Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Did Shakespeare Annotate this 16th Century Source for Hamlet?

Did Shakespeare Annotate this 16th Century Source for Hamlet?

by Tony Tambasco

The Guardian recently reported that independent researcher John Casson noted that marginalia in the British Library's copy of Fran├žois de Belleforest’s Histoires Tragiques, a possible source for Hamlet, are likely to be Shakespeare's own notes, presumably to assist him in writing Hamlet. While an exciting possibility, there are several problems with Casson's reasoning.

"Who else was interested in this text in the late 16th century? There is only one person we absolutely know was interested in it, and that’s Shakespeare. No other person has been shown to definitely have an interest in this text," says Casson. But if we treat his first question as an honest one, the answer could be just about anyone. Casson's presumption is that, since we have a play by William Shakespeare from the 16th century for which a section of Histoires Tragiques may have been a source, no one else in the whole of early modern England (1), let alone the city of London, might have taken an interest in this book. With the path to royal succession in question, since it was clear that that Queen Elizabeth I would not herself have a child, being the foremost political question of the day, hat logic is simply incredible. Since one of the underlined passages that Casson uses to argue his point related directly to the question of succession, we can only stand his above question on it's head: with the fate of the nation at stake, who wouldn't be interested in questions of succession?

Casson also makes the point that these notes must pre-date Shakespeare's Hamlet because the notes make no mention of Shakespeare's play. "there is no mention of the play. If you were annotating after the play, you would put: ‘This was Shakespeare’s Hamlet; he refers to this.’ You wouldn’t be coy," he says. Which carries with it the dangerous presumption that just about anyone in early modern London could be relied upon to know or care about Shakespeare's Hamlet. Hamlet, for us, is one of the great works of Western Civilization, and Shakespeare the greatest dramatist of the same. For early modern Londoners, he was an actor and a writer, more or less equivalent to comic book authors, and certainly far less interesting than any of the wealthy aristocrats who were the real centers of power and fashion. Hamlet might have, at best, enjoyed the sort of response that a movie like Captain America: The Winter Soldier did upon its release, and in all likelihood wouldn't garner special attention from the political class or the traditional guardians of culture in early modern London.

And we also have to admit the possibility that, even if the annotator of this book was familiar with Hamlet, he might not have had it in mind when making these annotations. It is just as likely that a lawyer, having seen a production of a play called Hamlet, written by someone other than Shakespeare and now completely lost to us, was intrigued by the alien idea of king's succeeding to the throne in alternate ways than the English system, and becoming more intrigued by other aspects of the story, made his complete set of notes. This scenario is complete speculation, but it is no less speculative than Casson's.

Casson is an anti-Stratfordian, and believes the true author of Shakespeare's plays was the courtier Sir Henry Neville. That is simply not true, as better researchers than I have continually noted, and as Brian Vickers and John Mullan note in The Guardian article. But if Casson were correct, and Neville was the man behind Hamlet and the other plays, his entire argument might make more sense. Based on extent scenes in French from Shakespeare's plays (most notably Henry V), Shakespeare from Stratford, the actor and playwright, while clearly possessing some proficiency with the French language, probably did not know French well enough to use a book written in French as his primary source for anything, especially when an English translation was published just one year after the book Casson examines.

While Casson's theory is intriguing, it is based on the idea that no one else might have found the ideas in this particular section of Belleforest’s Histoires Tragiques especially noteworthy, and there's little reason to suppose that. Casson likewise assumes that anyone else would have necessarily been reading and noting Shakespeare's sources like a modern secondary school student working on a term paper, and given the status of plays in Shakespeare's London, that's pretty clearly not the case, either. There is simply insufficient grounds to presume that this is Shakespeare's book and the notes in Shakespeare's hand, and there is at least some extant evidence to the contrary.

If you're interested in reading Casson's article in the British Library's journal about his findings, which includes photographs of some of the pages in question, you can find that here: And if you're interested in reading an English translation of Belleforst's Histoires Tragiques that may serve as a source for Hamlet, you can find that here:


1. Casson admits that the provenance of the copy of Histoires Tragiques is of an unknown provenance before being added to the British library by King George III.

Tony Tambasco is the artistic director of Bad Quarto Productions. 

Sunday, February 4, 2018

A Change of Format

We're changing things up a little bit here at Bad Quarto Productions. Until 2016, we existed as a project-based company: we produced plays when we had a sufficient interest among our membership, and felt like we had gained enough expertise in the textual and performance history of rarely performed plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, and modern plays we felt could be illuminated by those staging conditions, to be able to provide new performance histories for these works, along with para-textual commentary from scholars and artists. Our goal in this approach was to make these plays more accessible to readers, scholars, and theatre artists, and begin a broader conversation about what it means for a play to be "Shakespearean."

In 2016, there was sufficient interest from our company members that we experimented with our first planned season of plays, and we continued this experiment in 2017, but the truth is, we're not happy with the results. We're a small company with limited resources, and committing so much of our time and attention to producing plays means we barely have any of either to create the para-textual commentary. While we are pleased with the work of all involved with our production of Cupid's Revenge, for example, we were unable to explore it as richly from a scholarly perspective, or document the artistic process as richly as we have become accustomed to doing in the past.

It doesn't matter to us if our productions are the first in centuries if they are also the last for centuries, and for 2018 we have decided to return to our original format. We are now examining titles we might like to explore, and speaking with artists we might like to work with later in the year. And along the way, we hope to flesh out some of the work we've done in the past year to help shed light on some of these dingy corners of Shakespearean text that we love so well.

Thank you for joining us, and we hope to see you again soon!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Now Accepting Proposals for Spring 2018

We are now soliciting proposals for our 2018 season! We're seeking proposals from directors or ensembles for production in the spring (mid-March - late April) of 2018 in NYC. Proposals should include:
1) A play that is either a non-Folio variant of a play by William Shakespeare or a play by one of Shakespeare's contemporaries with a running time of about 90 minutes (cut or uncut).
2) An argument for the play that addresses why the play needs to be seen now, and the director's / ensemble's personal connection to the play and what they most wish to explore.
3) A director's / ensemble's resume with links to online portfolio sames.
Please email proposals to artistic director Tony Tambasco at Please submit any attachments as a pdf. To be considered for spring 2018 production, please be sure to email your proposal by 30 November 2017.
Please note that Bad Quarto Productions is committed to casting diversity of all kinds in its productions, and does not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or personal or political philosophy. By submitting a proposal, you agree that you either share those principles, or at the very least that you will honor them in your work with us.
All proposals that meet the above criteria will be considered, but due to the volume of responses we anticipate receiving, we regret that we will not be able to respond to all submitters.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Why Anna Karenina Lives?

Part of Bad Quarto Productions' mission is to explore modern plays using Shakespearean staging conditions: this serves the dual purpose of illuminating the effects of early modern playing conditions on plays for which they were not written, and for engaging with the early modern staging condition of presenting new plays. Hamlet was a new play once, after all, and while we revere (some of) the plays of Shakespeare and (some of) his contemporaries, early modern audiences tended to crave newness.
The cast of Bad Quarto Productions’ Anna Karenina Lives! (from left to right: Rachel Marie Kemp as Anna Karenina, Kirsten Egenes as Sophia Tolstoy, Brigette Estola as Mae West, and James Overton) sings their curtain number. Written by Germaine Shames. Directed by Tony Tambasco. Choreography by Mike Canestraro. Musical Direction by James Overton. Costumes by Joanne Famiglietti. Photo by James M. Smith. 

But that's why we do new plays, generally, not why we're performing Anna Karenina Lives!

Anna Karenina Lives! is the clearest departure from a Shakespearean play that we've done to date; all the others that we've done have had some connection, direct or indirect, to Shakespearean plays or dramaturgy. But of all the modern plays we've done, Anna Karenina Lives! perhaps best encapsulates the spirit of Bad Quarto Productions. 

Anna Karenina Lives! is a musical vaudeville that remixes Anna Karenina, the life of Sophia Tolstoy, and the life and art of Mae West in a narrative that challenges the traditional readings of a novel that was voted "greatest book ever written" by a 2007 poll of authors in Time. Germaine Shames looks through the academic bravura of the novel in a way that even other stage adaptations have wrestled with, and looks to the heart of the eponymous character through the lens of the 21st century, exemplified by the century-ahead-of-her-time Mae West. The "standard" readings of Anna Karenina are offered only to be brushed aside as irrelevant to the needs of a 21st century woman, and Shames offers a template for reading the novel that insists that we read critically, and through the lens of our own modern relevance. 

Mae West (Brigette Estola, right) teaches Sophia Tolstoy (Kirsten Egenes) the shimmy in Bad Quarto Productions’ 2017 production of Anna Karenina Lives! By Germaine Shames. Directed by Tony Tambasco. Choreography by Mike Canestraro. Musical Direction by James Overton. Costumes by Joanne Famiglietti. Photo by James M. Smith. 

Anna Karenina is a novel so rich and large in scope that it defies easy description or summary, but even those who haven't read it will identify it as the novel where the heroine throws herself in front of a train. In creating a parallel between Anna's regrets and Sophia's, Shames asks the audience to consider the world in which that defining moment is avoidable, and Anna and Alexei Karenin are able to grow beyond their circumstances. It is a reading that dares us to imagine that to be human is the most heightened form of existence there is.

Shames's reading also asks to consider Anna Karenina through the eyes of two very different women, who were both pioneers in their own way. Sophia Tolstoy, Leo Tolstoy's wife, who was a diarist and pioneering photographer, but who also lived to see everything she loved swept away by the Communist revolution, and Mae West, an artist and social activist so far ahead of her time that we still fall short of her sex-positive, Feminist philosophies have competing readings of the novel, and of the nature of reading. Sophia looks back in fatalistic regret, but Mae looks forward with the determination of an architect of the future: the former laments that a "flawless work of art" cannot be changed, the latter insists it needs to be. 

Mae West (Brigette Estola, right) seduces Alexei Karenin (James Overton) in a bid to get him to loosen up a bit in Bad Quarto Productions’ 2017 production of Anna Karenina Lives! By Germaine Shames. Directed by Tony Tambasco. Choreography by Mike Canestraro. Musical Direction by James Overton. Costumes by Joanne Famiglietti. Photo by James M. Smith.
Right now, we are all Mae West, insisting that the system needs to change. For centuries, our cultural narratives have been dominated by white, male elites, and it is a testament to the success of Liberal Arts education that individuals of every race, gender, and socio-economic class can insist that their narratives be heard. In presenting Shakespeare's plays the way in which we present them, it is partly our aim to liberate Shakespeare from the prison of high drama and English literature classes that elites have placed him in, and restore his work to its rightful place on public stages, warts and all, where Shakespearean plays can truly be for everyone. While we may sometimes fall shy of our goals to make our plays as diverse as our audiences, they are goals that we continually strive for. 

And they are goals that any theatre company that hopes to be relevant in the 21st century needs to work for. 

While Anna Karenina Lives! breaks the mold of modern plays that Bad Quarto Productions has presented, it confronts the most critical issue of the modern stage head-on: who are the classics for. And the play's answer is the same as Bad Quarto's: a resounding everyone.  

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Meet the company of Anna Karenina Lives!

Meet the company of Bad Quarto Productions' Anna Karenina Lives!

Brigette Estola (Mae West) is a Brooklyn-based theatre creator and performer, poet and stand-up comedian. She is a Michigan native and a graduate of Carthage College. Most recently, Brigette produced and directed her play Up Above & All Around in the New York Theatre Festival's Summerfest. Favorite roles include Ursula (The Little Mermaid), Roberta (Danny & the Deep Blue Sea), Janis Joplin (Beehive! The 60's Musical) and Dot/Marie (Sunday in the Park with George). She's forever thankful and grateful for all those who support and push her daily.

Germaine Shames (author), recipient of Arizona’s Fellowship in Fiction, is author of the award-winning  novels, Between Two Deserts and You, Fascinating You. Writing under the pen name Casper Silk (Hotel Noir, Echo Year), she has been compared to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Graham Greene and P.D. James “on steroids”. A returning playwright, Shames majored in Theatre as an undergraduate. Following a successful career as a novelist and journalist, she wrote her first suite of short plays, Wars of the Flesh, which was voted into Tucson’s 2014 New Play Festival. Her first musical, the epic historical drama You, Fascinating You, was a finalist in the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival and under contract with a commercial producer. Songs from the show have been performed in Paris and New York City cabarets. Learn more at

Kirsten Egenes (Sophia Tolstoy) is thrilled to be making her debut with Bad Quarto Productions. NY: Charles and Diana: The Musical (Morningside Players), Oliver! (The Secret Theatre), The Importance of Being Earnest (Titan Theatre Co), The Jolly Holiday Carolers. Past favorites include Crimes of the Heart (Lenny), Ordinary Days (Deb), Lucky Stiff (Annabel). Doing great work as a proud grad of Gettysburg College. This is for Gail.

Mike Canestraro (choreographer) recently played Henry Higgins as  well as choreographed My Fair Lady for Plaza Theatricals, directed and choreographed Evangeline: A Musical Journey at Adelphi University; A South Shore Summer; Blame it on the Movies; and The Melody Lingers On for the Madison at Molloy, starring such artists as Kathryn Crosby, Rob Gallagher, Marie Danvers, Sarah Rice and Angelo Fraboni. Mike previously collaborated with Tony Tambasco on Merrily We Roll Along for the Drama League NYC. Mike has staged and restored countless musicals including several for the Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hart estates, at such venues as The Gateway Playhouse, College Light Opera Co., Five Towns, St. Joseph's College, and many Long Island school districts. He is a member of AEA and Lincoln Center Theatre's Directors Lab. Mike has twice won the Innovation in Theatre Award from the STARS AWARDS, plus a third Judge's Choice Award for his production of Ah, Wilderness! He has appeared Off-Broadway in Give My Regards to B'way. Student Prince, Merry Widow, New Moon and at such NYC venues as the Russian Tea Room, Don't Tell Mamma, and the Liederkranz Foundation. Regional credits include Maine State Music Theatre and Theatre by the Sea. TV: Royal Pains, Macy's Parade.

James Overton (music director / Vronsky, Karenin) is performing in his fifth show with Bad Quarto Productions, and this will be his second play with the company as Music Director. James was recently the Music Director for Bad Quarto's Cupid's Revenge earlier this year, in which he also performed. Other credits with Bad Quarto include Pastor John Ball in The Life and Death of Jack Straw: A Notable Rebel; The Ghost, Fortenbrasse, and the Player Duke in Hamlet: The First Quarto; and the Lord in The Taming of a Shrew. Other NYC theatre credits include Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night with Swiftly Titling Theatre Project. James has also appeared with New Hampshire's Shakespeare in the Valley as Launce in Two Gentlemen of Verona as well as Oberon and Theseus in A Midsummer Night's Dream. He received his Bachelor's Degree from Bennington College where he starred in Don Juan, and Myths and Hymns. James is very excited to perform in something less than 100 years old.

Rachel Marie Kemp (Anna Karenina) is an actor/singer/dancer based in NYC. Originally from the Adirondacks, she has worked there regionally; favorite roles include: Baskerville (Actress 1), The Seagull (Nina), and A Midsummer Night's Dream (Hermia). In Brooklyn: Parade (Iola Stover), Singin’ in the Rain (Zelda), and Les Miserables (Cosette u/s). Rachel has performed at venues in the city ranging from Carnegie Hall to the Brooklyn Dodgers' MCU Stadium. Love always to the Kemp Fam.

Tony Tambasco (director) is the Artistic Director of Bad Quarto Productions, where he has directed The Life and Death of Jack Straw: A Notable Rebel; Hamlet: The First Quarto; The Taming of a Shrew; The Cronicle Historie of Henry the Fift, The Ballad of Dido; The Merry Devil of Edmonton, and others. Some other favorite directing credits include Julius Caesar with Sweet Tea Shakespeare in Fayetteville, NC; As You Like It with The Weathervane Playhouse in Newark, OH; An Experiment with an Air Pump with Clarkson University's Theatre Co., and Closer with the Catalyst Theatre Co. in Burlington, VT. Tony holds an MFA in directing and an M.Litt. in Shakespeare and Performance from The American Shakespeare Center's partner program with Mary Baldwin University. Tony's writings on Shakespeare, directing, and other theatrical topics have appeared in Didaskalia: The Journal for Ancient Performance, The Marlowe Society of America Newsletter, Breaking Character Magazine, and The Shakespeare Standard. You can learn more about his work at

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

When first quartos aren't necessarily bad quartos

Part of our guiding philosophy here at Bad Quarto Productions is that there's no such thing as a "bad quarto." While Laurie E. Maguire, in Shakespearean Suspect Texts, makes a case that certain of the printed playbooks do bear markers of what the New Bibliographers referred to as "memorial construction," that is not the same as saying that memorial reconstruction is a sure sign of literary piracy as Alfred W. Pollard, W. W. Greg, and John Dover Wilson understood it. To the contrary, Peter W. M. Blayney, in "The Publication of Playbooks," demonstrates that Pollard, Greg, and Wilson did not sufficiently understand the economics of printed playbooks in early modern London to know what basic literary commerce would have looked like, let alone literary piracy. That all said, the case of the first quarto of Love's Labour's Lost is instructive, as G. Hjort's argument for it as a "bad quarto" demonstrates the sort of fallacious thinking that colored the logic of the New Bibliographers, and can help us avoid similar mistakes in modern approaches.

Title page from the 1598 quarto of Love's Labour's Lost

Hjort published  “The Good and Bad Quartos of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Love's Labour's Lost.’” in 1926, in the heyday of the New Bibliographers' theory of literary piracy (Pollard having published Shakespeare's Fight with the Pirates and the Problems of The Transmission of his Text roughly ten years earlier). In his essay, Hjort finds evidence that the first quarto of Love's Labour's Lost "reads like a typical instance of a pirates work, made up from incomplete notes, eked out by a not too good remembrance of a performance" (Hjort 145). This evidence lies chiefly in Berowne's speech arguing for Ferdinand and his men to break their vows and pursue their loves...

Ber. O tis more then neede.
Haue at you then affections men at armes,
Consider what you first did sweare vnto:
To fast, to study, and to see no woman:
Flat treason gainst the kingly state of youth.
Say, Can you fast? your stomacks are too young:
And abstinence ingenders maladies.
And where that you haue vowd to studie (Lordes)
In that each of you haue forsworne his Booke.
Can you still dreame and poare and thereon looke.
For when would you my Lord, or you, or you,
Haue found the ground of Studies excellence,

Without the beautie of a womans face?

From womens eyes this doctrine I deriue,

They are the Ground, the Bookes, the Achadems,

From whence doth spring the true Promethean fire.

Why vniuersall plodding poysons vp
The nimble spirites in the arteries,
As motion and long during action tyres
The sinnowy vigour of the trauayler.
Now for not looking on a womans face,
You haue in that forsworne the vse of eyes:
And studie too, the causer of your vow.
For where is any Authour in the worlde,
Teaches such beautie as a womas eye:
Learning is but an adiunct to our selfe,
And where we are, our Learning likewise is.
Then when our selues we see in Ladies eyes,
With our selues.
Do we not likewise see our learning there?
O we haue made a Vow to studie, Lordes,
And in that Vow we haue forsworne our Bookes:

For when would you (my Leedge) or you, or you?
In leaden contemplation haue found out
Such fierie Numbers as the prompting eyes,
Of beautis tutors haue inritcht you with:
Other slow Artes intirely keepe the braine:
And therefore finding barraine practizers,
Scarce shew a haruest of their heauie toyle.
But Loue first learned in a Ladies eyes,
Liues not alone emured in the braine:
But with the motion of all elamentes,
Courses as swift as thought in euery power,
And giues to euery power a double power,
Aboue their functions and their offices.
It addes a precious seeing to the eye:
A Louers eyes will gaze an Eagle blinde.
A Louers eare will heare the lowest sound.
When the suspitious head of theft is stopt.
Loues feeling is more soft and sensible,
Then are the tender hornes of Cockled Snayles.
Loues tongue proues daintie, Bachus grosse in taste,
For Valoure, is not Loue a Hercules?
Still clyming trees in the Hesperides.
Subtit as Sphinx, as sweete and musicall,
As bright Appolos Lute, strung with his haire.
And when Loue speakes, the voyce of all the Goddes,
Make heauen drowsie with the harmonie.
Neuer durst Poet touch a pen to write,
Vntill his Incke were tempred with Loues sighes:
O then his lines would rauish sauageeares,
And plant in Tyrants milde humilitie.
From womens eyes this doctrine I deriue.
They sparcle still the right promethean fier,
They are the Bookes, the Artes, the Achademes,
That shew, containe, and nourish all the worlde.
Els none at all in ought proues excellent.
Then fooles you were, these women to forsweare:
Or keeping what is sworne, you will proue fooles,
For Wisedomes sake, a worde that all men loue:
Or for Loues sake, a worde that loues all men.
Or for Mens sake, the authour of these Women:
Or Womens sake, by whom we Men are Men.
Lets vs once loose our othes to finde our selues,
Or els we loose our selues, to keepe our othes:
It is Religion to be thus forsworne.
For Charitie it selfe fulfilles the Law:
And who can seuer Loue from Charitie.
        (TLN 1639 - 1716, highlights mine) 

Hjort argues that the passage, when read without the highlighted lines, "becomes perfectly clear and sensible, free from any repetitions" (Hjort 145). Hjort then offers the completed passage as a self evident example of the opposite; "the [completed] passage reminds one suspiciously strongly of corresponding passages in bad quartos" (Hjort 145). This argument is an exemplar of inductive reasoning: Hjort (and the other New Bibliographers) find evidence of piracy because that is what they wanted to find, and that evidence itself tends to be, as it is here, purely a matter of personal taste.

Hjort is correct in saying that removing the lines in the passage highlighted above reduce repetition, but it would be a mistake to presume that evidence of repetition should be equated with any sort of piracy, or even that it is undesirable. If we accept Michael Hirrel's argument that Shakespeare's plays were longer than many of his contemporaries' plays because audiences wanted to consume more of Shakespeare's words, it's not hard to imagine that one of Shakespeare's methods for delivering longer plays was om repeating and expanding on certain words and themes more than another dramatist might, as Shakespeare does in the complete passage above (Hirrel 171). It might also be useful to remember that the 1598 quarto of Love's Labour's Lost advertises that it has been expanded by Shakespeare since a recent court performance, and so the repetition might have been for the benefit of readers, and not performances.

Berowne (Courtney M. McClellan) can't believe he's fallen in love,
in a scene from Bad Quarto Productions' Love's Labour's Lost: The First Quarto.
Directed by Alex Dabertin. Photo by James M. Smith. 

And yet there's no reason to think the lines Hjort finds repetitive weren't originally written by Shakespeare for the purpose of repetition in performance. The lines "O we haue made a Vow to studie, Lordes, / And in that Vow we haue forsworne our Bookes," for example, repeat the word "Vow" and the metaphoric use of "Bookes" (i.e. women's faces) from above as a form of exergasia, or amplification through repetition. As Berowne has specifically been charged with making the case that the gentlemen should break their vows by the king, his use of rhetorical art is appropriate to the given circumstances of the play, and for a character known for his wit and wordplay. Excising this repetition from the text means removing a piece of Berowne's character.

I have found no other references to Q1 Love's Labour's Lost as a "bad quarto" apart from Hjort. Alfred Harbage, in 1962, posits that a "bad quarto" may have existed, citing the advertisement that the 1598 quarto is "newly corrected and augmented," but he is referring to a comparatively shorter and incomplete conceptual version of the play, rather than to a printed text (196) It is also noteworthy that Harbage considers the the 1598 quarto to be printed from an authorial manuscript as a matter of fact (196). Even for those looking for literary piracy, the assertion that the 1598 quarto of Love's Labour's Lost is such a text seems to have been a bridge too far.

But for the modern performance-minded editor. there are some very good reasons to remove those pieces of Berowne's speech mentioned above that have nothing to do with fantasies of literary piracy. A running time of ninety minutes has become so ubiquitous in the modern theatre that "NMNI" has developed into a convenient shorthand for plays with that approximate running time, and without an intermission (MacDonald). Over the past decade, this structure of plays has shaped audiences expectations (MacDonald). Giving audience members a play-going experience that more or less conforms to their cultural play-going expectations is something any theatre company with aspirations to any sort of longevity has to consider, at the very least.

Moth (Olivia Vessel) leads a post-show dance party in Bad Quarto Productions'
Love's Labour's Lost: The First Quarto. directed by Alex Dabertin.
Photo by James M. Smith. 

It's worth noting here that we have cut our current production of Love's Labour's Lost: The First Quarto to about 100 minutes. Through our experience producing plays in New York, we have learned that a running time of two hours is about as long as an audience is willing to sit without an intermission of some kind. As Bad Quarto Productions is devoted to re-creating the early modern play-going experience, we strive to present our plays without an intermission, and a ninety-minute running time is not without precedent, based on certain surviving texts from the period.

The Merry Devil of Edmonton, The Cronicle History of Henry the Fift, and The Life and Death of Jack Straw all have an approximate ninety-minute running time when performed at a speed of about twenty lines per minute, and when performed using Shakespearean staging conditions. Whatever the provenance of those other plays, the advertised expansion on the title page of Q1 Love's Labour's Lost invites the possibility that the original performance text was shorter than the one that was printed.

Or that may not have been the case. The 1598 quarto may contain lines excised from performance, and that Shakespeare merely added lines from his rough draft to the manuscript her gave Cuthebert Burby, the stationer. Perhaps more likely, Shakespeare may have provided Burby with his rough draft, and then Burby decided to include lines that Shakespeare had struck through. We must also consider the possibility that the advertisement itself is merely a marketing ploy, and there was no change between the performance text at court and the printed text in 1598. It is unlikely we will ever know the provenance of any text for certain, but given the available evidence from the early modern era, all of these scenarios are more likely than literary piracy.

The New Bibliographer's myth of literary piracy is dependent on the belief that Shakespeare was above his theatrical circumstances. The endurance of great works of art lies in their ability to be constantly re-read as culture changes. Hjort was part of a cohort of scholars looking to liberate "our Author" from the baseness of the playhouse and bestow on Shakespeare the gentlemanly status that Shakespeare himself coveted in life. Their author was for the scholar to study in his private library, and the process of alterations to a written script that most modern practitioners would recognize as "new play development" were received as corruptions to a text that was otherwise perfect and holy. Their task was to reveal the perfection of the manuscript beneath the text.

To Hjort, that the first quarto of Love's Labour's Lost is a pirated text sullied by performers or editors seems certain, but our knowledge of early modern playing conditions and printing conditions should accept no such certainty. What we know is what the available evidence allows for: that surviving play books vary widely in length is an easily observable fact, and it is likely that early modern companies sometimes performed shorter plays, and sometimes longer ones (Hirrel 169). Performed uncut, Q1 Love's Labour's Lost would likely run about 150 minutes; roughly 30 minutes longer than the running time of uncut Q1 Hamlet. 

King Ferdinand (Kitty Mortland, left) asks the newly crowned Queen
of France (Melody Lam) to delay her departure in a profession of earnest love
in Bad Quarto Productions' Love's Labour's Lost: The First Quarto.
Directed by Alex Dabertin. Photo by James M. Smith.

As MacDonald indicates, the perception of an evening of Shakespeare as a "serious commitment" is not entirely consistent with the way in which we at Bad Quarto Productions wanted to present Love's Labour's Lost: The First Quarto. While Love's Labour's Lost does treat seriously on the nature of promises, as Alex Dabertin astutely observed in his director's notes, that moment comes at the end of a light-hearted comedy of wit, wordplay, masquerades, and pageantry ("Bad Quarto Productions To Stage Earliest Version of LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST"). The heaviness comes only at the conclusion, where love manifests itself through the pain of denial, but that moment will inevitably lose some of it's potency if an audience accustomed to an 'NMNI' is focusing their thoughts on using the restroom or not missing their train.

Happily, scholarship has changed much in the past century, and the Author of the New Bibliographers is not ours -- our Shakespeare belongs to the theatre, and we can honor his writing and best explore his playsby performing them in the intersection between Shakespeare's theatre and our own. This means that we must proceed without making any special claims to truth that we know we can't possess, and learn to rejoice in the possibilities necessitated by the uncertainty that we've inherited. And yes, sometimes that means we need to make allowances for an audience most comfortable committing to a NMNI evening. For us at Bad Quarto Productions, the Shakespeare most worth sharing is the one that our audiences are willing to come to see.


"Bad Quarto Productions To Stage Earliest Version of LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST." 4 July 2017. Web. 21 Aug. 2017.

Billings, Timothy Ed. Love's Labour's Lost (Quarto I, 1598). By William Shakespeare. Internet Shakespeare Editions. University of Victoria. 21 Aug. 2017. Accessed 21 Aug. 2017. <>

Blayney, Peter W. M. "The Publication of Playbooks." A New History of Early English Drama. John D. Cox and David Scott Kastan Ed. New York: Columbia University Press. 1997. Print. p 383 - 422.

Burton, Gideon O. "Exergasia." Silva Rhetoricae. Provo: Brigham Young University. Web. Accessed 20 Aug. 2017.

The Cronicle Historie of Henry the Fift. By William Shakespeare Dir. Tony Tambasco. Bad Quarto Productions. 353 W. 48th St. Studios, New York. 12 Sept. 2010. Performance.

Hamlet: The First Quarto. By William Shakespeare. Dir. Tony Tambasco. Bad Quarto Productions. 353 W. 48th St. Studios, New York. 27 Apr. 2014. Performance.

Harbage, Alfred. "Love's Labour's Lost and the Early Shakespeare." Love's Labour's Lost: Critical Essays. Felicia Hardison Londre Ed. New York: Garland Publishing. 1997. p 193 - 211. Print.

Hirrel, Michael J. "Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays: How Shall We Beguile the Lazy Time?" Shakespeare Quarterly. Vol 61. No 2. Summer 2010. p 159 - 182. Print.

Hjort, G. “The Good and Bad Quartos of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Love's Labour's Lost.’” The Modern Language Review, vol. 21, no. 2, 1926, pp. 140–146. JSTOR. Accessed 20 Aug. 2017.

The Life and Death of Jack Straw. Dir. Tony Tambasco. Bad Quarto Productions. 353 W. 48th St. Studios, New York. 13 Nov. 2016. Performance.

Love's Labour's Lost: The First Quarto. Dir. Alex Dabertin. Bad Quarto Productions. 353 W. 48th St. Studios, New York. 13 Aug. 2017. Performance.

MacDonald, Sandy. "The Secret of 'NMNI.'" TDF Stages. New York: Theatre Development Fund. 24 July 2017. Web. Accessed 20 Aug. 2017.

Maguire, Laurie E. Shakespearean Suspect Texts: The 'Bad' Quartos and their Contexts. Cambridge: University Press. 1996. Print.

The Merry Devil of Edmonton. Dir. Tony Tambasco. Bad Quarto Productions. Studios 1831, Philadelphia. 12 Sept. 2010. Performance.

Pollard, Alfred W. Shakespeare's Fight with the Pirates and the Problems of The Transmission of his Text. Cambridge: University Press. 2nd Ed. 1920. Web. The Internet Archive. Accessed 21 Aug 2017.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

How Lost is Love's Labour?

As Bad Quarto Productions stands ready to preview its production of Love's Labour's Lost: The First Quarto, our second production of the 2017 season, I keep coming back to something that's always nagged me about this comedy: how lost is love's labour really? Ferdinand and his men don't get to marry the Princess and her ladies at the end of the play as they had hoped, but they've all extracted a promise to marry when the gentlemen have made certain proofs of their characters to those ladies.

In early modern London, a promise to marry was legally binding in a way that modern marriage proposals are not. The abundance of pregnant brides in the period (including Anne Hathaway) is partially explained by the religious allowance that, for a marriage to be legitimate before God, all the couples needed to do was to make a solemn promise to each other before God: neither the church nor state were necessarily involved in what could be considered a private matter (Dolan 622). These promises were legally enforceable in church courts, however, and it seems unlikely that the sober-minded Princess of France and her equally pragmatic ladies would make such promises in vain, even if state marriages were of a different order than common ones (Dolan 622). The labours of love that Ferdinand and his men are enjoined to have not even begun by the play's conclusion, but the rewards for their successful completions seems certain.

As for the labours that Ferdinand and his men have already undertaken? The Princess (by then Queen) and her ladies interpret them:
At courtshyp pleasant iest and courtecie,
As bombast and as lyning to the time:
But more deuout then this our respectes,
Haue we not been, and therefore met your Loues,
In their owne fashyon like a merriment.
        (TLN 2738 - 2742)
Ferdinand and his men have presented their love as trifles (literally), not as something sacred, and the ladies have replied in kind. As is typical in Shakespeare's comedies, as we see see in virtually all of them, women are masters of the art of love, and serve as tutors to their undergraduate gentlemen.

What makes this lesson particularly poignant is that, in director Alex Dabertin's analysis, the King of France sends his daughter on this embassy to Ferdinand with the idea of a political marriage in mind. This reading is in keeping with Boyet's lines:
Now Maddame summon vp your dearest spirrits,
Cosider who the King your father sendes:
To whom he sendes, and whats his Embassie.
Your selfe, helde precious in the worldes esteeme,
To parlee with the sole inheritoure
Of all perfections that a man may owe,
Matchles Nauar, the plea of no lesse weight,
Then Aquitaine a Dowrie for a Queene.
        (TLN 492 - 499).
And it is certainly within the realpolitik of the period. But at the end of the play, she is Queen of France, and not merely princess, and knowing the professed truth of Ferdinand's love, is able to force him to Biblical terms: if Ferdinand truly loves her, following the example of Genesis 29:20, his year of labour will only seem a few days, and they will enjoy more than a political match.

That said, one could plausibly read the title as a promise that Ferdinand and his gentlemen will fail in their yet-to-be-performed labours. How you view the loss of love's labour in the play is, in this way, a measure of your own feelings as to the truth of Ferdinand, Longaville, Dumain, and Berowne's love.


Billings, Timothy Ed. Love's Labour's Lost (Quarto I, 1598). By William Shakespeare. Internet Shakespeare Editions. University of Victoria. 5 Aug. 2017. Accessed 5 Aug. 2017. <>

Dolan, Frances. "Shakespeare and Marriage: An Open Question." Literature Compass. 9 Aug. 2011. Hoboken: Blackwell Publishing. 620 - 634. Web. Accessed 4 Aug. 2017. <>

Geneva Bible, 1599 Edition. Tolle Lege Press, 2006. Web. Accessed 5 Aug. 2017. <>