Last week, at THATCamp CHNM, I somehow found myself giving a 5-minute talk with slides. If you’ve been to an unconference, you know this is a crazy thing to have done—the joys of THATCamp is that you don’t give or listen to talks read at you. Instead, you discuss and make things. But in this case, this was an experiment proposed by Tom Scheinfeldt to see what happened when you uncoupled slides from talks, with one person writing the talk and one person building the slide deck having only the title of the presentation in common. (As it turned out, I ended up doing this with slides from Tom, which he advanced as he heard my talk, and automatically timed slides created by Mark Sample.) In any case, the experience was weird and mildly terrifying: THATCamp isn’t a space where I’m used to behaving like a talking head, and I had no idea what Tom or Mark had done or how it would fit with what I had done. I’m still not entirely sure what they did—the one time I turned to glance at the images I think I saw a photo of naked folks standing around a campfire, and that was so distracting I turned and faced forward again. But there’s a kernel of something real in my talk, an idea that I’ve been mulling over and that I’ll be returning to in the next year or so (if all goes well, I’ll be talking about this at a conference this fall and writing about this for a forthcoming collection on Shakespeare and performance). So to keep it from disappearing into the ether, I share with you my text:

Fragments of study

Think of the most remarkable performance you’ve seen. Think of everything you remember about it—what it looked like, what it sounded like, how it made you feel, the holistic experience of it. Now imagine writing about it. Describe it, record it, explain it. This is what people in my field do—my field being, in this instance, the study of modern productions of Renaissance drama. One of the big exciting things at the moment is the development of apps and online editions of Shakespeare’s plays, sites that combine the text of the plays with clips of performances. Instead of just reading Macbeth, you can experience it. Here’s Joe Shmoe reciting “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow”; now here’s Kiran Singh doing the same speech in a different production. These fragments of productions give a sense of access to live performance in a way that most readers of a script cannot achieve on their own.

If we take seriously the idea that Shakespeare’s plays continue to resonate with us centuries after they were written, then we have to take seriously the understanding that they do so because we continually reinhabit them and make them speak to us anew by performing them. It’s not the words that are timeless, but the voicing of the words that reinscribes them for each time. If we teach in literature classrooms, if we read in armchairs, then we have to find ways of conveying the importance of performance to our reception of Shakespeare.

But clips of performance are only clips; they reproduce fragments of something that is more than the sum of its parts and in breaking that larger whole into smaller bits, they diminish what it means. Talk to any actor and ask whether there’s any connection between what they do in the last act to what they did in the second act. Talk to any director and suggest there are no patterns and resonances across a production. See what sort of response you get.

And yet this is what we do when we study performance in this way. We quote moments of it, and we move on.

And this is what we do when we study literature, is it not? We quote moments of it, and we move on.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is [.....]

I understand why we do this. How do you quote a whole? Don’t we have to break it down into smaller pieces to serve as our landmarks? How do you make sense of what is large and magnificent and full of meaning without finding details to hang onto?

But I want to pause and ask: what damage are we doing by breaking the whole into fragments? Why do we prioritize the convenience of clips over the messiness of art?

Maybe I needn’t be so melancholy about this. It’s also true that fragments can be tantalizing, full of exciting possibilities that make you want more. Some of the most exciting finds in my field are fragments of objects—my field in this instance being early modern book history. There are bits and pieces of old manuscripts and printed works that survive only in remnants. There are inky fingerprints left by printers, fragments of identities long since lost to us. Archaeologists, art historians, historians, literature scholars—we all dwell in fragments and discovery.

But I think that’s precisely the difference. The fragments that survive? They’re links to a past that would otherwise be lost; they spark our imagination and light our curiosity. But the fragments that we create out of other people’s creations? They serve us. We use them to make our points, we scatter them behind us, we move on.

[....] a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Or maybe not nothing—I certainly don’t want to claim Macbeth’s viewpoint as my own. But maybe we should be resisting the ease with which we fragment art to dissect it.

What do we want from online facsimiles of Shakespeare?

Over at The Collation last week, I wrote a blog post providing a quick explanation for what might be gained from looking at multiple copies of digital facsimiles of the First Folio and linking to the eight copies I’ve found. Mostly what I was interested in there was the availability of such things and a taste of the joys of copy-specific reading. Here I want to look at what actually matters to me a bit more: the usability of such resources. It should be perfectly clear, but I’m going to say it anyway, just to be safe. This is my personal site and I am not representing the Folger’s point of view here, only my own as a user of such resources.

Before I look at specific examples, here’s what I want as a scholar:

  • high-resolution cover-to-cover images, zoomable to, say, larger-than-life size with full clarity so that I can pick out details on pieces of type;
  • choice between viewing as pages and viewing as a book with two-page spreads that, ideally, convey the depth of the book and the shifting balance of pages as you move through it so that I know where in the volume I am;
  • navigation synced to plays (with modern acts and scene divisions), to signature marks, and to page numbers so that I can easily find my way to wherever I want;
  • cataloging information that tells me something about the copy I’m looking at; at a minimum, shelfmark and identification of which pages are not original F1 leaves, but preferably including information about provenance, binding, marginalia, uncorrected pages, and other copy-specific details;
  • cataloging information that tells me something about the digital surrogate I’m looking at; at a minimum, when it was built and who built it;
  • a CC-NC or, even better, a CC-BY license that will allow for downloading and reusing at a minimum specific images and, preferably, the entire work, so that I can share it in my teaching and scholarship and so that I can compare multiple copies;
  • and since I’m dreaming here, the ability to read offline in a friendly interface so that I can access it even when I’m (gasp!) without a good internet connection;
  • and the ability to add my own annotations, so that I can keep track of what I’m finding.

Well. That’s not asking for much. Maybe someday all my desires will be met, but it certainly hasn’t happened yet. And it won’t happen unless we start advocating for what we need in these resources. (My focus here is on the First Folio, but my points hold for any digitized book and, to a slightly lesser degree, to any digitized textual work. We all need transparent records, digital copies that are available to reuse, and high-resolution images that convey not only the words on the item but the physical manifestation of that item.)

So in the spirit of helpful critique, here’s how the 8 copies currently available for free online stack up. (N.b. I’ve linked to catalog records where I can find them in the headlines. West numbers refer to the number given the copies in Anthony James West’s census of First Folios. Full descriptions of all these copies can be found in West and Rasmussen’s Descriptive Catalogue; quick takes on which copies have leaves missing or in uncorrected states can be found at the end of my Collation post.)

tl;dr I imagine many of you won’t read all the way through this 4,000-word post, so here’s the unsurprising upshot: digital projects don’t age well. For the First Folio, that means that what used to be cutting-edge in terms of quality and interface can, 5 to 10 years later, can be woefully behind the times in offering what users want. We need to plan ahead so that we can offer users the tools they want now while also building in reuse for future users. That means, above all, super high-quality images, open access, clear documentation, and constant exploration.

Folger Shakespeare Library, copy no. 68 (West 126)

Available as page spreads in the Folger’s digital image collection, as page spreads and as a pdf through the World Digital Library; downloadable as individual page openings and as a pdf.

This tends to be my go-to copy of the First Folio when I need to check what’s in it and when I need to zoom in for good details. I like this copy in part because it’s a complete copy—all the leaves are original F1 leaves, rather than facsimiles or replacements from other copies or later editions—and it has some nice manuscript markings setting off some passages. (I always like reminders that books aren’t pristine collectibles but objects to be used.) I also like the Folger’s digitization of it. It’s cover-to-cover, so you can see the Wodehouse bookplate in the front, and the full-page spreads show the depth of the volume as well: in this image from Measure for Measure, you can easily spot from the visible page edges that we’re still well near the front of the volume.

Folger STC 22273 Fo.1 no.68, sig. F4v-F5r

Folger STC 22273 Fo.1 no.68, sig. F4v-F5r

I like, too, that the images are high-resolution enough that you can really zoom in and see details. Here is a screenshot of the most zoomed-in view of the same opening (click on the image to enlarge):

screenshot of zoomed-in view of Folger's copy 68

screenshot of zoomed-in view of Folger’s copy 68, including the navigation tool in the lower right

I also like that it’s easy to download individual images from the Folger’s Luna interface; the full-page spread that you see above is the maximum size that is allowed for downloading; click on it and you’ll see how big it is. And it’s easy to link to individual openings (see the examples that I’ve included above). If you’re a more adept Luna user (or if you’ve read Jim Kuhn’s tooltip posts in The Collation), you’ll find that you can link to zoomed-in views or to view of multiple images, too (see, for instance, this comparison of two copies). Information from the Folger’s incredibly thorough catalog records is included in Luna, so it’s easy to understand what you’re looking at without leaving the image; information is also provided identifying the image, including the signature marks (but not, however, page numbers or modern act/scene divisions). There isn’t any obvious information about when the images were taken or anything else about the dates or tools involved in the production of the digital images and interface.

But what I don’t like about using this also comes from the Luna interface. It’s not particularly easy or intuitive to quickly find your way to specific places in the volume. If you’re looking for something in King Lear and you know your way through the First Folio already, your instinct will be to scroll through the thumbnails until you find the beginning of the play. But that gets annoying. When I was looking for a page that included some of the marginalia I mentioned, the easiest way to do it was to flip through the pdf I downloaded from the World Digital Library, find the opening that looked good, and then locate that in Luna by skimming the thumbnails. The pdf is not very high resolution in and of itself, so while it’s fine for full-page spreads, if you try to zoom in to see details, it blurs out pretty quickly. Here’s a rough equivalent to the zoomed-in view from the online version, this one from the pdf (it’s about 200%):

zoomed-in detail of pdf of copy 68

screenshot of zoomed-in detail of copy 68 pdf

So I switch back and forth between the two when I’m trying to locate the details of something specific. It’s also worth mentioning, speaking of ease of use, that the pdf file has most of the page openings rotated 180°. The best option is to download it and then use a tool like PDF Toolkit to rotate all but the first and last two pages of the file.

If you’re looking for a specific play, it’s possible to construct a search to just pull up, say, Measure for Measure in copy 68. Use “Advance Search” to search “Call Number” for “STC 22273 Fo.1 no.68″ and “Image Details” for “Measure for Measure”; when you get the results, sort them by “Multiple Page Sort Order” and *phew* you’ve got your play. There used to be links on the Folger’s website for early copies of the plays, including in F1 and relevant quartos, and my understanding is those should be restored soon (I’ll update this with the relevant link when that happens).

The World Digital Library’s interface is built around the same images that the Folger provides through Luna. It seems like it should be slightly easier to navigate (instead of going through thumbnails, you can click arrows to turn to the next or previous opening), but I find the transitions between the images to be so slow as to be more frustrating than helpful.

The Folger has licensed this, as with the rest of the items in its digital image collection, with a CC-NC license.

Folger Shakespeare Library, copy no. 5 (West 63)

Available as page spreads in the Folger’s Digital Image Collection, as a pdf from Octavo editions, and as page spreads through the Rare Book Room; downloadable as individual page openings and as a pdf.

This is my go-to pdf, though not my go-to online digital copy. It’s a good copy of the First Folio—only a few original leaves missing—and was one of the first really high-resolution digitizations of the First Folio that was easily available. Octavo chose it as the basis of their edition of the First Folio, published on CD-ROM in, I think, 2001. That edition, available for purchase but also freely through the Folger’s catalog record, is rich not only for the nice digitization of the First Folio, but for the incredible contextual material accompanying it, including essays by Arthur Freeman, Stephen Orgel, and A.R. Braunmuller, as well as a copy of Peter Blayney’s amazing booklet on the First Folio. It’s a wealth of information. (The pdf file at the Folger has been corrupted; at the moment it has the contextual material, but not F1 or Blayney. I think it will be replaced with a better file soon; I’ll update this when that happens.) If I had to recommend one digital First Folio to an interested non-specialist, the Octavo pdf is what I’d choose, given the strengths of its digitization, its ease of navigation, and its fabulous contextual material.

The pdf is easy to navigate—you can use the arrows to move back and forth, of course, but each play and act/scene is bookmarked so that you can jump straight to it. And the resolution is ok, maybe slightly better than the WDL pdf of copy 68:

screenshot of zoomed-in detail of copy 5

screenshot of zoomed-in detail of copy 5 pdf

The digital copy in Luna has the same interface advantages (cover-to-cover! full-page openings showing depth!) and disadvantages (argh, navigation!) of copy 68, but you can’t zoom in to quite the same level of detail in copy 5:

screenshot of zoomed-in detail of Folger copy 5

screenshot of zoomed-in detail of Folger copy 5

The images through the Rare Book Room are the same as in Luna, but with a different interface. I like the ability to use arrows to navigate through the book, but it doesn’t let you zoom in very much.

Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, Arch. G c.7 (West 31)

Available online in page spreads, downloadable as individual page images, and eventually as a pdf (I’m positive I saw something about this latter point somewhere, but now I’m not finding my steps back to it; I hope it’s actually true and not something I totally hallucinated).

This is the most recent addition to the collection of digitized First Folios; you can learn more about the publicly funded campaign to digitize it on the project’s blog, “Sprint for Shakespeare.” It’s also a (kind of) infamous copy of the First Folio. The Bodleain acquired it in 1624 and then—gasp!—subsequently got rid of it, apparently in 1664 when the Third Folio (which it purchased) made the First “obsolete.” The Bodleian’s copy of the First reappeared at the University in 1905, when Gladwyn Turbutt (an Oxford undergraduate whose family owned the book since the early eighteenth century) brought it in for advice about the binding. It was immediately recognized as the long-gone Bodleian deposit copy and the Turbutt family delayed its sale to the highest bidder (*cough cough Henry Folger*) to give the Bodleian a chance to raise the money to purchase it, which it did. What makes this copy interesting is not only the Bod’s foolishly getting rid of it and its spectacular return, but the fact that the book remained in its original binding and showing all the wear-and-tear of its usage.

The online interface of this copy’s digitization comes in two options. The first is through the BookReader interface developed by the Internet Archive. It lets you navigate the book either through thumbnail images or in one-page or two-page spreads. There are bookmarks to let you easily jump to specific acts and scenes in specific plays, and in the two-page opening view, you can easily see a visualization of page edges to show where you are in the volume and to flip ahead to specific pages:

our favorite opening in Measure for Measure, as in the Bodleian's interface

our favorite opening in Measure for Measure, as in the Bodleian’s interface

I generally find this a good way to navigate a book—it’s easy to work out where you are and to get to where you want to be. The fake visualization of the fake edges is a little weird, though, and while I love the pop-up that shows you where your mouse is when it’s jumping ahead, I couldn’t actually get the book to jump when I clicked on the margins. And in this particular incarnation, however, I’m disturbed by the gutter issues. Since many of the images of individual pages includes a glimpse across the gutter of the opposite page (not a bad thing for an individual image), when they’re stitched together into a page opening, the weirdness across the gutter is, well, weird.

On the other hand, working with the individual page images is super easy. There’s a link that takes you to pages of thumbnails, each of which is identified both by signature mark and by play title and page number; the image below, for example, is labeled “F4v / MM p.68.”

downloadable image from the Bodleain's copy

downloadable image from the Bodleain’s copy

It’s a good resolution (click on the image above to be able to enlarge it to its full size), and I like the touch of including the ruler to indicate the leaf’s size. It’s also wonderful that the Bodleian has released this under a CC-BY license and clearly indicates what that means in terms of usage. They have a great statement on the site’s accessibility, too (it looks like that’s something required by Oxford; I wish more places would keep accessibility in mind as they are designing their sites). I wish the site was more clearly linked to the cataloging information (I got to the catalog record by navigating through the link to the Bodleian’s main website in the upper right corner of the site and the searching in the catalog for the shelfmark). And I haven’t figured out an obvious way to be able to link to specific openings in the book view, although you can link to individual page images (check out the front pastedown, for instance!).

The Bodleian’s biggest strength is combining ease of use for non-scholars and for scholars. By using the Internet Archive interface, they’ve made it friendly for general browsers to look through the book. (As Pip Willcox said in a tweet to me, given that the public funded the project, the Library felt strongly that it had to be fully open-access—and, obviously, that it had to be friendly to use.) And by separating the book into individual page images, they’ve made it usable for scholars like me. That, I think, is key to successful digital First Folios—they need to work not only for the finicky experts but for the general user. And I think the Bodleian has mostly achieved that, unlike most of the other digital copies.

 Meisei University (West 201)

Available online as individual page images with transcriptions of marginalia; downloadable as individual page images. Akihiro Yamada’s book on the marginalia and his transcriptions is available in its entirety as well.

This is a fascinating copy of the First Folio, and the most interesting copy of the ones that have been put online. It has extensive early modern marginalia dating, according to Akihiro Yamada’s study of it,  from the 1620s or 1630s in a Scottish hand. There are underlinings, dots, and marginal notes focusing primarily on summarizing the play. The annotations are understandably the focus of this interface; it’s really not designed to read the play easily, but does offer a range of ways into the marginalia. You can navigate to individual pages by choosing the play and either act/scene/lines or through-line numbers; you can also navigate by signature marks or by image number. Once you’re at a page, you can then use the arrows to browse to the next or the previous image. It’s not instantly obvious—the landing page is a black screen instructing you to “Please Search Page Image” rather than the first leaf of the volume. But once you’re on an image, you have the option of enlarging the page (the initial result is thumbnail sized), enlarging the marginal notes, and reading a transcription of the note.

Here, for example, is a screenshot of a page from Measure for Measure, enlarged to its largest side, along with a detail of the marginalia and its transcription:

screenshot of Meisei copy showing marginalia and its transcription

screenshot of Meisei copy showing marginalia and its transcription

As you can tell, the page itself doesn’t enlarge particularly well, though the details of the marginal notes are a bit better. You can also download a page image:

downloaded page image from Meisei copy

downloaded page image from Meisei copy ( (c) Meisei University)

It’s pretty small, but its resolution is okay (as elsewhere, click to enlarge to its full size). Their copyright page states that “All rights reserved; no part of this database may be reproduced or reprinted in any form, except for non-profit-making, educational or scholarly use. In such cases, please cite the copyright of Meisei University and write to the contact address.”

As I said, though, the point of this digitization isn’t to read the First Folio, it’s to study its marginalia. So while you can search by page image, you can also search the marginalia, using either the “lexicon” option (words that appear in Yamada’s index) or the “concordance” option (words from the entire marginalia corpus):

searching the Meisei marginalia corpus

searching the Meisei marginalia corpus

I don’t really have a project that would use this, but I like that they’ve enabled it. The (comparatively) low resolution and the sometimes not-intuitive interface are likely residues of the project’s age: it began in 2002 and ended in 2008. Quibbles about that aside, it’s wonderful that Meisei, which bought the book in 1980, has taken these steps to make its riches explorable.

Since I’ve already gone on long enough, and am feeling a bit burnt out, my examinations of the remaining online First Folios is going to be speedier.

University of Pennsylvania, Furness Library (West 180):

Available as individual page images and possible to save as jpegs. Penn’s interface makes it easy to navigate the First Folio by play or by page number. It’s also possible to compare F1 to other works if you follow the “select a text for comparison” option in the upper left—if you’re interested in Hamlet, there’s a lot of goodies in there, and it’s nicely displayed side-by-side. Information about the specifics of the copy or of the image aren’t obvious. (I happen to know that this interface was put together in the mid-1990s, since I had grad school friends who worked on it.) The book begins not with its cover (although you can catch glimpses of it and page edges here) but with the blank recto of Ben Jonson’s poem, “To the reader” (sig. ΠA1r). (Penn also has a copy of the Peter Blayney booklet I mentioned above, which is handy to know if it’s not available through the Octavo pdf.)

Penn's First Folio, with our Measure for Measure page in its largest state

Penn’s First Folio, with a screenshot of our Measure for Measure page in its largest state

Brandeis (West 153) and New South Wales (West 192)

I’ve grouped these together because they are both available at Internet Shakespeare Editions as individual page images than can be saved as jpegs. The Brandeis copy is also available through Perseus, though I find that interface doesn’t have much to recommend it over the ISE. Neither one of these is a great facsimile (the NSW is oddly pink and there’s a lot of bleed-through in the Brandeis—shooting with a black page behind the leaf would have helped with that, wouldn’t it?), but the interface is easy to navigate. I particularly like how if you’re looking at a specific place in one copy, you can jump straight to that location in the other copy. There’s also a nice “compare” feature, just as in the Penn above, but here with more options.

MM in Brandeis copy

MM in Brandeis copy

MM in New South Wales copy

MM in New South Wales copy

Miami University (West 174)

Available online as individual page images that can be saved as jpegs. I love that Miami has done this but it’s very hard to use and the quality of the digitization, by current standards, is not good. It’s easy to initially find your way through the book to a specific play, as you can see from the screenshot below, and it generates a stable URL to bring you back to a specific page (here’s my MM example).

the navigation interface for Miami's copy

the navigation interface for Miami’s copy

Once you’re at the page you want, you can zoom in pretty deeply (the pull-down menu says “100%”) but it’s actually larger-than-life-size, as you can tell if you click on the image below to see its full size.

detail of Miami's MM

detail of Miami’s MM

I’m not a big fan of the quality of the image (bleed-through is a lot more distracting in images than it is in real life), but it’s more than usable. What I find really difficult is that once you’ve zoomed into the image, you lose all the navigation tools—the sidebar menus that let you move to different pages completely disappears. Even if you return to a smaller size (the zoom level pull-down is still at the top of the screen), that doesn’t return the sidebars. Perhaps there’s a metaphor in here, about not being able to see the forest for the trees.

A final note, for those of you who actually read all the way through this: I am delighted that all these copies exist and that all these institutions have made them openly available. Where I offer criticisms it’s in the spirit of love and improvement. As I said above, it’s amazing how quickly these projects age: ones built just a decade ago look impossibly old-fashioned and not up to snuff. By looking at how they all stack up, I hope anyone thinking about how to digitize copies of books not only thinks about how they’re being used but how they can be remade so that they continue to be used.

SQ issue on Shakespeare and performance

I am thrilled to announce that the special issue of Shakespeare Quarterly that I guest edited on Shakespeare and Performance is now finally in print! That issue went through an open peer review at MediaCommons, and I will be writing something more about that process and experience.

But for now, I want to share that there’s some really wonderful, smart, and interesting stuff in the issue and I hope you’ll take a look at it; the issue includes pieces by W.B. Worthen, Ramona Wray, Zeno Ackermann, Mark Thornton Burnett, Daniel L. Keegan, and Todd A. Borlik. Abstracts are online at the Folger and the articles and abstracts will soon (tomorrow!) be are now up at Project Muse for those who have access.

Even more thrillingly, I want to share with you one section to which I have the author’s rights, “Rethinking Academic Reviewing: A Conversation with Michael Dobson, Peter Holland, Katherine Rowe, Christian Billing, and Carolyn Sale.” You can find it linked in this post and in the sidebar on the right.

And, just because I can, here’s my brief introduction to the issue, which I hope will convince you to go check the whole thing out!

Copyright © 2011 Folger Shakespeare Library. This article first appeared in Shakespeare Quarterly, Volume 62, Issue 3, September 2011, pages 307-8.

This special issue of Shakespeare Quarterly presents a wide range of writing on Shakespeare and performance. They look back to early modern understandings of Henry VIII and forward to the growing genre of performances of Shakespeare in prison. They range geographically in interest from South America to Northern Ireland and from Germany to Japan, and they examine performances mediated by print, stage practice, filmic techniques, and modern closed-circuit video surveillance. They consider the ongoing debate about the relationship between literariness and performativity, propose a shift away from hauntings to prophecies, and argue that the act of performance and the recording of performance in our written work shape both our understanding of early modern drama and the relationships we forge with other scholars and communities.

In calling for papers for this special issue we hoped to gauge the present state of the field and announce our intent to make SQ a home for a wider range of writings on Shakespeare and performance. The breadth of responses to that call confirms the continued growth and transformation of  the study of performance and its centrality to the larger world of Shakespeare scholarship. This vitality is further reflected in the depth and intensity of conversation in the comments on our open peer review of submissions.

We are eager to expand beyond the boundaries of what we formerly referred to as “Shakespeare Performed.” This issue’s “Rethinking Academic Reviewing” signals our desire to rethink the subject and practice of reviewing, while the issue as a whole represents other forms of engagement with the issue of Shakespeare and performance that might suggest patterns for future contributions.

A note about the process of putting this issue together: as is now SQ practice, we issued an open call for papers for this special issue. In response to the CFP, we received about twenty-five submissions. Of those we selected the strongest six pieces to put up for an open peer review, held online at MediaCommons. There each piece was commented on by a group of self-selected peer reviewers over a period of six weeks. At the end of the review period, authors revised their essays and resubmitted them to SQ. We are publishing four of those pieces here, along with two other essays that came in to SQ outside of the call for papers and that went through SQ’s usual double-blind review process. We are extremely grateful to Kathleen Fitzpatrick and MediaCommons for being our partners in this. We also want to thank the authors who participated in this open review, which might have felt at times like an overly exposed one. Finally, we wish to acknowledge publicly the readers who took the time to participate and comment in this evaluation. The work of reviewers is often invisible, but in this case, the open nature of the review means that we can thank them by name: Andrew Bonnell, Alex Huang, Anita Hagerman, Carolyn Sale, Thomas Cartelli, Chris Fahrenthold, Christian Billing, Daniel Keegan, Jami Rogers, J.B. Cook, James C. Bulman, Jeremy Lopez, John Gillies, Karl Steel, Katherine Rowe, Linda Charnes, Matt Kozusko, Michael Dobson, Pascale Aebischer, Paul Menzer, Peter Kirwan, Peter Holland, Lois Potter, Romana Wray, Robert Tierney, Todd Borlik, Tom Magill, W. B. Worthen, and Zeno Ackermann.[i]

[i] The essays and comments from the open review are archived at MediaCommons and are able to be viewed at One essay has been taken down since the open review at the author’s behest.

SAA 2012 seminar description

(If you’re a seminar member looking for the papers, you can find them here.)

As some of you might have seen in the most recent Shakespeare Association of America Bulletin, Pascale Aebischer and I are directing a seminar on non-Shakespearean Drama and Performance. Both of us have a strong interest in shifting away from early modern performance studies’ dominant interest in Shakespeare to thinking about performance in relationship to drama by other early modern and modern playwrights. Since the Bulletin text is so necessarily brief, we thought it might be helpful to share our longer seminar proposal so that folks interested in participating can get a sense of the questions that are driving our seminar.

If you’re looking for an SAA seminar to participate in next year and you’re interested in these questions, please consider ours. We’d be happy to see position papers alongside seminar papers; review essays surveying the field might also be helpful contributions. Mostly, we are eager to have a conversation about what is at stake in defining performance studies beyond the terrain of Shakespeare and welcome anyone interested in that discussion. More information about SAA, membership, and the conference is at their website.

A quick aside on the seminar title: Pascale and I struggled to come up with a title and phrasing to use that conveyed our interest in moving beyond Shakespeare without defining those other playwrights and plays in terms of Shakespeare. “Non-Shakespearean”, alas, does just that, but it is really the only shorthand available. “Shakespeare’s contemporaries” runs into the same problem—defining everything in terms of Shakespeare—while introducing an emphasis on contemporaneity that excludes too much of interest. With some reluctance, then, we stuck with describing our interest as lying in the non-Shakespearean, hoping that recognizing the inadequacy of the phrase might open up avenues for moving through the challenges of this field. A further aside: when I went looking for some image to illustrate this post (all blogs should be beeyooteefull as well as stimulating), I couldn’t find something that worked to my satisfaction? Choosing one non-Shakespearean playwright just seemed to privilege that writer over others; replacing Shakespeare with Middleton or Jonson isn’t really adequate for our conversation. Instead, I took the Droeshout portrait and erased his face. In addition to being satisfying, it gives us a blank canvas on which to try new approaches.

Non-Shakespearean Drama and Performance: critical implications

Seminar Leaders: Sarah Werner (Folger Shakespeare Library) and Pascale Aebischer (Exeter, UK)

Brief description:
Shakespeare’s contemporaries have begun to compete with him for dominance in theaters, films, editions, and the study of Renaissance drama. This seminar explores how studying non-Shakespearean productions affects Renaissance performance studies, cultural studies, and editorial practices. What impact do such performances have on our understanding of Renaissance dramaturgies—including Shakespeare’s? Papers are also welcome that consider issues of methodology and terminology that arise in these studies. The aim is to explore new critical directions beyond a focus solely on Shakespeare.

Further description:
This proposal arises out of recent responses to the expansion of the canon of Renaissance drama in present-day performance. The methodologies and approaches established in Shakespearean performance studies do not unproblematically map onto the study of performances of plays by other early modern dramatists. The upsurge in performances of these plays and the performance traditions that are emerging prompt the need for a reassessment of our critical approaches to the performance of Renaissance drama. This involves a re-situation of Shakespearean performance in the context of performances of plays by his contemporaries, of present-day drama and of ‘the Renaissance period’ in plays and films. Books by Roberta Barker (2007) and Kim Solga (2009) and essay collections by Sarah Werner (2010), Greg Colón Semenza (2010), Mark Thornton Burnett and Adrian Streete (forthcoming, 2011) and Kathryn Prince and Pascale Aebischer (forthcoming, 2011-12) are beginning to explore the changing landscape of Renaissance drama in performance and to reassess performance studies and cultural studies methodologies in the light of this. Our objective is to take stock of these critical developments and explore new directions in performance studies that reach out beyond Shakespeare, giving us a fuller understanding of the impact of present-day performance on the study of Renaissance drama.

Our seminar reaches out to graduate students, junior and senior scholars, inviting them to join us in reflecting on the impact of performance and of thinking in terms of performance on their critical practices, whether in the fields of performance studies and cultural studies or as editors and readers of Renaissance drama. Specifically, we will ask contributors to address the following questions:

  • How does the study of performances of plays by Shakespeare’s contemporaries, precursors and successors impact on our understanding of Renaissance drama and dramaturgies?
  • Conversely, how does the study of plays by Renaissance dramatists other than Shakespeare change our understanding of what performance is and how it works?
  • What methodological and terminological issues arise from a focus on Shakespeare’s contemporaries in performance?
  • How does embedding Shakespeare’s plays in a wider dramatic context (Renaissance and present-day) contribute to our understanding of the role of Renaissance drama in present-day performance?
  • How can awareness of actual or potential performance impact on editorial and reading practices?

Academic biographies of seminar leaders:
Sarah Werner is Undergraduate Program Director at the Folger Shakespeare Library and Associate Editor of Shakespeare Quarterly. She is the editor of New Directions in Renaissance Drama and Performance Studies (2010) and author of Shakespeare and Feminist Performance: Ideology on Stage (2001). She is currently guest editing a special issue of Shakespeare Quarterly on Shakespeare and performance and is textual editor of The Taming of the Shrew for the 3rd edition of the Norton Shakespeare. She has been a member of SAA since 1994, and has been to every conference since then except for the 1996 world conference. She has directed two SAA seminars, “Editing Performance Decisions / Performing Editorial Decisions” (1998) and “The State of Performance Criticism: Where Are We Today and Where Are We Headed” (2001); co-directed one workshop, “Editing for Performance” (2004); and has been an invited respondent for seminars in 2007 and 2009. She was also a presenter at a paper session on performance practices in 1995.

Pascale Aebischer is Senior Lecturer in Renaissance Studies at the University of Exeter, UK. She is co-editor, with Kathryn Prince, of Performing Early Modern Drama Today (CUP, 2011-12) and is guest editing an issue of Shakespeare Bulletin dedicated to films of plays by Marlowe, Jonson, Middleton, Webster and Ford (Winter 2011). She is also writing a book, Beyond Shakespeare: Screening Early Modern Drama, which reflects on the often tense relationship between the Shakespeare industry and independent film adaptations of early modern drama. Pascale Aebischer is the co-editor of Remaking Shakespeare (2003) and author of Shakespeare’s Violated Bodies (2004) and Jacobean Drama (2010). In 2010, she was an invited speaker in Francesca T. Royster’s SAA seminar on ‘Shakespeare’s Female Icons’. With Roberta Barker and Kathryn Prince, she is co-chairing a session on ‘Counter-Shakespeares’ at the World Shakespeare Congress in Prague in 2011.

plays begetting books

I’m in the midst of my working vacation, and have been slogging through–I mean, thoroughly enjoying–lots of As You Like It promptbooks. It’s not not fun, it’s just that there are so many productions, and at the moment I’m only looking at the Royal Shakespeare Company ones! Starting with Vanessa Redgrave as Rosalind in 1961 through Katy Stephens in the production I saw the other night, there are thirteen different RSC productions. It’s being staged every 4 years! And that doesn’t even count the transfers to London or Newcastle.

Aside from being struck by the huge popularity of this play (at least, a popularity with the audience; the reviewers tend to range from blase to a despairing animosity toward the play), I’ve been struck by the staggering number of books that these productions generate. And I don’t mean books like the sort I’m writing, books that are about the productions or about the play. I mean books that come into being through the process of putting together a production. There’s the published text that is the basis of the production, the rehearsal promptbook(s) in which the blocking and cuts are worked out, the production promptbook recording the final versions of those blocks and cuts, the stage manager’s script with cues for entrances, lighting, and sound. There are of course the individual actors’ scripts (which don’t tend to be kept in production archives), notebooks that the director or other theatre artists keep during the rehearsal process, the musical score, the stage manager’s reports, the costume bible.

After my last post on printed drama, in which I insisted that plays aren’t books, a friend wondered whether I wasn’t being overly simplistic–can’t plays sometimes be books as well as performances? I’m still reluctant to think of printed books as plays rather than as, say, drama, or playbooks, or some other category that is subtly different. But I am struck doing this research how many books come into being during the process of creating a performance.

The picture at the top of this post is from the very tidy promptbook of the 1930 Othello starring Paul Robeson at the Savoy Theatre in London. You can see that it’s a workbook made with the cuttings of a printed text, reassembled with diagrams and cues and other performance details. The picture below is from an earlier promptbook, David Garrick’s working out of his 1773 Drury Lane production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There’s lots of cutting and rearranging going on. A better example of Garrick’s working method can be found online as part of the Folger’s past exhibition about Garrick, in the section “What is a promptbook.” There you can see his working book for his 1773 Hamlet, full of tipped-in sheets, and folded down pages. It’s really remarkable, and a great example of how books are adapted by their readers for their own purposes as well as of how playbooks are remade into performances.


Is Othello a sad book?

Some time ago, you might recall, I had a bit of a fascination with Frances Wolfreston. (I know, and I totally agree: what’s not to be fascinated by?) From those posts came a lovely missive out of the blue–a colleague at Penn sent an email telling me that they also have one of her books:

Right there at the top of the first page of the text is that familiar inscription, “frances wolfreston her bouk,” but added onto this, in the same hand but a now fainter ink, is something even better: “a sad one.” The book in question is Othello (in this case, the 1655 edition, otherwise known as Q3, or the third quarto). I love the personalization of the inscription–we’ve seen Wolfreston inscribe her name in other books, but it’s not as often that we come across her commentary. And as commentary goes, this note was a productive one for me. The story of Othello is certainly a sad one. But is it a sad book?

Back when I used to teach plays to undergraduates, they would often refer to “the book” as in, “My favorite moment in this book was when the Duchess thought she was holding Ferdinand’s chopped-off hand!” My response was always to insist that the play isn’t a book! and that to conceive of that moment as happening in a book instead of on stage was to fundamentally misunderstand what was happening and how it was made it happen. My perspective then was as a performance scholar: books are objects that you read and they work differently than plays. We might read plays–and with some plays, such as early modern drama, we read them obsessively and too often never watch them nor imagine them performatively–but plays work differently on stage and any good play draws on techniques that make meaning only in performance.

In that sense, Othello is not a book. It’s a play. On the other hand, we do often use the word “book” to refer not to a specific book but to mean a more general story. When I ask my friends, “Have you read any good books recently?” very rarely am I interested in whether or not they have a specific physical object in mind; usually I’m wondering whether or not they have a story to recommend to me (and too often, they don’t!). In this fashion, describing Othello as a sad book is entirely accurate. It is sad. (And infuriating.)

But Wolfreston’s inscription makes me wonder (again) about the ways in which the physical form of books affect how we read plays. How does a playbook differ from a play performance? And how might a playbook represent performance through its mise-en-page?

One obvious place to start thinking about this question is stage directions, a particularly glaring occasion when stage action meets the printed page. I don’t think we always pay a lot of attention to stage directions other than to sometimes mock them for what editors are suggesting or to criticize them for their incompleteness (indicating entrances but no exits, for instance, are a common feature of early modern English playbooks). But while the content of stage directions certainly matter, so does the way in which they are presented on the page.

Consider this stage direction from the 1623 Folio Titus Andronicus:

It looks, I think, pretty familiar (zoomable image). The text is centered and italicized (thus differentiating it–as the speech prefixes are also set off–from the spoken text). This is a pretty detailed direction, indicating the main characters in the action (that “with others” is entirely typical) and, unusually, indicating the precise location through which the characters should be entering: one door and the other door. You might want to note that this direction mixes terms: characters are referred to as within the fiction of the story (the direction uses character names, not actor names) but the location refers to theatrical location (the upstage doors to the tiring house). But that, too, isn’t unusual–it’s no different than the directions for characters to appear “aloft” or for sounds to happen “within.”

So that’s a typical stage direction. But consider how this moment is represented in the 1594 quarto edition of the play:

It’s the same text (zoomable). But here the layout is noticeably atypical, with the two entrances represented on the page akin to how the blocking would have been on stage: one group on one side, the other group on the other side, the face-off of the brothers indicated with the face-off of the brackets. We don’t usually see stage directions like this. Jonathan Bate’s 1995 edition for the Arden3 series does reproduce the layout of the quarto direction, but most editions do not. And why not? I would assume both that it does not seem important to the editor and that its atypicalness makes editors wary. Familiarity might breed contempt, but usually it breeds comfort. A stage direction that we can read over without dwelling on allows readers to focus on the dialogue–the part of the play that scholars (and general readers) usually prioritize.

My point in comparing these two examples is to highlight the ways in which our habitual sense of what a stage direction looks like obscures other possibilities for how we might think of the printed playbook as conveying–or being capable of conveying–performance practices. If this sort of opposing entrances could be represented in this way, what other possibilities are out there, ignored by modern editors and scholars?

There’s a lot more to be said on the issues I’ve raised here, including the history of the 1594 Titus (the sole existing copy of which is at the Folger; see the catalogue record for more details) and more thoughts on how we read printed plays. I’ll follow up this most with some more along these lines. But in the meantime, if you know of any examples of early printed drama–or, heck, even later printed drama–that seems to you to be doing something different with the interface between print and performance, I would love to hear about it!

And last, some very necessary additional credits and information:

Thanks to Peter Stallybrass for taking and sending on the photo of Wolfreston’s Othello to me. You can see this book at the University of Pennsylvania’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library‘s Furness Collection (shelfmark EC Sh155 622oc). If you haven’t encountered it before, Penn has a lovely rare books library with lovely librarians (and I don’t just say this because of all the hours I spent in the air-conditioned sanctuary of Furness). They have a nice online image collection that you can browse as well as a digital text and image collection that has some great teaching tools.

As for the plays I’ve mentioned, I have to confess that very rarely did my students identify Ferdinand’s severed hand as their favorite moment. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, get thee to Duchess of Malfi immediately! It’s only now that I’m realizing that I chose a theme of lopped-off body parts to connect my examples in this post (okay, not so much Othello, but still…). And if you don’t know what that refers to, get thee to Titus Andronicus immediately! If you’ve downloaded the software for the Folger’s digital collection (as opposed to using it through a browser), you can pull up the entire quarto of the play as a digital book (do a shelfmark search for STC 22328). You can also do the same for the complete folio (shelfmark STC 22273 Fo.1 no.05), though you can also access the digital book through the Hamnet catalogue entry. Then you can read and zoom the entire play to your heart’s content!