Blackfriars Conference 2013 — Keynote with Ann Thompson

Good morning!  Whitney Egbert here again to live blog our third keynote speech of the week with Ann Thompson from King’s College London.  The title of her presentation is ‘Now this is the place where you can bring in Cleopatra’s horse’: Editing Shakespeare for the Stage.

Dr. Ralph Cohen introduces Ann Thompson as an English Professor at King’s College London, head of the London Center of Shakespeare, and the general editor for the Arden series of Shakepeare’s plays, amongst many other amazing accomplishments.  May I be her when I grow up?

Thompson begins by reminding us all that today is Crispin’s day – a great reminder and a wonderfully timed moment.

Thompson is going to be talking today about her experience as the general editor for the Arden series – a role where she oversees the editors of specific plays.

Thompson’s first example is from the Royal Shakespeare Company’s All’s Well That End’s Well from last month where the first stage direction was the entrance of several characters in black – but how long do they stay in black?  This provides an opportunity for the editor to not intervene by change the stage direction but by noting the options.  Thompson’s second example is at the end of Othello where Emilia asks to be laid by her mistress, a stage direction often ignored in production so that the end picture is two on the bed rather than three.

But where, Thompson asks, do the stage directions come from?  Many editors insist they can make changes to those that are already there because they were added by other previous editors.  Thompson asserts, however, that rather than continuing to make arbitrary choices, editors should be providing performers and readers with the options, instead of making the choice for them.

Editors, Thompson says, do need to be decisive about entrances and exits, especially about when it comes to those who are present silently.  She gives us several examples including Ophelia in Hamlet and a moment in Troilus and Cressida.

Thompson goes on to give much credit to George Walton Williams IV (our honored guest), who has participated in editing eight of Arden’s series and is continuing to contribute to three more in the works.  What does this man not do??!!  Thompson goes on to site articles written by Williams about entrances and exits where he encourages editors to not feel like they are infringing on the director, as long as the notes are given below that describe the choice.

Thompson describes her work Romeo and Juliet, which comes out soon from the Arden series, and for which she served as a contributing editor and expresses the thought that someone, Thompson suggests Arden, should keep the notes that are exchanged between a group of editors as they may prove interesting for future researchers.  Thompson then remarks again how a General Editor walks a fine line between editor for the series and moving into the dangerous world of being seen as a teacher who gives too many notes.

The antidotes about Williams which Thompson is using to give examples of moments of interest as a General Editor are rather entertaining – there is a note somewhere in reference to a Benvolio line about education.  Thompson brings it back to staging, specifically about how many people might be needed in certain scenes, whether or not Romeo and Juliet dance during the party – “SAINTS DO NOT MOVE” she quotes from his notes, and some furniture moments in other scenes.

Thompson keeps coming back to the idea of an editor’s conflict in not directing too much via their edits – their goal is to create a text as true to the original as possible but they have a version of the show running through their mind as they edit so they often fear the influence of that version on their product.

Now to Cleopatra’s horse – no, there is no entrance of a horse in the early stage.  But Thompson’s title relates to a note an editor wanted to insert in the early part of the Queen Mab scene where Romeo is struggling under the weight of love, a connection being made to a moment in Antony and Cleopatra where love is given weight, as heavy as Cleopatra’s horse or something like that.  Thompson takes a moment to discuss how many moments, especially about sex, might, for many editors, feel as inappropriate as bringing a horse on to the stage in the moment in Antony and Cleopatra.  Using certain words or certain sexual happenings in play can create a land mine for editors, readers, and teachers.  Apparently Williams suggested to the editor that the horse note, and it’s relation to women on top, might be better suited for the moment when Queen Mab lays women on thier back teaches them how to bear.

Thompson ends her presentation by talking about collaborative editing, the friendships created over the 5-10 years it might take to create new edition for the Arden series.  And yes, Thompson confirms, that they are already talking about the Arden 4th series.