Academic journal article Yearbook of English Studies

'I'll Have Grounds / More Relative Than This': The Puzzle of John Ward's Hamlet Promptbooks

Academic journal article Yearbook of English Studies

'I'll Have Grounds / More Relative Than This': The Puzzle of John Ward's Hamlet Promptbooks

Article excerpt

It is generally agreed that there were two quite separate versions of the text of Hamlet available in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries: the Quarto tradition (originating with Q2 in 1604/5;Q1 was not rediscovered until 1823) and the Folio tradition (originating with F1 in 1623). Broadly speaking (and perhaps surprisingly, in the light of modern 'revisionist' views of the folio as the more 'theatrical' text), quartos were to be found in theatres (indeed the volumes are often referred to as 'Players' Quartos') while folios were to be found in libraries. As Hazelton Spencer noted in 1927, the Restoration quartos of Hamlet are typical in being based on the latest pre-Civil War quarto (1637 in the case of Hamlet), not collated with or corrected from the folio: 'And so the Shakespeare Quartos run on, heedless except very rarely of the Folios, and then almost invariably with every appearance of casual coincidence, and repeating, without embarrassment and in edition after edition, absurdities which a glance at any one of the Folios would have cleared up.'[1] He gives two readings as the most obvious evidence of this failure to check the folios: the occurrence in all the Restoration quartos of the line 'For love oft loses both itself and friend' at i.3.76 (a turned letter error in Q2, corrected to lone ('loan') in F), and the occurrence of the defective line 'Had he the motive and that for passion' at ii.2.555 (F reads 'Had he the motive and the cue for passion').[2] Barbara Mowat, writing in 1988, agrees with Spencer on the quartos and makes the correlative point that the folio tradition in its turn shows no evidence of reference to the quartos: 'F4, published in 1685, seems innocent of quarto influence, despite the fact that quarto Hamlet held the stage and was available in Q1676' (p.99).[3] She goes on to demonstrate that, from Nicholas Rowe's first edition in 1709, editors began to conflate the textual traditions, adding to the folio text passages found only in the quartos. The practice of conflation continued until the 1980s when some editors began to bracket the quarto-only passages or consign them to appendices, on the grounds that Shakespeare had intended to cut them.

My intention in this essay is to focus on two particular copies of Restoration quartos of Hamlet which survive in the Johns Hopkins University Library and the Folger Shakespeare Library.[4] They are of special interest for a number of reasons: they are the earliest known 'promptbooks' of Hamlet, providing evidence of a specific theatrical tradition. They are thought to have been annotated by John Ward, grandfather of Sarah Siddons and the Kemble brothers, himself an actor and manager of a travelling company. They have been recognized as offering evidence of provincial stagings of Hamlet, but they also offer some interesting if puzzling evidence of textual variation in the theatre around 1740 when conflated texts were the order of the day for editors.

These volumes have received surprisingly little attention, and those who have mentioned them at all have followed the assumption of James G. McManaway that they were marked up for 'similar but not identical performances'.[5] His article concentrates primarily on questions of staging, and there are indeed indications of some differences: for example, in the Johns Hopkins copy the location of i.1 is rather surprisingly given as 'Town' whereas in the Folger copy it is 'a platform'. The courtiers are 'discover'd' (i.e., revealed by the removal of a curtain or stage flat) in the 'Mousetrap' scene (iii.2) and for the final duel (v.2) in the Johns Hopkins copy, annotations missing from the Folger copy which does, however, specify that the courtiers are 'discover'd' at the beginning of i.2. The Johns Hopkins copy also has a 'warning entry' reading 'Hamlet 2 pictures' before his entry in the closet scene (iii.4), indicating that he brought the pictures on stage with him, presumably using miniatures, not the large portraits shown in the illustrations in Rowe's editions which are thought to derive from the London stage. …

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