The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.259 Wednesday, 27 September 2017
Date: September 26, 2017 at 5:37:26 PM EDT
Subject: Parnassus Plays
While reading of the interesting life and times of Peter Ramus I “returned to Parnassus” years after my first looks. More alert these days (to some things), I noted Leishman’s description of Rawlinson D.398 (the sole source of The Pilgrimage and the First Part of The Return): “The scribe differs from the normal [of writers and printers] in employing v medially . . . although he often employs medial u as well. His use of the common Secretary abbreviation of final -es follows no consistent principle; he often uses it as a mere equivalent of -s, in such words as ‘its’, where final -e [is unlikely]. There are certain peculiarities of spelling, of which the most remarkable are the substitution of ‘the’ or ‘ye’ for ‘they’ and of ‘they’ for ‘the’, the omission of final -e in words ending in -ce, such as ‘onc’, ‘fenc’, ‘henc’ . . . . In the verse . . . punctuation is very light, and often entirely absent . . . in the prose it is also light, and often irrational. . . . [M]ost of these features are common, in varying degrees, to the MS. and printed texts of the Second Returne . . .” (7).
These traits figure prominently in the MS. playtext John of Bordeaux, which I conclude for many reasons to be a shorthand report. Because I suspect more than “the usual” texts of theatrical reporting (while no one else supposes any, any more), and because shorthand historically resorts to such usage, my thought is to investigate the Parnassus plays more thoroughly. Shorthand, of course, was not a Leishman subject.
Nevertheless, the first two editions (A & B, 1606) of the Second Returne (so-named to differentiate the first plays of the series), are also corrupt. The Halliwell-Phillipps (now Folger) MS. version differs from the printed texts to such extent that Macray (of facsimile fame) remarks that:
The new readings show how fair a field is really open to conjecture in . . . correction of old texts for which no MS. authority exists, and justify much of the conjectural criticism which is applied to Shakespearean difficulties” (Leishman, 12).
Leishman counts “362 certain or probable errors” in A corrected by the MS, which is also corrupt. I’ve not investigated much, partly because Leishman partly modernizes his texts; yet more shorthand-like evidence is apparent. To me, the possibility (probability) that the P-texts were recorded, four centuries before cell phones, is of ‘early modern’ interest. The same goes for Shakespeare texts, which the Oxford Shakespeare busily, late-modernly (Entropically? Hackathonly?) denies. We may owe a great deal more to stenographers than to those confined to the proverbial tower.
However, surrounded as I am by operating systems, not excepting the Battlewagon, I appreciate the fact that Parnassus manuscripts and editions are available Online, screenshot ready. It didn’t used-to-be that way. The problem: a lot of work. One must ‘undo’ the editing, to some extent (Control-Zzzzzz’s). I’m still waiting on the botched Lear and Richard Third editions; I may not get to the Parnassus plays.
The Bodleian MS. copies don’t show set directions or speech prefixes, seemingly because they’re written in red ink (the story of my life). These features are shorthand indicators—when applicable—as reporters “copied by the ear.” When I onc registered my arrival in red ink (on the not-yet-forgotten ‘Old S.P.’), the early modern xerox left me out. ‘Run Around’ a dozen times, I made a lot of money. But I didn’t press it.
Gerald E. Downs