In what ways has an awareness of theatre influenced the conceptualization
and editorial treatment of Shakespeare's text?
Shakespeare's plays have long been considered to be among the greatest works of world literature. William Shakespeare, however, was first and foremost a man of the theatre: a dramatist, an actor, a shareholder in the acting company to which he belonged and the theatres in which many of his plays were performed. As such, his plays were originally and primarily playscripts, intended by their author to be the foundation of theatrical productions. For over four hundred years, they have been performed on stages throughout the world, and have been studied and treated, both conceptually and editorially, not only by literary editors editing for publication but also by directors and dramaturgs editing for performance. While their common goal is to produce a text that is true to Shakespeare's original intent, as well as, for many, one that is reflective of and compatible with its production both on the Elizabethan and the contemporary stage, each of these professionals approaches Shakespeare's text from his or her own, often very different, perspectives, yet invariably influenced and tempered by their awareness of theatre.
Over the years many editors have looked for 'authorial authenticity', attempting to rediscover the literary masterwork, Shakespeare's original manuscript before the plays were modified, revised and adapted for their initial staging and then further revised for subsequent productions. Such editors believe those revisions, even if they were by Shakespeare himself, to be a lessening of the original whole or, worse, a modification, misinterpretation, corruption or distortion of Shakespeare's text by bookkeepers, actors, collaborators, or later adaptors, making the final result "less" than Shakespeare's own. They acknowledge the effect of theatre on the text but see it as a negative one. They often consider the earlier printed editions of the plays, such as Hamlet's second Quarto, to be more complete and more representative of Shakespeare's intent than the later First Folio, published after Shakespeare's death and, in many cases, depending on more theatricalized and clearly revised texts. John F. Andrews, in the introduction to The Everyman Shakespeare's Hamlet writes:
The second Quarto brings us as near as we can hope to get to the original Hamlet
of the author's imagination, the Hamlet Shakespeare conceived in the first instance
as a scriptwriter.
However, Andrews also acknowledges the positive influence of theatre in Shakespeare's writing and concedes that Shakespeare's initial vision was not necessarily the version with which he was most satisfied:
But [Q2] doesn't preserve all the revisions he would have made as he and his fellow
thespians rehearsed, performed and revived the play in a diversity of venues over the
balance of its creator's professional life. The First Folio text brings us as near as we
can expect to get to the Hamlet of the playwright's maturity.
Still searching for "pure" Shakespeare, though, Andrews accepts the playwright's own revisions as evidence of enhancement and refinement of the original material, but rejects the interference of outside corruption. He considers the First Folio:
so compromised and contaminated by non-authorial material that there is no way a
modern editor can be completely confident about any procedure designed to sift the
Shakespearean wheat from the non-Shakespearean chaff
Other editors, and some directors and dramaturgs as well, disagree. Their goal is to produce 'theatrical authenticity,' a text that would reflect the play, including theatrical alterations and revisions, as it might have been seen and heard by Elizabethan audiences. That Shakespeare had a personal hand in the revision of his plays both for initial and subsequent performances is of primary importance to them. Stanley Wells, in his general introduction to the Oxford Complete Works, wrote:
The concept of the director of a play did not exist in [Shakespeare's] time; but someone
must have exercised some, at least, of the functions of the modern director, and there is
good reason to believe that person must have been Shakespeare himself, for his own plays.
The very fact that those texts of his plays that contain cuts also give evidence of 'literary'
revision suggests that he was deeply involved in the process by which his plays came to
be modified in performance.
Wells also theorized that Shakespeare's focus was far more theatrical than literary:
[Shakespeare] seems to have taken no interest in the progress of his plays through the press.
Even some of those printed from authentic manuscripts such as the 1604 Hamlet are badly
printed, and certainly not proof-read by the author; none of them bears an author's dedication
or shows any sign of having been prepared for the press in the way that, for instance, Ben
Jonson clearly prepared some of his plays.
These two considerations - Shakespeare's apparent lack of literary interest and his personal hand in revision - have combined to influence the editorial treatment of Shakespeare's work by Wells and others who have approached his plays from a more theatrical perspective, basing their own textual decisions on what they perceive as the final rather than the original product of Shakespeare's hand. They view the effect of theatre in the evolution of the text as a positive influence rather than a negative one. Many directors and dramaturgs, with the intention of recreating the plays as they might have been seen on Elizabethan stages use such editions as the basis of their own cuttings, believing them to be 'theatrically authentic.'
Andrew James Hartley, however, in The Shakespearean Dramaturg, referencing Robert Weimann's article "Playing with a Difference" suggests
Other scholars, however, think that Shakespeare and Jonson had more in common than
had been traditionally assumed, and that Shakespeare had expressly literary aspirations.
That is why there is such a difference between the "bad" and "good" quartos, the former
being an acting version, the latter a carefully constructed and revised version aimed specifically
at a print market. The Folio, such critics argue, thus reflects plays that have been at least
in part reshaped by the author for publication, even if the final editing and collection was
not completed until after his death.
With that in mind, there have been some recent directors and dramaturgs who have mounted productions based on the so-called "bad" quartos in order to return to what they believe is the authenticity of the original acting text. They too have focused on the theatrical, but their interpretation of which is the "true" acting text differs from that of Wells and his colleagues.
Some editors approaches Shakespeare's plays with no attempt at Elizabethan 'authenticity' at all, but rather with the purpose of creating a theatrical text that not only contains Shakespeare's language and intent, but can also function as the foundation for contemporary theatrical production. For them, theatre authorizes itself and an awareness of theatre is the essential element of their treatment of the text. Those who edit Shakespeare's plays for contemporary production must consider not only literary and theatrical authenticity, but also the practical problems of contemporary staging. And their challenge is to do all this without damaging the language, intent, plot or characters that Shakespeare has bequeathed them.
Despite their different approaches to the text, all of these editors depend on their awareness of theatre as an important influence in their editing decisions. In doing so they acknowledge that, for a play, text and stage share a common history and that they are dependent on each other for their form and function. Approaching Shakespeare's plays as a blueprint for theatrical production rather than "simply" a work of literature significantly changes not only how an editor chooses a foundational text for his edition or production, but also the textual choices he makes. To understand these choices we need to consider the effect of theatrical production and staging on the text of a play, since it is within the framework of this relationship that an editor makes those choices.
All performances of a theatrical text, from the original staging to subsequent revivals, are, to some degree, adaptations, and a play, any play by any playwright, goes through a transformation as it evolves from a playscript a text on paper to a fully staged theatrical production. Plays are written and structured to be seen and heard by their audiences and to be interpreted by actors who bring them to life on the stage. As such, production is an integral part of their creative process. Theatre is, by its very nature, a collaborative medium, and playwrights know that and write with the understanding that the play they bring to a theatre, however well written, is not a finished product. The question then becomes, just what is the effect of production on the original text of a play and how does an awareness of this effect influence its editorial treatment. The text of a new play, on paper, contains only the dialogue the playwright has written along with whatever initial, often minimal, stage directions he has included. When staged it takes on a more substantial form, more concrete and more specific. That text is the foundation for the staging, but it is changed in the process, not only in its initial production, but also throughout subsequent revivals in other venues, and even in other centuries. It is these imprints that each production leaves on the text on which editors, directors and dramaturgs must base their choices.
The most obvious aspect of production is blocking - the movement of the actors on the stage as reflected in the text by the stage directions. Some of the basic actions, such as exits and entrances may be written into the original text, but often only in the most general way. The addition of a stage and actors modifies those actions and makes them far more specific than the playwright might have originally indicated. Compared to contemporary playwrights, Shakespeare's stage directions are minimal - sometimes even nonexistent, as in those places where a character is clearly on stage but has no entrance indicated - but earlier and later editions of his plays have some major differences in the stage directions they include indicating the possibility of adjustments in the text made during staging, such as spelling out exactly which nobles enter with the King, or how they enter. Expansion of stage directions can also be the result of editors' attempts, with an awareness of theatre, past and future, to clarify staging possibilities beyond Shakespeare's few and sometimes unspecific or even inadequate stage directions. In either case, expanded stage directions are a clear indication of theatrical influence on the text of the plays.
Changes in theatrical venues and customs have also caused alterations in both text and performance. Each theatre has its own unique characteristics, and reviving a play in a new theatre often necessitates a distinct change in staging and consequently in the text. A Midsummer Night's Dream was first published in quarto in 1600, most likely being written and first produced several years earlier since it was mentioned by Francis Meres in his 1598 Palladis Tamia, and, according to its title page, had been 'sundry times publickley acted by the Right honourable, the Lord Chamberlaine his seruants.' Some sources suggest that it might have been written about in 1595-6 , other as early as 1594, since 'a passage (Act II, Sc. I, L. 88-118) in which Titania describes the recent ill seasons, wintry summers, flood and fog, would very aptly correspond with the disastrous years 1593 and 1594.' In either case, Q1 represents the text as it was performed in London's outdoor public amphitheatres (likely The Theatre where the Chamberlain's Men performed before opening The Globe Theatre in 1599), and, as was customary in those venues, staged in continuous performance without act and scene divisions. However, by the time the First Folio was compiled Shakespeare's company had acquired the private, indoor Blackfriars Playhouse and performed there regularly in the months when outdoor performance was not practical. The absence of sufficient natural light within Blackfriars required the use of candles for stage lighting and classical act intervals were reintroduced, largely as an opportunity to "trim" and replace the candles, as well as for musical interludes as was customary in the private theatres. While this change had little effect on most of the play, the insertion of the break between Acts 3 and 4 caused a staging dilemma for the company. As John Jowett explains:
When the play was revived for the Blackfriars, an annotator went through the playbook
to insert act intervals at suitable points. However, the sustained continuity of the last scene
in the woods made it difficult to locate the beginning of Act 4 at the beginning of a scene in
the text as Shakespeare had written it. The annotator therefore took the unusual step of
introducing an act-break in the middle of a scene. This was made possible, and perhaps
even theatrically effective, by leaving the sleeping lovers on stage. The stage direction
explaining that this happens is strong testimony to the theatrical provenance of this
This is a case of the evolution of theatrical custom initiating a change in the text and staging. The First Folio, taken from a theatrical manuscript in use after the 1608 acquisition of Blackfriars, included act and scene breaks and the stage direction 'They sleepe all the Act,' referring to the act break.
Other plays have even more extensive examples of theatrically derived revision. Some of the editorial concerns triggered by Hamlet's three distinct versions have already been discussed here. King Lear is another play in which earlier and later versions have caused controversy in editorial circles. Oxford's
Complete Works treatment of King Lear differed dramatically from that of earlier editions. Unlike Greg's relegation of Q1 to the status of "doubtful quarto", the Oxford editors, influenced by the work of Peter W. M. Blayney, identify the Q1 as an early version of the play based on Shakespeare's 'foul papers' and F as an authorial revision based both on Q2 (which was derived from one copy of Q1) and on a later prompt-book which may have been based on a second, different copy of Q2. Rather than printing a single conflation, as editors have done in the past, they chose to print them as separate texts with distinct identities. The two versions have obvious differences. The Folio is clearly the more theatrical, making a number of significant cuts, including Lear's mock trial of his daughters, a description of Cordelia's reaction to hearing of Lear's condition, the Fool's implication that Lear was born and remains a fool, a variety of reflective and essentially inactive passages at the ends of scenes, and others affecting both characterization and dramatic structure. These revisions appear to have resulted from Shakespeare's dissatisfaction with the earlier text and his attempts to tightening and streamlining it in later productions.
Not all changes in the text of Lear occurred in Shakespeare's lifetime, however. Written in 1605-6 and performed in December 1606, King Lear was registered in 1607 and Q1 published in 1608 as 'Master William Shakespeare his historye of Kinge Lear, as yt was played before the Kinges maiestie at Whitehall uppon Sainct Stephens night at Christmas Last, by his maiesteies servantes playinge vsually at the Globe on the Banksyde'. Written initially for the public stages, Lear's Q1 was also performed continuously. The addition of act and scene divisions for later revivals, however, eventually created a staging situation reminiscent of that seen in A Midsummer Night's Dream. The Oxford Textual Companion explains:
The scene divisions themselves create no problem, except at the point where Kent falls
asleep in the stocks (7.167/1174). In both Q and F, Kent remains on stage asleep
during Edgar's soliloquy, waking up shortly after Edgar exits and Lear enters. The stage
is not cleared; F marks no scene division before Edgar's entrance or after his exit; both
texts envisage the same sequence of action, and F's division of scenes is elsewhere complete.
The editors for both Q1 and F in Lear agreed that Edgar's reappearance required no scene break, and the action remained undisturbed. However, eighteenth century editors disagreed, and Steevens interrupted the flow of the action by making Edgar's soliloquy a separate scene followed by the start of a new scene with Lear's entrance and discovery of Kent asleep in the stocks. This editorial decision, based on theatrical and textual concerns, was followed by all subsequent editors and vitally changed the perception and staging of the play from that time forward.
Some of Shakespeare's texts were affected not by the conditions on the stage itself, but rather by the politics of Elizabethan theatre. Richard II has a complex publication history, and is an example of an authorial manuscript that was censored before it ever got to the stage, was then revised, performed and published in its truncated form and then revised again when the excised passage was later allowed. According to the Oxford
The most significant difference between Q1 and F is the latter's inclusion of the abdication
episode. It is widely accepted that the episode was censored; most probably a passage
was disallowed for stage performance. The usual assumption is that the extant episode
was simply omitted during the period of Queen Elizabeth's reign and subsequently reinstated.
Clearly the censorship of the stage performance was reflected in the absence of the offending scene from the early quartos and once it was allowed back on the stage following Queen Elizabeth's death, it was returned to subsequent texts. Q4, published in 1608 boasted 'With new additions of the Parliament Sceane, and the deposing of King Richard,' a case of page following stage.
Contemporary editors, directors and dramaturgs editing Shakespeare's plays for performance are often confounded by conceptual choices that directly contradict the text. Resetting the plays in times or places different from the original text make textual choices particularly dependent on the editor's awareness of theatre, both general and for that particular production. Recent productions of the 2001 "Jazz" Macbeth at the Globe, the 2003 Henry V set amidst contemporary issues of the Iraq war at the National, and the 2001 modern
Hamlet at the RSC all had to deal with texts that refer to Early Modern weaponry and transportation while on stage what was actually used were pistols, rifles, hand grenades, even artillery and a jeep, or, in the case of
Macbeth, no weapons whatsoever. Obviously choices needed to be made whether to alter the text by cutting the relevant lines, replacing the contradictory words with weaponry more reflective of that actually being used (or not) on stage, or keeping the original text and hoping that the audience could make the metaphorical jump. Each text editor made different choices, with corresponding success or failure, but it was their awareness of the very physical fact of theatre that influenced the textual choices they made.
According to John Jowett, "the medium of theatre means everything to the text of Shakespeare's plays." Not only is that true of theatre's place as the structural basis and inspiration for the text, but, conversely, it is also true of the text's function as the verbal framework and heart of its subsequent productions. No matter how it is considered, whether positively as an expression of the author's vision, negatively as a distortion of his intent, or practically as the source and inspiration for, and reflection of, the text, it is this medium of theatre, and the editor's awareness of its influence on Shakespeare's text that will determine his conceptualization and editorial treatment.
--- Arlene Schulman, November 2006