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.

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