Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Friday, June 25, 2010

Shakspur and Pope and Bentley

Our friend John Frank, silvermith, plumber, and musician, has died. A pleasant wake at which I remind myself to catch up with all the friends I haven't seen for ages, just in case they die suddenly, and borrow a 1732 printing of volume 4 of Bentley's edition of the Works, late from the library, according to the bookplate, of William O'Brijen (definitely sic), Earl of Inchquin, &c.
Housman, I recollect, was dismissive of Bentley's work on the English classics, as opposed to the Latin and Greek; too ready to cut through difficulties by substituting his own words, and I see by comparison with my Penguin that the bulk of his conjectures have been discarded.
He won, however, on this one, involving one of Shakes' best lines, something where Pope's edition, he being an Augustan, missed the point entirely. Falstaff's death -
Quick: He made a finer end, and went away, an it had been any christon child; a' parted even just between twelve and one, even at the turning of the tide; for after I saw him fumble with the sheets, and play with flowers, and smile upon his finger's end, I knew there was but one way; for his nose was sharp as a pen, and a babled of green fields.
Note; His nose was as sharp as a pen, and a Table of green fields; so has the first Folio. Mr. Pope has observed that these words, and a Table of green fields, are not in the old 4to's. This nonsense, continues he, got into all the following Editions by a pleasant Mistake of the Stage-Editors, who printed from the common peacemeal-written Parts in the Play-house. A table was here directed to be brought in (it being a scene in a tavern where they drink at parting) and this direction crept into the text from the margin. Greenfield was the name of the Property-man in that time who furnish'd Implements, &c, for the Actors. A Table of Greenfield's.

Bentley, to his credit, dismisses this- and is so satisfied with dissing Pope that he takes almost a page of small type to do it. Great fun.
And I bet Falstaff's friends wished they'd seen more of him while he was alive, too. We hadn't really caught up with John for several actual decades.

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