Not working with the eye without the ear… – HENRY V, II ii

As I get back into the dramaturgical swing of things, for anyone interested (to be honest I have no idea at all whether that person exists, but when I look the nonsense, a disheartening amount of which skews toward evil, that gets published online, this bit of self-interested typography-based beigeness isn’t going to be the last straw that makes everyone pick up and leave the blogosphere (would that it were)), I’m going to lay out here how I put together the script editions I’ve been doing for the last couple of years.

I’m now working semi-simultaneously, if that concept even makes sense, on my eleventh through fourteenth, if I’m counting correctly, though I’ve done a few more cuttings than that. But they were sloppy affairs hastily downloaded then chopped down for time and casting. I hesitate to go back and look at them now much as one avoids high school yearbooks or TV shows beloved in adolescence – the fondness of memory won’t bear much scrutiny, and considering I’m on the topic of Shakespeare dramaturgy, suddenly the use of “fond” back there makes more sense, what with it meaning something only slightly more polite than “being a self-deluded dumb-ass” in Elizabethan parlance.

So I start out with the Folio. Not the one pictured above (thought good gravy do I know that page lately from Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead rehearsals). There are only a few of them and they’re kind of pricey, I understand. Or so the alarmed glass cases would imply. Not even from a facsimile edition, because I need something I can edit on this cruel and heartless rectangle on which I now type.

Lately the one I download is from, because it only shows a line number every fifth line, and since I intentionally do away with line numbers (they only get confusing when you’re doing productions with Judicious Trimming), the fewer the better. (If anyone knows of a free downloadable version with none, do let me know.) I used to use the lovely, lovely editable modern-type versions of the late Neil Freeman, whose work still informs everything I do with these editions and which I keep at my side always while working on them; but they were made on Apples some years ago and the formatting can be technologically tricksy in a way that doesn’t really take me less time to deal with than making the changes I have to make (on a PC) myself.

I go through it line by line and change the appropriate letters to their modern equivalents – when i=j or u=v or vv=w and the like. If there’s an overarching goal in these editions, it’s to find a balance between 1) letting actors with sense but varying degrees of Shakespearean experience feel able to stand up with script in hand and block and stage the show without having to squint constantly at ancient typographical choices, and 2) still maintaining almost all the utterly essential but non-grammatical punctuation and the eccentric capitalizations and spellings of the era.

Find/Replace is my lifesaver here, but I still have to go line by line. Loue and iustice prevail, but in a way that doesn’t either cross the eyes or make one sound like a Pythonesque exaggeration of a chinless twit.

There are visually troublesome words that get modern spellings for the sake of clarity. A small but frequent word like “I’ll” is a good example. The Folio spells “Ile” which is really weirdly hard to look at on the page and interpret immediately. I’ve never heard an argument that those two spellings have some different meaning, significance, or pronunciation, so…ease on the eyes wins.

There’s also “I” which depending on context could be the pronoun for first person singular or the affirmative “Ay”. And, Shakespeare being Shakespeare, sometimes both. Judgment calls and/or side notes have to be made.

And the occasional what-the-hell word gets the dustbin – I find charm in (the word) murther but I can make a solid argument for saying murder with a “d” based in the comfortable pronunciation of the definite article in almost every English dialect. I find Mervailles in the magic of Prospero but I’d rather a give a living audience preference over a dead one when it comes to experiencing Marvels. And I do wish travaille could still be said in a way that could imply both travel and travail at once. But you can’t act a footnote.

And of course the obvious typos of the sort that centuries of editors have come to consensus on, or in some cases haven’t. (I keep an Arden next to the Freeman and my beloved Shakespeare’s Words by the Crystals and they pretty much get me through all this.) Freeman was big on this, too, but it still fascinates me how many small moments of scholarly dispute sound just fine when spoken aloud and apace. Even things that probably were mistakes are often covered by the fact of fallible human characters speaking them. There are too many examples of this for a single one to stand out right now, but I’m sure one will come up as I’m working on these.

Then the cut suggestions, which are less a part of the edition proper than part of my work with the directors. All the issues ranging from the human bladder to airplane traffic to words irrevocably broken from connection with modern American communication (let’s start with “niggardly”) factor in to this preliminary shot at editing for our specific audiences.

I’m adding two new wrinkles to this season’s work. The first is a set of facing page notes. The actors are always encouraged to get their own editions and use the notes from those, but I don’t see what harm can be done be transcribing some of the more useful notes from other editions to ours. Plus the pronunciation guide I always hand out but which I’m convinced no one ever looks at might have more impact if it’s right there near the relevant words, as well as the relevant Freeman edition notes about one thing and another dealing with Folio Matters.

The second is the possible use of a font called Dyslexie. I’m not personally aware of anyone in our previous or current casts having to deal with this, but reading an only-slightly-edited Folio script is probably the closest a person without dyslexia comes to understanding it; an artistic community also tends to be disproportionately filled with folks who learn in all sorts of different ways. I can’t see where going ahead with this would do anyone any harm, so I’m going to print at least our first version this way and see how it goes.

Looking back over all this has suddenly made me anxious even though I’m well over half done with scripts that won’t be looked at until March (or if I’m realistic April) by actors who haven’t yet been cast or even auditioned and who won’t start rehearsal until May.

So I’m calming down. But I’m also stepping away. From the blog. Slowly. I need lunch.

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