Monday, August 31, 2015

What's in a Title Page?

A lot of what we know about The Taming of A Shrew comes from its title page. But what is an early modern title page? What does it contain? What can we learn from it? Let's take a look at six features, and a seventh thing that it does not tell us.

1. The Title (with some strange typography) 

As the name suggests, a title page features the title of the work it covers. I am always surprised by the wonky sizing of the type on these things. Take a look at the detail:

From the way the sizing and capitalization looks, it seems like "Pleasant Conceited" is the main point here, and not what the history is called. It's like if "New York Times Bestseller" was more prominently positioned than the a book's title today. The only time I've seen something like that on a current book it was done as a clever twist on people's expectations in Susan Cain's book on introversion. Publishing style has changed a bit in the last 425 years. 

2. Buzz 

This sort of thing is still put on book covers today. Celebrity quotes, glowing reviews, all the reasons you should care about the book and buy it. Here's our detail on this topic:

For those of you who are rusting on reading early modern typefaces, in modern spelling that's "As it was sundry times acted by the right honorable the Earl of Pembroke, his servants." From this we know that this play was performed more than once by Pembroke's Men. Other title pages have less specific notes about the acting, so we could speculate that Pembroke's Men were well enough known and liked for that to be a selling point.

3. Woodcut decoration

Not all title pages get these sweet little decorations, but it's always a pleasure when they do. They usually don't have anything to do with the story and are more of a decorative symbol of the printer than anything else. For a project in grad school I looked at many title pages by the same printer, and it was fun to see the same decorative seal show up on the title pages of different books. 

4. The Printer, the Printer's city

These next three pieces of information are all packed in together. The printer here is Peter Short. Because there were strict laws on printing and printing houses, we still have extensive records of the books legally printed in London at this time, and anyone interested with access to some digital databases could look up the other books Peter Short printed.

5. The Shop

Today's books would never have the shop where you could buy them printed on the cover, but at this point in the history of printed books, that information could be useful. There are also scholars who think that printers made extra title pages and had them available as advertisements, much like publishers do today with extra large poster versions of the cover art. This information is given often enough that we can also reconstruct what books a particular bookseller (Cuthbert Burbie, in this case) would have had on his shelves. 

6. The Date

An very helpful piece of information. There is a lot of question about when this play in this form was written, but having a publication date lets us know that whenever it was written, it had to have been before 1594. 

7. The Author's Name

Why does the title page not contain the author's name? Was it not important to the people getting it published? Were there reasons to exclude this information? Would the people getting it printed even know the author's name? Many early modern texts were printed without the author's name. For this play in particular, having Shakespeare's name on the cover would mean a lot now, but it wouldn't necessarily mean much then. And so it remains a question.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to ask questions for me to answer in next week's post. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Two Kates, Two Answers. A look at the final speech in both texts.

In my last post, I wrote about what a “bad quarto” is, and how different printings of plays by Shakespeare can be wildly different. In the case of The Taming of a/the Shrew there is not even any scholarly consensus on whether The Taming of a Shrew was written by Shakespeare, or which play came first. Today I’m going to look at the ways in which the two plays are different in a very particular passage.

The two plays follow the same plot for the most part—the characters (excepting Sly and Kate) have different names but most of the scenes run parallel to their counterparts in the other play. In the final scene of the play (in both versions) Kate and her husband return to Kate’s father’s house for the wedding celebration of Kate’s younger sister(s). At one point the men make a bet about whose wife will come when he calls, and only Kate comes when commanded, promptly obedient, and fetches the other women as well. Kate’s husband then asks her to instruct the other women how they should treat their husbands, and in both versions Kate gives a long speech, but the content of those speeches is quite different. In The Shrew Kate gives a longer lecture, and covers a broader range argumentation over full forty-four lines. In A Shrew Kate has only 29 lines and confines her argument to a religious premise that women are inferior by design and by their own actions and history. Here are the two speeches in full, we’ll discuss them in closer detail in the following paragraphs. 

Kate in The Shrew gives her speech mainly comparing husbands and wives to kings and subjects. In her introduction (where she insults the women for their disagreeable facial expressions) she titles their husbands with the terms, "thy lord, thy king, thy governor." Throughout the speech she gives several reasons why women should not fight their husbands. In the first place, it's unattractive (with the troubled fountain analogy), secondly it's wrong (women owe their husbands obedience), and thirdly if you try to fight them you'll lose because they're stronger ("our lances are but straws").

Kate in A Shrew gives a bit more of a complex argument, even though she does it in a shorter space of time. Instead of merely asserting that husbands are the lords of their households, she gives an elaborate invocation of God as the creator of all things and bestower of power. Just as God creates, he also bestows order, gives bodies, and in his good will, woman became the "woe" to man, and therefore for her sin Adam died. In response women should behave should Sarah, Abraham's wife in the old testament, and their defining feature should be their obedience to the authority of their husbands, service to them in every way. Kate ends her speech (as in The Shrew) by offering her hand beneath her husband's foot. This speech reminds me of two speeches by Shakespeare's women. In the courtroom scene in The Merchant of Venice Portia answers Shylock's question about why he should be merciful by broadening the argument to show how God is merciful. Isabella, in Measure for Measure also talks about authority as coming from God. By contrast Isabella does not link authority and virtue, and unlike Anonymous' Kate, Isabella points out a certain fragile and arbitrary quality to authority. For Isabella authority is something you are dressed in, but for Kate, the ordering of the chain of authority is set in the epic language of creation and the cosmos.

BBC Shakespeare Retold, a personal favorite
At the level of the text, both of these speeches make me feel a little sick. It upsets me that these ideologies were ever considered valid, and upsets me still more that I continue to see similar sentiments expressed in our culture today. But I stand with Tony in considering the shorter of the two speeches to be the less misogynist of the two. There are many less debasing insults to women in the version from A Shrew, and the justification, while not one I stand with, is at least succinct and specific in its argument. However, like every text intended for performance, the words themselves only convey a fraction of the meaning when performed onstage. Either of these speeches is a wildly different statement depending on Kate's state of being. Has her husband broken her so she's speaking out of brainwashing? Is she showing up her sister? Has she learned the cultural expectations so well that she can perform them on cue whenever it's advantageous to do so? Is she wildly, passionately in love? I do not know what Tony plans on doing with this scene as he directs it, but I know that the audience is in for a unique view of this story. Whatever interpretation of the scene the actors present, the text they will speak is so rarely performed that it will be well worth the audience's attention. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

What does "Bad Quarto" even mean?

Curious person: Hey, you’re the dramaturg, right? That means you answer questions?

Dramaturg: To the best of my ability.

CP: So, what is a “bad quarto” anyways?

D: A “bad quarto” is what some scholars call the early printings of plays by Shakespeare and other writers in his time.

CP: Okay, but what makes them bad?

D: Well, they don’t fit neatly into the simplest progression of a play from the Author’s mind to the printed playbook, and people don’t agree where they come from.

CP: How do plays usually get printed?

D: The simplest story is that the author writes out the play, and it’s copied by a scribe with nice handwriting and that copy is called “the fair copy” and it is what a playing company would buy. Maybe they’d use it as the prompt book, maybe they’d make another copy, but if later they decided to get the play printed they could take that same copy to the printers and it would get printed. There’s still some room for error in this very simple story (at least one scribe copying, and the typesetter laying type) but it seems to be a pretty clear progression.

CP: But that’s not the whole story? Why not?

D: Well, sometimes plays got printed many times. Nearly all of Shakespeare’s plays were published after his death in The First Folio, a big impressive volume, but many were published earlier as Quartos, smaller, less expensive books with just one play each.

CP: Like today, you can get a big Complete Works of Shakespeare or a little copy of Romeo and Juliet for your English class.

D: Yeah, except some of the quartos were pretty different from the Folio.

CP: Different, how?

D: Some Quartos are much shorter than the Folio versions, some have different character names, the scenes could be in a different order, or the words are just different. The titles are sometimes a little different, or some of the plays we think were written by Shakespeare don’t have his name on them in the original printing.

CP: That seems like a lot more than copying errors! How did they get so different?

D: There are three answers scholars typically give to this question. The first is that the “Bad quartos” are pirated copies; audience members transcribed the plays as they watched them and then sold their faulty versions to printers before there were legitimate published versions of the plays.

CP: Like when people record movies in theaters on their phones? It’s an awful version of the film, but it’s good enough till it’s available on DVD or whatever?

D: Same old piracy idea. Except people transcribing are gonna make a lot more mistakes than the video on your phone. The second typical answer to the question of where all the differences came from is that the actors sold their parts.

CP: But in Shakespeare’s theater the actors didn’t get the whole play, right?

D: The actors only had what we call “cue scripts.” The company would probably have one full copy of the play, that fair copy, that they’d use for prompting. But the actors wouldn’t get that whole book. Their part would have their lines and their cues and nothing more, so if an actor sell his script to a publisher, he would have to write out everything else in the play from memory. This theory is called “memorial reconstruction” and it’s also a common explanation of why there are so many differences or “mistakes” in the early quartos.

CP: So what’s the last explanation?

D: The last explanation is the biggest and messiest, and it that the early quartos show an earlier (or later, or just different) version of the plays. Usually people think it’s an another version by the same author, but that doesn’t need to be the case. With the Anonymous Taming of A Shrew, we’re not even sure if it was written by Shakespeare or if Shakespeare based his play The Taming of THE Shrew on it or vica versa.

CP: Is that possible? Would Shakespeare write a different version of someone else’s play that was already doing well elsewhere?

D: Totally. Shakespeare almost certainly did this with The Famous Victories of Henry V, an anonymous earlier play, and John Fletcher wrote a sequel to one or both of the Shrew plays called The Tamer Tamed. Copyright was a more flexible thing in that century, but the same sort of thing happens even today. Think about the themes in kids movies. Disney makes fairytale movies, Dreamworks makes fairytale satire movies. Dreamworks makes a Scottish-y medieval-y magic-y story with dragons? Pixar makes one with bears. Think Finding Nemo vs. Shark’s Tale, or Antz coming out at the same time as A Bug’s Life.

CP: I still don’t get why they’re called “bad."

D: Well, most of the time the quartos people call “bad” are earlier than other quartos and earlier than the Folio for sure. There’s always been a reason to call the earlier version bad. Think about Lord of the Rings enthusiasts, who have all the DVDs in the extended versions. What do they call the other version of the films? Not the original or theatrical version but something with a little more stigma…

CP: The “unextended version”?

D: Yeah! So it makes sense for those who really love the version of Shakespeare that they’ve read most (based on the late, more “authentic” quartos or the Folio). They’re unfamiliar with these shorter, less noticed, alternative versions, and when they read them suddenly Hamlet is saying “aye there’s the point” instead of “that is the question” and it seems like it’s all wrong, all bad. But scholars today are beginning to embrace the early quartos. Just because these quartos are different than the Shakespeare we are most familiar with, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be looking at them. If anything, the bad quartos are an opportunity, an undiscovered country in performance and scholarly opportunities.

If you have questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below! I’ll answer them in a future post.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Why Taming of a Shrew? Why Now?

I wanted to direct The Taming of a Shrew because Kate makes me want to be a better boyfriend. There are lots of interesting textual curiosities in this play, and there are many ways that The Taming of a Shrew can be said to create a dialogue with it's Folio cousin (The Taming of The Shrew, as it is more commonly known), especially in light of the pamphlet wars that marked a revolution in proto-feminist thought in early modern London at this time. But, at the end of the day, what really strikes me care about The Taming of a Shrew is the way Kate comes when her husband calls for her.

In A Shrew, during the concluding wager scene, one of Kate's sisters gives the answers that she's busy right now, but she'll come to her husband soon. If I'm being completely honest with myself, that's the answer I've been most likely to give with any lady I've thought of as my significant other, which probably has a lot to do with why they're now ex-significant others. And that's probably why Kate and Ferando (Petruchio in the Folio version) are described as being wed, and the other couples are "sped" at A Shrew's conclusion.

Kate and Ferando are both intelligent, strong willed people, and they're attracted to each other for that reason, but through the process of the eponymous taming, they're able to create a companionate marriage for themselves where they can both put the relationship first. Ferando refuses to call Kate for a hundred pounds of silver ("She shall not come so far for such a trifle"), and sets the value on her time and effort at 500 pieces of gold; it's particularly noteworthy because, while Ferando is clearly not poor, he's also not nearly as rich as members of his social circle). Kate, for her part, comes without hesitation, merely because her husband wants her there.

I want to be more like Kate.

But that's just me.

There are lots of reasons why Bad Quarto Productions should be producing this play, especially at this point in time: A Shrew interrogates the explicit misogyny of The Shrew by making Kate a consensual participant in her own taming. Kate tells the audience in an aside she wants to make sure her would-be husband is man enough to make her act like a proper woman, which removes the taming plot from the realm of domestic abuse and, along with the indefinite article of the play's title, raises a further question of who is taming whom.

Ferando is described as a perfect match for Kate: "As blunt in speech as she is sharp of tongue, /
And he I think will match her every way," and his antics are poorly received by his friends. He enters with every bit as much of an air of unsuitability to marriage as Kate does, and their mutual happiness at the play's conclusion testifies that Ferando has been tamed to husbandry as much as he has tamed his wife. Couple that to the promise Ferando makes to Kate that she "shall rule tomorrow," and we're left with a picture of a household governed by a partnership of husband and wife. Modern production of The Shrew never quite so well achieve this, however so they strive, and whatsoever devices they use, as the rarely performed 1594 quarto does with words alone.

But there is also here the possibility that Kate's sisters are the real tamers, making their young gentlemen callers into more suitable husband material, and taking part in a game of courtship to secure not just husbands, but also advantageous social positions. Shakespeare is replete with exercises in taming future spouses, and if Kate is the only shrew we're talking about in this taming, the Shrew play(s) would be unique: Shakespeare's other comic tamers are all women, from As You Like It's Rosalind, to The Merry Wives of Windsor, all the way on through Twelfth Night's Viola.

And, of course, there's also the fact that A Shrew doesn't let you forget that the taming was all just a play within a play.

Given the lack of evidence any historian or textual bibliographer is bound to confront head on, it's impossible to say beyond a reasonable doubt whether A Shrew is a different version of The Shrew, and that Shakespeare is responsible for both, and if so, which version is later and reflects revision, or even whose revision it reflects. The Taming of a Shrew does what good suspect texts do: it makes us re-think and re-imagine a play that we think we know well, and forces us to confront the reality that we maybe don't know it so well after all.

The Taming of a Shrew has given me a lot to think about, and I look forward to exploring this text through performance with you all, and I hope you'll join us for our October 2015 production!