Bad quarto

Bad quarto

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Bad quarto is a term and concept developed by twentieth-century Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

 scholars
Scholarly method
Scholarly method or scholarship is the body of principles and practices used by scholars to make their claims about the world as valid and trustworthy as possible, and to make them known to the scholarly public.-Methods:...

 to explain some problems in the early transmission of the texts of Shakespearean works. It has subsequently been used for other playtexts unrelated to Shakespeare.

Origins of the Bad Quarto Theory


A basic axiom of palaeography
Palaeography
Palaeography, also spelt paleography is the study of ancient writing. Included in the discipline is the practice of deciphering, reading, and dating historical manuscripts, and the cultural context of writing, including the methods with which writing and books were produced, and the history of...

 is that the earliest texts in a line of transmission are to be favored over later texts. In the copying of manuscripts, the earliest texts will have the fewest scribal errors and be closest to the author's original intent; the later a text is, the worse it generally is. As bibliography
Bibliography
Bibliography , as a practice, is the academic study of books as physical, cultural objects; in this sense, it is also known as bibliology...

 evolved out of palaeography, it was influenced by the same heuristic, which clearly does apply in some cases. (From the mid-seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries, the plays of Shakespeare were performed in adaptations that varied widely, even wildly, from their creator's intent, while the older texts gave a much better representation of authorial intention.) The mechanical process of printing, however, complicates this axiom; subsequent printings of a given work plainly do allow for the correction of typographical and other errors, and also for authorial revisions, so that later texts can provide a better delivery of the author's meaning.

For Shakespeare, the First Folio
First Folio
Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. is the 1623 published collection of William Shakespeare's plays. Modern scholars commonly refer to it as the First Folio....

 of 1623 is the crucial document; of the thirty-six plays contained in that collection, eighteen have no other source. The eighteen other plays had been printed — in quarto
Quarto (text)
Quarto is a book or pamphlet produced from full 'blanksheets', each of which is printed with eight pages of text, four to a side, then folded two times to produce four leaves...

 form with one octavo exception — at least once between 1594 and 1623; but since the prefatory matter in the First Folio itself warns against the earlier texts, which are termed "stol'n and surreptitious copies, maimed and deformed by frauds and stealths of injurious impostors," eighteenth- and nineteenth-century editors of Shakespeare tended to ignore the quarto texts in favor of the Folio.

Gradually, however, it was recognized that the quarto texts varied widely among themselves; some were much better than others. It was the bibliographer Alfred W. Pollard
Alfred W. Pollard
Alfred William Pollard was an English bibliographer, widely credited for bringing a higher level of scholarly rigor to the study of Shakespearean texts....

 who originated the term "bad quarto" in 1909, to distinguish several texts that he judged significantly corrupt. He focused on four early quartos: Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy written early in the career of playwright William Shakespeare about two young star-crossed lovers whose deaths ultimately unite their feuding families. It was among Shakespeare's most popular archetypal stories of young, teenage lovers.Romeo and Juliet belongs to a...

(1597), Henry V
Henry V (play)
Henry V is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed to be written in approximately 1599. Its full titles are The Cronicle History of Henry the Fifth and The Life of Henry the Fifth...

(1600), The Merry Wives of Windsor
The Merry Wives of Windsor
The Merry Wives of Windsor is a comedy by William Shakespeare, first published in 1602, though believed to have been written prior to 1597. It features the fat knight Sir John Falstaff, and is Shakespeare's only play to deal exclusively with contemporary Elizabethan era English middle class life...

(1602), and Hamlet
Hamlet
The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, or more simply Hamlet, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601...

(1603). His reasons for citing these texts as "bad" were that they featured obvious errors, changes in word order, gaps in the sense of the text, jumbled printing of prose as verse and verse as prose, and similar problems.

It was at first suspected that these texts represented shorthand reporting, a practice mentioned by Thomas Heywood
Thomas Heywood
Thomas Heywood was a prominent English playwright, actor, and author whose peak period of activity falls between late Elizabethan and early Jacobean theatre.-Early years:...

: reporters would surreptitiously take down a play's text in shorthand during a performance, thus pirating a popular play for a competing interest. But W. W. Greg
Walter Wilson Greg
Sir Walter Wilson Greg was one of the leading bibliographers and Shakespeare scholars of the 20th century....

 and R. C. Rhodes argued instead for an alternative theory: since some of the minor speeches varied less than those of major characters, their hypothesis held that the actors who played those minor roles had reconstructed the play texts from memory
Memorial reconstruction
The theory of memorial reconstruction refers to the hypotheses concerning the transcription of 17th century plays from memory by actors who had played parts in them, and the subsequent publication of those transcripts...

 — giving an accurate report of the parts they themselves had memorized and played, but a less correct report of the other actors' parts.

The idea caught on among Shakespeare scholars. Peter Alexander added The First Part of the Contention Betwixt the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster (1594) and The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York (1595), the earliest versions of Henry VI, Part 2
Henry VI, part 2
Henry VI, Part 2 or The Second Part of Henry the Sixt is a history play by William Shakespeare believed to have been written in 1591, and set during the lifetime of King Henry VI of England...

and Henry VI, Part 3
Henry VI, part 3
Henry VI, Part 3 or The Third Part of Henry the Sixt is a history play by William Shakespeare believed to have been written in 1591, and set during the lifetime of King Henry VI of England...

,
to the roster of bad quartos; these were previously thought to be source plays for Shakespeare's later versions of the same stories. The concept of the bad quarto was extended to play texts by authors other than Shakespeare, and by the second half of the twentieth century the idea was widely accepted as valid.

Criticism and alternate hypotheses


Some problems remained with the hypothesis, however; the sheep-and-goats division of texts into "good" and "bad" categories was not always easy or elegantly simple. Consider the determination that Q1 of Richard III
Richard III (play)
Richard III is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in approximately 1591. It depicts the Machiavellian rise to power and subsequent short reign of Richard III of England. The play is grouped among the histories in the First Folio and is most often classified...

 is a bad quarto, "even though it is an unusually 'good' bad quarto." Alexander himself recognized that the idea of memorial reconstruction did not apply perfectly to the two plays he studied, which possessed problematical features that could not be explained this way. He maintained that the quartos of the two early histories were partial memorial reconstructions.

A few critics — Eric Sams
Eric Sams
Eric Sams was a British musicologist and Shakespeare scholar.Born in London, he was raised in Essex; his early brilliance in school earned him a scholarship to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge at the age of sixteen. His life-long passion for puzzles and ciphers stood him in good stead in his...

 is one example, Hardin Craig another — disputed the entire concept of memorial reconstruction, pointing out that, unlike shorthand reporting, there was no reliable historical evidence that actors ever reconstructed plays from memory. In this skeptical view, memorial reconstruction is purely a modern fiction divorced from any underlying Elizabethan reality. Individual scholars have sometimes favored alternative explanations for variant texts — in some cases, revision. Steven Roy Miller considers a revision hypothesis in preference to a bad-quarto hypothesis for The Taming of a Shrew, the alternative version of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew
The Taming of the Shrew
The Taming of the Shrew is a comedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1590 and 1591.The play begins with a framing device, often referred to as the Induction, in which a mischievous nobleman tricks a drunken tinker named Sly into believing he is actually a nobleman himself...

.


Robert Burkhart's 1975 study Shakespeare's Bad Quartos: Deliberate Abridgements Designed for Performance by a Reduced Cast provides another alternative to the hypothesis of bad quartos as memorial reconstruction. Other studies have questioned the "orthodox view" on bad quartos, as in David Farley-Hills's work on Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy written early in the career of playwright William Shakespeare about two young star-crossed lovers whose deaths ultimately unite their feuding families. It was among Shakespeare's most popular archetypal stories of young, teenage lovers.Romeo and Juliet belongs to a...

.

Bad quartos of other playwrights


Though the bad quarto concept originated in reference to Shakespearean texts, scholars have also applied it to a range of non-Shakespearean play texts of the English Renaissance era. In 1938 Leo Kirschbaum published "A Census of Bad Quartos" that included 20 play texts. Laurie Maguire's 1996 survey of the subject treats no less than 41 Shakespearean and non-Shakespearean editions that have been identified as bad quartos, including the first editions of Arden of Feversham, The Merry Devil of Edmonton
The Merry Devil of Edmonton
The Merry Devil of Edmonton is an Elizabethan era stage play, a comedy about a magician, Peter Fabel, nicknamed the Merry Devil.Scholars have conjectured dates of authorship for the play as early as 1592, though most favor a date in the 1600–4 period...

, and Fair Em
Fair Em
Fair Em, the Miller's Daughter of Manchester, is an Elizabethan era stage play, a comedy written c. 1590. It was bound together with Mucedorus and The Merry Devil of Edmonton in a volume labelled "Shakespeare. Vol...

, plays of the Shakespeare Apocrypha
Shakespeare Apocrypha
The Shakespeare Apocrypha is a group of plays that have sometimes been attributed to William Shakespeare, but whose attribution is questionable for various reasons...

, plus George Chapman
George Chapman
George Chapman was an English dramatist, translator, and poet. He was a classical scholar, and his work shows the influence of Stoicism. Chapman has been identified as the Rival Poet of Shakespeare's Sonnets by William Minto, and as an anticipator of the Metaphysical Poets...

's The Blind Beggar of Alexandria
The Blind Beggar of Alexandria
The Blind Beggar of Alexandria is an Elizabethan era stage play, a comedy written by George Chapman. It was the first of Chapman's plays to be produced on the stage; its success inaugurated his career as a dramatist.-Performance and publication:...

, Christopher Marlowe
Christopher Marlowe
Christopher Marlowe was an English dramatist, poet and translator of the Elizabethan era. As the foremost Elizabethan tragedian, next to William Shakespeare, he is known for his blank verse, his overreaching protagonists, and his mysterious death.A warrant was issued for Marlowe's arrest on 18 May...

's Doctor Faustus and The Massacre at Paris
The Massacre at Paris
The Massacre at Paris is an Elizabethan play by the English dramatist Christopher Marlowe. It concerns the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre, which took place in Paris in 1572, and the part played by the Duc de Guise in those events....

, Part 1 of Heywood's If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody
If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody
If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody is a two-part play by Thomas Heywood, depicting the life and reign of Elizabeth I of England, written very soon after the latter's death. The title deliberately echoes that of Samuel Rowley's 1605 play When You See Me You Know Me.Part 1 is a chronicle history of...

, and Beaumont and Fletcher
Beaumont and Fletcher
Beaumont and Fletcher were the English dramatists Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, who collaborated in their writing during the reign of James I ....

's The Maid's Tragedy
The Maid's Tragedy
The Maid's Tragedy is a play by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher. It was first published in 1619.The play was one of the earliest works in the canon of Fletcher and his collaborators that was acted by the King's Men; Fletcher would spend most of his career as that company's regular playwright...

, among others.