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.

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