Thursday, September 30, 2010

Notes on Rescripting Shakespeare - Chapter 3

While rescripting is commonly done in the service of personnel reasons, trimming the over all running time, or to cut through obscure language, directors will often rescript shows as a way of dealing with problems that have plagued editors and scholars for generations, and have done so with their own technological resources in mind (64).

In order to cover perceived gaps in scenes, directors have added what they perceived to be missing materials, such as a scene where Shylock observes Jessica escaping his house in Merchant of Venice, and a scene where the audience sees a glimpse of the false Hero at the window, or Beatrice walking alone at night in Much Ado (64 - 65). From what I understand it, the Globe added such a pantomime of Smug on the sign in their workshop of Merry Devil, of course no mention of it's placement occurs in Bennett's text. Likewise, Abrams is very clear on where he thinks the missing scenes should go, but does not go so far as to create and insert them into the text. Again, I think the play works fine without adding anything, provided a couple of lines are omitted at the ending; the rest of the references can be covered with good acting choices.

While one common method of dealing with perceived problems in a text is to cut them, other directors find they can solve problematic elements by repositioning some lines or scenes. Henry's order to kill the French prisoners can be cut, but it is also sometimes moved to the scene following Gower and Fluellen discussing the French killing all the English boys. This can make a troubling line less so, but at the sacrifice of a line that perhaps should be troubling, and perhaps at the risk of substituting a cause for an effect (68).

Dessen notes that the repositioning of scenes takes place most commonly to minimize the need to shift set pieces, of course Shakespeare and his contemporaries wrote for a stage that was both open and flexible, and relied on minimal and portable set pieces and props (71). Our production of Merry Devil, inspired by American Shakespeare Center practices in reproducing Shakespeare's original staging conditions, didn't suffer from this problem much. We used four acting blocks with open-able lids, and positioned them in a basic default position, which the Prologue than moved to re-create Fabell's study. The Host then moves most of the pieces upstage for the first scene at the George at Watham, and then moves the last block into its upstage position in the second scene at the George. The Host likewise moves the blocks into their forest brake position when the clowns come once more under the zona-torrida of the forest, while the rest of the clowns remain off stage making wild animal noises to scare him (the ruse is discovered when one of them moos like a cow). The sexton re-arranges the blocks upstage to form Enfield Church Porch, which has precisely the same configuration as the George at Waltham and the inn across the way (which, despite Abrams's analysis of Life and Death, I cannot think of as the White Horse). The scene shifts were in all cases except for one part of the scripted action of the play, and in the one instance where it was not, it proved to be an opportunity for a comic bit. The secret was to never let the audience think they were watching a simple scene shift, and so we didn't have any problems, but if we absolutely couldn't have covered the shift with the action (as they sometimes cannot at the ASC), we would have been able to use a brief musical interlude to do so (as they sometimes do at the ASC).

While most directors rescript in order to cut or streamline the text, others find it necessary to add new material to the received text in order to clarify - or make - a point they feel is important. This can include one off jokes (such as in CSC's 1986 Merchant of Venice, where Launcelot Gobbo makes a reference to his mother being named "Gretta," and thus "Gretta Gobo), or for some musical effect, such as in the case of RSC's 2000 Richard II, wherein Richard enters whistling "God Save the King." (73 - 74). Guilty as charged: to help cover one of Paul's costume changes from Sir John into Sir Richard, Victoria as Smug did an air guitar riff of "Runnin' with the Devil," Sir John called for Smug to follow him from off stage, and then Smug delivered her "Good night, Waltham!" line in the manner of a rock star exiting the stage. It gave us more than enough time to complete the change, and got a laugh.

Another common addition to plays in performance is including characters in scenes where they are not specified, but may be indicated by the action. While scholars may suppose that Cassius and Caius Ligarius were played by the same actor, for example, such conventions are often not necessary today, and Sir Peter Hall, in his 1995 RSC production, specifically included both, the result being that Caesar specifically snubs greeting Cassius (as no line is provided for such a greeting), and thus affirms both what Caesar had said previously about Cassius, and Cassius' own feelings (74 - 75). With one less actor than the script of Merry Devil technically calls for, this wasn't a luxury that we could afford.

Sometimes characters mentioned in the dialogue are included in the action, perhaps most notably the changeling boy in Midsummer (75). Personally, I agree with Ralph Alan Cohen's position that bringing on the changeling is a really bad idea, and is perhaps even contra-indicated by the script. Isn't it better if we see Titania and Oberon quarreling over nothing, literally, just like old married couples do? But I digress....

Directors will sometimes, for the sake of highlighting the brutality of a certain ruler, place onstage executions and violence where it is only implied in the text (78).

Directorial prologues and pre-show "dumb shows" are the most common insertion into plays of the period, some beginning at the advertised curtain time, others beginning when the house opens, and still others beginning somewhere in between. These can have an effect similar to an authorial induction, or can serve to blur the line between actor and character, performance and reality (81).

The use of pre-show and post-show dumb shows as framing devices have been regularly employed at the London Globe (83). Ah ha! So that's why Globe Education was so quick to offer that as a solution!

The combination of a prologue/epilogue as a framing device will generally be more effective than employing either device individually (83).

Sometimes directors prefer an interpretation of a given character that requires a certain amount of rescripting to maintain it. If, for example, Oberon is played as a devilish spirit, it might make sense to cut his "but we are spirits of another sort" line (86 - 87).

Dessen concludes whit chapter with a description of Michael Boyd's 1998 Measure for Measure at the RSC, which set the action of the play in a state reminiscent of an Eastern Bloc power, and shifted the focus of the action to averting a governmental coup. Reviews for this production were widely mixed, with some praising Boyd for taking new and bold directions, and other criticizing him for altering the text so thoroughly that original themes were barely recognizable (90 - 93).


Directors can do a great deal to improve the play to their own ends, but as Dessen so eloquently asks in the series of rhetorical questions that he poses consistently at the end of these chapters, "as who likes it" (93)? The answer can only be one of interpretation, and in the case of an early modern play, the director must choose early on whether they wish to trust their audience with the text they've received, and how much. Sometimes adaptations will work beautifully, and sometimes disastrously, whereas in other cases opinions will likely be split between textual purists and those more open to adaptation.

Again, the question seems to me, at what point does a director need to draw a line and say they have edited a text? At what point do they draw another line and say they've adapted it? At what point do they draw yet another and say they've written a new play inspired by an old one? Where does the line where hey cease to mention the source material come? And before we start enjoying the view from our ivory tower too much, let us recall that Shakespeare never once mentions Holinshead.

Notes on Rescripting Shakespeare - Chapter 2

Directors tend to feel more comfortable rescripting works by Shakespeare's contemporaries than they do by Shakespeare, and can more comfortably fill the role of a director shaping the raw material provided by a playwright. They run the same risks as those who rescript the works of Shakespeare, however, and run the same risks as those directors who rescript the works of the more famous playwright (38).

Topical material relevant to the period in which the play was written is routinely cut or changed to be more understandable to a modern audience (38 - 39). Note that, from Stern's arguments, this is consistent with the practice in Shakespeare's time, especially for popular plays that had entered the repertory.

Directors who do not find ways of telling stories to their audiences clearly are not likely to keep working as such for very long, but they would do well to note the difference between cutting topical references and eliminating characters and scenes that are necessary to the plot (42).

A common, necessary adjustment made to scripts from this period is the insertion of an intermission that lasts for 10 or 15 minutes. The plays were not designed for this, and the director must choose not only an opportune place to stop the action for the interval, but also must be conscious of the appropriate place of starting it up again, which sometimes requires shifting scenes around to re-start with something that will grab the audience's attention (43). Of course, for a play as brief as Merry Devil, this was not an issue.

Problems notes by editors will sometimes lead to directors making improvements to the text in their productions. Dessen cites specifically the 1979 Oregon Shakespeare Festival Doctor Faustus, where director Jerry Turner filled in the gap of the alleged "missing scene" between scene 5 and scene 6 by re-arranging the order of Faustus' books so that the last book he examines is the book describing the heavens, which inspires Faustus to look up, see what he has just signed away, and repent (44). This is of special interest to Merry Devil, as there does seem to be at least one missing scene, and possibly even two or three. I needed to adjust some lines at the end of the play to avoid concluding the play with a punch line to a joke that was never told AND to account for the practicality of having had Victoria double Bilbo and Smug.

Directors will commonly rescript plays to make the imagery more accessible to modern audiences or to conform with the period in which they have set the production (44 - 45).

When multiple "authorial" versions of a text are available, it is important to remember that creating them effectively creates a new text (51).

Where changes to a text to eliminate obscure topical or mythological references, or ameliorate tricky language are quite common, it is sometimes also necessary to alter a play for reasons related to theatrical convention. Where a 16th century audience might easily understand a comic sub-plot hearkening to a main plot and foreshadowing its consequences to that main plot, this is not a device that modern playwrights tend to employ, and so the scene may need to be either eliminated or have its logic altered so that it serves some other purpose (54).

Giles Block, in his 1983 production of The Fawn at the Royal National Theatre Cottlesloe had to work with a script that is largely silent about how the allegorical pageantry, the Ship of Fools sequence in particular, should be staged, and as he was directing a show for an audience unfamiliar with allegory and Parliament of Love conventions, was required to manufacture an ending that was an interpretation, rather than a literal staging, of Marston's intent (55 - 57). This has implications for the missing scenes in Merry Devil, especially The Globe's workshop, which provided for the baffoonary of Smug on the sign via a dumb show, but in that case it is an interpretation of an altogether missing passage. Is that any better or different?

Directors ought to be wary of sacrificing early modern staging techniques for shreds of psychological realism. Early modern techniques of repetition can illuminate the works performed in ways that might conflict with attempts at cutting these sequences in favor of attempting to create a mood different from the one that arises. A director might do well to consider that the scene they have read as a serious one may have been scripted as a comic one, or that the use of comedy within an otherwise serious scene may create powerful effects on stage (58 - 59). Like the saying goes, a spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down. When an audience is laughing, they've let their guard down, which is the perfect opportunity to pull the rug out form under them and change the mood of the scene to something more closely resembling tragedy. They'll feel the impact much more intensely that way.

Early modern audiences had access to linguistic and cultural signified that we do not, and given this reality, a certain amount of rescripting is to be expected, but when the process is initiated it is possible to go too far. Directors may be too quick to cut through rather than solve the problem, and it is worth considering whether these plays can still speak to audiences on their own terms: "do they reveal something distinctive about their world or is the goal to adapt them so that they reveal (or appear to reveal) something pointed about ours" (63)?


Largely a re-hash of the first chapter, citing different examples, and calling attention to the fact that directors may be less intimidated to rescript works that are not Shakespeare's. What Dessen seems to be getting at is that there is a fine line between editing and adapting a work for the stage, and despite his claim to trust actors and directors in the first chapter, he very clearly finds problems with some of the productions that strike him more as adaptations. His final note, asking the question "why stage them at all" could be taken either as philosophical meditation or as something more passive-aggressive. Ultimately, though, I think that is a good question for any director to ask before tackling a project that will require changing the through line of the play.

For my part, I think my edits to Merry Devil were conservative enough that I would have fallen into the category of mild rescripting as opposed to out and out adaptation, but some other plays I've worked on (most notably Macbeth and The Tempest with the Bakerloo Theatre Project) were decidedly on the heavy adaptation side of Dessen's line. Audiences tended to respond well to these productions, and the new through lines created have had a tendency to illuminate parts of the script that might otherwise go unnoticed to a modern audience. That is where I see a real strength to adaptation: illuminating some of the dark corners of these works.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Notes on Rescripting Shakespeare - Chapter 1

Alan Dessen is most noted for his Dictionary of Stage Directions, but in Rescripting Shakespeare he examines the editions that directors and actors create for their own individual productions of Shakespeare's plays. Whether to cut the running time down to something that lets the audience catch the train home or to conserve on personnel, or sometimes to correct the text of the play to make it more consistent with the conventions of modern theatre (like what I did for R.U.R.) a few years back. Lets see what Dessen has to say about this process.

Modern technology, audiences, and conventions will dictate how a play text is received, and in treating new productions of old plays, it is necessary to remember that plays are always of their time, and incorporate literary technologies to cope with issues they might face. Lodovico's line in Othello to "let it be hid" exploits a technology (curtains on beds) to remove a tableau of death and is unaware of the modern technology afforded by electric lights to remove the spectacle. A choice to remove the bodies, to direct the line to Iago, or to leave everyone on stage as the lights go down is not necessarily superior from another (1 - 2). It must be recalled that a play text is generally a product of its stage life, and where Shakespeare did not imagine that electric lights would be employed to allow directors to craft darkness, a modern director must actively choose to employ that technology or not. There is no default correct answer.

Where the line is drawn between doing original Shakespeare and a modern adaptation is largely to the mind of the audience. For some, "original Shakespeare" means employing costumes of that period, where for others it would mean presenting an uncut text from the Folio (or one of the quartos) and using modern dress (3 - 4). Honestly, you'll never be able to please anyone all of the time.

Production costs are a powerful motivator for rescripting any play (5).

Where an editor is able to gloss references with explanatory notes, a director will often shy from presenting any material that might take the audience out of the narrative (7). The "steady flow of communication... takes precedence over textual purism" (7). The formulation of Tom Markus, in his preparation of 2 Henry IV for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, was to "shorten each scne as much as possible...eliminate everything that might confuse an audience...cut all characters who are unnecessary to the scene...cut all scenes which do not advance the story...cut or change all words that are archaic or obscure" (qtd on page 6).

Directors will commonly edit words that might be offensive to modern audiences, but sometimes lines are excised because they become inappropriate given a certain casting (references to Othello being old can be cut when he is played by a younger actor), to account for changes in gender, an actor lacking facial hair, or for younger audiences who would may lack the maturity to take certain lines in their proper context (9).

Other rescriptings can be made for practical reasons related to descriptions of costumes, set pieces, and props that can arise when the play is set in a non-early modern period (10).

Some actors and directors will insist on textual purity, and find ways of making obscure words, universally accepted as misprints, work in their interpretations. This has included the 1992 Oregon Shakespeare Festival's As You Like It leaving Corin's Folio Line "pood pasture" intact, with actor Barry Kraft playing the action to indicate the bad smell, and the Homer Swander's 1991 The Taming of the Shrew where Petruchio's reference to Butonios was not amended to Antonio, and the line was played as a joke (11 - 12).

"What is bedrock to one director may be disposable to another" (14).

The casting pool can effect the relative dispensability of some lines or scene. An actor that has distinctive facial features and who appears regularly might lead the director to try to draw attention away from him, for example, and thus remove or reduce lines that the actor appears in. Likewise, a reduced cast version of the plays will often necessitate a shift or exition of certain lines or scenes (19 - 20).

Whereas the London companies of the early modern period could count on a regular compliment of boy actors, modern companies cannot, and thus scenes with children will sometimes need to be cut or otherwise edited (21). Rarely do two pages sing "It was a Love and His Lass" to Audrey and Touchstone, as the Folio reading of As You Like It directs, and while Desson offers a survey of some interpretations he has seen staged, even an original-conditions company like the ASC would find it difficult to reproduce this original condition (22).

Even if casting boy actors in roles Shakespeare designed for boys was practical, it would lack theatrical effect. Theatrical practice and audience expectations have changed (24). Some would argue that the role of children in society has changed as well, or more specifically the way in which we view children. Certainly, it is no longer customary to surrender the care of one's child to an unknown man for the purpose of teaching one's child a profession.

Especially in Roman and History plays, speeches are sometimes assigned to new characters. This can be done to enhance a role that someone perceives as being too slight, provide a performance effect that would be otherwise absent, or as is mostly commonly the case, to enable a reduced-cast version of the play. Sometimes this can produce a new character through line over the course of the play, and create effects interesting to modern audiences (24).

Compressions of this sort are commonly found in plays that feature a significant number of named characters in less familiar scripts (25).

It is common practice to rescript Shakespeare's plays for a variety of reasons, but directors should be aware of the cost of cutting certain lines and images from the text, such as the Venetian's conscious impulse to look away from the distasteful sight of the bodies at the end of Othello (37).


Dessen's subtitle to this book is "The Text, the Director, and Modern Productions," and he certainly follows through on that.  Through this first chapter, Dessen presents a list of general ways and reasons where directors (or their superiors) will feel compelled to cut Shakespeare for logistical and artistic reasons, and delivers an expansive laundry lists of specific examples he has seen staged, and where some worked well and others did not.

The fact Dessen never loses sight of is that directors rescript Shakespeare because they have to. The reality of modern culture is different from the reality of Shakespeare's, and thus images and symbols will have different meanings, and where the editor has the ability to set down foot-, side-, or end-notes in their editions, the director-as-editor does not have that luxury in bringing the performance to the stage. Still, the director-as-editor needs to be wary about the changes they make. While creating an edit purely for the sake of necessity is sometime unavoidable, every cut line or scene has the possibility of removing the resonance of a theme. Still, when done well, this type of editing can create an "interesting" through line for an actor or character that may not be apparent in the original script, or can highlight a particular theme that the director wishes to explore.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Notes on Shakespeare's Punctuation

It's time for another British Academy Shakespeare lecture! This time I'll be compiling notes from Peter Alexander's 25 April 1945 Annual Shakespeare Lecture entitled "Shakespeare's Punctuation." Punctuation in Merry Devil seemed a bit willy-nilly, although every now and again a pattern seemed to emerge, it was almost as quickly contradicted by some other evidence. The result of multiple authors or compositors, perhaps? I can't say, but my actors were able to clarify a reading of the text with the insertion of a simple comma, so this is definitely worth a read for my continuing adventures with this project.

18th century editors revised both Shakespeare and Milton, and routinely found veils of imperfection to which they could ascribe faults in the genius which they alone could see through. Bentley blamed Milton's scribe, and Pope similarly blamed the actors of Shakespeare's stage, and when men were so concerned with choosing to add or remove words wholesale, they could be little concerned with something so trivial as punctuation, thus the field has remained relatively unexplored (3 - 4). Although, to this last point, it is necessary to recall that Alexander is delivering this lecture in 1945. Still, the sentiment gives me pause. Is my treatment of the ending page of Merry Devil any better than Pope's treatment of Shakespeare's text? Hmm...

Since modern scholars will tend to agree that any edition of a text must proceed from a reading of the text itself, and not from the editors attempt to see through the veil of the text to the genius of the author, the same must be true of punctuation (5 - 7).

"Knowledge of Documents should precede final Judgment upon Readings" (7 - 8), Alexander here quotes Hort and Westcott's introduction to The New Testament in the Original Greek, citing page 20, but providing no other information about the book.

"Knowledge of any document as a whole has to be built up from judgments on individual passages" (8).

Alexander cites Hort and Westcott a second time in stating that "all trustworthy restoration of corrupted texts is founded on the study of their history," and that this applies to all texts of all fields of inquiry (8).

Q2 Hamlet and Coriolanus (found only in F) are both thought to derive from authorial manuscripts, and both texts are replete with commas and colons, featuring full stops only rarely. The punctuation of these texts must be thought of in the context of the authorial manuscript upon which they were based (16 - 17). A very fair point; if the print shop wasn't in the habit of changing the words of plays, why would they change the punctuation? I find myself questioning my previous assertion that Merry Devil is punctuated without much reason, although it still seems like it is fairly irregular.

c.f the punctuation scheme outlines by Alfred E. Thiselton.

Dover Wilson, in setting Hamlet from the Q2 rather than the Folio, has done so inconsistently, and while Q2's punctuation, especially in the "what a piece of work is man" speech can provide insight into the text, than it ought to be able to provide insight into the whole text and not just some of the parts that Dover Wilson has chosen to apply this punctuation schema to in his own edition (22).

Further reason to take punctuation from the Q2 Hamlet as being authorial can be found in its similarity to the manuscript of Sir Thomas Moore, which of course, is thought to be the only manuscript in Shakespeare's hand (23).


Tom Berger's exhortation to not apply post-Enlightenment thinking to this problem is ringing in my ears again, and while Shakespeare may have used commas internally to punctuate lines for emphasis (23), it would be a mistake to read Shakespeare's use of punctuation as necessarily consistent with our own.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Notes on The Life and Death of the Merry Devil of Edmonton

Talking a little bit about Bennett's (and Greg's) thoughts on Abrams' over-reliance onT for his edition has made me realized that I never explored that work ore thoroughly in my notes here. Honestly, I haven't looked at it since first conceiving this project almost a year ago in Dr. Knutson's class, which makes me think it's time to revisit this pamphlet.

I want to re-iterate what I said yesterday, the parallels between The Merry Devil of Edmonton (Merry Devil) and The Life and Death of the Merry Devil of Edmonton (Life and Death) are too strong to be merely coincidental. I find it probable that either the pamphlet inspired the play, or that the play inspired the pamphlet, but before I can say anything meaningful about that, it might help to describe the pamphlet.

Originally registered on 5 April 1608 by Joseph Hunt and Thomas Archer, the earliest extant version dates from 1631. The initial registration follows Arthur Johnson's registration of Merry Devil on 22 October 1607 so closely that the registration dates are of no practical use in determining precedence. Where Merry Devil remains completely anonymous, the title page of Life and Death bears the initial T.B. Editorial tradition ascribes this to Anthony (Tony) Brewer.

Life and Death is, much like Tarleton's Jests, a pamphlet describing humorous situations, which in some cases rely on physical comedy, but usually involve one party being over-reached by another. The first couple of stories are about Master Peter Fabell, as the title would imply, but the majority of the work is devoted to the further misadventures of Smug (the title page also advertise "With the pleasant pranks of Smug te Smith, Sir John, and mine Host of the George, about the stealing of venison," but these other characters do not figure as prominently into the narratives as does Smug.

5 of the vignettes feature Peter Fabell, the last of which to mention his name is a story wherein he is deceived by Smug. Smug, by contrast, plays a staring role in 17 of the vignettes described, 3 of which feature Sir John, Banks, and the Host, and 1 of which features the nuns of Chesson. The keeper and the constables are common antagonists, but nowhere do any of the knights or lovers of Merry Devil make an appearance. Smug does indeed deceive the keeper and his man by climbing on top of the sign of the White Horse (not mentioned in Merry Devil) and taking on the appearance of St. George, this causes the keeper to think there are two Georges and that they are in the wrong town, which is not at all like the situation described in Merry Devil's penultimate scene.

There are some crucial, noteworthy differences. Neither the Host's catchphrase about "serving the Good Duke of Norfolk" nor Sir John's "grass and hay, let's live till we die and be merry, and there's an end" are at all featured in Life and Death. It might also be argued that the role of Smug among his fellow clowns is greatly reduced in Merry Devil, but one must also remember that we have an incomplete text, and possibly transmitted to Arthur Johnson in a manner as the Q1 Merry Wives (which was formerly described as bad): that is to say largely reliant on the parts of the actor playing the Host.

Given the wildly differing narratives between Merry Devil and Life and Death, two clear probabilities emerge. Either Merry Devil came first, and a fan of that play reworked the events he saw there into a book of jests to capitalize on the popularity of the show (which was likely written in 1603 and popular on the London stage by 1604), or an author or authors familiar with an already circulating pamphlet (perhaps even a manuscript publication) reworked the events there described into a romantic comedy for the stage.

There is no way of knowing which of these scenarios, or if some other, is correct, but I once again cannot help but think of the Marx Brothers, whose work provided so much inspiration for our productions. I have compared Merry Devil to A Night at the Opera; a central love drama is transformed into a comedy with a happy ending by an unrelated group of wild and crazy guys trying to get ahead in the world. That film, however, represents the middle period in the Marx Brother's films; their earlier work had a tendency to feature the wild and crazy guys trying to get ahead in the world, and proceeded from one bit to the next. Duck Soup is the classic example of these films, and Life and Death tends to follow this mold.

Again, as Tom Berger would say, let us be wary of applying post-Enlightenment thinking to pre-Enlightenment work, but the plot of the lovers and the plot of the clowns in Merry Devil is distinct enough that it is conceivable that each plot has its own source, and Merry Devil represents a conflation of these. Life and Death could conceivably be the source for the clown plot and the Famous History of Friar Bacon, which was likely the inspiration of Robert Greene's Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, would serve as an equally viable source for the lover's plot if it were indeed available in manuscript before it's printing (which it would have to be to inspire Greene's play).

The history of the London stage is one of adaptation, conflation, and collaboration, and if Merry Devil is an example of this, it stands in very good company.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Notes on Prefatory Material and Notes to Nicola Bennett 2000 edition of The Merry Devil of Edmonton

The London Globe produced a workshop reading of The Merry Devil in 1998/1999, and Nicola Bennett's 2000 edition is one of the results of that work. Bennett's is one of the most important editions of Merry Devil for me to use as a point of comparison because it is so recent. The preparation of such an edition little more than a decade ago would hardly suggest a new edition as necessary unless it suffered from scholarly defect, was produced under a different editorial rationale, or some combination thereof. Given the resources available to Bennet (which are, according to her acknowledgments, vastly superior to mine), it would seem improbable that she has suffered from a lack of materials. To the contrary, the available resources of the Globe may have worked against her in preparing this edition.

In "A Note from the Coordinator," Sonia Ritter describes the Globe cast playing darkness without resorting to torches as props, but in such a way that is inconsistent with American Shakespeare Center techniques for playing darkness. Ritter explains "having established lack of light to see, playing out to the audience clarified thought: playing to nowhere i particular denoted confusion" (vii). The American Shakespeare Center, by contrast, explores the convention of actors trying to see other characters in a dark scene, but either failing (keeping their eyes unfocussed, or by fixing their eyes on some other point where they think their addressee is standing), or using their other senses, most especially their hearing, to help them identify the location of a speaker. The relative intimacy of the Blackfriars may account for this difference, but our performance space in Philadelphia was even more intimate than the Blackfriars, which is a condition the King's Men were likely to have found themselves in when touring their original production.

Ritter also describes some of the missing scenes being filled in by the actors in the workshop, and notes "Dumb shows were, after all, prevalent in this era." That may be true, and certainly there is evidence available to suggest that actors commonly improvised (i.e. Hamlet's injunction to the players), and that comic scenes were sometimes simply excised from printed text's (Jones' introduction to Tamburlaine), but the scene described in The Life and Death of the Merry Devil of Edmonton is more intricate than simple pantomime would allow. There must have been some textual material to accompany the misadventure of Smug on the sign of the George, if for no other reason than Smug, like the rest of the clowns in Merry Devil, is rarely content to be silent for long.

Standing in testimony against the Globe's construction of this text is the cast list of the workshop itself. 17 individual cast members are listed for a play in which the concluding scene calls for 11. While 17 would certainly not be outside of the number of players available to the King's Men, according to Stern's formulation, it is unlikely that hired men would have accompanied the sharer's on tour. The number of actors available for the Globe's workshop allowed them to use more bodies on stage than is likely the King's Men would have had available.

Bennett is correct in her agreement with Greg that Abrams takes the scene describing the sign business in the Life and Death pamphlet too literally (85). Yet the importance of the pamphlet in determining the course of the scene is still plain: either the pamphlet predates the play, and thus the play was likely inspired by the pamphlet, or the precise opposite of this. For our production, the most theatrically convenient way of staging the presence of the sign was to leave it off stage, which seemed appropriate to our touring needs, and satisfies nearly all of the requirements of the cut text printed in 1608.


Bennett has got a lot right with her 2000 edition of Merry Devil, but I still have some issues with this edition. The resources available to the Globe in creating this text are more expansive than the cut version of the text printed in 1608 seems to indicate. Ultimately, the Globe workshop never had to solve some of the textual problems present in the text. Apart from the fact that they did not mount a full production, they had more resources available than the King's Men would have had on tour, and their doubling ignores some of the comic possibilities suggested by the text.

Bennet, Nicola Ed. The Merry Devil of Edmonton. New York. Globe Education and Theatre Arts Books/Routledge. 2000.

Ritter, Sonia. "A Note from the Coordinator." The Merry Devil of Edmonton. Nicola Bennet, Ed. New York. Globe Education and Theatre Arts Books/Routledge. 2000.

Notes on Shakespeare and the Rise of the Editor - Chapter 2

While Henry VIII did much to suppress the printing of plays, and Edward and Mary only tightened their control of the printing industries, Elizabeth was more open to both printed and performed dramatic works. Elizabeth imported Italian scholars to her court, especially refugees of the counter-Reformation, who brought with them their evolving editorial sensibilities, which were coming to treat contemporary texts with the same scholastic rigor as their classical counterparts (69 - 70).

Paratextual materials calling attention to editorial practice were common in Italian playbooks. Editors took care to let readers know they had invested care and attention to correcting the mistakes of previous editions, and of identifying the failings of previous editors and translators to provide the reader with the editorial apparatus for the construction of the new, presumably superior edition (71 - 72).

With the increasing popularity of Italian drama at court, English play books started to advertise their own editorial apparati. John Day, in the second edition of Gorboduc, added an address to the reader that went so far as to claim that Norton and Sackville's original play was effectively raped as it was put into print (73 - 73). That is interesting, as it establishes a precedent as early as 1572 for the existence of the sort of piratical print house practices that led to the printing of bad quartos.

John Wolfe may be another source of continental editorial practices being introduced to the London print house. Wolfe, who specialized in printing Italian books (including Machiaveli's The Mandrake), probably traveled to Europe after serving a seven year apprenticeship to John Day in London, and possibly worked with Giunti. Although there is no documentary evidence that proves this beyond a doubt, Wolfe did adopt Giunti's device when he returned to London (75 - 76).

Wolfe's books generally include extensive paratextual materials that specify that the texts have not been interfered with by any editorial hand where the original authors are both still alive and directly involved in publication. By contrast, similar materials specifically advertise the work of an editor in preparing the texts of well-known, deceased authors (77).

Continental imprints on books made them more desirable to consumers, and Wolfe had a tendency to forge these imprints to help move copy, but the way in which he did belies a knowledge of humanist works, and Wolfe's typographical and editorial rigor was comparable to materials printed on the continent (79). Which tends to beg the question: if London book buyers were interested in continental imprints because of their supposed higher quality, how learned could these consumers have been if they were fooled by fictitious place names? Also worth considering, how justified was the London book purchaser in presuming that native works would not have bee subject to such a heightened level of editorial scrutiny? Still, if Wolfe felt the need to forge a continental imprint to make money, it clearly indicates that Londoners of the time were aware of quality editorial work, and actively sought it out in their purchases.

"The Italian plays published by Wolfe seem to have received as much editorial attention as any other f his literary publications" (79 - 80).

Professional writers, scholars, translators, and other men of letters all became familiar with Wolfe's editorial practice of recruiting scholarly assistants to help conduct his work (80).

Richard Jones, a contemporary of Wolfe's, published similar prefatory materials in some of his editions. Especially worthy of note is the address to the reader in Promos and Cassandra, in which he explains to the reader that the author had not perfected a copy of the manuscript for printing, and begs their indulgence if he has committed any errors (83).

Jones, however, was not so diligent in revealing his apparatus with his earlier works as he was with Promos and Cassandra. It is noteworthy that the printing of Promos and Cassandra coincides with the appearance of Wolfe's editions in London, and that this edition marks a turning point in Jones' career as a printer/editor (84).

When Jones later printed Marlowe's Tamburlaine, he would follow the same conventions he used for Promos and Cassandra, however when he printed Wilson's The Three Lords and the Three Ladies of London he did not do so. Massai posits that Marlowe's work was more reminiscent of the great Italian comedies, and thus inspired a more serious editorial treatment than Wilson's more allegorical play (84).

Jones was sporadic in his editorial work, and whereas Wolfe seemed concerned with recovering authorial intention, Jones was more concerned with distancing printed books from the play houses where they originated (87). In his introduction to Tamburlaine, for example, he mentions that he has excised several comic scenes that were well received on the stage, but that he did not deem appropriate for "so honorable and stately a history" (84 - 85). When Jones would later print A Knack to Know a Knave, he would retain the same conventions of setting speech prefixes (left margin) and stage directions (centered) that he used for Pomos and Cassandra, but neglected to include similar prefatory material (87).

Shakespeare used Pomos and Cassandra as a source for Measure for Measure, and would have thus been aware of print house conventions being employed for printing plays, and perhaps most notably to the literary status that the print house was beginning to accord to plays, or at least this play in particular (87).


The London reading public of the late 16th century was developing a taste for the textual scholarship that had been imported by continental editions, scholars, and London printers who had traveled the continent. Driven by market demand, other printers were forced to adopt at least the appearance of this editorial rigor in preparing works for print, but the degree to which they did so depended on their perceived quality of the work. A playbook that was perceived to have been written in the classical mode would be accorded the dignity of a more literary preparation than a playbook that was viewed in a lighter regard (which Merry Devil almost certainly was).

While rigorous, even by modern standards, editorial practices were available, they were not universally applied. Let us again return to Henry Ballard's print shop. Arthur Johnson brings him a copy of Merry Devil, Ballard sees immediately that, although it may start in the same mold as a history or tragedy, it is a fairly light hearted comedy. As I once heard Tom Berger described printed plays, a "comic book," and perhaps a literally cut and pasted manuscript at that. How should he treat this work? While modern editorial practice may have been available in 1608, it was not universally applied because it did not need to be. Tamburlaine is a play that some might study for its fine rhetoric, Merry Devil is not. Nor, for that matter, is Merry Wives. It is becoming increasingly obvious to me that I need to seek out that bad quarto of Merry Wives as a reference point.

This begs another question: if Merry Devil was not worthy of editorial rigor in 1608, is it in 2010? What is the text designed to do? What is the text that serves a production designed to do? What purpose should a new edition serve?

Notes on Shakespeare and the Rise of the Editor - Chapter 1

Based on the output and associations of John Rastell, and later his son William, these two men ran what can be described as the first "humanist" press in London (41). Their production of playbooks provides key insight into the almost certain relationship between playing companies and print houses: 1/10 of the books John printed were playbooks, and William doubled the number so that 1/5 books he printed were plays (42). Wynkyn de Worde, who based on Short Title Catalog numbers produced over eight hundred books, printed only three playbooks: Hyckescorner (STC 14039), The World and the Child (STC 25982), and The Interlude of Youth (STC 14111), and as the title of the last of these implies, these are all more properly described as "interludes" than plays (41 - 42). A comparison of the relative output of these printers suggest a deliberate choice on the part of the Rastells, and probably a relationship between the authors and the printers (42). This further suggests that authors wrote their plays conscious of the fact that they probably would be printed (42).

By the time printing had been introduced to London in 1476, the development of the print industry over continental Europe had inspired new scholarly efforts in procuring and preparing the best possible manuscripts of Greek and Latin works for printing. Early Italian humanist scholars had already started collating these manuscripts and employing sophisticated editorial methods, which ultimately led to new translations and editions of the complete works of Plato, the proof that the Donation of Constantine was a forgery, and to the correction of the New Testament. These practices would be introduced to London via Desiderius Erasmus and his friendship with Thomas More (42 - 43).

One of the ways in which Erasmus' editions rose to prominence throughout Europe was his use of fellow humanist scholars as editorial assistants to help him collate and correct manuscript texts (43 - 44).

Erasmus pursued textual accuracy and believed himself capable of recovering "authorial intentions," but also recognized that editorial intervention with a text could never be simply reduced to simple mechanical reproduction, which could not produce "true readings" (49). In this way, Erasmus foreshadows the modern editor if his own, and of Shakespeare's works. Simple mechanical reproduction is not sufficient to create a "true reading" of a text because that true reading requires the interpretation of the text in its narrative, cultural, material, and linguistic forms.

Extant paratextual materials related to the four printings of Utopia reveal that Thomas More studied Erasmus' editorial practices and attempted to emulate them (49).

Erasmus was such a close collaborator of More on Utopia that he seems to have helped coordinate the printing of all four editions, and to have prepared More's manuscript for the press (51).

More imported Erasmus' editorial techniques and focus on textual accuracy from continental Europe, but it is noteworthy that he also brought these techniques to his printers, John and William Rastell (55).

More was exacting and detailed in his instructions to his printers for the preparation of his manuscripts into print. Pynson, one of More's early printers, complains that, after the whole work had already been printed, he had received a newly emended copy from More, and had to re-set the entire book (56).

More sees in the process of perfecting his manuscript copy for print the advantage of editorial review, and finds the process of print gives more control over authorial intentions than manuscript circulation, which leave the work open to annotation by other hands (57).

In The Debellacyon More has printed a four page apology to the reader explaining a textual error that he missed in the perfecting process. He enjoins the reader not to blame the printer, prints the misprinted section, and proceeds to explain that this is due to him recording the wrong tense of the word initially. It is a devotion to textual accuracy that reveals his commitment to the print process (58).

Partially because dramatic works were coming to be valued by humanists as pedagogical tools in schools and universities, the Rastells applied the same diligence in preparing playbooks for the press that they did their other works, including More's (59).

While the early texts prepared by the Rastells, such as Fulgens and Lucrece were good, they were not perfect, and the sole existing copy of this play book displays the work of an annotating reader in correcting  irregularities in the text, and even adding a missing syllable to complete an otherwise short stanza (62).


Massai establishes a tradition of relationships between printers and authors, including the authors of plays, going back to the early years of the London press. It seems an important distinction that the Rastells treated their playbooks as they did more serious works, but I don't think it's possible to say that all printers would have necessarily followed suite. Also, the quality of the printed book seems to have been in part determined by the oversight of a singular author intent that the work should reflect his intentions (as in the case of ore), and Massai herself notes that the collaborative authorship practices of dramatic writing were not necessarily conducive to this (64). While Massai establishes a tradition, there may be no way of knowing if that tradition was still being followed a century later, or even how it was followed in Johnson's print shop. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Notes on Shakespeare and the Rise of the Editor - Introduction

One of the authors Dr. Menzer recommended I look into when I started this project was Sonia Massai, and in what now feels like the pre-history days of last semester, I recall reading one of her articles on the matter (i.e. before I was taking obsessive compulsive notes. It's true, you never can read enough, but I definitely want to make a dent into Shakespeare and the Rise of the Editor  before I go much further. The inside cover claims this to be an exploration of the prehistory of editing, which is right up my alley.

While we might commonly mark Nicholas Rowe's 1709 edition of The Works of Mr. William Shakespeare as the beginning of editing Shakespeare's plays, and of giving a prominent place to the editor, "editorial manipulation" of the texts had been taking place for nearly a century by the time of Rowe's 1709 edition (1 - 2).

Julie Stone Peters has already explored the interplay between the playhouse and the print shop. The commercial possibilities of offering new texts that were, as commonly advertised on title pages of the period, "newly corrected and amended." It is, however, impossible to say what editorial principles guided these editions. While there is a lack of direct evidence to demonstrate how this process was done, there is some evidence, such as the stationer's preface in the second edition of the Comedies and Tragedies of Beaumont and Fletcher (3 - 4).

The process of manuscript annotations to a printed copy for subsequent printing was common enough that the verb "to perfect" came to mean not only "to complete," but also "to make faultless," and was specifically used in this latter context of the preparation of printers copy (5 - 6).

From George Whetstone's dedicatory epistle to Promos and Cassandra we know that texts commonly underwent a stage where they were considered imperfect and in need of correction before being printed. To this Richard Jones, the printer, adds another epistle to the reader explaining that Whetstone didn't supply him with a perfected copy of the work, and begs the indulgence of the reader in forgiving any errors he might have committed in the process. From this, we can see that, should the author have been unavailable, it was preferable that another party should undertake this task of "perfecting" the manuscript (6 - 7).

The final sentence of Heminge and Condell's dedicatory epistle of the First Folio clearly states that they have perfected the copies of the plays (or at least are taking responsibility for that) prior to their printing (7 - 8).

Mosley's collection of the works of Sir John Suckling offers a contrary example, where Mosely states in a preface that he has left The Sad One: A Tragedy un-perfected. Mosely found The Sad One to be incomplete, and decided to print it as he found it rather than supplement Suckling's works with another author unconnected to the original (8 - 9).

"While non-authorial completion or revision of an authoritative, though fragmentary, copy was increasingly regarded as detrimental tampering, non-authorial preparation of dramatic copy for the pres was valued both when it corrected a manuscript draft of a work which the author had failed to perfect and when it corrected imperfections which had found their way into earlier editions then used as printer's copy for later re-issues" (9 - 10).

Whether the original author was able to perfect their manuscript for print, or another agent was required, the perfection of the manuscript for the printer's copy was viewed as an essential part of the printing process (10).

Since the manuscript copies, perfected or otherwise, used to set playbooks for printing do not survive, we must look to the "patterns of textual variations" that occur in plays that were printed more than once, especially when those plays specifically advertise that they are revised or expanded on their title pages (10).

Changes to a text between printings which require some knowledge of that text are the mark of editorial and not print house influence. Print house practices required setters to pay attention to the spelling of words, punctuation, and proper italicization; printers were little concerned with spech prefixes or the use of the proper word within the context of the play (11 - 12).

Similarly, the play house practice of annotating printed texts tended to be towards the end of noting sound cues, cues indicating the use of a prop, a warning to a stage hand, or an indication that the stage would be cleared. They would not have changed/normalized speech prefixes unless doing so was related to a change in the stage action relative to the printed text (13). i.e. early modern prompters annotated scripts in much the same way that modern stage managers do.

The most common written annotations to printed playbooks in the early modern period included the addition or emendation of stage directions, the addition or emendation of speech prefixes, and the correction of nonsensical language in the dialogue. While individual corrections are almost impossible to date precisely, certain letters distinctive in 16th and 17th century secretary hand were no longer in common use by the end of the 18th century (14).

It is noteworthy that manuscript emendations to playbooks by private owners of those books were common, and indicates either a familiarity with the play as performed or with the greater narrative of the text (14 - 21).

Since it is difficult to trace the origins of manuscript emendations to printed playbooks, it is best to think of the individual who make these emendations as "annotating readers." Their emendations tend to demonstrate a familiarity with the text that goes beyond what would commonly be expected of print house practice, but neither their authorial or play house nature can be firmly established (30).

Methods of the New Bibliography devoted discovery the agency of a primary author do not mesh well with the emendations left behind by annotating readers. Since these readers cannot be connected with the authorial hand (or agents of the playhouse or publisher) in any meaningful way, the emendations that annotating readers have left behind will typically be disregarded by modern editors (31).

Modern editors may also discount emendations by annotating readers because they do not fit neatly into the model of removing print house corruptions in the service of illuminating authorial or theatrical intentions (31 - 32).

Many, if not most, stationers chose not to print plays for whatever reason, and it is likely that those who did had some connection with the playing companies. If this is the case, it is more likely than not that they would have had access to authorial manuscript copies of the plays they published (34).


Unless I miss my guess, Massai is going to trace the lineage of Nicholas Rowe and those who came after him back to the annotating readers of the early modern era. She admits that she will have little direct evidence to proceed from, but does a fine job of establishing evidence that, some of the purchasers of his printed texts felt the need to correct those texts. The source of their correction is indeterminate; while it may likely be in performance, since we can only very approximately date the annotations, we have no way of knowing if this was a performance given in Shakespeare's lifetime, or if it was at the Globe, Blackfriars, or some private venue. One is also forced to accept the possibility that the source of some of these annotations may have been in the fancy of the annotator, but even if the emendation was routed in performance, we do not have the records necessary to corroborate whether or not the annotator was remembering properly.

Still, the tie between perfected copies being sent to the print house, and the link between stationers and the playhouse is useful. That said, while Arthur Johnson did possess one other King's Men play, he clearly didn't have significant dealings with them, but there exists a connection all the same. Alternatively, the case of the bad quartos is that they derived from pirated manuscripts from an actor in the company, and since the Host character figured prominently into the Merry Wives bad quarto, it has been assumed that this actor was involved in the piracy. If that is true, than we might be seeing something similar happening with Merry Devil since a Host character plays prominently in that play, too.

Maybe Merry Devil is a bad quarto, after all.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Notes on The Foundation of Shakespeare's Text

Alfred Pollard is one of those names you keep coming across in the annals of bibliographic study, and rightly so. He, along with EK Chambers and RB McKerrow were some of the pioneers of bibliographic studies early in the 20th century, without whom we might still live in an era of catch-as-catch-can textual construction. I stumbled across his lecture The Foundation of Shakespeare's Text, originally read on 23 April 1923, and decided to give it a look.

At the time Pollard offered this lecture, he acknowledged the incompleteness of the bibliographic work that had been done up to that point on the first folio. Any bibliographic answers he can offer must perforce be incomplete (1). It's worth asking the question of how far we've come in the last 80 years or so. Certainly we do know more, but do we know enough to posit anything but incomplete answers? Will we ever?

"The foundations of Shakespeare's text must have been laid in his study and in the playhouse" (2). Pollard goes from there to declare that any piece of text that can be demonstrably linked to Shakespeare or his theatre requires investigation, and that any text that cannot be so derived should not be considered; this immediately rules out any edition following the 1623 folio, as these represent mere reprints of that folio (2).

Pollard establishes the difference between a good quarto and a bad as one that can be demonstrably linked to revisions of Shakespeare's hand. Intermediary quartos typically contain the inclusion of new errors, and where they correct errors of previous quartos, these corrections tend to be simple and mechanical in nature, and would not require access to the author (3).

Intermediary quartos are useful for charting the printing of the folio. As a printer would have an easier time setting type from a printed source, they very likely would have used recent quartos as a base text, and sent those to the playhouse for any corrections that would have been needed: this would have been easier and less expensive than arranging a new fair copy to be made. The result is that some of the errors from intermediary editions of quartos have made their way into the folio (4). If this is true, and Stanley Wells is correct in his assertion that Heminges and Condell printed the plays in the folio as closely as possible to the way in which they were performed, than wouldn't that admit intermediary quartos as evidence for Shakepeare's (or at least the King's Men's) authorship?

Pollard answers my question in the negative, citing the example of punctuation differences in Midsummer; where the punctuation there differs from the first quarto, it tends to come from the 1619 quarto, and thus Pollard proposes that this edition of the play, since it derives from one of less authority than the original, should be regarded as less authentic (4). Clearly, he and Wells would have some words.

Pollard's list of bad quartos include the 1597 Romeo and Juliet, the 1600 Henry V, the 1602 Merry Wives of Windsor, and the 1603 Hamlet (4-5).

Discounting the aforementioned "bad quartos," the other first quartos of Shakespeare are to be regarded as useful sources of comparison and should carry an authority comparable to the folio (5-6).

Pollard notes that there was a thriving industry in manuscript copies of stage plays as early as 1605. The literary stage directions, which often describe locales in detail (i.e. characters enter "atop the walls of Rome" as opposed to "above") may come from these copies as opposed to the author's hand. We have no way of knowing how many of the play texts burned with the first Globe in 1613, or even if any were burnt at all, but we do know that several Beaumont and Fletcher plays were in private collections during the interregnum and had to be purchased for publication (8 - 9). We thus cannot say whether "literary" stage directions are certainly original.

"We have to face the fact that the producers of the Folio preferred the acting-version used in the playhouse, and if lines written by Shakespeare were omitted from that were content that they should perish" (10).

Pollard proposes that there is a distinction between short plays and long ones, and that those written of one category may have commonly be expanded (or cut) to suite the other category. This could plausibly have been for touring performances, court performances, private performances, public performances during the winter months (when they would have to have been shorter to accommodate fewer hours of day light), or Sunday performances. Though Pollard admits these are all purely conjectural circumstances, the presence of extant shorter and longer plays suggests that sometimes shorter performances were called for (10). Fascinating.

Pollard on Shakespeare's revision of other dramatists: "He took over other men's plots, other men's drafts, other men's completed plays, and did t them what he was told, transmuting copper and silver into gold with an alchemy all his own. We applaud what he did, and invent fine phrases to glorify that which, in modern dramatists, we should regard as monstrous" (13).

"It was taken for granted that the stage-manager knew his business, and that the form in which each play had survived at the theatre was the form in which it should be preserved in spirit" (16). This quote, taken with Pollard's earlier remarks about the policies of copying the work of other dramatists, and Shakespeare's contentment to do the same and then to let the same be done to his own works puts the question of authority into a different light (13 - 14).

"Somehow a text was produced which, however far short it falls of what specialists could wish, has yet been good enough to allow Shakespeare to become the most famous dramatist of Englishmen, and the delight of men and women all over the world" (16).

Pollard is not looking for plays of the theatre, indeed, he seems convinced that he has them available, he is looking for the specific words that Shakespeare wrote. This seems a paradox to me; Pollard acknowledges Shakespeare was a man of the theatre, and that he practiced the then common techniques of his craft (albeit remarkably well); why should we then pursue the written word of Shakespeare outside of this context? There is a paradox evident in the quest for the unaltered hand of Shakespeare on the one hand, and the ever present knowledge that his hand was altered (or should I say inspired?) by the works of others from the beginning. Pollard seems to know that Shakespeare's works in the folio were, to some extent, corruptions of his original work, but also acknowledges that they're still among the best work ever written in English.

Pollard, Alfred W. "The Foundations of Shakespeare's Text." Annual Shakespeare Lecture.  The Proceedings of the British Academy. Read 23 April 1923.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Burying the Show

Following two awesome performances in Philly at Studio 1831 and an equally awesome performance in Staunton at the Blackfriars, The Merry Devil of Edmonton has now been packed up into boxes, props replaced on shelves, and costumes moved back into storage for some other show. I would be remiss if I didn't think the cast and crew of Merry Devil one last time for their energy, support, and willingness to go on this little adventure. My work on the production of a new text of Merry Devil will continue (and you'll be able to read about my progress towards this end here), but none of my work on the text would have mattered without their work on the stage production, which has proven most helpful and informative towards my text production.

I also want to thank our sponsors one more time. Without the support of Mug Shots Cafe and Coffeehouse, the Beverley Cigar Store, and The Frederick House, all of Staunton Virginia, we wouldn't have been able to bring The Merry Devil to life. If you're in the Staunton vicinity and liked/appreciated what you saw, no matter where you saw it, please stop by and thank them for their generous support.

And because no play is complete without an audience, I want to thank all of you who came to see our work.

Friday, September 10, 2010

That was a Nice Final Dress

The thing I really love about the week you polish up a play is getting to see it grow by leaps and bounds with each successive run. It tightens up a little more each time, and you get to watch a cast really start owning a show. Last night, the cast of Merry Devil rocked out their final dress before a small audience of Stauntonites that won't be able to make our Blackfriars performance on 9/13, and I can speak for all involved when I say we're ready to get this show on the road.

Speaking of which, I need to get packing....

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Notes on the Introduction to the Arden 2 Comedy of Errors

Notes to the Introduction to the Arden Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors

Part of this new edition of The Merry Devil of Edmonton will entail an appropriate introduction to the text, and fortunately for me a lot of very good models for this exist. I'm starting with R. A. Foakes' introduction to the Arden 2 Comedy of Errors. Comedy of Errors serves as a good point of comparison for me because it is Shakespeare's shortest play, and much like Merry Devil, is pretty straight up, unproblematic comedy filled with some great clowning and farce. Lets see how Foakes prefaces his text...

Foakes begins with a technical introduction to the text, describing the greater printing environment (i.e. the Folio) in which it is found. He notes the regularity of the Folio comedies that precede it, and discusses some of the ways in which Comedy of Errors is different from these, and may have come from a different source, going on to cite the work of McKerrow in hypothesizing that Comedy of Errors may have been printed from an author's manuscript, and citing Greg's hypothesis about the insertion of act breaks in the print house. (xi - xiii).

Foakes also notes that the inclusion of superfluous information in the stage directions would further indicate they are the result of the hand of an author rather than a prompter (xiii).

Foakes cites the overall good quality of the text of the play, noting the relatively few instances of demonstrable presence of a prompter's hand, and the sporadic evidence of compositor error in refuting Dover Wilson's more elaborate claims about a scribe editing the text as it was dictated to him by someone else (xv).

Before concluding his notes on the text, Foakes describes his editorial process. He explains his modernization of spelling and punctuation, and of general word uses, except for a few cases, and describes the apparatus he uses to call the reader's attention to where his edition varies from the Folio (xvi).

Foakes moves on to give approximate dates for the text using concrete evidence, such as the first recorded performance, as well as more arguable stylistic grounds. He also presents the arguments against the stylistic arguments, as well as other interpretations of the composition date of the play (xvi - xvii).

Foakes notes that the evidence other scholars offer for their interpretations is not very strong, and proposes his own bounds for the date of composition based on textual similarities to Love's Labours Lost, The Taming of the Shrew, and Two Gentlemen of Verona (xxii - xxiii).

Foakes moves on to a discussion of the sources for Comedy of Errors, most specifically Plautus' Menaechmi, and provides a brief summary of the plot (xxiv).

Foakes notes Shakespeare's knowledge of Latin early on, but mentions textual similarities with William Warner's 1595 translation of the Menaechmi. Foakes finds it equally plausible that Warner could have chosen certain words because of his familiarity with Shakespeare's play as it is that Shakespeare could have based Comedy of Errors off of Warner's translation (xxv - xxvi).

Foakes also cites Plautus' Amphitruo as a contributing source to Comedy of Errors, and elaborates on how Shakespeare integrated pieces of this other Plautus comedy into his own (xxvii).

Foakes goes on to point out the likely source of Plautus that Shakespeare used as being prepared by Lambinus (xxviii).

Foakes also discusses Shakespeare's motives in moving the play from Plautus' Epidamnum to Ephesus. His London audience would have been more familiar with Ephesus from biblical references, which have special pertinence to marriage and magic, and from The Excellent and pleasant Works of Julius Solinus Polyhistor, which describes Ephesus as a great sea port and mentions the great temple to Diana (xxix - xxx).

Foakes further cites John Lyly's Mother Bombie as a potential inspiration, and notes some of the similar phrases that exist between the two (xxxiii).

Foakes' next topic of discussion is of the staging of Comedy of Errors. He proceeds from the specific requirements of the play to describe general staging practices of the late 16th century, and discuss some of the specifics of venues available at the time (xxxiv - xxxv).

During the course of his discussion of staging, Foakes makes note of some of the more contentious passages in the text, and describes how they may have been staged given the possibilities of a court performance and mansions available at Gray's Inn, and how they could just as conceivably have been played on the public stage (xxxv - xxxix).

Foakes moves from his textual introduction to a critical one, and begins by stating that any treatment of Comedy of Errors will seem shallow compared with a reading of one of Shakespeare's more mature comedies, and yet would seem like more than is necessary for a play that is commonly regarded as a simple farce. What follows is a solid work of New Criticism that examines some of the more serious elements of Comedy of Errors, and notes their connection with the ritual basis of theatre. Through this analysis of man transformed, Foakes presents a reading of Comedy of Errors that demonstrates it to be more than just a simple farce, and while not quite as developed as Shakespeare later comedies, it shares a kinship with, and in some ways lays the ground work for those works (xxxix - li).

Foakes concludes his introduction to the play with a performance history. Beginning with recorded early modern performances, he traces the plays adaptation through the 17th and 18th centuries, and its eventual reintroduction to the stage as written by Shakespeare, but also touches on notable stage and film adaptations of the early 20th century (remember that this introduction was written in 1962), such as The Boys from Syracuse (li - lv).


Foakes' introduction to The Comedy of Errors is strongest when Foakes is taking a New Critical approach. Even his opening section on the text tends to veer in this direction, and his brief performance history creates a narrative of restoration derision transforming into Edwardian acceptance of this work in Shakespeare's canon. Foakes tends not to provide much by way of historical context, which may be a function of his inability to fix a more precise date, but neither does he seem very much confirmed with examining the society that produced the play (although he does touch on certain aspects of it), or the theatrical practices of the time (although, again, he does touch on these).

To a degree, it seems as if Foakes is writing this introduction for someone with a decent understanding of the education system under Elizabeth, and with a comfortable knowledge of the stage craft of the period. His primary source text is, of course, the Folio, and absent any competing quarto texts, he doesn't have any textual conflations to justify, although his explanation of why the Folio text may be regarded as coming from a foul papers manuscript, and why it might have been edited by someone, perhaps a compositor, to make it more stylistically similar to the five comedies that precede it is interesting. Those stylistic differences that Foakes notes between Comedy of Errors and the preceding comedies in the Folio are also quite interesting.

It is perhaps telling of this introduction that the textual history of this play is relatively uneventful, and that it's stylistic elements have been the more pressing concern. Foakes is therefore correct in making his New Critical arguments to fix the play as a full fledged member of Shakespeare's canon. It is an early work that shows exceptional promise and improvements over the sources from which it is likely derived, and its performance history has only relatively recently begun to acknowledge that the work can be played on stage largely in the form in which it comes to us.


Foakes, R. A. "Introduction." The Comedy of Errors. Arden Shakespeare. London. 1962. Reprinted 2000. xi - lv.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Notes on the Introduction to The Coast of Utopia

"Introduction" to The Coast of Utopia

Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia is a trilogy of plays that, like An Experiment with an Air Pump, by Shelagh Stephenson, is a dramaturg's dream. Set in czarist Russia and following the travels of Russian radicals and revolutionaries, through these three plays (Voyage, Shipwreck, and Salvage) Stoppard tells the story of the maturation of philosophy in the rich historical backdrop of 19th century Europe. In the 2007 Grove Press edition, Stoppard also provides an introduction to the trilogy that offers his insights into the process of writing and revising his own work.

The process of writing a play is a transcription of an event before the event actually happens. The event that happens after the fact usually turns out at least slightly different from the one the playwright imagines, whether for artistic or purely logistic (i.e. the play was too long) reasons. The second edition of a play follows when these changes are incorporated back into the original transcription, which itself becomes obsolete (xi).

"Theatre is a pragmatic art form" (xii).

Plays offer the writer the possibility to move text around, and re-create the text anew based on their impressions of a reading. Novels seldom are as fluid, and when the work is complete, there is rarely the chance to change it. While some playwrights will regard their work in the same way, taking advantage of the fluid nature of dramatic writing allows for the potential for a text to evolve to match the transcript of events that actually happen, or that, in retrospect, should have happened (xii - xiii).

Appropriate citation information follows.

Stoppard, Tom. "Introduction." The Coast of Utopia. New York. Grove Press. 2007. xi - xiv.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Yes, it is Fun

I want to pause from my usual notes to echo Amanda's sentiment. This show is a lot of fun, and it's difficult to imagine an editing process without such a fine group of creative collaborators to keep me on my toes. Sometimes, I get too busy looking at the words to consider their meaning within the context of the play, which is one of the pitfalls of editing that I can't help but feel most editors of the past four centuries have fallen into. These words were meant to be spoken by people to other people in front of other people. The transcriptions that made their way to the print house simply cannot capture the thrill (or the sadness, or the humor) of the play in performance.

Brian, Amanda, Victoria, Rachel, Kimberly, Paul, Sara, Jeff, Dan, and Melissa have been invaluable partners in interrogating the text, and without their constant efforts to make sense of my transcriptions, collations, and emendations this work would be little more than a distasteful stew of words printed on a page. Watching them is a joy and a privilege, and I look forward to seeing them bring this production together over the next few days.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Notes on The Disintegration of Shakespeare

From the work of Stanley Wells, I now turn the clock back to E. K. Chambers' 12 May 1924 lecture "The Disintegration of Shakespeare." I am, of course, reading a printed copy of the lecture he read, but without much indication who he read this to, who published the lecture, when they published it, where it was published, or any of the like information that would be useful in tracking it down as a source. All I can really offer is that Mary Baldwin College owns a copy.

Chambers, you may or may not know, is the man behind The Elizabethan Stage, which is an excellent go to source for just about anything related to... well... the Elizabethan/Jacobean stage. Fancy that.

The tradition of ascribing the works of Shakespeare to someone other than Shakespeare can be traced back to Edward Ravenscroft, who printed a post-Restoration adaptation of Titus Andronicus in 1687. He claimed that he had heard from "some anciently conversant with the stage" that Shakespeare had adapted the play from a pre-existing one (3).

If one looks hard enough at statistics and individual stylistic elements, a great number of potential originators, emenders, and contributors, or separate authors can be named as having either a partial or complete hand in the works of Shakespeare. The ascriptions of these stylistic markers have not, however, been consistent among scholars, who can rarely do better than make weak arguments for non-Stratfordian ascriptions of authorship (3-7).

Proponents of multiple authors, emenders, etc have had a tendency to defend themselves as being the preserves of Shakespeare rather than detractors. They tend to ascribe the "chaff" to authors whom they perceive as being of a lesser stature, and thus the choicest bits that remain of the plays are ascribed to Shakespeare.  These scholars, however, display their own biases towards material, and seem to forget that the cannon of Shakespeare can only be determined by the extant body of work ascribed to him. There is no other concrete basis for determining which works belong to Shakespeare and which do not. (7-8). I can't help but think of something Roslyn Knutson said to me in an email: "did you ever notice how Shakespeare is never found to have made a worse revision."

"I come to accept Shakespeare, not to praise him" (8).

Taken as a whole, the canon of Shakespeare's work reveals an author who was open to experimentation and even imitation. If some of Shakespeare's lines feel like Marlowe's or Greene's, it could very plausibly be because Shakespeare experimented with writing in their styles as part of his own development as a writer. Likewise, we need neither pretend that these experiments were always pleasing, nor that Shakespeare wrote every line at the height of his own creative genius (8 - 9).

While some will dismiss certain lays or passages from Shakespeare's canon based on metrical or stylistic variation that does not conform to a projected development curve, these scholars ignore the fact that the development of one in their craft very rarely can be plotted along a perfectly smooth growth curve. General trends in improvement can still be seen across the plays, but specific variations from those trends do not invalidate the overall progression of the man's mastery of his craft, and those lines/passages/plays should not be dismissed as being "inauthentic" simply because they do not conform to an ideal statistical regularity (9 - 10).

It is likewise impossible to ascribe certain uses of words within Shakespeare's works to other authors because we cannot clearly establish a clear vocabulary for other authors. Even if it were possible to do so, it is just as plausible that Shakespeare borrowed words he heard frequently and incorporated into his own work as it is that someone else added them after being brought in to do a "punch-up" of Shakespeare's scripts (11 - 12). Let us not forget that Shakespeare was primarily an actor in a company that operated on a repertory system that would put most modern theatres to shame. He came into contact with the works, and the words of other writers on a daily basis, and needed to have a clever ear for their meanings and pronunciations in order to function in his primary trade. Most of the plays of the period are now lost, and thus it is impossible to say exactly where Shakespeare's expansive vocabulary comes from, but it is possible, probable even, that his regular contact with the work of the most active poets of his generation contributed to his own work.

The Folio cannot be considered a complete record of which plays were written by Shakespeare because, for whatever reason, Heminges and Condell omitted at least nine plays from the Folio that had been previously published under the name (or initials) of Shakespeare (13 - 14).

Pollard proposes that the Thomas Moore manuscript was submitted to the Master of the Revels as it is, but this is unlikely because it exists in a sloppy state. If the Master of the Revels had to concern himself with deciphering foul papers and piecing together how a playwright may have intended a scene to read, he would have never been able to make it through the quantity of plays that would have had to pass through his office (16 - 17). I am once aain reminded of William Proctor Williams' assessment that printers would have insisted on fair copy for type setting because they were in the business of printing books and not of attempting to decipher foul papers. The Revels office would have been interested in its own administrative efficiency over the inconvenience to playing companies of having to have fair copy prepared. Just as printing hourses today insist on "manuscript" submissions in particular file formats for ease of their own house practices.

Henslowe's diary chronicles a process of revision that seems to favor the addition of new material to established plays rather than of re-writing old scenes of new ones. This trend seems to be confirmed by Sir Henry Herbert's notes (19 - 20).


Chambers takes a fairly conservative position at the dawn of the era of seeing the canon of Shakespeare's works as being the products of a process that may have included revision and multiple authors. I take for granted that a play text is a living document because, whether intentional or not, and whether subtly or not, the play text is almost always altered in performance. Whether the extant copies of the plays we have derive from deliberate or accidental emendations in performance, the original text as penned by the playwright, or a text later penned by the playwright (or another playwright) that take these changes into account is unknown. Chambers argues that we ought, in the absence of concrete evidence to the contrary, regard the plays we know as Shakespeare's as having been written by Shakespeare, and I agree with him in principle, but I cannot ignore my knowledge of modern theatrical practice.

Still, it is worth considering his calculations from Henslowe's diary. It comes as perfectly logical that the records of most play revision indicate older plays being updated with new scenes. "Newly revised and expanded" can be a money-making tag on any written work. It is perhaps worth considering that, if Shakespeare did revise his plays, it may have been toward this end, which is supported by the evidence of the addition of the fly scene in Titus Andronicus.

Where this all comes to bear on Merry Devil: the play seems to have undergone little alteration across its six quartos. If the extant copy was cut, for whatever reason, why not include some of those scenes that were cut? Unless they were lost. Why not add new scenes, or have the old ones re-written? The answer can only be that the play, even without the additional scenes described in The Life and Death of The Merry Devil of Edmonton, sold well enough without needing to pay for further work to be done on it. If plays were revived in performance when they were re-printed, this may indicate that the published text of Merry Devil could stand alone in performance on the stage of the Globe.

Friday, September 3, 2010

An actor's perspective...

Hi anyone out there... you get a break from Tony this post. This is Amanda Noel Allen and I play Frank, a nun, and Ralph in Merry Devil.
This process for an actor is quite different than the one Tony is going through. For one, I will just admit that I've read very little of this blog thus far. While textual background, source texts, reading a whole vs. cut version of a play are regularly part of my prep work for a show, once rehearsals start I by and large accept the script I'm getting as the tool I get to work with to tell this story.
What's been cool and unique about this experience is that sometimes Tony left side notes in the script and let us PICK which quarto version to say. This gave me a level of power I am not used to, though the funny thing was only one quarto version really felt "right" so there didn't seem to be much of a choice at all, just thankful that the "right" text was an option. When I say "right" I generally mean the one that scans the easiest or is a clearer image to memorize. I had a considerable number of these variations in Frank's monologue about remaining true to Raymond.
There's a lot I could say about the post-modern notion that the written text and performance text are always shaping each other and this project illustrates it very openly, but instead I'd rather tell you all how much FUN this show is. That is one of the most important things to me as an actor to find in a rehearsal room. Fun amidst the hard work makes all the work better and allows the cast as a whole to take bigger risks and play wackier characters.
Now we are all looking forward to a new cast member joining the fun and then off to Philly.
If work ever slows down again, I'll try and write another post.
If not, back to your scholar and host Tony... or maybe another cast member!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Notes on Re-Editing Shakespeare for the Modern Reader: Chapter 4

"The Editor and the Theatre: Act One of Titus Andronicus"

Titus Andronicus presents special problems to the editor, as there are many source texts to choose from which owe varying degrees of content to the hand of Shakespeare. Q1 is a foul-papers text, which bears both complexities and gaps that mark it as the work of a new dramatist who knew his work would need to be worked out on stage, where F, likely printed from a prompt book, contains emendations arising from stage life, but which were not necessarily added by Shakespeare. (79-81). I have largely solved this problem for my own purposes: authorship did not belong to any one individual, it was a company affair.

A particular problem arises with regard to stage directions after Bassianus and Saturninus dismiss their armies. A stage direction after Basianus does so in both Q and F reads "Exit soldiers," and while it
makes sense for a similar direction to follow Saturninus' dismissal, such a direction is not included. Furthermore, a captain enters demanding "Romaines make way," which doesn't make sense if the stage
is bare. An editor can leave some of these problems to be worked out in rehearsal, but it is worth noting the difficulties and possibilities (86). From a literal interpretation of stage directions, it is possible that all of the soldiers leave on Bassianus' dismissal, implying they don't want to fight another war of succession, but this still leaves the problem of the Captain's speech. It is likewise possible that Saturninus' soldiers never leave. Or the stage directions need not be read so literally.

Wells notes the discrepancies between Q and F relating to the number of coffins. F asks for "coffins" where Q asks for a "coffin," but both ask for two men to do it. This is likely  an example of Shakespeare changing his mind during the composition process, as Titus' later lines suggest he has lost many sons, and warrants emendation or glossing on the part of the editor: two men will not be sufficient to move multiple coffins at once (91-92). Something that I'm a little bit surprised that Wells fails to account for are the Roman burial rites with which Shakespeare would have likely been familiar. Although TitusAndronicus is set in the late days of the empire, they appear to be practicing pre-Christian religion, and thus Titus' sons would have been cremated before being placed in the family tomb. It is possible for the director to read "coffins" as "urns," which two men could easily transport multiples of.

Shakespeare did not write stage directions  indicating Martius and Quintus fall into the pit, Chiron and Demetrius removing the Nurse's body, bringing a ladder on stage for Aaron, or Aaron's climbing that
ladder, Titus killing Lavinia, Saturninus killing Titus, or Lucius killing Saturninus. There are other points throughout the cannon where stage directions are not supplied to describe necessary stage action

If original stage directions are emended in any way, it should be done systematically , and in such a way as to draw on all information provided by dialogue and the original directions, and in keeping with what is known about theatrical practice of the period (109).

cf Walton, J.K. The Quarto Copy for the First Folio of Shakespeare. Dublin. 1971.

Given that Shakespeare seems to have never concerned himself with arranging his plays for print publication, and it is likely that Hemings and Condell had done the best they could to print representations as closely as possible to how the plays were performed in the Folio. Thus, when preparing texts that are not merely diplomatic editions of quarto texts, it is logical to use the Folio reading where it disagrees with an earlier quarto copy (112).

Summary, both of this chapter and of this book: "If we free ourselves from the illusion (encouraged by W. W. Greg, great scholar though he was) that there is one, and only one, 'right' way to edit Shakespeare, and acknowledge that the texts are open to different kinds of editorial treatment according to the varying needs of those who read them, we shall succeed better in our more limited aims" (113).

Appropriate citation for this book:

Wells, Stanley. Re-Editing Shakespeare for the Modern Reader. Oxford. Clarendon Press. 1984.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

An Exploitation of Faustus

When I asked Roslyn Knutson if she thought that Merry Devil might be described as a parody of Doctor Faustus, she said that "an exploitation" might be more accurate. By 1603, Marlowe's Doctor Faustus was already a modern classic in the repertory of The Rose, and Knutson has suggested that Merry Devil might have been written to draw customers to The Globe. If there's anything that sells better than a tragedy about a Necromancer, it's a comedy about a Necromancer, right?

Fortunately, the American Shakespeare Center very recently mounted Doctor Faustus as part of their Actor's Renaissance Season, which means we have some great material to exploit. Textually, Faustus (Rene Thornton Jr) orders Mephistophilis (Benjamin Curns) to appear in the shape of a friar, but the ASC's recent production added an inverted crucifix to Mephistophilis' friar robes. We have used this as a model for our production as you can see here:

Coreb (Brian Falbo) orders Fabell (Sara Grace Landis) to follow him to Hell.

Sorry, I don't have a picture of Curns as Mephistophilis, so if you didn't see the ASC's production, you'll just have to take my word for it.

While the ASC didn't place Mephistophilis in a mask, several of the other demons that Mephistophilis conjures for Faustus' pleasure were attired in masks, and last fall's ASC production of Titus Andronicus, Tamora and her sons all wear masks as the spirits of Revenge, Rape, and Murder. I myself had used masks for fairies in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream that I directed some years ago. It seems to work well as an indicator of supernaturalness, and so we have employed masks here.

Whether or not this guise is completely appropriate to the textual demands of Merry Devil could be disputed. When Coreb appears, Fabell rebukes him for appearing in a horrid shape "and not in familiar sort as thou was wont." It is difficult to say what, precisely, a horrid shape means, although Sarah Keyes Chang, in her excellent master's thesis work has argued that Mephistophilis' original incarnation (which Faustus declares to be too horrid to look upon) was in the form of a dragon puppet. That doesn't seem appropriate for Coreb, however, as Coreb must (textually) be able to sit in the Necromantic Chair. Given some other images she cites, it is plausible that a more familiar demon mask may have been employed, but this is something that we will unfortunately never know. If Cuthbert Burbage kept a diary similar to Philip Henslowe's it is lost to us.

What horrifies is very much a cultural artifact anyway, and it is highly probable that the sorts of things that might have horrified an early Stuart audience wouldn't phase us much today. Of course, horror is as much a personal feeling as it is a cultural artifact. Some people are terrified of clowns, but if Coreb were to enter in a clown mask it would likely solicit laughter from most of the audience.