Tuesday, March 11, 2014

11 march (annotation & its discontents, part 985)

The latest chapter in my crusade against misleading, mistaken, and outright batshit insane annotations in teaching texts:

I habitually teach out of Norton Critical Editions. They are for the most part sturdy & reliable, and include handy selections of secondary material. They vary in quality from just okay to quite excellent. I have yet, however, to encounter a NCE that doesn't have at least one howler in its annotations. Case in point:

This semester I'm teaching King Lear out of the Norton Critical Edition, edited by Grace Ioppolo. It's a good edition, with the text based on the Folio but with Quarto emendations and editions—a composite text, yes, but this particular semester is too short to get them fully to grapple with the differences between F and Q texts, as a facing page edition would do. The secondary material is first-rate, from Tate and Johnson through Kott & Brook down to Stanley Cavell.

And then, reading the heath scene of Act 3, scene 4, I hit this famous—and to me very moving—passage. Lear is exposed to the weather, and has begun to comprehend how harsh the realities of life are to those "Poor naked wretches...That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm," who have never had the protection from the elements that he, in his royal state, has enjoyed:
Take physic, pomp,
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them
And show the heavens more just. (3.4.33-36)
I've always found these lines fairly self-evident: Lear is addressing "pomp" itself, or those who enjoy the comforts of wealth—himself, really—enjoining the lucky to "take physic" or medicine by exposing themselves to the harshnesses that the poor habitually undergo, so that those lucky ones—"pomp"—might give of their excess wealth (the "superflux," surplus, superfluity) to the poor.

And how does Ioppolo gloss these lines? As follows:
33. physic, pomp: medicinal curative (or purge) and excessive food.
35. superflux: (1) surplus; (2) discharge from the bowels.
So let me get this straight: given these glosses, we read Lear's sentence as saying, Take a laxative and eat excessive food, so that you can take a big ole shit on the poor. Well, I'm all for reconsidering received readings, and reevaluating previous interpretations — but I'm not sure I can go along for the ride on this one. Indeed, all I can think is, what the aitch-ee-double-toothpicks was the editor thinking when she wrote these notes?

1 comment:

Michael Peverett said...

That's hilarious!