Electronic Textual Editing: Drama Case Study: The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson [David Gants]
To engage in textual and editorial scholarship is to enter into a dialogue: with past men and women responsible for the creation and transmission of linguistic works; with current scholars and students negotiating among various theoretical perspectives; with future readers and teachers who will use and ultimately displace the editions that come down to them from us. Since the emergence of the scholar-editor toward the end of the nineteenth century, the relative emphasis given the voices of the past, present and future has shifted a number of times, and with those shifts has come a succession of overlapping editorial principles. The current state of affairs is fairly complex, 1 but the essential issues facing an editor embarking on a new project center on the weight given to the role of author or authors in the initial textual creation, the treatment of historical reception and material production in the overall interpretive presentation of the text, and the forms in which the planned edition will be issued.
The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson: project has navigated these critical waters since it emerged from a series of meetings and conferences organized by Ian Donaldson, David Bevington and Martin Butler in the 1990s, events that sought to generate ideas for a new edition of Ben Jonson's collected works. 2 The current standard edition is the monumental but outdated Oxford Ben Jonson: of C. H. Herford and Percy and Evelyn Simpson. While the eleven-volume work was published between 1925 and 1952, the initial contracts were issued in the 1890s, and the final volume to contain Jonsonian texts (volume eight, The Poems and Prose Works: ) was published in 1947, three years before W.W. Greg's ground-breaking The Rationale of Copy-Text. From the perspective of editorial rationale, therefore, Herford and Simpson's texts present numerous problems. Furthermore, the Oxford edition has no concordance or adequate index, the format of text on page is increasingly arcane and difficult to use, it lacks serious consideration of the circumstances of staging, and perhaps most important, materials relating to one work are often distributed among five or six volumes. The goal of the Cambridge General Editors is to re-edit the Jonson canon for scholars, teachers and students using current historical, literary and textual approaches and to re-present the results of this initiative in a comprehensive and well organized fashion that makes full use of all modes of textual reproduction.
To this end, the CEWBJ is envisioned as two complementary but materially distinct projects that together attempt to participate in the continuing editorial dialogue: a six-volume traditional edition that will be published in print form, and a networked electronic edition that, while initially released simultaneously with the print edition, will continue to develop dynamically on its own as scholarship and technology advance. The print side will present all of Jonson's works in modernized form along with introductions and annotations, essays exploring the historical, social, political, artistic, literary and theatrical environment within which he worked, and an extensive bibliography of Jonson scholarship. More than two dozen Contributing Editors have worked on the print edition, proceeding from an editorial rationale based upon authorial intention and emerging from fresh examinations of early manuscript and print witnesses, primary documentary evidence, and a re-evaluation of four centuries of scholarly commentary.
The initial version of the electronic side will contain all of the print edition in digital form as well as the complete old-spelling texts and image facsimiles of all the early print and manuscript witnesses, a full census of those witnesses, life and court masque primary archives, performance calendars, a reconstruction of Jonson's library, and a diverse collection of other materials that might help us better understand these important works. Once the basic electronic archive is completed the developmental strategy will shift from traditional to innovative, from compiling and organizing the essential evidence to investigating and analyzing the complex possible interactions among the various elements. As each part of the electronic edition accrues multiple layers of cross-referencing, the resource will form a dense research matrix in which individual items connect with one another in sophisticated ways. Hypertext theorists refer to this complex and unpredictable texture as rhyzomatic, a term that comes from the tangled root structure beneath a field of grass, a non-hierarchical mass of ever-growing links between and among tufts.
The primary research goal of this second and ongoing editorial phase is to explore and exploit the rapidly expanding potential of electronic publishing. In terms of content this means fully reconceptualizing the relationship between the structural demands placed upon information by computer networks and the needs of the scholars, teachers and students who will use those resources. Many electronic archives and editions rely upon relatively simple frameworks that structure material according to rigorous hierarchies branching from a central core. These organizing principles are partly the result of the way computers process information and partly the result of editors following traditional print-based models. Consequently the digital archives themselves are peculiarly static—they provide for the possibility of addition but not reorganization of material. Unlike such rigid etext collections, the CEWBJ: seeks to explore the vision of electronic textuality imagined by Jerome McGann in his influential Rationale of HyperText.: Rather than simply generating yet one more centralized archive we will embrace emerging technologies to distribute editorial power among the users, to provide them ‘the means for establishing an indefinite number of ‘centers', and for expanding their number as well as altering their relationships. One [will be] encouraged not so much to find as to make order—and then to make it again and again, as established orderings expose their limits’ (29). The CEWBJ will thus create a new paradigm for organizing digital scholarly editions, but at the same time it will also seek new ways of delivering and using its complex materials. Current search-and-display strategies serve hierarchically structured collections, but they can only skim the edges of an interwoven information matrix. Concurrent with the shift in editorial design from hierarchical to rhyzomatic will come a series of intensive research and development initiatives into more robust delivery modes designed specifically for resources of this new type of resource.
At the core of any editorial project, of course, resides the text, and the accuracy of the authorial materials must be a continuing concern. The CEWBJ derives its core texts from manual and keyboarded transcriptions of the source witnesses, employing either copies of the early quartos and folios owned by editors or the UMI Early English Books series of microfilm facsimiles, along with on-site transcriptions of manuscripts held in research archives. 3 The print edition's Contributing Editors had the choice of using the keyboarded texts or generating their own transcriptions, which in turn formed the basis for their modernized texts. Proofing of each work and its attendant secondary materials will occur in three stages: the first proofreading sequence is the responsibility of the individual Contributing Editors, the second will be performed by the General Editors, and the third by Cambridge University Press.
The original spelling texts upon which the electronic edition is based derive completely from keyboard transcriptions of the printed sources and manual transcriptions of the manuscript sources. The initial texts were keyboarded twice and the resulting copies compared electronically against one another as the first stage of proofing. In addition, because digital facsimiles of early modern books can often contain obscured or deleted text, the keyboarding firm was instructed to transcribe only those characters that the persons responsible for the actual data entry could positively identify. Any material not readily identified was tagged with an <unclear> marker. The second stage of proofing consists of concordances generated as a guide for identifying typographic errors, followed by a manual reading of the electronic text against its source facsimile (during which the <unclear> passages are restored). 4 Finally, the General and Electronic Editors will proof the entire electronic edition.
When printing these early interludes, stationers primarily followed the conventions employed in the production of manuscript collections (the layout of the mystery plays in the N-Town Manuscript, for example, closely resembles that of the 1550 Hycke Scorner).
Beyond speech, however, printed drama can also contain a variety of components that interpret the theatrical circumstances of the work for the reader—character lists, stage directions and descriptions, acting notes, and details of real or ideal performance. These details may derive from authorial instructions meant for the stage, ranging from simple sound cues to the complex visual alienation devices employed Bertolt Brecht. In many cases printed plays will also contain non-authorial stage directions added by the editor or publisher to help the reader follow the action in the theater of the mind. Sometimes a play text may include material never meant for the theatrical audience, such as G.B. Shaw's famous final direction from Candide: ‘They embrace. But they do not know the secret in the poet's heart.’
Here the stage direction ‘Et exeat corne[lius]’ is right justified so as to distinguish it from Cornelius' exit line. The early 1520s octavo of John Rastell's The Nature of the Four Elements contains a cast of characters, an abstract of the interlude's main points, a musical score for the songs, and even suggestions for cutting the piece:
whiche interlude yf ye hole matter be playd wyl conteyne the space of an hour and a halfe / but yf ye lyst ye may leue out muche of the sad mater as the messengers pte / and some of naturys parte and some of experyens pte & yet the matter wyl de pend conuenyently / and than it wyll not be paste thre quarters of an hour of length (sig. A1r).
A 1559 octavo translation of Seneca's tragedy Troas printed by Richard Tottle includes act and scene divisions as well as speech prefixes in-line with the text. Once printers began using roman and italic faces instead of blackletter in the 1580s they could differentiate speech prefix and speech typographically, which became the model for the next four centuries. By the late sixteenth/early seventeenth century authors began to bring an awareness of format and design elements to their work, sometimes providing in their holograph manuscripts a template for the printed book. 5
In addition to the text within the covers of a book, theatrical works frequently refer implicitly or explicitly to materials beyond the printed page. The many ballad operas produced and printed following the success of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera assumed a knowledge on the part of the readers of the tunes associated with each song, while Ben Jonson loaded many of his plays and masques with a thick shell of annotation until they resembled not so much popular play texts as religious tomes. In each case the secondary references form part of the work's linguistic and socio-historic nexus.
Finally, most twentieth-century editorial work rested upon the theoretical underpinnings of the New Bibliography, proceeded from an assumption of the primacy of the author, and sought ‘to reconstruct the text of works as intended by their creators’ (Tanselle, Rationale: 92). In the process less-than-careful editors often treated the physical evidence upon which complex editorial decisions were based as sterile accumulations of quantitative data. 6 However, recent scholarship on both sides of the Atlantic has underlined the need for editors to recognize anew the expressive nature of material forms and to investigate ‘how material texts of all kinds have been conceptualized, produced, marketed, and consumed at specific moments in history’ (Marcus 3). Critics such as D. F. McKenzie offered an approach that sought to ‘show the human presence in any recorded text’ (Bibliography 20). Exploiting the ability of emerging digital technologies to create and circulate high-quality reproductions of printed books and manuscripts as well as link together disparate materials, recent projects have attempted to reimagine the scholarly edition in hypertextual terms, freeing the text from the constraints of the physical codex form. The result has been an evolving set of editorial rationales that, as Jerome McGann and others have suggested, envision an interactive relationship between text and user, one that encourages a creative dialogue within a literary and textual community.
From the outset the Text Encoding Initiative recognized the special textual and material requirements of theatrical works, including in its guidelines a set of encoding strategies designed specifically for drama. John Lavagnino and Elli Mylonas have already addressed the issues surrounding the application to performance texts of the earlier TEI Guidelines for SGML, and the following XML-based overview is greatly indebted to their insightful and clear-headed analysis.
Application of the constant who attribute allows researchers to interrogate the linguistic aspects of a character across an entire play, or in the case of play cycles, 8 across multiple works.
The immediate performance instructions that accompany the dramatic speech acts fall under the general rubric of stage directions, and the encoding strategies for this information spilt into two basic categories. The <stage> tag is used to mark the non-verbal stage directions included in a piece of dramatic text and employs the type attribute, while the <move> tag signals the actual movement of a character or characters on, off or around the stage. This latter tag functions mainly as a supplement to the textual stage directions, filling in where actual directions are lacking or serving to help the reader keep track of the entrances and exits of all characters. The <move> element is an empty tag and usually employs three attributes: type (e.g. entrance or exit), who (identifying the character in motion), and where (to further specify the movement if necessary).
While Jonson's plays employ a vertical hierarchy, his masques and entertainments are much more horizontally structured, consisting of a mixture of speeches, songs, dances and prose commentary. In these works the use of numbered <div> elements in a flat structure may seem excessive; however, mixing numbered and unnumbered <div> elements can cause processing problems, so the CEWBJ employs numbered <div> elements throughout the archive.
Each section of the letter is assigned a unique identifier from a1 through a10, and any program designed to process the text can reconstruct the letter as a single unit by using the information within the <join> element.
The corresp attribute provides the processing instructions needed to reconstruct the performance circumstances in whatever format is required.
Jonson was perhaps the most typographically conscious playwright of his time, working with London stationers to create a diverse group of quite sophisticated publications. Scholars have shown that Jonson contributed at every level to the design and printing of the 1605 quarto edition of Sejanus: , not only arranging the complex mixture of text and commentary on the page but also selecting the type and paper out of which the quarto was fashioned. Likewise the justly famous folio Workes of 1616 show the author participating (and meddling) throughout the long and complicated volume. The challenges facing the project team, then, revolve around the need to retain as much of the expressive information embodied in the physical object as possible while at the same time enabling scholars and students to generate new expressions.
The encoding strategies discussed above emerged out of the editors' desire to achieve a balance between tradition and innovation, between structure and freedom. On the one hand, the CEWBJ will provide access to a variety of visual representations of the source documents, including the stylized format of the modernized print edition, digital facsimiles of the source documents, and electronic reconstructions derived from the XML-encoded original spelling texts. On the other hand, users will be encouraged to move beyond the received forms, employ emerging technologies to generate fresh approaches, and imagine new ways of understanding the verbal icons that have come down to use from the past.