Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

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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.
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