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.

No comments:

Post a Comment