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.

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