"The Editor and the Theatre: Editorial Treatment of Stage Directions"
Shakespeare clearly wrote plays for the stage, and wrote them aware that he would play a part in the production process. The sparseness of his stage directions show his willingness to work out the specifics later, and reflect his focus on what was to be said. There is evidence from his use of actors names in speech prefixes that he sometimes wrote with certain actors in mind for characters. That is, Shakespeare was always conscious that his final product would not be finished until it was performed (57-58).
cf Klein, David. "Did Shakespeare Produce his Own Plays?" Modern Language Review 57 (1962). 556-560.
cf Wells, Stanley. "Editorial Treatment of Foul-Paper Texts: Much Ado About Nothing as Test Case." Review of English Studies NS 31 (1980), 1- 16.
A peculiar job of the editor comes when choosing between two different kinds of authority. The quarto text of Midsummer, for example, is believed to have been printed from a manuscript copy, and the Folio from an annotated prompt book copy. Where in Q the review of the wedding entertainments offered belongs to Thesues alone, in F Theseus and Lysander share these lines (of course, Paul Menzer has argued otherwise in "The Weaver's Dream - Mnemonic Scripts and Memorial
Texts" (109)). Here the editor must choose between the authority of the earlier or later texts, or be guided by Menzer's argument (60-61).
It is entirely possible that stage directions did not come from Shakespeare's hand. Since the plays were written to be inherently incomplete copy to be presented on the stage, we must accept that Shakespeare left some of the finer details of entrances and exits to be writ in later. Indeed, sometimes when he does provide entrances, such as Q Much Ado 2.1, where several characters are given an entrance even though two speak and one is already on stage, he is clearly wrong. In 1.2 of Antony and Cleopatra several characters are provided entrances who do not speak, are not spoken to, and who play
no part of the action in the scene are likewise introduced. Whether Shakespeare forgot to strike their names from the stage direction after finishing the scene, they were added later by a prompter who
needed bodies to dress the stage, or whether Shakespeare always meant for them to be a presence in the scene must remain a mystery (62).
"I regard the use of abbreviated names as speech prefixes as an indefensible barbarism in anything other than a diplomatic edition" (65).
Dover Wilson's attempt to give stage directions a literary flair may not be what Shakespeare had written, and if he had not been so overly lavish in his descriptions, the custom may have survived. Wilson's use of words to create a sense of place (sight, sound, and smell) in the mind of the reader is perhaps preferable to a *reader* of Shakespeare than the comparatively bare "enter" and "exuent" that a text prepared for performance might benefit from. The consequence of Wilson's approach is that the text becomes overly long, and his willingness to go too far in his descriptions is likely one of the reasons why his approach fell quickly out of favor with editors (67-68).
"I take it as axiomatic that the plays take place, not on heaths, in forests, in castles, in palaces, in ante-rooms, or bedrooms, or throne-rooms, but on a stage" (69).
McKerrow's recognition of stage directions being necessary "to visualize the action as it would be if staged by a reasonably conservative producer" should be thought of in terms of the early modern stage, but an editor who wishes to prepare an edition for a different style is embarking on a perfectly legitimate endeavor. While these directions are likely to not have much of an interest to the
greater field of textual studies, an editor may be inspired (or hired) to prepare an edition for one specific theatre, or as in the instance of Peter Brook's production of Midsummer, the edition may be
prepared after the fact as a way of commemorating the production (70). This seems to follow the general theme of keeping your apparatus transparent.
An editor ought not be too conservative in the presentation of entrances and exits where elaboration for the effect of stage presentation could be useful. It is doubtful that all the characters in Julius Caesar 3.1 would, on a stage, mutely enter from the same place in so neat a line (73).
"Shakespeare sometimes omits necessary entrances and exits," and editors would do well to mark where he has plausibly forgotten that a character must enter the scene, or that they should have exited
Editors must remember that playgoers benefit from visual and aural cues that readers do not. Part of their task in elaborating on actions or necessary costume pieces implied in the text is to provide that
information in a straightforward matter so that the reader does not have to read that information back into text they have already read. To this end, an editors task is to help an intelligent reader
read a play intelligently (76).
It may help the reader to indicate whom a speech is addressed to when the addressee clearly changes, or even when the addressee is the audience (76).
cf Honigmann, E.A.J. "Re-enter the Stage Direction: Shakespeare and Some Contemporaries." Shakespeare Survey 29 (Cambridge, 1976), 117-125.
"Plays may properly be edited in different ways to suit different readers" (78).
As a director, I very generally treat stage directions as basically ignorable statements about how a particular production was performed in a particular time and space. While a stage direction may suggest an action, it is not necessarily the action best suited to the production (most specifically actors and venue) that you are in charge of at the moment. ASC Co-founder and Director of Mission Ralph Alan Cohen has a drastically different take on the importance of stage directions, and quite honestly, I agree with him that they can be useful. I have tended to leave the stage directions open to my actors interpretation; when they ask me "should I do what the script says?" I tell them to do it if it makes sense, although under Cohen's tutealedge I have adopted a more conservative approach to stage directions.
Merry Devil certainly presents some problems. There are some very clear stage directions in the variou quartos that we simply cannot do because our Philly Venue is not so equipped, and we will likely not
have enough time to reblock all of those scenes for our Blackfriars performance. Still, I think in light of Wells' and Cohen's approaches to stage directions, it is best to include them and leave the director
the option of choosing the best action to fit his or her cast and venue.
Ultimately, while the edition of Merry Devil that I produce will be informed by the choices we have made in the production process, I do not expect that it will be limited by them. There are several edits to the text that circumstances have forced us to make that I would not make if circmstances were different, and I see no need to include those in the text.