularity;
- Shakespeare’s editions lacked book-layout codes (Latin title page mottoes, dedications, prefatory epistles, etc.) that publishers employed to signal the high status of their contents, implying that Shakespeare didn’t need those “artifacts” to sell books;
- "Bad" quartos (notably Q1 Hamlet, Q1 Henry V, and Q1 Romeo) are the closest we can come to the form in which Shakespeare's plays were performed on the early modern stage;
- Quartos and Folios alike were too long to have been played in the theatres for which they were ostensibly written;
- Any play over 2,300 lines was not performed in full in the public playhouses, i.e., Erne argues that many of Shakespeare’s plays are too long to have been performed in their entirety and that substantial abridgement would have been the usual practice when preparing them for the stage;
- Authors who exceeded this length by a significant margin must have had an audience in mind which was not that of the public stage;
- Ergo, Shakespeare was a "Literary dramatist" who composed plays both for the stage and the page, and not just for the stage.
Impressive to say the least… If you love empirically grounded narratives, this book is for you. Regardless of its “validity”, it’s always nice when someone tries to stir the waters…
On a side note, Erne’s hypothesis is strangely absent from Wells’ and Taylor’s Textual Companion ( through ThemisAthena's courtesy I was made aware of this volume, and what a wonderful edition it was to my Shakespeare's library)
(1) Deborah M. Sabadash, The Modern Language Review, Vol. 90, No. 1 (Jan., 1995), pp. 134-136,
(2) "The Forest of Medieval Romance", Corinne J. Saunders, p. 167