Blackfriars Conference 2015 — Wake-Up Workshop: Textual Variants

This morning’s Wake-up Workshop covered the topic, Textual Variants, and attendees included professional actors, teachers and professors..  Kayla Blue is an as an Education Artist with the ASC .  She began the workshop by explaining how Early Modern texts are “alive and constantly changing.”  Printers, editors and even booksellers and academics manipulate the plays into a version they prefer rather than attempt to present an authoritative copy for posterity.

Blue moved on to her first subtopic, From Shakespeare to the Printer: How did these texts come into print they way they have?  She then asked for six volunteers from her audience to join her on the Blackfriars stage to engage in an activity which would help illustrate the answer to that question.  She assigned the first volunteer to personify Shakespeare’s “Foul Papers.”  All of the foul papers, which may include plays in their original forms, she explained, were lost, as opposed to surviving extant “Fair Papers.” Blue assigned the second volunteer to personify Fair Papers, which may include cue scripts and recopied plays.  In the recopying process, ” ‘Sin’ can become ‘sign’,” Kayla explained to help her audience gain a deeper understanding of the origins of some variants in texts.

Blue explained that the terms, “role” and “part” came from the standard Early Modern practice of actors using cue scripts.  Actors were not presented with a complete copy of the play they were rehearsing, as printing a copy for each cast member was usually prohibitively expensive.  Instead, actors worked from a partial script which contained only the “part” he would play.  The actor’s script would contain the cue preceding his lines, and the script was transcribed onto a parchment roll, from which the word, “role” derived.

Fair copies, Blue continued, were copied into “presentation copies” which were kept for performance records.  These records were known as, “Book Copies” for bookkeeper use, she explained, and additional stage directions frequently were added in the process, including cues for “dumb shows.”  Shakespeare’s star clown from his stock company, Will Kemp is listed in one of these added stage directions in the place of the character’s name.  This may indicate that a bookkeeper added Kemp’s name to record his role in a specific production or performance.

One of Blue’s volunteers then asked her about published plays called, “Playbooks,” wanting to know if they were ever intended for private consumption.  She answered  the question in the affirmative, and she discussed the origins of the term, “quarto” as explanation.  Blue said that the term, “quarto” referred to the way the printed booklet was folded: where a folio is folded into two pages out of a single sheet, she demonstrated with a piece of paper, a quarto is folded into four pages.  The two-page per sheet folio cost one English Pound and was considered expensive in Shakespeare’s day.  The more paper used in printing, she explained, the more expensive the publication.  S&P student George Kendall added to this by informing the rest of the audience that a quarto originally cost only five- or sixpence.

Blue continued her discussion by asking the question, How did printers obtain play copies?  Copyright laws of the day were largely ineffectual at the time.  Most playwrights didn’t receive money for their printed plays.  One remedy, she suggested was the possibility of a “memorial reconstruction.”  This is a play published from a player’s or patron’s memory after a performance.  Printers may have added stage directions at this stage as well.  Some scholars allege that the practice may have been invented and never actually happened.

There are five “Romeo and Juliet” quartos, Blue continued.  She then distributed handouts, copies of “Romeo and Juliet” quarto covers, beginning with that of the First Quarto, or ‘Q1″ as it is now known.  The copies of the cover are available on the internet from the website, “Early English Books Online”: http://eebo.chadwyck.com/home  On the handout’s reverse side, Blue had transcribed a piece of the play’s text.  The First Quarto of “Romeo and Juliet” or Q1 was published in 1597, she explained, and it is 688 lines shorter than Q2, the Second Quarto.  She then asked volunteers to identify some textual variants between their copies of quarto covers.  Volunteers observed from the handouts that cover pages often included the name of the shop in which the quarto was sold.  Later quartos included such descriptions as, “newly corrected and augmented” on their covers.  This language biased scholars over the years that earlier copies were “bad quartos” and were less authoritative than “corrected and augmented” later quartos.  Scholars today challenge this presumption, however, as Blue informed her listeners.  One of her volunteers suggested that the “correction” terms publishers used were most likely a marketing ploy to sell new copies.

Blue next read the reverse side of her first handout, the “Romeo and Juliet” tomb scene from Q1 and compared that against a later quarto by reading aloud changes in the scene’s dialogue.  She finished her the workshop by displaying several various and different “authoritative” editions of “Romeo and Juliet,” reminding us that editors, and not Shakespeare, were responsible for most textual variants.

–Bill Leavy

One thought on “Blackfriars Conference 2015 — Wake-Up Workshop: Textual Variants

  1. Pingback: Blackfriars Conference 2015 — Liveblogging Masterlist | ASC Education

Comments are closed.