Picture of Gabriel Egan G a b r i e l   E g a n  .  com

"'He was the author, thou the instrument': What did the early modern theatre company do to the dramatists' scripts?" by Gabriel Egan

I would like to thank the Society for Theatre Research for this invitation to speak tonight. So, what did the early modern theatre company do to the dramatists' scripts? They performed them of course. But did they perform them more or less as they stood in the papers received from the dramatist, or did they write on those papers some changes arising from their own ideas or from rehearsal? Did they first copy the papers they received or continue with the originals? [SLIDE] Let us begin with what is certain. We can be certain that they took the script (or a copy of it) to the official censor, the Master of the Revels, and got his approval before performing the play in public. We can be certain that they did not ask each actor to read the whole script. With no cheap way to duplicate scripts, each actor would normally receive only his part, that is his individual speeches preceded by a cue, the last two or three words of the previous speaker's speech, upon hearing which he should speak. We can be certain that sometimes somebody drew up a plot or a plat that summarized the action; seven of these survive and they must have had a practical function. We can be certain that in some cases they passed the script to a publisher to be made into a book, or at least they let this happen or were unable to prevent it. We can be certain that if after an initial run they later wanted to revive the play, they considered having alterations and additions made to refresh the work. If we confine ourselves to certainties, my talk ends here.

    My talk will be organized by the various categories of documentary evidence we have for the processes I claim must have happened, the documents being licenced playscripts, actors parts, playhouse plots, and actors' contracts. We will start with the five play manuscripts that survive with the licence of the censor, the Master of the Revels, written into them. [SLIDE] The earliest is Thomas Middleton's The Second Maiden's Tragedy (British Library Lansdowne 807), which has in it some marks of George Buc, Master of the Revels from 1610 to 1622 and at the end his licence [SLIDE]. If you enjoy reading old documents you may want to keep your eye on the manuscript at the bottom of the screen while I read out a transcription from the top of the screen. The licence reads [SLIDE] "This second Maydens tragedy (for it hath no name inscribed) may wth the reformations bee acted publikely. 31 octobr. 1611. /. G. Buc" (56a). [SLIDE] Taking them chronologically, the second licensed playbook is Nathan Field, Philip Massinger and John Fletcher's The Honest Man's Fortune (Victoria and Albert Museum Manuscript Dyce 9), at the end of which is written [SLIDE] "This Play being an olde one, and the Originall lost was reallowd by mee this 8. Febru. 1624 [that is, 1625] Att the Intreaty of Mr <Taylor>" (34b). Although the licence lacks his signature, its handwriting is clearly that of Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels from 1623 until his death in 50 years later in the Restoration. Grace Ioppolo thought that the signature was at some point cut out by a signature collector, but as N. W. Bawcutt observed there does not seem to be room for it (Ioppolo 2006, 114-15; Bawcutt 1996, 43).

    [SLIDE] Here is the end of the third of the five licensed playbooks, Philip Massinger's Believe As You List (British Library Manuscript Egerton 2828) [SLIDE], where Henry Herbert has written "This Play called Believe as you List may bee acted this 6 of May 1631. Henry Herbert" (27b). [SLIDE] Two years later Herbert did the same with the manuscript of Walter Mountfort's The Launching of the Mary or, The Seaman's Honest Wife (British Library Manuscript Egerton 1994), our fourth licensed playbook. At the end Herbert wrote [SLIDE]:

This play, called ye Seamans Honest wife, all ye
Oaths left out In ye action as they are crost In ye booke &
all other Reformations strictly obserud, may bee acted not
otherwyse. this .27. Iune. 1633. Henry Herbert.

I commande your Bookeeper to present mee wth a faire Copy hereafte<
and to leaue out all Oathes, prophaness, & publick Ribaldry, as
he will answer it at his perill. HHerbert.


I will come back to that demand for "a faire Copy" in a moment. [SLIDE] The last of the five playbook manuscripts containing a performance licence is Henry Glapthorne's The Lady Mother (British Library Egerton 1994). After the end of the play is written [SLIDE] "This Play Call'd the Lady=moth<her (the Reformcõns obseru'd) may <be Acted. October the xvth. 1635 Will: Blagrau<e Dept to the M<aster of the Reuoll<s" (210a).

    Two of these five manuscripts, Believe As You List and The Launching of the Mary, are particularly important because, aside from the licences and some annotations, they are written in the handwriting of their authors. (The other three are in the hands of scribes.) Believe As You List and The Launching of the Mary, then, show that a playing company did not have to get a scribe to make a transcript of the author's papers in order to have something clean enough for the censor to read. [SLIDE] However, if we go back to the evidence of The Launching of the Mary we get the impression that this could be a close call since untidy authorial papers were apt to annoy the censor reading them: [SLIDE] "I commande your Bookeeper to present mee wth a faire Copy hereafte". This instruction is sometimes read as a demand to provide the censor with a cleaner copy of this play (Greg 1931b, 200), but it is hard to see what force such a command could have had since the licence had already been granted. More likely, the censor was requiring that cleaner copy be submitted for new plays in the future. The licensed manuscript of a play was the crucial one as far as the players were concerned. It was this text alone that they were permitted to perform. If official complaints were made about a performance, the players' defence would be that they had played only the licensed script as approved by the censor. They might play less than was in the licensed script--that is, they might make cuts--but not more.

    For the sake of completeness, I should mention that there are a couple of surviving manuscripts that perhaps at one time contained a Master of the Revels's performance licence but do not now. One is a scribal transcript of John Fletcher and Philip Massinger's Sir John van Olden Barnavelt Philip (British Library Manuscript Additional 18653), which contains the censoring marks of George Buc. There is no room for a licence on the last page so presumably it was on the next leaf, now lost. The other supposedly lost licence appeared at the end of a scribal transcript of Philip Massinger's The Parliament of Love (Victoria and Albert Museum Manuscript Dyce 39). At least that is what is usually claimed although I have been unable to figure out why people believe this. There is a piece torn out of its last leaf and Edmond Malone assumed that this held the licence, but it might not have (Massinger 1929 (for 1928), vi, xi).

    You may have noticed that the manuscripts discussed so far date from 1610 and after, so I ought to show you something from the early part of our period. We have no licensed playbook manuscripts from before then, but there is a manuscript that has been read by Edmund Tilney, Master of the Revels from 1579 to 1601. When he finished reading the play, Tilney refused to license it and demanded wholesale changes. The manuscript is mainly in the handwriting of its primary author Anthony Munday although it also has additional dramatic material in the handwritings of Henry Chettle, Thomas Heywood, Thomas Dekker, and William Shakespeare. [SLIDE] The play is called Sir Thomas More (British Library Manuscript Harley 7368) and Tilney wrote his substantial objections on the first page [SLIDE]: "Leaue out ye insurrection wholy & ye Cause ther off & begin wt Sr Tho: Moore att ye mayors sessions wt a reportt afterwardes off his good servic6 don being6 Shriue off Londõ vppo a mutiny Agaynst ye Lũmbardes only by A shortt reportt & nott otherwise att your own perrilles E Tyllney" (3a). Disappointing as this verdict must have been, it was not the worst possible response from the censor. In June 1642 Henry Herbert recorded in his office book that he had received from a Mr Kirke two pounds to licence a new play, "which I burnte for the ribaldry and offense that was in it" (Bawcutt 1996, 211).

    Because two of the manuscripts surviving with their licences intact are in the handwriting of their authors, the pioneering New Bibliographer A. W. Pollard concluded that it was usual for the author's own papers to be sent for licensing and, after they came back with the licence on, for them to be marked up with whatever additional instructions were needed to run a performance (Pollard 1917, 58-61). This 'continuous copy' theory did not become orthodoxy. W. W. Greg thought that the usual procedure was for the author's papers to be copied out afresh by a scribe to make the document that was sent for licensing and then marked up with all the things a theatre person might worry about that the dramatist would not. Things such as calling for a flourish of trumpets whenever a monarch entered the stage, cues for music when it was needed, and anticipatory calls for actors or properties to be ready before they were needed. There survive about a dozen non-authorial manuscripts with such markings.

    Dramatists are often imprecise about just how they want things carried out. [SLIDE] If we go back to Middleton's The Second Maiden's Tragedy, we see that it ends with [SLIDE] "Recorders or other solempne Musique playes them owt. ffinis" (56a). This sounds like a dramatist letting the performers decide how to achieve the necessary mood. This manuscript is not in Middleton's handwriting but that of a professional scribe, and perhaps someone other than the Middleton added this closing direction to the script before this copy was made. But why would they? Anybody wishing to turn the dramatist's script into a document from which the play could be performed would have no reason to add something so permissively imprecise. The distinction between permissively imprecsie and prescriptively precise stage directions has dogged the whole question of how we read the surviving playbook manuscripts and the hundreds of print editions made from other manuscripts now lost.

    [SLIDE] One of the most interesting and least discussed of such manuscripts is a scribal transcript (Anonymous 1921 (for 1920), vii-viii) of Thomas Dekker's The Welsh Ambassador (Cardiff Central Library Manuscript 4.12), which has annotations by someone trying to smooth the backstage work necessary to perform the play. On the first page the anticipatory warning  "bee redy Penda"  [SLIDE] is written in the left margin 22 lines before the direction "Enter Penda like a Comon soldier" (2a). On the succeeding pages everyone in the play, from the King down to a servant, is told at least once to "bee redy" before an entrance, making 38 such anticipatory notes in all. All the actors get these calls (usually highlighted with rules above and below, as here) and the readying note is always between 12 and 45 lines in advance of the corresponding entrance. However, there are a further 17 entrances without such anticipatory notes. Four of these occur at the start of a new act, so presumably the interval gave everyone time to get ready, but that still leaves 13 entrances, a third of the total, unanticipated. There are also marginal notes for flourishes to accompany royal entrances (5b, 7b, 9b, 10b, 12a, 12b, 13b, 14a, 17b), a call for "Hoboyes" (10a, 18b) to play, a "Daunce:" (13b), a line spoken "wth in" (13b), and an instruction to "sett out a Table" (16b).

    No other manuscript has as many anticipatory warnings as The Welsh Ambassador, but several have sporadic annotations concerning entrances and properties needed. But why only sporadically mark such things? One possible answer seems to have occurred to a number of people independently, including C. J. Sisson, W. W. Greg, Paul Werstine and me (Massinger 1927, xxv-xxvi; Greg 1931b, 219-20; Werstine 2008). I recall my indignation at a conference a few years ago when Paul Werstine revealed what I foolishly believed to be my discovery, both of us unaware that Sisson and Greg beat us to it long ago. One may hold a manuscript open to give a two-page view or fold it back on itself to show only one page at a time. In the two-page view, while reading a left-hand page the directions coming up on the right-hand page may be seen by glancing across the opening, but while reading a right-hand page the directions coming up overleaf cannot be seen. A book-holder wanting to avoid surprises would add anticipatory warnings for stage directions appearing on left-hand pages in particular, especially those near the top of the page. However, if the manuscript is held with the current leaf folded back onto the bundle, the next page is always out of sight: either the bundle has to be turned over to see it, or a leaf has to be turned. A book-holder using this grip would avoid surprises by adding anticipatory warnings for stage directions appearing on either side of the leaf. The Welsh Ambassador manuscript seems to have been marked up in expectation of being held this second way, since of 38 directions that are anticipated, half are on left-hand and half on right-hand pages. If a manuscript used anticipatory warnings only when a stage direction was particularly likely to give a nasty surprise--such as a complex direction written at the top of a left-hand page--then as Greg pointed out a printed book made from this manuscript would not preserve the pagination that showed the logic of these annotations and the anticipatory warnings would seem inexplicably random (Greg 1931b, 220).

    At his most dogmatic, Greg envisaged the existence of just two kinds of playbook manuscript: authorial papers that were characteristically imprecise in stage directions and inconsistent in the names of characters in speech prefixes, and promptbooks made from fair copy marked up for regulating performances and characteristically precise and consistent in those matters (Greg 1955, 141-42). In the last twenty five years Greg's fixation with binary logic--author's foul papers versus promptbook--has been identified as the Achilles's heel of the movement he headed, the New Bibliography. Most influentially, William B. Long has revived Pollard's 'continuous copy' theory, arguing that normally the author's papers were perfectly acceptable for running the play--no scribal fair copy was needed--and that the author's imprecise stage directions and inconsistent speech prefixes presented no problems to whoever managed the backstage activities during a performance. According to Long, there was no systematic process of altering and annotating the script to make something like the regularized, copious and authoritative promptbooks that survive from nineteenth and twentieth-century theatres. Long may be right, but we have too little evidence to be positive about this (Egan 2011). By Long's count, among the surviving playbook manuscripts there are just eighteen that clearly have been used in a theatre to run performances and fewer than half of those are in their author's handwriting (Long 1985, 116n20; Long 1999, 414). Since there must have been in excess of 3,000 playbook manuscripts created between the opening of the first permanent London theatre in 1576 and the general closure at the start of the Civil War in 1642, we have lost in excess of 99% of the relevant evidence.

    It is possible that some of the eighteen manuscripts identified by Long as theatrical were not used to run a performance. Andrew Gurr may be right that the licensed book was too valuable to be used directly to run performances and was kept as a reference document, from which a promptbook would be transcribed as needed (Gurr 1999). The late T. H. Howard-Hill made a study of the transcript of John Fletcher and Philip Massinger's Sir John van Olden Barnavelt made by the King's men's scribe Ralph Crane. It contains sporadic performance-oriented annotations, but Howard-Hill decided that it was not used for running the play in performance but rather for some preliminary purpose such as the making of the actors' parts. The manuscript cannot have been used to run performances, Howard-Hill realized, because "further decisions about casting, parts, and stage movement would have been essential before the play could have been staged" (Howard-Hill 1988, 154). Crucially, chairs are brought in so the French ambassadors may sit while pleading with the Prince of Orange for Barnavelt's life, but nothing is provided for the Prince and his train to sit on; that they should fremain standing would look absurd and cannot reflect the final staging (Howard-Hill 1988, 166).

    Following Howard-Hill's line of reasoning, what if Greg was wrong to suppose that there were usually just two copies of a play (that is, the untidy author's manuscript and the tidy promptbook) and Long is also wrong that there was usually just one (that is, the untidy author's manuscript that was at most lightly annotated to make a promptbook)? What if companies routinely made several transcripts of each play for different purposes? After Greg's death in 1959 his successor as leader of the New Bibliography was the American Fredson Bowers, and he imagined at least six kinds of manuscripts of a play that might come into existence:

. . . (1) author's foul papers; (2) authorial or scribal fair copies not intended for direct theatrical use; (3) foul papers or fair copies partially marked by the prompter as a preliminary for transcription into prompt; (4) scribal transcripts made for private individuals and not for theatrical purposes, the source being foul papers, fair copy, or theatrical prompt book; (5) a manuscript prompt book itself; (6) a scribal transcript of a prompt book; . . . (Bowers 1955, 11)

Bowers's presumption about the variety of early modern play manuscripts has recently been vindicated. We now know that scribal transcripts provided printer's copy for most of the 1623 Folio of Shakespeare (Taylor 1993). There does not appear to have been much commercial production of play transcripts as a means of public dissemination (Howard-Hill 1999), so we must accept that playing companies themselves made multiple transcripts for their own purposes, which remain somewhat mysterious.


    We might be able to dispel some of the mystery by considering what else the players did with a new play, which takes me to my second category of primary documents, the actors' parts or cuescripts. Presumably someone made a parts for each role in the play. I say 'presumably' because there survives just one professional actor's part from the period, apparently the actor Edward Alleyn's part for his title role in Robert Greene's Orlando Furioso in the early 1590s. [SLIDE] Here is one section from it; several pieces like this were glued together to form a continuous roll around eighteen feet long. I say it was 'apparently' Alleyn's part because it was recovered from a cache of theatrical documents relating to the businesses of Alleyn and his father-in-law, the theatrical impresario Philip Henslowe, held at Dulwich College, which was founded by Alleyn. Yet at least one document from this cache, the plot for 2 Seven Deadly Sins, has turned out not to belong to Alleyn and Henslowe (or their company the Admiral's men playing at the Rose and the Fortune) but rather their chief rivals, Shakespeare's Chamberlain's men playing at the Theatre, the Curtain, and the Globe (Kathman 2004). Although the part for Orlando Furioso is mainly in the hand of a scribe it has a small number of corrections in what looks like Alleyn's own hand (Peele & Greene 1922, 137-39) and the obvious assumption is that the part was his. But this is only an assumption, and as was discovered with 2 Seven Deadly Sin it is dangerous to build weighty conjectures upon uncertainty.

    Because we have only this one professional player's part from the early modern period, theatre historians have been tempted to look to parts from medieval plays, Restoration plays, amateur plays and Continental theatre. While there must be continuities of theatrical practice across the centuries, the differing geographical places, and the differing auspices, there are equally likely to be discontinuities that we are unaware of. The danger is particularly acute where there is just one surviving documentary witness. We do not even know how parts were made. One scribe copying from a master manuscript to make in one go all the parts for a play would have a difficult job managing the dozens of heaps of paper if there had to be one part per character. The problem would be reduced but not eliminated if he made one part per actor (so that doubled roles appeared together in the part), but that would introduce new problems if recasting became necessary.

    Adrian Kiernander recently suggested that parts were made by oral dictation teamwork: several scribes listened to a recitation of the master text and each created the parts for perhaps one major character and a few minor ones (Kiernander 2003, 247-48). During the dictation, slight alterations of wording might arise from the inventions and misreadings of the author-dictator or inventions and mishearings by actors working as scribes for their own parts. [SLIDE] And there is evidence of oral dictation in Alleyn's part where gaps were left to be filled in later by another hand, in some cases probably Alleyn's. [SLIDE] For example, here at line 243, "Clyme vp the clowdes to Galaxsia straight", the word Galaxsia has been squeezed into a gap not quite big enough for it. If the part were made by scribal copying, then wherever the scribe could not read a word in his master text he would have left a gap large enough for the indecipherable matter he could see. But in Alleyn's part the gaps are sometimes, as here, too small, and only by misheard oral dictation would the scribe in this way repeatedly misjudge the size of the omitted matter to be put in later.

    There are references to parts in the drama, but they do not all necessarily gesture at the physical document since, then as now, the word 'part' meant not only the document but also the human personality created by an actor, as when Shakespeare's Antonio metatheatrically calls the world a stage "where every man must play a part" and his "a sad one" (The Merchant of Venice 1.1.78-9). Sometimes 'parts' just means the bits of a whole. [SLIDE] In April 1613 the dramatist Robert Daborne was contracted by Philip Henslowse to write a play called Machiavel and the Devil (Greg 1907, 67-68) and thereafter began sending Henslowe bits of it as he completed them. On 25 June Daborne wrote to Henslowe [SLIDE] "for thear good & myn own J have took extraordynary payns wth the end & altered one other scean in the third act which they have now in parts" (Greg 1907, 73). What does Daborne mean by the actors having the third act (assuming that is the object of "which they have") "in parts"? Tiffany Stern reads this as meaning that the actors have divided the bits of the play they have received into cuescripts ("parts") and begun learning them (Palfrey & Stern 2007, 61-62). This seems unlikely, since as Daborne mentions he is still making alterations as he goes and has not completed the play. It would be tiresome indeed to learn a play while it was still being written and altered, and in previous letters Daborne makes clear that he wants to arrange for Henslowe and Alleyn to hear him read the whole play before reading it to the players who will decide whether they want to perform it (Greg 1907, 69, 70). Learning the parts would not precede such a decision.

    Just when did the actors start to learn their parts? Learning them before the censor had given a performance licence would be risky, since the licence might be refused or made upon condition that extensive cuts or alterations were applied. Yet in a letter to Edward Knight, scribe to the King's men, Master of the Revels Henry Herbert seems to imply that parts were made before licensing:

Mr. Knight, In many things you have saved mee labour; yet wher your judgment or penn fayld you, I have made boulde to use mine. Purge ther parts, as I have the booke. And I hope every hearer and player will thinke that I have done God good servise, and the quality no wronge; who hath no greater enemies than oaths, prophaness, and publique ribaldry, whch for the future I doe absolutely forbid to bee presented unto mee in any playbooke, as you will answer it at your perill. 21 Octob. 1633. (Bawcutt 1996, 183)

Stern reads this as indicating that for a new play the actors might start learning the parts before the Master of the Revels has given his verdict on it (Stern 2000, 63-64; Stern 2004a, 145; Palfrey & Stern 2007, 61). That is not at all what is going on here. The preceding notes in Herbert's office book show that the play in question is John Fletcher's The Woman's Prize, or the Tamer Tamed, a sequel to Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. It was first performed in 1611 and the King's men revived it in 1633 without asking Herbert to look over the old book and give it a new licence. Hearing that the performances contain "foule and offensive matters" Herbert suppressed them and demanded the promptbook, censored it and sent word that in future revivals must be licensed as well as new plays (Bawcutt 1996, 182). In such cases, "The players ought not to study their parts till I have allowed of the booke", wrote Herbert (Bawcutt 1996, 183). Because the King's men were reviving a play first performed 22 years earlier, the parts were already in existence. Herbert is warning the players not to learn their parts for a revival of an old play until he has read and relicensed the book, and this tells us nothing about what happened with new plays. Yet this piece of evidence is frequently misused to suggest that for new plays the actors might start to learn their parts before the script was licensed. We just do not know if they did, and there are obvious reasons why they ought not to.


    My third category of documents arising from preparation for performance is the so-called plots or plats, of which six are extant: The Dead Man's Fortune, Frederick and Basilea, 2 Fortune's Tennis, Troilus and Cressida and The Battle of Alcazar now in the British Library and [SLIDE] 2 Seven Deadly Sins at Dulwich College. There is also a nineteenth-century transcript of the plot for The First Part of Tamar Cam, for which the original manuscript is now lost. Each plot is a single leaf roughly the size of a modern A3 sheet of paper with a skeleton outline of the play written in double-column format on one side in portrait orientation. It is usually assumed that a plot would be hung backstage as a reference document for actors, which would explain why they were mounted on wooden boards and given a hole near the top. A curious feature is that they use the characters' names from the fiction and actors' names too, but they do not, as is sometimes claimed (Marino 2009, 37), mix them indiscrimately. Rather, every fictional character is named and many are glossed with actors' names. [SLIDE] Let us look at the beginning of The Battle of Alcazar. The play starts with [SLIDE]:

Enter a Portingall to him mr Rich : Allen to him
I Domb shew
Enter Muly Mahamett mr Ed : Allen, his sonne Antho : Jeffes : moores attendant : mr Sam, mr Hunt & w . Cartwright : ij Pages to attend the moore mr Allens boy, mr Townes boy : to them 2 . young bretheren : Dab : & Harry : : to them Abde<m>enen w . Kendall : exeunt
(Greg 1931a, VIA)

When writing the first line the scribe seems to have forgotten that he was meant to insert after each character the name of the actor playing it, for after writing "Portingall" he began to continue with the action by writing "to him"--the beginning of the instruction that the dumbshow was to enter to him--and then crossed out those words so that he could first include the name of the actor playing the Portingall, Richard Allen (no relation to Edward Alleyn).

    Because this plot almost always tells us who played each character, and because we have also an edition of the play printed in 1594, it is possible to reconstruct the casting and the doubling. This reveals some strange choices, such as actors being left standing idle in the tiring house while others undertook difficult doubling. For example, Master Sam plays Pisano and in the second scene he goes off and is captured, with his treasure, by the enemy. The news of this disaster is brought by a messenger who enters at the end of the second scene, and the plot is quite clear that Master Sam also plays this messenger. As Greg put it, Master Sam "goes off as Pisano, and, having changed, re-enters later as a messenger to announce his own capture" (Peele & Greene 1922, 53). Greg was baffled why one of the idle actors was not cast as the messenger, but David Bradley found the explanation. Half the cast were blacked up to play moors, and none of them could double as white characters because it took too long to get the makeup on and off (Bradley 1992, 36-37). Theatrical technology for blacking and un-blacking up seems to have developed rapidly in the period. Theatre Notebook recently published Andrea A. Stevens's essay showing that the apothecary John Rumler perfected a blackface paint that could be removed during the course of a performance and it was soon to put to use for quick changes of racial identity in plays and masques in the 1620s (Stevens 2007).

    Greg thought that plots hung backstage but Bradley disagreed, seeing them as primarily casting documents (Bradley 1992, 75-94). The key piece of evidence for this is, again, the colour of someone's face. [SLIDE] It comes from the plot of The First Part of Tamar Cam, the final scene of which contains a spectacular procession of ethnic, physiognomic, sexual, and gustatory diversity: "Enter the Tartars", "Enter the Geates", "Enter the Amozins", "Enter the Nagars", "Enter the ollive cullord moores", "Enter Canniballs", "Enter Hermaphrodites", "Enter the people of Bohare", "Enter Pigmies", "Enter the Crymms", "Enter Cattaians" and "Enter the Bactrians" (Greg 1931a, VII Transcript). The problem here is one of giving offence, but not to Amazons, Hermaphrodites, or Pygmies, but offence to the actor identified as "the red fast fellow" playing one of the Nagars. As Bradley puts it, this "could hardly have remained on display in the tiring-house without becoming at best a standing joke, and would have been impossible for use by a call-boy who valued his skin" (Bradley 1992, 79). [SLIDE] In the preceding scene one of the two nymphs is played by [SLIDE] "the other little boy" and Bradley points out that such a vague term cannot have been written to help actors figure out which of them is to go on. As with so much of the evidence, we just do not know what the plots were used for, and we should not call them backstage plots as some people do.


    On my last topic, rehearsal, I am afraid I must again take issue with Tiffany Stern, who has popularized the idea that little or no rehearsal took place in the professional theatre. In the absence of direct evidence about the professionals, Stern turns to the behaviour of amateur players in universities and trade organizations and to plays-within-plays, and these all suggest little rehearsal. Stern thinks that there was not enough time available for extensive rehearsal and she rules out use of the stage after a performance on the grounds that the evenings would be too dark (Stern 2000, 78). We do not know for sure exactly when an afternoon's performance would start, but Michael J. Hirrel has gathered the considerable evidence that once the London industry settled into a regular routine from 1594 summertime playing began at around 2pm and continued until around 6pm, with one central play as the main attraction and the remaining time filled with tumbling, juggling, dancing and so on (Hirrel 2010). Stern, on the other hand, thinks that the entertainment ended around 5pm. In London the sun does not set until after 8pm for most of the summer, so whoever is right there were two to three useable hours on the stage after a performance. Stern removed from her calculation "the couple of hours" before the afternoon performance on the grounds that the playhouse would be filling with early arrivals--the only evidence being an account of the Globe becoming "thronged" at a "little past one"--thus leaving only "breakfast time" available for rehearsal (Stern 2000, 78-79). Granting Stern this assumption, the stage would still be available from 9am (after breakfast) to noon and 6pm to 8pm, fully five hours a day. It is hard to imagine what the actors were doing for the greater part of the working day when they were not performing, if they were not rehearsing. They might be at home, of course, learning their parts.

    An additional piece of evidence is available to us. On 7 April 1614 the actor Robert Dawes signed a three-year contract with Henslowe and Jacob Meade (part-owner of the Hope theatre). The contract specified a scale of fines for failures of duty [SLIDE]:

. . . the said Robert Dawes shall and will at all tymes during the said terme duly attend all suche rehearsall which shall the night before the rehearsall be given publickly out; and if that he the saide Robert Dawes shall at any tyme faile to come at the hower appoynted, then he shall and will pay to the said Phillipp Henslowe and Jacob Meade their executors or assignes Twelve pence; and if he come not before the saide rehearsall is ended then the said Robert Dawes is contented to pay twoe shillings; and further that if the said Robert Dawes shall not every daie whereon any play is or ought to be played be ready apparrelled and --- to begyn the play at the hower of three of the clock in the afternoone unless by sixe of the same Company he shall be lycenced to the contrary, that then he the saide Robert Dawes shall and will pay unto the said Phillipp and Jacob or their assignes three [shillings] . . . (Greg 1907, 124)

There are even greater fines for turning up drunk and for leaving the theatre still in costume, but for us the [SLIDE] important fines are a shilling for missing the start of a rehearsal and two for missing all of it. A shilling would be about a £150 now. [SLIDE] Notice too that the fine for being unready at the start of a performance is three shillings, or little more than the fine for missing a rehearsal. On this evidence I should say that rehearsals were considered most important. Because the contract indicates that notice of rehearsals will be given the night before, Stern concludes that ". . . group rehearsal did not take place daily. . . " and that ". . . full rehearsals were kept to the absolute minimum" (Palfrey & Stern 2007, 70). Rather than assume one of these two extremes--either rehearsals every day or just one rehearsal before opening--surely we should suppose that actors then did roughly what actors do now: rehearse repeatedly whenever possible, as announced by notices at the stage door. Of course, there need not have been the same amount of rehearsal for each play. Extensive rehearsal of stage combats would lower the risk of costly physical injury and as Charles Edelman's pointed out there was a vibrant tradition of realistic yet (relatively) safe swordfighting on the early modern stage (Edelman 1992, 1-10). Likewise for spectacle. Could the magnificent processions in Fletcher and Shakespeare's All is True or the magic of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus or Shakespeare and Middleton's Macbeth be achieved without extensive rehearsal? I doubt it.



    [SLIDE] Among early modern theatre historians there is a growing reluctance to give the author his place in the processes that led to performance. If what got written by the dramatist and licensed by the censor was only faintly related to the multiple fragments--the plots, parts, songs, property documents, prologues and epilogues--that were the real play, if the licensed script was not much like what got performed, if actors were free to rewrite their speeches and scarcely bothered to rehearse, then yes the author was not the key figure in the theatrical process. Yet so much tells us that he was. By far the period's most successful theatre company, the Chamberlain's/King's men, had exclusive rights to the output of the dramatist that history has since crowned the greatest who ever lived. Or, if you prefer explanations in socio-political terms, when plays gave offence it was the writers, not the performers, who usually were held to account by the forces of control. Or, if you prefer explanations in economic terms and based on material documents, when Robert Daborne begged for helped while struggling to finish Machiavel and the Devil, the impresario Philip Henslowe repeatedly advanced money to keep the writer going. Writers mattered. In Shakespeare's early play Richard Duke of York (later known as 3 Henry 6), King Henry says after being rescued "But, Warwick, after God, thou sett'st me free, | And chiefly therefore I thank God and thee. | He was the author, thou the instrument" (4.7.16-18). The idea of the author as creator, as a God within the small compass of his imaginary world, should not embarrass us, and nor should the idea that everyone else involved with the company--the players, scribes, costume makers, property keepers, and so on--were the instruments by which the creator's ideas were put into practice.



    Although theatre historical research does not have to justify its existence by serving a higher purpose, it does necessarily inform the editing of plays for modern readers, without whom it would be dry and purely academic subject. Editors need to know about the lost manuscript from which a play was first printed, which might be a literary transcript made to please a rich patron or rough authorial papers preceding rehearsal or a promptbook reflecting the changes made in the rehearsal process. Now that New Textualism has overturned the New Bibliography, editors are reluctant to mount hypotheses about such lost manuscripts and treat scepticism almost as a vocational calling. Where has this scepticism come from? My diagnosis is that is a fad, a fashionable taste for the dispersal of authority (what we might call underdoggism) and the fragmentation of artistic unity, and delight in incoherence over coherence. In place of the authority of the author we have the collaborative, socialized labour of the theatre company, whose input is to be treated as though it were just as valuable as the author's labour. In place of a single authorized manuscript of the play we have a play decomposed not only into actors' parts, but also songs (written out separately to be sent off to a composer for setting to music), prologues and epilogues (held on separate manuscripts and reused for different plays), and property documents such as letters to be read aloud during a performance that floated about beyond the authorized manuscript. In place of the play as a Platonic form existing apart from its documentary manifestations, we have a fetishization of the early manuscripts and editions, which must be treated as equally valid representations of the play rather than categorized as authorial or theatrical, or more simply as good and bad.

    The result is that we treat "The play as patch-work" (Stern 2004b, 154) as Stern puts it. This is postmodernism, and Stern is quite explicit about it [SLIDE]:

The suggestion then is that a play is a collection of fragments taken from elsewhere and loosely held together . . . . there was something 'patch-like' in the very way a play was written in the first place . . . . the very method of creating the play seems to be, somehow, 'patchy'. . . . There was a sense at the time that plays were not whole art-works in the way that poems were. Plays had the bit, the fragment, the patch in their very natures. (Stern 2004b, 154-55)

A thing of shreds and patches, the bitty play of Stern's theatre historicism is, she admits, "a product of its time", meaning not the time the play was written but now, the time at which the analysis takes place. Her method, she says, "'deconstructs' the text along certain lines and then, up to a certain point, 'de-authors' it" (Stern 2004b, 171).

    We do not have to deconstruct and de-author the plays. Against the fragmented text I would pose the unified and complete manuscript licensed by the Master of the Revels, which was all the players were allowed to perform. Against general inferences about actors' parts I would pose the precariousness of extrapolation from our only example, Alleyn's part as Orlando Furiouso. Against the inferences about the playhouse plot I would pose our uncertainty about just what they were used for: casting, back-stage management, both, something else? And against the assertion that there was little or no rehearsal I would pose the evidence that they had the time and strong reasons to do it, especially for plays with spectacular action.

    If what got written by the dramatist and licensed by the censor was only faintly related to the multiple fragments--the parts, songs, property documents, prologues and epilogues--that were the real play, if the licensed script was not much like what got performed, if actors were free to make up their speeches and hardly bothered to rehearse, then yes the author was not the key figure in theatrical process. Yet so much tells us that he was. By far the period's most successful theatre company, the Chamberlain's/King's men, had exclusive rights to the output of the dramatist that history has since crowned the greatest who ever lived. Or, if you prefer your explanations couched in broad socio-political terms, when plays gave offence it was the writers who were sent to prison and not the performers since the very structure of the new industry serve to protect them. Or, if you prefer your explanations couched in economic terms and built on material documents, when Robert Daborne appeared to be struggling to get Machiavel and the Devil finished the impresario Philip Henslowe bent over backwards to support him with advances of money. If our theatre history deconstructs and de-authors the drama it gives too much credit to the mere instruments--the performers and objects--by which drama reached audiences and readers. In Shakespeare's early play Richard Duke of York (later known as 3 Henry 6), King Henry says after being rescued "But, Warwick, after God, thou sett'st me free, | And chiefly therefore I thank God and thee. | He was the author, thou the instrument" (4.7.16-18). The idea of the author as creator, as a God within the small compass of his imaginary world, should not embarrass us, and nor should the idea of performers as the instruments by which the creator's ideas are put into practice.


Works Cited

Anonymous. 1921 (for 1920). The Welsh Embassador. Ed. H. Littledale. Malone Society Reprints. London. Malone Society.

Bawcutt, N. W., ed. 1996. The Control and Censorship of Caroline Drama: The Records of Sir Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels 1623-73. Oxford. Clarendon Press.

Bowers, Fredson. 1955. On Editing Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Dramatists. Philadelphia. University of Pennsylvania Library.

Bradley, David. 1992. From Text to Performance in the Elizabethan Theatre. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.

Edelman, Charles. 1992. Brawl Ridiculous: Swordfighting in Shakespeare's Plays. Revels Plays Companion Library. Manchester. Manchester University Press.

Egan, Gabriel. 2011. "Precision, Consistency, and Completeness in Early-modern Playbook Manuscripts: The Evidence from Thomas of Woodstock and John a Kent and John a Cumber." The Library (=Transactions of the Bibliographical Society). 7th (=5th of the Transactions of the Bibliographical Society) 12. 376-91.

Greg, W. W. 1955. The Shakespeare First Folio: Its Bibliographical and Textual History. Oxford. Clarendon Press.

Greg, W. W., ed. 1907. Henslowe Papers: Being Documents Supplementary to Henslowe's Diary. London. Bullen.

Greg, W. W., ed. 1931a. Dramatic Documents from the Elizabethan Playhouses: Stage Plots, Actors' Parts, Prompt Books. Vol. 2: Reproductions and Transcripts. 2 vols. Oxford. Clarendon Press.

Greg, W. W., ed. 1931b. Dramatic Documents from the Elizabethan Playhouses: Stage Plots, Actors' Parts, Prompt Books. Vol. 1: Commentary. 2 vols. Oxford. Clarendon Press.

Gurr, Andrew. 1999. "Maximal and Minimal Texts: Shakespeare V. the Globe." Shakespeare Survey 52. 68-87.

Hirrel, Michael J. 2010. "Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays: How Shall we Beguile the Lazy Time?" Shakespeare Quarterly 61. 159-82.

Howard-Hill, T. H. 1988. "Crane's 1619 'Promptbook' of Barnavelt and Theatrical Processes." Modern Philology 86. 146-70.

Howard-Hill, T. H. 1999. "'Nor Stage, nor Stationers Stall Can Showe': The Circulation of Plays in Manuscript in the Early Seventeenth Century." Book History 2. 28-41.

Ioppolo, Grace. 2006. Dramatists and Their Manuscripts in the Age of Shakespeare, Jonson, Middleton and Heywood: Authorship, Authority and the Playhouse. Routledge Studies in Renaissance Literature and Culture. London. Routledge.

Kathman, David. 2004. "Reconsidering The Seven Deadly Sins." Early Theatre 7.2. 13-44.

Kiernander, Adrian. 2003. "'Betwixt' and 'Between': Variant Readings in the Folio and First Quarto Versions of Richard III and W. W. Greg's Concept of Memorial Reconstruction." Shakespeare Matters: History, Teaching, Performance. Edited by Lloyd Davis. Newark. University of Delaware Press. 239-53.

Long, William B. 1985. "'A Bed / for Woodstock': A Warning for the Unwary." Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 2. 91-118.

Long, William B. 1999. "'Precious Few': English Manuscript Playbooks." A Companion to Shakespeare. Edited by David Scott Kastan. Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture. Oxford. Blackwell. 414-33.

Marino, James J. 2009. "The Anachronistic Shrews." Shakespeare Quarterly 60. 25-46.

Massinger, Philip. 1927. Believe As You List, 1631. Ed. C. J. Sisson. Malone Society Reprints. London. Malone Society.

Massinger, Philip. 1929 (for 1928). The Parliament of Love. Ed. Kathleen Marguerite Lea. Malone Society Reprints. London. Malone Society.

Palfrey, Simon and Tiffany Stern. 2007. Shakespeare in Parts. Oxford. Oxford University Press.

Peele, George and Robert Greene. 1922. Two Elizabethan Stage Abridgements: The Battle of Alcazar and Orlando Furioso. Ed. W. W. Greg. Malone Society Reprints. 53. London. Malone Society.

Pollard, A. W. 1917. Shakespeare's Fight with the Pirates and the Problems of the Transmission of His Text. London. Moring.

Stern, Tiffany. 2000. Rehearsal from Shakespeare to Sheridan. Oxford. Clarendon Press.

Stern, Tiffany. 2004a. Making Shakespeare: From Stage to Page. Accents on Shakespeare. London. Routledge.

Stern, Tiffany. 2004b. "Re-patching the Play." From Script to Stage in Early Modern England. Edited by Peter Holland and Stephen Orgel. Redefining British Theatre History. Basingstoke. Palgrave Macmillan. 151-77.

Stevens, Andrea R. 2007. "'Assisted By a Barber': The Court Apothecary, Special Effects, and The Gypsies Metamorphosed." Theatre Notebook 61. 2-11.

Taylor, Gary. 1993. "Post-script." Shakespeare Reshaped, 1606-1623. Edited by Gary Taylor and John Jowett. Oxford Shakespeare Studies. Oxford. Clarendon Press. 237-43.

Werstine, Paul. 2008. 'Page-turners in the Playhouses': A Paper Delivered in the Panel 'When Manuscripts Go to the Playhouses' on 13 March at the 36th Annual Meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America in Dallas, Texas, 13-15 March.