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.

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