A Response to Gabriel Egan
University of Western Ontario
Werstine, Paul. "A Response to Gabriel Egan." Early Modern Literary Studies 5.1 (May, 1999): 15.1-4 < URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/05-1/wersread.html]>.
Thanks to Gabriel Egan for reading my piece in EMLS 3.3 called "Hypertext and Editorial Myth." His "Response" in 4.3 focuses on the possibility that the play Sir Thomas More may never have been acted. (He fails to allow for the alternative possibility that it may have been acted, a possibility that can never be closed out, since our records of what was performed are known to be woefully incomplete.) If it was not acted, he argues, then the extant manuscript of it may not be of the kind that would have served in a playhouse as the basis for production. Since he terms his piece a "Response" to mine, he evidently regards such considerations to be relevant to my argument. They are not.
My argument treated the inferences drawn from printed playtexts by McKerrow, Greg, and their many followers about the agents who produced the manuscripts that served as these books' printer's copy. These scholars assumed, for example, that, in early printed dramatic texts, inconsistencies in the designation of characters must have arisen through the agency of the author, rather than through that of theatrical personnel, whose task on the contrary, these scholars further assumed, would have been to regularize such things as the naming of characters. Therefore, according to these scholars, printed books in which these inconsistencies obtrude can be presumed to have been set from authorial manuscripts, not from manuscripts worked on by agents in the playhouse. In response to this position, I pointed out, among other things, that a part of the More manuscript identified by earlier scholars as marked up in the handwriting of known playhouse personnel shows inconsistencies of the kind that the school of Greg sought to associate exclusively with authorial manuscripts. I concluded that Greg and his followers erred in believing that they had a way to identify the kind of manuscripts that underlie early printed playtexts.
The More manuscript is important to my argument because it is an actual manuscript from the period, rather than some inferential construction by Greg or Egan of what a manuscript should be like. By virtue of its very existence, More is the sort of manuscript from which a play could have been printed. It matters not at all to this argument whether More was ever staged. Hence the irrelevance of Egan's "Response."
More shows that (pace Greg) manuscripts got messy when they went to the theatre. Egan wants to believe that had More stayed in the theatre to be performed (and it may have, for all we know), it would have become neat again. There is no evidence in the More manuscript to support such a belief, and there is much evidence among a number of other extant dramatic manuscripts, some of them showing indications that they were used in the course of performance, to deny such a belief. In order to refute my argument, Egan would need to produce evidence from the period's theatrical manuscripts to show that as a rule they were a tidy lot. What he offers instead are analogies about modern publishing conventions--analogies tailored to the convenience of his argument. These are hardly to the point.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at EMLS@UAlberta.ca.
© 1998-, Lisa Hopkins(Editor, EMLS).