Monday, May 17, 2010

1st Read Through: Textual Instability

The cast and I had our first reading last night. it's amazing the number of things that you just don't see, no matter how many times you look at them. I'm not talking about complicating cross references between the three quartos I've collated, I'm talking much simpler things like leaving the "Sir" off of "Sir Ralph" in a speech prefix, which is quite problematic when one of the characters in the play is just plain "Ralph." Throw a couple formatting errors that arise out of the miracle of computer word processing, and you get a printed text that doesn't necessarily resemble the one you thought you quite literally knew backwards and forwards.

I've advised the cast to think of this as a new work, which it is in a sense. Collating the first three quartos has not only highlighted areas of textual instability inherent between printings in the first quarter of the seventeenth century, but it has also created new ones. Points of instability that I didn't hear until it came from the mouths of my cast members on their reading. So now I need to go back and revise my collation further; not to try cleaning up the mistakes of a long dead compositor (or scribe), but to clean up the mistakes I've made in the last few weeks.

Textual instability aside, the reading went very well. I have a good group of people bristling with ideas, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing this thing up on its feet.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Q3 Collation

Not being 100% satisfied with my results from my collation of Q2 with my transcript of Q1, I decided to up the ante and do some even more hard core collating. For purposes of Q3, that meant going backwards through the script one word at a time. It was pretty slow going at first, but ten or so pages into the process I got into the rhythm of collating, and I dare say that this was faster and more accurate than my previous method.

You may, of course, raise the objection that I had caught and corrected most errors on my Q2 collation. You might even be right, however, I caught a substantial amount of Q1 transcription errors on this pass, too. It almost makes me wonder if it's worth the effort of going through with Q2 once more to make sure I didn't make any collation errors in that pass. Then again, as I turn back to my records of that collation, I did note a substantial amount of variations, largely concentrated in the same places of textual ambiguity as the variations in Q3.

No collation is perfect. No edition is definitive. That's why the next generation must collate and edit again. That's why people are still making money selling copies of books that have been publicly available for 400 years. At this point in the process, it will no doubt be better to invest my energies in moving on to Q4, and perhaps more importantly, turning my attention to the needs of my cast.

First read through is tomorrow, and while it saddens me that I won't have my full cast present, it will be nice to get everything started and get the ship sailing.

Friday, May 14, 2010

In 50 Words or Less

We need to submit a description of Merry Devil, in 50 words of less, for the festival guide. This is what we've got so far:
Peter Fabell sold his soul for magical powers, not his heart, and he may find tricking the devil is easy compared to a father hell-bent on making his daughter a nun. If this necromancer can't master true romance, the maiden may be damned to life in a nunnery!
Peter Fabell sold his soul for magical powers, but not his heart, and he may find tricking the devil is easy compared to outwitting a father hell-bent on making his daughter a nun. If this necromancer can't master true romance, the maiden may be damned – to life in a nunnery! 
After thinking about it a little bit, I decided that we need to name drop Shakespeare. He almost certainly performed in the original production, and as I've previously argued, he almost certainly had a hand in some of it. Enjoy!
Peter Fabell sold his soul for magical powers, but not his heart, and he may find tricking the devil is easy compared to outwitting a father hell-bent on making his daughter a nun. This 1603 romantic comedy was originally performed at Shakespeare's Globe. Can a Renaissance necromancer find true romance?
 Your feedback is welcome (and encouraged).

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Looking for Historical Nouns

The eponymous "Merry Devil of Edmonton" is one Peter Fabell, whom the prologue describes as "a renowned scholar whose fame hath still been hitherto forgot by all the writers of this latter age." The Prologue mentions a monument where in the church of Edmonton where his name is still writ "to this very day" (meaning sometime around 1603), so I started thinking about whether or not Fabell actually existed, and if so, what traces of him could be found. Sadly, The Merry Devil of Edmonton seems to be his most lasting legacy.

The Oxford DNB says of him:
Fabell probably was a real person, though his tricking of the devil is obviously fictional. He may be the ‘Favell’ who received a BA at Cambridge in 1469–70, given the claims about his education and dates (Venn, Alum. Cant., 2.125). He is less likely to be the Peter Fabell who made his will in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, in 1526, given the distance from Edmonton (Phillimore and Duncan, 205). Alternatively, Bolton suggests that the magician was Peter Favelore, who built a chapel within the Edmonton church before his death in 1360, and who left lands in Edmonton, Enfield, Tottenham, and Kent (Bolton, 131). This man lived a century before the dates given by Fuller and T. B., but would have been entitled to a monument in the church.
I would be inclined to say "beyond that, it's all guesswork," but the limited traces left behind of this man who is said to have tricked the devil amount to little more than educated guesses anyway. Similarly, I can find no traces of an actual Chesson Nunnery. But what about the church? And what about Enfield itself? Now that's another story! There's actually almost too much out there to be useful. Almost.

While the usual searches through Google and Wikipedia have turned up very little traceable history on Enfield, they have provided a most useful symbol: the Enfield Beast, which is in use on the city's official website. I get the sneaky feeling like that could be a very useful emblem for our upcoming production. Also, under the "about Enfield" section, the website offers this description of Enfield: "Enfield has a proud and distinguished history, being home to a Royal palace, several country houses, ancient monuments and a host of famous people, past and present."

A short ride north of London, Enfield (where the action of Merry Devil seems to take place, if the location of Enfield Church is to be believed) presents itself as a nice country retreat from the bustle of London life; exactly the sort of place where one might want to get married, or take one's family for a working vacation. Of course, that's not where the Clare family is staying in the text of the play. They're staying at the George at Waltham.

Waltham Abbey is too good of a candidate to ignore for the location, seeing as how Friar Hildersham and Waltham Abbey figure prominently into the plot of the play. It's times like this that I am grateful for living in the era of Google because, according to Google Maps, one could walk from Enfield to Waltham Abbey in the space of about an hour and forty minutes. Back in 1603, the roads weren't as good, but it would certainly be plausible that Blague, Smug, Banks, and Sir John would have spent the night hunting deer in the wilderness between Waltham Abbey and Enfield, and made it back to the George at Waltham Inn in time to marry the couple the next morning. It's equally plausible that Sir Arthur and Sir Ralph could have been chasing after their children all night in the wilderness, and made it back to Waltham (though at the wrong inn) in the morning.

Another Waltham presents itself as a viable option, however: Waltham Forrest. Waltham Forrest is much closer to London than Waltham Abbey, and the fact that Queen Elizabeth had a hunting lodge there fits nicely with Brian the Keeper of the walk, who is tasked with protecting the king's deer. Also, Edmonton is located about 3/4 of the way between Waltham Forrest and Enfield. It looks like I'll need to be mining the text for some better clues, but in reality, I think either one of these locations presents itself as a potential candidate for the setting. Here's the Google map showing all locations.

There may be implications in all of this. Just as characters are disguised as other characters in The Merry Devil, the disguise of The George at Waltham as the (unnamed) neighboring inn is what tricks Sir Arthur and Sir Ralph, and what allows Sir John enough time to marry Milliscent and Raymond, and what allows the young lovers enough to to... ahem... formalize the marriage contract. The locations are as specific as the characters are to the point where confusing them is what brings about the happy ending. I don't think it matters too much whether the George at Waltham is in Waltham Abbey or Waltham Forrest, but it needs to be clearly fixed in space. We may as well fix it in the correct space, eh? 

Friday, May 7, 2010

Lessons Learned from the Bibliographic Taxonomy of The Merry Devil of Edmonton

The types of books that an individual bookseller sold provides a context in which one can read a given text. Locating the printed text of a Shakespearean play in its original native environment, the bookstalls of St. Paul's Churchyard, will help the modern practitioner establish the context in which to perform the play. Arthur Johnson's specialization in comic plays such as The Merry Devil of Edmonton, for example, is complemented by the anti-Catholic pamphlets, apologies for the Church of England, psalters, and true crime books he also sold. While the materials available in Johnson's stall will not tell a modern practitioner how to read Merry Devil, they will provide the context necessary to help said practitioner understand how their early modern counterpart read the play.

Before locating the printed text of Shakespeare, one must necessarily define what qualifies as a Shakespearean text. Simple attribution to the hand of William Shakespeare cannot qualify as a standard of judgement, as the King's Men's pursuit of an injunction against the printing of their plays appears to be a direct response to Pavier's attempt to publish Shakespeare's works (Jowett 71). The Lord Chamberlain's edict established the King's Men as the only legitimate (in the legal sense) authors of a text that we might describe as “Shakespearean."

If every text that we ascribe to Shakespeare can only be properly authorized by the King's Men, the opposite is also true: every play authorized by the King's Men must be regarded as Shakespearean. While trying to locate the hand of Shakespeare in every text authorized by the King's Men would be futile, Shakespeare, as a sharer in the company, perhaps as the chief literary authority of the company, would necessarily authorize every text printed by the company. The ascription of a text to the hand of Shakespeare makes it no less Burbagean or Slyean if it was a product of the King's Men. The legal framework of the Stationer's Company, under injunction of the Lord Chamberlain, provided that only the King's Men could authorize the printing of their plays, but this could only be an extension of a system of production of play texts that recognized the text as the product of a company effort. In the eyes of crown law, The Merry Devil of Edmonton must be regarded every bit as “Shakespearean” as The Merry Wives of Windsor, both of which were printed for the book seller Arthur Johnson.

While an examination of The Merry Wives of Windsor no doubt would prove insightful, The Merry Devil of Edmonton has a more interesting and more traceable history in Johnson's shop. According to the Short Title Catalogue, Johnson had printed Merry Wives in 1602 and 1619. Whether he simply ordered too many copies in 1602 or Merry Wives experienced a resurgence in popularity seventeen years later, there is too much time between printings to determine with what Merry Wives might have shared shelf space. The four years between the first printing of Merry Devil in 1608 and the second printing in 1612 (revealed by their title pages), provides a more reasonable range for analysis. It is entirely possible that Johnson ordered printings to coincide with surges in popularity, but given Laurie Maguire's description of the printing process as “neither a rapid nor a simple operation” this is unlikely (445). Given that Johnson would order a third printing of Merry Devil in 1617, it is plausible he ordered stock to last for several years; certainly if Merry Devil did not sell with some regularity between 1608, 1612, and 1617, it is unlikely that Johnson would have ordered these subsequent printings at an apparently regular interval. To determine what other books Johnson's customers might have had to choose from at the same time the first quarto of Merry Devil was for sale, it is therefore necessary to examine a span of time that predates the printing of that quarto by several years.

For the purposes of this examination, I chose to look at the materials printed for Arthur Johnson between 1605 and 1611. This includes enough of a range to determine what older materials might have remained in Johnson's stacks as the first quarto of Merry Devil came into print, and would have included new works that came into print leading up to the second printing in 1612. A search of the Short Title Catalog yields 34 distinct records of materials either printed for or to be sold by Johnson within this range (see attached). Taken together, the materials Johnson had for sale help establish the context for the printed text of Merry Devil's first quarto, and for reading the play today.

Of the 34 books that Johnson had printed for his shop between 1605 and 1611, eight of them were anti-Catholic/pro-protestant treatises, seven were religious commentaries, six were comic plays, three were instruction manuals, sermons, and poetry collections, two were true crime pieces, and there was one psalter and one non-dramatic tragi-comedy. Even within this catalogue of titles, context is necessary for meaningful analysis. All of the plays Johnson sold were comedies, which is especially noteworthy given that he sold two non-dramatic true crime pieces; a genre that was represented in certain dramatic works of the time. While Johnson clearly did not have ambitions to specialize in plays, his specialization in the comic genre of play texts indicates that his customers of The Arraignment, Judgement, Confession, and Execution of Humfrey Stafford, Gentleman, and The Bloody Mother very likely had tastes that were both specific and different from his other customers. If this is true, the forensic bibliographer would do well to look more closely at Johnson's other play-texts as points of comparison without regard to the texts from other genres that he sold.

Just as Johnson's reluctance to carry true-crime play texts may indicate a separation of his customers, the bibliographic evidence might also suggest deliberate cross marketing between readers of religious materials and readers of comedies. Divided into the genres I have outlined, anti-Catholic treatises, religious commentaries, and comedies all account for similar percentages of Johnson's printing between 1605 and 1611. Among the comedies, two deal very directly with religious figures: The Jesuits Comedy and Merry Devil. A cross comparison of the religious texts Johnson sold with Merry Devil may therefore prove illuminating.

It comes as little surprise that religious material comprised more than half of the books that Johnson sold, but the anti-Catholic nature of the significant portion of those materials takes on special significance when sold next to The Merry Devil, wherein the poaching hedge-priest Sir John is one of the principle clowns. All religious figures in Merry Devil are duped in some way, and Chesson Nunnery itself becomes the tool of a parsimonious parent. Certainly the romantic comedy takes the fore, but especially in light of the anti-Catholic treatises that Johnson sold at about the same time, it is difficult not to read The Merry Devil as a satire of the Roman Catholic Church where the ineptitude of the clergy helps create the happy ending.

Perhaps as illuminating as the cross-genre marketing of comedies that satirize the Catholic church are the instances of texts that received multiple printings within the seven year period of this examination. Cupids Whirligig was printed in 1607, and then again in 1611, which parallels almost precisely the printing schedule between the first Merry Devil quarto in 1608 and the second in 1612. The other title Johnson had printed twice within this period was A Closet for Ladies and Gentlewomen, a manual on “preserving, conserving, and candying;” first in 1608 and then again in 1611. While the multiple printings of Cupid's Whirligig will help to reinforce Johnson as a purveyor of comic plays, the success of A Closet for Ladies emphasizes the practical, domestically inclined nature of at least some of his customers. Since he did seek to specialize in this particular genre, it would be logical to infer that A Closet for Ladies was printed in service of his already existing clientele. Given that Merry Devil is a domestic comedy, one may need look no further than the text of the play for a picture of Johnson's customers, and its original audience.

It is noteworthy that of the six comedies Johnson had printed within this range of time, only Merry Devil was a King's Men play. The Phoenix and Michaelmas Term were both “acted by the Children of Paules” (a direct quote from both of their title pages), Cupids Whirligig by the Children of the Kings Majesties Revels (see title page), and The Jesuits Comedy was “acted at Lyons in France” (see title page). If Merry Wives was not also available during this time, Merry Devil would have been the only play Johnson sold that was performed by an adult company in London. Merry Devil and Merry Wives are structurally comparable in several ways; they're both romantic comedies, both domestic comedies, both present mystical figures in the resolution, and both feature an Epicurean Sir John. These similarities likely did not escape Johnson, and the fact that Merry Devil received more printings would suggest that either Johnson severely over-printed Merry Wives, or that in print if not on stage, Merry Devil was the more popular play. This may not affect a modern staging of the play, but it might help to inspire a modern staging of what has become a comparatively neglected work.

Perhaps the most consistent thread woven into theatrical performance throughout the history western theatre is that audiences like to see themselves on stage. A bibliography of Arthur Johnson's book shop, circa 1608, will help the modern director better understand the text of The Merry Devil of Edmonton. This is perhaps true of works surrounding any printing, but the popularity of Merry Devil provided for its multiple printings over the course of a decade. These printings provide benchmark dates from which the modern bibliographer can weigh the contents of Johnson's shop, and perhaps gain insight into the original readers of the text. If modern audiences enjoy seeing themselves on stage as much as the King's Men's did, valuable evidence of who these audiences were can be observed in the records of the books they may have purchased along with The Merry Devil.

Works Cited 

The Arraignment, Judgement, Confession, and Execution of Humfrey Stafford, Gentleman. London. E. Allde. 1607. Early English Books Online. Accessed 14 Oct. 2010.

A Closet for Ladies and Gentlewomen. London. F. Kingston. 1608. Early English Books Online. Accessed 14 Oct. 2010.

–. London. 1611. Early English Books Online. Accessed 14 Oct. 2010.

The Jesuits Comedy. London. E. Allde. 1607. Early English Books Online. Accessed 15 Oct. 2010.

Jowett, John. Shakespeare and Text. Oxford. Oxford UP. 2007.

Maguire, Laurie E. “The Craft of Printing (1600).” A Companion to Shakespeare, ed. David Scott Kastan. Blackwell. 1999.

The Merry Devil of Edmonton. Henry Ballard. London. 1608. Early English Books Online. Accessed 26 Sept. 2009.

--. Henry Ballard. London. 1612. Early English Books Online. Accessed 14 Oct. 2010.

Middleton, Thomas. Michaelmas Term. London. Thomas Purfoot and Edward Allde. 1608. Early English Books Online. Accessed 15 Oct. 2010.

–. The Phoenix. London. Edward Allde. 1607. Early English Books Online. Accessed 15 Oct. 2010.

Pantzer, Katherine. “Johnson, Arthur.” A Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, & Ireland, and of English Books Printed Abroad 1475 – 1640. First compiled by A.W. Pollard and G.R. Redgrave. Vol. 3. London. The Bibliographical Society. 1991.

Shakespeare, William. The Merry Wives of Windsor. London. T[homas] C[reede]. 1602. Early English Books Online. Accessed 14 Oct. 2010.

–. The Merry Wives of Windsor. London. William Jaggard. 1619. Early English Books Online. Accessed 15 Oct 2010.

Sharpham, Edward. Cupids Whirligig. London. E. Allide. 1607. Early English Books Online. Accessed 14 Oct. 2010.

–. Cupids Whirligig. London. T. C[reede]. 1611. Early English Books Online. Accessed 14 Oct. 2010

T.B. The Bloody Mother. London. John Busbie. 1610. Early English Books Online. Accessed 14 Oct. 2010.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

How Collation Worked

I talked a little bit about my collation process last night, but I figured it might be fun and interesting to mention the details. To begin with, I started with a print out of my transcription of Q1, a print out of Q2, and a print out of Q1. I suppose I could have left one (or more, with a bigger monitor) of these in a digital format, but I very specifically wanted to make sure that my transcript was a print out. Why? I didn't want to be able to make any of my edits to it have any degree of permanence associated with them. I'll get back to that later.

Then I proceeded backwards through the text, one line at a time. Backwards because it prevented me from reading the text, and missing valuable data. I would read a line of Q2 out loud, read a line from my transcript (out loud), and then re-read the line in Q2 (again, out loud). Then I would move on to the next line. Now maybe you can understand why this takes  a while and you can't do it for very long successfully.

When I encountered a discrepancy between Q2 and my transcript, I would turn back to Q1. If my transcript matched Q1, I would make a note of the variation in blue pen on my transcript. If my transcript did not match Q1, I would note the variation between my transcript and Q1 in red pen, and then I would compare that with Q2, and if there was still a variation note that in blue pen. The double variant didn't happen especially often. 

After I had made my way through the entire script, I went back to my digital copy and made my edits: correcting transcription errors from Q1, and making notes whenever there was a variation in Q2. On some very rare occasions I have chosen to modernize a word or use the Q2 variant, but in those cases, I have left a note in the text (using the notes feature, thank God for word processing) describing what Q1 actually says. 

It is a long and tedious process. Now step back to 1608 where word processors don't exist, and type is set out manually from manuscript copy in a dirty, noisy environment where you're working on a deadline and get paid by the page. I made a lot of mistakes in my transcription of Q1, and thinking about all the tools I have available to use, as well as my comparatively voluptuously luxurious work environment, makes me a lot more forgiving of any mistakes that the original printers might have made along the way.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Lessons in Collation

I recently finished collating the second quarto with my transcription of the first quarto. I knew going into it that the differences would be relatively minor, and based on the principle that a change is transmission is a breeding ground for errors, I think that most of the differences don't really qualify as "improvements." Most of the time, if Q2 has something different from Q1, it's worthy of a foot note, some of the time it might be useful to know there is another option available, and maybe one of these differences will actually find its way into one of the final products.

Still, the exercise was extremely valuable for one simple reason: I made a lot of my own errors when transcribing Q1 into a digital file. The differences between Q1 and Q2 were so minute that the only way I would be able to catch them was to go line by line, and every time I encountered a discrepancy between Q2 and my transcription, I turned back to Q1. Most of the time these discrepancies were the result of sloppy work on my part, but being able to see that helped me realize something that I hadn't thought of before: transcribing and collating quartos requires a lot of focus.

When I was making my initial transcription of Q1, I pushed myself through bleary eyes and headaches to get the thing finished as quickly as possible. That was a mistake, and seeing the sheer number of mistakes I made as a result of taking that approach helped me realized that working that way is extremely unproductive. What good is a collation if you can't rely on the copy you're collating against? So I took the Q2 collation much more slowly than I did the Q1 transcription, which is one of the reasons why I only recently finished.

The reward for finishing this collation will be collating what I have now with Q3. Experience tells me that is going to take a while. I almost said it would take even longer, but making the decision to use Q1 as my copy text means I'm not obliged to check every single discrepancy against Q1 and Q2; in fact, that would be a waste of time; I've already noted the differences between Q2 and my copy text. Now I need to see how Q3 informs my copy text, which will of necessity include Q2, as that is now a part of the text I'm working from.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that I'm even more interested in collating my text laterally against the other Q1s out there in the world (besides the copy I got off of EEBO). Hmm.... because I and obsessive compulsive and like pain, I think I might have to look into that.

Why am I going out of my way to make my life harder, anyway? Sheesh.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Merry Devil's Staging Conditions

Not too long ago, I got to sit in on a staging conditions workshop at the American Shakespeare Center, and as it just so happened, I was in the midst of my most recent collation of Merry Devil at the time. It immediately occurred to me just how often the characters in that play refer to each other by name or relation to one another, as if to help the audience keep track of who's who, and who's related to who. I read this as an author's acknowledgement that the audience might be having a hard time keeping track of what's going on (the author, or more likely authors clearly were).

I'm trying to meditate on why that might be. The most obvious answers to me both relate to my theories of disguise play and multiple authorship that I've discussed before, which means I want to keep looking. Disguise play struck me as being a function of the characters who wear disguises, and while this revelation may support that theory, it comes after the fact. When an answer presents itself as being obvious, that usually means it needs a more dutiful interrogation. 

This convention could just be the result of sloppy writing, after all. Maybe the device doesn't work, even when implementing the disguise play that I'll be employing in the production. Ultimately I won't know how audiences respond to it until after the production is over and done with, and even if I can determine their reactions to that specific devise, this would be a 21st century audience, so I still won't know how the constant name and relationship dropping would have worked 400 years ago. 

Perhaps this is one of those moments where I simply need to make a choice, unburdened by some abstract notion of the truth. When we say we are re-creating Shakespeare's original staging conditions or using his original staging practices, we inevitably have to guess. None of us were there, after all. 

As I get closer to finishing my critical text and start thinking of branching it off into a performance text, I'm having to decide what to keep and what to cut. While for a play this short I'm not cutting so much for length as I am for incompleteness -- that is, in order to preserve the sense of what is going on -- something tells me that these identifies need to stay put. Although, perhaps, as an experiment, I should try reading them and seeing if I can follow along. On second thought, I think I'm probably too familiar with the play by now.

Is anyone out there in Internet land interested in a little experiment?