Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Two Household friends...

I was trying to decide how to start talking about the "bad quarto" of Romeo and Juliet, when I finally decided that (like in Sound of Music) the beginning is a very good place to start.  The prologue of the "bad quarto" is a microcosm of the textual variances in the rest of the play.

So, instead of talking a bunch first, I'll get straight to the text. 
Here is the text from the quarto (edited only for spelling):

Two household Friends alike in dignity,
(In fair Verona, where we lay our Scene)
From civil broils broke into enmity,
Whose civil war makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes,
A pair of star-crossed Lovers took their life:
Whose misadventures, piteous overthrows,
(Through the continuing of their Fathers strife,
And death-marked passage of their Parents rage)
Is now the two hours traffic of our Stage.
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here we want we'll study to amend.

It's close, right?  So close.  And yet so far from the words of the prologue that we all know:
Two households both alike in dignity,
(In fair Verona where we lay our Scene)
From ancient grudge, break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean:
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes,
A pair of star-crossed lovers, take their life:
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows,
Doth with their death bury their Parents strife.
The fearful passage of their death-marked love,
And the continuance of their Parents rage:
Which but their children's end naught could remove:
Is now the two hours traffic of our Stage.
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What hear shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.
 With these two passages, one can start to see how Shakespeare's re-write process may have taken place.  In fact, the second version of the prologue is from the second quarto of Romeo and Juliet published only two years after the "first draft".  Based on these two passages, I like to think of the first quarto as a rough draft for everything that was to come.  In reading that first prologue out loud, it's very easy for me to see Shakespeare in a rehearsal for this new play listening to the actors speak the lines and taking notes on all the rewrites.  That first quarto prologue looks pretty great on the page, but once you begin to say it out loud (even without the second one in your head), the language is clunky.  It doesn't flow off the tongue the way most Shakespeare does.

To be very specific, let's look at just the first line: "Two household friends alike in dignity" versus "Two households both alike in dignity".  Why the word "friends"?  Shakespeare needed a word there to make the iambic pentameter work.  But the word "friends" seems like an odd choice.  He's about to write a play about two bitter enemies, but begins with the word "friends".  Is it possible that as the beginning of the sonnet, Shakespeare wasn't sure what sort of play he was writing and, once he figured it out at the end, didn't go back to revise before handing the script to the actors?  This question, and thousands of others like it, are the reason I love textual variance.  In changing a word, Shakespeare can change a whole character, or a whole play.

To sum up, the first quarto simply hasn't cooked enough.  Shakespeare, it seems, hadn't taken quite enough time to pick out all the right words yet, so what you've got with the entire text of the first quarto is a play that is so close to perfect and yet not quite there.


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