Wednesday, June 10, 2009

In reference to article by Werstine, Paul. “A Century of ‘Bad’ Shakespeare Quartos.” Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 50, No. 3 (Autumn, 1999), 310-333.

Werstine discourses on the memorial-reconstruction hypothesis that the “bad” quartos were reconstructed from memory by an actor/reporter. He analyzes W. W. Greg’s work on the Quarto The Merry Wives of Windsor as the memorial-reconstruction of the Host. Werstine then applies Greg’s methodology to Hamlet, Henry V, and Romeo and Juliet in order to destroy the validity of the memorial-reconstruction hypothesis.

Werstine makes a great argument that the memorial-reconstruction hypothesis of Greg is a failed attempt. However, Werstine smugly likens one of Greg’s fallacies of taking a “few strong correlations of Q with F as evidence that the whole of Q was the Host’s reconstruction of F” to that of a car owner assuming that because his carburetor is light enough to lift, the car owner may pick up the whole car. This one instance tainted his credibility, even if slightly, for the rest of the article.
Werstine focuses on the memorial-reconstruction hypothesis as an assumption that the “bad” quarto is a reconstruction of the play by an actor/reporter – that the “bad” quarto is based on a stage performance. He aptly shows the flaws in the works of Greg, Gray, Wilson, Hart, Nosworthy, and others. While Werstine is against the notion that an actor reported the lines from a performance because of the lack of correlation of lines between Q and F, he bases this argument on the assumption that the actor/reporter must have been honest in his report. Human nature allows for the possibility that the actor as reporter (most scholars agree that the actor/reporter portrayed the smaller roles) may spice up his character(s)’s lines or give his character(s) the better lines. That possibility allows for changes in lines or the order of lines. Another option not accounted for by Werstine is the chance that the actor/reporter, being a lesser actor, may not have been very good at remembering lines.
The one scholar to whom Werstine gives kudos is Nosworthy. Werstine commends Nosworthy’s postulation that an actor listened more carefully to lines while he was offstage so he would make his entrances. Werstine offhandedly notes, “. . . his [Nosworthy] are the only terms on which the hypothesis can be sustained” (323). This, the only objection Werstine lists to his argument, secures only three sentences including a comment that editors who support memorial-reconstruction are embarrassed by Nosworthy’s idea. Nosworthy’s concept deserves more attention than a sarcastic pat on the back followed by a “kick me” sign.
While reading Werstine’s essay, I reflected upon the notions of Lukas Erne that the quartos are the performance documents and the folios are meant to be read. The only contradictory element I found in Werstine was mention of Q Henry V by T.W. Craik that “Q’s cuts are ‘inept’ and ‘irrational,’ and ‘Its text could not be acted’” (329). Werstine also includes dialogue of William Poel, who, when directing Hamlet from the Q, had to replace imperfect lines from the Q with those from the F.
I am disappointed that Werstine did not definitively answer all of the questions he posed in his essay. He stands by his thesis that the memorial-reconstruction does not support the assumption that the “bad” quartos were based on stage performances (or actors rehearsing their lines). He leaves me with the feeling of “I said it, ha! It must be so.”

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