Closer to performance? Some thoughts on “literary” quartos

There are so many debates about the form of the printed playtext – what it represents, how close to the stage it is, where it comes from, to whom it can be ascribed.  Much criticism and theatre history was written in the twentieth century to re-situate  (or restore?) quarto and folio playtexts on the stages that arguably bore them.  More recently, since 2000, there has been a  “return of the author” in early modern literary studies – a charge towards re-paging drama represented, among others, by Lukas Erne’s Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist (2003).

In the wake of this renewed literary treatment of playtexts, there has been criticism of the very divide between stage and page.  W.B. Worthen’s impressive criticism of  the “rigid dichotomies” (327-8) that inhere in the notion of “performance criticism” vs “literary drama” was published in Shakespeare Quarterly in 2011.  He argues that neither term should be hierarchised; we should be more attentive to the flexibility, in the early modern period, of writing for both media.  An early modern theatre was an “interactive milieu” that “plays were written to exploit” (325), a space between – or inhabiting both – print and practice.  This year’s wonderful collection Shakespeare’s Theatres and the Effects of Performance, edited by Farah Karim-Cooper and Tiffany Stern, aims to navigate, blur, and bring into critical consciousness that “interactive milieu.”  It argues, Andrew Gurr notes in the succinct preface, “that performance effects were not merely for effect, but…worked together with language” (8).

Such debates are not purely an invention of literary criticism, however, and plenty of early modern writers and publishers displayed a similar anxiety about playtexts and their relationship to the theatre.  Where some writers clearly polish their works for the presses, others claim that their work arrives “by accident,” inferring that it is close to the performed version – however debatable we might consider such claims.

Unsurprisingly, the prolific Thomas Heywood has been on both sides of the argument.  If you know not me, you know nobody originally had dubious textual origins, plagiarised into print because of its success in performance:

And yet receiv’d, as well perform’d at first,
Grac’t and frequented, for the cradle age,
Did throng the Seates, the Boxes, and the Stage
So much; that some by Stenography drew
The plot: put it in print: (scarce one word trew:)
And in that lamenesse it hath limp,’t so long,
The Author now to vindicate that wrong
Hath tooke the paines, upright upon its feete
To teach it walk, so please you sit, and see’t.
(Prologue 8-16)

Heywood apparently cleaned and edited the text for the presses – even if the final line pulls the whole of the printed text back into the theatre by framing it in performance terms.  On the other hand, the “To the Reader” of The Golden Age argues that

This Play comming accidentally to the Presse, and at length hauing notice thereof, I was loath (finding it mine owne) to see it thrust naked into the world…without either Title for acknowledgement, or the formality of an Epistle for ornament… (3)

Heywood claims only to have “fixt these few lines in the front of my Booke,” committing the rest of the accidental copy “freely to the generall censure of Readers” – but only, again, because he is content with its similarity to the performed piece, “as it hath already past the approbation of Auditors.”

Interestingly, there is an example of cutting undesirable text, rather than adding more refined ornament, in an edition of Tamburlaine.  Richard Jones printed both Tamburlaine plays in 1590, but he assures the book-buying public, “I haue (purposely) omitted and left out some fond and friuolous Iestures, digressing (and in my poore opinion) far vnmeet for the matter…” (A2r).  These omissions are apparently the more performance-related elements of the drama – perhaps those elements that drew the crowds time and again to see the Lord Admiral’s Men’s many revivals of the play.  It was their audience-exciting effects that kept Marlowe’s works perennial favourites at the Theatre, the Rose, and then the Fortune, as evidenced by John Melton’s well-known remarks, made in his Astrologaster of 1620, of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus.  Some thirty years or so after its first performance, one could still

behold shagge-hayr’d Deuills runne roaring over the Stage with Squibs in their mouthes, while Drummers make thunder in the Tyring-house, and the twelue-penny Hirelings make artificial Lightning in their Heauens (E4r).

No doubt similar words could be spoken of Tamburlaine and its equally enduring popularity.  Even so – or probably because so – Jones tells the reader that the deleted content must

haue bene of some vaine conceited fondlings greatly gaped at, what times they were shewed vpon the stage in their graced deformities: neuertheles now, to be mixture in print with such matter of worth, it wuld prooue a great disgrace to so honourable & stately a historie” (A2r-v).

Jones posits exactly such a division between performance and print that would irk W.B. Worthen.  He claims to pull the printed text away from the stage, into “matter” of more “worth.”

Like Tamburlaine, Beaumont and Fletcher’s Philaster (c.1610) is subject to quarrels about how, where, and if we might identify performance authority in surviving quartos.  Philaster laments in his misogynist rant at the end of act three that he is caught between “woe” and “delight.”  The first quarto lists his speech through telling punctuation.  Listing a series of paradoxes, Philaster brandishes women,

…being taken all together,
A mere confusion, and so dead a Chaos,
That loue cannot distinguish.  These sad texts
Till my last houre, I am bound to vtter of you:
So farewell all my woe, all my delight.
(G2v)

The second quarto, supposedly “corrected, and amended,” collapses the punctuation of its predecessor.  In the 1622 text, Philaster claims that woman is rather “a mere confusion, and so dead a Chaios, / That loue cannot distinguish these sad texts” (Q2; F3v).  The second quarto insists that the line should be one sentence – that love cannot distinguish between the paradoxes of heaven and hell, frost and sun, healing and poisonous tongues.  The change consequently renders the final two lines of the soliloquy slightly ambiguous.  Perhaps such a complaint about confusion, chaos, and the impossibility of distinguishing between texts, then, may be more accurately directed at the “texts” of Philaster itself.

The first Quarto was printed in 1620.  While one must be wary of labelling it a “performance quarto,” it is indeed deemed less than literary by Thomas Walkley, the publisher of the second quarto.  In his address “To the Reader,” Walkley claims that the text itself has “laine so long a bleeding, by reason of some dangerous and gaping wounds, which they receiued in the first Impression” (A2r).  Walkley translates the tragicomic promise of temporary trauma presented in the play’s subtitle, Loue lies a Bleeding, into the physical form of the printed text, now ready to be revived and re-presented in a new habit.  Contrary to the claims of most modern editors[1], however, the second quarto does not regulate lineation at all, and indeed at crucial episodes in the play, especially during Philaster’s wounding of Arethusa, the second quarto turns perfect if awkward iambic pentameter into lengthy prose lines[2].  Even so, and in spite of its more literary pretensions, Thomas Walkley’s second quarto is careful to supply missing stage directions, replacing the curiously un-theatrical passages of the first quarto with what Richard Jones would possibly deem the more “fond and friuolous” details of a playtext; again, as Philaster wounds Arethusa, Q1 gives no stage direction, an omission duly rectified by “PHY. wounds her” in Q2.  Neither text holds legitimate literary superiority, nor does one seem to be closer to the stage than the other.


[1] See Suzanne Gossett’s introduction to the textual history in the Arden edition – Philaster. Ed. Suzanne Gossett.  London: A&C Black, 2009. 102. Print.

[2] See “Or worse wil follow, we are two, earth cannot beare at once, resolue to do or suffer” (Q2; G4r) in comparison with Q1’s “Kill me with this sword; / Be wise, or worse will follow; we are two / Earth cannot beare at once.  Resolue to doe, / Or suffer” (H3r).

Works Cited

Beaumont, Francis and John Fletcher.  Phylaster, or, Loue lyes a bleeding…London, 1620.  Early English Books Online.  Web. 11 July 2013.
———————————————– Philaster, Or, loue lies a bleeding…London, 1622. Early English Books Online.  Web.  11 July 2013.
Gurr, Andrew.  “Preface.”  Shakespeare’s Theatres and the Effects of Performance. Ed. Farah Karim-Cooper and Tiffany Stern.  London: Arden Shakespeare (Bloomsbury), 2013.
Heywood, Thomas.  The Golden Age.  Heywood’s Dramatic Works. Vol. 3. London: John Pearson, 1874. 3-79. Print.
————————-If you know not me, you know nobody.  Heywood’s Dramatic Works. Vol. 1. London: John Pearson, 1874. 189-344. Print.
Marlowe, Christopher. Tamburlaine the Great.  London, 1590. Early English Books Online.  Web. 11 July 2013.
Melton, John.  Astrologaster, or, The figure-caster…London, 1620. Early English Books Online. Web. 11 July 2013.
Worthen, W.B.  “Intoxicating Rhythms: Or, Shakespeare, Literary Drama, and Performance (Studies).”  Shakespeare Quarterly 62.3 (2011): 309-339.  Project Muse.  Web. 11 July 2013.

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