Saturday, July 27, 2013

Shakespeare Study: Sir Thomas More

Oh yes, I'm getting close to the end of my Shakespeare Study. July 2013 was month number forty-three. I had started this study by reading the thirty-seven plays, then moved on to the poems and sonnets before tackling the apocryphal plays. In July I read Sir Thomas More.

Sir Thomas More is a play in which many writers had a hand. What has been labeled as “Hand D” has been identified as that of William Shakespeare. Another hand, which added marginal notes and marks, was identified as that of Edmund Tilney, Master of the Revels from 1579 to 1610.
I started this month by reading the version released as a volume in The Revel Plays series. Its title page identifies the play as: “Sir Thomas More A play by Anthony Munday and others. Revised by Henry Chettle, Thomas Dekker, Thomas Heywood and William Shakespeare.”  This volume was edited by Vittorio Gabrieli and Giorgio Mechiori. This volume has a 53-page introduction, and plenty of notes. From the introduction: “To comply with Tilney’s strongly worded request to abolish altogether the first scene and begin with the second would have rendered nonsensical this very careful social and political ‘setting’ of the play. It is therefore unthinkable that the revisers should have started their work on it after Tilney’s injunction” (page 29). This volume provides notes on what Tilney censored. For example, In Act I Scene i, Lincoln’s line “It is hard when Englishmen’s patience must be thus jetted on by strangers, and they not dare to revenge their own wrongs” prompts this footnote: “Significantly, this is the first speech in the play that Tilney censored for its seditious character” (page 61). Another example is in Act I Scene iii, when Palmer says, “That if he had the Mayor of London’s wife/He would keep her in despite of any English.” A footnote on the word “English” reads “Tilney crossed out the word, replacing it with ‘man’, so as to tone down the offence to national feeling that could justify a violent reaction” (page 80). A third example is in Act IV Scene iii, regarding the line “Ubi turpis est medicina, sanari piget,” a line that More speaks to his son-in-law. The line’s note: “’When the medicine is disgusting one is loath to be healed’, Seneca, Oedipus, 517. It is significant that this quotation, implying that it is better to die than submit, was crossed out by Tilney himself” (page 172).  Regarding Act II Scene iii, a note tells us, “The spelling ‘scilens’ of MS, found also eighteen times in 2H4, and nowhere else in Elizabethan texts, has been taken as evidence of Shakespeare’s authorship of this scene” (page 98). Also, regarding the word “devil” in the same scene: “spelt ‘deule’ in MS, an unusual spelling found also in the Quartos of Rom. and Ham. which were printed from Shakespeare’s holographs, supporting the suggestion that hand D is Shakespeare’s” (page 99). Published in 1990.

Related Books

 - Sir Thomas More by Anthony Munday and others – This is a volume by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the text was prepared for performance. It includes a short piece by Martin White on the authorship and censorship of the play. White writes, “While it seems evident that the additional passages post-date Tilney’s censorship (the revisions do address, but don’t fully meet, his objections) there are differing views on whether they date from the early 1590s or some ten years later for a revival. In fact, there is no conclusive evidence that the play was ever staged in the Elizabethan or Jacobean playhouse” (page xvi). This volume also includes an introduction by Ann Pasternak Slater. Some lines are missing from the original manuscript, and it’s interesting to see what the Royal Shakespeare Company places in those spots. For example, in Act II Scene iii, there is a line missing from More’s speech after his line “Though I depart for court my love shall rest.” The Royal Shakespeare Company’s next line is “With you, as heretofore, a faithful guest” (page 31). Also, in Act II Scene iv, there is, due to damage to the bottom of the leaf, a line missing after Lincoln says “I likewise crave they would forgive me too.” The Royal Shakespeare Company includes the line, “As freely as I do forgive their wrongs” (page 34), and interestingly puts this line in parentheses. Later in Act II Scene iv, a portion of Doll’s line is missing. The line is given as “Praise More whose [   ] falls [   ].” The Royal Shakespeare Company simply shortens the line to “Praise More” (page 36). In Act III Scene ii, part of More’s speech is missing, after the line “That can our love from London separate.” The end of the second missing line reads “nought but pride.”  The Royal Shakespeare Company has the lines as, “True, upstart fools, by sudden fortune tried/Regard their former mates with naught but pride” (page 50).  In Act V Scene iv, the beginning of More’s speech is missing. The line is “[   ] wench. Faith, my lord the King.” The Royal Shakespeare Company cuts the first part of the line, and begins with “Faith.” Interestingly, an ellipsis is included before the word “Faith.” Published in 2005.

- Shakespeare’s Problems: Shakespeare’s Fight With The Pirates and Shakespeare’s Hand In Sir Thomas More  by A.W. Pollard & J. Dover Wilson  -  This volume is actually two books: Shakespeare’s Fight With The Pirates And The Problems Of The Transmission Of His Text by Alfred W. Pollard, and Shakespeare’s Hand In The Play Of Sir Thomas More, papers by Alfred W. Pollard, W.W. Greg, E. Maunde Thompson, J. Dover Wilson and R.W. Chambers. The first was originally published in 1920, the second in 1923. And this volume was published in 1967. The numbering of the pages starts over again with the second book. The first book lists as the pirated plays Romeo And Juliet, Henry The Fifth, The Merry Wives Of Windsor, and Hamlet, Prince Of Denmark. “To which may be added as a bad text, though excluded from the First Folio, Pericles, Prince Of Tyre, printed for Henry Gosson, 1609” (page 46). About the line “we have scarce received from him a blot on his papers,” Pollard writes: “The importance of this statement, the justification for calling it remarkable, is that, if it has any meaning at all, it implies two things: first, that the Folio editors, as members of Shakespeare’s Company, had received from him ‘his papers,’ i.e. autograph manuscripts of at least some of his plays; and secondly, that these autograph manuscripts were not ‘fair copies,’ such as Daborne and other authors were in the habit of delivering, but the text of the plays as he first wrote them down. Unless the papers were first drafts the claim made on Shakespeare’s behalf on the ground of the absence of blots becomes ridiculous. The absence of blots from a scrivener’s copy would prove nothing at all; therefore the papers must have been autograph” (pages 59-60). Regarding the punctuation of Shakespeare’s plays, Pollard writes, “But when we find this notably light punctuation in editions of several different plays, set up by several different printers, it seems a fair bibliographical deduction that this light punctuation, though the printers may have corrupted it grossly, yet reflects a light punctuation in their copy, and so, immediately or by one or more removes, suggests what was Shakespeare’s own habit” (page 93).
The second book compares what has been noted as Hand D in Sir Thomas More with the six known autographs of William Shakespeare. In the piece on handwriting by E. Maunde Thompson, Thompson writes, “The Addition is written entirely by one hand, in the native cursive handwriting which was still the common character, taught in the schools and generally used in Shakespeare’s time, and not yet superseded by the encroaching Italian cursive, which however was making its way in England as an alternative current hand” (page 68). And then Thompson writes, “There is a marked distinction between the writing of the first two pages of the Addition and that of the third page; the text of the former is evidently written with speed, the rapid action of the hand being indicated, for example, by the unusual length of the long-shafted descending letters and by a certain dash in the formation of others. These signs of speed generally slacken in the course of the second page, in which a more deliberate and heavier style supervenes – a change which seems to be coincident with the change in the character of the composition – the change from the noisy tumult of the insurgents to the intervention of More with his persuasive speeches requiring greater thought and choice of language” (pages 68-68). Thompson adds, “This liability to change of character under the transient influence of greater or less mental effort constitutes the most remarkable feature in the handwriting of the Addition” (page 69). Regarding Shakespeare’s signatures, Thompson writes: “The first letter in Shakespeare’s hand which satisfies the condition of possessing a peculiarity which may be regarded as personal is the open a, linked with the h, in the surname of signature No. 1. This letter…is remarkable in being formed with a spur at the back, which is no essential part of it but seems to be a personal mark of this hand. And when we turn to the Addition and find therein instances of the open a formed with the spur, we may regard its occurrence both in the Signatures and in the Addition as significant evidence of identity” (page 72). J. Dover Wilson writes, “Not a single noteworthy spelling in the Addition but has its parallel, one way or another, in the quartos” (page 130). R.W. Chambers writes: “What is peculiar about Shakespeare is not that he can see where the crowd goes wrong, but that he can see where it goes right: and above and beyond all, what is characteristic of him and of the author of the ‘147 lines’ is the ability to see both things together. It is not so with his contemporaries. Before they draw a mob-scene, they make up their minds whether they are in sympathy with the mob, or out of sympathy. If they are out of sympathy, we get mob-scenes like those in Jack Straw, or Heywood’s Edward IV, in which the bad qualities of the mob are depicted without relief. If they are in sympathy, then we have such a picture as that given in the other mob-scenes of Sir Thomas More, where the playwrights treat with respect not only the general attitude of the rioters, but for the most part the actual words in which they explain themselves” (page 182).

Miscellaneous Shakespeare Film:

- Shakespeare High (2011) with Kevin Spacey, Richard Dreyfuss, Mare Winningham; directed by Alex Rotaru. This documentary follows several groups of high school drama students as they prepare scenes for a Shakespeare competition. We’re first introduced to a drama class at Los Angeles County High School For The Arts. And we learn a little about the Shakespeare competition, including that current stars were involved in this when they were students – folks like Kevin Spacey, Val Kilmer and Mare Winningham. The students aren’t allowed costumes, props or sets except for four chairs. The second school is PUC Charter School, and the documentary focuses on some of the students there, growing up in and around gangs. At each of the schools, we meet the students, the drama teacher and some of the parents. The differences in the schools are incredible, but the similarities perhaps even more interesting. One of the schools is Notre Dame Academy, an all-girls Catholic high school. (The drama teacher there is a total lunatic. Right away she points out that she’s the only Jewish teacher in the school, and that’s the sanest bit out of her.) At Chatsworth High, Kevin Spacey and Mare Winningham (who both attended the school) visit the drama class, while the students rehearse a scene from Macbeth. The final school we meet is Hesperia High School, in the middle of nowhere. This school has the reputation of being the one to beat. The documentary then follows each of these schools the day of the actual competition. There are fifty-one schools competing, and the scenes come from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth and Othello. We see quick bits of several of the Round One performances (in small rooms), and of many of the Semi-Finals too. For the finals, we see some of the performances of the schools we’ve been following. And we learn the results. But this documentary isn’t really about who wins. It shows what students could do if the arts were properly funded. And it shows how vibrant are the works of Shakespeare (even though a lot of the students veer from the texts), and how they still speak strongly to young folks.

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