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The Author is Who Now?

Shakespeare, it is said, had little interest in the publication of his plays. I take this little bit of information from the introduction to Othello, because it is written there, and continues with, "Those that appeared during his lifetime with the authorization of the company show no signs of any editorial concern on the part of the author." What this apparently resulted in, hundreds of years later, when Shakespeare was dusted off and thrust into school venues, was that, Shakespeare was always edited.

Here, the book continues, "is an example of how problematic the editorial project inevitably is, a passage from the most famous speech in Romeo and Juliet, Juliet's balcony soliloquy beginning "Oh Romeo, Romeo, wherefore are thou Romeo?" Since the eighteenth century, the standard modern text has read,

What's Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot.
Not arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O be some other name!
What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.


Editors have three early texts of this play to work from, two quarto texts and the folio. Here is how the First Quarto (1597) reads:

What's Mountague? It is nor band nore foote,
Nor arme, nor face, nor any other part.
Whats in a name? That which we call a Rofe,
By any other name would fmell as fweet:


Here is the Second Quarto (1599):

Whats Mountague? it is nore hand nor foote.
Nor arme nor face, o be fome other name
Belonging to a man.
Whats in a name that which we call a rofe,
By any other word would fmell as fweete.


And here is the First Folio (1623):

What's Mountague? it is nor hand nore foote,
Nor arme, nor face, O be fome other name
Belonging to a man.
What? in a man that which we call a Rofe,
By any other word would fmell as fweete.


There is in fact no early text that reads as our modern text does--and this is the most famous speech in the play. Instead, we have three quite different texts, all of which are clearly some version of the same speech, but none of which seems to us a final or satisfactory version."

Interesting, isn't it? It certainly raises some interesting questions of authorship--though what, exactly, I'm not sure.

I've never been a real fan of Shakespeare, I have to say. Half of it is I don't enjoy reading plays: it's reading the blueprint from which a play or a film is created from, and there's so much more to add before it becomes a finished product that I just don't get any buzz from it. Since I don't work in the theatre or in film, I never read with an eye on how I will create the final product, and so I can't even give myself that joy of potential creation. (I have, however, enjoyed some of the things that have come out of the Shakespeare plays--Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood is an immediate example, but perhaps only because watched Kagemusha last night, and found it to be an almost incomprehensible mess by the end. Kagemusha is not a Shakespeare based play, but rather concerns itself with a lord who finds a double, and orders that the double replace him for three years after his death. What could have been quite an interesting film, by the end, dissolved in a mess, since the heart of the film--the plight of the double, who became much like the lord, and loved the grandson and people around him--was shunted to the side for the politics and personal stories of the other characters.) Anyhow, what can I say? I just can't read the things for pleasure. Good thing that's not why I'm reading Othello, then, I suppose.

Comments

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coppervale
Mar. 5th, 2007 07:42 am (UTC)
Crap. I've been outed. Thanks a lot, Pynchon.

By the way - I also took the Lindbergh baby.
benpeek
Mar. 5th, 2007 07:45 am (UTC)
we're all aware of how you met your last girlfriend, man. no need to keep bringing it up ;)
drjon
Mar. 5th, 2007 10:37 am (UTC)
Here, have a long s: ſ.

You can also pump one out using ſ in your code.
drjon
Mar. 5th, 2007 10:39 am (UTC)
(A rose by any other name
would never, never smell the same
and cunning is the nose which knows
an onion, that's been called a rose...)
benpeek
Mar. 6th, 2007 01:25 am (UTC)
why would i want to? in this case i was just copying what was directly written in the book.
drjon
Mar. 6th, 2007 09:10 am (UTC)
Nah.

Have a butchers at the first quarto, page 20.

An "f" has a full stroke all the way through the central post, and a full curve to the top.

An "ſ" in serif has a partial stroke to the left of the central post, and a partial curve at the top, except when ligated.

Granted the printing's not so hot, but they're different characters.

(Unless, when you say "directly written in the book", you mean a secondary source. It's quite possible that it's been transcribed incorrectly.)
drjon
Mar. 6th, 2007 09:12 am (UTC)
Ah, I see you mean the intro to Othello. My mistake, apologies.
benpeek
Mar. 6th, 2007 09:16 am (UTC)
nah, it's cool, man. i think you might be right--but they've given the old shakespeare quotes a different font, and the f has a cross that looks suspiciously like the t. but... on very close inspection, i think it should be the other.

ah well.
mattdoyle
Mar. 5th, 2007 01:59 pm (UTC)
theatre is such a collaborative process, so i dont see how this should rock any boats.

as for plays generally...i actually prefer reading them, because essentially, they are still texts containing everything they need to illuminate their narrative. actors and sets are just nuances. i also prefer reading them because the text itself, if it is good, can't really make a crappy production...people who interpret the text can.
angriest
Mar. 6th, 2007 01:07 am (UTC)
I completely disagree: a good playscript is a blueprint towards the construction of a performance. It's nice that people enjoy reading them, but their core purpose is to provide a framework from which the director and actors can construct the actual artwork on the stage.

That's my opinion anyway - and probably why I've never rushed to have any of my own performed scripts published yet.
mattdoyle
Mar. 6th, 2007 05:36 am (UTC)
i completely disagree with your disagreement :P

i think the playscript is much more than a blueprint. it's more like the building itself. performance (actors, sets, direction etc) is the decor and the fresh coat of paint. You can have a nice, well-decorated house, or a bland one, or it could be a crappy house to begin with and no amount of decorative panache can save it.
angriest
Mar. 6th, 2007 05:45 am (UTC)
There was a real trend during the 19th century to write plays for publication - you can spot them today from a mile off because their set descriptions and stage directions are ridiculously excessive. A lot of Ibsen and Strindberg is like that.

As for the importance of script vs final performance, it's a debate that's gone on for years. As a playwright who came to the job via acting, I tend to have a far more "actorish" approach to the importance of the script. I certainly never expect the actors performing my scripts to stick religiously to every word I write - otherwise there'd be no point to the collaborative process.
benpeek
Mar. 6th, 2007 05:52 am (UTC)
you can spot them today from a mile off because their set descriptions and stage directions are ridiculously excessive. A lot of Ibsen and Strindberg is like that.

i can read tennessee williams plays for enjoyment for much of that reason.
angriest
Mar. 6th, 2007 01:05 am (UTC)
Given that Shakespeare would write the plays on really long scrolls of paper, that would then be sliced into pieces with a knife, and each actor's lines glued together to form roughly glued-together scripts of just their lines alone, and then people would sit in the audience and furiously scribble down what was said - including actor stuff-ups, elaborations, improvisations - and then those transcripts would be illegally published, and then years after Shakespeare died two of his associates published a complete Folio works of his plays...

Well there's hardly any authorial authority there at all, is there. I know when I direct a Shakespeare I get every different Folio and Quarto version of the play I have available to me, and edit my way through the whole thing line by line in advance.
benpeek
Mar. 6th, 2007 01:27 am (UTC)
it does seem that there is no authorial authority. makes you wonder why people get so caught up in the whole did shakespeare write these or not...
angriest
Mar. 6th, 2007 01:36 am (UTC)
I have no doubt in my mind that Shakespeare was the writer of his own plays - I just don't put too much stock in treating every word of his plays *today* as some kind of quasi-religious gospel.

I think he's a great writer, in fact I honestly think he's the single most inventive user of the English language in the history of creative art, and easily the greatest playwright of the English language. But I can't stand it when people call him "the Bard" as if he's a proper noun and not just a really talented ex-school teacher who wrote kickass plays.
benpeek
Mar. 6th, 2007 01:45 am (UTC)
yeah, the bard stuff shits me, too.

i guess it just doesn't fuss me if he did or didn't write his own plays. i'm perfectly willing to accept that he did (and alternatively that he didn't). the work is there at the end, and as it gets altered again and again, i don't see the stress of it. but this could be also because i don't much fancy shakespeare either way.
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