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Who Edited Shakespeare?
July 13, 2013 8:21 AM   Subscribe

New technology has changed scholarship. Whereas previous generations of experts have sought to reconcile the differences between quarto and Folio, current thinking highlights the difficult relationship between the various incarnations of Shakespeare's texts, something made easier by the availability of rare Shakespeare quartos in digital databases such as Early English Books Online. The scholar Eleanor Prosser thus detects "considerable evidence" for the elimination of metrical and stylistic "irregularities" in the Folio: short lines are lengthened to 10 syllables, verbs agreed with subjects, double negatives resolved. In addition, a range of unusual words are added to the text, words not used elsewhere by Shakespeare. Prosser concludes: "somewhere behind the Folio … lies a conscientious and exacting editor with literary pretensions", albeit one "more experienced in the transcription of literary than of theatrical works". But who was it?
Who edited Shakespeare? by Saul Frampton.

Frampton makes the case for John Florio, the son of Italian religious refugees in London who became a courtier to King James, and is today best known as an early translator of Montaigne's essays. Florio's version is available online. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature describes his translations thusly:
He made no attempt to suppress himself as we are told a good translator should. The reader never forgets that “resolute John Florio” is looking out from the page as well as Montaigne. He is often inaccurate, and not seldom he misses the point. But compare his version with Cotton’s, and you will not hesitate to give the palm to Florio. Cotton’s translation is a sound and scholarly piece of work; Florio’s is a living book.
Florio is also known for having made an Italian-English dictionary called Queen Anna's New World of Words, also available online.
posted by Kattullus (36 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have no standing to agree or disagree, but my one take-away is that if I live to be a thousand, I'll still be seeing people trying to find a well-off figure who must have been the genius behind common William's words.
posted by yerfatma at 8:33 AM on July 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


Fascinating! Not conclusive, of course—as he says, we'll never know for sure—but pretty convincing, to me at least. And while I knew something about Florio, I didn't know this:
In all, the OED ascribes 1,224 first usages to Florio – words such as "judicious", "management" and "transcription", but also "masturbation" and "fucker". In this, he is matched only by Chaucer and Shakespeare.
Impressive!

On preview:

If I live to be a thousand, I'll still be seeing people trying to find a well-off figure who must have been the genius behind common William's words.

What a ridiculous takeaway from this; Frampton is not saying anything like that. He is suggesting that certain unusual usages in the Folio were unusual for Shakespeare but not for Florio. He is not saying Florio improved the text; quite the reverse in some cases. Read better.
posted by languagehat at 8:37 AM on July 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


languagehat, while Frampton may not be saying "Florio improved the text", what about Prosser's (according to Frampton) detection
of "considerable evidence" for the elimination of metrical and stylistic "irregularities" in the Folio: short lines are lengthened to 10 syllables, verbs agreed with subjects, double negatives resolved.
?

That seems to me a strong argument in the direction that Shakespeare's original text was "improved" in the sense that modern Elizabethan/Renaissance scholars highly value prosody in Shakespeare's work.

No?
posted by mistersquid at 8:47 AM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


That seems to me a strong argument in the direction that Shakespeare's original text was "improved" in the sense that modern Elizabethan/Renaissance scholars highly value prosody in Shakespeare's work.

No, the explanation is in the pullquote:

"somewhere behind the Folio … lies a conscientious and exacting editor with literary pretensions", albeit one "more experienced in the transcription of literary than of theatrical works"

They are saying the "irregularities" were smoothed out by someone according to the (perhaps dryer) literary taste of the editor. I'm just starting the article, but I don't believe they are making a point of saying that the editing improved the work. They have just noticed changes and are looking for an explanation.
posted by Think_Long at 8:55 AM on July 13, 2013


Think Long, I think I'm communicating my point poorly. Let me try once more.

Many contemporary Renaissance/Elizabethan literary scholars highly value prosody in Shakespeare's works. Ironing out the "irregularities" allows these lines to scan more cleanly (whatever the artistic value of such scansion may be).

So to the hearts of many such literary scholars, "improving" is precisely what this unidentified editor has done.

I'm not saying it is improved, nor am I arguing the article believes the edits improve the original. I am saying that for many prosody purists the edited lines are an improvement.

So my question is: doesn't Prosser provide evidence for such scholars that this editor improved the original?

Or am I missing something here?
posted by mistersquid at 9:00 AM on July 13, 2013


So my question is: doesn't Prosser provide evidence for such scholars that this editor improved the original?

Such scholars would be dry pedants, so why do we care?
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:12 AM on July 13, 2013


I'm a little worried my question is a derail. my apologies if so because Frampton's article is really quite something to be excited about.

The reason I care, Rustic Etruscan, is that the importance of prosody to literary studies cannot be underestimated and understanding the difference between forced (ersatz?) prosody as compared to organic (?) prosody (which would have "natural" variation) would lend strength to scholars who value organic forms over pure (pedantic) structure, for example.

With that further explanation of my question, I'm going to chill out until others have had a chance to point out cool stuff that comes in response to Frampton's article.
posted by mistersquid at 9:22 AM on July 13, 2013


None of the Early Modern scholars I work with are particularly hung up on prosody as the mark of value in a work, by Shakespeare or anyone else...I'm pretty sure that sort of criticism died out several decades ago...

The article is interesting, but like so many things written about the "problems" of textual variation in the period, the author fails to point out that textual malleability and variation of this sort was really not viewed as problematic by the writers and readers of early modern texts, and I'm therefore not sure why we need stress about it either. Textual variations are certainly incredibly interesting and fascinating and worth studying, but the article seems to be rather more anxious about the quarto/folio disparity than excited by it (for example, the author frets that "Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Florio's possible involvement with the Folio is that we may never know its true extent").
Our idea of the fixed and eternal text created by a sole genius author is very much a 19th century invention, and was not really at play during the early years of print culture. This is an age where manuscript transmission was at least as common (if not more so) than print, and the culture of manuscript transmission was extremely susceptible to (what we would call) unsolicited variation, addition, deletion, and scribal error. The availability of the medium of print didn't immediately erase this culture of textual porousness, and the notion espoused in the article that Shakespeare had any sort of sense or care for the "integrity" of his texts is rather anachronistic. ( Arthur Marotti does excellent work on this subject, if anyone is interested.)

While I find the tone of Frampton's inquiry a little odd and old-school, I do think his argument for Florio is fairly compelling, and am interested enough to want to read more about it when he publishes his forthcoming book on the subject.....so I guess the article did its job.
posted by Dorinda at 10:23 AM on July 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


For me a relatively practical as opposed to fetishistic purist reason to care about it is that Shakespeare was himself an actor who intended these words to be spoken on the stage, who would have known how they would sound. More broadly, it is too easy to lose authorial intent with innocent changes; a well-intentioned edit can be based in part on simply missing a point.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:53 AM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


highly value prosody in Shakespeare's work.

"Valuing prosody" has nothing at all to do with "valuing prosodic regularity"--unless you are an early C18th neoclassical scholar who travelled here via time machine. Lots of people would agree that Shakespeare was one of the greatest prosodic masters in the English language (who, indeed, would disagree?), but it is as much for his bold prosodic experimentation (the things he will do with iambic pentameter in the late plays are truly not for the faint of heart) as anything that he is admired.

That said, it would be strictly impossible to determine if the "regularization" that this putative editor engaged in was fixing up irregularities that Shakespeare had deliberately introduced into his texts or if it was making best guesses at correcting errors that had crept into the quartos or other texts against Will's will.
posted by yoink at 11:39 AM on July 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


None of the Early Modern scholars I work with are particularly hung up on prosody as the mark of value in a work, by Shakespeare or anyone else...

A Shakespeare scholar who doesn't care about the prosodic features of Shakespeare's verse would be a pretty sad creature--and one who must grossly miss the point of Shakespeare's plays. Well, I guess they could confine themselves to the prose sections. Perhaps you know Shakespeare scholars who mostly write on Much Ado About Nothing?

I mean, do you really think that the fact that Shakespeare write in verse is a minor and largely irrelevant detail?
posted by yoink at 11:44 AM on July 13, 2013


[One comment deleted; as ever, keep comments focused on the post, not other members. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:59 AM on July 13, 2013


Hey there, just a few quick points:

1. A lot of the things people are getting worked up about here--namely, "value," prosody and intention--are not things that contemporary scholarship is that interested in. That isn't to say that these aren't important but that they don't form the research project of current academic English.

2. Prosody is not equal to scanning well or metrical regularity. (Just tell that to Skelton.) Also, Shakespeare himself is quite different in his own prosody from early to end: compare The Tempest to Romeo and Juliet--he gets much more irregular and sonically denser.

3. Obsession over Shakespeare's original intent is funny, not just since "intention" has been "debunked" as a source of determining artistic purity, but also since Shakespeare's mode was essentially a collaborative one (theater). Assuming for a moment that Florio was a collaborator, what do we think of his artistic intent?

More generally, if you've ever had a chance to compare Florio and Cotton's translations of Montaigne, it's really worthwhile. Florio is a really energetic, expressive writer (while Cotton is still transparent enough to be read today) and it's a funny idea that he could've edited Shakespeare--think of it less as a threat to the Bard and more like somewhere between fan fiction and parallel reality alternate history.
posted by johnasdf at 12:11 PM on July 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


Discussions about the textual sources for Shakespeare's works always leave me puzzled. Would anybody care to tell me whether this edition is worth the money I've already paid for it? It's being released in ebook form in August.
posted by Ipsifendus at 2:32 PM on July 13, 2013


understanding the difference between forced (ersatz?) prosody

I'll tear my drafts and set aside my pen,
repentant of the days when I pursued
a task beyond my ken, skill, wit or taste
and let this comment box empty remain;
the reign of forcéd prosody is dead
posted by ersatz at 4:04 PM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


More on Florio here (cough). Interesting fellow.
posted by BWA at 5:08 PM on July 13, 2013


OK, I'll fess up.

I did it.
posted by pjern at 6:31 PM on July 13, 2013


I've always assumed the shifts in the plays between the quartos and the folio were just due to the simplifications and streamlining that come with repeated performance: effectively, that they got 'workshopped' into their folio form rather than edited.

The idea that Hemmings and Condell hired someone to polish and prune a la Ben Jonson is interesting, though. And Jonson is a good example of the kind of rewriting of 'base plays' into 'pure poetry' that's being argued for.
posted by jrochest at 11:17 PM on July 13, 2013


The great insoluble mystery is the age of Hamlet.

Most sources, indeed all editions, engineer the text and interpret the Gravedigger scene to "confirm" that he's thirty -- all the better to keep with theatrical tradition -- even though the rest of the text, young prince etc, implies otherwise. Plus he's away from school. Plus the average lifespan of a person in the those days indicates he's practically middle aged.

See here.

Aha, but the First Folio, in the First Folio, doesn't say sexton. It says sixteen, implying that he's sixteen and suddenly all kinds of incongruities within the play disappear and it becomes a play about the cruelty of adolescence.

Was this something which happened in editing? An error in transcription which is how every edition of the play chooses to assume, even the Arden supplement edition which is supposed to be a reproduction of F1 but still amends it?
posted by feelinglistless at 2:25 AM on July 14, 2013


Feelinglistless, one of the most likely solutions is suggested on the very page you link to. There was no friggin' way that Burbage could play a teenager at that point, so Hamlet's age was changed after the earliest drafts.
posted by kyrademon at 2:49 AM on July 14, 2013


Many contemporary Renaissance/Elizabethan literary scholars highly value prosody in Shakespeare's works. Ironing out the "irregularities" allows these lines to scan more cleanly (whatever the artistic value of such scansion may be).

You keep saying this as though it were a truth universally acknowledged, but it sounds utterly bizarre to me. Who exactly are these contemporary Renaissance/Elizabethan literary scholars? I mean, of course we all "highly value prosody in Shakespeare's works" in the sense that we enjoy his mastery of poetic technique, but that is so very much not the same thing as saying we want all lines to be 10 syllables, with verbs agreeing with subjects and double negatives resolved, that it might as well be on a different planet. I'm genuinely curious as to where you're getting this idea.
posted by languagehat at 6:32 AM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


... like so many things written about the "problems" of textual variation in the period, the author fails to point out that textual malleability and variation of this sort was really not viewed as problematic by the writers and readers of early modern texts

In some cases, yes... but... if that was generally true, there would be no errata-lists in early-modern books (whereas they are very common); no apologetic or angry prefaces from authors about the errors introduced by printers (see e.g. Ralph Brooke's complaint about Jaggard, printer of the First Folio); no second, third, fourth and nth editions claiming to be new and improved (see numerous title-pages); no market for scholarly editions in the early-modern period (see Antwerp's dominant and lucrative position in that market); the job of 'corrector' would not have existed (see here); no proofing of texts while they were being printed would have been done (see the variant states of most early-modern books, but e.g. the First Folio again, which is full of compositorial variations caused not by a lack of concern, but the opposite - correction carried out, at some pains, during production. Last, if it was generally the case that writers and readers didn't see textual malleability as problematic, the printer of the Wicked Bible would not have been fined into poverty.

and I'm therefore not sure why we need stress about it either.

I care about lots of things that the early-moderns didn't, and vice-versa. Much of the interest in history and literature for me is finding out what.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 7:39 AM on July 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Discussions about the textual sources for Shakespeare's works always leave me puzzled. Would anybody care to tell me whether this edition is worth the money I've already paid for it? It's being released in ebook form in August.

Ipsifendus, here is a short introduction to the state of the Shakespearean text.

Shorter version: we have no manuscripts of Shakespeare, apart from (maybe) a short section of Sir Thomas More and some signatures. We rely on the printed editions for authority. However, these vary - not just between editions, but within them. A decent critical edition will state which editions it has used; ajudicate between variants; explain significant variants from the choices the editor has made; and provide notes and commentaries. Whether or not any one edition is worth your money depends on how much you are interested in the various major and minor textual issues, and how much and what kind of commentary you want. Take your pick: there are lots of good choices, and Shakespeare editing (not my trade) is still good business.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 7:58 AM on July 14, 2013


Most sources, indeed all editions, engineer the text and interpret the Gravedigger scene to "confirm" that he's thirty ... in the First Folio, doesn't say sexton.

Well, it's a little more complicated than that. There are certainly contradictions in the texts, but it's not as simple as a (possible) typo of sexton/sixteen.

First Clown
Here's a skull now; this skull has lain in the earth
three and twenty years.


HAMLET
Whose was it?

...

First Clown
This same skull,
sir, was Yorick's skull, the king's jester.

...

HAMLET
Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath
borne me on his back a thousand times ...

That's how the scene plays in both the Second Quarto and the First Folio, with the implication that Hamlet is at least 24, and probably older, because if he was one when Yorick gave him piggyback rides, he wouldn't remember it.

It's misleading to suggest that editors "engineer" the text to make Hamlet 30. To not do this, they'd have to include (ambiguous) text from the First Quarto, which most feel is inferior to Q2 and F. There are many objections to it as a piece of poetic drama.

In the First Quarto, the gravedigger says this,

Clowne
Looke you, heres
a scull hath bin here this dozen yeare,
Let me see, I euer since our last king Hamlet
Slew Fortenbrasse in combat ...

It's unclear what this means in terms of Hamlet's age. Did Yorick die when Hamlet was a teenager or when Hamlet was older?
posted by grumblebee at 10:49 AM on July 14, 2013


I seem to remember a similar problem with time in Othello, where Othello's jealousy feels like it should have developed over a long time, though in fact it develops over a day or two. I can't remember the relevant passages.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:12 PM on July 14, 2013


languagehat, when I was a English graduate TA (coursework early 1990s) at the University of Virginia, my faculty did not emphasize prosody in Shakespearean literature, so part of your point makes sense.

What doesn't makes sense is your earlier out-of-had dismissal of yerfatma's sense that an editor has "improved" upon Shakespeare's works given Prosser's discussion of the regularization of meter.

When I was a faculty at Ohio University (2002-2009, specializing in Post-1945 American Literature), my colleagues who specialized in Elizabethan and Renaissance English Literature actually made quite a bit of noise about the importance of prosody in teaching Shakespeare to undergraduates (not so much graduates).
posted by mistersquid at 4:06 PM on July 14, 2013


In other words, my earlier responses do not reflect so much a personal valuation of rigid metrical regularity as much as they reflect my desire to challenge your quick and peremptory dismissal of the point of view than an editor "improved" the text, given prosody is relevant to understanding and teaching Shakespeare.

I don't personally assert prosody is the most important part of Shakespeare's work nor that mind-numbing metronomic patterning is superior to metrical variety and approximate rhyme. I am suggesting that for some (my former colleagues concerned with teaching Shakespeare to undergraduates, for example), the regularization of meter identified by Prosser could be perceived an improvement upon the original.
posted by mistersquid at 4:24 PM on July 14, 2013


When I was a faculty at Ohio University (2002-2009, specializing in Post-1945 American Literature), my colleagues who specialized in Elizabethan and Renaissance English Literature actually made quite a bit of noise about the importance of prosody in teaching Shakespeare to undergraduates (not so much graduates).

Why was prosody important in teaching Shakespeare to undergraduates, and not to graduates?
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:51 PM on July 14, 2013


My sense as a non-specialist (thought I did teach several lecture sections of Shakespeare as a TA at UVa) was that prosody was an essential feature in which undergraduates who had difficulty even reading Elizabethan English needed training. Otherwise, undergraduates often would not even hear the musicality of Shakespearean verse when reading (often silently).

As a faculty, my colleagues expressed similar concerns which was corroborated my own experience in how deaf undergraduates are to the prosody of 20th-century verse.

Graduate students are much more advanced and generally are able to scan for meter and to hear acoustic rhyme (as well as detect visual rhymes characteristic of 20th-century poetry). However, advanced prosodic study was not my specialty nor was it a specialty of my Renaissance colleagues. Because research universities require specialists to teach advanced topics, teaching graduate students prosodic analysis was not something my department did. Other departments where specialists (such as Helen Vendler, Susan Stewart, and Marjorie Perloff, for a few examples) taught would be more appropriate for graduate research in poetry and prosody.

Which is not to say prosody is not discussed in graduate programs without prosodic specialists. Only that a basic-to-intermediate level of ability in prosodic analysis is expected of graduate students and basic prosodic analysis is (usually) explicitly part of the curriculum for undergraduates.
posted by mistersquid at 8:33 PM on July 14, 2013


Reading the original piece, I don't get the sense that Frampton thought that Florio had improved Shakespeare's works. I'm no specialist, but it seems Frampton believes that only Florio, or someone who valued Florio's particular kind of preciously correct English, could have considered his changes to have been improvements. Consider this paragraph:
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Florio's possible involvement with the Folio is that we may never know its true extent. As Othello says in lines added to the Folio: "I thinke my Wife be honest, and thinke she is not." While with plays such as Hamlet, Othello and King Lear we can compare the Folio against the quarto, for other plays – such as Antony and Cleopatra, The Tempest and Macbeth – we cannot. Half of Shakespeare's works were published for the first time in the Folio; the question remains whether they were subject to Florio's "wary correction". Our knowledge of changes made to the quartos, as well as Florio's treatment of Boccaccio and Montaigne, suggests that there is a strong chance that they were. And yet we have no sure way of knowing. We cannot tell for certain whether the words were written by John Florio or by William Shakespeare.
Florio's possible involvement has enough "disturbing aspects" to have one that exceeds the others. Frampton then ends the piece with an ominous quotation from Malvolio, a possible satire on Florio. This isn't how anyone writes about people they admire.

The first comment in the thread dismissed Frampton's argument by associating it with the Baconian/Marlovian conspiracy theories that have persevered so long, but that association would only hold if Frampton thought that Florio improved, or even wrote, Shakespeare's works. No one who read the article could possibly think that to be Frampton's opinion. That's why languagehat was so dismissive of yerfatma's comment.

Now it may be, from the perspective of someone who held a particular set of literary values, that Florio's changes were improvements; and it may be that unlearned undergraduates may find regular meter easier to understand than irregular; and it may be that some Florist somewhere believes Florio to be the True Genius behind Shakespeare; but that doesn't make yerfatma's comment, which was the thing languagehat actually dismissed, any better, because it ignored the article we were supposedly going to talk about.

***

I don't personally assert prosody is the most important part of Shakespeare's work nor that mind-numbing metronomic patterning is superior to metrical variety and approximate rhyme. I am suggesting that for some (my former colleagues concerned with teaching Shakespeare to undergraduates, for example), the regularization of meter identified by Prosser could be perceived an improvement upon the original.

Sure, for some people, Florio's changes could be perceived as improvements. In the 18th century, lots of people liked the various breeches-and-snuffbox-appropriate Shakespeare adaptations. Now we hew closer to the texts we have. It's trivial to argue that someone somewhere might think some variant on a thing to be an improvement on same, especially when no one was denying it in the first place.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:25 PM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


> When I was a faculty at Ohio University (2002-2009, specializing in Post-1945 American Literature), my colleagues who specialized in Elizabethan and Renaissance English Literature actually made quite a bit of noise about the importance of prosody in teaching Shakespeare to undergraduates (not so much graduates).

I don't understand what this has to do with what yerfatma wrote or with my response. Hopefully Rustic Etruscan made it clearer to you than I apparently was able to.
posted by languagehat at 5:43 AM on July 15, 2013


The part of my explanation you quote, languagehat, was a response to your direct question
Who exactly are these contemporary Renaissance/Elizabethan literary scholars?
I think Rustic Etruscan and I are in agreement. I never thought Frampton believed Florio's changes were an improvement. I also agree (and have mentioned), Florio's changes might be an improvement to some.

When you, languagehat, say
What a ridiculous takeaway from this; Frampton is not saying anything like that. He is suggesting that certain unusual usages in the Folio were unusual for Shakespeare but not for Florio. He is not saying Florio improved the text; quite the reverse in some cases.
one of my responses is that the editor's regularization of meter may be interpreted from the point of view of strict prosodists as an improvement.

All this said, I am just now seeing where your rebuke of yerfatma comes from (which Rustic Etruscan also explicitly points out). That is, I did not recognize, until now, yerfatma's initial statement as a dismissal of Frampton's arguments which, of course, is not persuasive given Frampton's thoughtful and intriguing analysis.

Read better, indeed!
posted by mistersquid at 7:48 AM on July 15, 2013


Here's what languagehat said: "He is not saying Florio improved the text."

Here's what you say now: "I never thought Frampton believed Florio's changes were an improvement."

You two appear to agree. You appear to have agreed from the very beginning. Why did you raise this incredibly pedantic point?
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:06 AM on July 15, 2013


1. I did not realize yerfatma was discounting Frampton's research.

2. Languagehat explicited and rejected yerfatma's mistaken insinuation that Frampton claimed Florio improved the text.

3. I came in and defended the idea that someone could see Florio's changes as an improvement.

The pedantry was motivated by my missing 1. which led me to perceive 2. as a needless attack.

You're right, Rustic Etruscan. I never substantially disagreed with languagehat, and I apologize for defending a point that neither requires nor (here) deserves defending.
posted by mistersquid at 11:36 AM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks, that was much appreciated. You do MeFi proud.
posted by languagehat at 6:26 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


^^
posted by mistersquid at 7:14 PM on July 16, 2013


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