domingo, agosto 06, 2017

The Wars of Academia: "Shakespeare’s Modern Collaborators” by Lukas Erne


“An example of Taylor’s creative approach to emendation in his edition of ‘PericIes’ in the Oxford Complete Works, which contains a number of passages rewritten by the editor with the help of the novella ‘The Painfull Adventures of Pericles Prince of Tyre”, by Shakespeare’s collaborator George Wilkins.”

In “Shakespeare’s Modern Collaborators” by Lukas Erne

Right! Gary Taylor is one hell of a creative editor of Shakespeare. As the Oxford Shakespeare editor, he is an iconoclastic who just loves to chip away at the national bard. The problem is that disintegration of the authorship of the Shakespearean texts is nothing new, and older theories have been explored or superseded by newer theories.

For instance, Shakespeare's contribution to “Henry VI Part 1” was once seen by almost all editors to have no more than apprentice work, retouching the work of older playwrights such as Nashe, Greene, and Peele. Tillyard in 1942 may have been the first modern editor to attribute the play entirely to Shakespeare, but John Dover Wilson in 1952 was equally adamant in assigning the work mostly to Nashe. Modern editors, not incidentally having discovered that the work is actually a lot better than traditionally thought, have tended to reassign the play to Shakespeare. Naturally, Taylor is an exception.

The first two acts of Pericles were long assigned to the known plagiarist George Wilkins, for reasons that have always baffled me. Difference of quality and style can easily be accounted for by accepting the inference from Ben Jonson that an early version of the play existed around 1589; the later acts would then have been revised by Shakespeare according to what a growing minority of scholars (resisted, of course, by the Oxford Orthodoxy of Taylor and Wells) increasingly accept as his common practice. Wilkins was around 13 years of age in 1589. (If this seems weak by itself, take it from me there are many other sound grounds for rejecting Wilkins' hand in Pericles.)

The point is that there is no compelling reason to rewrite the history of Shakespeare publishing just to satisfy the latest theories of scholars with an ax to grind, namely Taylor’s.

However, as for advertising and selling plays under joint authorship and thus dragging the public into the wars of academia, everything goes. I remember a production of Macbeth being advertised as being the work of Shakespeare and Middleton. There was a RNT's current production of “Timon of Athens” being also advertised as "by William Shakespeare and Thomas Middleton." The Oxford Shakespeare stand-alone edition edited by Nicholas Brooke still allows Shakespeare, on its title page at least, sole authorship of Macbeth, but The Oxford Shakespeare complete works edited by Taylor and Wells assigns whole chunks of it to Middleton.

For decades Shakespearean scholarship was subverted by the wholly uncorroborated theory of memorial reconstruction, which for all I know is still being taught as fact in schools. Thankfully, that unhistorical and Occam's-razor-defying theory, or rather, pyramid of theories, has been increasingly debunked in recent years, which perhaps explains why the Shakespearean wars have moved back to questions of authorship. I say to theatre managers and some book authors, hold your horses: "stylometry" is not an exact science, and may well prove to be no science at all (my suspicion is that it's a word invented by a don with a computer program and no training whatsoever in statistical science who is using the term to add the scientific seal of approval to his own preconceived notions).
Taylor is the man, with Wells, who decided to publish the complete Oxford edition with the name Oldcastle instead of Falstaff in “Henry IV Part I”. And who gave “Henry VIII” the title “All is True”. And there are plenty - plenty - of other editorial controversies associated with that edition, which resonate 25 years after publication (such as printed two versions of Lear, including a poem which only they believe to be by Shakespeare, printing a curious version of Hamlet which relegates familiar text to an appendix etc., etc.). So, his inclusion of 'Shakespeare' plays in the Middleton volume is clearly partly for the splash, as well as to highlight the collaboration, but mainly to try to justify the claims for Middleton's greatness.

Macbeth has been known for a long time, hasn't it? The only text we have includes two songs by (or from) Middleton, and the play is particularly short, suggesting that Middleton revised it for performance and that text is the one we have. So not so much collaboration, as posthumous revision.
I think the theories of the new “disintegratonists” like Taylor are quite vulnerable. I do not object to the suggestion of collaborators working with Shakespeare in principle, but it maddens me to see this stated as fact and printed texts published with the names of co-authors (particularly that of a charlatan plagiarist and thief like Wilkins). Even more to see plays advertised with the two names as though it were a certain fact, rather than a bunch of academics quoting each other as authorities.

Gary Taylor having a creative approach. Indeed. “Creative” is not the right word for it.

This faux pas on Erne’s part aside, the monograph is quite interesting. The idea that there was an editor or even more than one is fair enough. Just because the first verifiable publication of a text is in the Folio doesn't mean there wasn't a definitive version - printed or playhouse copy - available to Condell/Heminges et al. Lear we know was an old play 'improved' by Shakespeare in the early 1600s and a few different printed versions (the History & the Tragedy) survive. Some plays we know were printed in quarto but would not have survived without the Folio.

On the 'which editor' part - just to pick one play: 'Twelfth Night' is an exercise in anti-realism - 'more matter for a May morning' says Fabian... so a play about the 12th day of Xmas festivities is set in May? Or, when Feste says to Toby - that the surgeon is drunk: 'an hour agone, his eyes were set at 10 i' the morning'... i.e. all the action of the 2nd half of the play has occurred before midday. Hmmm. Not very likely...None of this needs an editor to explain - Twelfth Night has a clear anti-Aristotelian unity bias. The internal contradiction is a part of what the play is about: theatre (playing) is 'what we believe is happening is true'. Therefore, Malvolio is the centre of the play - as a Puritan he should be immune to these lies or appearances, but he is as susceptible to the imagined world and his imagination as everyone else. What is being asserted is the right of the play to be free of reality. That the play isn't consistent to what an audience has witnessed is not evidence that it was an editor who messed it up. The playwright wrote it like that on purpose.

Erne’s take on “editing” Lear was the best part for me. At the end of the '80s I remember a Portuguese production that set out to follow the revisionists and use the Folio text, not a word more or less. In the course of rehearsal, they found, as I remember, only two Folio cuts that didn't seem to work for them: the loss of the music as Cordelia waits for Lear to wake in Act 4, and the mock trial in Act 3 scene 6, both of which they felt obliged to put back in. The result was a substantial, long but tight production that I went back to many times during its run. I'm not sure about the music - it's an anticipation of the 4 late Romances, of course, but I'm less convinced of their supreme and exemplary status in the canon than many Shakespeareans are. But the 'trial' seems to me a necessity - an opinion that I reached decades ago after seeing the cut and trial-less Folio text of 3.6 performed, back in pre-revision days when this version was thought merely badly under-dressed rather than valid. Admittedly this was in a dire production - open-air at Sintra I believe, with a British Council party that knew nothing of variant texts and expected to see exactly what they'd been studying; but it gave an idea of how the cut scene fits in its context. The structure of what we now call Act 3, which by any standard feels like a unit in its concentration on the heath, can be summed up roughly:

sc1 - Brief dialogue between 2 subsidiary characters.
sc2 - Enter Lear and Fool talking nonsense. Enter Kent. Lear and Fool talk nonsense to him. Kent speaks of shelter and leads them out again.
sc3 - Brief dialogue between 2 subsidiary characters.
sc4 - Kent leads in Lear and Fool talking nonsense. Enter Edgar, talking heightened nonsense, and Lear and Fool talk more nonsense to him. Enter Gloucester, speaks of better shelter, and leads them all out again.
sc5 - Brief dialogue between 2 subsidiary characters.
sc6 - Gloucester and Kent lead in Lear, Fool and Edgar talking nonsense. Exit Gloucester. Lear, Fool and Edgar talk more nonsense. Re-enter Gloucester, speaks of better shelter, and leads them all out again.

This is the impression unavoidably conveyed to audiences predominately unfamiliar with either version and, these days, wondering when the interval is going to be, and even someone who knows most of the text and its history by heart as I inevitably do by now can't help being exasperatedly aware of foot-shuffling to all sides. This play was and remains a revolutionary study of extreme states of existence and consciousness that most people are only too glad of knowing nothing about. Watching a gaggle of madmen stagger knock-kneed on and off again time after time, with barely a chink of enlightenment between entrances and exits as to what the hell is going on, isn't everyone's idea of a recommendable evening out. And the 3rd time is likely to feel like the last straw. Which is no moment to expect an audience to appreciate what some Shakespeare scholars arcanely call the elegance of the cut version of the scene: the undeniable brevity of its deliverance of, apparently, merely more of the same is no help to an audience desperate for clues that still aren't forthcoming - in fact it only makes this scene feel more bafflingly pointless than ever. Why come in again just for that?

But once let Lear decide to direct a play within the play - a recognizable and coherent (if whacky) scene of trial, following a familiar formula that introduces terms and exchanges whose structure can be recognized whoever performs them - and the most exhausted and bewildered Lear-novice has a focus of attention at last. 

I deduced a star for the faux pas. Unforgivable. 

4 comentários:

Book Stooge disse...

I don't give two ***** about Shakespeare stuff, as it just doesn't interest me at all.

However, I love reading your posts about this stuff because I can tell how much it matters to you. In many ways it reminds me of talking with others at church about particular theological points.

Speaking of old Willy, can you recommend some good ebook versions of his plays? I need to begin my read of his plays and I figure next year would be a good time to start, as I'm going to be going through Dickens as well. I have a Complete Works that I bought back in the 90's, but am not sure that I'd be able to actually read through it, as it is massive and the paper is thinner than the paper in my Bibles. Worst comes to worst I can go to Project Gutenburg, as they're free. But a lot of texts there leave a lot to be desired.

Back to your post:
Dragging the civilian population into the Shakespeare Wars. I'm glad you included that line, because honestly, when I hear people going on about Shakespeare and trying to drag those around them into the debate, I wonder what they are trying to accomplish. I consider myself slightly more well read than the average American [ok, a LOT more, as I think most Americans are idiots] and I don't see how this debate affects me at all. It is something that is of interest only to those already interested in the subject. It seems like talking to a Hindu about the differences between what 7th Day Adventist's believe, what Evangelical's believe and what Episcopalion's believe. They are so beyond what the Hindu is concerned with that the differences simply don't matter to him, until he decides to convert to Christianity ;-) THEN it becomes important to him...

Manuel Antão disse...

Shakespeare is also in the details...The more I dig, the more I want to dig...

Check your email my friend. I think I got your email right. If you don't get anything, buzz me.

Manuel Antão disse...

As I said elsewhere, If one dips a toe in Shakespeare’s waters there’s no turning back…

All this nitpicking about who wrote what seems a waste of time. This “scholarship” shapes the interpretation of Shakespeare. It even affects the text of what you read as his plays. It’s aimed at the academic community rather than the reading public but It keeps the research grants coming!

Does it really matter?

We’ve a load of wonderful plays which have given audiences much pleasure seeing them performed over many years. I don’t see it matters a damn who wrote them. The authors, whoever they were, have been dead for many, many years and the plays themselves long out of copyright.

This cult of personality in the creative arts (who did what) is really quite a modern thing and is more to do with the allocation of royalties than anything else.

I call it bullshit. Greene on his deathbed spent his last breath complaining that he’d been ripped off. By someone called Shakespeare, among others. Copyright may be new, but the Claiming Fame game is as old as poetry itself.

Book Stooge disse...

You did get my email correct. I'll be clicking the link tomorrow evening. Just got off a 4hr winning streak in magic so I'm checking in online then settling down so I can sleep tonight :-)

I saw your comments on your wordpress site, but thank you for copying them over here. I doubt I'll dip my toes into those kinds of waters. I just want to read the stuff...