Redefining the Role of the Editor for the Electronic Medium: A New Internet Shakespeare Edition of Edward III [1]

Sonia Massai
King's College London

Massai, Sonia. "Redefining the Role of the Editor for the Electronic Medium: A New Internet Shakespeare Edition of Edward III". Early Modern Literary Studies 9.3 / Special Issue 12 (January, 2004): 5.1-10 <URL:

  1. The general aim of the Internet Shakespeare Editions is to "make scholarly, fully annotated texts of Shakespeare's plays available in a form native to the medium of the Internet". Don McKenzie and Jerome McGann have made editors aware that the medium through which texts are transmitted affects the way in which they exist and signify. Instead of simply applying familiar editorial practices devised to produce printed scholarly editions, electronic editors are therefore faced with the daunting task of establishing how best to proceed when multiple versions of the same text can co-exist alongside a potentially endless number of supplementary materials. In 2000, Susan Hockey complained that there was no model for electronic editions and that "most experiments [still] lack[ed] a framework or structure within which the reader could operate".[2] This essay illustrates the working model devised for my Internet Shakespeare Edition of The Raigne of King Edward III (1596). Examples drawn from Act 3 scene 4 will help me show that the discontinuities between my electronic edition of Edward III and earlier paper editions are more significant than the continuities.

    The Electronic Edition as Critical Archive

  2. Those users who access my edition from its homepage can choose to consult any of three familiar categories, that is "Text", "Performance", and "Critical Issues". This main menu and its sub-menus resemble the table of contents in a printed edition. This similarity is however merely superficial. The table of contents in a paper edition shows the reader's ideal progression from the critical introduction, which identifies the hermeneutic challenges of a complex literary text, to the text itself, which is usually accompanied by textual notes and commentary and followed by appendices and indexes. The constitutive parts of a paper edition are specifically devised to establish a coherent text and to create a hierarchy of meanings and interpretations. Conversely, a closer look at the submenus of Edward III reveals that the sequence of their individual items is either chronological or simply arbitrary. By clicking on "Text", for example, users can access a transcript of the first Quarto (1596), digital images of the second Quarto (1599) and of the most significant editions following Capell's Shakespearean attribution in 1760. Three recent editions are represented by short extracts in compliance with current copyright regulations. My edition is just one of the several texts available.

  3. The electronic medium not only de-centres the modern edition but also the traditional role of the editor, by being intrinsically open to collaboration. Each item in the "Performance" and the "Critical Issues" submenus represents a discrete, self-standing item. Most items in these two categories are original contributions written by fellow textual scholars, critics, actors, directors and reviewers. Besides, the materials gathered under these two categories represent a wider range of reviews and interviews, cast lists and photographic materials, extracts from printed sources and original essays than any editor could ever hope to include in a paper edition. Tobias Doering, Alan Armstrong and Kevin Quarmby, for example, have contributed original reviews of some of the most recent productions of the play staged in Cologne, Ashland, Santa Cruz, Stratford-upon-Avon and London. Similarly, Jeff Kahan has written a review of Sams' and Melchiori's editions providing a new slant on the issue of attribution, and Michael Warren has helped me gather performance-related materials over the last two years.

  4. Even a quick glance at the main menu and its submenus shows why the electronic edition can best be described as a critical archive. The critical archive is a logically structured collection of discrete items. Its structure is defined by its categories and sub-categories and by the directed searches predetermined by the editor through a network of hyper-links. However, unlike the mono-focal structure of printed editions, the structure of the electronic archive is not hierarchical. As McGann explains,

    the hypertext provides the means for establishing an indefinite number of "centres", and for expanding their number as well as altering their relationships. … Theoretically open to alterations of its contents and its organizational elements at all points and at any time, … the hypertext need never be "complete".[3]
    Also worth stressing is the fact that although the editor selects the material to be included in the archive and predetermines a set of directed searches, the editor has no control over the number and the sequence of items which users decide to search.

  5. An example from 3.4 will clarify this point. During the battle of Crécy, King Edward retreats to a little hill overlooking the battlefield. Three English lords beg King Edward to send rescue to his son, the Black prince, who is outnumbered by the French. King Edward refuses because, as he explains, the prince is "labouring for a knighthood". The prince wins against all odds and presents his father with the corpse of the King of Bohemia. If users are intrigued by the prince's description of the arms of the King of Bohemia at the end of this scene, they might consult my commentary note. If users stop at the first level of this note, they will learn that "the pelican is traditionally associated with selfless, Christ-like sacrifice". The pop-up note also informs users that earlier editors have often found the position of this passage puzzling, while some recent directors do not seem to find this passage either redundant or awkward at all. Only those users who have a specific interest in textual and/or staging matters will proceed to the next level. There will be users who will find out that, according to Melchiori, this passage "look[s] like a misplaced insertion possibly from a slip of paper added to the manuscript".[4] There will be other users who will find out that, according to RSC director Anthony Clark, "the Black Prince's reference to the pelican … should be played neither as a moment of insight for the Black Prince nor as a reference to how he would want his father to be. The prince", Clark continues, "can be played as a supporter of his father's aggressive model of kingship. In 3.4 the prince clearly relishes the thought of having killed the Bohemian king and his reference to the pelican can therefore be read as a mocking dismissal of an alternative model of kingship whose champion the prince has vanquished".[5] Clark does not question the position of this passage at the end of 3.4 and makes perfect sense of it. Conversely, Melchiori sees no ironic link between the prince's reference to the pelican and the king's refusal to rescue him. Although I may predetermine the several directed searches which the composite commentary note on this passage generates, I have no way of predicting how far users will go or which view they will endorse. Readers of printed editions may also search for specific information and forego linear reading, but the composite, collaborative, and open-ended nature of a hypertext edition encourages users to search discrete units of information both within and beyond the critical archive.

    The Role of the Electronic Editor I: Stage Directions

  6. Editors are often faced by the vexed issue of whether to add missing stage directions to the original textual authority and whether to intervene to improve a perceived inadequacy in the original stage directions. Lack of editorial intervention in modern-spelling, critical editions aimed to students, theatregoers and the general public is often regarded as a failure to produce a reader-friendly text. However, an editor's effort to improve the original stage directions in the same type of edition is increasingly perceived as an unwarranted appropriation of directorial prerogatives. My next example will show how the versatility and multiplicity offered by the electronic medium can help editors overcome this problem.

  7. As in many printed editions, editorial intervention is signalled by square brackets. At QLN 1616, for example, square brackets indicate that King Edward and Audley's entrance above is the result of editorial intervention. A short note in the Collation explains that I am the first editor to modify this stage direction. Several factors prompted my decision to intervene. Crucially, not all of these factors would apply if I were editing this scene for a printed edition. First of all, not having to worry about word-limits meant that I could write extensively in the commentary about the benefits of using the upper stage in the first half of 3.4. Among other things, I mention the fact that "the use of the upper stage … realizes the stage-action implicit in the dialogue". I also explain that the king's hurried descent to the main stage just before the prince enters can make the king's swift transition from strict observer of the chivalric code to proud, jubilant king and father dramatically more effective. Finally, I observe that, due to the complex stage direction at QLN 1681 according to which the corpse of the King of Bohemia is brought in before the prince enters, the audience may experience a short spell of uncertainty as to whether the prince is dead or alive. The audience's emotional involvement can be heightened even further if the king's realisation that the prince is still alive is delayed by his exit above at QLN 1680. By the time the king re-enters below at 1686, the audience gets a chance to see the king re-enact the same feelings of uncertainty and relief they have just experienced. My decision to recommend the use of the upper stage in the first half of 3.4 was also due to the fact that the diplomatic transcript of Q1 is only one click away from the text of my edition. Another important factor which affected my decision was the possibility to link my note to other items in the electronic archive which support the use of the upper stage. One example is Joseph Stodder's review of the 1986 production in Los Angeles, which users can find in the performance section, where Stodder remarks on the need for a "well-timed pause" between the prince's entrance and the king's realisation that his son is alive. Even more crucially, my intervention was prompted by the fact that, given the wide range of different texts available, I am no longer expected to even suggest that my edition is definitive or that it recovers the author's original intentions or the play's original staging. My edition is simply one text among several others, none of which is legitimately allowed to make such a claim. Paradoxically, instead of the much-predicted death of the editor, the shift from print to the electronic medium has boosted my confidence to reclaim my rights as a proprietary editor over my own text.

    The Role of the Electronic Editor II: Speech-Prefixes

  8. Another element of continuity between earlier printed editions and my Internet Shakespeare Edition of Edward III is the use of square brackets to indicate the addition of necessary speech-prefixes which are missing or misplaced in Q1. At QLN 1627 in 3.4, for example, the missing speech-prefix is added in brackets. This speech-prefix is linked to my textual introduction, which will include the views expressed by earlier editors, including Fred Lapides, who has argued that the recurrent lack of speech-prefixes "indicates that an author's manuscript, rather than a scribe's fair papers or the playhouse prompt book, served as copy for the printer".[6] The conventions, structure and contents of the textual apparatus linked to QLN 1627 follow the model of a scholarly printed edition. However, two further examples of anomalous speech-prefixes in Edward III show the extent to which the new possibilities offered by the electronic medium can develop and improve familiar conventions used in paper editions. In both examples at QLN 270-272 and QLN 421-423, the slightly anticipated entrance of two characters probably misled the compositor. In the first example, the compositor moved the speech prefix for Montague from QLN 272 to QLN 271, thus assigning the king's last line to Montague. Similarly, Lodowick's slightly anticipated entrance at QLN 423 led the compositor to add the redundant prefix for King Edward. Misplaced speech-prefixes and especially the omission of redundant ones are usually signalled only in the textual notes. Nothing in the text of earlier paper editions warns their readers about these peculiar anomalies in Q1. However, new technology, as explored by Michael Best, allows the electronic editor to have the screen flicker between Q1 and the modern edited version in order to make anomalies like misplaced or missing speech-prefixes immediately visible.

  9. Animation, which is peculiar to the electronic medium, has far-reaching implications. Locally, as in the two examples I have just shown, it alerts users to a feature which Alan Dessen has associated with early modern play texts written for the deep stage of the Elizabethan public playhouse. Anticipated stage directions may sometimes indicate the actual time an actor takes to enter the stage and walk towards the audience and/or the other characters already on stage. The presence of this sort of stage direction in a text which is normally believed to have been set up from an authorial manuscript should be signalled as explicitly as possible because it indicates that there is in fact no clear-cut distinction between authorial and theatrical manuscripts. As Paul Werstine has argued, "the very category of "foul papers is a product not of reason but desire – our desire to possess in the 'good' quartos Shakespeare's plays in the form which he, as an individual agent, both began and finished".[7] More generally, animation can help electronic editors overcome the limits often ascribed to facsimile editions of early modern texts. As much as printed editions applying the rationale of copy-text can be accused of idealising the author function, so facsimiles have often been accused of idealising the text, by reproducing one copy and ignoring the variants generated by the early modern method of correcting at press. Versions of Q1 with animated or highlighted press corrections will be made available to help users visualize the complexity and instability of its extant copies.

    The Role of the Electronic Editor III: The Shakespearean Attribution

  10. Edward III was first attributed to Shakespeare by Capell in 1760, but was first officially included in the Shakespearean canon when Melchiori published his 1998 edition as part of The New Cambridge Shakespeare Series. The final part of my paper explains how editing Edward III for the electronic medium has changed my views on issues of authorship and attribution. First of all, I welcomed the opportunity to include views normally excluded from the debate. Users can find out, for example, why David Rintoul, who played King Edward in the recent RSC production, thinks that the play "smells of Shakespeare".[8] David Rintoul has played many Shakespearean roles, especially in the history plays, and I felt that his theory was interesting and worth reporting. Even more crucially, increased access to early modern play texts in digital form has helped me realize how the issue of attribution can actually distract attention from other, equally important issues, which still await critical attention. One more example from 3.4 will help me explain this last point. Those who believe that Shakespeare revised an older play or contributed a few scenes tend to regard 3.4 as un-Shakespearean. George Steiner, for example, has remarked that "the psychology in respect to the King's Roman fortitude when death encompasses his son … is rudimentary".[9] Unlike readers of earlier printed editions, users of my edition can compare this scene not only with its source in Holinshed, but also with similar scenes in other plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries. The characterisation of the king, possibly through a shrewd use of the upper stage, may be rudimentary compared to Shakespeare's subtle use of spatial relations in later plays, such as Coriolanus, a transcript of which is readily available to ISE users. Particularly memorable is the scene when Volumnia, Virginia, Valeria, Young Martius and Coriolanus repeatedly kneel, sit and stand and the blocking underlines their emotional distress as well as shifting power relations. Users of Edward III can however also compare this scene with non-Shakespearean analogues, such as II Tamburlaine 5.1, where the Governor enters above, upon the walls of Babylon. Like Edward, he listens and rejects three pleas to surrender. He instead decides to defend his city honourably, even in the face of death. Marlowe is one of the few early modern dramatists other than Shakespeare whose work is already available in digital form. By linking 3.4 to II Tamburlaine 5.1, which is available at Tufts University. I do not wish to claim that Marlowe had a hand in writing Edward III, or, given the strong influence which young Marlowe had on the young Shakespeare, that the latter might have written even those sections of the play which are not normally ascribed to him. What the analogy with II Tamburlaine 5.1 shows is that far from being rudimentary in the context of the early 1590s, Edward III 3.4 might reflect a popular use of the acting spaces on the Elizabethan stage. What this analogy also shows is that the ever expanding corpus of early modern dramatic texts available in digital form will encourage editors to focus both on repertory and authorship, both on the circulation of stage images and conventions and issues of attribution.


[1] An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 31st Annual Meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America, which was held in Victoria (British Columbia) in April 2003, and at "The Condition of the Subject" Conference (University of London, 2003). I would like to thank Michael Best (ISE, General Editor) and Eric Rasmussen (ISE, Textual Editor) for their support, and Richard Proudfoot for reading my work and making useful suggestions. I would finally like to express my gratitude to the British Academy for awarding me an Overseas Conference Grant to travel to Victoria in April 2003.

[2] Susan Hockey, Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 133.

[3] Jerome J. McGann, "The Rationale of Hypertext", in Kathryn Sutherland, Electronic Texts: Investigations in Method and Theory (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), 41.

[4] Giorgio Melchiori, (ed.), King Edward III, The New Cambridge Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 173.

[5] The full text of my interview with Anthony Clark, which took place in January 2003, can be found in the "Performance" sub-menu, in the section devoted to the Royal Shakespeare Company 2002-2003 production (The Swan, Stratford-upon-Avon and The Gielgud Theatre, London).

[6] Fred Lapides, (ed.), The Raigne of King Edward the Third: A Critical, Old-Spelling Edition (New York and London: Garland, 1980), 59.

[7] Quoted in David Scott Kastan, " The Mechanics of Culture: Editing Shakespeare Today", in Shakespeare Studies 24 (1996), 30-37, qtn from 33.

[8] The full text of my interview with David Rintoul, which took place in January 2003, can be found in the "Performance" sub-menu, in the section devoted to the Royal Shakespeare Company 2002-2003 production (The Swan, Stratford-upon-Avon and The Gielgud Theatre, London).

[9] George Steiner, "Seen the new Shakespeare yet?", in The Observer, 10th May 1998, 15.

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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