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.

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