Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Notes on Re-Editing Shakespeare for the Modern Reader: Chapter 3

"The Editor and the Theatre: Editorial Treatment of Stage Directions"

Shakespeare clearly wrote plays for the stage, and wrote them aware that he would play a part in the production process. The sparseness of his stage directions show his willingness to work out the specifics later, and reflect his focus on what was to be said. There is evidence from his use of actors names in speech prefixes that he sometimes wrote with certain actors in mind for characters. That is, Shakespeare was always conscious that his final product would not be finished until it was performed (57-58).

cf Klein, David. "Did Shakespeare Produce his Own Plays?" Modern Language Review 57 (1962). 556-560.

cf Wells, Stanley. "Editorial Treatment of Foul-Paper Texts: Much Ado About Nothing as Test Case." Review of English Studies NS 31 (1980), 1- 16.

A peculiar job of the editor comes when choosing between two different kinds of authority. The quarto text of Midsummer, for example, is believed to have been printed from a manuscript copy, and the Folio from an annotated prompt book copy. Where in Q the review of the wedding entertainments offered belongs to Thesues alone, in F Theseus and Lysander share these lines (of course, Paul Menzer has argued otherwise in "The Weaver's Dream - Mnemonic Scripts and Memorial
Texts" (109)). Here the editor must choose between the authority of the earlier or later texts, or be guided by Menzer's argument (60-61).

It is entirely possible that stage directions did not come from Shakespeare's hand. Since the plays were written to be inherently incomplete copy to be presented on the stage, we must accept that Shakespeare left some of the finer details of entrances and exits to be writ in later. Indeed, sometimes when he does provide entrances, such as Q Much Ado 2.1, where several characters are given an entrance even though two speak and one is already on stage, he is clearly wrong. In 1.2 of Antony and Cleopatra several characters are provided entrances who do not speak, are not spoken to, and who play
no part of the action in the scene are likewise introduced. Whether Shakespeare forgot to strike their names from the stage direction after finishing the scene, they were added later by a prompter who
needed bodies to dress the stage, or whether Shakespeare always meant for them to be a presence in the scene must remain a mystery (62).

"I regard the use of abbreviated names as speech prefixes as an indefensible barbarism in anything other than a diplomatic edition" (65).

Dover Wilson's attempt to give stage directions a literary flair may not be what Shakespeare had written, and if he had not been so overly lavish in his descriptions, the custom may have survived. Wilson's use of words to create a sense of place (sight, sound, and smell) in the mind of the reader is perhaps preferable to a *reader* of Shakespeare than the comparatively bare "enter" and "exuent" that a text prepared for performance might benefit from. The consequence of Wilson's approach is that the text becomes overly long, and his willingness to go too far in his descriptions is likely one of the reasons why his approach fell quickly out of favor with editors (67-68).

"I take it as axiomatic that the plays take place, not on heaths, in forests, in castles, in palaces, in ante-rooms, or bedrooms, or throne-rooms, but on a stage" (69).

McKerrow's recognition of stage directions being necessary "to visualize the action as it would be if staged by a reasonably conservative producer" should be thought of in terms of the early modern stage, but an editor who wishes to prepare an edition for a different style is embarking on a perfectly legitimate endeavor. While these directions are likely to not have much of an interest to the
greater field of textual studies, an editor may be inspired (or hired) to prepare an edition for one specific theatre, or as in the instance of Peter Brook's production of Midsummer, the edition may be
prepared after the fact as a way of commemorating the production (70). This seems to follow the general theme of keeping your apparatus transparent.

An editor ought not be too conservative in the presentation of entrances and exits where elaboration for the effect of stage presentation could be useful. It is doubtful that all the characters in Julius Caesar 3.1 would, on a stage, mutely enter from the same place in so neat a line (73).

"Shakespeare sometimes omits necessary entrances and exits," and editors would do well to mark where he has plausibly forgotten that a character must enter the scene, or that they should have exited
earlier (74).

Editors must remember that playgoers benefit from visual and aural cues that readers do not. Part of their task in elaborating on actions or necessary costume pieces implied in the text is to provide that
information in a straightforward matter so that the reader does not have to read that information back into text they have already read. To this end, an editors task is to help an intelligent reader
read a play intelligently (76).

It may help the reader to indicate whom a speech is addressed to when the addressee clearly changes, or even when the addressee is the audience (76).

cf Honigmann, E.A.J. "Re-enter the Stage Direction: Shakespeare and Some Contemporaries." Shakespeare Survey 29 (Cambridge, 1976), 117-125.

"Plays may properly be edited in different ways to suit different readers" (78).


As a director, I very generally treat stage directions as basically ignorable statements about how a particular production was performed in a particular time and space. While a stage direction may suggest an action, it is not necessarily the action best suited to the production (most specifically actors and venue) that you are in charge of at the moment. ASC Co-founder and Director of Mission Ralph Alan Cohen has a drastically different take on the importance of stage directions, and quite honestly, I agree with him that they can be useful. I have tended to leave the stage directions open to my actors interpretation; when they ask me "should I do what the script says?" I tell them to do it if it makes sense, although under Cohen's tutealedge I have adopted a more conservative approach to stage directions.

Merry Devil certainly presents some problems. There are some very clear stage directions in the variou quartos that we simply cannot do because our Philly Venue is not so equipped, and we will likely not
have enough time to reblock all of those scenes for our Blackfriars performance. Still, I think in light of Wells'  and Cohen's approaches to stage directions, it is best to include them and leave the director
the option of choosing the best action to fit his or her cast and venue.

Ultimately, while the edition of Merry Devil that I produce will be informed by the choices we have made in the production process, I do not expect that it will be limited by them. There are several edits to the text that circumstances have forced us to make that I would not make if circmstances were different, and I see no need to include those in the text.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Notes on Re-Editing Shakespeare for the Modern Reader: Chapter 2

"Emending Shakespeare"

While Bowers has proposed that all emendations that can be made have been made, and that the editors task in emending the text is simply to choose their favorite, this attitude is shockingly defeatist. If everything that can be said about the text has been said, why not leave them alone? Of course new editors are learning new ways of interpreting texts for new readers all the time, certainly with each
succeeding generation, and while a more conservative approach may be preferable to an uncontrolled, eclectic one, unthinking conservativism is never the correct position for an editor to take (32).

Emendation is almost certainly necessary when the source text is nonsensical, but even where an emendation may not be necessary an editor still has the right to express doubts about the original, or an alternative or traditional reading, and to offer a plausible alternative (41).

"I do not think we should be inhibited from adopting a superior reading by a fear that we might be improving on Shakespeare rather than on the agents of transmission" (42).

Logical weaknesses, i.e. a weakness in the sense of the meaning, should arouse the suspicion of an editor and open the door to emendation, but so should stylistic weakness. While a modern editor
may wish to avoid being accused of attempting to improve Shakespeare, a stylistically awkward piece of an otherwise polished passage should attract an editors attention, and likewise invite emendation (43).

"An editor's first duty is, if possible, to make sense of the original text, even if he then decides to alter it" (44).

On the regularization of names, Wells notes that, in All's Well that Ends Well Helena's name only appears as "Helena" four times, and only one of those occurences is in dialogue, the remainder being located in stage directions. The shorter "Helen" form of her name appears 25 times, sixteen of those in dialogue, and yet editors generally print the longer form. It would seem logical to normalize the name to the longer form, if indeed it needs to be normalized (47).

A similar, though more complicated case of name emendation is common in Julius Caesar, where the names given in the Folio text are often emended to a more formal Latin form (47-48). This is an altogether unnecessary emendation that reflects the bias of the classicists more than Shakespeare's intent. The place of Julius Caesar as a bridge between classical and English education lends more gravity to the men than Shakespeare meant to give them.

"For some reason-perhaps because an edition can be annotated-one is more willing to confront a reader than a playgoer with nonsense" (49).

While metrical emendation has long been out of fashion, editorial hesitence to amend metre has been taken too far. When the extant text's metrical values are demonstrably deficient, an editor should be
willing to amend a line for the sake of the metre (50). The key words are "demonstrably deficient." Perhaps I am too conservative, but I think the only instance in which I should consider amending metre is when the line occurs in an otherwise highly regular passage, and for which its irregularity cannot be otherwise explained.

There are a couple points in this chapter when Wells proposes a "foul-papers text" being the source of confusion: Taming of the Shrew is proposed (52), as is the quarto of Much Ado about Nothing (46). Yet
I cannot help but think to William Proctor Williams' eminently logical assertion that no printer would have accepted foul-papers copy for the simple reason that it would be more difficult, and therefore take
longer to set than fair copy. Hasty composition is a halmark of a foul-papers text, as described by Wells, but is it inconceivable that hastily composed lines might never have been corrected in the fair
copy that made its way to the print shop?

Summary: emendation is sometimes necessary, and editors ought to not feel too skittish about amending texts of plays when the sense, metre, or style of the line is called into question. While some lines can simply be glossed to impart meaning to a modern reader, this is not always the case, and part of the editors job is to present reasonable alternatives. However, an editor would also do well to make note of the original, and perhaps other emendations and arguments in appropriate foot or end notes.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Tickling Your Catastrophe

2 Henry IV's "I'll tickle your catastrophe" is one of the great Shakespearean insults, or is it? I don't know how I've been staring at this text for so long without making the connection, but Smug, in what I've dubbed scene 5, makes a remark about the wind 'O it tickles our catastrope.' And who is the source of the more well known "I'll tickle your catastrophe?" None other than the great Sir John Falstaff. That would be scanned.

One of the arguments I've been making is that some of the great clown characters of the King's Men come together in Merry Devil, and I've been casting Merry Devil's Sir John as an incarnation of Falstaff. But maybe that isn't so. Or maybe the roles these men played were more fluid than Tiffany Stern and other modern scholars have come to believe. We all know the story of William Kempe, the principle clown of the company, being replaced by Robert Armin, and thus the change in clown types in new plays, but Armin would have been expected to play Kempe's roles. Or would he? Is it possible that someone else better suited to those roles would have filled them in? Certainly Merry Devil requires a greater comic range than the reductive assignment of the company clown will allow. Just like a modern actor must be versatile in their range, so must an early modern one.

In any case, perhaps this is a pointer to Shakespeare's hand in Merry Devil. Or it could be a pointer to someone else's hand in 2 Henry IV. Or it could be that the tickling of catastrophes was such a common catch phrase that everyone was using it. 2 Henry IV was written between 1596 and 1599, a good 4 - 7 years prior to Merry Devil, so it is perhaps possible that we're seeing an actor re-inserting a favorite phrase, but even if this is the case, and Shakespeare is responsible for the invention of "tickle your catastrophe" we could be seeing Stern's culture of the commonplace book at work.

Three distinct possibilities emerge:
  1. Shakespeare originated the line, and re-used it in Merry Devil.
  2. Shakespeare originated the line, and someone else used it in Merry Devil.
  3. Shakespeare did not originate the line.
Thus we must allow one of the following: either Shakespeare has contributed to the authorship of Merry Devil, or someone else contributed to the authorship of 2 Henry IV.  Pause and consider.

Notes on Re-Editing Shakespeare for the Modern Reader: Chapter 1

"Old and Modern Spelling."

Most font families lack the long-s character that is common place in printed books of the late 16th and early 17th century, and thus there is an immediate impediment to producing old spelling editions. The technology is there, but requires some extra research, although in all fairness this is easily overcome, many readers are apt to look at a long-s and pronounce it as an "f," or simply not know what it is. The typographic conventions of the early 20th century have relegated this character to an historical curiosity. This begs the question, to long-s or not to long-s? 

Is the long-s a stylistic curiosity, or a more telling bibliographic marker? The answer lies mostly in the mind of the reader, and as I prepare this new edition of Merry Devil that target reader is ever in my mind. Wells, in this chapter entitled "Old and Modern Spelling" notes that while some students who are more directly focused on the language would prefer an old spelling edition of Shakespeare's works, those who are more interested in critique or production are generally satisfied with a modernized spelling edition (7). 

Wells counters Gaskell's argument that modernizing spelling may imply a modern meaning to a word on two points. The first is that many words are spelled now as they were then, the second is that meanings may have shifted either subtly or substantially, but the spelling of the word will provide no clarification as to its meaning in the mind of the reader. Furthermore, the old spelling of the word may obstruct a modern reader from discerning any meaning from it (8).

Gaskell's second objection to modern spelling is that it will conceal 'puns and rhymes,' and his third that it 'causes the editor to choose when the author was ambiguous.' Wells notes that a pun is not necessarily suppressed by the editor's destruction of ambiguity, and that much ambiguity is restored anyway when the text is received from the mouth of an actor (as it was intended) (9). I have mixed feelings on this last point; on the one hand, he's completely correct. On the other, the meaning created by the editor is interpreted by the actor. Then again, given that the period allowed for rehearsals shrinks every few years, I see nothing wrong with giving the actor the tools necessary to make some choices easier.

Bowers makes the argument that old spelling can preserve a double meaning to a word: for example "travel" and "travail" could mean either the same thing, or slightly different things. Modernizing all "travail" spellings to "travel" when the editor determines that travel is the primary sense intended robs the reader of the experience of both meanings. Wells argues, however, that the distinctive spellings of the words in modern English would inhibit such understanding anyway; he suggests that an editor would do well to choose the primary meaning of the word, and make a notation of the secondary (9-10).

If the point of an old spelling edition is to preserve the vagaries of present in the original text, it must also take the same care with the incidentals of the text (i.e. punctuation). In 1939 McKerrow argued that we might never knows how educated Elizabethans would differentiate definitively correct or incorrect punctuation, and that argument still holds to this day. If an editor wishes to preserve the obscurities of language, they must also be faithful to the incidentals of that written language (11).

While a modern spelling edition of a text may obscure some rhymes, it is noteworthy that even original spelling editions of certain texts will do this some of the time (11-12).

While Gaskell's fourth argument, that modernizing 'deprives the work of the quality of belonging to its own period' similarly disintegrates when one considers factors beyond the printed text. Modern text, whether or not they retain original spelling, are printed on modern paper, with modern ink, in modern bindings, and are likewise sold in modern bookstores (12). The time the work belongs to is the one in which it is produced.

John Russel Brown has argued at the "Elizabethan flavour" of a work produced in this period is a modern construction. The Elizabethans would have considered these works modern (12). I'm typing this in a medium that will almost certainly never be printed on paper, but which will be instantly readable by anyone in the world at the click of a button. Hand-press books may seem quaint by comparison, but let us remember that to the Elizabethans hand-press books were high-tech.

Modern editors may make decisions limiting the range of possible meaning, and which may create difficulty with rhymes. Such an editor is also likely to punctuate the text more precisely, and may make questionable decisions in the process of so doing. Depending on the reader of the work, these changes may make the edition useless for their study, or they may never notice that emendation has taken place. "There is no moral superiority in belonging to the class of readers best served by an old-spelling edition" (13-14).

In On Editing Shakespeare (155-6), Bowers states that "an old spelling edition is likely to be a work of scholarship," but the the editor of an old spelling edition may mangle the text just as easily as the editor of the modern spelling edition (14).

Provided the editor of the modern spelling edition does not simply re-create the mistakes of past editors, and that he thoroughly considers the implications and repercussions of the modernizing process, the development of new modern spelling editions may be more likely to lead to new explorations of the text than creating yet another old spelling edition (16-17).

While some will argue that original spelling preserves original pronunciation, Fausto Cercignani establishes that spelling is only a partial guide to pronunciation at best in Elizabethan Pronunciation and Shakespeare's Works (19-20).

Wells finds it more than slightly ridiculous to print original spellings when the modern word is pronounced the same, even if it would be pronounced differently if the pronunciation were phonetic. He offers, as an example, the Riverside's propensity for printing "We'nsday," "as if anyone in his senses... would ever be in danger of saying 'Wed-nes-day'" (20).

A modernizing editor needs to take care to modernize foreign words to their modern usage, unless it is clear that the word is being mispronounced (26). English has easily adopted certain words or phrases from French, but the editor needs to consider carefully whether a mis-spelled French word is the result of the authors unfamiliarity with the correct form, or if the author is trying to make a point with the character's mis-pronunciation. Huck Finn's "pooley voo franzie" comes to mind. Certainly, the word adieu appears in Merry Devil, although it is spelled as "adew." Should I modernize to "adieu," which could imply a correct pronunciation, or should I leave it as "adew," implying the pronunciation as "a-doo?" Context is key.

I think Wells wraps up this chapter nicely, and so I'm going to quote him here:
Sometimes I think I ought to be more radical than I am prepared to be at present: in these moments I ask myself whether, for example, any point is served by printing 'owe' where we should say 'own'... Certainly I should have no objection to a theatrical production in which such changes were made, and I could well believe that such a production would bring me closer to Shakespeare than one in which the actors laboriously pronounced-as some of them do-'pioner' for 'pioneer'.... What I hope I have shown is that modernizing itself is not, as I was once told, merely a 'secretarial task'; that current practice leaves much room for improvement; and that when thoughtfully carried out it can yield worthwhile results (31).

Friday, August 27, 2010

Notes on Re-Editing Shakespeare for the Modern Reader: Prologue

Following William Proctor Williams' advice to treat anonymous play quartos like Hamlet, I continue my quest to formulate a cogent editorial theory that will serve the product of this process: a new edition of The Merry Devil of Edmonton. At the forefront of my reading list is Re-Editing Shakespeare for the Modern Reader by none other than Stanley Wells, one of the men most responsible for the ground-shaking Oxford Complete Works

From the first page of the introduction, I'm feeling good about this book. Wells distinguishes himself as an editor, and says that he has prepared the lectures contained within from an editorial rather than a bibliographic perspective. Where W.W. Greg's approach was primarily as a textual critic, and McKerrow and Bowers concerned themselves primarily with producing diplomatic editions (i.e. facsimile reproductions of a certain text), Wells has devoted himself to not only understanding textual problems, but also providing workable solutions to these problems in application (1).

"None of us can avoid error; all judgment is both subjective and fallible" (1).

New editions of already available plays do not immediately deprecate older editions, nor should every new interpretation of a passage or proposed emendation dictate the publication of a new edition. A new edition is the result of a cumulative process of scholarship, and thus not every new edition need be radically different from those that came before. While texts will be re-examined periodically in light of new scholarship, it should also be expected that some new editions will simply re-package older texts in order to reach a new or larger market (2 - 3).

Editors must think conservatively in their process. When an editor is tempted to set aside primary evidence, he should consider whether he is motivated by reason, or by "a lazy-minded reluctance to disturb the status quo" (4). Of course, the opposite must also be true, and an editor must be conscious of whether nor not they are motivated by an emotional impulse to disturb the status quo as well.


Wells' agenda is pretty clear. The Oxford Complete Works deliberately challenged long held notions of textual accuracy. The facing-text presentation of King Lear introduced a new paradigm in the presentation of texts, which is grounded in a distinctly different flavor of editorial conservativism than John Dover Wilson had practiced in his earlier Cambridge Complete Works.

Returning for a moment to some previous discussion about versions as utterances and utterances of texts as participating in the larger story of a text, Wells seems more clearly interested in presenting a reconstruction of something more closely approximating an utterance of the text that Shakespeare himself may have heard. Still, this is only his reconstruction of that utterance, and it is both a product of Shakespeare's time and our own.

Lingering question: is the approximation of a 400 year old utterance the best one for the modern stage?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Everything's Magic

Those of you who know the work of the American Shakespeare Center know that live music is an integral part of their performances. The playing companies of early modern London probably employed live music, after all, and quite honestly there's just something very fun about it. Under the guidance of Rachel Quagliariello, our excellent musical director, the cast has come up with some wonderful sounds to go along with Merry Devil, including this arrangement of "Everything's Magic." Enjoy!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

More publicity photos!

Hi gang, remember those other publicity photos I talked about, well here they are, in all their glory!

A nun (Amanda Noel Allen) tries to seduce Raymond (Jeff Chips), thinking him a Friar, by playing "Oops I dropped my psalter" in a scene from Bad Quarto's production of The Merry Devil of Edmonton

Fabell (Sara Grace Landis) taunts the demon Coreb (Brian Falbo) after binding him to the Necromantic Chair in a scene from Bad Quarto's production of The Merry Devil of Edmonton.

Merry Devil on the Caroline Stage

In "Marlowe on the Caroline Stage," Lucy Munro argues that by the time of the Caroline Period (1625 - 1642) there was already a developing tradition of classical English plays, hearkening back to the late Elizabethan/early Jacobean period. She further argues that the active publishing of these "modern classics" (contrasted with the classics of Greece and Rome) saw parallel revivals on the London stages. You may recall that Merry Devil was published in its fourth quarto in 1626 and then in its fifth in 1631, which may argue for its performances during the Caroline period.

I don't have a hard time believing that Merry Devil would have been revived, but that will come as little surprise. As Munro states, a direct parallel between a works life in print and its parallel life on the stage is hard to calculate, but it seems to make sense that, even if a precise calculus cannot be established, the general availability of a play in print argues for that plays general availability in performance. It's a simple fact of the modern theatre industry that more widely published plays get performed more often than less widely published ones, although it would likewise be difficult to create a precise calculus linking publications to performances.

What intrigues me most of all is her argument that, in attempting to create what is essentially a series of modern classics, Caroline actors invoked the authors of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, sometimes as characters within their play texts, and sometimes using a style of performance that was thought to more closely match the "original practices" of the earlier stage. Of course, as a student of The American Shakespeare Center, I am greatly intrigued by the idea that a pursuit of original practices in performance may date to the decades following Shakespeare's death.

A very close second is that this might help fill in the gap linking Merry Devil to Shakespeare in its sixth quarto (1655) by Mosley. Dr. Menzer has argued in our textual culture class that Heminges and Condell were creating the first English Author (in the modern sense) with their publication of the first folio of The Collected Works of William Shakespeare. If the figure of the "poet" (aka playwright) was regularly invoked on the stage for modern classics in revival, than Merry Devil comes with the serious disadvantage of not having a clear author. Mosley, knowing the play was a product of the King's Men, was of course trying to take advantage of the most revered English author in linking the play to Shakespeare, but his doing so might have had the practical purpose of linking a play that had been established as a modern classic to a writer of the period, the only one to whom he could plausibly attribute the play.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A couple publicity photos

Hi guys. I thought I would take a break from the usual research and editing goodness to share some publicity photos that just came back from the editing room. Here's Raymond and Milliscent at Chesson Nunnery:

And here Sir Arthur decides his sword is no match for Brian and Mad Keeper's shotgun....

With a little bit of luck the stars will align so I can bring you a few more of these in the coming days, but I hope you've enjoyed this sneak peak into the world of The Merry Devil.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Vamps, Vixens, and the Dirtiest Show Imaginable

I was picking around the Studio 1831 website and found that we'll be playing alongside a Vaudeville Review called "Vamps & Vixens" during the Fringe Festival. The show looks very cool, and based on what one of my actors said about this being the dirtiest show he's ever been in, I think it makes a nice fit. Dare I say, it's probably even more OP than anything the American Shakespeare Center does. Back in the day, plays, especially comedies, would typically conclude with a dance number. Thus the Mechanicals in A Midsummer Night's Dream offer a bergomask, and The 40 Year Old Virgin ends with a big musical number. This isn't to say that our production of Merry Devil doesn't conclude with a hot musical number (oh yes it does), but we don't do so much of the dancing. Coincidental as it may be, it looks like Vamps and Vixens has our back on that. 

The Advantage of Multiple Authors

One of the things that we confront in Merry Devil is its extreme genre bending. There's something here for everyone. We have clowns, tragedy, romantic comedy, real character growth and development, situation comedy, wizards, devils, and a mildly crazy guy with a shot gun. While rehearsing one of the scenes this morning, it occurred to me that having multiple authors might just make the play that much more interesting.

Certainly having multiple authors makes the play easier to write. Or quicker, at least. It's hard enough to bang out a scene, let alone write one in verse, and having someone to write the second scene would certainly help us get a finished product together more quickly. No imagine this hypothetical two scene play that myself and my equally hypothetical friend write: I want to write a tragedy, and he wants to write a comedy. I envision a doe-eyed heroin who is pure in every way imaginable, and he's thinking of her as a crafty wench who doesn't need to wait for someone else to save her. And because we only have enough time for very basic re-writes and edits, both versions of the character make their way onto the page, and thus to the stage.

What we get is a play that transcends either genre that we started off writing for, and that features a character of greater depth and scope than either I or my friend would have written individually. Naturally, our writing is guided by a central plot, but tragedies and comedies have separate conventions of language and style. The resulting play combines those conventions, maybe not in the same scene, but within the same play and plot, and the result is a play that doesn't conform to either genre. Whether this means its a mess that the audience can't make sense of or is a synergy of styles more entertaining than either one would be alone is left for the audience to judge.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Notes on Textual Instability and Editorial Idealism

As I continue my readings in bibliography, I've moved on to "Textual Instability and Editorial Idealism" by G. Thomas Tanselle, which sounds like it should be right up my alley given the conundrums I'm dealing with in the preparation of a final text. Merry Devil has textual instability aplenty, and right now if there's one thing I'm clearly lacking, it's enough experience as an editor to have a guiding ideology of how to best proceed with this project. Lets see what I can learn here....

Tanselle begins with the observations that the study of texts as social objects that are newly edited each time they are read has become popular in the last half century, but that this does not necessarily invalidate the Greg-Bowers tradition of establishing authorial intent. The vogue for "anti-foundationalist" literary theory leads to an anti-foundationalist textual theory, but neither can be more correct than the other (1-3).

Bowers preferred dealing with the problems presented by specific situations to discussions of theory (3).

The question of "multiple authorship" can only be answered based on how one define multiple authors. In Multiple Authorship and the Myth of Solitary Genius, Jack Stillinger defines multiple authorship so broadly that a single author must be someone who never incorporates anything outside of themselves into their work, and never revises it at a later time. Otherwise, any contribution made to a text is made by another "author." Tanselle finds this proposition ridiculous (3 - 5).

Stillinger's proposition is further undercut when he makes the distinction between changes that an editor makes to a text that are then authorized by the original writer, and changes that an editor makes to a text that are not; in this case calling them corruptions. These corruptions to the original authors text are, however, still authorized by the editor who makes them, and thus are "legitimate" for that particular new work (6). So, in a nutshell, if I make a change to a text by Shakespeare, I've corrupted Shakespeare's text at the same time that I've authorized by own, but my text has at least two authors (myself and Shakespeare). If an actor asks to change a word in the text and I let them, I am authorizing that change, and thus they become another author of text B, but if I don't and they do it anyway, they create a text C with three authors anyway. You can see how quickly this lies to madness, for if we follow this logic, by choosing to not make the change my actor suggests, they author a new edition because I have had to consider an alternative and choose not to use it, so they force me to re-evaluate my original choice, so in reality we create text C (actor changes word without me authorizing the change) and C prime (me not making the change after the actor has suggested it.  This sounds like a Caucus Race.

Questioning the importance of authorial intention in textual studies is a worthwhile endeavor, but only if it can account for how the socialized, anti-foundationalist understanding of a text can fit together with the foundationalist approach. "Textual idealism" is not a synonym for "textual perfection," and constructing a text as it was conceived of by the author at a certain point in time does not undermine the notion of further editions of that text as products of social and historical change, nor does it invalidate those other texts (12).

It is further important to distinguish that bibliographers who attempt to discern authorial intention are not attempting to discover an original idea behind the work, but are attempting to reconstruct a material work that is not extant in physical form (12).

An author may have simply made a mistake in writing down their ideas, or they may have been limited by available materials or technology, but these limitations or accidents do not invalidate the text they intended to write. An intentionalist editor is therefore not trying to recover the idea of the text, they are simply intending to recover the text that was conceived of, but not necessarily written down properly by the author (12). Honestly, I'm a little shaky on this one. When it comes to typos &c, seeing through to authorial intention, that is the idea behind the text, is almost necessary. When an author calls a character by the wrong name (for example, omitting "Sir" in a speech prefix) and names another character that is clearly not present in the scene, I don't think it wrong to say that we can see the idea behind the text. Reconstructing the material textual object would mean reconstructing the error, but in this case it is more useful to reconstruct the idea behind the text and simply note the error. There's no need to muck this up with poetic notions of trying to see through to the genius or the muse behind the idea, for in this case we are seeing an idea clearly manifested in symbolic form that, for whatever reason, simply did not translate well into a material object. Maybe this is just splitting hair between the meaning of "idea" and "text as conceived."

It is important to remember that an intended text is in itself the product of a historical (and a social) process. Since no author writes in a vacuum, the texts they produce, whether intended or unintended, are distillations of a particular historical/cultural moment, and the texts intended by authors at the moment of conception should have their place in the history of the text (13-14). Thus, understanding of an author's intention means having to understand the author's particular historical/social/cultural context.

Editors attempting to create a text that reflects an author's intention by making emendations do so by attempting to fix the text as intended at a specific time by the author. This can mean incorporating later emendations into an earlier text on the premise that those emendations more accurately reflect the intended earlier text, or vice versa. Still, the editor is also fixing the edited text in a certain moment in time, and as with any historical research, will be required to fill in the gaps with their own critical judgment (17).

In the anthology Editing in Australia, Peter Shillingsburg's "The Autonomous Author, the Sociology of Texts and Polemics of Textual Criticism" advocates an approach to reading, and thus editing, based on context. A text needs to be read in light of all possible contextual factors. This position is not a new one, but Shillingsburg sets it forth very well, and this essay is therefore worth following up with (23).

James McLaverty suggests the two important questions when considering a text are what versions are, and which text editors should present to readers. He goes on to argue that any distinctive "utterance" of a text somehow connected to other utterances constitutes a new version. The text editors should present to readers encapsulates one or more of the author's intended utterances, and also includes the structural apparatus for connecting these utterances, and for connecting this particular utterance with other utterances (25 - 26).

Joseph Grigley builds on McLaverty's work with the observation that individual utterances cannot be repeated because each utterance is its own event. Even if the precise words of an utterance can be repeated, its context cannot. Grigley's conception of the timely nature of utterances may not offer anything new to editors, who have known for generations that they can never recapture the complete context of a work, but it may help clarify what editors have done and will continue to do going forward: capture the interpretation of a textual moment (26).

The binary between "modernist editors" who seek to create a stable and definitive text and "post-modernist editors" who highlight the instability of texts and the value of interpretation is, as most binaries tend to be, too neat to be practical (30).

Morris Eave's entry in Cultural Artifacts and the Production of Meaning: The Page, the Image, and the Body offers a view of editing that delights in the instability of texts. He argues that all editorial decisions are legitimate, and links the decisions of the editor to the same decisions the artist makes as part of "the process of history." Intentionalist editing is one more form of interpretation and creation, and should not be dismissed (32 - 33). A-men I say to that. The fact is that it's very difficult to present Renaissance or earlier, or even early 20th century or earlier plays in their entirety to a modern audience. The theatrical conventions of the time will dictate an audiences expectation and basic level of tolerance for how long they're willing to sit still. Like it or not, in the early 21st century, that means the 10 or 15 minute span of a YouTube video.

Tanselle's got my back on this last point. I'll quote him here: "Thus when Eaves says that 'whatever is may be . . . on its way to becoming right,' he recognizes that change may be necessary to produce rightness for a given audience" (33).

Ann R. Meyers, in "Shakespeare's Art and the Texts of King Lear" notes that even attempts at documentary editing still require a degree of selection and interpretation. In presenting the two versions of King Lear in their Oxford Edition, Wells and Taylor have made emendations to the quarto Lear where Qa has "crulentious," Qb "tempestuous," and F "contentious," Wells and Taylor have used the Folio reading in their quarto version of the text based on paleographic evidence that demonstrates the Folio provides the correct reading to the compositor error of the Quartos. Despite similar paleographic evidence for reading for the correctness of Folio's "Come unbutton" (as opposed to Qa's "Come on be true" or Qb's "Come on") Wells and Taylor have left the reading of "come on be true" because it makes to them "local and contextual sense" (34 - 35). Wells and Taylor are the ones that determine the sense of their inclusion or rejection of certain readings, and thus they still are creating a text that is a conflation; an edition of their own interpretation.

In "Text as Matter, Concept, and Action," Peter L. Shillingsburg offers an ambitious argument for the existence of non-material texts, in which he demonstrates how non-material texts are linked to their material counterparts. He conceives of works as entities that are manifested in material and linguistic form, but that the conceptual version of a text should not be confused with the Platonic ideal of "text" (37). This is definitely one I'll have to read. Where does one draw the line between ideas, texts as conceived but not written, and the text that appears on the page. I can only imagine some future textual scholar trying to make sense of the stew of tracked changes that Google Docs keeps of "Battleground State." Precisely how much weight should we give to the text as conceived when the author might decide that the text as conceived sucks, and needs extensive re-conception before it's fit to be put in front of people?

Texts can only be understood through observation, but every observer has the right to choose how they wish to observe a text (or anything else for that matter). Any theory of textuality must encompass every process by which a text may be observed, which includes a range of methods and tastes as diverse as the number of observers (39-40). Observing a text through an historical scope requires a different apparatus than observing that text with a final performance in mind, and observing a text as a work of art fit to be hung on a wall requires a still different apparatus. Before presenting an edition of Merry Devil, I must determine who that edition is for.

Paul Eggert, in "Document and Text: The 'Life' of the Literary Work and the Capacities of Editing," also argues that all editions of a work should be considered and studied as authentic iterations of the work and should be studied as authentic (41).

Tanselle says this of Grigely's "Textual Criticism and the Arts: The Problem of Textual Space," but I think it bears quoting, as it has general application, and should, I think serve as a framework for understanding any essay arguing for any theory of a text: "Practically everyone understands that the experience of a text, like all other experiences, is colored by one's entire previous life and that it will continue to reverberate in one's mind, affecting all experiences afterward. An essay that says something like this does not mark any advance in thinking" (45).

If modern approaches to editing emphasize the plurality of texts rather than the intentions of a single author, than it is curious that modern textual scholars have a low regard for the work of the intentionalist editors of previous generations. The texts they produced are, after all, a further contribution to the plural text that modern textual scholars celebrate (49 - 50).

New theoretical insights into the nature of editing have the danger of creating a sense of the futility of the editing process. If all versions of a text ought to be considered in their own right, it is impossible to present a modern reader with an accurate distillation. It is likewise impossible to create an edition that encompasses the needs of all possible readers of a text. Through this, it is important to remember that editing a text is a creative activity, akin to writing an essay or giving a performance (50 - 51). So it is more than helpful, it is essential to determine the ultimate goal of a text before it is produced. Is the goal for the text to be read in a classroom or to be performed on a stage. What kind of classroom? What kind of stage? Determining the ideal audience for a work will provide the context in which the work is to be created. The way you advertise your show for a Philly Fringe audience will of necessity be different from the way you advertise your show for a largely academic audience in rural Virginia.

While some more modern philosophies of editing have heaped criticism on previous generations of editors for preferring a "single text" edition of a work, the form of the codex lends itself to this style of presentation. Critical editors of the past might very well have wanted to present multiple text editions of their work, but this option was unavailable given the physical and economic limitations they faced (52-53).

Here's something worth quoting: "The acts of constructing texts and works are social events, as many textual theorists have been telling us; but we are not going as far as we can toward understanding those events if we limit ourselves to surviving objects and exclude from our deliberations the mental events that are a fundamental part of the textual process" (58).

Quoting Virginia Wolfe: "I believe that the main thing in beginning a novel is to feel, not that you can write it, but that it exists on the far side of a gulf, which words can't cross: that its to be pulled through only in a breathless anguish. . . . But a novel, as I say, to be good should seem, before one writes it, something unwriteable but only visible; so that for nine months one lives in despair, and only when
one has forgotten what one meant, does the book seem tolerable. I assure you, all my novels were first rate before they were written" (58-59).

Summary: Texts that are conceived are inherently different from texts that are written, and if we are truly to explore textual objects as cultural artifacts, this requires seeing beyond the words printed or written on them. The form of the printed book has as much as any guiding philosophy led to the development of single text editions, but single text editions will always be a requirement of publishing. Someone with the proper knowledge and training will always be necessary to distill information that a less well informed reader does not have, or does not have access to. In the complete social history of a text, a single text edition of that text is another version of the text.

Wow. This was a thick survey of the development of theories of editorial instability and editorial theory. It's left me with a lot to think about, and some other things to explore.

What Text?

One of my standard tropes is that the audience isn't going to be watching a play with a script in hand. I mean, yeah, you'll occasionally see some student or weirdo sitting in the house with a book in hand, but even when you do, 3/5 of the time that's their vado me cum they bring along to plays in case they get bored. Sorry, you've bored them. The other 2/5 of the time, you'll see someone following along with the script.

I don't really get why people do this. I'm one of those people that likes having the subtitles available at the opera, but still finds them distracting when they're not done well. I'd rather be watching the show than reading along with it. Especially in the case of any sort of "classic" show, which is almost always going to be cut or otherwise adapted: chances are you don't have the exact same text that the production used as the copy text for its performance edition.

Almost certainly, the audience won't be sitting there with the text in hand. Lets pretend for a minute that they are. Lets pretend that everyone who walks into The Merry Devil gets a copy of the text that was the basis for the production... pause to consider what that even means. Is that the collated copy text, the edited text I gave my cast before the read through, the edited text I gave them a month or so ago, or how about the resulting text that incorporates all changes we make during rehearsals? Any of these texts are inherently incomplete because the performance has co-evolved with the text it used as its basis.

Even that text cannot convey everything the performance does. The performance is ephemeral and the result of a combination of highly variable, non-reproducible factors. For example, pretend an actor got stuck in traffic on the way to the theatre that night, and they're late and running on adrenaline from having to hurry to make sure they arrive close to call time: that might mean they're going to be a little bit ore up-tempo during that performance. Or maybe a lot. Or it could even mean precisely the opposite. No text can convey all of this.

By the time the production is ready for performance, the text does not exist.

Notes on the Modern History of Editing

As I continue to work on the editing aspects of this Merry Devil project, and the new critical edition that I hope to create from this work, I continue my research into the history and practice of modern critical editing. The Bibliographic Society of the University of Virginia is a terrific resource for this research, as they have published most issues of Studies in Bibliography online. Here, I examine "W. Bang Kaup, W.W. Greg, R.B. McKerrow and the Edition of Dramatic Works (1902 - 1914)." My notes use the pagination reflecting the print edition given in the web site.

Willy Bang Kaup was an early 1900s editor of early modern texts. He believed in the creation of facsimile editions that preserved mistakes, typographic errors, and the like, but stopped short of full on photo-facsimiles. While he realized that photo-facsimiles would more accurately reveal broken characters and the like, his goal was to get as close as possible to a photo-facsimile using type, in effect creating a diplomatic edition of the texts he edited (213 - 214).

Greg disagreed with Bang's practices, which he deemed "ultra-conservative," and dubbed his work as being more akin to preparing the materials for an edition rather than creating a complete edition in and of itself. Greg was himself more interested in discovering the middle ground between mindlessly reproducing a work including all of its obvious errors and the willful disregard of authorial intent that led to what he described as uncritically mangled texts (215). I find myself walking this very wire with Merry Devil. The practical necessity of creating a textual conclusion to the play that will bring about a resolution to the story is directly at odds with the extant text, which concludes with a punch line to a joke that has been lost from the text of the play that comes down to us. When preparing my edition of Merry Devil, do I use this "performance edition" based on my critical text, re-integrate some of the discoveries made during the performance into the critical text, or present a critical text and pretend that I never created a separate performance edition? How badly does my performance edition mangle the text? Can one mangle a text that displays evidence of heavy cutting and multiple authors at work (i.e. is already mangled)?

Greg's article on Bang's Materialen series works outlines the possibility of a series of texts being edited according to a general plan developed by a single scholar, with other scholars providing the individual details of the work. This passage comes two years before the Malone Society began printing its own editions (215).

McKerrow, in recognizing that stop press correction was commonly employed in hand-press print shops, does not reprint a single copy of an extant text. No two sheets of existing editions may be the same, and because of the way these sheets were later bound into books, he sees the printing form rather than the printed sheet as the basic unit of expressing authorial intent. After choosing a copy text to base his work in The Devils Charter on, McKerrow gives notes justifying his selection of which sheet to use as a copy text, and to provide a list of variants between the copies (216). A letter from McKerrow to Bang dated 4-August-2010, he speaks of the beginnings of a scheme for printing subsequent editions of works (217).

Part of Greg's inspiration for the Malone Society was the nationalistic idea that Englishmen ought to be the ones who recovered their own literary past. While he was not opposed to "foreigners" (in this case, Bang) conducting the work, the responsibility for doing it lay with the English. While he was initially opposed to facsimile reprints, by 1905 he had been converted by Bang's process (219).

To me, of course, the most interesting question is how much editing is too much. We know Greg's thoughts on Merry Devil, and the rather jumbled text we have left would not be elucidated in any meaningful way by a diplomatic edition of any of the extant quartos. Even a critical edition of the play that does not take certain liberties with the text will result in a play that is still unperformable, and maybe that's why Bad Quarto's will be the first production of Merry Devil in this century (and possibly much longer than that).

On the one hand, I feel the urge to be conservative in my editing, and leave the creation of the final production script to the hands of the director. That's part of what a good director does, after all, and my friends with the Bakerloo Theatre Project have done some excellent work adapting and creatively editing much more complete works in ways that the original playwrights probably never imagined. On the other hand, it is equally possible that a good director might look at the script as is, and promptly dismiss it as lacking a resolution, and move on to a play that requires less effort on their part.

I don't think I'm going to resolve any questions about what the final form of the work will look like here, but the historical context of the founding of the Malone Society; both it's nationalistic aims and the international aspirations of its founding members, helps extend the conversation I need to have with this text by several centuries.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Collaborative Play Editing

It strikes me as odd that, where any playwright worth their salt wouldn't think of trying to publish a play without first having actors read it and mounting a production of it, most editors don't think twice about doing exactly that. Having finished a collation of three quartos, I'm fairly confident in my familiarity with the text (here I mean textual object), but the process of collation is no necessarily the most conducive to producing a functioning edition of the text.

I have previously commented on the relatively clear evidence for multiple authors in Merry Devil. The names are often times just plane wrong: surnames are inconsistent, or in the case of this afternoon's discovery, a character refers to another who simply isn't in the scene. If it was a clown, you might be tempted to brush this off as a malapropism of names, but in what I have dubbed scene 9, Peter Fabell calls Harry Clare "Ralph." There are already two Ralphs in the play, of course: Sir Ralph Jerningham, Frank's father, and Brian's man, Ralph. This isn't the sort of thing one would expect someone of Fabell's status ad knowledge, which is the foundation of his status, to get wrong.

So we paused for a moment to make sure that I hadn't simply let this typo slip through, and sure enough, there was the reference to "Raph" right there in Q1. Obviously this needs to be amended to "Harry," with the appropriate footnote that Q1 has Raph here, and that it is probably an error in the script or a compositor error.

Again, remember what Stern was saying about plays being cut for touring and some characters being cut or combined. It is completely plausible that this "typo" is the result of the King's Men editing the script for touring and creating a mashup character out of several others. It is also possible that it is the result of the scrivener of the fair copy missing the in-text reference to a character not present in the scene. One can't rule out simple compositor error either. I don't know how the mistake got in Q1, but it took my cast members trying to make sense of something they saw as inherently senseless to figure it out.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Night at the Opera

The Marx Brothers changed the way comedy works in film, literally re-inventing the genre for the Twentieth Century, but when they were at their most successful in A Night at the Opera, they were following a tried a true formula that is as old as... well... The Merry Devil of Edmonton. See if you can tell which I'm talking about by this description: a pair of lovers is helped by a group of clowns who foil the schemer trying to ruin their future bliss.

The reason this formula works so well is dead simple: the audience's sympathies are automatically with the lovers. The greedy and vain villains become the target for the clowns, whom we cheer on. There's no need for us to feel any reservations about the rightness of what the clowns are doing because we want to see the lovers win, and anything that stops the villain from ruining their true romance makes us feel good inside. Any other casualties of the clown troupe are victims of the greater good, and so we might feel some pangs for them, but ultimately we'll know that they needed to get punk'd in the name of true love.

Both Merry Devil and A Night at the Opera would function as straight up dramas, but at the end of the show, you can expect both the lovers and the clowns to get what they want. The mere presence of the clowns implies the happy ending of the comedy, and that makes all the travails that the lovers go through that much funnier. We can laugh at a romantic lead crammed into a suitcase or dragged through the mud as long as we know there's a wedding waiting for them before the curtain comes down.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

We are Smarter than Me

What I enjoy most about rehearsals is figuring out all of the really wonderful moments in the play that I had missed. Directors that don't foster creativity in their rehearsal rooms are really missing out because, when you have actors who are both knowledgeable and engaged, they're going to tell you more about the play than you would have ever figured out on your own, no matter how many collations you've completed.

Of course, since I have done all of those collations, studied the space, and the practices of the time, I also have a few things to contribute myself, but the most valuable of those is an outside eye. Having someone watching the play go up and comment on what works and what doesn't is essential in the theatre world, and I am happy to say that I have managed to assemble a cast with whom I have so far managed to maintain an excellent creative dialogue.

I've been watching them work Merry Devil on its feet for a couple days now, and I'm pretty sure this play is going to be better than I imagined. In exactly one month, we'll be loading our set and costume pieces into Studio 1831 for our opening night performance. Saying it makes it real, but after seeing where my cast is during these first two days, I've no worries about the quality of the show we're going to bring to Philly. I hope you can join us there!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Hey everyone, I just wanted to take a moment to share that our website, www.badquarto.org is live at last. It's just got the nuts and bolts right now, but stay tuned for updates from Merry Devil rehearsals, as well as some info on our future productions.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Making a rehearsal schedule is always the hard part, especially when you've got a shorter than normal time frame to get the show up, and when last minute schedule changes in the lives of your actors jump up and kick you in the stomach. Very possibly the entire rehearsal schedule needs to be re-worked to accommodate a few changes, but other peoples schedules have changed to, and thus they may not be as available as you thought they were.

I'm not gonna lie, this is the part where I'm always a little bit tempted to throw in the towel, but I haven't done so yet, and I don't plan on starting now. Still, just as tickets going on sale creates an immediate air of certainty to the project, the rehearsal schedule getting thrown out of whack a mere week before we begin chips away at that. It's tempting to give in to despair (why can't I be better at planning this) or anger (why can't they be better at managing their lives), but the fact is that it is no one's fault, it is simply the way that it is. It is another problem that needs to be dealt with.

I've had my minute of wanting to throw in the towel, and my moment of gnashing my teeth, and now I'm back to trying to put together a schedule we can all excel with. It's a little bit calming to think that, one way or another, in 41 days this will all be behind us.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Tickets Now On Sale

I just wanted to post a heads up to everyone that tickets for our Philly performances are now on sale through the Fringe Festival Box office. Get yours today!