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Marlowe's Texts and Oral Transmission: Towards the Zielform Thomas Pettitt The Elizabethan popular theater was the product of a uniquely intense and creative encounter between literary art and traditional culture, and the plays of Christopher Marlowe offer as powerful an instance of this interaction as could be wished.1 It is not so much that Marlowe's plays sometimes reflect or encompass folklore, as that in significant and intriguing ways,theyare analogous to folklore.There is nothing romantic, arcane,or subversive in this,and no appeal will be made in what foUows to distant origins, deep structures, or carnivalesque inversions . Rather, the plays meet many of the criteria by which folklore is defined, and in consequence they can legitimately and rewardingly be appreciated deploying methodologies and insights developed in the study of traditional culture. No longer taken to be the remnants ("survivals") of primitive rites and superstitions, or (at least with regard to the premodern period) as the culture ofthe poor,2 folklore is characterized, and as a matter ofdegree ratherthankind,by constituting performances to be seen and heard, ratherthan artifacts to be read.The inevitable result ofperformance/rom, and transmission between performances in, the memory of the performer(s) is the production, and where recording has occurred, the availability, of multiple versions ofany one work, representing different lines oftransmission or different phases in a single line oftransmission. This is a result both ofinexact recall and ofthe natural tendency ofperformers to alter material whose verbal integrity is protected neither by the authority of a written text nor respect for the original utterance of a known author.3 213 214Comparative Drama Some ofthis ofcourse applies to all forms ofdrama, which is a performance art whose texts are reconstructed frommemoryin performance, however briefthe interval since the actor last glanced at the script.4 But the Elizabethan popular stage,perhaps to a greater degree than anyphase of theater history before or since, was peculiarly close to the mode of folklore in this matter ofthe transmission of texts and their consequent instability and variability There were few of the restraints on textual change operative, directly or indirectly, in the medieval theater (due to the doctrinal sensitivity of religious drama), or in the modern theater (due to the prestige accorded to authors). Players would have had little compunction in making alterations, before or in performance, in any "book ofthe play"that theyhad purchased outright from that lowlycreature , the poet. Complain he might, but not intervene, and an audience would not notice: individual plays were not "classics" to which spectators brought any knowledge or expectations beyond familiarity with generic conventions. Conversely, the factors producing textual instability were many and powerful. Plays were subjected to change before firstperformance to meet not merely the demands of the authorities but the constraints imposed by resources (personnel, costumes, machinery) and the players'sense of what would be acceptable to an audience and consequently profitable. Deliberate changes between performances and in performance would again reflect the need to succeed in front ofaudiences who had paid to get what they thought theywanted. Changes would also reflect,perhaps above all, the sheer pressure on the memories of the players, most of whom doubled parts in a constantly evolving repertoire of a dozen or more differentplays.5 Itisthe intensityofthesepressuresthatbalancesthe short career-in-tradition ofpopular Elizabethan plays when measured by the yardstick of folk traditions. In a run of fifteen or so performances at the Rose, Doctor Faustus might have been subjected to the amount of textual stress suffered by"The Frog Prince" or"Little Musgrove" over fifteen or more decades of sporadic performances in alehouses and chimney corners.6 Thomas Pettitt215 I Faced with multiple variants ofa single folktale or ballad, folklorists wiU generaUy not seek to reconstruct the original text from which the variants may be presumed to derive. It is recognized that the original is lost, and merely by coming first would anyway have no claim to aesthetic priority. Instead it is possible to rejoice in the rich differentiations ofthe variants, and to appreciate each in its own right, as a distinct product of its own place,time, and history.7Although learned elsewhere than at the knee offolklore,this approach does...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 213-242
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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