Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Strumpet Shall Sound: Another Debunking

One more bit of debunking. This one is a tad recherché, but it is a favorite of mine so I will go on with it.

You remember Dr. Bowdler, who undertook to scrub all the naughty bits out of Shakespeare’s plays (link). Years ago I heard that made a particularly hilarious emendation to a famous bedroom scene. They way I read the account, the line was an accusation against Desdemona; so, Othello. Trouble is, I could never find that line in Othello.

Couple of months back, I saw the admirable new production of Cymbeline at Lincoln Center (link) and—hey! There it is! The infamous line! So, back to Dr. Bowdler—the ten-volume version on line at Google (link).

Uh oh. So far as I can tell, Dr. B let the offensive line stand as written. So much for prudery.

Only one more try—this time with a kind of success, only backhanded, and unsatisfactory. Anyway: do a general Google search for the offensive line, and caramba! There it is! --in an edition (not Bowdler’s) from 1844 (link, page 49).

Trouble is, it seems to be a simple mistake. The edition seems to print the line right. Google picks it up as “emended” by virtue of a simple misprint, or shall we say, of sloppy copying. No fault of Dr. Bowdler's, nor, indeed, of prudish busybody. Just a simple mistake.

So, no such emended line anywhere, except by accident. The phantom debunker rides again.

You were asking—what, exactly, is the line? I print the “Shakespearean” version below. If you can’t guess the “emendation,” you wouldn’t make a very good censor:

“Thy mistress, Pisanio, hath played the strumpet in my bed.”

No comments: