Thursday, 21 October 2021

The errors in 1606: Shakespeare and the Year of Lear

I’m going to start by mentioning the errors pointed out by Himadri (Argumentative Old Git) and partially corrected by Faber & Faber: 

“Much though I enjoyed reading this book, there are a few points where I must register a protest. In a section comparing an older anonymous play about Lear with Shakespeare’s version, Shapiro says:

The anonymous author of Leir had been content to build to a somewhat wooden reconciliation scene between father and daughter, one that failed to pack much emotional punch. Shakespeare’ Lear would substitute for that not one but two powerful recognition scenes: the first between Lear and Cordelia, the second, soon after, where the two plots converge, between the mad Lear and the blind Gloucester. It’s debatable which of the two is the most heartbreaking scene in the play.

 – From Chapter 3

I agree fully with the last sentence above, but the scene between the mad Lear and the blind Gloucester comes before, not after, Lear’s recognition scene with Cordelia.

Later, in an otherwise fascinating passage describing how, in Macbeth, even good people are forced to equivocate, Shapiro, after describing the scene in which Macduff receives the news of the slaughter of his wife and children, continues:

In the long and unsettling scene that follows, yet another seemingly virtuous character, Malcolm, swears and lies to Macduff, telling him that his rapacious and violent nature renders him unfit to rule in Scotland…

From Chapter 10

Actually, Malcolm’s equivocation with Macduff precedes rather than follows the news of Macduff’s slaughtered family.

And from Chapter 13:

The wild drinking scenes aboard ship in Antony and Cleopatra in which Pompey has to be carried off dead drunk…

It is Lepidus, not Pompey, who is carried off dead drunk.”

Himadri was reading a hardback. 

In my paperback copy, the first passage is half-corrected:

“Shakespeare’ Lear would substitute for that not one but two powerful recognition scenes: the first between the mad Lear and the blind Gloucester, the second, soon after, where the plots converge, between Lear and Cordelia. It’s debatable which of the two is the most heartbreaking scene in the play.” (Ch.3) 

The order of scenes has been corrected, but there’s still one error: the two plots of King Lear are the Lear plot and the Gloucester plot, so the meeting of the two men is where the plots converge.

The second passage has been fixed: “follows” replaced with “precedes it”.

The third passage has also been fixed.

However, there seem to be more errors. For example, Shapiro writes: 

“Shakespeare didn’t wait long to locate King Lear within this ongoing debate. King James’s warning about “dividing your kingdoms” is closely echoed in the opening lines of King Lear in Gloucester’s remark about the “division of the kingdoms” (1.3–4). The contemporaneous feel of the beginning of Shakespeare’s play is reinforced in Kent’s first words—“I thought the King had more affected the Duke of Albany than Cornwall” (1.1–2). Jacobean playgoers knew that King James’s elder son, Henry, was the current Duke of Albany, and his younger one, Charles, the Duke of Cornwall (and, in fact, James did prefer Henry over his sickly younger brother). To speak of Albany was to speak of Scotland (James himself had previously been Duke of Albany, as had his father). It was, for Shakespeare, an uncharacteristically topical start—the opening gossipy exchange marking the play as distinctively Jacobean in its political concerns.” (Ch.2) 

Much as I hate mentioning an anti-Stratfordian, I have to credit Richard Malim for pointing out that Prince Henry (son of James I) was Duke of Rothesay and in 1603 created Duke of Cornwall. His younger brother Charles was Duke of Albany. I have checked it—Charles became Duke of Cornwall in 1612, when Henry died. 

More importantly, the Duke of Cornwall and the Duke of Albany already exist in previous writings, such as Holinshed, about King Leir of Britain.

That’s quite embarrassing, I think. The error ruins the passage, and in a way, ruins the entire book for me, because now I’m not sure what else is incorrect that I can’t spot myself. It’s such a pity, 1606 is a compelling and fascinating book.

Please let me know about any other errors or inaccuracies in the book. 


    You've probably seen this.

    1. Yes, I'm aware of it.
      It's baffling that the book has such glaring errors but when I google "James Shapiro, 1606, errors", the only things that come up are that website (and its book on Amazon) and my friend Himadri's blog post.
      Reviews of 1606 don't seem to notice the errors.


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