Shakespeare Studies

Letter to the Editor (The "Bad" Quartos)

Times Literary Supplement8-14 Sept. 1989; © the estate of eric sams



Sir, - Robert Hapgood writes as though Steven Urkowitz, MacDonald Jackson, and the Ox­ford editors Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor all belonged to the same revolutionary movement in Shakespeare studies. Urkowitz is indeed revolutionary; but the other three have public­ly dismissed his arguments, without discussion - Wells and Taylor in their Oxford Textual Companion (1987, p. 398), and Jackson in the Cambridge Shakespeare Survey 41 (ed Wells, 1989).

    If Urkowitz is right, then they are hopelessly wrong about Shakespeare's life and works - Wells and Taylor throughout their recent Oxford volumes (especially on 1-3 Henry VI, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry V, King John, Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew, Pericles, stylometry and the apocrypha), and Jackson in, for example, the Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare Studies (ed Wells, 1986, pp 163- 85).

    Furthermore, if Urkowitz is right, then all orthodox scholarship is fundamentally mistaken about Shakespeare's early life and artistic development, and has been for the past seventy years, ever since the theory of “mem­orial reconstruction by actors” was first in­vented. Before then, nobody had ever heard of it. No factual evidence in its favour has ever existed. Now it enslaves an entire establishment, including Wells, Taylor and Jackson.

    Urkowitz has yet again disproved it. So have I, during the past six years (starting in these pages, September 2, 1983). So have dozens of other critics during the past six decades, in scores of scholarly sources with hundreds of cogent arguments, all of which have been either ignored or dismissed without discussion.

    “Bad Quartos” or not too bad, that is the question. If the first published versions of the titles listed above are not “memorial recon­structions by actors”, then they are prima facieapprentice plays by the young Shakespeare, who has also been ignored or dismissed, consequences for fashionable orthodoxy and its multi-million-pound industry are catastrophic.

    An old order is passing, as Robert Hapgood says; and the sooner the better. But I am dismayed by his dictum that “a convincing revaluation of the canon” requires a “fully developed aesthetic”, ie academic theorizing. For the lay Shakespeare-lover, that is the sickness, not the cure. Another epidemic of incurable literary opinion is the very last thing we need. The first is a sound methodology of rational inference from historical fact.


ERIC SAMS                                                                            

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