Friday, October 29, 2010

How the Plays Are Engineered

I'm fortunate enough to be able to take a class in Dramaturgy with Alan Armstrong this semester, and I enjoyed his phrasing of this point: understanding the ways the plays were "engineered" is essential for making them meaningful for modern audiences. Terms like "original practices" can raise all sorts of hackles because there are so many different interpretations of what practices actually are original, but without understanding what the plays are designed to do, and how they are built to do it, you'll never be able to adapt the text for modern production. Of course, this also means one must have a thorough understanding of how modern plays are engineered, and what modern audiences expect.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Notes on A New Theatre Historicism

It is impossible to place early modern texts in their original contexts because too little information about both is available. Thus, it is impossible to achieve the goals of both New Historicism and early modern performance study (71).

"Almost no play texts survive from Shakespearean time in a form that represents with much precision  what was actually staged" (71).

Given that less than 2% of the licensed copies of plays, or "allowed books," are extant, modern editors who attempt to edit their plays with the goal of presenting the edition that was staged are reaching for an unattainable goal (71 - 72).

"We need to recognize the evidence that even the 'allowed books' were routinely cut in performance to fit the two hours traffic of the stage that the prologue to Romeo and Juliet advertises" (72).

The range of variation between authors and playing companies, and their relations with one another, are too great to allow for a single set of editorial principles to be applicable to all texts of the period (73).

Leah Marcus argues that the quarto text of Merry Wives is distinct in its design from the text available in the Folio, and that the quarto probably represents something more closely resembling the text that was used for performance (74).

The theatrically performed versions of plays of the period made their way to the print shop less regularly than did author's draft copies (74).

"Almost none of the surviving repertory of 167 King's Company plays in print or in manuscript do more than roughly approximate to the words the players spoke on stage, and they say almost nothing about their actions (75).

The Q1 Henry V likely represents a cut version of the play, not an incomplete one, as all the longer speeches have lines missing in the middle sections, so as not to affect cue lines (75). c.f. with Stern's work on this topic.

Allowed books will almost never be found in print because they were one of the company's most valuable assets, and they could not afford to send the book with the Master of the Revels' signature to the printer lest it be lost, damaged, or stolen (76).

"[the allowed book's] peculiar value was that it contained the maximum words that the company was licensed to perform anywhere in the country" (76).

Very often the performance would be a cut version of the allowed book, as cutting was an easy process. The book keeper would hold the book to give players their cues, and would use it to prepare properties. These books were heavily used backstage, and Henry Herbert had to re-license some older plays when the original allowed books had been worn out (76 - 77).

"Any written text produced from the long and fiddly process of preparation and rehearsal will be frozen into a quite unnatural form, and we read it as a fixity only because 400 years of respecting print and its fixity above the transience of the spoken word have habituated us to doing so" (77).

Herbert at least twice charged half of his usual fee for licensing plays when companies wanted to add new material to old plays, which indicates the readiness of playing companies to alter the written text of the play based on their experience performing it (77 - 78).

From the extant manuscript allowed book of The Two Noble Ladies, we can observe that someone (most likely the book-keeper) substituted the names of actors in the company for certain of the supernums in the text of the play, and substituted properties in the company's stock for those called for in the script (84 - 85).

cf Thomson, Leslie. "A Quarto 'Marked for Performance': Evidence of What?" Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England. Vol. 8. 1996. 176 - 210.


Gurr, Andrew.  "A New Theatre Historicism." From Script to Stage in Early Modern England. Peter Holland and Stephen Orgell Ed. Houndmills. Palgrave Macmillan. 2004. 71 - 88.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Notes on Rescripting Shakespeare - Conclusions

There is commonly a disparity between what directors will say in response to interviewers' questions and what they are able to manifest under the constraints of limited time and budget, and Dessen has therefore cited examples mostly from his own notes (236).

Despite what any theatre historian may say about original practices or conditions, there is actually very little that can be said about either with great certainty (237).

cf Wells, Stanley. "Shakespeare's Text on the Modern Stage." Shakespeare-Jahrbuch 1967. West. p. 189

"On a spectrum that ranges from the Second Quarto of Romeo and Juliet to West Side Story at what point does one move from interpretation to rewrighting?" (238)

"Staging Shakespeare's scripts on a reconstituted Globe stage certainly does not serve as The Answer to All Problems, with or without strictures from the Authority Police" (239).

cf Berry, Ralph. On Directing Shakespeare. London. 1989. esp p 79 - 80.


Dessen is spot on when he says that it is ultimately the ticket buying public who will determine how much rescripting is needed to make the works of the early modern stage accessible to modern audiences (240). It is important to remember that too much rescripting can also be a bad thing. How much custom music, Indian boys, and cutting can Midsummer take before it becomes both alien and inane from Shakespeare's text? If a one person Hamlet can work in 90 minutes, why should a 15 person Hamlet take more than thrice as long? Ultimately, if directors rescript too much, they run the risk of trying to fix something that isn't broken. There is a reason that, despite 400 years of linguistic and cultural static, these plays are still performed.


Dessen, Alan C. Rescripting Shakespeare: The Text, the Director, and Modern Productions. Cambridge. Cambridge UP. 2002.

Notes on Rescripting Shakespeare - Chapter 9

Dessen has a chapter devoted to "Compressing Henry VI" and to the Taming of the Shrew, but those sound a little bit too specific in their focus to be of much interest to me at the moment, so I'm skipping over them to Chapter 9: The Editor as Rescripter.

"In the process of rescripting directors often take on the role of editors... conversely, an editor wrestling with a problematic passage or stage direction may consciously or inadvertently take on the role of a director and make choices according to a sense of how X could be, should be, or would have been staged" (209). That's particularly useful, as a central part of the argument of my developing thesis is that the role of the editor and director should be combined.

Editors need to make decisions to help clarify plays for a first time reader, but in so doing they run the risk of limiting the options available when using the text for performance (209).

cf Honigmann, E A J. Myriad-minded Shakespeare. 2nd Ed. London. 1998. esp p 187.

cf Cambridge UP's Shakespeare in Production series, esp Christine Dymkowski's 2000 edition of The Tempest and Trevor Griffiths 1996 edition of Midsummer.

As Folio Facsimiles and other "original texts" become increasingly available to theatre professionals, the role of the editor can more closely resemble "unscripting," the process of adapting a play text to more closely resemble a text designed for readers of books than for producers of plays (209 - 210).

An individual theatrical choice will not undo three centuries of theatrical tradition (211).

Signs of emendations of stage directions should not provoke the question of which choice is correct, but what is the function of the signal of the stage direction, and whom is it intended for (217).

cf Wells, Stanley. "The Editor and the Theatre: Editorial Treatment of Stage Directions." Re-editing Shakespeare for the Modern Reader. Oxford. Oxford UP. 1984. p76, 68. This for Wells' justification to edit texts without resorting to editorial precedent.

cf Kidnie, Margaret Jane. "Text, Performance, and the Editors: Staging Shakespeare's Drama." Shakespeare Quarterly. Vol. 51. 2000. p 464. -- "the responsible editor of modernized editions will necessarily adopt an interventionalist approach to staging."

cf Thomson, Leslie. "Broken Brackets and 'Mended Texts: Stage Directions in the Oxford Shakespeare." Renaissance Drama. Vol. 19. 1988. 175-193.

"Once the editors assumptions about performance are encoded into the script, it becomes difficult to historicize this intervention for the reader as a matter of debate and contested interpretation" (468). (qtd. in Dessen 218).

Wells and Taylor, in their Oxford Complete Works, adopted a policy of not indicating where stage directions were editorial in nature where the action was indisputable, but the question has remained: indisputable to whom? Dessen cites the example of "they kiss" in Taming of the Shrew; by not indicating the editorial nature of the stage direction, they present an event that is not fixed in sequence by the author as being authorial (219). Yes. Agreed. This context helps clarify some questions for my presentation of the edition.

Where there is a disagreement between a clearly articulated stage direction in the Folio text and editorial tradition, as is the case with the entrance of Malvolio cross gartered, which occurs in the Folio two lines before most editors place his entrance, it is better to field test the options in a theatrical environment than it is to cut off possible directorial interpretation (221). Yes. Agreed. I want to produce an edition of Merry Devil that both enabled interpretation and provides potential solutions to problems. My edits have been conservative enough that I think I can pull it off.

Massed entrances at the tops of scenes in some of the plays have been attributed to the scribe Ralph Crane, and editors have commonly shifted these into individual entrances just before they first speak their lines. It is perhaps significant that Merry Wives is among the plays where this happens (Two Gentleman and Winters Tale being the others) (224). There are a couple of these in Merry Devil, and we had to pare back on one to allow Victoria and Rachel to change from Smug and Banks into Dorcas and Harry. Hmm....

Speaking about Titus Andronicus: "Given the range of options in the Quarto, the user of these modern editions should ask: is making such a choice - on the page, without the benefit of the trial-and-error of rehearsal - the function of the editor? Where does "editing" end and interpretation or rescripting begin? (233)

Again on Titus: "do students, critics, actors, an directors want from their editions (that are to serve as playscripts) a plausible but iffy decision that may in turn close down equally valid or theatrically interesting options of which the reader is no longer aware? For me, the most fruitful answers will arise not from editors working on the page but rather from "field-testing" the script that survives in the 1594 Quarto" (234).

Dessen continues to question the editorial practices of Wells, Honingmann, and Pafford: why is it the place of an editor, who might be a brilliant bibliographic scholar but ignorant about theatrical practice, modern or early modern, to determine what is theatrically obvious or effective? "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" (234).


Dessen really drives the point home here: editors will often make interpretive gestures in preparing their texts just as directors will in preparing their productions, but this is a role that is not necessarily best suited to the editor. Directors should be cautious about subverting literary possibilities with their own interpretations, but editors should be more so. A director risks failing to communicate something in a single production, but an editor who goes too far will limit the dramatic possibilities for many productions.

Notes on Re-patching the Play

I thought I would take a brake from Dessen for a little bit to examine Tiffany Stern's essay "Notes on Re-patching the Play," which sounds like it might be right up my alley for this project.

Stern notes that while primary documents of the period can be an important source of evidence, the push to find new primary sources has led to a push away from close examinations of secondary sources, such as joke books, travel journals, poems, pamphlets, and the like, which can be equally useful in determining Renaissance staging practices (151). Of course, Life and Death is one such secondary source, so Dr. Stern's got my attention.

Stern cites 50,350 being printed between the years of 1580 and 1660, and further notes that only about 700 of those are plays. Theatre historians have not yet comprehensively examined the other 49,450 books printed in the period for theatrical references that might illuminate theatrical practice of the period. This is especially true as many of these books were written be authors who were known playwrights, or who were regular play goers (153).

A pejorative term for a playwright, then more commonly and neutrally referred to as a "poet," was a "play-patcher." In this sense, someone who patches together disparate pieces of text from their commonplace book, as opposed to a poet who presumably would be more dedicated to the construction of a single work (154 - 155).

If plays were the product of a poet patching together pieces from their common place books, those text fragments would routinely find their way into the commonplace books of others. Lawyers and lovers alike were known to attend plays and write down pieces that appealed to them for later use (155).

"Beyond the commonplace-book aspect, a look at the printed layout of surviving texts raises the suggestion that some plays were transcribed, kept, learned, revised, and even written, not as wholes, but as a collection of separate units to be patched together in performance" (156). That sounds like a not wholly inaccurate description of Merry Devil.

Stern discusses songs being separate textual objects from the rest of the printed text in much the same way she argues in Making Shakespeare, but here she quotes William Percy telling the "Master of children of Powles" that he may cut the songs from the production if any of the plays "overreach in length" (158). That has implications. Clearly dramatists were aware that their plays would sometimes need to be shortened, and while we here have an explicit reference to cutting down on songs, I wonder if there is anything comparable to cutting scenes.

Stern notes that the 1600 "bad" quarto of Henry V, printed within a year if its performance, lacks the prologue, epilogue, and the choruses. It is an open question as to whether they were left out of the printing of hadn't been written yet (159).

Prologues and Epilogues were detachable from their play texts because they were sometimes written for specific occasions, and thus might not be attached to the playbook proper (160 - 161). I know Stern has said this before, but only now does it occur to me that perhaps the prologue to a probably cut play could be viewed in this light.

A play might be longer and rougher at its first performance than at subsequent ones, with the disapproval of the audience leading to certain cuts. Stern references Gurr's concept of the "maximal" and "minimal" text and offers that the first night performance was the "maximal" one (163). Is Merry Devil therefore a minimal text?

cf Gurr's "Maximal and Minimal Texts: Shakespeare v. the Globe." Shakespeare Survey. Vol 52. 1999. p 68 - 87.

Plays were given to actors in individual parts, and were revised, and perhaps written in this way too. Thus, between prologues, epilogues, songs, choruses, and even individual parts, the picture of a play as written in separable threads begins to emerge (168 - 169).

"Plays, then, should not always be regarded like epic poems in which each bit of text has the same worth" (170).

Stern, Tiffany. "Re-patching the Play." From Script to Stage in Early Modern England. Peter Holland and Stephen Orgell Ed. Houndmills. Macmillan. 2004. p 151 - 177

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Notes on Rescripting Shakespeare - Chapter 6

In this chapter Dessen treats on stage directions. As a director, I have tended to treat stage directions as almost wholly disposable. They are sometimes good and useful, but sometimes will inhibit the action or character choices available; very rarely have I worked with a play that was written specifically for the circumstances for which I was directing, and if our recent adventure touring to Philly was any indication, Shakespeare & Co would have to remain flexible in their staging. Performance at the royal court or on tour would mean having to adapt their performances, if not their texts, to the spaces they found. That said, Professor Cohen believes that something can be learned from the stage directions that we have received, and as such, I have tried to use them as much as possible in my work here.

Dessen begins by noting the history of editors considering the stage directions as non-authorial, and therefore more dispensable than the dialog portions of the text. Malone and Honingmann were both particularly eloquent in their dismissal of stage directions (136).

Modern productions will tend to treat stage directions as flexible, especially in the case of weaponry, which may be inconsistent with the weaponry of a new period or setting of the production (136). Often times, a desired effect or production concept will take precedence over received stage directions, as will more modern sensibilities of the spiritual or of psychological realism (137). Also, let's not forget that a frightening and impressive effect in one generation is ridiculous in the next. I seem to recall Garrick  having a pneumatic wig fashioned for his portrayal of Hamlet, to show appropriate fright at the appearance of the ghost. Today, that would likely garner a laugh.

Changing the period will make certain elements, such as Richard's entrance in "rotten armor" in 3.5 of Richard III irrelevant or anomalous (137).

A powerful rescripting of stag directions occurs in the Shakespeare Santa Cruz 1984 modern dress of 1 Henry IV, where, instead of throwing the bottle back to Falstaff during the battle, Hal takes it with him, depriving Falstaff of refreshment. He then stops to drink it, and is discovered by Hotspur, who trains a pistol on him. Hal coolly takes another drink and offers the rest to Hotspur, who accepts it and puts aside the pistol to engage the prince in single combat. A clearly scripted original stage direction, and originally intended symbol, was excised in favor of one that would create a chivalric bond between Hal and Hotspur for a modern audience (138 - 140). On the last page of this description, Dessen notes that he wouldn't want to lose the new image for the old one, and I agree: consider that stolen.

Rescripting stage directions linked to imagery that is signaled in the received texts but either contradictory to concepts envisions by modern directors or contrary to modern sensibilities is some of the most common (140).

For Katie Mitchell's 1994 production of 3 Henry VI at The Other Place, the intimate size of the stage did not allow for the son to bring in the body of his death father and the father to bring in the dead body of his son for 2.5, so the direction was rescripted so that each brought in, in place of a body, a rose wrapped in a handkerchief, which was then deposited upstage in keeping with a motif of accumulating roses on crosses (142 - 143). Dealing with rescriptings due to reduced size in performance space is, of course, particularly interesting to me. At the Globe, it would be perfectly plausible for characters to not be able to see each other at night because of the distance, but then be able to see each other when they were close. We didn't have that luxury at Studio 1831, so had to provide physical obstacles in addition to the darkness.

Certain images, such as Titus dressed like a cook, can provided valuable sign posts to audiences in the 1590s, and when directors cut those images in favor of modern senses of realism, they also remove key images and literary signposts to help their audiences understand larger themes (146). Dessen spends several pages here discussing directors who are too quick to dismiss the image of Titus dressed as a cook because they fear that it's too ridiculous or nonsensical for modern audiences, but in the American Shakespeare Center's production of Titus Andronicus last season, James Keegan in the title role entered as a cook, which was regularly received a laugh, but this also made the violence of the scene all the more horrifying. Like I'm sure I've said before, laughter helps the audience let their guard down, and if Titus looks a little ridiculous to the audience, let us recall that he also looks a little ridiculous to Saturninus ("Why art thou thus Attir'd, Andronicus?").

Directors who remove visions and instances of supernatural effects, or attempt to incorporate the characters into the world of the supernatural, run the risk of detracting from the power of these scenes: in Katherine's vision in Henry VIII and in the appearance of Poshthumous' ancestors and Jupiter in Cymbeline, the supernatural elements exist outside of the realm of the characters, and either removing them or linking them to the "real" world reduces them to a more natural function and removes the romance of these scenes (147 - 149).

While it has become common practice to cut all or part of the "quaint device" through which Ariel is able to remove the food from the banquet table in The Tempest, doing so robs both the characters and the audience of the surprise of seeing something substantial vanish into thin air. This deprives the audience of access to a key symbol of impermanence on Prospero's island (152).

As described in the original stage directions, the appearance of the apparitions when Macbeth returns to the Witches ca prefigure moments of the play, and failing to include them in favor of effects that have a more cinematic flavor will often lack the intended payoff and deny the audience the opportunity of witnessing Macbeth unable to confront (or comprehend) the reality that is standing right before him (158).


There are precious few stage directions left to us from the early modern period, and Dessen's desire "to get as much mileage out of them as possible" is something that actors and directors alike should consider (165). Ultimately, this attempt to follow the spirit, if not the letter, of stage directions enabled some of the funnier moments in our production of Merry Devil. For example, Kim played both the Host of the George and the Chamberlain at the Inn across the way. The stage direction for the final scene indicates the Host enters "trussing his points as if new up." This is something that we would not have been able to achieve, even using period costumes, without resorting to costly original practices costumes. Points are what the early moderns used in place of a belt, literally to tie their pants to their jacket. Instead, when the Host enters in the final scene, Kim entered in the process of changing her costume from the Chamberlain to the Host so the audience could see the effect of the character entering in a the process of dressing themselves.

As I said previously, I used to feel free to ignore the stage directions, and for many of the reasons that Malone and Honingmann cite. Professor Cohen has made a believer out of me though, and I agree with Dessen's final sentiment. If we can't honor the letter of the stage direction, we should try, as best as possible, to honor its spirit.

Notes on The Shakespearean Playing Companies - Chapter 3

Wanting a second opinion on the way touring companies worked in the 16th and 17th centuries, I decided to turn to Andrew Gurr's The Shakespearean Playing Companies for his analysis of evidence. Basically everything Gurr says in this chapter contradicts Stern, but as Gurr's arguments do not conform to the existing evidence of the extant Merry Devil text, I'm not sure how much weight I should give him.

Throughout the 16th century touring companies were an almost regular feature of life outside of London, and while most of these companies have left little record of their existence, the records themselves are incomplete, and so there are very likely more than we are aware of today. The city of Leicester was visited by more than 50 different companies in the period, and touring was standard practice for all companies during the Tudor period. It wasn't until just before Elizabeth's death in 1603 that London playing began to dictate the standards of theatrical practice (36).

Puritan disapproval of playing was likely stronger and quicker to manifest outside of London, where the court had less direct control over government. Few mayors would have lamented the closure of the public playhouses in 1642 (38).

From 1559 on, plays had to be either licensed by the mayor, or had to be seen before a council of the mayor an alderman of the city before the players would be licensed to perform (39).

The London companies all began as touring companies, and the tradition continued even when the King's Men received their supreme privilege under James. Some share holder-players seem to have preferred a life on the road to a more stable one in London (40). Gurr seems surprised by this, but it doesn't seem odd to me at all. Now, as then, there are some people who prefer the bustle of life on the road, and there are some people who prefer the stability of life in the same town. Some people like waking up in a different place every morning, and some prefer waking up in their own beds.

It is traditionally presumed that London players would look to touring as a source of revenue when the London playhouses were closed due to plague deaths, but local authorities were often suspicious that player might bring the plague with them, and were thus hesitant to let them play (40). The King's Men, in particular, didn't need to tour during plague closures because James (and later Charles) both paid them a subsidy during plague closures; despite not needing to travel, they continued to do so regularly (44). It is also noteworthy that there is little correlation between plague closures in London and increased touring activity in the extant records; rather, all available evidence indicates that touring remained constant through times when public playing was allowed in London and times when the playhouses were closed (53).

Most assume that travel was a strenuous activity and forced playing companies to economize their resources, cutting back on the number of players in their troup, and cutting their playbooks for touring: Gurr believes this is not the case (40). This, despite evidence he cites from Donald Lupton's 1632 London and the Countrey Carbonadoed, wherein Luptun cites a lack of funding, costumes, audience, and new play books as a reason why companies go on tour (40 - 41). Gurr feels the situation "cannot have been so simple" (41).

Gurr offers that, while a permanently mobile company might go to the trouble of trimming down on its playbooks and other resources, he does not think that a London based company would have done so (41 - 42). In particular, Gurr rejects the idea that the "bad quartos" are derived from touring scripts (42).

cf Werstine, Paul. "Narratives about Printed Shakespearen Texts: 'Foul Papers' and 'Bad' Quartos." Shakespeare Quarterly. Vol 41. 1990. 65 - 86.

cf Irace, Kathleen M. "Reconstruction and Adaptation in Q Henry V." Shakespeare Bulletin. Vol 44. 1991. 228 - 253.

cf Bradley, David. From Text to Performance in Elizabethan Theatre. p 58 - 74.

cf King, TJ. Casting Shakespeare's Plays: London Actors and their Roles, 1590 - 1642. Cambridge. 1992. p 73.

cf Murray, JT. English Dramatic Companies, 1558 - 1642. Vol 2. London. 1910. p 330.

Bradley argues that the "bad quarto" text show no signs of cutting with the focus of reducing the size of the cast in mind (42). I don't have a problem conceding this one. There were fewer sharers in the Chamberlain's/King's Men than would have been able to perform the cut Merry Devil.

Bradley also argues that the company would have had to re-license the playbook after cutting it in order to perform it on tour, as the Master of Revels signed each playbook  (42). Yet Gurr ignores some of his own evidence in supporting Bradley's claim: he cites Tilney's patent (qtd in Murray) referring to Tilney's signature at the end of the playbook (42). It is completely conceivable that they may have simply got the entire play authorized, and re-cut it (for whatever reason, it wouldn't matter because, as long as they were adding no new material, it had all been approved) keeping the last page (with the signature) intact. That could very well explain the reference on the last page to the scene that never happens in Merry Devil.

Gurr also notes that there was often little regulation on how far into the night  a play may be performed outside of London, and that local authorities did not restrict the time available for plays, and thus there was no reason to cut plays for length (43). I find Gurr's claim dubious because in some cases, as with Merry Devil, the script clearly was cut, with length being a key factor. It makes sense that a company would cut scenes for travel that required the use of an above, or some other technology they couldn't bring with them (like a canon), but they also may have found cutting for length to be more profitable. Whatever the reason, Merry Devil was clearly cut.

Part of the compensation that touring would bring would come in the form of reduced expense at buying new plays (48). Although, as Henslowe's Diary records, the amount spent on a purchasing a new playbook was relatively small, and thus they weren't saving much.

By 1604 Augustine Philips had a house on Mortlake, which was not far fom Richmond Palace, and Chamber accounts in December 1604 record a payment covering the cost of the King's Men's travel from Mortlake to Wilton. Gurr surmises that, during the plague closure, the players might have used this house as an impromptu performance space outside of London (54).


Gurr provides some interesting evidence, and I fully appreciate his willingness to contest conventional wisdom; conventional wisdom is the kind most oft proved wrong. Still, by my reckoning, his argument is that the "bad" quartos were not cut, or rather that there is no evidence that they were, and that is at odds with the 1100 line Merry Devil. If it wasn't cut, why is it so short. If it wasn't cut for touring, why was it cut? There are gaps in the evidence, and we simply don't have the whole picture.


Gurr, Andrew. The Shakespearean Playing Companies. Oxford. Clarendon Press. 1996,

Friday, October 1, 2010

Notes on Rescripting Shakespeare - Chapter 5

Directors and actors tend to be dissatisfied with the endings transmitted in the received texts of these plays, and so the final act of Shakespeare's plays is especially likely to undergo some forms of revision, usually without notice or comment from audience members (109). Since the final scene of Merry Devil was where I would ultimately do the most rescripting (in order to fill in the textual hole and account for having one fewer actor than the scene calls for), this chapter is going to interest me a great deal.

Dessen notes instances of directors creating business before and after the curtain call to conclude with a final dramatic image, such as Harry speaking over the dead body of Hotspur in 1 Henry IV, or Viola looking very female in a wedding dress in Twelfth Night (110).

Directors will often rescript concluding scenes in order to heighten a particular sense or feeling. Directors of comedies may wish to heighten the positive resolution achieved by the characters (111).

Directors will similarly rescript the endings of tragedies and histories; a prominent example is that the comic business of Quickly, Doll, and the Beadle in 2 Henry IV is often cut to highlight Harry's coronation and the rejection of Falstaff, but some directors instead cut the line calling attention to the fact that Doll is faking her pregnancy in order to create the sense of a looming brutal and oppressive regime (114).

The removal of stage props originally specified for concluding scenes, such as Romeo's mattock and Paris' flowers in Romeo and Juliet will lead to the presentation of characters in a way that the props undercut: as specified by their properties, the audience will see Paris as the true and gentle lover, and Romeo guided by the force of his destructive impulses (117).

Some directors will choose to emphasize the presence of deceased characters, with cases of Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar being some of the more notable (118). Dessen provides some examples of this achieved through doubling, but I don't think it's fair to count these. Doubling was part of the technology available to early modern playing companies, and making doubling choices to convey additional subtext is something well within the realm of what they would have achieved, and does not require any textual emendation. Thus, it is not "rescripting" in the sense where Dessen elsewhere uses the word.

When changing the time period in which a play takes place, it is unsurprising to find the final moments of histories and tragedies altered so that these figured fall victim to the fire of rifles, but if they chose to die, are surprised by their deaths, is a significant part of any interpretation. A director needs to consider the question of where Shakespeare's text ends and their interpretation begins (123).

American directors have a tendency to make 5th act adjustments based on the economy of their productions, and speeches recounting events already seen are some of the first to be cut (125). This is an interesting point because there are so many speeches that recount events that the audience has seen, and where Abrams argues strenuously for missing scenes based on events shown in Life and Death, I come back to the evidence offered in Merry Devil that these scenes are described and therefore do no need to be seen. It would seem as if my evidence is as shaky as his. Or, alternatively, did the same cutting logic for the modern American director apply to the Chamberlain's/King's Man responsible for making the cut script?

Of particular note is Sir Peter Hall's 1988 RNT Cottlesloe production of Cymbeline, where the narration of events that the audience already knows is specifically directed at the other actors on stage; the interesting show for the audience then comes in watching their reactions to the reception of, what is for the character, new news (127).

Fifth act changes, such as a Paulina who will not accept a marriage with Camillo, can be born out of modern senses of psychological realism, but are contra-indicated by the facts present in the received text. To change the text in such cases, even by omission of lines indicating this marriage, is to alter the logic of the text in crucial ways that highlight gaps between Shakespeare's reasoning and our own (130).

c.f. for doubling Meagher, John C. "Economy and Recognition: Thirteen Shakespearean Puzzles." Shakespeare Quarterly. Vol. 34. 1984. p 18 - 19.


If you want to change the way the play ends, change the final act. Everyone knows that. As a sound designer, I am especially sensitive to the track the audience hears over the curtain call because it can have such a profound impact on the way they view the play as a whole, which is why it is often times the very first thing I choose in my sound design. For the ending of Merry Devil, I had two problems that necessitated changes to the text: First, I didn't have enough actors, and Victoria was doubling both Bilbo and Smug in this last moment. Smug, however, leaves fairly early in the scene and then re-appears later, and Bilbo doesn't have any lines until later in the scene.

The resolution was obvious: Victoria enters as Smug and plays that role up through Smug's initial exit, changes to Bilbo, and then re-enters as Bilbo, paging the curtain/holding the door for Fabell, and thus still playing the role of the general purpose servant. Smug's appearance at plays end was excised. This was essential because Victoria also doubled as Dorcas Clare, who is forgotten at the nunnery halfway through the play: Sir Arthur sends Bilbo to ride to the nunnery to retrieve his wife, and Bilbo agrees to do so, but complains that he will miss "a good breakfast." Thus we see the character complaining at leaving to bring back another character when the actor is already present.

This actually helped solve my second problem: that is that there are references to Smug's adventures the previous night during the (cut) sign stealing episode. Removing Smug from the end of the scene made it easier to remove the lines that treat on his appearance as the second George, and thus the textual hole was patched.

I could have stopped there, but since the final lines of the received text are addressed to Smug, and comment on "concluding your night of merriment," I felt this needed to be cut for narrative sense, and Sir John's trope of "...and there's an end" bringing the play to a conclusion was too good to resist. Three clowns are thus left on stage: Sir John, the Host, and Bilbo, while the rest of the cast has exited to breakfast, and then all re-emerge to reprise the chorus from "Everything's Magic" as the curtain number.

In some cases, I was simply making choices of directorial interpretation, but a considerable amount of re-scripting was involved, and perhaps the most difficult decision that I now face is whether or not to include this as the conclusion in the edition I am preparing (of course, I would also include the received ending as an appendix), or to include my rescripting of the last scene as an appendix. Ultimately, that decision will be grounded in my answer to the question of "what is this text?"

Still, this chapter has been particularly useful in citing the ways that others have rescripted the works of Shakespeare to serve their purposes, in some cases subtly, and in other cases not. As I review Dessen's inevitable end of chapter questions, which boil down to "what is gained? what is lost?" I feel more confident that, in performance at least, I have made the correct decision. We gained resolution, we lost textual ambiguity, and by most standards we rescripted very conservatively.

Notes on Rescripting Shakespeare - Chapter 4

Intermissions as modern audiences conceive of them were unknown in Shakespeare's time. Plays were either performed continuously in the public theatres, or in the private theatres were broken up by brief musical interludes. This fashion of breaking up the play with musical interludes was adopted by the public theatres in about 1610, but no audience of the time would have recognized the modern convention of the single 15 (or dual 10) minute break (94 - 95).

Imposing the modern convention on the early modern text will disrupt the flow of energy. Even when an interval comes after a climactic moment and the action resumes in a powerful way (as is the case when the interval is placed between 3.3 and 4.1 of Julius Caesar (Cinna the Poet and Proscription), the link in the dramatic action between the violent death of the plebeian and the machinations of the triumvirs is diminished (95).

Some modern productions will play through without an interval, and Dessen provides a list of examples, and locations where the convention is accepted here (95 - 96).

The interval can be used as a moment to either introduce some new action into the world of the play or to remove large and/or complicated set pieces. Dessen cites Orlando "regularly" seen by audiences posting love notes during the intermission, along with other more specific examples (98).

"As with so many other theatrical choices in interpreting Shakespeare, to raise such a question (where should the interval/intermission come in The Tempest?) is to call attention to the many options in how we respond to, value, or trust the signals or strategies in the original scripts" (99).

It is important to recall that Shakespeare wrote plays for audiences and conventions that died long ago, and an intermission is an expected piece of modern theatrical conventions that is not easily dispensed with. Truly great directors will find a way to insert this break in the action in a way that works to their advantage to highlight a specific moment, or to create stage business that tells another part of the story, and to start again strong (108)

My standard rule of thumb is that an audience will remain seated for about 90 minutes, and thus a play that is about 90 minutes or shorter doesn't need an intermission. Merry Devil was only 88 minutes on a bad day, so there was no question of inserting one, although we did have plenty of opportunities, and I am told that Erin Baird, an alumna of my program, wrote an excellent thesis on certain indicators of musical interludes which I ought to look into. The action of Merry Devil is broken because the text is broken, and thus the play would easily accommodate an intermission if it were anywhere long enough to hold one.

Notes on "The Kindest Cut"

Stage Directions magazine published their Guide to Shakespeare in 2000, and while a quick skim of the book revealed it to be full of things that I likely already knew or considered, two chapters grabbed my attention, and thus I will offer my notes on the first of these here. "The Kindest Cut: Practical Advice on When and How to Trim Shakespeare Down to Size," by Washington Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director James A Van Leishout is geared more for the director than for the editor, but as my recent (and ongoing) reading of Dessen's book (and my won experience) reminds me, those two functions are often linked. While I was never going to have to cut Merry Devil, I did need to emend it at points, and those two techniques are often related. So lets see what Leishout has to say...

"For better or for worse, most modern productions of Shakespeare are not presented whole" (38). The truth of that may be obvious, but it's always nice to hear someone say it.

Shakespeare's plays were probably cut cut and re-written in his own lifetime, and the lack of copyright protections on the text free the director to cut, edit, and adapt as they see fit, but it is still essential to understand what the received text communicates and how it does so (38).

"The first responsibility of a director is to honor the playwright's intentions" (39). I respectfully disagree with that statement, especially in the case of Shakespeare, whose intentions are unknown. All we can do is surmise what his intentions were, and if his intentions with Othello really are in propagating a racist agenda, or his intentions in Taming of the Shrew are in propagating a misogynist one, than we ought not honor those intentions.

Van Leishout presents five guidelines to cutting a text, and while the first of these, "Have a clear understanding of why a line, scene, or character exists before cutting," makes good sense, he builds upon some contradictory evidence. He recommends David Ball's excellent Backwards and Forwards  as an introduction to reading texts, but then discusses how the Reynaldo scene can be easily cut from Hamlet; it's been some time since I read Backwards and Forwards, but I remember Ball making a very clear and excellent point over several pages that the Reynaldo scene is essential to a proper understanding of Palonius' character (39 - 40). I fully realize it will often be absent from modern productions, but Van Leishout seems to be contradicting himself here.

The next piece of advice Van Leishout offers is to "be aware of emendations" (40). The emendations he is speaking of are of the variety that come from Shakespeare's editors over the past few centuries, and he recommends checking against the Folio text to get a clearer picture (40). On the whole, it's not bad advice.

Examine cuts that other directors have made, but beware of being caught up in another director's concept (40 - 41). I'm not sure how useful this advice is to anyone. While studying the work of others in your field is always important, there could be any number of reasons why a director cut a particular scene from their production, and it is also important to examine how those cuts were received. If a local reviewer talks about how the play doesn't make sense and feels like it's missing scenes, they may have cut unwisely. In the end, this technique would, to be useful, require more effort than it is probably worth.

I agree with the next point that directors should know the logic behind the order of the scenes in the received text; knowing the function of the court scenes in opposition to the forest scenes in As You Like It is essential before changing their order (41). Even if the director does persist in changing the order, they should at least be aware of what they're losing for what they're gaining: this is a point that Dessen makes regularly as well.

"Don't cut famous lines" (41). Always good advice, but I didn't have to worry about that in Merry Devil.

Van Leishout urges the director to check their cuts after they have finished to make sure that what they have created still makes sense, is what they want, and is still recognizably Shakespeare's: he further offers that if the result is radically different, you may wish to consider noting that your creation is based on Shakespeare's work (41).

I like this last point that Shakespeare wrote to please audiences, especially the note that a short play is not a guarantee of success, and that a slightly longer well done production will be better than a shorter and less well done production every time (41).

All of this seems fairly straightforward, aimed at someone with a little bit less of a background in both text and performance in mind, and with Shakespeare's plays too specifically targeted for me to apply this much to the broader context of Merry Devil.

Van Leishout, James A. "The Kindest Cut: Practical Advice on When and How to Trim Shakespeare Down to Size." The Stage Directions Guide to Shakespeare. Stephen Peithman and Neil Offen Ed. Postmouth. Heinemann. 2000.

Notes on Abrams' Introduction to The Merry Devil of Edmonton

Anyone doing any sort of serious study of Merry Devil would be remiss if they failed to consider William Amos Abrams' 1942 edition of the work. In producing it, he has completed a massive effort of textual scholarship that goes far beyond anything I would be able to do as a graduate student, and quite honestly has enabled my project. That said, I do not find his edition faultless, and no doubt because I have approached this text as more of a director than bibliographer, where Dr. Abrams was most decidedly a bibliographer. I'll spare the textual details for the moment, but I want to take some time to talk about his introductory material.

One of my chief problems with Bennett's edition (other than the ones it reproduces from Abrams' edition) is the lack of prefatory material. No one would ever think of laying that charge against Abrams whose 100+ page introduction comprises more printed pages than does the text of the play. He has neatly subdivided this introduction into "The History of the Play," "Sources," "Date of Composition," "The Text," and "Authorship," very neatly treating on each of the stumbling points for any editor approaching this text. In so far as Abrams' edition provides anyone with a road map to follow in preparing their own edition, he has created the "definitive" edition that Greg denies him, but as anyone who has followed a map knows, they are rarely always completely accurate, and even more rarely accurate for very long. Apart from the general unavailability of Abrams' edition (combined with the lack of prefatory material in Bennetts, creating the conditions necessitating a new edition), he stretches his data too far in some circumstances, and is often aware that he is doing so.

Here are issues I have with his introductory material:

When noting the relation of Merry Devil to Life and Death, Abrams notes that, "since this pamphlet appeared at least five years after the play, it cannot be considered a source" (15). This ignores the possibility that the pamphlet circulated as a manuscript publication, as did The Famous History of Friar Bacon, which Abrams admits as one of the sources for Merry Devil (13). History of Friar Bacon was, however, not printed until 1627, at least 25 years after Merry Devil as written (Bennett xii). As Greg notes, Abrams has a tendency to over-rely on Life and Death, and its place as the crux of Abrams' argument that Merry Devil is the ancestor to Life and Death may be blinding him to this fact.

Abrams is certain that an episode from Life and Death that describes Smug thinking he can fright the keepers with his visage because he thinks he has frighted spirits in the walk, actually nuns, must have been in the original play (18). His argument, however, is dependent upon a linear view of the way time works in early modern plays, and John C. Meagher has devoted an entire chapter of Shakespeare's Shakespeare describing in detail that this is not the case. Should we assume that the anonymous author of Merry Devil, who clearly knew the work of the Chamberlain's/King's Men and who makes some obvious references to Shakespeare's plays (c.f. the "My Daughter!"/"My Dear!" construction of Merry Devil to the "My Daughter! My Ducats!" construction of Merchant of Venice) would have felt the need to bind himself to a temporal linearity that would have been, to his literary/dramaturgical sensibilities, distinctly artificial?

Regarding the missing scene, Abrams states (on page 21) that if the audience had not seen it, later references to Smug falling out of the tree would not have had an impact on the audience. From Bad Quarto's production, I observed the contrary. Our production did not include this scene, and the line still got a laugh. Here Abrams is thinking as a bibliographic and literary scholar rather than as a theatrical one, and has clearly underestimated the ability of actors to make the line funny. Also, there are other references to Smug's climbing and falling, so this trope is well known to the audience by description and not observation.

Another point of contention for me is Abrams' comment that certain textual errors "point to hasty and careless workmanship" (37). Remember that we are looking at a cut text, so in the best of circumstances there are bound to be certain gaps, but what Abrams sees as evidence of careless workmanship, I have read as evidence of multiple authorship, a position that Abrams flatly rejects (64). It is also worth noting that Abrams is working under the rather old fashioned belief that Merry Devil was published by a literary pirate (the same pirates who produced the "bad quartos" of Shakespeare), and thus obtained their copy surreptitiously. In this regard, Abrams is very much a scholar of his time, and should be forgiven for this assumption, but the logic of surreptitious copy and singular authorship leads to the belief that the play was written hastily; indeed, it should be recalled that, due to the turn around in the public theatres, nearly all plays were, and Abrams never dwells much on the conjecture, reached by Greg, that Merry Devil might have been set from a rough copy. Williams' assertion that no printer would have accepted rough copy and Massai's description of the perfecting process notwithstanding, certain of the errors in Merry Devil do point to this possibility.

Abrams spends roughly 40 pages arguing the case for Dekker's authorship of the play, and while he presents his arguments well, this is more weight than needs to be given to the matter. Even if the play is not the product of multiple authors, if we continue to follow Abrams' logic that the play is a surreptitious copy smuggled to the printer, and an abbreviated one at that, we must concede that someone else had a hand in preparing the play that we now have. The reality is that most of the same evidence brought to witness the heavy cutting of the play can be used in service of multiple authors composing the piece. Abrams' attempt to trace the play to Dekker is an attempt to give the play a unity that it lacks, and presents a further attempt to see through the veil of the corrupt printed book to an original that does not exist.

On the whole, that is my main problem with Abrams' introduction. I can't say this enough, his bibliographic scholarship is excellent and thorough, but the conclusions that he attempts to draw from this scholarship to create a literary unity are inconsistent with both the quality and the quantity of evidence available, and the conclusions he draws about the effects of the text in performance are contra-indicated by those we observed in our production.


Abrams, William Amos. "Introduction." The Merry Devil of Edmonton, 1608. William Amos Abrams Ed. Durham. Duke UP. 1942. p 3 - 103.