|Mayer, Lauryn and Julia Flanders. 'Real Editions for Real People: Electronic
Editing and Women's Theatre Writing.' British Women Playwrights around 1800. 15 April 1999. 17 pars. <http://www.etang.umontreal.ca/bwp1800/essays/mayer_edition.html>
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The title of this essay, with its language of editing and editions, was born
out of interests which we bring to the task of conceptualizing
the role of electronic texts in humanities research. These interests
have primarily to do with providing access to rare materials,
in a form that both corresponds to scholarly expectations and
also provides real functions that are worth having. However,
as we have been thinking more about how dramatic texts function
in this context important complications to the concept of access
have emerged. It now seems more fruitful to use the dramatic
text itself as a way of asking what access to textual materials
really means, and particularly what it might mean besides what
people in my line of work ordinarily expect and provide for as
a matter of course when preparing electronic resources.
||There are a number of things that people creating electronic texts mean by access:
showing people text (large numbers of people, at great distances),
letting people search and browse text, making rare texts available.
These are all good things in themselves, as part of an effort to
satisfy our desire to see for ourselves, to cross space and gather
information. They have a certain inert quality, though: they prepare
an encounter but they don't participate in it. The self-evident
usefulness of something like a corpus of all of English drama derives
from the scholar's voracity for information, but anyone who has
photocopied articles and filed them away and felt better even without
reading them knows how to critique this kind of satisfaction.
What is simplistic about the idea of "access"? For one thing, it proposes a simple model of interaction with the textgetting to the text, getting the textwhich is confrontational and acquisitional. It also lacks the inflection of genre;
it doesn't take into account different textual modalities and
the different kinds of reading which they propose. And finally,
it doesn't specify any particular goalanalytical, interpretive, synthetic, even recreational. There's a catholicity
about this that isn't all bad: the providers of access remaining
agnostic and openminded about the uses to which their texts will
be put. But there's also an important sense in which you need
to envision functions before you can support them: at the very
least, you need to be sure you haven't ruled them out.
||Dramatic texts put special pressure on the idea of access, precisely because
they offer such complex textual relationships: between reader and
text, between text and text, between text and performance. In any
given instance, did text or performance come first? What different
kinds of claims to relative authority do the text and the performance
have? What effect does this have on our reading of each? A printed
drama may play with the liminality of its position as text and
performance script. There may be friction between the idea of having
been performed and the potential interiorization (and hence complications
to its performability) which the print medium offers. It may also
play with ideas of performativity and textuality as part of its
We must also ask whether the performance text is ontologically "evidence" of an event. Is a play text an epiphenomenon of the event only or a textual
thing whose form and contents are independently shaped. In this
context we might also need to consider the relationship between
textual conventions (printing/typography, readers' expectations
of structure and sequence) and performative constraints/conventions.
Finally, drama has established a set of conventions (both as to its form and
as to the kind of meaning it creates) which other genres can
exploit. Thus what we might call its documentary functionits claim to represent actions and words which have already taken place on the
stageestablishes a supposed formal relationship between the text and the (supposedly
anterior) action; this relationship may then be exploited (as
in the Elizabeth Cellier text discussed below) by texts which
use the dramatic form to substantiate their own testamentary
function as faithful records of real events.
How can the electronic encoding of a dramatic text accommodate these factors?
how can it best invite engagement with them? how can it extend
the idea of access to include an exploitation of these kinds
of considerations? There are several ways which are worth sketching,
briefly because of limited space.
First, we can invite engagement with drama's different kinds of textual existence
by separating appearance from structure: by decoupling typographical
and presentational conventions from structure and content,
and giving these as much as possible an independent existence.
By considering these components separately, we can open up
our awareness of them and of the different kinds of meaning
they generate, the different kinds of interaction they invite.
We can also extend the concept of access by making the text permeable to other
media and other texts, and by minimizing its monolithic textuality.
We can allow the medium to remind us of how little (or how
complexly) this kind of text is about its own textuality: how
much other texts have to say to it and it to them (even imaginary "texts" such as hypothetical performances which only exist suppositiously).
We can accomplish this by exploiting the possibilities of the electronic medium.
This may have more a practical than a theoretical impact, but
this practicality is not intellectually negligible: we can
attach other media which extend the text's existence into non-textual
dimensions such as motion, sound, three-dimensional space.
We can attach video or still images of performances, renderings
of possible performance spaces, or sound recordings. We can
also exploit the encoding of the play to link these time-based
media directly to the transcriptionmultiple links which realize the play's temporality in different ways.
We can also provide mechanisms for encoding and linking variant versions, to
provide not only access in the simple sense to their textual
contents, but also a more complex access to their interrelationships.
We can also develop encoding methods which represent textual complexity, especially
where it results from the kind of ontological complexity already
The Women Writers Project hasn't as yet accomplished much of this kind of conceptual
diversification; our mandate is currently the much simpler
one of bringing rare materials to light and making their textual
forms available. However, our research on text encoding has
forced us to come to grips with textual problems which stem
from these same fundamental issues.
||We next turn to a subject touched upon by other members of the panel: the idea
of using historical context to "unwrite aesthetics", and look at two women writers who deliberately challenged aesthetic norm for
drama in their time. When we, almost four centuries later, try
to make these texts accessible to the scholar and the generalist,
we need to think about what we mean by accessibility, because with
these texts, that term must address two equally important questions:
can you get to it? and do you have enough supporting material to
understand its significance?
||Here we use two earlier texts of women's dramatic writing to challenge some assumed
divisions: those between performance texts and print culture, and
between scholarly agendas and general access. Margaret Cavendish's
collected plays deliberately employ print culture as an alternative
arena for performance. Elizabeth Cellier, a warrior in the seventeenth-century
pamphlet battles between Catholics and Protestants, exploits dramatic
conventions to both further her truth claims and highlight the "staged" nature of the royal kangaroo courts. In both cases, we must consider the challenges
these texts bring to the project of accessibility. First we should
look at the print culture/theatrical performance question from
another angle: how the culture of print enabled the publication
and authorization of works which deliberately refused the current
aesthetics informed by a male-dominated theatrical sphere. Moreover,
how the conventions of theater (whose prejudices were deplored
by Cavendish, Centlivre, Judith Sargent Murray and others) could
be deployed in the service of other marginalized and persecuted
groups: in Cellier's case, the victims of Newgate.
||Second, what does this marriage of print and performance mean to our debate over
access? We argue that these texts are "unreadable" outside of their contextual environment, an argument that necessarily implies
a commitment to rigorous research and editorial intervention. Without
some supporting material on theater history and dramatic conventions,
for example, Cavendish's plays may be doomed to "literary" readings informed by the kind of normative aesthetics she herself refused. Likewise,
Cellier's coupling of pamphlet, dramatic, and legal conventions
cannot be understood without some context for each of these discourses.
This raises some troubling questions, given the constrictions we
currently face as creators of an electronic resource: the rules
set out in the TEI tag set for drama, economic constraints on how
much time we can afford to devote to a single text, the needs of
the user population. These texts are a problem: they require greater
efforts on our part both in encoding decisions and research, they
do not conform nicely to existing protocol for drama encoding,
and the market for their works is still small. However, they can
teach scholars and students perhaps more about contemporaneous ideas of performance, as well as the constraints and opportunites it provided
for women writers.
||What needs to be better understood is the relationship between access, editorial
decisions, and what we have termed "permeability". In a recent talk, David Seaman stressed that an electronic edition can no longer
stand alone. It must be able to live in a networked environment,
to "play well with others." These two textsCavendish's collected plays and Cellier's pamphlet recounting her imprisonment
and trialsuggest that this type of interlinked environment is vital to an edition legible
by real readers.
||The prefatory material to Cavendish's collected plays stresses two points. First,
that these plays are not meant to be preformed on the stage. Cavendish
cites the length of the works, the deliberate refusal of contemporary
dramatic conventions of "ridiculous Jest, wanton Love, or Impossibilities" (prefatory letter) and her choice to eschew masculine notions of wit as reasons
why the plays should be printed rather than acted. She concludes: "if they delight or please the Readers, I shall have as much satisfaction as if
I had the hands of applause from the Spectators." Printing , and its promise of an alternative audience, is here set up against
drama as an equally prestigious avenue for female playwrights.
Second, that they constitute a deliberate refusal of traditional
dramatic conventions. Cavendish sets herself against Aristotelian
unities of time and place, flouts the usual constraints upon drama
and openly opposes her works to those of such magisterial figures
as Ben Jonson (who, as an antagonist, haunts almost every page
of the prefatory material). These two points are interlinked: print
allowed Cavendish to bypass the male-dominated theatre scene, and
it gave her the freedom to set up a gendered, alternative dramatic
form. In Youth's Glory and Death's Banquet, for example, the heroine Mademoiselle Sanspareil is thrice tested before a
group of, respectively, moral philosophers, natural scientists,
and poets. In each case, she trounces her male audience in a speech
of five to seven pages long, leaving them silenced and dazed converts
to the spectacle of female wit and eloquence. To a critic of early
modern literature, this play irresistibly invites comparison with
traditional dramas in general and Jonson's Silent Woman in particular. Without an editorial apparatus to provide these links, however,
those unfamiliar with the period, whether undergraduate, generalist,
or trained critic of another period, my very well judge this work
by normative dramatic conventions, thus missing the entire point
of Cavendish's production.
Cellier's 1680 pamphlet demands another kind of linked environment. As a texts
which interweaves dramatic, typographical conventions with those
of prose narrative, it creates a special set of challenges, both
on the basic encoding level and on the larger issue of textual
environments. A look at just a few sections from the pamphlet
shows how narrative past and present time, prose narrative and
dramatic dialogue permeate each other to the extent that one
cannot tell where one begins and another ends. In her presentation
of the trial, for example, the text moves from a straight speaker-and-speech
dramatic presentation, to a prose sentence in the narrative past,
then back to the dramatic format.
A Lord. Turn up your Hoods Mrs. Cellier,I obeyed.
L. Chan. Come Mrs. Cellier have you writ home; since you were sent to Newgate?
This kind of generic interlacing makes it difficult to know what to do with this
Cel. Kneeling, said God perserve the King and his Royal Highness and bless this Honourable
Since all of Cellier's speeches in the text are in italics, it is difficult to
determine if this is another speech like the rest, with "kneeling" as a stage direction, a prose sentence in which Cellier the subject is abbreviated,
a hybrid form of the two, or a simple error.. The text is full
of places like this in which this admixture challenges encoding
on a basic level.
A more complex problem appears as Cellier recounts the events leading up to her
Cel. . . .from that time I had no further trouble, til about 10 or twelve days
before Dangerfield was taken. He told me my Name was enter'd
into Sir William Waller's Black Bill, and he would search
my house that Week, and advis'd me to write again to the
Earl of Shaftsbury, I told him I durst not presume to do
that, but I would go to his Lordship, and thank him for
the favour, and pray him for a continuance of it, and desired
him to go with me, because being known in the House, as
he said, and might the easier bring me to speak with his
Dangerfield: Madam, I cannot at all advantage your cause, but injure it. . .but
if you please to drive the Coach close to the Gate, and
ask for Mr. Shepherd, and desire him to bring you to the
figure of one, he will bring you to his Lordship.
I did so, and thank'd his Lordship.
Cellier relates, in the dramatic present, an event occurring the past April.
Within this narrative past, however, she again uses the dramatic
present to bring Dangerfield's speech to life. Here we have
a set of time shiftsa flashback within an extended flashback, as it werewhich our current encoding practices for drama cannot adequately capture. Thus
we have to envision a more flexible, hybridized encoding practice,
a permeability on the intra-textual level.
Finally we come to the interplay among genres which this text forces upon us.
In this example, we can see that Cellier is playing with the
well-documented link (studied by Frances Dolan, Catherine Belsey,
and others) between female agency, legal discourse, and dramatic
A Lord: Your Tryal will come soon enough, you will be put to death.
Cel. Blessed be God, then I hope the Play is near an end, for Tragedies whether read
or fictitious, seldom end before the Women die.
A Lord. What do you make a Play of it?
Cle. If there be nore more Truth in the whole Story, than there is in what relates
to me, every Play that is Acted has more Truth in it.
In this passage Cellier, within a dialogue coded as drama, links the staged nature
of anti-Papist trials with the equally constricting norms of
the dramatic genre; i n both cases, the women die. Moreover,
she brings up the double-edged nature of theatre as she uses
print typography of drama to promote an illusion of truth (the
trial is "really happening" before the reader's eyes) as the same time as the trial itself is unfavourably
compared to the fictions of a play. As such, it also is linked
to, and participates in, the long-running argument about the
truth claims, heuristic power, and spectacular dangers of theater.
||In light of these inextricable links between texts, what might it mean in practical
terms for a text to "play well with others"? What sort of behavior do we ask of our editions of these texts, to accommodate
that of the texts themselves and their documentary evidences? We
have already pointed, above, to ways of using the electronic medium
to open up the edition to other works and other versions of itself,
and this is an approach which is especially a propos for dramatic
texts. Where for an edition of a novel or poem, the temporal and
visual capabilities of the digital edition may feel peripheral
to the formal structures of the work, they respond to and potentiate
drama's real modes of textual and performative existence. At a
deeper level of the edition's construction, the electronic medium
offers opportunities to rethink the informational structures which
determine the text's behavior in response to our inquiries and
manipulations. An encoding practice which takes seriously the ontological nuances
of the dramatic text might, for instance, represent divergent performance
histories so as to allow a reader to analyse the language of either
version as a discrete unit, rather than being forced to treat the
text with all its variants as a single item. Such a practice might
also attempt to make the temporality of the drama accessible as
an analytical category, including a representation of simultaneity,
sequencing, and temporal disjunctures.
||Finally, attention to these issues might offer new ways to explore the continuities
and discontinuities within the long tradition of women's theatre
writing, including categories of analysis which till now have not
been easy to conceptualize or pursue in detail. The examples from
Cellier and Cavendish given here indicate the self-consciousness
with which these earlier authors exploit the signifying power of
the dramatic structure, even in texts which are not themselves
straightforwardly drama. This self-consciousnesswhich, as we have seen, is also an awareness of how gender is implicated in dramatic
texts and discursive structures generallymay be a crucial point of entry into the intellectual and ideological economy
of women's theatre writing, and its development in later centuries.
Lauryn Mayer and Julia Flanders
Julia Flanders is the Textbase Editor and Project Manager of the Women Writers Project at Brown University, a research project creating a TEI-encoded textbase of pre-Victorian
women's writing. She is also a member of the Executive Council
of the Association for Computers and the Humanities, and
has spoken and published on text encoding and issues in electronic
editing. She holds undergraduate degrees from Harvard and
Cambridge Universities, and is currently working on a PhD
from Brown University, on editorial theory, electronic textuality,
and the relationship between text and data.
- Cavendish, Margaret, Duchess of Newcastle. "Youth's Glory and Death's Banquet", in Playes written by the thrice noble, illustrious, and excellent princess,
the lady Marchioness of Newcastle. London, 1662.
- Cellier, Elizabeth. Malice defeated: or a brief relation of the accusation and
deliverance of Elizabeth Cellier. London, 1680.
- Seaman, David. "Renaissance Texts and Text Encoding", presented as part of "The Josephine Roberts Session: Electronic Editing and Publication", at the annual conference of the Modern Language Association, 1998.
||Read Kathryn Sutherland's response to this essay