All His Children?
Standing up for the Bard's bastards
By Jeffrey Gantz
AUGUST 17, 1998:
THE NEW CAMBRIDGE SHAKESPEARE: PERICLES, PRINCE OF TYRE. Edited by Doreen DelVecchio and Anthony Hammond. Cambridge University Press, 213 pages.
THE NEW CAMBRIDGE SHAKESPEARE: KING EDWARD III. Edited by Giorgio Melchiori. Cambridge University Press, 219 pages.
Usually when Shakespeare's creations are trotted out in the theaters or on TV, it's his model offspring that take center stage: Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth. The problem children are kept back in the wings: works of possible mixed authorship like Henry VI (all three parts could be up for grabs), Henry VIII (Shakespeare and probably John Fletcher), and Two Noble Kinsmen (Shakespeare and almost certainly Fletcher); or plays like Edward III and Edmund Ironside that appear Bard-like to some sympathetic eyes but have never managed to leave the orphanage of anonymous authorship. Lately, though, even the good kids have been getting into trouble. King Lear has been diagnosed as schizoid, with the Quarto and Folio editions looking more and more like deliberately different versions of the same play; Othello is about to follow. Hamlet has never been able to shake its unsavory connection with the Really Bad Quarto of 1603. And there are ugly rumors that some of Macbeth might have been penned by Thomas Middleton.
Meanwhile the New Cambridge Shakespeare has just brought into the front parlor two of the Bard's least acceptable offspring: Pericles, Prince of Tyre and Edward III. Neither play was accorded the legitimacy of inclusion in the First Folio. Pericles, which first appeared in a Quarto edition in 1609 (and that's our only substantive text of the play), has been part of every complete Shakespeare for the past 200 years, but its despairing editors have been unable to explain why it looks like the work of two playwrights. Edward III, first published in 1596 (in a Quarto volume whose title page read: "THE RAIGNE OF KING EDVVARD the third: As it hath bin sundrie times plaied about the Citie of London"), has since been consigned to that most dreaded of authors, Anonymous. Maverick Shakespearean Eric Sams "claimed" it for the Bard in his 1996 Yale University Press edition (rendered, alas, all but unreadable by Sams's boorish polemics), but the New Cambridge is the first series to acknowledge it as even partly Shakespeare's doing.
What's happening here? It would seem Bardic scholars are finally beginning to admit that the world of Elizabethan/Jacobean theater was a much messier place than they've been telling us. In Shakespeare's time, a play was often the product of two, three, or four dramatists working on different parts at the same time, or else serially polishing and updating a previously presented work. The "play" was whatever went up on stage -- and that could and did change from night to night, from season to season, in the theaters' quest for repeat business. (For an example of how Shakespeare's company might have operated, check SHAXICON, the lexical database created by Vassar professor Donald Foster, where, he proposes that the First and Second Quarto editions of Romeo and Juliet were actually alternating versions.) The quality of the plays published over Shakespeare's name suggests that he, like Ben Jonson, did have a sense of authorship, of literary parentage. Nonetheless, some of his children appear, like Much Ado About Nothing's Don John and King Lear's Edmund, to be out-and-out bastards. The Bard's executors are slowly learning to care for them all.
Of Shakespeare's acknowledged children, Pericles has always been the most intransigent. Acts one and two are characterized by jog-trot, end-stopped, rhyming verse that doesn't resemble the Bard's output at any stage of his career. Acts three, four, and five, on the other hand, can stand with The Winter's Tale and The Tempest: late, sublime Shakespeare. But it's not even that simple: there are Bardic touches in the first two acts (most famously in act one scene one, where Pericles muses, "The blind mole casts/Coped hills towards heaven, to tell the earth is thronged/With oppression, and the poor worm doth die for't"), and un-Bardic muddles in the last three (most infamously in the act four brothel exchange between Marina and Lysimachus). Then there's George Wilkins's novella, The Painfull Aduentures of Pericles Prince of Tyre, which appeared in 1908 and is an obvious attempt to profit by the popularity of the play; apart from plagiarizing the play's sources, it draws on the work itself (the way novelizations of popular films do in our own day), perhaps recalling parts of it better than the 1609 Quarto does.
Centuries of scholars have been unable to cut the play's Gordian knot. Why, when Shakespeare's name was on the Quarto, did Heminge and Condell omit it from the Folio? Perhaps they knew it wasn't all the Bard's work -- and yet they included Henry VIII, which appears to be a collaboration between Shakespeare and Fletcher (while excluding another apparent Shakespeare-Fletcher collaboration, Two Noble Kinsmen). Perhaps they recognized that the Quarto text is a mess -- yet by all accounts Pericles was a popular play, so it's hard to believe that the King's Men didn't have a decent script available. As for the Quarto, though it appears hopelessly corrupt, it went through five reprintings. Did the English literary circle of the early 17th century simply not care? Or is this text better than scholars think?
The McMaster University team of Doreen DelVecchio and Anthony Hammond, editors of the New Cambridge Shakespeare Pericles, incline to the latter view. Their preface includes this advisory: "Our edition, we feel, should therefore begin with a mandatory Government Health Warning: THIS EDITION OF PERICLES MAY BE HARMFUL TO YOUR PREJUDICES." Unfortunately, the prejudices here are all on the side of DelVecchio and Hammond. Their position is indeed novel: they hold that Shakespeare wrote all of Pericles and that the Quarto text isn't really that bad. Yet for objectivity and reason they've substituted innuendo and invective -- most of it directed against the innovative 1987 Oxford edition of Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, who made extensive use of Wilkins's novella. "When disintegration was fashionable," we're told, "it seemed to many a reasonable inference that Shakespeare wrote the second half of the play (adding 'touches' to the first half) and that the celebrated Author, Another Hand, composed at least Acts 1 and 2." In fact, "disintegration" -- the idea that composite authorship was the rule rather than the exception in Shakespeare's time -- is no fad but a documented reality.
But are the two "halves" of Pericles all that different? Here's the speech of Pericles that concludes act one scene two:
Tyre, I now look from thee then, and to TarsusThis is competent verse, but it doesn't exactly flow -- mostly it seems written line by line, if not half-line by half-line. Compare the speech with which Pericles begins act three:
The god of this great vast, rebuke these surgesThis opening invocation ranges across five and a half lines as easily as if it were prose, with Shakespeare's characteristic concision and inversion (i.e., "thou that hast command over the winds") -- Pericles could almost be Lear (whose play dates from about the same period). There's nothing Lear-like about the earlier speech.
A previous editor, Ernest Schanzer (the Signet edition of 1965), pointed out how even Gower's choruses change from Pericles's first part to its second. Here's the chorus that opens act two:
Here have you seen a mighty kingYou can decide for yourself which chorus shows greater imagination and mastery of the tetrameter verse form.
As for the stylometric evidence that Wells and Taylor adduce to show that two playwrights worked on Pericles (and that, more controversially, the second was George Wilkins), DelVecchio and Hammond simply state, "We do not regard the stylistic differences in the play (which have often been exaggerated) as in any way conclusive evidence of collaboration," adding, in their patronizing way, "Much more refinement needs to be brought to statistical analysis of elements of usage and style before it can claim certainty; doubtless this will happen as computers get faster and more sophisticated, and programmers learn from their early fumbles." The stylometric evidence, moderated by genuine criticism, remains. One point that DelVecchio and Hammond fail to address is the percentage of rhyme in the play. Each of Pericles's two "halves" (acts one and two; acts three, four, and five) has some 800 lines of verse, but part one has 197 lines that rhyme, whereas part two has just 22. It's hard to believe that the same hand was responsible for both.
It's equally hard to believe some of the arguments DelVecchio and Hammond put forth. There's a notorious crux in act two scene two where one of the knights' mottos -- "Pue per doleera kee per forsa" -- appears to be half Spanish, half Italian; DelVecchio and Hammond hold that this is one of Shakespeare's linguistic jokes, but it would fly over the heads of any audience, then or now, especially since it's not translated. More dubious still is their treatment of the crucial act four faceoff between Lysimachus and Marina. Although he's the governor of Mytilene, Lysimachus shows up at the brothel as a regular customer, and he clearly has every intention of deflowering Pericles's hapless daughter. Yet after she speaks fair words to him, he tries to backtrack, with a transparent fib:
For me, be you thoughtenDelVecchio and Hammond defend this bloated ("be you thoughten"??) unmetrical stuff by arguing that Lysimachus is just trying to save face -- an odd notion, since in Shakespeare lying is usually thought worse than fornicating. Wells and Taylor reconstruct the scene with help from Wilkins; their attempt is ridiculed by DelVecchio and Hammond ("the Oxford adaptation's fantasies"), but their theory of censorship as the explanation for the clumsy change in Lysimachus's character (King James didn't think it right for courtiers to be regular brothel customers) is persuasive. As for their adaptation of parts of Wilkins's novella to flesh out Marina's plea, judge for yourself whether this sounds like Shakespeare:
If you take from meThe last straw from this New Cambridge Shakespeare edition is its claim, on the back cover, that the editors "show the play to be a unified aesthetic experience. The result is a view of Pericles far more enthusiastic than that of other editors." Not true: editors from James Maxwell (Cambridge Shakespeare) to F.D. Hoeniger (Arden) to Ernest Schanzer (Signet) to James McManaway (Pelican) to Philip Edwards (Penguin) to Wells and Taylor have agreed that this is a gorgeous play, even in its Quarto form. The mystery of Pericles remains (perhaps the forthcoming Oxford University Press edition by MacDonald P. Jackson will examine the possibility raised by SHAXICON that the palimpsest of Pericles is an extremely early Shakespeare effort); so does the beauty. For the mystery, this New Cambridge edition will do, but Hoeniger's Arden edition (still readily available) does better. For the beauty, read Wells and Taylor's Oxford Shakespeare.
For all that the New Cambridge Shakespeare's Edward III is a history-making event, the first "new" Shakespeare play in more than 200 years, it may be a less controversial edition than Pericles. Edward III has been on the verge of Bardic acceptance for some time now: Wells and Taylor acknowledged, back in 1987, that "if we had attempted a thorough reinvestigation of candidates for inclusion in the early dramatic canon, it would have begun with Edward III"; and a version is set to appear in the forthcoming revised and enlarged Riverside Shakespeare. This New Cambridge Shakespeare volume is edited by Giorgio Melchiori, Professor Emeritus of English literature at the Università Roma Tre, who has experience with the material: as far back as 1975, when he was asked to edit an Italian edition of the complete Shakespeare plays, he made the decision that Edward III should be included.
The play itself is a straightforward affair. Edward III ruled England from 1327 to 1377; this drama focuses on the beginnings of the Hundred Years War for the French succession, telescoping Edward's victories at Crécy (346) and Calais (1347) and his son the Black Prince's capture of the French king John at Poitiers (1356). It's long on plot, short on characterization, save for the scenes where Edward comes to the rescue of the Countess of Salisbury and is so smitten that he commands her to become his mistress. No surprise that these are the parts Shakespeare is surmised to have written. Here's what the opening scene looks like, as Robert of Artois, a banished Frenchman, upholds Edward's right to the French throne:
Perhaps it will be thought a heinous thingThis ambles along amiably enough, with a minimum of padding, but without the breadth of phrasing or originality of thought that might stamp it as 1590s Shakespeare. (Whether it might be 1580s Shakespeare is an altogether different question.) The verse opens up when the besotted Edward praises the Countess:
She is grown more fairer far since I came hither,And later, in act four, it spreads its wings wider still as Lord Audley tells the Black Prince what awaits them:
Before us in the valley lies the kingQuestions of authorship apart, where has this play been for the past 400 years? The 1596 Quarto was reprinted in 1599, but after that the play drops out of sight until 1656. Melchiori notes that in 1598 King James VI of Scotland and his court were on record as complaining of the unflattering representation of Scotsmen in English drama and that Edward III, which shows King David and his followers to be "boastful and cowardly," was a likely object of their displeasure. One would hardly expect to see the play staged after 1603, when James ascended to the English throne, and that could well explain its absence from the Folio.
Melchiori analyzes the typesetting of the 1596 Quarto to show that (1) it was set from a rough copy assembled, probably, from more than one author; (2) orthographical peculiarities in act two suggest that part was written by Shakespeare; (3) the assembler seems not to have been Shakespeare. He concludes,
"The play originated as a collaborative work destined to one of companies active before the complete reorganisation of the London theatres in 1594. The plotter was not necessarily Shakespeare, and successive stages can be detected both in the devising of the general outlines of the play and in the writing of the book. Internal evidence suggests that Shakespeare contributed in some measure, in conjunction with other more or less experienced script-writers, to the first stages of this process, and that he took over completely in the last stage, when it appeared that Painter's Palace of Pleasure offered a new and dramatically more effective version of a peripheral episode reported by Froissart and already incorporated in the play. Shakespeare alone was responsible for the replacement of the relevant scenes in the early acts."
This makes good sense, since (1) if Shakespeare had written the entire play, one would expect both the plot and the characterization to rise to the level of, say, Richard III or Richard II; and (2) the "new and dramatically more effective version" is the encounter between Edward and the Countess, just that part of the play that's always looked the most Shakespearean. Bardologists (particularly Eric Sams, who insists that every word of the canon was written by Shakespeare) will quibble that Melchiori assumes rather than proves the play is collaborative; that he neither pinpoints the extent of Shakespeare's contribution nor guesses at the identity of the collaborators; and that his proposed date -- late 1592 or early '93 -- hinges on the Quarto texts of Henry VI Parts Two and Three being memorial reconstructions rather than early drafts. And who knows what faster and more powerful computers will make of his arguments. But whatever its parentage, Edward III, like Pericles, has parts that are worthy to be called Shakespeare's. It's good to find someone standing up for the Bard's bastards.
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