Saturday, July 31, 2010

Check out our Poster

And then come check us out at Studio 1831 during the Philly Fringe Festival!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Early Modern Typeface

I wanted to share a goody I found out on the net: Jeff Lee's "Ancient" font face. While we all know that this particular period is early-modern, a cool type-face by any other name looks just as cool. As an added bonus, you can print the long-s (the one that looks a little like an f) by pressing Option-f (probably alt-f on a non-mac). Enjoy!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Interesting Textual Variants

Stern has a lot of good ideas about how "Shakespearean" texts were made, how they got on the stage, and how they were printed, and I have this funny feeling like her work will be extremely handy in bringing The Merry Devil of Edmonton to life, but as part of this project involves the creation of my own new critical-edition of Merry Devil, I am struck by two things: first of all is the overwhelming regularity of the three quartos that I have so far collated; few variations exist between them.

Where these quartos differ most, however, falls in a seemingly trivial moment early in the play, when Fabell and Raymond accuse Frank Jerningham of taking part in the plot for him to steal Milliscent away from Raymond. Frank describes his affections for another lady:
                              ...but thou know'st
That Essex hath the saint that I adore,
Where ere did we meet thee and wanton springs,
That like a wag thou hast not laughed at me,
And with regardless Jesting mocked my love?
That's the text from Q1. Q2 reads thusly:
                               ...but thou know'st
That Essex hath the saint that I adore,
Where ere did'st meet me, but we two were jovial,
like a wag thou hast not laughed at me,
And with regardless Jesting mocked my love?
Note the changes in bold. Also note that Q2's line is less poetic. One must be cautious about such proclamations in a play like this, where characters of all classes regularly change between verse and prose throughout, but Q2's line change creates a metrically irregular line in an otherwise regular passage. One might also make the argument that "wanton springs" is more idyllic than "we two were jovial."

The delightfully apoplectic W. W. Greg summarizes his analysis of the variant texts thusly:
I think that if a rough author's draft (after having served for the production of a prompt-book) had been severely cut with a view to preparing an abridged version of the play, and had then come into the printer's hands, the resulting edition might have been something like what we find in the extant text (130).
So why the variation? Stern points out that country audiences were generally less sophisticated than their London counterparts, and thus the plays were cut (145-146). Her further suggestion that prompters themselves would be a common source of emendation to might lead one to think that the Q2 printing followed from a prompt copy further edited from the original (144). Of the four extant copies of Q1, none are identical, which is not necessarily odd given the practice of stop-press correction that was common in London printing houses (Greg, 125). Greg, however, traces the lineage of Q2 to a cousin of what he calls Q1B with one exception, and this based on a line that occurs just a little bit later in the passage I have examined above (127). It may serve us to examine that variation. Q1 is as follows:
Before I would give o'er the chase, and wrong the love,
Before I would wrong the chase and leave the love,
Before I'd wrong the chase and o'ergive love,
 I'm apparently working from Q1B, because Greg gives the reading of Q1A as
Before I would unage the chase and overgive love (127)
The plot thickens, eh? It's difficult to say why such variation would arise. Pretending that "unage" is a misreading for "wrong," there seems to be an almost casual swapping of verbs in the line. If Greg is correct and the Q1B reading represents the text in an intermediary state of printing, that would simply confirm the statistically likely possibility that Q2 was not printed from one of the four extant Q1s (127). Nothing Earth shattering there, but why the other edits?

Lets play the game "everybody is right." If I'm right that there are emendations to the text that represent changes made out on the road between Q1 and Q2, that means that Arthur Johnson needs to have got his hand on those changes. If he wanted to do a simple reprint, he could have either printed from an existing Q1, or from the papers that he had from that printing. The advantage of the latter could derive from dissatisfaction with the first printing; he did change printers from Henry Ballard (Q1) to Thomas Creed for Q2, after all, and his further change to G. Eld for Q3 seems to indicate that he may have had a more habitual dissatisfaction with printers.

Yet it is also worth considering that the book that the King's Men supplied Johnson for printing was the touring prompter's book. No copy of the text would be more dispensable than an edited for touring text when the London theatres were open, after all. If Johnson printed Q2 from this book, which would likely have been edited over years of use, that may account for some of the variation in this passage. It would, of course, be just as likely that the line had been edited back for subsequent printings (if Johnson continued to use the touring book), or perhaps, unable to obtain it, he printed from one of the variants of Q1.

Maybe I even get a little bit of support for the ever-changing touring prompt book theory from the evolution of another line within this same passage:
Q1: I have taught the watchful Nightengale to wake,
Q2: And I have taught the Nightengale to wake,
Q3: I have taught the Nightengale to wake,
Q3 bears markers of both Q1 and Q2 in this case.  Again, Q1 seems the more poetic, and depending on the pronunciation of "have" may read as a regular verse line. Q2 omits the description of the nightingale, but is metrically regular without elision. Q3 is what a music director friend of mine would describe as a hot mess. It just doesn't work as verse. Through these three printing, we see the evolution of a line of verse into a line of prose. 

Anything I've said here needs to be read in light of the disclaimer that this is all mere conjecture. Yet given the evidence that Stern has put forth in Making Shakespeare, it is worth examining the book printing industry and the playing companies as having more of a symbiotic relationship than some would suggest. If Johnson regularly obtained copy for subsequent printings of The Merry Devil from the King's Men, the printed history of The Merry Devil may reflect an increasing simplification of dramatic writing.

Works Cited
Greg, W. W. "The Merry Devil of Edmonton." The Library: Transactions of the Bibliographical Society. 1944. London. Oxford UP. vol. s4-XXV 3-4 p. 122-139.

Stern, Tiffany. Making Shakespeare: From Stage to Page. Routledge. London. 2004.  

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Making Shakespeare Notes: Chapter Seven

Rules of punctuation and spelling were highly variable in early modern printed texts. In the "Shakespeare" portions of the Thomas Moore manuscript, the author has punctuated, capitalized, and spelled words, sometimes within the same line, seemingly at random (138).

It was common practice for scribes and printers to add punctuation (and perhaps capitalization) according to their own tastes. It is unlikely that punctuation that has come down to us is original, and there are examples where the words may remain the same, but the sense of a line is altered by the punctuation (139).

From the evidence of the Thomas Moore manuscript, it seems as if Shakespeare in some cases wrote lines first, and then parceled them out to characters later. This might account for the confusion of the name of Pistol's wife in Henry V, and of the names of the Nurse's and Romeo's serving men in Romeo and Juliet (141-142).

It may be possible to discern the source of a printed copy by looking at descriptions of entrances. An authorial stage direction is more likely to provide an entrance for the character and scene, such as "enter gentleman on the walls of Rome," whereas a prompter will be more likely to write in terms of practical stage direction/architecture: "enter above." Texts that come from prompters also tends toward specificity in numbers; whereas an author may specify "lords and attendants," a prompter, who like any good stage manager would know who is available when, would be more likely to specify how many lords and attendants can enter at the given moment (144).

Prompters were responsible for editing play texts as required by the Master of Revels, such as removing swearing from the play, and then submitting those changes for official approval (144-145).

"Any Shakespeare text that can be traced to a prompter's book has already been repeatedly mediated by other hands" (145). Meditate on this: If the extant Merry Devil text has come from a copy that was cut for touring, it very likely comes to us from a copy of the touring prompter's book.

Since revenues from touring plays when the London theatres were closed were less than home performances, non-sharer members would not tour, and the plays would be altered to accommodate a smaller cast. Lines might be dropped, or characters might be amalgamated into one. Also, country audiences were not as sophisticated as city audiences, and thus the plays were cut to a shorter running time than they would have enjoyed in the London playhouse (145-146).

Since playwrights incorporated timely events and jokes into their plays, a very popular play, which might run for over a year, would need regular revising in order to keep the material fresh (146).

It is likely that many of the texts do not come to us in the form in which they had enjoyed life in performance at the time they were printed. Foul paper, one off, or otherwise deprecated versions of texts, would not have been discarded due to the cost of paper, but would have been kept in the company's reserves in case something had happened to the book then in use. The company could afford to send these archived copies, no longer necessary for the performance of the play, to the printer for publication where they may have been more reticent to part with a more practically useful text for that purpose (146-147).

Since print is easier to read than manuscript, a printed text, even if it was outdated, might find its way back into use by the company. A printed quarto could be augmented with manuscript emendations to reflect the play as it then existed in the company's repertory. This is what appears to have happened in the case of Romeo and Juliet, as the Folio text tends to closely follow the spelling and punctuation of the good quarto, but presents several changes over that text (147).

The realities of printing house practices also affect the plays that come down to us. Just as even good typists will make typos, even a good compositor will occasionally choose the wrong letter. Since compositors had to work quickly, like their modern touch-typist counter parts, they had to rely on their sense of touch and their knowledge of where certain letters were to lay them out quickly. Letters that felt similar and which were arranged in close proximity in the type case, could easily be confused (150 - 152).

Photo of type case layout from Tiffany Stern's Making Shakespeare. The website she has credited is no longer in service.
 It is also possible that decisions about spelling and punctuation would have been made to reflect the quantities of type available vs. those used heavily in the text. The speech prefix of "Bastard" for "Edmund" in King Lear may be a function of the heavy use of magiscule italic Es in the text, and thus the decision to refer to the character as "Bastard" may be nothing more than the printer's way of preserving E for other uses (Enter, Exit,  and Edgar) (153).

Compositors were expected to edit the texts they were given to make them legible to their readers, but in the process of so doing may have altered the sense of the lines by mis-interpreting the playhouse text (154).

It is also possible that disfigured or poorly inked (or over inked) pieces of type have altered the sense of the texts. A damaged f resembles a long s, and this is why Ferdinand exults at having "So rare a wondred Father, and a wise" instead of "So rare a wondred Father, and a wife" (154-155).


The plays from early modern London that come down to us are many times removed from the hands of the men who wrote them. While it may be possible to spot some trends behind "the veil of print," the hand of the author is not one of them. Who wrote Shakespeare? is an irrelevant question. Who edited him is much more useful for the purposes of determining how the play may have been performed, and how the texts that we have might best be presented.

Making Shakespeare Notes: Chapter Six

The typeface of early modern plays tended to differ when prologues, epilogues, songs, and letters were printed. Prologues, Epilogues, songs, and letters are also often distinguished by titles that set them off from the rest of the text, despite these being generally textually apparent (113-114).

It is not uncommon for early modern texts to simply describe where a song should go, such as in Julius Caesar [4.3], where Lucius plays a song for Brutus (115). This also occurs in Pericles [Q H3b 5.1] and 1 Henry IV [3.1] (116).

When printed in early modern texts, it is not uncommon to find songs printed as appendixes to the plays. This is probably because songs would have been kept separate from the play book, and thus would have been printed separately, or perhaps not at all. It is possible they were kept separate for use by the actors; actors could take the song (accompanied by its music) with them on stage to sing (117).

Prologues, like songs, were also fluid. All's Lost by Lust, and Wonder of a Kingdom, two plays separated by three years and two different authors, have the same prologue. Where several of Shakespeare's plays that do not have prologues speak of prologues as being common components of a play text, Richard III has a prologue written by Heywood for a Queen Anne's Men's boy player (118-119).

"Prologues and epilogues were not part of a unified text, sharing the same rights and lasting qualities" (120).

Prologues and epilogues may have been written for specific, one off court performances, which would have a different flavor than their counterparts for public performance. Surviving prologues for public performances tend to share common themes of at once asking the indulgence of the audience and inviting them to judge it, and
epilogues tend to directly ask their audiences for applause (120-121). These prologues and epilogues were essential features of an opening night performance, but if the play 'passed' its opening night test, would be subsequently dropped from future productions (122).

The character of the prologue appears to have been dressed in a black robe and hold a garland, the symbols of the scholar and the poet. An actor in the company thus plays the role of the author, and by extension transfers the authority of the play to the company (122).

"A play in performance was by no means textually fixed" (122).


Textual instability was a key feature of any part of an early modern play text. Songs, prologues, epilogues, and letters would generally not be included with the printed text because they were different pieces of paper from the play book. Likewise, plays were written in parts, and playwrights could take advantage of the custom of parts and cues to create scripted gibberish that would have been apparent in performance, although not necessarily in the company book. The texts of the plays, designed to be performed, were inherently mutable, and thus the texts that we know should not be considered as fixed entities of singular poetic genius.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Making Shakespeare Notes: Chapter Five

Early modern plays tended not to employ scenery in the modern sense, and so his actors will often describe the scene. Their descriptions, however, should not be considered as reports of empirical data. Different characters will commonly make differing reports of a given scene (as in The Tempest, where Gonzalo, and Antonio and Sebastian perceive two different extremes on the island), and sometimes the scene is meant to be understood in a broader thematic context, such as the sentries descriptions of "bitter cold" darkness at the top of Hamlet (91-92).

Stage props were used metonymically; a prop crown was not just the signifier for a king's crown, it was also the signifier for the grandeur of a throne room. Stage directions will, in many cases, serve as indicators of which important props were used in this way (94).

Woodcut images in printed books may give us clues to the way in which certain spaces might be symbolized with limited properties. The images contained in printings of Doctor Faustus and Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, for example, contain common elements that may have been conventional for the depiction of a scholarly study (99 - 100).

Costumes were used in a similarly metonymical fashion. For example, Actors dressed as sailors on stage would stand in for the scenery of a ship (104).

Doubling characters was a common convention on the early modern stage, but actors tended to double characters of a similar rank and social status, and thus would be dressed similarly (106).

When a character changes their clothes, they usually make a point of telling the audience what they are doing (and perhaps why). Otherwise the audience would confuse the actor as playing a different character (106).

Sometimes a character makes a change of clothing without telling the audience what is happening, as in As You Like It, where Oliver enters in the fourth act a reformed man, and wearing different clothing. Neither the characters nor the audience will recognize him for who he is, and thus the revelation that he is a changed man (literally) comes as a surprise to both (106-107).

Music is also used symbolically. Discordant music, or music that is not played well or properly, connotes something being wrong with the universe. Broken instruments, such as in Taming of the Shrew, can be used to describe a scene lacking harmony. Music from above can likewise be used to connote divine harmony, whether it is heard or not. Pericles, for example, is the only one to hear the music of the spheres when he is reunited with Marina, which indicates that it is not actually played, and applies to him specifically (109-110).

Shakespeare was an innovator in bringing songs into his tragedies, a genre in which they had traditionally not been played (111).


The plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries were played on stages that were hardly bare. While naturalist scenery was unknown at the time, audiences understood simple props, set pieces, and musical moments in such a way that created a broader context on the stage. Props, costumes, wall hangings, and songs were all charged with meaning to the early modern playgoer, and could be used to create a landscape in the mind's eye (and ear) of the audience as rich as anything that can be scene on the modern stage.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Changes to Accomodate the Company

I'm learning that producing a fringe show is a lot like running a successful insurgency. You need to strike first, be flexible, and remember that everyone who isn't for you is implicitly against you. We've lost a couple actors since casting the show, which has created certain difficulties, but this is where we all need to remember rule #2, and my cast members who have remained flexible as we have worked to find solutions to the problems that were created by those who have left us all deserve a big thanks.

Before I came to grad school, I worked under the assumption that any text should be editable to the circumstances of those presenting it, and didn't think twice about adapting play texts to my needs when it was the easy way out of a problem situation. Of course, when you're working under a program designed by the American Shakespeare Center, which has, as part of its mission, the stipulation that not more than 25 words can be changed for performance, you feel a certain pressure to take the words a little more seriously.

Of course, it is noteworthy that ASC shows are commonly performed cut (cuts for time are not the same as changing words), and as my recent readings in Tiffany Stern's Making Shakespeare have reminded me, Shakespeare (or his fellow company members anyway) didn't feel like changing the plays to suit the circumstances was a sin, and so I shouldn't either.

With a couple creative strokes of a pencil, I have reduced the number of players necessary to put up Merry Devil from 11 all the way down to 10. I know it doesn't sound like much of a difference, but really that one extra person is the difference between present success and failure. Also, dare I say that my cuts make the show better? I think I do; the ending that comes down to us is the punchline of a joke that's never told in the text, and it feels linguistically anti-climactic. The changes I've made to the script change that.

Of course, if anyone else leaves, I'll figure out something else. I'm flexible.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Making Shakespeare Notes: Chapter Four

To keep audiences coming back, playing companies had to regularly offer new plays, and even favorites were not performed often. A popular play may be performed a dozen or so times over the course of a two year period. In January of 1595/96, for example, the Admiral's Men (as recorded in Henslowe's Diary performed every day of the week except Sunday, and presented 14 plays, six of which were only given a single performance (63).

Early modern actors did not have the time for the sort of thorough rehearsal process that modern theatres have become accustomed to. To help actors meet the demands of performing so many different plays within such a short time, early modern playing companies type-cast their roles (63).

Types of characters in the time could be more broadly defined than today. They were well established (King, braggart, fool, sennex), and could be either the hero or the villain of the play (or somewhere in between). The character was written to suite the personality of the player who would perform the role so as to help them create a more believable character (64).

Shakespeare occasionally uses the character's type, rather than the name, in speech prefixes and stage directions: this indicates he was thinking first of the types of roles that would appear in the show, and perhaps, by extension, of the acting ability of the company (64-65).

King Claudius in Hamlet and Prince Eskales in Romeo and Juliet only have names offered in speech prefixes; their names are never mentioned in the text of the play. Modern editors usually give them the proper names they are assigned in speech prefixes, but modern and early modern audiences alike would not necessarily have known their names. Shakespeare is again writing for types, and this individuation of character undercuts the possibility of one king or prince looking very much like another (66). MEDITATE ON THIS: what if they have names in speech prefixes because the audience already knew who they were. If Shakespeare was lifting material from another, known source, his use of their names in speech prefixes may indicate that he has a certain, specific character in mind, or that he recognizes his audience, or even the actor playing the role may.

Just as Shakespeare recycled rhetorical figures that he liked, so his character types keep re-appearing in plays. This is because these characters were all to be played by the same company member, and accounts for the change in the way Shakespeare wrote his clowns while Will Kempe was the company's featured clown, and why the clown roles changed to fools when Robert Armin took Kempe's place (67).

The women's roles, written for boys, changed most frequently. This might account for discrepancies within play texts, such as when Celia is described as the taller of the two, but Rosalind also describes herself as "more than common tall." One of the actors might have undergone a growth spurt necessitating the play to be re-written (70). Of course, it is also possible that several different boys played the role, and the emendations that come down to us are the result of an inconsistent copy being submitted to the printer.

Viola proposes to offer herself as a singer to Orsino, and yet never sings a song through the course of the play. In one instance in which she is asked to do so, she demurs, and tells Orsino that Feste, Olivia's fool, is the one who sang the song, creating the necessity of explaining why Feste is absent from his lady's house. This may be the result of the boy-who-played-Viola's voice breaking, or of his being replaced with another boy actor who could not sing so well (70-71).

Early modern audiences would commonly leave the performance when the leading actor "died" on stage, which resulted in playwrights grouping the deaths of major characters together in the last act. This feature is one of the hallmarks of revenge tragedy, and the practice is a clear example of how playwrights wrote with their audiences in mind (73).

The Fool in Lear sings a verse from "The Rain it Raineth," which of course appears in Twelfth Night. Armin perhaps sang this song across many different plays, which provided the audience with a familiar (and presumably popular song), but also created a cross-play context that lessened the tragedy of tragedies, as the audience is reminded that a dead character will be resurrected in another play (74).

Polonius making reference to playing Caesar, and being killed by Brutus, in Julius Caesar is also a cross-referential item, suggesting that the actor who played Polonius also performed Caesar, and the actor playing Hamlet also played Brutus. Savvy audiences would have congratulated themselves for getting this reference, and would be rewarded with the knowledge that, just as Brutus killed Caesar, so will Hamlet kill Polonius (75). This knowledge of who played what roles is also useful for our understanding of what Shakespeare meant these roles to be. What does it mean that Caesar is the doddering old man type (76)?

Actors tended to learn not just their lines, but their entire roles on their own from their sides, which contained only their lines and their cues. They might be ignorant of the story as a whole, to the point of not even being completely sure whom they were sharing the stage with at any given time (79).

"Instructors" were available to help actors learn their rolls, so that actors were not completely on their own. For junior members of the company, superior actors might serve as instructors, and for more experienced members, it may have been the playwright, or perhaps no one at all. It is noteworthy that only what the individual actor would say and do was established in these instruction sessions, not what other actors would say and do (79).

The "passions," or extreme emotional states, that a character experienced could serve as guideposts for an actor, instructing him how to play the role. An actor' skill was, in part at least, assessed based on his ability to quickly change passions (81-82). Perhaps an early modern play can be read in terms of its passions in a way that a modern play can be read in terms of its beats? Hmm...

Costume and gesture were important aspects of portraying the passions properly. Hamlet is able to deceive Polonius and Ophelia by wearing the garb and adopting the gestures of one who has been driven mad with love (83). This almost begs the question, would the audience be deceived as well? I think we may take too much for granted in terms of our understanding of these plays.

Titus, likewise, after he has cut off his hand expresses his inability to express himself. His gestures are as significant to communicating as his speech (83). Of course, Lavinia, deprived of both tongue and hands, is now all but incapable of communicating anything, and thus Titus' understanding of her would be all the more miraculous to the early modern audiences watching the show.

The instruction that was offered to actors was not to help them discern a motivation or develop a character in the way that we think of it now, but rather to help them discern which passions their role experienced, and how the actor might best portray those passions. They also involved determining the best suited gesture and pronunciation for the lines the actor would speak (84).

The process of instruction was less directorial and more imitative. A superior actor or the playwright would recite the lines for the actor to perform the role, and the latter would try to copy of them. This role, when learned, was supposed to be fixed, and actors were not free to change their performance (84-85).

"Originality was far from being the goal of any production of the time: each on strove to imitate the first ('real') production of the play" (85). There are certain echoes of this in the literary world at the time, however, I don't know how Stern can reconcile this with her previous statements on textual fluidity. A fluid text implies a fluid performance.

A group rehearsal with the full company may have been possible before performance to help smooth over some of the rougher parts of the show and work out the technicalities of fights and dances, but if such a rehearsal was not possible, the play could go on without it (87-88).

Prompters served a vital role in managing actors who had lost track of their lines, managing the blocking, and to some degree, conducting the performance of a play in much the same way that a modern conductor manages an orchestra (88).

It was not uncommon for sharer actors, especially stars, to change their text. The exclamation that follows Hamlet's "The rest is silence" are thought to be Burbage amending the play because he desired the character to die in a more glamorous way (89).


Then, as now, there is a way that the play was supposed to be done, and then the way that it actually was done. The acting process is one of discovery, and could be in a time even when an actor's task was limited to "simply" determining the best way to speak their lines and gesture while so doing. These discoveries, or perhaps quirks, could work their way into performance, but it is more likely that a playwright would attempt to write his characters into their roles. Shakespeare, being in the unique playwright position of being an actor-sharer, knew the fellows for whom he was writing more intimately than most playwrights would at the time, and perhaps this is where the "genius" of his plays comes from. He was writing for the best actors in the business, and could therefore write plays exploiting their talents.

That said, the plays should not be viewed exclusively as solitary works. The nature of a company's repertory and the nature of acting at the time allowed plays in the rep to inform one another. Modern Artistic directors work very hard to do what The Chamberlains/King's Men, as well as their competition, did quite naturally. It may therefore be useful to examine the repertory context, where information is available, in locating the best way to perform a play.

Making Shakespeare Notes: Chapter Three

Apparently, the Prologue was the first Chapter, and the first chapter is chapter two, and so on, so technically last time I was writing about chapter two, and this time I'm making notes on chapter three. I'll just put that in my confused locker and move along.

Heminges and Condell, when they praised Shakespeare for never revising his work, were giving him customary praise for the time. Thomas Randolph, a less well known playwright, was similarly praised by his peers (34).

"The one piece of continuous handwriting that is thought to be Shakespeare's is actually full of crossed words, rewriting and overwriting" (35).

Hand D of The Book of Thomas Moore, whether it is Shakespeare's or not, provides valuable insight into the nature of collaboration. His text, which includes only a crowd scene and a soliloquy, is inconsistent with the rest of the play, and demonstrates a lack of knowledge of the play as a whole. Very little knowledge of a play was required for collaboration (36).

From the Thomas Moore manuscript, we see Shakespeare re-using the "Friends, Romans, Countryman" rhetorical device from Julius Caesar in the form of "friends, masters, countrymen." This is not an isolated example, as Hamlet's "words, words, words" re-appears as Troilus' "words, words, mere words..." Shakespeare clearly re-used linguistic structures that he liked (38).

Berowne's justification for being forsworn is an example of Shakespeare deciding to rework a passage while he was writing it. The complete passage as it has come down to us is highly repetitive, which is indicative that the typesetter did not note a marginal indication to strike one set of the lines, and although it is impossible to tell which ones do not belong, it is almost certain that one of them should not be present in the text (39).

Romeo's description of "the grey eyed morn" in Romeo and Juliet is later repeated by Friar Laurence with subtle changes to the description. There changes make it unlikely that the repeated passage is the result of print-house error, and further implies that the characters are here acting as vehicles for verse passages; the speaker obviously didn't matter to the playwright so much as that the lines were spoken (39-40).

Shakespeare's tendency to recycle phrases and rhetorical devices across his plays suggests an author who thinks in individual passages of text without regard for the cohesion of the whole (42).

"A culture that works with commonplace books has a habit of thinking in snippets, in pieces of removable text" (42). Consider the works of Shakespeare not as long, cohesive works of brilliants, but as snippets of language, recycled rhetorical devices, and borrowed plot points. Consider that Shakespeare was not the first author, he was the first remixer.

Ben Jonson marked pieces of his plays in his Collected Works off in quotation marks, presumably to highlight his best writing and concepts. He breaks his plays back down into the component passages from which they are fashioned (45).

Stern defines bad quartos: bottom of page 46.

Heminge's and Condell chose to avoid both the demeaning term "plays" for the Folio, but likewise wanted to avoid the seemingly haughty term "works" (for which choice Ben Jonson was derided in 1616). Thus the choice to publish the Folio as "Mr. William Shakespeare's Comedies, histories and tragedies," while escaping both the demeaning and pretentious terms necessitated his plays be divided into these genres (48).

An early text of Henry V predicts success for Essex's enterprise in Ireland, but later texts were amended after Essex failed (or after it became clear that he would fail). Even if Essex had succeeded, the passage would have had to have been amended to reflect the past-tense of his victory. Shakespeare must have written the passage knowing he was going to change it, but it was more important that the play reflect the timeliness of the events in his world (51).

Revisions to Julius Caesar, Henry V, Richard II, and 1 Henry IV are only apparent to us because of external factors that alert us to them. It is unknown how many other revisions were made to Shakespeare's plays, with or without his knowledge or consent (52).

Shakespeare demonstrably revised his plays, even if he did so unwillingly, but he also ha a tendency to be willing to strike the lines for which he is now best remembered. Further, it seems clear that his fellow company members were not opposed to revising his plays after his death, as in the case of Macbeth. Revision was a regular feature of early modern playwriting, and Shakespeare was no exception (61).


Shakespeare's texts were fluid. Since he wrote about his times and incorporated contemporary events into his writing, he wrote his plays anticipating that he would need to revise them. Further, the law and royal favor forced him to revise his plays from time to time so they could be performed. Since a revised and expanded text was a selling point for playbooks, it is likewise improbable that Shakespeare felt that he needed to conceal his revisions form the practice of his playwriting. Heminges and Condell, in praising Shakespeare for never having needed to revise his works, were applying a formula of praise that was widely known at the time, and we ought not to read anything more into it than that. Revision was the rule, and not the exception, and even in cases where there is only one text (good, bad, or ugly), there are often hints that a previous version of the text existed.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Making Shakespeare Notes: Chapter One

I suppose I ought to have prefaced my last post with a reminder that this blog is serving as my research journal, and presently that involves reading Tiffany Stern's Making Shakespeare. I'll be posting my notes on this and other research materials for some time.

There were two ways for most Londoners to get to the playhouses on the Bank side; either by ferry or by the bridge, both of which required paying a toll (7).

London bridge was decorated with the severed heads of executed traitors, which as a result of parboiling and taring (to prevent decomposition) were black in appearance. Thus the black faced characters (i.e. devils) that appeared on the stage would bear a striking resemblance to the visages of the condemned that playgoers had recently looked upon (8-9).

"Even the ways by which Londoners approached the playhouses might, as shown, have an affect on what they understood from the plays they saw there" (9).

Plays of the time were performed in the provinces as well as in London, and the reference to London would have only been familiar to the London audiences, which is why they are not more present (11). We can see echoes of this in modern plays, however, such as I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, in which it is customary to localize certain place names that would be unfamiliar to a non-NYC audience.

The Theatre became the Globe when reconstructed on the Bankside, and the Chamberlain's first play in the new space, Ad You Like It, is peppered with referenced to the stage and the world being one in the same. The audiences knew that the Globe was the Theatre, and the playwright has written these jokes for his new space (14).

Henry V was probably written for the Curtain and not for the Globe, and thus the apology for he inadequate space in the prologue serves as an advertisement for the Globe, which would open shortly thereafter (15).

The proximity of the theatres in the Bankeside to the bear baiting pits created competition with those venues for the same audiences, and the spectacular use of blood and bear baiting imagery is probably a result of this proximity and competition (19-20).

The physical structure of the playhouse gains meaning in the text of the plays when considering the location of music. Music from from heaven (above) is positive and marks a turning point towards a joyous resolution of the action. Music from hell (below) is ominous and portends the downfall of the hero (25). The entrances points for certain characters would also be determined by this context; audiences would have likely assumed that the Ghost of Hamlet's father, ascending from the trap, was an evil spirit, and thus would have been more sympathetic toward Hamlet's reluctance to obey his command (26).

"The play on paper often does not record the play performed" (27).

The move to the Blackfriars clearly had an influence on Shakespeare's playwriting, as the action of a play now needed to stop every half hour or so to accommodate maintenance to the candles needed to light an indoor space; thus his fave-act structure emerges (31). Also, the closer proximity of the smaller Blackfriars stage, coupled with the more courtly conscientiousness of its audience, creates a natural shift towards topics of art and beauty (32). Brash spectacle is limited, and the audience is asked to imagine more.


The physical space of the London playhouses, their location on the Bankside, and the tastes of the audiences all have demonstrable impacts on the plays Shakespeare (and his contemporaries) wrote. They fashioned their works to provoke responses from their audiences to keep their audiences coming back for more, and an understanding of the physical context of Shakespeare's plays is necessary for understanding how they work.

At the end of the chapter, Stern introduces evidence suggesting that the sole copy of Macbeth extant from the period may be the result of a one off court performance designed to flatter James' descent from Banquo and his attitudes towards witchcraft. Shakespeare revised not just individual plays, but his over all writing style to suite the needs of differing performance venues and their larger contexts. There's no reason we should be afraid to do likewise.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Making Shakespeare Notes: Prologue

Important Citations:

Plays were written for performance in specific playhouses, which informs the construction of the play text (1).

Playhouses of Shakespeare's time demanded a "flexible and fluid text" (3).

The study of history is no longer separable from the study of literature (6).


In the prologue, Stern introduces her argument and describes how she will make it in subsequent chapters. She notes that archaeological advances made in the 90s, such as the discover of the wall of the Rose, the completion of the Globe in London, and the construction of the Blackfriars in VA (which was actually completed in 2001) have inspired new historical interest in the ways the spaces the plays were written for might have influenced their creation.

For consideration:

Merry Devil is advertised as a Globe play, but it was also performed at court.

Scenes described in Life and Death that are missing from play call for an above, which suggests that the version of the play we have represents edits for a space without an above, such as one might find at court or on tour.

The technology of available theatre spaces influences playwrites of the time: this is demonstrable with the increasing richness and complexity of stage directions through time.

Likewise, the technology of the printing industry influences how materials are prepare for print, and how printed materials are used.