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Consider The Plurality Of Form Within One Of Shakespeare’s Plays Notes

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"To be, or not to be, I there's the point", Hamlet [Quarto]. Consider the plurality of form within one of Shakespeare's plays. Hamlet, a play that is concerned with staging and acting, with sequencing and delay, the dramatic coherence between action and word and the authority behind it, is most suitable for a consideration of the plurality of its form. The relationship between the First and Second Quarto texts and the First Folio is as delicate as any of Shakespeare's variant texts. As Hamlet's actions remind as he seeks to erase or un-write the "book and volume" of his memory in order to accommodate the Ghost's command, we see Shakespeare's awareness of the importance of transcription and its changeable nature. This metaphorical act of writing that is represented in Hamlet's diligent notation into his common place book that "one may smile, and smile, and be a villain" draws attention again to the fact that the outward appearance of a text, is not a guarantee of its authenticity or authority. Of the three version of this play, there exists already a myriad of theories and suppositions about their origins and "quality". Earlier twentieth century scholars for example who labeled the First Quarto as a "bad" reported text, is a judgement, which in itself has altered our perceptions of the text. Even in the earlier stages of editorial practice this is evident, such as in Theobald's 1726 edition in which is writes as a note to TLN 2903-8 "Had I never seen any other Edition of SHAKESPEARE than Mr. POPE's, I could not but have suspected Something wrong here, tho' I should not, perhaps, have known so easily how to rectify it." In any speculation upon the history of a text, how or why it was written, reported, transcribed or 'stolen' one should note the consistent tendencies of modern authors to 'improve' a text, to 'clarify' elements of the text. Instances such as the creation of a fourth act after Polonius' murder and the switching of the stage directions indicating the appearance of Ophelia with her hair down and playing on a lute, and the Ghost arriving in a "night gowne" are but three examples of regular interference in the Hamlet text. Maguire in her criticism of New Bibliography demonstrates Greg's ludicrous comment which labels this stage direction ("Enter the ghost in his nightgowne") as "impossible for a serious edition".1 In being aware of these editorial practices, the potential changes that may have already occurred to the 'text' before it reached either its Q1, Q2 or F form seem even more unpredictable, uncontrollable, and unknowable. Countless hands and attempts to 'improve' and 'clarify' the texts may have already occurred in their textual history and as such, the texts that exist today should be seen with the same fluidly as a performance. In theatre productions, each performance is unique and is dependent upon a plethora of uncontrollable forces, likewise are the texts, which are not only altered by the subjectivity of editorial practice, but the serendipitous events that occur through textual and scribal transmission. The question remains however, are these three texts evidence of Shakespeare's revision, products of performance evaluation and improvements by the company, or is there a true master copy from which the others were created, perhaps by hands others than Shakespeare's? Seeing the First Folio as the true copy is often the initial step in the wrong direction. That is not to say that Heminge and Condell where in anyway 'pirates' but, working post humorously, they had to make certain editorial decisions, which are likely to be reflective of the materials and resources available to them, not to mention an economic drive rather than Shakespeare's originals texts. The preface to the First Folio provides evidence for this. The editors pleed that their "abilities [be] considered" as they cannot "go 1

Maguire, L.E, Shakespearean Suspect Texts, Cambridge University Press, (Cambridge 1996) p57

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