24a. The Merry Wives of Windsor 1602

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams


(Numbers in bold refer to the Documents section and bibliographical citations refer to the Bibliography of The Real Shakespeare II, on-line edition)



24a. The Merry Wives of Windsor 1602




   Why 'Bad Quarto'? The text was duly registered and then published as a play written 'by William Shakespeare' and acted 'both before her Majesty and elsewhere' (305). So 'the bulk of it', at the very least, 'is surely Shakespeare's' (Hart 1904, xx). But all such facts and inferences are brusquely bundled aside to clear a path for 'the theory most widely accepted by scholars today...a brilliant piece of textual analysis' (Hibbard 1973, 51, 212), namely Greg's 1910 notion that the 1,600 lines of this first Quarto (Q1) 1602 represent a reported version of the famous 2,700-line play unknown until 1623, when it appeared in the First Folio (F). Anyone who feels that so unevidenced and counter-factual a hypothesis needs especially detailed validation is the more deceived; no syllable of rational argument is audible among all the applause. As usual the sole deciding factor is the supposed achievement of fellow-scholars, thus: 'the relation between Q and F has been minutely examined in the admirable study by Greg...Q is obviously a garbled and corrupt text. The most obvious thing about it is the presence of a reporter' (Chambers 1930, i, 429) – a reporter for whose actions or even existence there is no factual evidence at all. Yet Chambers quotes Greg1 with relish: '"The playhouse thief reveals himself in every scene", bringing about "gross corruption, constant mutilation, meaningless inversion and clumsy transposition"' (loc. cit.). Five scenes are 'omitted'; there are 'anticipations and recollections' of passages from earlier and later scenes, and 'transferences from other plays', with 'passages of un-Shakespearean verse'. And so forth, in a hypnotic trance induced by incantations of 'scholars, scholarly, scholarship', with eyes tightly closed to the obvious answer that Q 1602 is much earlier than and hence independent of F 1623. Then the 'omitted' scenes would have been added later, as one would expect from a revising and developing author, without the need to invent anything or anyone at all.

   In America, commentators soon noted that Oxbridge 'Bad Quarto' lore was obvious nonsense. In 1927, Evelyn Albright said so about Greg's Merry Wives fantasies; the only outcome was his bad review of her book (Greg, 1928). William Bracy said so again in 1952, and Hardin Craig in 1961, with copious counter-evidence. But the combined prestige of Greg and Chambers, and their English University Presses, replaced all reasoning and outweighed all objections. Q1 must be a piracy because it is now included in that category (Evans 1971, 228); it is 'corrupt' (Wells 1986), and an undoubted Bad Quarto (Jackson 1986, 174). This 'is now accepted'; 'there is no need to set down all the evidence', (Craik 1989, 48-9) even though that task would be anything but taxing, since no such evidence exists. Gary Taylor says it does (Taylor and Wells 1988, 340) but does not say what it is; he too treats the same assumption as evidence, e.g. by saying that five scenes are 'omitted entirely' from Q1 1602, thus subconsciously supposing that shorter version to be later than F 1623. Craik accepts these theories without question or discussion in his 1989 Oxford edition, which begins with thanks to his Oxford editors Taylor and Wells. The latter has said (1987, 12) that he 'is likely to select editors whom he believes to be in general sympathy with his views, and may even try to influence them'. Only thus could such self-delusion be so long perpetuated. The latest protests are again from America (Bains 1995, 78-105); they will again be ignored.

   It is impossible to persuade the experts that their needless and baseless assumptions, so far from constituting arguments, are actually self-refuting. Thus Craik (1989, 49-52) invokes 'omitted' and 'misplaced' material, together with 'echoes of other plays in which the reporter may have acted', the 'loose paraphrase which is a characteristic of reported texts', the 'new dialogue' which Q 'substitutes' for F, and the 'shortening…explained by the reporter's failure to remember the full text'. In other words, Q 1602 is never viewed in its own right but must always be reflected in the imaginary distorting mirror of F. Hence the imaginary omissions and misplacements and paraphrases of an imaginary reporter, his imaginary roles in other plays, and his imaginary shortening activities. Hence too his failure to do what he has been invented to do, namely remember, and his insistence on behaving like the dramatic poet he is supposedly not instead of the forgetful actor he supposedly is. This last amazing attribute is, we are instructed, typical of him; 'the invention of the reporter' is 'typical of a reported text'. It is much more typical of a desperate theorist in a typical muddle. Of course an actor would neither forget nor invent. Nor can 'a very corrupt text' have 'considerable importance' (ibid. 65) except in a world where nothing has to make sense; this dictum seeks to justify one set of subjective conjectures by reference to another such set. Nor can it contain 'additions', meaning Q passages that have no F equivalent, for which no explanation can be given except that the 'report' theory is wrong. Nor can the purpose of the hypothetical 'report' really be obscure, or a mere 'matter of opinion' (ibid. 52); if no one knows why it was done, the obvious inference is that it was not done at all. Craik the gall to refer to other commentaries as 'a fantastic pile of conjecture' (ibid. 10) or 'the merest conjecture' (ibid. 14) when the entire notion of 'reportage' or 'memorial reconstruction' by which this edition stands or falls is nothing but conjecture from first to last, untruthfully described as 'generally accepted'. 


1 Greg however does not quote Daniel 1881 from whom he silently borrowed his theory.