Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Notes on "The Publication of Playbooks"

Pollard's melodramas of good and bad quartos is itself based on the assumption that playbooks were an extremely popular commodity that publishers were eager to obtain and sell by any means necessary. This basic assumption is itself untrue (384).

After the first period of rampant play publication (Dec 1593 - May 1595), it is likely that the players themselves provided the plays for print, not because they needed the meager amount selling their plays would net them due to plague closures, but as a way of advertising their repertory after playhouses re-opened (385 - 386).

The ten most popular plays, based on reprint rates within the twenty five years following their initial printing, all reached at least five editions within 19 years (387 - 388). It took Merry Devil twenty three years to reach a fifth printing, and forty-seven for its sixth. It was a popular play book, but not even close to being the most popular.

Less than one in five printed plays sold enough copies to return a publisher's investment within five years, and less than one in twenty would have done so within the first year. There simply wasn't enough of an economic incentive for a publisher to unscrupulously obtain play texts (389).

Since the term "print shop" blurs the distinction between printers (who almost always manufactured the book and nothing more) and the book shops where the books were actually sold, it is a term best avoided. Blayney advocates "print house" instead (389 - 390).

When investigating the text of the play, the concern is with the printer, but when investigating the details of why a particular text was printed and when, that is the domain of the publisher. There was no early modern word for a publisher primarily because most publishers were either primarily booksellers or printers, and because a publisher is also a book seller; there seems to likewise be little distinction between retail and wholesale sellers; they were all book sellers (391).

The only evidence extant from the period is of minor writers being paid forty shillings for their work by a publisher, and that evidence is so scant that we cannot say that it qualifies as the usual payment for a work by such an offer (395 - 396).

The right to copy in the Stationer's Company was a vastly different thing from the eighteenth century concept of copyright. Right to copy applied within the Stationer's Company, and was designed to help publishers recoup their investments from a publishing venture. Thus the right to copy did not merely extend to reprinting the same material, but to similar material as well: Millington and Busby needed to get Thomas Creede's permission before the former pair could publish Shakespeare's Henry V in 1600 because it closely resembled the latter man's Famous Victories of Henry V (printed in 1598) (399).

A play publisher is likely to employ a printer who has experience in the genre, and is therefore in possession of enough unusual type pieces (i.e. majuscule italic Es for entrances and exits) and the specific problems of composition (i.e. mixed verse and prose) that plays offer  (405).

Given the rather dismal profit margin associated with publishing plays (Blayney estimates 48.3 percent at wholesale), the most likely reason a publisher would gamble on a playbook was the prospect of a second (or later) edition, which would offer profit margins of 91.8 percent at wholesale (412).

Blackletter type faces were typically used in works written for the barely literate: primarily ballads, but jest books, child rearing  manuals, and some new pamphlets. Because Roman was the typeface use in Lily's Grammar, works printed in that face were typically those written for the more literate (414).

No plays were printed in blackletter after 1605, indicating the market for plays was primarily middle class, and that playbooks belonged to a different market than jest books and ballads (415).


Playbooks were not the guaranteed best-sellers that Pollard feels they should have been, and any theory of a printed playbook, general to the industry or specific to a play, needs to acknowledge that fact. More was involved in publishing a play than merely it's printing, and while early modern Londoners did not make such a fine distinction, making the distinction in modern discourse on the subject can help alleviate unnecessary confusion.


Blayney, Peter W. M. "The Publication of Playbooks." A New History of Early English Drama. John D. Cox and David S. Kastan Ed. New York: Columbia UP. 1997. p 383 - 422. Print.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Commemorating our Anniversary

Hi everyone, I just wanted to pause to thank you all for following my updates to this blog. Well, those of you who still are, anyway. One year ago today I launched this blog as an online research journal documenting the process of bringing a new edition of The Merry Devil of Edmonton to the Philly Fringe Festival, and I'm pleased to say we did it. I was hoping to have my thesis defended by now, and while that has been delayed due to my father's untimely death last October, that date draws nearer, and thus this project approaches one of its key milestones. 

In addition to the cast and crew of Merry Devil, I want to take a moment to thank Dr. Paul Menzer, my thesis advisor, William Addis, my second reader, and Dr. Roslyn Knutson for inspiring this project. 

So... anyone else out there in Internet land have suggestions for our next show?

Notes on "Inventing Shakespeare"

"Every time an editor emends a text he is, to an extent, reconstructing its author in his own image" (124).

The foundation of modern editorial practice is in creating emendations that are "transparent" and "anonymous" in that they manage to correct the sense or the meter of a line without adding anything to the dramatic context (127).

"The principle of anonymity is a false principle. In the first place, anonymity must always yield to plausibility; in the second, when probabilities are equal, anonymity must yield to individuality" (128).

Much as eighteenth century editors emended Shakespeare's plays to conform to their own eighteenth century aesthetics, modern editors tend to emend Shakespeare in a way that anyone could have written the words. What an editor should attempt to do is create an emendation in keeping with the words Shakespeare wrote (128). Of course, creating an emendation that seems "Shakespearean" requires creating that emendation given the author's sense of their audience's interpretation of what is Shakespearean; i.e. exactly what the eighteenth century editors did.

W.W. Greg, Alice Walker, and Charlton Hinman all advanced studies of printshop, specifically compositorial practice that advocate for a greater degree of emendation to texts than most modern editors, who tend to follow the tradition of McKerrow and Bowers, would be comfortable making (131).

"When the fact which confronts you is an absence, you can offer no mechanical explanation for that absence until you have conjecturally filled it, and that conjecture is a work of pure imagination" (132).

"In general the more words that have been omitted the less confidence we can have in replacing them" (134).

Analytical bibliography is most useful when providing the tools to decide between two reasonable alternatives in a text, but it is less useful at the point where readers and actors most need assistance: where there are literal gaps in the text (142).


Taylor agrees with Greg in finding that the practice of textual emendation is an "art" rather than a science (141). He argues that gaps in the text should be filled with our best approximation of what Shakespeare would have filled those gaps with, and as his title implies, this is based purely on our conception of who Shakespeare is. By filling in the gaps left in the printed texts, editors invent Shakespeare for their readers.


Taylor, Gary. "Inventing Shakespeare" Shakespeare: The Critical Context. Stephen Orgel and Sean Keilen Ed. New York: Garland Publishing. 1999. p. 124 - 142. Print. Dual pagination is given for all works in this volume, but since the table of contents follows the pagination running at the bottom center of each page, this is the pagination that I have followed in my 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Notes on Shakespeare's Modern Collaborators -- Ch. 1

"The modern editor's most basic task is the accurate reproduction of the copy text on which subsequent, more complex editorial operations are based" (13).

There is a distinction between modernizing spelling and modernizing Shakespeare's language: the latter of these "is a travesty," but the former is common practice among all major editions of Shakespeare's works, and represents "a serious scholarly task" (13).

While early modern spellings, and perhaps pronunciations, could enable a single word to carry more than one meaning, both written and spoken English have become more distinct, and in most cases the duality of meaning is lost. While some critics suggest preserving original spellings to preserve this duality of meaning, modern readers are generally incapable of noticing dual meanings. The best practice for an editor of a modern spelling edition is therefore to choose the spelling and sense that seems more dominant, and gloss alternate meanings in a footnote (15 - 16).

"It seems clear that, contrary to modern punctuation, which is chiefly grammatical and logical, early modern punctuation was strongly rhetorical" (18).

While early modern punctuation clearly has meaning to its audiences, that meaning can be difficult to decipher. An editor's task in punctuating the text, therefore, is to try to communicate, as clearly as possible, the apparent intention of the original (18).

Following Gary Taylor's logic (c.f. "Inventing Shakespeare") that every editor reconstructs a text's author in his or her own image, every editor participates in the process of "authorial reconstruction" (20).

"When textual corruption of some kind seems beyond dispute, the exact form of emendation should take can be far from clear" (21).

Erne cites Mercutio's "We waste our lights in vaine, lights lights by day" as being a circumstance where emendation is necessary (21). I note this primarily because I disagree with it. Emendation may be possible, but the line, as printed carries with it performative possibilities for the actor, and the line as printed may therefore be exceptionally informative, although if left un-emended, it is worth a gloss.

"Clearly, it is hard to draw the line between what is and what is not desirable emendation, between legitimately fixing the text when it is broken and meddling with it in ways which seem unnecessary or downright harmful" (22).

Taylor opts for a more expansive and creative approach to emendation than most modern editors would take when he uses George Wilkins' The Painfull Adventures of Pericles Prince of Tyre to help rewrite the text of Pericles in a number of places (23).

Peter Blayney examined copies of the Folio in the Folger and determined that, what Jeanne Addison Roberts argued was an 'f' in 1978 ("so rare a wondered father and a (wise|wife)") was actually a blot of ink on a long s, and so returned to the reading as "wise" (24 - 25). I kind of want to see his evidence; I wonder if he took any pictures while examining it under 200x magnification. See his Arden 3 Tempest for more info.

Setting short lines together into a metrically regular line is a practice that has precedent in Ben Jonson's treatment of his own collected works, and while this sometimes couples lines that metrically and syntactically go together, and editor must be careful to not force lines together by meter when they are divided by sense (28).

c.f. Patricia Parker's "Altering the Letter of Twelfth Night: 'Some Are Born Great' and the Missing Signature," Shakespeare Survey, 59 (2006), 49 - 62.

Act and scene divisions in modern editions are largely a matter of editorial fancy; none of the playbooks printed in Shakespeare's life time contain act and scene divisions (34 - 35). We have elsewhere seen that the act and scene divisions in the Folio text are not uniform.

Scenes seem to have been the basic measure of dramatic unity, but Henslowe's Diary records writing plays by acts as early as the 1590s (35). Although as I have said before, if to my cast if not here, I don't think it fair to even attempt a guess at where the original act divisions in Merry Devil may be since the text is cut.

The "dominant consideration" for modern editors in determining a speech prefix is clarity of meaning, and while normalizing speech prefixes can subvert layers of meaning that a variation reflects, normalizing and expanding them will tend to produce a more readable text (39 - 40).


I'll leave off with Erne's words: Editing is "a task which requires considerable discrimination and can have important critical repercussions. Editors modernize and punctuate, name characters, determine who is present on stage, print speeches in prose or verse, choose specific words at the expense of others, even decide when a character is no longer a king - and in the process determine what constitutes Shakespeare's works" (42).


Erne, Lukas. Shakespeare's Modern Collaborator's. London: Continuum. 2008. Print.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Notes on "(Dis)Embodied Letters"

c.f. Jerome McGann The Textual Condition.

Leah Marcus, in her article "Textual Indeterminacy and Ideological Difference: The Case of Dr. Faustus" (Renaissance Drama n.s. 20 (1989): 1-29), argues that both the A and B texts of Dr. Faustus can claim aesthetic integrity in their own right, and that neither comes any closer to "the absent authorial presence we call Marlowe" (284).

"post-structuralist theory has taught us [that] the idea of the original is not only misleading, but wholly illusory" (285).

Traditional textual critics typically attempt to link texts to an authorial agent as a way of authorizing their own interpretations of text, but while texts may be understood as the instruments of an authorial agent, they also bear traces of "nonagential" composition. Shakespearean texts are the product of collaborative intervention from agents of printshops, scriveners, and playhouses, and thus so-called "accidentals" form an essential part of a text (286).

"Texts -- like history -- exist in spite of us" (287).

The text of Antonio's letter to Bassanio is, in the folio text, clearly set off in italic text, and is otherwise unassigned: while Portia is given a speech prefix before and after the reading of the letter, no speech prefix is assigned to the letter itself (290). "[The letter] has no voice (that Portia or Bassanio voices the letter on stage is either purely conjectural or merely convenient)" (emphasis mine) (291). What a load of crap. It is conjectural in so far as a servant, or some other present person on stage may read the letter, but it is not "merely convenient," it is theatrically necessary. Stern has shown how letters were often separated from their surrounding texts, but if the letter was not meant to be read out loud, nothing at all would have been printed on it. There is an insignificant chance that anyone would have seen the text of the letter on the comparatively intimate Blackfriars stage, let alone at the Globe.

In his 1987 New Cambridge edition of Merchant, M. M. Mahood proposes that the distinction between Solanio, Salarino, and Salerio is one that can be resolved by a director in performance, which very likely was what would have happened in Shakespeare's company, but the three characters ought to be preserved in print because they were all present in the manuscript (295 - 296). This presumes that the manuscript can be reconstructed through print, and we should know better by now, but also "constitutes a performative version of the logocentrism described by Derrida: spoken language is imagined as prior to and more immediate than the written" (297). Ah.... I wasn't going to pull Derrida into this, but if someone else wants to, who am I to argue?

"It seems to me not much to matter how there came to be three characters with such names in the Hayes quarto, but simply that there came to be these three "letteral" configurations we have decided to call characters. The matter of the three Sallies is important here not because it stands as yet another site for our intervention in the attempt to solve a textual crux, but rather precisely because it marks the eruption -- inexplicable and yet undeniable -- of the accidental" (303).

"To clean up accidents in a text is to construct a narrativized world of total causality and accountability, a purely rational world in which everything is under control" (305 - 306). Such practice is untenable; it can only create texts within the historiographical framework of the editorial narrative. As Mahood demonstrates, there are no fewer than 16 "characters" (where each speech prefix and potential variant spelling represents its own unique character) in Merchant, and each are just as authorial as the other (306).


Marchitello, Howard. "(Dis)Embodied Letters and The Merchant of Venice: Writing, Editing, History." Shakespeare: The Critical Context. Stephen Orgel and Sean Keilen Ed. New York: Garland Publishing. 1999. p. 283 - 311. Print. Dual pagination is given for all works in this volume, but since the table of contents follows the pagination running at the bottom center of each page, this is the pagination that I have followed in my citations.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Notes on "What is an Editor?"

"Textual practice for the past twenty years has been increasingly faced with the necessity of abandoning the notion that was basic to the bibliography practiced by Greg and Bowers, that by comparing texts we can arrive at a single, authentic, original, a reconstruction of the author's final manuscript" (117).

Playtexts are built with a fluidity that enabled them to change as the conditions of performance change, and thus the printed text represents only a single stage of an ongoing process. Writers complaining that players have altered their scripts in performance helps demonstrate this point (117).

Uuncorrected sheets were bound into books with corrected ones, and there was nothing in print technology that required this: it is merely reflective of a Renaissance mindset that saw printed books as a fluid medium (117). I disagree with this, partially based on some of the other notes in this journal: hiring a proofreader was an added expense, and wouldn't always be done, and since time was money, when a proof reader was employed, even if only checking for typographical errors, it would mean idle press time to stop the press for the ten minutes Orgel says would have been necessary.

The fundamental assumption of most editors is that there is a "perfect" text that the editor should be true to in creating new editions of that text (118).

Producing a modernized text is not the best way to preserve the print archeology of the originals, but it is necessary to make Shakespeare accessible to the majority of modern readers, and thus the two key tasks of an editor are irreconcilable (119).

"Every facsimile is identical to every other one, and in this respect facsimiles falsify the essential nature of the Renaissance book" (121).


Orgel observes the material instability of the printed book, and the material instability of text itself ("proud" vs "provd" in Sonnet 129). He never says what an editor is, or proscribes a practice for editing, but instead illustrates that editors will often seek two contradictory goals in creating their editions. Editorial logic will, of necessity, be left to the individual judgment of the editor and the needs of the editor's audience.


Orgel, Stephen. "What is an Editor?" Shakespeare: The Critical Context. Stephen Orgel and Sean Keilen Ed. New York: Garland Publishing. 1999. p. 117 - 123. Print. Dual pagination is given for all works in this volume, but since the table of contents follows the pagination running at the bottom center of each page, this is the pagination that I have followed in my citations.

Notes on "Back by Popular Demand"

The absence of the choruses from the quarto makes that text fundamentally different from the folio, and where critics like to point to the ambiguity of national politics and militarism that Henry V implies, the textual justification for those implications are found only in the folio text. The only reference to a contemporary event in the canon, the comparison to Essex's expedition, and the reminder that all of Henry's gains will be lost by his successor are both absent from the quarto text (315).

Despite the assumption that the folio text of Henry V is set from the "acting edition" of the play, there is no evidence to support this, and while we will never know what was actually acted on the London stages, it is quite probable that the quarto text actually represents a closer approximation to performance than the folio (316).

Greg's theory of memorially reconstructed texts does not adequately account for the gaps between the quarto and folio text: whole scenes and sense-changing speeches are completely left out, and the theory of an actor with a bad memory creating a transcription cannot account for the absence of such crucial material (317).

Wells and Taylor argue that the quarto of Henry V represents a memorial construction of a previously performed text cut for touring, and argue that the reduction in the quarto removes thirteen speaking parts (321 - 322). King, of course, disagrees.

Taylor himself admits problems with his theory: cast reduction cannot have been the motivation for the removal of the first scene, which casts a cynical eye on the military affair as the English Court tries to invent reasons to invade France, or of the Jamy/MacMorris scene, or of the substitution of Clarence for Bedford, or of some of the cuts in the Harfleur scene (322).

"No single hypothesis is likely to be able to explain all the instances of textual divergence; and... it is better to admit this in advance than be forced to introduce exceptions that shake the primary hypothesis at its roots" (322 - 323).

English monarchs were always interested in controlling the narrative of history, and Elizabeth was no exception. The printing of Q Henry V, coming as it did on the heels of the Essex rebellion, The LC's Men's involvement in the presentation of Henry IV the night before, and in the face of a 1 June 1599 Bishop's Order prohibiting the printing of histories, was likely to be censored if the LC's men did not censor the text themselves; removing the choruses and other controversial scenes turns the play into an unproblematic celebration of a popular monarch, whom audiences would  have likely instinctively linked with Elizabeth (325 - 330).


Theatrical considerations may not be the only ones that lead to the abridgment of a text, whether for print, performance, or both. Patterson succinctly demonstrates how the quarto version of Henry V could represent an edition of the text made for political expediency, and creates an implicit warning about trying to understand the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries outside of the political and professional context of the late 16th/early 17th century professional London playhouses.


Patterson, Annabel. "Back by Popular Demand: The Two Versions of Henry V." Shakespeare: The Critical Context. Stephen Orgel and Sean Keilen Ed. New York: Garland Publishing. 1999. p. 313 - 346. Print. Dual pagination is given for all works in this volume, but since the table of contents follows the pagination running at the bottom center of each page, this is the pagination that I have followed in my citations.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Notes on "The Mechanics of Culture"

Speaking of Shakespeare's originals, Kastan writes "no manuscripts survive to compare with and correct the printed editions, and an appeal to their existence can be no more than hypothetical and in fact seems disturbingly circular." A manuscript is imagined based on perceived defects in a printed text (other than purely typographical ones), but while the manuscript does not materially exist (as best as we now know), neither do the defects (147).

No "foul papers" from any author of the period survive, and Paul Werstine argues that the existence of these foul papers is a product of the desire of editors to possess Shakespeare's plays in some unmediated form. The good quartos derive their goodness from their proximity to a collection of papers that does not exist (147).

"Plays always register multiple intentions, often conflicting intentions, as actors, annotators, revisers, collaborators, scribes, compositors, printers, and proofreaders, in addition to the playright, all have a hand in shaping the play-text: but editions of plays tend to idealize the activity of authorship" (147).

The aim of eclectic editing, which seeks to recover authorial intentions by a collation and analysis of a play that he never actually wrote, isolates Shakespeare from the immediate historical context of the professional playhouses of Tudor-Stuart London (148).

"To recognize that authorial intentions not only operate alongside of but in fact demand nonauthorial intentions for their realization is to restore the text to its full historicity" (149).

Even facsimiles represent idealized forms of the printed text; given the printshop practice of binding both corrected and uncorrected sheets into books, it is extremely unlikely that any two copies of a single book would have been identical, but the creation of a facsimile shrouds that variation. It also shrouds the materiality of the printed form itself, occluding the quality of the paper, the ink, and other physical characteristics of the printed book (150).

"If edited versions, then, usually idealize the activity of authorship, facsimile versions work to idealize the printed text" (150).

"In reality there is no other way to engage the play [than in edited form], for from its very first appearance as text it has been edited, mediated by agents other than the author, and intended for the convenience of its readers" (151).

"The text is always constructed, and its making and remaking are not evidence of its contamination but are the enabling conditions of its being. This is not to say that it makes no difference in what form the play appears, only that no specific form of the play represents (what can only be a fantasy of) the true original" (151).


Kastan's argument seems to run along the lines of you're damned if you do, and damned if you don't, so why worry about it? If the idea of recovering authorial intentions beyond the materiality of the printed texts we have is based more on wishful thinking than on fact, so is the idea of the purity of the material object. Far from encouraging an attitude of "can't win, don't try," Kastan seems to advocate the creation of text of the most utility to the intended audience, with the caution that we remember the ephemerality of the materials with which we work.


Kastan, David Scott. "The Mechanics of Culture: Editing Shakespeare Today." Shakespeare: The Critical Context. Stephen Orgel and Sean Keilen Ed. New York: Garland Publishing. 1999. . 144 - 151. Print. Dual pagination is given for all works in this volume, but since the table of contents follows the pagination running at the bottom center of each page, this is the pagination that I have followed in my citations.