Playing with Wench-like Words: Copia and Surplus in the Internet Shakespeare Edition of Cymbeline [1]

Jennifer Forsyth
Oregon State University

Forsyth, Jennifer. "Playing with Wench-like Words: Copia and Surplus in the Internet Shakespeare Edition of Cymbeline". Early Modern Literary Studies 9.3 / Special Issue 12 (January, 2004) 3.1-27 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/09-3/forsplay.html>.

    With fairest flowers
    Whilst summer lasts and I live here, Fidele,
    I'll sweeten thy sad grave; thou shalt not lack
    The flower that's like thy face, pale primrose; nor
    The azured harebell like thy veins; no, nor
    The leaf of eglantine, whom not to slander,
    Outsweetened not thy breath. The ruddock would
    With charitable bill (o bill, sore shaming
    Those rich-left heirs that let their fathers lie
    Without a monument) bring thee all this,
    Yea, and furred moss besides. When flowers are none
    To winter-ground thy corpse --

    Prithee have done,
    And do not play in wench-like words with that
    Which is so serious. Let us bury him
    And not protract with admiration what
    Is now due debt. To th' grave.

    (Cym. 4.2.226-41)

  1. When I was defending my dissertation, which was essentially a print version of the Cymbeline edition I am preparing for the Internet Shakespeare Editions (ISE), one of the committee members repeatedly asked me variations on the question, "When do we have too much knowledge?" or "How do we know when we have too much knowledge?"[2] On the one hand, it struck me as decidedly odd that a respected member of a liberal arts institution was focusing on the dangers of too much knowledge, when I had thought that the acquisition of knowledge for its own sake was one of the primary tenets of higher education. But on the other hand, it also sounded familiar, and I recognized a common strain: the distinguishing between copia, or "abundance," used by Erasmus, of course, to signal appropriately rich style, and the "wench-like words" which are the bane of (male) early modern characters and dramatists alike. Often, it boils down to the fact that when a man speaks at length, it is appropriate, whereas when a woman speaks (at any length), she runs the risk of being judged speaking inappropriately. I am not interested here in rehearsing the voluminous and important critical work which has been done on the silencing of women (in all its many forms) in early modern English drama; I wish to focus instead on the factors which may make the parallels between early modern views regarding appropriateness of male and female speech and my own experiences as a (female) editor of Cymbeline for the Internet Shakespeare Editions and to investigate ways of converting surplus into copia.[3]

  2. In the passage I wish to examine from Cymbeline (presented in the epigraph), it is not a young woman but an emotional young man speaking who is silenced. In the middle of what appears to me to be a beautiful tribute to Fidele by Arviragus, Guiderius interrupts, saying, "Prithee have done, / And do not play in wench-like words with that / Which is so serious. Let us bury him / And not protract with admiration what / Is now due debt" (4.2.237-41). The question here is what, exactly, Guiderius finds distasteful. Is it the emotional tenor of the words that is objectionable, their excessive quantity, the sense that the words are playful rather than genuine, or the fact that words are what is played with rather than something else that is wench-like?[4] Any of these conclusions could be supported by reference to other accusations of female surplus in early modern drama.

  3. Perhaps the possible readings should be as abundant as Arviragus's words. The association of "playing" with "wench-like" at this particular scene suggests that one of the reasons for the perpetual silencing of female characters is not simply that they are prone, in the opinions of the other characters, to running on at the mouth but that it is specifically the publication of emotion (troped, naturally, as female) which is deemed inappropriate. To feel may be acceptable, but to disclose those feelings is shameful.

  4. Publishing and emotion are inseparable for me, but the topic of electronic editions may evoke particularly unemotional connotations and thus appear an odd choice to juxtapose with the elegiac scene from Cymbeline. Computers, almost by definition, imply the triumph of reason over emotion, and editing is often seen as a particularly dry and bloodless occupation that would have difficulty provoking a reaction more extreme than apathy. Rationalistic editions attempting to produce a "neutral" text (a project whose attainability is now dubious) have become increasingly dominant, with only small concessions to the poststructuralist awareness that there is no such thing.[5] Granted, parts of the editorial process such as collating historical variants scarcely require consciousness, much less emotion. Yet many people who have attended editorial seminars can attest to the fact that editors often come across as a passionate group.[6]

  5. It doesn't even require more than one person present to become passionate. I am not alone in my ability to stare for hours at a single group of half-lines trying to decide how to--and whether to--combine them into tidy lines of iambic pentameter.[7] I can meditate on the relative merits of semicolons versus colons at length,[8] and I internally debate the competing imperatives of following the editorial guideline admonishing us "Do not over-use exclamation marks" (ISE "Guidelines" 3.4.3.c) and using exclamation points to indicate emotion.[9] (All of this may have something to do with how many years it takes editors to complete their editions.) Occasionally, the years of work enable an insight that no other editor has made. It is difficult to convey the excitement of such a discovery to someone who has not made similar discoveries (or who doesn't value them); I have an intellectual understanding that other people don't really understand or share my glee when I explain that I have identified distinct preferences for setting spaces around semicolons as a way to differentiate between Folio Compositors B and E[10] (Forsyth 117-18) or that I believe my suggestion of Nashe's The Unfortunate Traveler as a source of Cymbeline is original (not to mention significant) (Forsyth 52-56), but that doesn't mean that my emotion is surplus.

  6. Not all of the emotion is positive, however; the process is saturated with anxiety.[11] Every substantive emendation has to be considered carefully, in context of all other historical editions but without bowing to the weight of editorial tradition,[12] and while considering the possible political ramifications of different options, not to mention the different possible narratives--none of which can ever be conclusively proven[13]--to explain the origin of each supposed error. Emendation of accidentals engenders, if possible, even more conflict. I cannot so much as change a comma to a semicolon in order to clarify the meaning of a sentence according to modern grammatical rules without agonizing that I may be obliterating signs that are significant markers of early modern rhetorical units. Sometimes I spend so long debating the respective advantages of two equally attractive options, I end up being unable to remember which I chose without referring to the text. At other times, I become so fiercely protective of my choices that I can barely imagine having a civil conversation with, for instance, an editor who disagrees with that reading. On top of that are the decisions to be made for the prefatory materials and all of my notes and commentary. All in all, my job is fraught with angst. And Cymbeline is considered to be a notoriously "clean" text, with few errors and only a single possible source text, the 1623 Folio.

  7. One of the problems is that little editorial uncertainty appears in modern editions of early modern plays, but, as a reader, I find such acknowledgments helpful. Certainly, earlier editors felt free to express confusion, indecision, and ambivalence; one of the elements I love from earlier editions is the number of conjectures suggested in the commentary notes, many of which never make it into an edition but which illuminate usefully, for scholars as well as for students, the bafflement working with such material can produce. Instead, we are confronted with definitive declarations, even regarding the most perplexing of texts.

  8. The opening lines of Cymbeline, ("YOu do not meet a man but Frownes. / Our bloods no more obey the Heauens / Then our Courtiers: / Still seeme, as do's the Kings" Cym. 1.1.3-5) are so confusing that, as Ann Thompson notes, the 1913 Furness Variorum contains four pages of commentary on those lines alone (72). She suggested in 1998 that "Editors used to speak, or attempted to speak, with a kind of magisterial authority, dismissing all previous theories and interpretations and laying claim to their own unique ability to explicate the text" but now "the aim is more to explore the possibilities than to impose a single 'correct' view" (84). Unfortunately, her assessment may be more optimistic than accurate. Listen to the comparative assurance of different authorial styles commenting on the first speech:

    This passage is so difficult, that commentators may differ concerning it without animosity or shame. Of the two emendations proposed, Hanmer's is the more licentious; but he makes the sense clear, and leaves the reader an easy passage. Dr. Warburton has corrected with more caution, but less improvement: His reasoning upon his own reading is so obscure and perplexed, that I suspect some injury of the press. I am now to tell my opinion, which is, that the lines stand as they were originally written, and that a paraphrase, such as the licentious and abrupt expressions of our author too frequently require, will make emendation unnecessary . . . . (Johnson 258)


    Our dispositions do not reflect the influence of the heavens more completely than our courtiers reflect the behaviour of the King. That the heavens influence our dispositions is as much a Renaissance commonplace as the sceptical opposite view that the heavens have no influence on us at all. The two attitudes are represented by Gloucester and Edmond at Tragedy of Lear 1.2.101-30. (Warren 87)

    Based on these examples, at least, it appears that earlier editors were more open to acknowledging textual and critical multiplicity than current editors.

  9. Although I am not advocating a return to the openly adversarial editions of Alexander Pope and Lewis Theobald, it strikes me as fundamentally more honest to acknowledge the dialogue inherent in any scholarly edition. In the first ten notes of Johnson's 1765 edition, he quotes another editor five times and refers to other editors or critics by name three additional times, and mentions other editors as a group another time. In the first ten notes of Warren's edition, Warren refers in his commentary notes only to the O.E.D. and to other literary works, presumably because the work of the collations is held to be sufficient acknowledgment; even so, only three editors' emendations or conjectures are noted. Throughout, collations of emendations not accepted by the Oxford edition are rare, creating a univocal impression. Nosworthy's edition does a much better job of acknowledging other editors and incorporating their ideas into a dialogue that is much better suited to allowing a reader to examine the possibilities and to decide on the most likely reading herself--which, I, with many others, believe is the ideal edition. The commentary note to "referr'd" (1.1.6) provides an average illustration of the effect of this approach: ("Furness points out that Cymbeline planned to advance Imogen, but that she has 'referr'd herself', i.e. has chosen a lower station. 'Preferr'd' (Ingleby), 'affied' or 'assur'd' (Lettsom) are superfluous" (Nosworthy, 3). Warren's note on the same word, "given (OED v 10), exemplifies an utterly different attitude toward the reader that eliminates other voices and contested meanings. Whether an editor adheres to a previous editor's emendation or rejects it, ignoring the intertextual nature of editing is futile and misleading.

  10. A sense of dialogue, of negotiation, of copia in notes, still appears in the more recent Arden editions. For example, the Arden third series edition of King Henry VI Part 3, by John Cox and Eric Rasmussen, candidly records editorial uncertainty. Commentary notes suggest that "We may imagine York thinking of Stafford's death and inadvertently conflating Clifford's with it" (note at line 9), that "F's silence about Richard's action allows the actor a great deal of latitude, but he must do something to display Somerset's head and evoke the cruel mockery of York (18)" (note at line 16 SD), and that "Richard presumably shakes Somerset's head, perhaps holding it by the hair" (note at line 20) (emphases added). [14]

  11. Obviously, the kind and content of commentary note will vary not only based on the prevailing taste of the time and publisher's preferences but also according to the kind of edition intended, and editors of print editions have been often subject to great, if not insurmountable, pressure from their publishers to keep their notes brief, thus limiting the number of pages and hence the costs of publication. This need not be a concern of the electronic editor, an advantage that has been frequently noted.

  12. However, the mere fact that the cause of the constraint has been removed does not mean that editors are freed from the traditions print imposes, such as the ban on publishing emotion. As I have worked on Cymbeline, I have at times wanted to break the conventional limitations of academic publishing. In addition to the normal kinds of commentary on Arviragus's speech, I experienced the desire to put in a note that said, "Even after reading the text of the entire play somewhere between dozens and hundreds of times and being perfectly aware that Imogen is alive, this scene still makes me cry in the theater." In my introductory material, I occasionally thought of parenthetical comments which were interesting but not, perhaps, significant. Once in a while, I even wanted to include a joke. One of my readers prompted me to remove some of these, commenting that they were "frivolous." I do not dispute the allegation, but I believe that including the frivolous--which is often equated with anything pertaining to emotion, as in Arviragus's case--is not necessarily a bad thing.

  13. Despite how commonplace condemnations of early modern texts silencing women have become, suggesting that our attitudes toward emotive and personal language have become more inclusive,[15] I would suggest that this is not in fact the case.[16] Whereas editions once were the site of personal publication on the part of the editor as much as they were the site of the textual publication, not only capitalizing on the editor's reputation and personality but also promoting the editor as author as well, today they are presented, at least implicitly, as factual, rational products, effectively effacing the presence of the editor, and especially of the editor as a human being with interests, prejudices, and emotions. The fonts on the title page of Johnson's preface illustrate the perceived importance of the editor. In the title, "MR. JOHNSON'S / PREFACE / To his EDITION of / Shakespear's Plays," "MR. JOHNSON'S" is kerned out and letter-spaced so that even though the font is smaller, it appears almost as large as the line "Shakespeare's Plays." The repetition of the possessive in "Johnson's" and "his" likewise emphasizes the personal presence of the editor, an aspect that holds true in the commentary notes of the edition itself: the "I" is very present in Johnson. For Edmond Malone, too, the editor's name is almost as large as Shakespeare's; in fact, I had to measure twice to make sure they weren't actually the same size. In more modern editions, the relative font sizes--which seem to me to be fairly accurate reporters of attitudes toward the editor's presence--skew the balance in the other direction. In the first printing of the play for the Folger series, for instance, the font appears to be around 48 pt. type for "Cymbeline," around 36 pt. type for "Folger Library" and "Shakespeare," and around 8 pt. type for the names of the editors, Louis B. Wright and Virginia A. LaMar. (These figures are for the cover; neither printing mentions the editors' names on the title page.) The Oxford Shakespeare does not include the editor's name on the cover but does include Roger Warren on the title page--again, as the smallest element, with 9 or 10 pt. font compared to 10 for "Oxford's World Classics," 12 for "William Shakespeare," and 24 for "Cymbeline."

  14. This suggestion that the editor's presence is increasingly minimized simultaneously represents and contradicts the truth: while editors have been effacing their presence from the narratives presented in introductory materials and commentary notes, they have also been generating a much greater proportion of the text. Ironically, many people do make decisions based on the personality of the editors. I met a scholar recently who told me that he refuses to teach from a certain text, not because the editing was poor (although it is, to my mind) but because he disagreed with the editors' ideological premises. I know others who boycott certain editions because they met the editor at a conference and thought that he was ignorant, or a jerk, or dressed poorly.

  15. Contrasting eighteenth-century editions with modern editions will once again demonstrate the demise of the subjective editor and of the subjectivity of the editor. Rowe, for instance, has only a handful of notes for the entire play, few of which are mere explication. It is difficult to forget that it is a human being who wrote of Cymbeline that "This play has been alter'd by Mr. Durfey, but whether to its Advantage or not, I will not determine, because I have not the Alterations by me; but I am afraid the Gentleman who alter'd it was not so well acquainted with the Rules of Art, as to be able to improve the Cymbeline of Shakespear." He continues to demonstrate his willingness to share his opinions with generalizations about the quality of the play: " . . . indeed most of the Incidents of this Play smell rankly of Romance. Jacimo's false Accusation of Posthumus to his Wife is well enough, and has many good lines in it" (370). As you know, especially in the eighteenth century, the editors' personalities would, from time to time, erupt--and I use the word advisedly--in their responses to each other. The title alone of one edition will serve as a reminder: Theobald's
    SHAKESPEARE restored: / OR, A / SPECIMEN / OF THE / Many ERRORS, / AS WELL / Committed, as Unamended, by Mr. POPE / In his Late / EDITION of this POET. / DESIGNED / Not only to correct the said EDITION, but to restore the True / READING of SHAKESPEARE in all the Editions ever / yet publish'd. / By Mr. THEOBALD.
    (Interestingly, the typeface for "Mr. Pope" is larger than that of "Mr. Theobald," at about 24 pt. to about 18 pt.)

  16. And while I do not wish to try your patience with a rehashing of the war of the editors, I cannot resist noting a few more comments by early editors demonstrating rather more subjectivity than modern editors. In consonance with the conventions of his time, Theobald reveals (or feigns) his emotions:
    I have run a Risque, and must wait the Sentence of the Publick, whether I have gone upon a mistaken View of Reputation, or whether I have done any Thing to set Shakespeare in a clearer Light than his Editors have hitherto done. . . . The Alteration of a Letter, when it restores Sense to a corrupted Passage, in a learned Language, is an Atchievement that brings Honour to the Critick who advances it. (193)

  17. Pope's personality is no less apparent in his editions. I find particularly noteworthy the fact that Pope dubs one of his sections, "Various Readings, Guesses, &c." Who among us would acknowledge that our best emendations are guesses? Who would buy our editions if we did, assuming we could find publishers willing to accept that level of professed certainty? Other editors were more decisive, though not less personable for all that. In Bell's acting edition of 1774, the editor says, for instance, "The Fourth Act is chiefly supported by several changes of scenes and circumstances; not but that there are many strokes well worthy Shakespeare's pen, in it" (298). Of the scene with which I began this paper, Bell's edition says, "Why the following most beautiful lines of Arviragus's speech in the original, were omitted in the alteration, we don't perceive, as they certainly could not hang heavy on attention nor expression" (293). Not only does Guiderius reject Arviragus's words as being unworthy of expression, but the edition rejects them, relegating them to a footnote, even though the editor finds them "most beautiful."

  18. The pool of personality begins to dry up toward the end of the eighteenth century. By the advent of Rann (1786), most of the notes are explanatory, defining words or terms, or parsing their meanings. Rann's notes on Arviragus's speech are thus limited to defining "ruddock" as "the red-breast" and explicating "To winter-ground thy corse" as "To screen it from the inclemency of that season" (220).

  19. In Malone's 1790 edition, as one might expect, we find predominant the rationalistic editorial effacement that persists today. The title page suggests how definitive he expects his edition to be: the plays are "Collated verbatim with the most authentick copies, and revised: with the Corrections and Illustrations of Various Commentators; to which are added various essays by Edmond Malone." Simply from the title page, one might infer that Malone sees himself as one cog in the machine which is working to refine the editions of Shakespeare. His purpose in referring to other authors (even though he not infrequently finds them at fault) is not to bring a vendetta but to appropriate (and I mean that in the very best sense) their emendations. Malone's work verges, in fact, on the encyclopedic: in his variorum edition he anticipates the modern collaborative online encyclopedias.

  20. The Internet is an arena that confounds me with its ambiguous balance between connotations of objectivity and personal expression. It is simultaneously the embodiment, if that is not too much of a paradox, of the mechanization, or at least technologization, of society long feared by humanists, and the listening mechanism that encourages and allows a previously unimaginable publication of vast numbers of voices. The hunger for a medium of personal expression is being exploited as a marketing tool by companies who work to create the impression of personal interaction. I find the pretense most intriguing in telecommunications. The BBCi home page, for instance, has the following invitation featured prominently: "COMMUNICATE your thoughts, your views. Aniviel says: 'I saw the Matrix trailer this morning. Wow! I can't wait to see it!' Share your views on the message boards." Even the BBC News home page emphasizes sharing with "Have Your Say: Your chance to debate the issues and ask the questions that matter." At least they are asking questions that matter. On Radio Disney, they want to know, given four choices, "What is your favorite family activity? Camping, Going to the park, Reading, or Listening to music?" NBC.com is a combination of BBC News and Radio Disney, apparently, for next to an ad for an exclusive interview with President Bush appears a poll asking, "Should Rachel and Joey hook-up [sic] and become more than friends?" I was doing so well finding polls that I was actually disappointed when I selected the "Nightly News with Tom Brokaw" page and found none.[17]

  21. This obsession with soliciting opinion is not restricted to communications companies. I found a vacation site that comments, "Unfortunately many people feel that the Internet has become overwhelmed with commercialization. Personal sites are generally very creative, and interesting, but often very scattered, and incomplete. The commercial web sites are informative, but often very cold and technologically intimidating." They go on to describe their site as "friendly." In fact, on their FAQ page, they positively beg for feedback, so much so that at first I thought it was a site simply advertising a listening service:
    Everyone has an opinion. It's just human nature, and although most of the time other people don't want to hear it, or just don't listen. We are listening. As the Daytona Beach Know It All Site grows, we want it to grow around the needs and wishes of our audience. So feel free to let it spill. We probably won't be able to answer you directly, but let it be known that we are listening.
    Even their caption portrays the computer-connected listener as human: "OK, let er rip. . . Please, be kind" it says. My reason for dwelling on this is not to mock the media--all right, not just to mock the media--but to point out that all kinds of sites, reputable and not so reputable, are capitalizing on the human need to interact, specifically, to share their voices, knowledge, and opinions. And the reason I am concerned with this tendency is that hypertext editions are, from the other end of the spectrum, doing the same thing, capitalizing in our own way on the same trend. This raises some truly important theoretical implications of our current position.

  22. Currently, we, as editors, have the responsibility--and, generally, wish to retain the responsibility--for identifying cruxes and offering possible alternative solutions. Through technical wizardry such as animated stage directions that move between quarto and folio locations and text that, either automatically or upon a click from the reader, flexes between alternative readings, we invite our readers to edit the text for themselves (Best 4). In actuality, however, readers may be free to choose from among preselected alternatives for their personal uses, but their "collaboration" with us ends there. Part of this attitude stems from the practical and technological limitations of the interface available: it is one thing to animate a single word; it is another thing entirely to design a text that will allow any reader to interact in the sense of adding something.

  23. This introduces the second of the reasons why editors want to retain the responsibility for our work: we participate in a community which is inherently elitist. To a certain extent, that elitism is defensible: the average Renaissance scholar knows more (we hope) about the texts we study than the average non-scholar. That is, after all, the whole point of devoting our lives to studying. One problem is that this ignores the possibility of well-informed, interested, and intelligent readers. Such readers ought to be as capable as a scholarly editor of identifying sensible variants, contributing cogent comments, adding to a production history, or performing many of the other tasks that fall to editors; our peers ought to be that much more able to suggest overlooked insights. And yet our editorial assumptions all rest upon the idea that a single editor will generate the text and prepare the entire notes and commentary. Even when the editions are collaborative, this usually simply means that there will be two editors sharing the duties, a textual editor and a critical editor.

  24. A few months ago, I ran across a reference to two collaborative encyclopedia projects on the Internet that struck me as being potentially useful as models of Internet editions. Naturally, most encyclopedias are collaborative to begin with. These two free-source Internet encyclopedias have some interesting differences, though. The first is called the Nupedia, and it unfortunately is suffering from one of the drawbacks of the Internet, which is that even "free" material (to the user) requires funding to keep it going. Its goal is to create an infinitely expanding, peer-reviewed, free-source encyclopedia. People are invited to contribute articles in their areas of expertise which will then be peer-reviewed and published in the Nupedia. One attractive feature is that articles in progress undergoing peer review are available for members to assess and comment on. The second is called a Wikipedia, taken from the Hawaiian "wiki-wiki," or "fast," to designate a collaborative open encyclopedia. Any reader can alter the contents of the encyclopedia at any time. If you pause in your reading of this article right now, open a browser to the Wikipedia article on Shakespeare (http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakespeare), you can at this instant add or delete information, alter opinions, change the wording, and so on. And this change is permanent--permanent, that is, until someone else reads the article and decides to become your collaborator.[18] It is, in short, a forum that publishes the results of an ongoing debate. In fact, it also includes a place to debate variations and suggest alternatives without altering the text.

  25. Imagine how this could revolutionize editing. The Internet Shakespeare Editions are already valuable by virtue of being fluid rather than static; as an editor, I am committed to my text not simply until the time it is published on the site but, ultimately, for the rest of my lifetime. The ISE already encourages the reader, as all scholarly editions do, to be aware of alternative readings and to make decisions, essentially adopting at least part of the role of editor. At the same time, it, like all preceding editions, is exclusive. Certainly, the reader is allowed to think independently, even to write and publish separately, but the reader is not allowed to participate in a dialogic development of understanding. The reader is, in other words, in the same position as a woman whose words are always surplus, too much, rather than copia, or interestingly diverse. The reader is not invited to publish or make public that dialogue in tandem with the edition.

  26. What could happen if, instead of designating an editor to write textual notes, we allowed all readers to publish their thoughts, in the Wikipedia format? The notes could accrete like sediment, or they could be competitive and the evolutionary winner could survive. Here, I think, is where the elitism kicks in. If it is open, anybody could publish her opinions, for any reason. People could make a mockery of the process. Or they could be wrong, misinformed, and stubborn. But it wouldn't have to be that way. We could, like the Nupedia, require peer review prior to publication, or we could combine the traits of the Nupedia and the Wikipedia to have a regulated community where applicants would have to apply to be admitted but, once admitted, would be allowed to contribute freely. Scholars could then share their areas of expertise more easily. Instead of being limited to a single editor's knowledge, the text could benefit from the combined knowledge of the community. In Iachimo's warning line to Posthumus to beware Imogen's ability to stray, "Strange fowl light upon neighboring ponds," a scholar interested in legal issues could add a comment on early modern property law regarding migratory birds, fish, and waterways. A rhetorician could note figures and tropes throughout the play. A social historian could add a note about contemporary perceptions of Milford-Haven. A music historian could comment on the instruments used for serenades and aubades.

  27. Thus, we could potentially translate what we currently treat as surplus into copia. Perhaps relieving the editor of the need to express definitively the viewpoints and knowledge of the entire community would also contribute to a greater acceptance of subjectivity, of doubts, possibilities, whimsy, or frivolousness; at any rate, with so many people able to participate, it would be harder to disguise the process as anything but subjective.


[1] This paper was originally presented as a speech delivered at the Pacific Northwest Renaissance Society meeting in May 2003 as part of a panel entitled "The Internet Shakespeare." I would like to thank the panel's chair, Michael Best, first for inviting me to present a paper and second for his unflagging support and interest; none of my comments should be construed as a criticism of his professional, responsible, and caring work as General Editor of the Internet Shakespeare Editions. I am far from dissatisfied with the ISE; in fact, I am proud to participate in such a high-quality publication. But I also believe that before adapting our traditional practices to new technologies, we ought to review them, consider the theoretical implications of our work, and make sure that the two are in alignment.

[2] Partially because of the paper's original medium (as a speech I hoped would entertain rather than enervate my audience), partially because of its message regarding emotion and dialogue, I am deliberately keeping to a more informal style not only in its wording but in the kinds of evidence (much of it personal or anecdotal) I introduce.

[3] I present my gender parenthetically not because it is unimportant or in doubt but because I believe that gender is only one of a complex of factors which helps to determine my experiences.

[4] Other direct references to playing pop up here and there throughout this, well, play, emphasizing the possible meanings of frivolous movement, practice, entertainment, performance, and sexual activity. Imogen protests to the King that she could hardly help but love Posthumus since he "bred him as [her] playfellow" (1.2.80); the fight off-stage between Posthumus and Clotten is referred to as "play" ("My master rather played than fought" 1.2.97); and the chastity wager scenes and the scenes where Clotten complains about losing at bowls and again at cards are tightly juxtaposed.

[5] Valerie Wayne, in "The Sexual Politics of Textual Transmission," notes that "Textual scholarship often still proceeds on the assumption that editorial decisions are objective, empirically based, and arrived at judiciously by experts who have devoted years of study to solving the mysteries of early English bibliography" (179) and continues on to offer several compelling examples of how early male compositors (and some recent male editors), for example, have effectively erased women's presences from their texts.

[6] In fact, the first time I attended an editorial seminar as an auditor, I sat next to a fairly well-known authority in the field, whose name I am concealing for reasons which will become clear. Imagine my naive pleasure when he passed me a note in the middle of a debate. Anticipating some sage commentary on the editorial matter under discussion, I was shocked to discover instead an ad hominem attack against the speaker: "Don't trust a word he says. He's Canadian." While most editorial debates do not descend to slurring entire nations--personal feuds often take other forms--I have found that the passion that prompted this statement is somewhat typical.

[7] I can't even think about relineating part-lines without the specter of Paul Werstine's "Line Division in Shakespeare's Dramatic Verse: An Editorial Problem" haunting me.

[8] The same problem as at note 7 occurs regarding punctuation with Anthony Graham-White's Punctuation and Its Dramatic Value in Shakespearean Drama.

[9] I was taking the guideline so seriously originally that I believe I turned in my first draft of the modern-spelling edition without a single (non-copy-text) exclamation point, prompting a series of gentle reminders that some emotions really do deserve to be recognized as excitement. This experience is part of what prompted me to reconsider how thoroughly I had accepted not simply editorial traditions but editorial style as well and to question how well such suppression of emotion serves us as an academic community.

[10] My findings confirm the conclusions of T. H. Howard-Hill.

[11] In his advice for first-time editors, Clifford Leech frequently makes reference to emotional aspects of editing, from the care and nurturing of a friendship with the general editor to the "weariness and neurosis" brought on by comparing too many editions at once ("Weariness," he says, "is the worse of the two" (66)), to the trauma caused by not being able to collate every emendation of an accidental changed from the copy-text.

[12] Leah Marcus's Unediting the Renaissance remains an important lesson on the dangers of following editorial tradition.

[13] Paul Werstine has written numerous articles regarding editors confusing theory with fact, particularly in their narratives regarding the transmission of the text, including "Hypertext as Editorial Horizon," and "Post-Theory Problems in Shakespeare Editing," in which he demonstrates the fallacious traits attributed to "foul papers" and "prompt-books."

[14] Although these examples do not demonstrate it, the editors do occasionally mention other editors and editions in the commentary notes.

[15] This is true in general, too. Early in my graduate studies, one of my professors (who just happened to be a tenured white male) warned me that I am too emotional to be in higher education and that I should seek another profession. I am not sure what profession he had in mind--in my professional experience outside of academia, nobody thinks emotion is appropriate there, either--but it did start me wondering why it was acceptable to assume that emotion was such a negative subject.

[16] This attitude is found throughout the English discipline; see the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (6th edition): "In your notes, avoid lengthy discussions that divert the reader's attention from the primary text. In general, comments that you cannot fit into the text should be omitted unless they provide essential justification or clarification of what you have written" (258).

[17] I'm not sure I want to admit this, but I checked the FOXNews.com site and found a sidebar called "You decide" asking, on this particular day, "Do you believe North Korea's claim that it has nuclear weapons?" The choices were, "Yes, and I'm worried"; "No, Pyongyang is bluffing"; and "Not sure." To submit your choice, you click, "Submit Vote" (emphasis added). There is also a small note that admits that "This is not a scientific poll."

[18] At the time of this writing, the Wikipedia Shakespeare page had remained unchanged for ten days; a history of changes is available.

Works Cited

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.
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