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On Editing One's First Play by Clifford Leech
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Page 61

On Editing One's First Play
Clifford Leech

This article is concerned with elementary matters which may seem beneath the consideration of readers of the journal in which it is appearing. Nevertheless, my experience as an editor and a general editor suggests that I can save newly commissioned editors from a sense of frustration and an expense of time if I talk about some guiding-lines that are in most instances applicable to the editing of a play. The situation that I have in mind is that where you (I shall employ this pronoun frequently, for what I am writing is in the nature of a personal, though generalized, communication) have agreed for the first time to edit a play in a series which has a general editor. Some few of us are totally responsible for editing the plays of a major dramatist; others are producing a facsimile or 'type-facsimile', probably with an indication of variants in copies other than the one used as basis for the text. For such scholars the substance of this article will be irrelevant. More frequently, however, in undertaking to edit a play, you are contributing it to a series aimed at a fairly wide public and appearing under the auspices of a publisher who has initiated the project and has chosen a general editor who is concerned with choosing the editors and with ensuring that proper standards of scholarship are maintained. In most instances general procedures will have been agreed upon between the publisher and the general editor, but the general editor will not have foreseen every contingency and will probably in any event allow the individual editor a considerable measure of freedom within the total scheme.

It will be well to remember always that we are dealing with a triangular relationship, between the publisher and the general editor and the editor. I shall not in what follows have much to say about the publisher,[1] but at this point I should salute the enterprise of a considerable


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number of both commercial and university presses who in recent years have undertaken the publication of a series of dramatic texts. The triangular relationship, however, has its hazards: because it is triangular, there is often an imperfect liaison, so that an editor may get instructions (about proofs and the like) from the publisher different from those he has received from the general editor. My advice here is blunt: communicate with the publisher as much as you wish, but let your general editor know what you have said; when there is a conflict in instructions, at once get in touch with your general editor about it.[2] His instructions may, however, be buried in a cyclostyled memorandum he sent you some time ago, when you agreed to edit your text: it is part of your responsibility to know this document well.

Each of the three members of the triangular partnership has his particular responsibility. The publisher is responsible for seeing that the volume is well produced, is appropriate for the market he has in mind, and is a reputable book on his list. The general editor must see that each volume in the series maintains the scholarly standards he has set himself. The editor must do his play justice, must remember that many thousands of people are going to read the play first in his edition, and that, in the case of lesser-known plays, his may be the last edition in this century.

Some things you might remember are: in all probability, your general editor is underpaid and tired; he believes in his job, and expects you to believe in yours; there is no point in losing your temper with him (every editor may feel so inclined on occasion); he may well have restrained himself rather hard before deciding that he must not lose his temper with you. The remarkable thing is that, in the end, friendship between editor and general editor tends to grow through the joint task; in few instances is there an ultimate falling-out. But patience on both sides will at times be needed.

It will be as well if I indicate the limits of my own experience in the triangular situation. Many years ago, when I was far less equipped for the task than any reader of this journal, I did a volume from manuscript for Henry de Vocht's Materials for the Study of the Old English Drama: it was de Vocht who first showed me how much a general editor can do for a volume in his series; more recently I have edited a New Arden Shakespeare and a Signet Shakespeare, and thus again


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have had the advantage of working with excellent general editors; I have been general editor of the Revels Plays since its beginning: in this series, at the moment of writing, fifteen volumes have been published, two more are at the press, and many more commissioned. So I have some grounds for commenting on the relation between editor and general editor. It is the editor's duty to conform with the established practices of the series he is contributing to, but it must be remembered that in some details these practices may change as time goes on. You, as editor, must not only know your general editor's cyclostyled memorandum but must be aware of any modifications that have appeared in the latest volumes of the series. A general editor may revise his guidance-memorandum fairly often, but he cannot do so every half-year. When you, the editor, decide there is a good case in your particular play for departing from the general rules, you should consult your general editor in advance: my experience is that you will find him sympathetic if you have an arguable case. It is your book, not his. But you must be prepared to notice what the given procedures are, including some he has not thought of mentioning (e.g., single or double quotation-marks as basic, the mode of indicating scene-headings, British or American spelling). He will probably have told you about the policy relating to elisions, including '-ed' endings in verbs and '-est' endings in superlatives and second person singular verbs. You should remember, too, that you should not have taken the volume on if you were not prepared, on this occasion, to accept the basic practices of the series. But it is his duty (i) to see that the general plan of the series has been kept in mind, (ii) to correct your manifest errors (and these may not be few, however distinguished a scholar you are), (iii) to advise and warn when he thinks you have left yourself vulnerable to attack from reviewers and to incredulity from non-reviewing readers, (iv) to bear in mind the general character of the series as already agreed on with the publisher, and (v) to recognize that it is indeed your book that is being published and, if you disregard his warnings and advice (as distinct from direction within the scheme indicated), to let you run the risk.

Let us now assume that you have just agreed to edit a volume for the New Arden, the Revels, the Regents, the New Mermaids, the Fountainwell, the Signet, the New Penguin, the Pelican, or any other of the Shakespearian or related series that are at present, or have been recently, in production. You will have to produce an introduction (probably with a firm or maximum word-length indicated), a text with collation, a number of explanatory annotations, and such appendices


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as you want and the general editor (aware of the publisher's exigencies) will allow. It must be assumed that you have familiarized yourself with (i) the drama of the period (if it is Elizabethan-Stuart, you must have read the whole of your playwright's work and a considerable proportion of contemporary drama — the whole of Shakespeare, Marlowe, Jonson, the best-known plays of Lyly, Greene, Kyd, Marston, Chapman, Beaumont and Fletcher, Webster, Tourneur, Middleton, Ford, Massinger, Shirley)[3], (ii) the major non-dramatic works of the period, (iii) the 'important' writings on the playwright of your choice, and (iv) the main contributions to bibliographical and textual study of the last thirty years. You can, if you like, make a 'start' (seeing the paper accumulate) before you have done all this, but you will have to do it sometime before you send in your typescript to the general editor.

But let us further assume you have completed this preliminary work, or are some way advanced with it. It might seem reasonable now to start preparing your text. No great harm in beginning there. Yet I would urge all editors, before they know their play so well that its meanings lose much of their difficulty, to go through a reasonably reliable modern reprint (if one exists: if not, it must be done from photostats of the original edition) and underline all words and phrases that appear to need annotation. The writing of the actual annotations must be postponed until the text has been put into shape for the general editor.

Now you must choose your 'copy text'. I have been rebuked by a colleague and friend (quoting Greg[4]) for using this term for an edition in modern spelling. What I mean here is simply the edition you are going to base the text on as your primary authority, however much you may alter it to conform with modern usages in spelling and punctuation. Incidentally, whether your text is to be in old or modern spelling, whether you will change punctuation only when it is manifestly wrong or will try to give in modern punctuation the sense that Elizabethan-Stuart punctuation implied, the basic procedures will be the same. The difference is simply this (though there are intermediate cases): one type of edition aims at presenting the text as the author would have liked to see it come from the original press; the other aims at translating into modern usage the accidentals of such an imagined text — at


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giving, for example, a play by a contemporary of Shakespeare in a form similar to that in which modern readers encounter Shakespeare himself when they are reading the best twentieth-century editions of his work. Of course, your choice of 'basic copy' will depend on your decision that edition A represents, as nearly as was then possible, what the author would have liked to see. Perhaps he later revised, and you will have to decide whether you want to base your text on edition B (representing his revision) or on edition A (representing his first thoughts). Or edition B may make additions to the text which you are convinced are the author's, while the rest of edition B is a mere reprint of A; or editions A and B may derive from independent, and perhaps equally authoritative, manuscripts: in either of these cases your edited text will doubtless be a composite one; in the latter case, indeed, this composite text will be in some degree a thing of your imagining, based on calculated guesswork.[5]

Having, for good bibliographical reasons, made your choice of basic copy, you can now begin on your own text. You will need (i) a reliable photostat of the 'basic copy', (ii) some typing-paper,[6] (iii) a set of cards. From the photostat you will type what you think will present, in accordance with the procedures of the series you are contributing to, a provisionally acceptable text. You will remember that this typescript is not going to the general editor: it can be as heavily ink-corrected as you like (and it will be), but you must space it generously, with wide margins. And do not use paste-ups from a previous edition: if you do, you will either follow them too slavishly or quarrel with them when they are as good as you could do; whichever your inclination, you will ultimately leave some of their errors in. Every time you depart from your 'basic copy', use a card to indicate under act-, scene- and line-reference what the departure is. The cards that result will not be your ultimate collation, because you will have noted all sorts of things that no edition needs to record. But give yourself a free hand at first, including if you wish the insertion or omission of every comma, every conceivably meaningful change of punctuation.

Speech-headings will perhaps give some difficulty, however fully your general editor has gone into the matter in the guiding-lines he has


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offered. Remember you want the play to be read with as little difficulty as possible, and you may (I hope you will) want actors to use your text in the theatre. So, whatever you do with scene-headings (where I hope you will be austere) and stage-directions (where I hope you will be generous in the number you provide but always economical in wording), see that the speech-headings are clear and uncluttered by brackets. Do not use different headings for the same characters, whatever your 'basic copy' does (you may collate if you will). Use collation, annotation, or comment in the introduction to provide any necessary observation on a changed form of heading, but do not hold up either reader's time or rehearsal time by slavish adherence to what Q1, or whatever it is, has put in front of you. Q1 is not sacred, except in a facsimile edition.

You will have your own views on the lineation of your text, and your general editor is likely to respect them, but in turn you must listen to him when he says that two or more consecutive part-line speeches by different characters must be counted either as one numbered line (i.e., a blank verse line or approximately so) or as more than one such line (i.e., as two or more separate fragmentary lines). It will be for you to decide which decision is to be reached in every instance. Remember, too, that either your series counts every line of print as a numbered line or it counts a total verse-line as a numbered line (indenting appropriately). When you change the lineation of the 'basic copy', you must of course make an entry on a card.[7]

Do not do what some editors have done: have all available editions around you simultaneously, and then try to make a finally acceptable text by comparing them all at once. That is the way to induce weariness and neurosis. Weariness is the worse of the two. You would not have started on the job at all if you had not already some degree of neurosis. If you have made a provisional text from your 'basic copy' as seen in the light of your own common sense and your knowledge of the idiom of the playwright and his time, it will not take you very long to go through subsequent editions one by one, noting each reading which differs from the one that is, so far, yours.

For, when the pages and the cards have mounted and you have come to the end of your text, you have to consider every detail in other editions. And you must not trust any previous edition (however distinguished) to have done your collation for you: no edition is free


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from error. It is true that some previous editions will turn out to be hardly worth examining in detail, and in some instances you will know them in advance. But certainly, from the first reprinting to the last scholarly edition, you must compare your rough text with what previous editors have done: where they have differed either from the 'basic copy' or from your present rough text, you must make an entry on the appropriate card. Some of the cards will be fairly full by now.

Next you must consider the variants in the extant copies of your 'basic copy'. How much of this you will do will depend on the series you are working for. For the Arden and the Revels, an editor is expected to establish to his own satisfaction the 'corrected' and 'uncorrected' states of each forme, if both states exist (and it will be remembered that instances of double correction occur); for a series that comes nearer to the 'textbook' class, the duty may be, reluctantly, excused. Any variants discovered will be entered on the cards.

You are now in a position to revise your rough draft, and you may make substantial changes in the light of your acquired knowledge of previous editors' handling of the text. When I was editing The Two Noble Kinsmen for the Signet, I changed my mind between prose and verse after I had seen what other editors (from the eighteenth century onwards) had done. On the other hand, you may feel (as I did on that occasion) that an emendation is justified despite the other editors' obliviousness of it. And you will prune your collation, deciding what is and what is not worth presenting to a twentieth-century reader. No one cares, really, whether at some time 'Ile' was expanded to 'I will', unless the metre is substantially helped by it. Remember that not even a Ph.D. examiner wants every spelling- or punctuation-variant over three centuries presented to him. You will scale down your card-collation to the point where you may be prepared to shed tears over labour lost. But it is not lost labour: if the collation on your cards were not over-long, you could not be sure that you had done the job fully enough. It is a still more demanding task to decide what you should offer to the reader. And you must remember, too, that if you give him too much to read in your collations he will not read any of them: do not bury the important things under a monument of trifles. This is one reason why collation should be kept strictly apart from explanatory annotation (as did not happen with John Munro's London Shakespeare). What you must do is to indicate where you have felt you have had an editorial choice to make, whether or not you are convinced you have made the right choice.

Now you have text and collation more or less done. The next task


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should be annotation, and you are in a position to go back to that copy you underlined. You may think that many things you marked on it are not worth annotating, so clear has the text become to you. But you have to bear in mind that you are one of the first, perhaps the first, to edit this play in the twentieth century, and, as a scholar, you know far more about the language of the play than most people are likely to do. At this stage, moreover, you may notice some words and phrases giving you difficulty which you had previously passed over as needing no comment: some difficulties are more obvious at a first glance, others become obvious only as one gets to know the text more fully. So you will probably have additions to make to your rough list of points to annotate. In any event, it is useful to annotate as freely as your series allows you (and of course in this there is a great deal of variation). When you are baffled, indicate the fact: otherwise a reader will be frustrated by his own sense of ignorance. When O.E.D. gives the answer, refer to it. When you find, independently of O.E.D., an illuminating parallel in the literature of the time, give it. When a simple gloss will do (i.e., when the scholar knows, but an undergraduate may not), give that: no one is going to feel insulted if you gloss more than he needs. If you annotate unnecessarily, it is your general editor's task to tell you so: he has already seen many other volumes in the series through the press. He should be aware, too, that to-day we can assume a much more limited acquaintance with classical mythology and the Bible than was the case fifty years ago, when the reading public for old plays was much smaller.

One of my editors told me that he got most of his editorial pleasure out of annotations; one of my general editors told me that he 'liked reading notes'. You may not feel the same way, but there is in annotation a sense of grappling with every detail of the play's meaning that has its special rewards.

Your edition may have appendices, at the discretion of the general editor, who will be in some degree controlled by the publisher. These may be 'sources', which are important but do not need to be 'edited' as your text has been edited. It is usually best to give them in the original spelling from the edition of your choice, with such alterations as to make them generally intelligible — indicating, in a head-note or footnotes, what liberties you have taken.

And then there is the introduction, on which you will have been given a directive as to content and word-length. This may be the editor's most rewarding task and is certainly his most arduous. He will feel particularly on his mettle here, but will have to listen to his general


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editor when his argument has been obscure or he has been insufficiently heedful of his play's character. As we all are. The play that is being edited is one that has, in many instances, given rise to more than one interpretation. If it is by a major dramatist, the differences may be considerable. Part of the task is to give the reader an idea of previous views, to indicate the consensus if there is one; at the same time the general editor must be prepared to let the editor say what he himself thinks: that is one of the inalienable rights when one is editing a play in the kind of series we are here concerned with. No general editor, if he is any good at his job, will agree with everything said in the introductions in his series. If he did, he would either have chosen his editors badly or have imposed his views too forcibly on them. There is nothing, there can be nothing, definitive in our interpretation of a major, or even a specially interesting, dramatic text. We have indeed the right to announce our own views; we have no right in our introduction to indicate only our own views.[8]

The general editor should check all the editor has quoted from his own text in his introduction and annotations. He may also check Shakespeare quotations too (and why does any editor give line-numbers from Alexander, who, in other ways so admirable, says he is following Old Cambridge numbering and is therefore impossible to refer to for prose?), but he cannot be expected to check other references. There is a limit to what you can demand of him. Even so, most editors experience a shock when they discover what a second pair of eyes has found to be imperfect in their text, collations and references. No one of us — well, almost no one — should be allowed to edit a text entirely on his own. A general editor must scrutinize the typescript as fully as a man can, and must be more than an averagely good proofreader, on whom, none the less, the editor must not rely.

So (i) the text and collation, (ii) annotations, (iii) appendices, (iv) introduction. It is amazing how many good editions we have recently had; but how much work has been put into them by, for example, the Arden and Revels editors is by no means yet — or perhaps ever will be — generally realized.

Yet, when you have sent off the typescript to the general editor, you are probably under the impression that the work (proofs apart) has been done. It may be well to issue a warning: in any of the more ambitious series, you may regard it as highly probable that the typescript will come back. This will be no damning reflection on the quality of your work, but (i) the general editor is likely to have simple


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errors to point out, (ii) he may suggest more, or less, annotation, (iii) he may ask how you defend such-an-such an approach, may warn you of views you have not taken into account, may suggest that some aspects of the play have been neglected in the introduction. Where opinion (not fact, or an accepted practice of the series) is involved, he will leave the ultimate decision to you, but he has to indicate a dubiety that he thinks your readers may share with him. He may also have to say, with reluctance, that your introduction is longer than he can ask the publisher (with whom, as indeed you will have been told, he has made a previous agreement on this matter) to print. He may tell you that your appendices are too numerous or too long for the series.

So you then, digesting his doubtless many-paged letter, will have to check, to revise, to add, to scrap this or that part of your edition. Here indeed you have to try to be patient with your general editor — partly because he asks for revision, partly because he has probably delayed a long time before replying to you. Remember you are not his only editor; remember too that he is other things as well as a general editor, and doubtless had many things awaiting his attention (apart from things he is himself writing) when your typescript arrived.

You may put the whole matter aside for a time. But if you are aware that what has been just outlined is the normal sequence of events, you will not be unduly discouraged: you will get back to the job as soon as you can. The end-result may be an edition of outstanding quality. It will be your book, produced after listening to — sometimes following, sometimes rejecting — another man's advice. At least on occasion he is likely to have saved you from manifest error. You would save him, too, if the rôles were reversed.



Nevertheless, I feel justified in saying that, when an edition in one series manifestly owes a great deal to the edition of the same play in another series, it is incumbent on publisher, general editor and editor to see that full acknowledgment is made.


Some publishers are careless in the matter of reprinting, telling only the editor when an opportunity for revision arises: remember this, and keep your general editor informed; his, like yours, is a continuing responsibility for the volume you are doing.


When you have catching up to do — as you probably will — read as many of these plays as you can in preceding volumes of your series.


W. W. Greg, The Editorial Problem in Shakespeare (1942), p. liv. (And by the editor. Hereinafter called 'basic copy,' permission of the author. F. B.)


Fortunately, this situation is comparatively rare.


I assume you can type: if not, you are almost in the position of a travelling salesman who cannot drive. But, whether you type or not, you will have to check the typescript with maximum care: in any event, you will leave in some errors, and part of your general editor's task is to spot them. He will not have developed some of your own particular sources of error (e.g., eye-skip at certain points), but he will miss things that you do not.


You must of course remember that until recent times there was never indentation for a speech that continued a blank verse line begun by another character. If your series indents in such cases, this will not need any recording by you.


Cf. R. J. Schoeck (ed.), Editing Sixteenth Century Texts (1966), pp. 25-26.