Sunday, August 15, 2010

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.

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