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Memory,Composition,andthe Relationship ofKingJohnto The Troublesome RaigneofKingJohn Beatrice Groves Let this be copied out, And keep it safe for our remembrance -KingJohn (5.2.2) The argument about the relationship between Shakespeare's KingJohn and the anonymous Troublesome Raigne ofKing John centers on the interaction ofmemory with composition. One ofthe playwrights, as he writes his play, is remembering an earlier play; one of them is not. Recent critics who have argued for the priority of King John have rejectedtheoldinterpretations of The TroublesomeRaigneas Shakespeare's first draft or a bad quarto,and have argued instead that it is a"derivative play" or "plot-based adaptation."1 This article will explore various aspects of the relationship between the two texts in which the study of memorymightbeilluminating.Itwillarguediat The TroublesomeRaigne is the earlier play and Shakespeare's text merely shows signs ofnarrative and verbal recall as he works on and improves his source. King John and The Troublesome Raigne are structurally close but linguistically distinct, sharing only the occasional line or phrase. Such a textual relationship is an oddity in Shakespearean source study, but a commonplace in the study of memory. Psychological experiments have shown that while subjects can often recall the content ofwhat diey have read or seen,style and precise mode ofconstruction are very rarelyfaithfully reproduced.2 Likewise, in oral cultures, verbatim reproduction is neither sought after, nor achieved. Studies conducted on south Slavic heroic songs, for example, show that in this primarily oral culture the main events ofa song,but not the exact words in which it is sung, remain 277 278Comparative Drama constant. For example, these are the opening lines ofthe song of"Marko and Nina of Kostur," sung by the same singer a year apart: Marko Kralijevi is drinking wineKralijevi Marko arose early With his old mother,In Prilip in his white tower, And with his true love,And next to him his old mother, And with his only sister.And next the mother his true love, When Marko had drunk his wine,And nexthis lovehis sisterAn elija. Then Marko brimmed the glassHe toasted them in clear brandy: To the health of his old mother,"Yesterday a brief letter arrived And his love and his only sister.From the sultan, illustrious czar. "Expect the sun and the moon,Thesultansummonsmetothearmy, But me Marko never!"To serve him for nine years."3 And his old mother asked him: "Whither are you going, Marko, my only son?" Marko Kralijevi spoke: "I am going, mother, to the sultan's army For a period of nine years." The plot is stable but the details and the language are not: the hero toasts his companions in each, but in the first example he does so with wine, and in die second, with brandy; the rhetorical flourishes ofthe first version have been replaced by the careful situating in place and time ofthe second. The stylistic and verbal differences of KingJohn and The Troublesome Raigne, like the deviations in the story of "Marko and Nina of Kostur," might likewise be part of the natural process of memory and composition. The study ofmemory, therefore, could be suggestive in attempting to understand which author wrote first. The two plays begin quite differently. The Troublesome Raigne has twenty lines preceding Chattilions entrance diat set die scene and explain diat Richard I hasjust died and that John has succeededhim. Shakespeare opens with the king's address to the French ambassador, a strategy that a number of critics have noted as an improvement. Typical is the claim that Shakespeare dispenses with the "lifeless preliminaries" of The Troublesome Raigne and "dashes at once into the heart of his subject."4 The removal of "lifeless preliminaries" creates a more effective opening, something that is habitual in memorizing stories. This is so even when subjects are attempting to remember tales verbatim. An example ofthis phenomenon is found in Frederic Barlett's classic experiment wherein he gave a subject a story entitled "The Deaf Moochi" that began with some explanatory Beatrice Groves279 material. The subject then attempted to repeat the story verbatim, but failed to remember die preliminarymaterial andsimplylaunched straight into the story proper.5 The plot of The Troublesome Raigne is often more...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 277-290
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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