A Response to Paul Werstine, "Hypertext and Editorial Myth"

Gabriel Egan
De Montfort University


Egan, Gabriel.  "Response to Paul Werstine, "Hypertext and Editorial Myth" ." Early Modern Literary Studies 4.3 (January, 1999): 16:1-4 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/04-3/gabread.html>.

  1. Paul Werstine ("Hypertext and Editorial Myth" EMLS 3.3) draws upon evidence from The Book of Sir Thomas More to challenge the hypothetical categories of early modern dramatic manuscript which Alfred Pollard, W. W. Greg, and R. B. McKerrow invented in the early twentieth century. In particular, Werstine objects that the distinction between the "foul papers"--an author's untidy draft containing unplayable inconsistencies, impractical awkwardnesses and ambiguities, and plain false starts--and the dramatic "promptbook" (a text cleaned of such faults and suitable for use in the theatre) is not supported by extant documents. 

  2. In The Book of Sir Thomas More we find an original authorial text in Anthony Munday's handwriting supplemented by various "additions" (as Greg called them) which appear to show rewrites of certain scenes. Werstine points out that the scene occupying lines 412-72 (Malone Society Reprint, 1961, ed W. W. Greg, pp14-6) is cancelled and replaced by Addition 2 (MSR p69-71) and that both contain just the kinds of inconsistency which are supposed to be confined to an author's foul papers. This would indeed represent a challenge to New Bibliography's assertion that manuscripts used in the playhouses were `cleaner' than authorial drafts, if the rewrite were thought to make the text more 'theatrical,' more suitable for use in the playhouse. Werstine assumes that the rewrite at least takes the text in this direction:
  3. the two versions of the scene allow us to chart the progress of a scene towards (if not to) theatrical performance and thus to test whether this process issued in a manuscript that, as Greg predicted, is ever more regular, accurate, and complete the further it moves from the playwright and the closer it comes to the stage. (para. 9)
  4. What is not clear is why Werstine thinks that the rewrite is nearer to the stage. The `additions' do not provide the alterations needed to satisfy censor Tilney and indeed the reason for their existence is far from clear. Perhaps, as E. K. Chambers suggested, the play was abandoned when it was realized that Tilney's demanded changes would ruin it, only to be "taken up sometime later by another team of dramatists to see if they could make something of it" (MSR xl).

  5. Werstine's phrase "nearer to the stage" might mask the problem. The belief of Pollard, Greg, and McKerrow that manuscripts used in the playhouses were tidier than the author's draft does not suppose that everything done to bring a draft to performance involved tidying. We all occasionally make a mess in preparation for tidying up. When an article is rejected by a publisher many of us will mark upon it all sorts of plans for its improvement and so `foul' that clean, unpublishable, manuscript. This foul script is `nearer' publication in the sense that it brings the unpublishable work nearer to being printed. But the unpublishable original may well display many of the regularities (consistency in citation style, conformity to rules of layout, etc.) needed for publication and which the foul revisions obviously lack. Were such a half-way revised text to be found by future generations we would not want them to conclude that late twentieth-century publishers cared nothing for consistency and tidiness in typescripts. Might not the "additions" to The Book of Sir Thomas More be just such an incomplete revision of an unplayable drama?



Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at EMLS@UAlberta.ca.

© 1999-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).