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(Dis)embodied Letters and The Merchant of Venice

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Howard Marchitello, Texas A & M University

The concept of the historical progress of mankind cannot be sundered from the concept of its progression through a homogeneous, empty time. A critique of the concept of such a progression must be the basis of any criticism of the concept of progress itself.

—Walter Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History"

In recent years the practices and ideologies of modern textual criticism have come under significant review and critique. Our understanding of the linguistic instability of texts, informed by post-structuralism, together with recent re-theorizations of modern subjectivity, have produced a concern for the material or, more to the point, the textual nature of culture and its productions—what Jerome McGann recently has called "the textual condition."1 The practices of this new textual criticism have been theorized in McGann's project, begun with Romantic Ideology (1983) and continued in A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism (1983) and The Textual Condition (1991), which is in part intended to heal "the schism between textual and interpretive studies, opened so long ago."2 McGann's call for a reimagining of the bibliographical study of texts is predicated upon the identification of texts as "fundamentally social rather than personal."3 This identification retrieves texts from both the misguided essentialist (and humanist) fiction of the wholly autonomous author and the related discourse of intentionality that are thought to determine the production of texts outside or beyond both culture and history.

The field of Renaissance studies has proven to be fertile ground for such inquiry. In particular, revisionist work on Shakespearean texts offers us powerful ways to theorize the question, "What is a text?" (even before we can begin to formulate answers to it); new ways of understanding the multiple, often divergent and yet nevertheless equally authentic texts we do have; fresh insights into the materiality of texts and textual production (printing house practices, for instance); and increasingly thorough and sophisticated accounts of early modern conceptions of publishing, collaboration, and the complex issues of authorship.4 These newly articulated critical and theoretical interests and inquiries have served to redefine the nature of textual criticism. This practice of "unediting," as Randall McLeod and Leah Marcus have called it, has produced a long list of recovered texts—texts (quartos, copies) that traditional textual theory and criticism have consistently dismissed as "bad," "corrupt," or otherwise inferior to their own texts: the two versions of King Lear, or the equally valid versions of the much-disputed Doctor Faustus, to name two prominent examples.5

My use here of the terms "produced" and "recovered" is somewhat ironical: it has been the object of traditional textual criticism to produce authoritative texts in the absence of authorial script, which is itself imagined as recoverable because final authorial intention resides in the extant texts, even if it becomes visible (present) only in reconstructed texts, or, more frequently, in texts that are more or less hypothetical. "Unediting" produces no new texts, and can even be said to resist the entire notion of such production. Rather, "unediting" insists upon the integrity of textual productions without recourse to claims for the authorial status of these texts, and therein cannot be said either to produce or to recover texts—at least not in the conventional senses of these terms as they come to us through traditional textual criticism.

In discussing the composite nature of the two versions of Doctor Faustus, Leah Marcus argues that while both can claim aesthetic integrity on their own perhaps divergent terms, neither can claim a greater proximity to "the absent authorial presence we call Marlowe":

It is time to step back from the fantasy of recovering Marlowe as the mighty, controlling source of textual production and consider other elements of the process, particularly ideological elements that the editorial tradition has, by the very nature of its enterprise, suppressed. I would like to second [Michael] Warren's call for a separation of the two texts of Doctor Faustus, but carry his argument further by contending that for Faustus, and for Renaissance drama more generally, a key element of textual indeterminacy is ideological difference.6

Marcus argues that "we can learn something about the vagaries of Renaissance authorship and mark out new areas for interpretation if we wean ourselves from the ingrained habit of regarding textual 'accidentals' as insignificant,"7 and asks us to reconsider "accidentals"—such as the A text's "Wertenberg" and the B text's "Wittenberg"; A's empty stage at the play's end and B's stage littered with the fragments of Faustus's body—as significant in establishing markedly "different configurations of religious experience" in the two plays.8 "Accidentals" such as those reflecting divergent religious experience are in fact substantial and consequential elements of both plays, attributable to revisions—Marlovian or post-Marlovian—of the play in history.9

As has been suggested above, the case for reconsidering our editorial determinations concerning texts and their relative authority has gone a long way in helping create the very possibility of this argument: in our relationship to texts we are no longer so strictly bound to the desire to recover—or, for that matter, the very faith in—the lost original. Indeed, as post-structuralist theory has taught us, the idea of the original is not only misleading, but wholly illusory; "we have no originals," Jonathan Goldberg reminds us, "only copies."10

Marcus's discussion of "accidentals" allows us access to nonauthorial elements that survive in or help to determine play-texts—evidence, as it were, for textual (and bibliographical) traces of nonauthorial agency. At the same time, however, Marcus's argument—while perhaps controversial in its revisionist claims for the two texts of Faustus—is nevertheless dedicated to the discussion of agency within texts, whether that agency is authorial or non-authorial, and as such offers only a restricted critique of textual criticism and traditional practices of editing. This is analogous to what Jonathan Goldberg has identified as "the combination of textual audacity and critical conservatism" to be found even in as bold an intervention in Shakespearean studies as The Division of the Kingdoms:

There are two King Lears, we are told, but we are assured that the Quarto derives from Shakespeare's manuscript and that the Folio represents an authoritative revision. The kingdom has been divided, but Shakespeare reigns supreme, author now of two sovereign texts.11

As audacious as it is, Marcus's argument—perhaps like that of The Division of the Kingdoms—returns in the end to texts as instantiations of agency. I would like to extend the radical critique of traditional textual criticism and the traditional practices of text-editing implicit in the project of "unediting" by suggesting that while texts have historically been understood as instruments of agentiality par excellence, they nevertheless embody traces of nonagential writing. Goldberg argues that the "Shakespearean text is a historical phenomenon, produced by ongoing restructurations, revisions, and collaboration; by interventions that are editorial, scribal, theatrical; by conditions that are material, occasional, accidental."12 New textual theory and practice, such as Marcus's, have indeed revised our notions of these material and occasional conditions. Following Goldberg's extension of the radical instability of the text to include "the typographical character" that stands as "one further sign—literally, a reminder of the compositor—that points to the composite nature of every Shakespearean text," however, and his explicit call ("since it is all that we have") for a "return to the letter," I propose to focus here on the accidental conditions of Shakespearean textuality, and to suggest that there are ways in which we can understand these significant traces of non-agency, these "accidentals" that are precisely accidental. 13 To argue for the value of true textual accidents (misspelled words, evident compositor's errors, textual obscurities or incoherences) and their availability to critical inquiry is to offer a fundamental revision of the philosophical underpinnings of traditional textual criticism that is founded upon the suspect epistemology of presence, and as such constitutes an elaborate discourse of causality: a complex set of theories and practices dedicated to the description and reconstitution of texts.14 Traditional textual criticism, then, is nothing less than a form of historiography, fundamentally conservative in nature and essentially narrative in form, dedicated to the preservation of presence and historical continuity, and in which the text is construed as the site where historical progress is believed to be materially evident.

In his Critique, McGann discusses this notion of the text in history, especially as it is reflected in the ideas of the copy-text and the critical edition produced through the practice (I will want to say the historical practice) of collation, and the critical apparatus that "displays the 'history' of the text."15 These practices, it is important to note, are both produced within an entirely historical epistemological framework and at the same time are intended to reproduce the text in its historical development. And yet, the effect of the critical text that has so thoroughly given itself over to the historical reconstruction of a hypostatized originary presence, is to evade history, to posit its own existence as transcendental, beyond temporality and outside history: "The critical edition embodies a practical goal which can be (within limits) accomplished, but it equally embodies an illusion about its own historicity (or lack thereof)."16

McGann finds the terms of this understanding problematical, especially as the long history of modern textual criticism is predicated upon the notion of development or progress:

This view of scholarship and program of general education are based upon a paradigm which sees all human products in processive and diachronic terms. The paradigm has controlled the work of textual criticism from its inception, and it operates to this day.17

Like McGann, I want to return the text more fully to history. But unlike McGann, however, I do not understand history to be fully meaningful, or wholly caused. My desire is to renounce the Hegelian philosophy of history that determines historicism in the model of traditional bibliographical or textual studies. Textual study has always been informed by an implicit philosophy of history, even when it claimed to be managing a wholly positivistic set of operations and maneuvers. One of the explicit premises of this study is that the textual criticism it advocates is thoroughly historical and resolutely non-Hegelian. I will not argue that any current embodiment of a particular text represents the culmination of its teleological evolution, but rather that the text can be said to exist only within history so long as it (the text, our relationship to the text, history itself) is not merely inserted in a narrative that presupposes a paradigm of progress. I hope by this to extricate the following discussion of texts and textual embodiment from the appropriative claims of traditional textual criticism that imagines the text as existing for us; I want to argue, instead, that texts—like history—exist in spite of us.

In the first part of the essay I turn to The Merchant of Venice and its narratives of reading and writing—the first of a series of such narratives that extends from Shakespeare to the practitioners of traditional textual criticism. These narratives are predicated upon an implicit science of presence-in-writing and are, moreover, conceived as progressive and wholly inscribed within the world of essential agency. The metaphysical notions of writing, editing and textuality that authorize modern editorial practices indeed underlie Merchant, a play in which presence (body) is imagined as immanent in the letter. But the actual text (or texts) of Merchant and recent critiques of the practices of textual criticism belie these assumptions. Scenes of reading and writing, as Goldberg argues,

do not allegorize a notion of the text itself. Rather, they point to a textuality that is radically unstable, upon which plots move, characters are (de)formed, language and observation is (improperly) staged. They point, that is, to historical and cultural demarcations, to what passes for essences, desires, knowledge, and the like.18

Presence-in-writing is always merely the dream of writing (even if an enabling dream), and texts do not finally exist in an entirely deterministic universe void of accidents; accidents abound, and they are meaningful precisely because they are uncaused. Accidents are signs forever detached from any system of signification, but the meaning of accidents is specific and absolute: accidents "mean" the absence of meaning. But this is an argument against which Merchant offers its considerable resistance.

The particular textual accident I will discuss in the essay's second part is the problem involving the characters Solanio, Salerio and Salarino, and the editorial decision (suggested by John Dover Wilson in the 1926 Cambridge edition and adopted almost universally by subsequent editors) to consider the name "Salarino" as simply an error, a textual mistake that should be replaced by "Salerio." Wilson's evidence supporting his emendation, however, is problematical, especially as it is generated by the idea of a unitary and authoritative text that depends upon a science of presence that produces both the notion of the authorial text and the unmistakable anxiety manifest in certain readers occasioned by its apparent aberrations and incoherences. Wilson's decision to eliminate Salarino offers a striking instance of a wilful intervention of nonauthorial agency into the Shakespearean text (however we construe that term) precisely at a moment in which the text marks an instance of nonagentiality.

The essay concludes with a discussion of the matter of textual accidents and the imperative evident in traditional textual criticism to over-write them. It is against these practices (of textual criticism and of a certain historicism) that a theory of radical unediting must stand.


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A letter from Antonio is brought to Bassanio. In this letter, writing is understood as both an act of inscription and as an act of incision, as an act of construction and of destruction, as a hopeful act of preservation and at the same time as an act of absolute violence:

Sweet Bassanio, my ships have all miscarried, my creditors grow cruel, my estate is very low, my bond to the Jew is forfeit, and (since in paying it, it is impossible I should live), all debts are clear'd between you and I, if I might but see you at my death: notwithstanding, use your pleasure,—if your love do not persuade you to come, let not my letter.19

Here is the hope for presence-in-writing, the hope for the body made immanent in the letter. And yet, at the same time—and as Bassanio understands—this is the letter that kills:

Here is a letter lady,
The paper as the body of my friend,
And every word in it a gaping wound
Issuing life-blood.

Writing's dream of presence always inscribes its double: erasure. Commenting on the verse line, "Your penknife as stay in left hand let rest," that prefaces A Booke Containing Divers Sortes of Hands, Jonathan Goldberg discusses this double-nature of writing:

"Stay" suggests that the knife is the support of writing (it keeps the place, marks the line, sharpens the quill, smooths the paper: there can be no act of writing without the knife); but "stay" also suggests that the knife impedes the quill (erasure lies within its domain). As Derrida has argued, what is true of the knife is true of the quill: these are the writer's weapons for a scene in which the production of script also effaces such production to produce the writer's hand—to produce the illusory presence of writing. "Stay" remarks the double structure of the mark, and the scriptive domain that (dis)locates the writer.20

Antonio is similarly (dis)located by the letter he has sent to Bassanio. In the letter he identifies his imminent death as embodied in the bond to Shylock; he also both proclaims and rejects Bassanio's debt to him, and uses the letter to request, indeed virtually to command, Bassanio's presence, even as he rejects the notion of such efficacy in a mere "letter": "if your love do not persuade you to come, let not my letter." This is precisely Antonio's predicament in his forfeited bond (the letter) that situates him even as it guarantees his erasure: he stands, as he says, prepared to die.

This assertion—that Antonio's letter manifests both the desire for and the impossibility of presence-in-writing—is also clear on a material level in the Hayes Quarto. Dover Wilson recognized that the letters and scrolls in Merchant are "bibliographically speaking, textually distinct" from the rest of the play-text.21 While I disagree with Wilson's argument that such distinctness serves to identify the letters as either scribal or playhouse additions, their bibliographical distinctness does stand as a material manifestation of the impossibility of the dream of presence-in-writing: these texts that seek to embody or to locate characters are themselves radically disembodied and dislocated from the surface of the play-text. Antonio's letter (which we can now see was mis-quoted above) actually appears in the 1600 Quarto thus:

[Por.] But let me heare the letter of your friend.
Sweet Bassanio, my ships have all miscarried, my
Creditors growe cruell, my estate is very low, my
bond to the Jewe is forfaite, and since in paying
it, it is impossible I should live, all debts are
cleerd betweene you and I if I might but see you
at my death: notwithstanding, use your pleasure,
if your love do not perswade you to come, let
not my letter.
      O love! dispatch all busines and be

The text of Antonio's letter is clearly distinct from the rest of the passage: it stands materially apart from the rest of the text most obviously by virtue of its use of italic typeface. At the same time, it separates itself from the rest of the text—and from the rest of the text's normal grammar—by virtue of being unassigned: Portia is given a speech tag both before and after the text of the letter, and there is no speech tag for the letter itself. 23

In his discussion of Hamlet's letter to Claudius, especially the signature that either does (in the Folio) or does not (in the second quarto) accompany it, Jonathan Goldberg discusses a similar instance of a letter and its typographical relationship to the rest of the play-text in which it occurs:

In the Folio [as compared to the second quarto], Hamlet's signature is printed in the same type as the rest of the text of the play and the same type as the names "Horatio," "Rosincrance," and "Guildensterne" that appear in the letter; save for them, the entire body of the letter as well as the subscription is in italics. Do italics therefore mark the letter as not part of the play, or not part of the script produced by the hand that wrote the rest of the text? But in that case, to whom does the letter belong when the signature is not in the same hand as the letter, but instead marked the same way as the hand that produces the rest of the text?24

Unlike the Folio Hamlet's letter, Antonio's letter is both unassigned and unsigned; it has no voice (that Portia or Bassanio voices the letter on stage is either purely conjectural or merely convenient), and the signature that would authorize it exists only under erasure. Though this is the letter that claims to be the body of its author, it is, finally, the letter that inscribes instead the impossibility of presence-in-writing. This is the disembodied letter.

The appearance of Antonio's letter represents a violent eruption of tragedy into the scene of romance surrounding Bassanio's choice. But before we see Portia's Belmont as wholly idyllic, it is important to recognize the ways in which Portia's world is in fact organized around a central but unstaged scene of writing/violence: her father's will mandating the test of the three caskets—the very thing that introduces further instances of violence or its implicit threat.

If we can speculate on the nature of this specular scene of writing/violence—as indeed the play invites us to do, particularly in those moments in which Portia herself contemplates her father's mandate (his will and his writing) and its effects on her: "I may neither choose who I would, nor refuse who I dislike, so is the will of a living daughter curb'd by the will of a dead father"
(1.2.22-25)—Portia's father's will stands as an exemplary instance of a profound faith in the metaphysics of writing, its supposed ability to figure the presence of the body as immanent in writing itself.25

There is little doubt that Portia's father's will has more to do with Portia's father than it does with Portia herself, as is clear in Nerissa's early comment on the test of the three caskets: "Who chooses his meaning chooses you" (1.2.30-31). What is at stake, then, in the suitor's choice is the father's meaning—and the father's wealth, all of which Portia gives over to Bassanio, "Myself, and what is mine, to you and yours / Is now converted" (3.2.166-67). Portia signifies in this economy of male desire merely as the embodiment of wealth and as heir to her father's seemingly limitless fortune, as Bassanio's prioritized list of Portia's characteristics perhaps intimates: "In Belmont is a lady richly left, / And she is fair" (1.1.161-62). To the materialistic Bassanio (or Morocco, or Arragon), the correct casket holds the license to assume the position of the father, as well as his possessions marked by the representation of its "real world" signifier: Portia's portrait. The logic of Portia's father's will is predicated upon an informing faith in the myth of presence-in-writing executed across the figure of Portia as its signifier. It is this logic (with which I take exception) that was read so influentially by Freud in his famous essay "The Theme of the Three Caskets."26

Freud read well the intentions informing Portia's father; he understood, that is, that the caskets really do for him represent Portia herself. But there is no reason that we need to see the same thing in the three caskets. The caskets can be said to hold different versions of the preserved paternal will—that is, different versions of that will, or, even, of the father himself. What is more (and quite unlike the caskets in the source tale of the Gesta Romanorum), these caskets contain two sorts of material representations of the suitors's fates: the death's head, the "portrait of a blinking idiot," and Portia's portrait constitute the first sort, while writing constitutes the second.

Morocco had earlier announced another test to determine true from false love, the worthy from the unworthy:

Mislike me not for my complexion,
The shadowed livery of the burnish'd sun,
To whom I am a neighbour, and near bred.
Bring me the fairest creature northward born,
Where Phoebus' fire scarce thaws the icicles,
And let us make incision for your love,
To prove whose blood is reddest, his or mine.

Morocco's boast (and it is perhaps more than a mere boast; it may speak earnestly to the very prejudice of which Portia seems to be a mouthpiece—"Let all of his complexion choose me so" [2.7.79], she says upon Morocco's "thus losers part") displays an understanding of the ways in which truth is aligned with writing, or, as he says, inscribing. Much as a writer cuts into a page with the quill/knife, Morocco imagines that the resolution of the racial obstacles he faces lies in incising his body, in a writing both on and of the body—a writing that will embody or make present a truth (his virtue as equal to and deserving of Portia) symbolized for him in the redness of his blood.

It is a faith in real bodies, and their persistence even in absence—their immanence, that is, in the dream of presence-in-writing—that motivates Portia's father and his will. At the same time, a faith in real bodies motivates Shylock's passionate pursuit of the forfeiture of the bond, underwriting, as it were, Shylock's much-discussed adherence to "the letter of the law." Shylock very clearly understands there to be an intimate relationship between the body and writing, even as he hopes to kill Antonio by inscribing upon his body the costs of both the forfeited bond and the wages of Antonio's anti-semitism. At the same time, Shylock understands that there is an equally intimate relationship between the body and the state, which are mutually dependent and discursively figured: Antonio's fate lies in Shylock's hands to the extent that Venice as a political entity lies embodied in its laws, hence Shylock's repeated appeals to law and justice. The Duke necessarily finds this argument compelling and is left no choice but to endorse what he thinks is the young doctor's sentence against the merchant. Antonio, for his part, seems to accept the inevitability of his death at Shylock's hands; in fact, Antonio recognizes that Shylock's execution of the forfeiture constitutes a writing on his body that will inscribe a specific meaning:

I am a tainted wether of the flock,
Meetest for death,—the weakest kind of fruit
Drops earliest to the ground, and so let me;
You cannot better be employ'd Bassanio,
Than to live still and write mine epitaph.

For Antonio, the antidote to death is a kind of immortality in writing: his epitaph. He later invokes this imagined presence in his farewell to Bassanio:

Commend me to your honorable wife,
Tell her the process of Antonio's end,
Say how I lov'd you, speak me fair in death:
And when the tale is told, bid her be judge
Whether Bassanio had not once a love:
Repent but you that you shall lose your friend
And he repents not that he pays your debt.
For if the Jew do cut but deep enough,
I'll pay it instantly with all my heart.

Antonio's faith in presence-in-writing, like Portia's father's and Shylock's, construes the body as the ultimate ground of writing, whether that writing literally occurs on the body (Morocco's incision, Antonio's pound of flesh) or is understood as immanent in writing itself (Portia's father's will, Shylock's bond). In both instances, writing promises presence in absence and articulates its promise on the level of Ietterai configurations within the play.

Another significant instance of this is Portia's embodiment as Balthazar, the young doctor of laws. Portia's disguise as Balthazar is of particular interest because it is, like Jessica's and Nerissa's corresponding changes, a cross-gender embodiment: by virtue of the letter (first Portia's letter to Bellario and then, in turn, Bellario's letter to the Duke), Portia and Nerissa will both appear as men ("accomplished / With what we lack" [3.4.61-62]) before the Venetian court.27

In her transformed shape, Portia manifests a profound ability to exploit the hypostatized relationship between the body, writing, and the state by recasting the narrative of embodiment Shylock and the others have imagined. Portia intervenes in Shylock's narrative (and Antonio's, too, as he projects his embodiment in Bassanio's epitaph) by appropriating Shylock's linguistic practice: he has insisted upon the letter of the law (the logic, that is, of presence-in-writing) and it is precisely this literalism ("letteralism") that Portia turns upon him:

This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood,
The words expressly are 'a pound of flesh':
Take then thy bond, take thou thy pound of
But in the cutting it, if thou dost shed
One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and
Are (by the laws of Venice) confiscate
Unto the state of Venice.

While the outcome perhaps startles—it is Shylock and not Antonio who will die by the violence of the letter—the logic of that violence is no surprise as it has in fact underwritten the entire play, even here in the moment of its evident reversal.28

Portia draws the play toward its conclusion with a final letter telling Antonio of the safe return of his ships.29 But if this letter represents the moment of comic closure in which even the failure of Antonio's merchant venture (by now perhaps a moot issue) is recuperated, it also represents a profound mystification of the letter and all that it is held to signify:

       Antonio you are welcome,
And I have better news in store for you
Than you expect: unseal this letter soon,
There you shall find three of your argosies
Are richly come to harbour suddenly.
You shall not know by what strange accident
I chanced on this letter.

Though this final letter carries a certain signifying and sensational content, like Antonio (and perhaps like Portia) we cannot account for its presence. The play forecloses any such accounting; the letter simply exists as the final sign of comic resolution. While this letter may stand emblematically for the various operations of the letters we have encountered throughout the play—particularly the desire for presence-in-writing upon which they are founded—this letter comes from nowhere and from no one's hand. It serves, then, to destabilize the very philosophy of the letter and its epistemology of presence; it betrays the mystical or, more aptly, the theological nature of the letter. In the end, the letter inhabits the realm of the conjectural, not the contractual, and our confidence in the letter is actually our profound and desperate faith in it. Rather than serving to guarantee desire and anchor it in the material, the mystical letter affords only the vision of such grounding always just beyond reach. And its only pleasures are the pleasures of the dream of immanence that the letter inscribes as the condition of its, and perhaps our own, ontology.


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This dream informs Merchant in another instance of the conjectural letter—or conjectural letters—and a putative relationship to presence. The critical textual moment for the Salerio/Salarino/Solanio issue occurs within the play's most important staging of the scene of reading—in 3.2, the moment (discussed above) just after Bassanio has made the correct choice of the lead casket, and a character arrives carrying Antonio's letter. It is the identity of this character that has caused considerable debate. The 1987 New Cambridge Shakespeare edition, edited by M. M. Mahood, identifies the three characters in its "List of Characters" thus:

    gentlemen of Venice, and companions
    with Bassanio

Salerio, a messenger from Venice

The entry for Salarino is noted at the bottom of the page: "He may very probably be the same character as 'Salerio'," and we are asked to consult the "Textual Analysis" that supplements the text.30 In the pages of the "Textual Analysis" devoted to a discussion of these characters, Mahood offers a careful review of the parameters of this textual problem and the solutions to it offered by various editors:

Earlier editors of the play were reluctant to believe that Shakespeare, after naming two characters "Salarino" and "Solanio" … would have made confusion worse confounded by bringing on a third character called "Salerio." To have created so superfluous a character would have violated "dramatic propriety," put the actors to unnecessary expense, and shown a singular lack of inventiveness in the choice of names. … In the New Shakespeare edition of 1926, [John Dover] Wilson concurred with Capell in making Salarino and Salerio one and the same person but decided that Shakespeare's name for him must be "Salerio" since this occurs five times in the dialogue. He therefore substituted "Salerio" for "Salarino" or its variants in all previous stage directions and speech headings. All subsequent editors have followed Wilson in this, and Salarino has not put in an appearance for the past sixty years. On a number of grounds, I have restored him to the text of this edition. (M, 179)

Mahood argues there is "no prima facie case against Shakespeare having had three different personages in mind. On the other hand, the positive evidence in favour of three characters is admittedly slight" (M, 179). After a lengthy discussion of the various arguments both for and against the eliding of Salarino and Salerio, Mahood decides to maintain the distinction between these characters within the text, while noting in the textual apparatus the possibility that this decision may be untenable. This decision is underwritten, however, not by an argument for one character over the other, but is instead guaranteed by an appeal to a reputed authorial intention or the (lost, conjectural or—at the very least—the specular) authorial script:

It is always open to the director to identify Salarino with Salerio, thereby economising on minor parts and very probably fulfilling Shakespeare's final intention into the bargain. But the printed text must, I believe, retain three Venetian gentlemen with similar names because, whatever his intentions, Salarino, Solanio, and Salerio all figured in the manuscript that Shakespeare actually gave to his actors as The Merchant of Venice. (M, 183)

Embedded within this final comment are a number of crucial issues. To begin with, Mahood accepts a fundamental distinction between the play as it is performed and the play as a text: in the first instance, the textual stand taken vis-à-vis Salarino/Salerio simply doesn't signify; in the latter, the textual becomes occasion for taking a stand. In other words, this textual matter finally doesn't matter if the play is imagined in performance—as spoken language—, but matters a good deal more if it is instead imagined as a text—as written language.

This constitutes a performative version of the logocentrism described by Derrida: spoken language is imagined as prior to and more immediate than the written, with the consequences in this particular instance being that in production the play is substantially different in such a way as to allow an editorial emendation that in print would be inadmissable. At the same time, Mahood suggests that whatever the decision in performance, in print the three characters must nevertheless still appear. The performed play, then, enacts yet another splitting, reifies the posited distinction between performed and textual play, as an actor may be—in performance—Salerio while in print he may (still) be Salarino.31

There is another issue at stake in Mahood's double-vision of a single version of the play, and it is an issue relevant to our understanding of Merchant more generally. In the above paragraph Mahood identifies the three characters as "three Venetian gentlemen," while in the "Textual Analysis" she suggests that their status as "gentlemen" is perhaps open to some question, and that, moreover, Salerio may not be a gentleman at all, as his nomination "a messenger from Venice" may well suggest:

a messenger from Venice (3.2.218 SD) could imply that not only is Salerio not to be confused with the two men-about-town, but that his social status is rather different. Gratiano's "My old Venetian friend Salerio " (218) need not imply equality; it can be a condescending form of address and also an explanatory phrase such as the audience would not need if it had met Salerio four times already. Salerio … can be seen as a kind of state functionary … . This would accord with his role in the trial, where he is a kind of gentleman usher. (M, 181-82)

But Salerio's social status is not the only one at stake: while the "social nuances of four hundred years ago are not … something on which we can speak with confidence today," Mahood suggests, "it would be quite easy to make out a case, in the play's first scene, for a social difference between Solanio and Salarino on the one hand and Bassanio's more immediate group of friends on the other" (M, 182). Mahood clearly brings certain notions of class and class distinction to the play, and just as clearly suspects Shakespeare to have done so as well.

While Mahood's decision to retain Salarino seems to depend in part upon his presumed class-based differences from Salerio, it is in fact underwritten by an unquestioned adherence to the tenets of traditional textual criticism—particularly the faith in authorial intentionality. In this regard, then, Mahood's inclusion of Salarino is effectively no different from Wilson's exclusion of him.

Wilson's discussion of what he calls "the muddle of the three Sallies" (W, 100) is a careful analysis of this textual problem and has stood as the almost universal "resolution" reproduced by every editor of the play until Mahood. Wilson's argument—that "Salarino" is a repeatedly misrecognized or misprinted version of "Salerio"—is heavily indebted to a complex textual genealogical argument in which the copy-text for the 1600 Hayes Quarto is believed to have been pieced together not from prompt-books or manuscript (the latter is the argument favored by recent editors), but from what Wilson calls "secondary theatrical manuscripts" (W, 105). Wilson finds corroborating evidence for this conclusion in a number of the play's more striking textual characteristics: the evident addition of texts into the play—specifically, the letters read aloud in 3.2 and 4.1 and the three scrolls of the casket scenes—, the play's stage directions, the related matter of the "three Sallies," and what Wilson deems the evident playhouse additions to the play.

Wilson notes the curious textual features associated with the letters and the scrolls—that they are bibliographically "marked off" within the Quarto, and that for each a speech heading is missing. This bibliographical distinctness, Wilson claims, is "a textual fact of capital importance":

For the absences of prefixes before the letters and the duplication of prefixes in the speeches afford clear evidence that both letters and scrolls are, bibliographically speaking, textually distinct from the rest of the copy, or in other words, insertions … . Any text, therefore, in which letters, songs or scrolls are seemingly insertions, is to be suspected of being derived, not from the original "book," but from some secondary theatrical source, composed of players' parts. (W, 97-98)

The "frequent vagueness" of entry directions ("Enter Bassanio with a follower or two" [2.2.109], one of whom later turns out to be Leonardo; the entry for the "man of Portia's" whom we later learn is Balthazar, and the "Messenger" [5.1.24] who "is discovered four lines later to be Stephano, one of Portia's household") prove that, as Wilson had argued earlier in the New Shakespeare edition of The Comedy of Errors, "the dialogue had been copied out (from the players' parts) by one scribe and the stage-directions supplied by another … who possessed very vague ideas of the text he was working on" (W, 100). It is precisely this "scribe responsible for the stage-directions" whom Wilson holds accountable both for the "muddle of the three Sallies" and for the general textual state of the entire Quarto.

In his argument for resolving the Salerio/Salarino crux, Wilson lays the responsibility for the problem entirely at the hands of the scribe, reconstructing, based upon his sense of evidence, what must have happened in the scribe's production of the text:

Whence then came this curious "Salarino"? If we assume, as we have already found ourselves entitled to assume, that the text before us was made up of players' parts strung together, transcribed and then worked over by a scribe who supplied the stage-directions, the reply is not difficult. … This scribe had before him at the outset, we must suppose, a transcript from the parts containing only the bare dialogue and the abbreviated prefixes, so that he would be obliged to rely upon his memory of the play upon the stage for the full names of those characters which were not mentioned in the dialogue itself. Now the form "Salarino" is found, apart from the stage-directions, nowhere in the dialogue and in only one prefix, which occurs at 1.1.8. The prefix "Salari" (which is of course a variant spelling of "Saleri") is, on the other hand, fairly frequent. The beginning of all the muddle, we suggest, was that the scribe found the prefix "Salari" in his text at 1.1.8, took it as a contraction for "Salarino," added "no" to it, and framed his entry-direction accordingly. It accords with this theory that the only time we get the erroneous "Salanio" in the prefixes is at 1.1.15 … . Clearly, we think, the meddling scribe made the two changes at the same time. (W, 103-104)

From this description of an imagined scene of scribal intrusion and disruption of the Shakespearean text, Wilson constructs an entire narrative of the scribe's work and his absolute consistency in his erroneous and meddling ways:

"Salarino" (or "Salerino") marches happily along in the stage-directions hand in hand with "Salanio" (or "Solanio") up to the end of 3.1, by which time the former name had become such a habit with the scribe that when he comes upon "Salerio" in the dialogue of 3.2 he quite fails to recognize his identity and puts him down as "a messenger from Venice." (W, 104)

The final evidence for Wilson's theory of the "assembled text" is what he identifies as the playhouse additions to the play itself, arguing that "texts derived from secondary theatrical manuscripts are likely to preserve traces of actors', or at least of playhouse, additions." Wilson identifies an early section of 5.1 as such a trace—a "piece of 'fat,' as the modern actor would call it, [that] has clearly been inserted in the text": the prose lines introduced by Lancelot's repeated "sola's" and concluded with what Wilson conjectures is the misassignment of "sweete soule" (W, 105). In his analysis of the significance of the textual irregularities he finds in this brief passage, Wilson has recourse to the assistance of W. W. Greg ["whose authority on matters of this kind is unrivalled" (W, 106)]; when asked by Wilson what he made of the "sweete soule" matter, Greg theorized a version of the assembled text argument:

I think it is pretty clear that the preceding passage was an insertion in the margin, or more probably on a slip, ending up, as was usual, with a repetition of the following words to show where it was to come. The sense shows that the insertion must have begun with the Messenger's words: "I pray you is my Maister yet returnd?" I suppose that the printer finding the words repeated in the MS, omitted the second occurrence. The compositor would not be very likely to do this, but a proof-reader might—or there may have been an intermediate transcript. (qtd. in W, 106)

Authorized by Greg's words, Wilson continues his argument by wondering why there should be this addition at all—especially as "the passage … might be omitted without any injury to the context." The answer, Wilson declares, is simple: "to give the clown who played Lancelot an opportunity of making the theatre ring with his 'sola!'." "Evidently," Wilson concludes, "the clown in Shakespeare's company, Will Kempe presumably, was fond of caterwauling tricks" (W, 106-7).

Let us for a moment consider the rhetoric of this derisive passage which manifests a certain ideological bias brought to bear not only on the passages under review, but to the editing of the entire play, and, moreover, to that play's meaning.32 In this passage Wilson makes the small but serious mistake of referring to Will Kempe not as the comedian of Shakespeare's company, but as its clown. To confuse or conflate the two is to eradicate any distinction between actor and the part an actor might play upon the stage; the consequences of this confusion are significant. In Wilson's rhetoric, Kempe literally is a clown, and as such occupies the same position in the space of the social world that a clown does in the space of the theater. So Kempe's addition here—his "piece of 'fat'"—is pure clowning, but clowning with serious ramifications. For Wilson, Kempe's addition represents nothing less than the eruption of chaos and disorder into the otherwise decorous and high-aesthetic world of the Shakespearean play. Kempe becomes the sign of both social and aesthetic disruption and literal (Ietteral) textual corruption.

Wilson's vision of Kempe as the figure of radical instability does not end here, however, for as Wilson says, "if an addition was made to this 'assembled' prompt-book at one place, why not at others?" (W, 107); the text stands hopelessly vulnerable to the pernicious effects of Kempe as the socially and aesthetically disenfranchised figure of instability and subversion. Wilson identifies a second "prose-patch, this time of a ribald nature," in 3.2:

It is pretty certainly a textual addition, and we suspect that it was made by the same hand as wrote the 'sola' slip. Indeed, we are inclined to go even further and to attribute a whole scene to this unknown scribe. (W, 107)

The passage under review here—the opening 59 lines of prose—includes Lorenzo's famously obscure charge, "the Moor is with child by you Lancelot!" (3.5.35-6), and ends when Lancelot exits to prepare dinner. Wilson argues that not only is this so-called prosepatch an addition, but that the entire scene was (again) instigated by Kempe:

It is the verse with which the scene closes that seems to provide the clue we are seeking. The first five and a half lines of this verse are a tribute to Lancelot, or rather to the actor who played him, while the reference to "A many fools that stand in better place" is obviously intended as a hit at some successful rival. In a word, we suggest that Shakespeare had no hand whatever in the composition of 3.5, which might be omitted altogether without loss to the play; that it was added to the "assembled" prompt-book at the same time as the insertions at 5.1.39-49 and 3.2.214-18; and that while 3.5.60-5 was written by some second-rate poet as a compliment to William Kempe, Kempe himself may have been responsible for the very dull fifty-nine lines of prose with which the scene opens. (W, 108)

Wilson concludes his discussion of the copy for the Hayes Quarto by suggesting that Kempe not only presumed to write in Shakespeare's hand, but, also that it was he who was the "unknown" and "meddling" scribe Wilson's theory of the text had posited:

To sum up, our contention is that the manuscript used as copy by Roberts' compositors in 1600 contained not a line of Shakespeare's handwriting, but was some kind of prompt-book made up from players' parts, to which a theatrical scribe (maybe Kempe himself) had added stage-directions and additions of his own devising. (W, 108)

For Wilson, Kempe's intrusive and radically disruptive acts of destabilizing self-promotion are complete, but at a material cost to the integrity of the Shakespearean hand and text. Wilson's theory of the production of Merchant attributes virtually everything that is of uncertain authority and authorship—and therefore everything that is deemed aesthetically bankrupt—fully to the hands of Will Kempe.33

These suspicions of Kempe's destabilizing presence in Merchant betray Wilson's fundamental distrust—not to say fear—of the lower class of which Kempe is made to stand as the embodiment. Wilson's "aristocratic" position, in turn, stands in steadfast opposition to such a disruption, as it seeks to guarantee the "sovereignty" of the Shakespearean texts against dissent, disruption or subversion "from below." This is precisely the sort of political and critical conservatism Terence Hawkes has so brilliantly analyzed in Dover Wilson's career as a "social" writer on Russia and its revolution, and as a literary critic.34 Hawkes describes Wilson's conservatism (like Tillyard's) as "a version of what, by the time of the second world war, had become a standard British response to national crisis: the construction of longpast, green, alternative worlds of percipient peasants, organic communities, festivals, folk art, and absolute monarchy to set against present chaos."35 Such a vision imposes a radical reconstruction of "peasant" and "folk" culture as happily acquiescent to the absolute monarch. This is an Edenic vision of folk culture that fails to see in it any potential source of subversive energy, any potential for misrule.

But this vision is not imagined, however, as necessarily natural. In fact, it takes the very deliberate and careful intervention on the part of people such as Wilson (and their appropriation of figures such as Shakespeare) to produce it, to identify potentially disruptive people such as Will Kempe, and recreate them as docile (royal) subjects. This is achieved, in Wilson's view, through both a well-regulated and maintained aesthetic and nationalistic education.36

Wilson's political conservatism (like his critical and editorial conservatism) is dedicated to the preservation of so-called traditional values: Nation, high-aesthetic value, and the sovereign individual—whether that individual is Shakespeare or Tsar Nicholas II. And these transcendental values are themselves underwritten by a Hegelian philosophy and historiography that understands human activity not merely as diachronic, but as processive and, finally, teleological.

It is precisely against this teleological or exclusively linear model that Hawkes offers Telmah. For Hawkes, Hamlet is structured on the model of recursivity: events, words and phrases appear and then are replayed again. Hawkes warns us, however, not to be deceived by this recursivity and its symmetries:

It would be wrong to make too much of "symmetries" of this sort, and I mention them only because, once recognized, they help however slightly to undermine our inherited notion of Hamlet as a structure that runs a satisfactorily linear, sequential course from a firmly established and well defined beginning, through a clearly placed and signaled middle, to a causally related and logically determined end which, planted in the beginning, develops, or grows out of it.

Like all symmetries, the ones I have pointed to suggest, not linearity, but circularity: a cyclical and recursive movement wholly at odds with the progressive, incremental ordering that a society, dominated perhaps by a pervasive metaphor of the production line, tends to think of as appropriate to art as to everything else.37

The metaphor of the production line bespeaks a deeprooted notion of (historical) progress and it is this philosophy of progress that authorizes and determines Wilson's editorial practices and produces his version of Merchant. Moreover, this philosophy of progress and the epistemology of presence together have powered traditional textual criticism, regardless of local responses to textual problems. Mahood's decision, for instance, to retain or restore Salarino to the play is a good one, though I disagree with her traditionally-determined reasons for doing so. Our current understandings of (Shakespearean) textuality no longer require or endorse the appeal to authorial intention or authorial script. My argument is more concerned with the untenable nature of traditional editorial practice typified by Wilson than with evidential weight behind retaining Salarino. In fact, it seems to me not much to matter how there came to be three characters with such names in the Hayes quarto, but simply that there came to be these three "letteral" configurations we have decided to call characters. The matter of the three Sallies is important here not because it stands as yet another site for our intervention in the attempt to solve a textual crux, but rather precisely because it marks the eruption—inexplicable and yet undeniable—of the accidental.

In the anticipated aftermath of the collapse of traditional textual criticism, can we theorize a textual practice and a theory of textuality not determined by a Hegelian processive philosophy?


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3587

To the interpreter, texts often appear as images of time; to the makers of texts, however, they are the very events of time and history itself.

—Jerome McGann, The Textual Condition

I begin this concluding section with the above quotation in part because it strikes me as an apt characterization of the various ways in which the relationship between texts and history is frequently construed: for some readers and critics, texts often are imagined as fully self-present representations of the past, while for their creators texts simply are, one might say, "the stuff of history." In criticism texts are typically implicated in history only to the extent that they either 1) represent (embody) a particular historical moment, or 2) can themselves stand as historical fields. The latter is precisely what happens in traditional textual criticism that posits the eclectic text as its interpretive paradigm. The model of the eclectic text (the text produced historically) construes the text as a historical field, the place of history, and, moreover, as the site of historical evolution and progress—that "homogeneous, empty time" Benjamin identifies as the "foundational" conceit so much in need of what we might today call deconstruction.

To imagine the text not in time but as time; this is the tendency of traditional textual criticism, powered, as it is, by an underlying Hegelian conception of history as the gradual exfoliation of a master-narrative. Thus traditional editorial practice emerges as a kind of historiography predicated upon an essentially teleological model of progress. For Dover Wilson, it is the progressive narrative of an aristocratic or monarchical political and class conservatism that seeks in archaic forms of absolutism the redemption of traditional aesthetic and national value against the threat of proletarian political struggle and revolution. Wilson's is a redemptive vision of the social place of high literary culture: it is in this high literary culture, Wilson suggests, that we can find transcendent liberation and salvation.

The appeal to these putative redemptive and salvational powers has been characteristic of our cultural appropriation of Shakespeare, and literary and aesthetic "genius" more generally. But if it is true that texts do not necessarily embody or imply a politics of redemption or liberation, what, then, can texts be said to embody?

In truth, this is a misleading question. Since embodiment as a textual property depends on the manifestly untenable hope of presence-in-writing, we cannot legitimately say that texts embody anything. We can say, however, that texts occur, and as such they stand not as objects but rather as events. As McGann suggests, "Properly understood … every text is unique and original to itself when we consider it not as an object but as an action."38 Texts happen in a way analogous to the happening of events (historical, social, political, accidental) outside our anachronistically imposed narratives of authorship, textuality, causality, diachronicity, history, nationalism, liberation, and so on. This is a way of reading that goes entirely against the grain of a play such as Merchant, which articulates the very faith in and philosophy of presence-in-writing and embodiment I have tried to critique here. In place of this theory of reading predicated upon the metaphysics of presence, let us put in place a non-appropriative theory and practice of reading and historiography that allows the texts to exist more purely in history, rather than as latter-day reconstructions of our own self-interested narratives.

And what of accidents?

To the extraordinary extent that they are routinely subjected to narrative strategies dedicated to the explanation or discovery of meaning (the establishment of chronology, the articulation of significance—in short, the demonstration of absolute causality and accountability), textual and historical accidents (the two seem almost indistinguishable) have always been subjected to a reactive practice of over-writing. Corrected, emended, or re-defined out of existence, accidents have almost universally been construed as sites for the contestation of the subject (the author, or—more likely—the critic) against error, confusion, and meaninglessness, and seldom as mere instances of the uncaused—that great bugbear to systems of the production of meaning. Accidents are important precisely because as accidents they mark eruptions of phenomena for which we simply cannot account. It is the accident that gives the very notion of causality the lie, and as such accidents can be said to delimit the domain of agency. Traditional textual criticism (like most other forms of historiography) is motivated by a relentless desire to articulate—in some instances, to manufacture—causality, and as such is dedicated to the description and, more importantly, the extension of the domain of agency. We can see this is the paradigm of the eclectic text in which every word is entirely caused, and in which nothing is allowed to remain accidental. To clean up accidents in a text is to construct a narrativized world of total causality and accountability, a purely rational world in which everything is under control. This is Dover Wilson's practice, for example, in his construction of a wholly meaningful text of Merchant, or in his meaningful description of Russian absolutism. And there are accidents within the narrative of Merchant that the play clearly attempts to over-write: the "accident" of a Jew's domination of a Christian that Portia overwrites, for example, or the accident of the loss of Antonio's merchant ships which is redeemed through the mystification of the letter. And there are legion over-writings of accidents in criticism of the play—whether textual or interpretive in nature.

The three Sallies, then, are certainly part of the play. Or, to be more precise, the multiple Sallies are all of them part of the play: the quartos and Folio present, Wilson remarks, not only Salerio, Solanio, and Salarino, but "Salerino," "Salari," and "Saleri," and Mahood lists the cornucopic variety of textual incarnations of these "characters": Salaryno, Salino, Slarino, Salerino, Sala, Salan, Salanio, Salarino, Salanio, Salar, Sola, Sal, Solanio, Salari, Saleri, Sol.39

Mahood's list of the Sallie "characters" is emblematic not only of the radical instability of the text, or the proliferation of accidents in that text, but also of our sheer inability to account for these "characters," our inability to construct a narrative (of a story or of a text) in which they all have a truly meaningful place. Unediting, then, of the most radical sort—unediting, that is, dedicated to the domains of both agency and non-agency—returns the text more fully to history, and at the same time understands texts as more fully historical, and as such demonstrates the limits of agency. In spite of our collective insatiability for meaning, there is, as it happens, a world apart—an accidental world.


1 Jerome McGann, The Textual Condition (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1991): "Both the practice and the study of human culture comprise a network of symbolic exchanges. Because human beings are not angels, these exchanges always involve material negotiations. Even in their most complex and advanced forms—when the negotiations are carried out as textual events—the intercourse that is being human is materially executed: as spoken texts or scripted forms. To participate in these exchanges is to have entered what 1 wish to call here 'the textual condition'" (3).

2 Jerome McGann, A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism (Chicago and Charlottesville: Univ. of Chicago Press and Univ. of Virginia Press, 1992), 11.

3 McGann (note 2), 8.

4 The growing list of such works is extensive; what follows is not intended to be exhaustive, but rather suggestive of the range and depth of this work. Margreta De Grazia and Peter Stallybrass, "The Materiality of the Shakespearean Text," Shakespeare Quarterly 44 (1993): 255-83; Stephen Orgel, "The Poetics of Incomprehensibility," Shakespeare Quarterly 42 (1991): 431-37; Leah S. Marcus, Puzzling Shakespeare: Local Reading and Its Discontents (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1988); Paul Werstine, "Narratives About Printed Shakespearean Texts: 'Foul Papers' and 'Bad' Quartos," Shakespeare Quarterly 41 (1990): 65-86; Marion Trousdale, "A Second Look at Critical Bibliography and the Acting of Plays," Shakespeare Quarterly 41 (1990): 87-96; Randall McLeod (Random Cloud), '"The very names of the Persons': Editing and the Invention of Dramatik Character," in Staging the Renaissance: Reinterpretations of Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama, ed. David Scott Kastan and Peter Stallybrass (New York: Routledge, 1991), 88-96; Margreta De Grazia, Shakespeare Verbatim: The Reproduction of Authenticity and the 1790 Apparatus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991). See also

5 For theoretical and practical discussions of "unediting," see Randall McLeod, "UnEditing Shakespeare," SubStance 33/34 (1982): 26-55 and Leah Marcus, "Textual Indeterminacy and Ideological Difference: The Case of Doctor Faustus," Renaissance Drama n.s. 20 (1989): 1-29.

6 Marcus, "Textual Indeterminacy" (note 5), 3.

7 Marcus, 24.

8 Marcus, 12. Marcus also notes, "The A text could be described as more nationalist and more Calvinist, Puritan, or ultra-Protestant, the B text as more internationalist, imperial, and Anglican, or Anglo-Catholic—but each version places the magician at the extreme edge of transgression in terms of its own implied system of values" (5).

9 Marcus discusses these revisions: "The 1602 revisions worked to keep Doctor Faustus on the thrilling/unnerving edge of transgression by inscribing the play with a new set of national priorities and anxieties. A theatrical company and its hired 'hack' writers transformed what was then extant as 'Marlowe' in order to keep the 'Marlowe effect' alive, to keep Marlowe sounding like himself even decades after his physical demise. In the curious case of Doctor Faustus, nonauthorial revision functioned to heighten, not to destroy, an aura of authorial 'authenticity' in the theater" (15).

10 Jonathan Goldberg, "Textual Properties," Shakespeare Quarterly 37 (1986): 214. Goldberg continues, "the historicity of the text means that there is no text itself; it means that a text cannot be fixed in terms of original or final intentions. At best, Shakespearean practice authorizes the dispersal of authorial intention" (214). De Grazia and Stallybrass (note 4) also discuss the illusory nature of the "original": "Return to the early texts provides no access to a privileged 'original'; on the contrary, for the modern reader it bars access. The features that modernization and emendation smooth away remain stubbornly in place to block the illusion of transparency—the impression that there is some ideal 'original' behind the text" (256).

11 Goldberg, "Textual Properties" (note 10), 214; The Division of the Kingdom: Shakespeare's Two Versions of King Lear, ed. Gary Taylor and Michael Warren (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983).

12 Goldberg, 215.

13 Goldberg, 216.

14 Goldberg discusses the Shakespearean text in which, now, "no word … is sacred." Moreover, he continues, with this "radical instability" of the Shakespearean text, "all criticism that has based itself on the text, all forms of formalism, all close reading, is given the lie" (215).

15 McGann, A Critique (note 2), 24.

16 McGann, 93-94.

17 McGann, 119.

18 Goldberg, "Textual Properties" (note 10), 217.

19The Merchant of Venice, ed. John Russell Brown (London: Methuen, 1955), 3.2.314-20. All references are to this edition and are cited parenthetically in text by act, scene and line.

20 Jonathan Goldberg, Writing Matter: From the Hands of the English Renaissance (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1990), 78.

21The Merchant of Venice, ed. John Dover Wilson (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1926), 97. Subsequent references to Wilson appear parenthetically in the text in the text and are cited by W.

22The Merchant of Venice, 1600, Shakespeare Quarto Facsimiles (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957).

23 There are two further differences between the modern and the Quarto versions of the letter and its physical/material presentation. In our modern editions we are accustomed to the addition of two linguistic items not found in the Quarto text: the parentheses around "since in paying it, it is impossible I should live," and the insertion of a comma after the phrase "all debts are cleared between you and I." In the first instance, the addition of the parentheses serves to make Antonio's recognition of the cost of the forfeiture subordinate to the act of forgiveness within which it occurs, a highly intrusive editorial decision that alters the sense of the passage. As punctuated in the Quarto, the passage makes perfect sense, though not the sense we have ascribed to it (or to Antonio, for that matter) in our modern editions. The letter may well want to register linguistically the equivalence of Antonio's death and Bassanio's debts; the subordinating effect of the parentheses suppresses such a reading. In the second instance—the instance of the comma—the Quarto's syntax makes rather explicit that there is a causal relationship between the forgiveness of the debt and Bassanio's appearance at Antonio's death: the former is more explicitly conditional upon the latter. The editorial addition of the comma serves to mitigate the force of Antonio's determination. Again, such an editorial decision is intrusive and in a way revises the sense of the letter.

24 Jonathan Goldberg, "Hamlet's Hand," Shakespeare Quarterly 39 (1988), 324.

25 This is the same faith that can be said to underwrite drama as a genre: a belief in presence-in-writing is given the extraordinary dimension and expression in the representational embodiments of characters in the figures of the actors who portray them on stage before our very eyes. Drama is, perhaps, the expression of the metaphysics of writing par excellence.

26 Freud's essay begins by reading the caskets as symbols for women: if the scene of the three caskets from Merchant appeared in a dream, Freud says, "it would at once occur to us that caskets are also women, symbols of the essential thing in woman, and therefore of a woman herself, like boxes, large or small, baskets, and so on" ("The Theme of the Three Caskets," in Sigmund Freud: The Collected Papers, ed. Joan Riviere, 5 vols. [New York: Basic Books, 1959], 4:245-56). Then, by way of a circuitous path through various national mythologies, folk-tales, and King Lear, Freud arrives at his perhaps predictable conclusion that the theme of the three caskets allegorically represents "the three inevitable relations man has with woman": "That with the mother who bears him, with the companion of his bed and board, and with the destroyer. Or it is the three forms taken on by the figure of the mother as life proceeds: the mother herself, the beloved who is chosen after her pattern, and finally the Mother Earth who receives him again" (256).

27 In a discussion of letters and their circulation in Shakespearean texts, "Shakespearean Inscriptions: The Voicing of Power" [in Shakespeare and the Question of Theory, ed. Patricia Parker and Geoffrey Hartman (New York: Methuen, 1985), 116-137], Jonathan Goldberg argues that Portia's position in court and her ultimate success there—and in the fifth act drama of the ring—depend upon the sheer impossibility of the "selfsameness" of the letter: "The 'turn' that Portia takes calls into question the differences upon which the play rests, male and female, Jew and Christian, letter and spirit, for the lewdness of the play that she initiates—sending the letter and donning the disguise (the device)—rests upon equivocations within the letter, differences within the self-same. Portia's 'whole device' involves filling a place—the place of Bellario, the place of the law—through an act of replacement that calls into question the possibility of duplication (the repeatability and self-sameness upon which the law rests)" (122).

28 This reversal also manifests the play's fundamental dependence upon Christian historiography that posits two related phases of post-lapsarian history—the Mosaic or Old Testament articulation of life under the law, and the New Testament life of the spirit. In this vision of history, the Christian progresses from the first phase to the second in a movement that is suggested by Christ's example and guaranteed by virtue of the spirit's redemption of the law and its letter. Portia leads the Christians of the play in this progress toward redemption and salvation; Shylock, on the other hand, is its clear victim.

29 Portia's and Nerissa's taunting of Bassanio and Gratiano over the matter of the rings has special significance as well, in part because their laughter—and their husbands' initial consternation—are explicitly linked to the politics of embodiment and textuality. Portia can assure Bassanio that she will welcome the doctor to her bed ("Know him I shall, I am well sure of it" [5.1.229]) because of her embodiment as both "herself" and as "the doctor." In fact, the moment Portia produces the ring—"I had it of him: pardon me Bassanio, / For by this ring the doctor lay with me" (5.1.258-59)—she stands, as it were, as both herself and the doctor. This crisis is averted not simply with Portia's announcement that she was the doctor and Nerissa the clerk, but only when she produces the letter as evidence:

        you are all amaz'd;
Here is a letter, read it at your leisure,—
It comes from Padua from Bellario,—

There you shall find that Portia was the
Nerissa there the clerk.

30The Merchant of Venice, ed. M. M. Mahood (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1987), 56. Subsequent references to Mahood occur parenthetically in text and are cited by M.

31 Jonathan Goldberg discusses a similar manifestation of logocentrism in Shakespeare's second tetralogy: "The subsequent plays are haunted too by what is put on deposit in the deposition scene [of Richard II]: the alliance of kingship with the repression of textuality, and the ways in which the play both supports that logocentrism and undermines it." ("Rebel Letters: Postal Effects from Richard II to Henry IV," Renaissance Drama n.s. 19 [1988]: 10).

32 It is interesting to note that in the 1939 Clark Lectures at Trinity College, Cambridge (later published as The Editorial Problem in Shakespeare: A Survey of the Foundations of the Text, 2d ed. [Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1951]), Greg rejects both the conclusions drawn by Dover Wilson on the textual genealogy of Merchant and its production from assembled prompt-book, and his own evident participation in the argument: "I do not regard the presentation of the prompt-book for registration [in the Stationers' Register] as involving its use as copy. Like Chambers 'I see no clear reason why the copy used … should not have been in Shakespeare's hand'—and foul papers at that, at least in the technical sense, for the text itself is remarkably good … . A prompt copy would surely have straightened out the tangle of ambiguous prefixes that according to Wilson led to the creation of a ghost character in Salarino. It appears that I once argued that a passage at the foot of sig. 12 was an insertion probably written on a separate piece of paper. Wilson and Chambers allow the possibility: but the addition might have been made in foul papers as easily as in the prompt-book" (123; emphasis added).

33 In Goldberg's discussion of the important textual crux in 1 Henry IV regarding the identity of the character that actually reads aloud the paper taken from the sleeping Falstaff's pocket, he discerns a similar classbased agenda on the part of traditional textual critics: "Dover Wilson and Bowers indulge fantasies about restoring Shakespeare's lost original text … . Bower's elaborate argument about stage history and its role in shaping Ql is quite clearly bent on saving Hal from being sullied with low companions like Peto … . The Petos of the world, Bowers insists, cannot read without being risible. Shakespeare cannot originally have wanted the Prince to have ended the scene in his company. Modern editors, on the whole, are willing enough to leave Peto there, and reading, as he does in F1 ; but they, too, share similar suppositions. The Prince must not read. And perhaps the editorial emendation in Fl is a result of the ideological construction of scenes of reading in the play; rebels read, but royalty do not" ("Rebel Letters" [note 31], 23).

34 Hawkes identifies Dover Wilson's political conservatism in his renunciation of the Bolsheviks and his explicit endorsement of Tsarism in the article, "Russia and Her Ideals," in which he writes: "[Autocracy] still has a long life before it and much work to perform in Russia. It is therefore wiser to face the facts and to recognize that the Tsardom is after all Russia's form of democracy … . it is the kind of government the people understand and reverence, and it is their only protection against the tyranny of an aristocratic clique … . when the will of the autocrat is clearly and unmistakably expressed, it has always been found to correspond with the needs of the people" (quoted in Hawkes, "Telmah" [note 27], 323).

35 Hawkes, 324.

36 Hawkes discusses Dover Wilson's participation in this pedagogic regime as it was articulated in the famous Newbolt Report of 1921 (The Teaching of English in England). Wilson's contribution falls into the category of "Literature and the nation," asserting, Hawkes suggests, that "teaching literature to the working class is a kind of 'missionary work' whose aim is to stem the tide of that class's by then evident disaffection." In this manifestly political vision, "literature is offered as an instrument for promoting social cohesion in place of division": "The specter of a working class, demanding material goods with menaces, losing its national mind, besmirching its national character, clearly had a growing capacity to disturb after the events of 1917, particularly if that class, as Dover Wilson writes in the Newbolt Report, sees education 'mainly as something to equip them to fight their capitalistic enemies.' … To Dover Wilson … the solution lay quite clearly in the sort of nourishment that English literature offered: the snap, crackle and pop of its roughage as purgative force of considerable political power" (Hawkes, 326-27).

37 Hawkes, 311-12. Hawkes offers the curtain call—"that complex of revisionary ironies"—as yet another theatrical practice that marks the emergence of the counter-current of recursive movement: "Here [in the curtain call] … any apparent movement in one direction of the play halts, and it begins to roll decisively in the opposite direction (if only towards the next performance, when its 'beginning' will emerge from these smiling actors). In short, the sense of straight, purposive, linear motion forward through the play—the sense required by most 'interpretations' of it—evaporates at the curtain call, and we sense an opposing current" (313).

38 McGann, The Textual Condition (note 1), 183.

39 Mahood (note 29), 180-81.

Source: "(Dis)embodied Letters and The Merchant of Venice," in ELH, Vol. 62, No. 2, Summer, 1995, pp. 237-65.

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