Death of the Reporter: A Manifesto (2005, 2016)

[It is recommended that you read “Shakespeare at the Red Lion,” prior to the following article.]

How do we deal with the staging differences, as shown in “Shakespeare at the Red Lion,” between The Contention and 2 Henry VI?

There can be no doubt that The Contention was played at one theatre and 2 Henry VI at another. Do we say that the Reporter erroneously “remembered” a different theatre? It is time to look the Gorgon in the eye. The Reporter theory universally relied upon as a means of justifying the existence of the so-called Bad Quartos is only a theory. It is not a fact.

In reality, the evidence adduced to support vamping can equally be interpreted as evidence of revision. One of the chief proponents of the Reporter theory, Fredson Bowers, admitted there are problems with it. There are no problems with the Revision theory. Revision explains all of the differences between the two texts (except for typographical errors and the unfortunate meddling of the Folio editor, Ralph Crane) 1. First and foremost, the Reporter theory cannot account for how that despicable creature often manages to get things exactly correct, even down to the punctuation, while botching everywhere else. Of course, this stumbling block can be removed by stating that the Reporter ripped some pieces from the manuscript and cobbled them together which is preposterous. But if we concede that Shakespeare revised an old play called The Contention, the Reporter vanishes.

From the time of Edmond Malone, everyone believed that Shakespeare doctored old plays. That changed by 1930 after Peter Alexander had trotted out his novel theory of “memorial reconstruction” in several articles and Shakespeare’s Henry VI and Richard III. Alexander had other arcane ideas, such as refusing to accept that Fletcher is the main author of Henry VIII, giving the whole play to Shakespeare 2. In his book, he brazenly concluded, without any documentation (for there isn’t any), that Shakespeare was a Queen’s man. How Alexander managed to persuade the best minds of the day to embrace his theory is unfathomable. It ruined Dover Wilson, who had made brilliant bibliographical discoveries early in his New Shakespeare series, but his post-Alexander work is contaminated and convoluted 3. Today, Alexander’s book reads like jabberwocky. Nevertheless, 75 years later, the Reporter theory still holds the field.

That will change in the fullness of time. The so-called Young Turks of Shakespearean criticism are currently having a field day finding evidence of revision in the canon. They are on the right track. But if you steer them to a “Bad Quarto,” their blood runs cold. The fact is there are no “bad” quartos. These are merely pre-Shakespearean plays with nary a line of Shakespeare in them.

Q1 Romeo is an exception, representing Shakespeare’s incomplete revision. And it was performed in that condition as stage directions indicate. Q1 was played in a theatre with a “tower,” perhaps the Red Lion. The manuscript was stolen, as Heminges and Condell said, after the manuscript for Q2 was completed and being performed, and sold to the publisher John Danter. The culprit was likely a hired man or other playhouse employee who had access to the Q1manuscript.The publication of it was intended to hoodwink the public into believing that it was the play being performed. It is this individual, not the phantom Reporter, who should be known as the “pirate.” Danter did not register the work, indicating that its publication was surreptitious. Shakespeare and his company must have been furious when published because it cheated them out of an income that rightfully belonged to them. But by the time of the next set of performances, Shakespeare had completed his revision, with a different venue in mind, as evidenced by directions and dialogue in F Romeo. The title page of Q2 informs us that Q1 was “Newly corrected, augmented, and amended.” There can be no argument about the identity of the corrector.

Laying considerations of staging aside, when the differences between The Contention and 2 Henry VI are compared in terms of ideas rather than mere words, the Reporter becomes nothing but a bogeyman. A comparison of the texts reveals that Shakespeare revised the old play line by line.

For this purpose, I have used the Praetorius reprint in the collection of Shakespere Quarto Facsimiles (18890, No. 37, for The Contention, and the Charlton Hinman collated version of the First Folio (1968) for 2 Henry VI. I have modernized the typography to facilitate reading, but left the spelling and punctuation in their original form. Italics, as they appear, have also been retained. Inasmuch as the line numbering in both texts is inaccurate, I have renumbered the lines.

Q  THE FIRST PART OF THE CONTENTION OF THE TWO FAMOUS Houses of Yorke & Lancaster, with the death of the good Duke Humphrey.

F   The Second Part of Henry the Sixt, with the death of the Good Duke Humphrey.

The play was renamed for inclusion in the First Folio, linking it with the other two Henry VI plays.

F  Actus Primus. Scaena Prima.

This, oddly, is the only act/scene indication in text. Q has no divisions.

F  Flourish of Trumpets: Then Hoboyes.

A prompter’s note has been added.

Q  Enter at one doore, King Henry the sixt, and Humphrey Duke of Gloster, the Duke of Somerset, the Duke of Buckingham, Carainall Bewford, and others.

F  Enter King, Duke Humfrey, Salisbury, Warwicke, and  Beauford on the one side.

Shakespeare corrected the spelling of “Beauford.”

Q   Enter at the other doore, the Duke of Yorke, and the Marquesse of Suffolke, and Queene Margaret, and the Earle of Salisbury and Warwicke.

F  The Queene, Suffolke, Yorke, Somerset, and Buckingham, on the other.

Shakespeare simplified the nomenclature of the dramatis personae, and reformed the groups of characters entering right and left. Q characters enter through “doors,” while F characters enter from “sides.” This may be a sign that the Folio version was performed in a venue without doors, say, on a platform in a hall. But it is also possible that the copy was intended for a collector; such manuscripts generally have very light stage directions.

Q 1  Suffolke. As by your high imperiall Majesties command,
F 1   Suffolke. As by your high Imperiall Majesty,

Q/F nearly identical, but Shakespeare creates a pentameter out of Q’s alexandrine by dropping the superfluous “command.” On the theory of the Reporter, that individual has added “command” transforming Shakespeare’s pentameter into an alexandrine.

Q 2  I had in charge at my depart for France,
F 2   I had in charge at my depart for France,

Q/F identical.

Q 3  As Procurator for your excellence,
F 3   As Procurator to your Excellence,

Q/F nearly identical, Shakespeare substituting “to” for Q’s “for.” He also capitalized the “E” of “Excellence.” Capitalization, at least in this text, always indicates to the actor that the word is to be stressed. Shakespeare could do some coaching with his pen. On the Reporter theory, the vamper did not know which words were to be stressed, or that he did not think Shakespeare’s stresses were appropriate.

Q 4  To marry Princes Margaret for your grace,
F 4   To marry Princes Margaret for your Grace;

Q/F identical, except that “Grace” is marked for stress.

Q 5  So in the auncient famous Citie Towres,
F 5   So in the Famous Ancient City, Toures,

Q/F nearly identical. Shakespeare’s “Famous Ancient,” is more mellifluous than “auncient famous.” He also added an internal pause, marked “Famous” for stress, and corrected the spelling of “Toures.”

Q 6  In presence of the Kings of France & Cyssile,
F 6   In presence of the Kings of France, and Sicill,

Q/F identical, but Shakespeare corrected the spelling of Sicily (used poetically).

Q 7  The Dukes of Orleance, Calabar, Brittaine, and Alonson,
F 7   The Dukes of Orleance, Calaber, Britaigne, and Alanson,

Q/F identical, except Shakespeare corrected the spelling of the place names.

Q 8  Seven Earles, twelve Barons, and then the reverend Bishops,
F 8   Seven Earles, twelve Barons, & twenty reverend Bishops,

Q8, a particularly wretched line, just about defies scansion. It looks to have seven and a half feet which puts it beyond a fourteener. But instead of recasting the line as a pentameter, Shakespeare settled for a quick fix. At least his “& twenty” is an improvement over Q’s awkward “and then the.” However, the line is still metrically poor.

Q 9  I did performe my taske and was espousde,
F 9   I have perform’d my Taske, and was espous’d,

Q/F nearly identical, except Shakespeare updated the verb form, added an internal pause, and marked “Taske” for stress. Reporter enthusiasts will have to admit that their man was old actor who did not like newfangled expressions and therefore recast the verb form to suit his antiquated taste.

Q 10  And now, most humbly on my bended knees,
F 10   And humbly now upon my bended knee,

Q/F similar, but Shakespeare’s line is a stylistic improvement. It conveys the same thought with one less word and eliminates Q’s internal pause.

Q 11  In sight of England and her royall Peeres,
F 11   In sight of England, and her Lordly Peeres,

Q’s “royall Peeres” is an absurdity. Peers are not royal but they are lordly. Shakespeare also added an internal pause and marked “Lordly” for stress. Or did the Reporter change “lordly” to “royall?”

Q 12  Deliver up my title in the Queene,
F 12   Deliver up my title in the Queene

Q/F Identical, except Shakespeare deletes the end-pause.

Q 13  Unto your gratious excellence, that are the substance
F 13   To your most gracious hands, that are the Substance

Q13 is parked at a half way house between an alexandrine and a fourteener with six and half feet, as well as being trite. F13 is a pentameter with a feminine ending. Shakespeare made metrical and stylistic improvements and marked “Substance” for stress.

Q 14  Of that great shadow I did represent:
F 14   Of that great Shadow I did represent:

Q/F identical, except Shakepeare marks “Shadow” for stress.

Q 15  The happiest gift that ever Marquesse gave,
F 15   The happiest Gift, that ever Marquesse gave,

Q/F identical, except Shakespeare adds an internal pause and marks “Gift” for stress.

Q 16  The fairest Queene that ever King possest.
F 16   The Fairest Queene, that ever King received.

Suffolk is presenting Margaret as a gift. In F, she is “received,” Shakespeare completing the image of giving and receiving. Q’s “possest” misses the image. Shakespeare also added an internal pause, and marked “Fairest” for stress. On the Reporter theory, the old actor could not remember images or did not much care for imagery.

Q 17   King. Suffolke arise.
Q 18   Welcome Queene Margaret to English Henries Court,
Q 19   The greatest shew of kindnesse yet we can bestow,
Q 20   Is this kinde kisse: Oh gracious God of Heaven,
Q 21   Lend me a heart repleat with thankfulnesse,F 17   King. Suffolke arise. Welcome Queene Margaret,
F 18   I can expresse no kinder sign of love
F 19   Then this kisse: O Lord, that lends me life,
F 20   Lend me a heart repleate with thankfulness:

Shakespeare repaired Q’s broken line 17, eliminated the alexandrine at 18, and generally improved the sense. Q17 indicates a cut, showing that The Contention itself had undergone revision before Shakespeare got hold of it. “English Henries Court” is unnecessary since the audience already knows that the scene is Henry’s court. “O Lord, that lends me life,”referring to the kiss, provides a laugh line for the actor of the sexually undernourished Henry. On the theory of the Reporter, the old actor preferred broken lines and alexandrines to pentameters. He had no use for jokes, or could not remember them. He added the scene location to the dialogue in case the audience forgot.

Q 21/F 20 are identical.

Q 22  For in this beautious face thou hast bestowde
F 21   For thou has given me in this beauteous Face

Q/F similar.

Q 23  A world of pleasures to my perplexed soul.
F 22   A world of earthly blessings to my soul,
F 23   If Simpathy of Love unite our thoughts.

Q’s “pleasures” would be apt for a hedonistic potentate. Shakespeare’s “earthly blessings” is far more in character for the spiritual Henry. He continued this concept by adding line 23. On the theory of the Reporter, the old actor thought it best to make Henry’s character inconsistent.

Q 24   Queene. Th’excessive love I beare unto your grace,
Q 25   Forbids me to be lavish of my tongue,
Q 26   Least I should speake more then beseemes a woman:
Q 27   Let this suffice, my blisse is in your liking,
Q 28   And nothing can make poore Margaret miserable,
Q 29   Unlesse the frowne of mightie Englands King.

Shakespeare cut this mediocre speech and replaced it with the following:

F 24   Queen. Great King of England, & my gracious Lord,
F 25    The mutuall conference that my minde hath had,
F 26    By day, by night; waking, and in my dreames,
F 27    In Courtly company, or at my Beades,
F 28    With you mine Alder liefest Soveraigne,
F 29    Makes me the bolder to salute my King,
F 30    With ruder termes, such as my wit affords,
F 31    And overjoy of heart doth minister.

In rewriting this speech Shakespeare transformed the nondescript Queen of Q into a more human figure, a woman who has been dreaming of this particular moment. He added a touch of character. On the theory of the Reporter, the old actor preferred stereotypes to well-rounded characters, or could not remember character development.

Q 30   Kin. Her lookes did wound, but now her speech doth pierce,
Q 31   Lovely Queene Margaret sit down by my side:
Q 32   And unkle Gloster, and you Lordly Peeres,
Q 33   With one voice welcome my beloved Queene.

With a hint from Q’s poor speech, Shakespeare wrote a new one for the King:

F 32    Her sight did ravish, but her grace in Speech,
F 33    Her words yclad with wisdomes Majesty,
F 34    Makes me from Wondring, fall to Weeping joyes,
F 35    Such is the Fulness of my hearts content.
F 36    Lords, with one cheerefull voice, Welcome my Love.

Q 33/F 36 are similar, but F is an improvement.

Q 34   All. Long live Queene Margaret, Englands happiness.
F 37   All kneel. Long live Qu. Margaret, Englands happines.

Q/F identical.

Q 35  Queene. We thanke you all. Sound Trumpets.
F 37   Queene. We thanke you all. Florish

Q/F identical. Note that the fanfare is both a salute to the Queen and a signal that the first part of the scene has concluded. Q’s “Sound Trumpets,” written in the imperative, was originally a prompter’s note. But since the note has been changed to “Florish,” it was the corrector of Q, Shakespeare, who made the change.

After only 35 lines, it is possible to construct a profile of the Reporter. And what a strange individual he is, especially for an actor. He is an older man who “remembers” verb forms of a bygone era, even though F has modern ones. He has “forgotten” 50% of Shakespeare’s stress words. He has no taste for poetry since he does not remember or does not like images. The Reporter eliminated the character development of the Queen, making her a stereotype, and made the character of Henry inconsistent. He cannot remember or does not like jokes. These lapses multiply by the hundreds when the two texts are compared from end to end.

It is clear what Shakespeare’s work on The Contention consisted of: 1) Regularization of much, but not all, of the verse; 2) Deletions; 3) Additions; 4) Transpositions; 5) Rewriting, sometimes incorporating old dialogue; 6) Character development; 7) Making inconsistent characterization consistent; 8) All the while adding poetry during the above process. All of these things are invariably done in the course of bringing a new play to the stage. Shakespeare’s company had some old, successful plays in its trunk, plays that could be successful once again if brought up to date. Shakespeare simply treated these old plays like new ones. In some cases, he may have revised new plays, a not-uncommon practice as a study of Henslowe’s Diary proves.

On the theory of the Reporter, the conclusion is inescapable that Shakespeare’s work has not been botched, but reversed. The “Reporter” has: 1) Eliminated all of the poetry; 2) Turned multidimensional characters into stereotypes; 3) Made characterization inconsistent; 4) Remembered some of “Shakespeare’s poorest speeches verbatim, vamping all the rest; and 6) Had, as part of his deconstruction, the intention of shortening the play by a third. The only conclusion to be reached is that the Reporter is a figment of the imagination of Peter Alexander. Requiescat in pace.


  1. Crane’s trademark parentheses are on virtually every page of the Folio.
  2. Peter Alexander, “Conjectural History of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII,” Essays and Studies of the English Association, XVI, 85.
  3. Still, a good deal of Wilson’s work must be respected. I should think, for example, his two-volume The Manuscript of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, though out of date in some respects, is a necessary weigh station on the road to an edition of that play. His theory of “continuous copy” has not been accepted but, I trust, eventually will be. The jettisoning of the Reporter will help clear the way for that.