Editing, Performance, Texts: New Practices in Medieval and Early Modern English Drama brings together scholars from across the discipline to examine and discuss the issues involved in editing drama. Edited by Jacqueline Jenkins and Julie Sanders, the chapters variously examine particular manuscripts, speculate on performance conditions, interrogate new technologies and expand the categories available to conceptualise performance texts. The introduction stresses two themes in particular which are brought out effectively by the succeeding chapters: the ephemeral nature of performance, which makes disciplined speculation and awareness of other interpretations a necessary part of everyday scholarly practice; and the need to push against the unfortunate tendency of academic study towards “periodization” which prevents insights and approaches moving between “medieval” and “early modern” work.
The chapters include contributions by Christie Carson, Richard Cave, Mary C. Erler, Lynette Hunter, Kristen Inglish, Boyda Johnstone, Peter Lichtenfels, Eleanor Lowe, Murray McGillivray, J. Gavin Paul, James Purkis, Claire Sponsler, Andrew Taylor and Brian Wolland, as well as the editors. They are grouped into three sections: “Enabling Manuscripts To Speak”, “Performance Traces in the Archive”, and “Editing Through Performance”, and the individual chapters range from a close reading of the Beauchamp Pageant manuscript, through how the manuscripts of The Humorous Magistrate might reflect back on W.W. Gregg’s “foul papers”, to an account of the Richard Brome Online project.
Some in particular struck me. Boyda Johnstone’s “Reading Images, Drawing Texts” performs an intriguing reading of an illustration of a late-medieval devotional allegory entitled The Abbey of the Holy Ghost, revealing an apparently dynamic work which “expands the reader’s devotional and phenomenological techniques beyond the text, opening up a performative and multimodal realm of devotion” (28). Johnstone draws on scholarship around the medieval arts of memory and embodied devotions to offer a chiasmic model of engagement, in which the nuns in the illustration model labour and contemplation, leaving space for the reader, who then builds the spaces of the abbey and its community within herself.
Christe Carson’s “Influencing Editors, Influencing Performers” examines the “usefulness but also the limitations of the art of rigorous speculation” in editing and performance, addressing the ways in which they have brought together in recent years via “original practices” performance and the “wider dissemination of source documents”. She pursues her themes through the Ca,brudge CD-ROM edition of King Lear, the Records of Early English Drama, Shakespeare’s Globe, and the databases The Queen’s Men and Their Plays and Early Modern London Theatre, providing illuminating accounts of the challenges these provide to existing ideas of scholarly authority and “suggest[ing] that the most potent results to come out of collaborative research projects are the processes developed, the scholarly habits of mind, rather than the products” (199).
My only slight discomfort with this chapter was the arrangement of the points around the idea of Henry V as a play which embodied a concern for collaboration, exploration and the questioning of authority. I do worry sometimes about a tendency for Shakespeare scholarship to continually play with Shakespeare’s words and works even whilst in the process of interrogating and investigating them – and the risks that this encourages a need to “authorize” ideas via reference to Shakespeare, or simply to bind the speculation within the circuit of ideas which can be proved to have been already hidden within Shakespeare’s genius. (The old joke springs to mind about the ten years a young Catholic scholar spends developing a new idea, and the ten years she then spends proving that it is not new after all.) However, I’m probably being too pedantic and literalistic about Carson’s rhetorical technique.
Richard Cave, Eleanor Lowe and Brian Woodland give an engaging account of the processes involved in the Richard Brome Online project, with the textual annotation practices and performance workshops which were an integral part of their work. Their discussion of how this project progressed gives a fascinating insight into the practicalities and the theoretical issues involved, as well as the ways in which those two categories overlap, blur and disappear. Their emphasis on the need to edit with dramaturgy in mind when a dramatic canon lacks a coherent stage history is particularly worth attention. The volume as a whole points in a number of directions, and provokes all sorts of speculations even as it underlines the need for speculation to be disciplined and open-minded.
Editing, Performance, Texts: New Practices in Medieval and Early Modern Drama, eds. Jacqueline Jenkins and Julie Sanders (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). ISBN: 1137320109 hbk. £50.00 I am grateful to Palgrave Macmillan for providing a copy for review.