Seven Lost Bodies Of Work (Plus One)

Cracked is at it again, only this time they missed their biggest chance yet to bring up our hero.  When I see an article called 7 Lost Bodies of Work That Would Have Changed Everything I immediately bookmark it for Shakespeare references.  I read the whole thing up to #1, expecting Shakespeare on the list.  He’s not.  Sure, Jesus is.  DaVinci.  Even Hemingway.  But nothing for our boy.  Shakespeare’s only reference in the article comes when speaking of Chaucer, first arguing the “Chaucer was second only to Shakespeare” and then later hinting at who was greater by suggesting that if Chaucer had finished his tales, “Shakespeare would have had so much more to work with.”

Can we think about this one for a moment?  Perhaps they did not realize that the works of William Shakespeare, as he wrote and intended them, are effectively lost.  We have the sonnets, published it is presumed without his permission (and certainly edited and arranged without his input).  And we have the Folio, lovingly put together by his friends, yes – but not the same thing at all as “Shakespeare wrote these exact words” when people are remembering them years after he’s dead.  You can forever look at the works and ask, “Yes but what did Shakespeare intend here?” For that matter you could start with, “Did Shakespeare really write this?” I don’t mean the Authorship folks, I mean, “Is this the final draft as Shakespeare intended it, or did he revise later? Was it misremembered by the person copying it down?” and so on.

What do you think it would mean if we have documentation from the life and works of William Shakespeare?  What if we knew everything about him?  Would the conspiracy theories disappear, or multiply?  Would modern interpretation dry up?

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One thought on “Seven Lost Bodies Of Work (Plus One)

  1. "Shakespeareans have little invested in the man from Stratford. Some of them don't even like his works that much. More would embrace any hard evidence challenging his identity as the playwright without batting an eyelid. It hasn't happened because there's no real evidence that William Shakespeare of Stratford didn't write the plays credited to him in his lifetime. I don't think the kind of evidence we'd get in a new play would change that at all." the character Thomas Knight in "What Time Devours" by A J Hartley

    Hartley is Distinguished Professor of Shakespeare in the theatre dept. of UNC, the author of "The Shakespearean Dramaturg", and editor of "Shakespeare Bulletin". I wrote a review based upon his take on the academic viewpoints in the book and we've spoken back and forth about them. He didn't offer any disclaimers in our communication. So I think what he wrote above might be a sort of inside take on your last paragraph.

    As far as "the exact words", yes there is some question as to Folio and/or quarto, and some possible adjustments in typesetting. But Heminges and Condell had access to the theatrical prompt scripts when putting together the Folio–as close to Shakespeare's hand and what was put on stage at the Globe as anyone could get. They published 18 plays never before published in any form. In any event, what we have can't be too far from what he intended to write, though it does take various forms and he may have altered them himself for performance. (The difference between what might be a theatrical version of Hamlet, let's say –the Folio version, and Q2–always used in conflating with the Folio for the versions we get on the bookshelf.) But I think we're very close to having what he wrote, however randomly compiled as it can sometimes seem.

    What he intended it to mean? I don't think that would dry up in any event. Aren't we forever running our mouths about that? 🙂

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