Sunday, October 3, 2010

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment