Becoming Editorial: The Transversal Act of Editing Early Modern English Theatrical Literature
University of California, Irvine
Segal, Janna. "Becoming Editorial: The Transversal Act of Editing Early Modern English Theatrical Literature". Early Modern Literary Studies 10.3 (January, 2005) 19.1-5<URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/10-3/segatran.html>.
Nesvet's review of Bryan Reynolds' Becoming Criminal 
participates in the ongoing and crucial debate over the methodological dos
and don'ts of early modern English scholarship. As such, it provides me
with the opportunity to consider the historical, creative, and transversal
act of extrapolation in early modern English literary studies. I would like
to suggest that the investigative-expansive mode of critical inquiry proposed
by Reynolds and James Intriligator and critiqued by Nesvet is a vital aspect
of scholarly inquiry into theatrical texts that is routinely practiced by,
among others, renowned editors of early modern English drama.
Nesvet's review rests upon the presumption that objective, unmediated
truth is accessible, a platform that transversal theory challenges in its,
to quote Nesvet, "Protean" approach to "fact." Nesvet
warns that, "if we seriously validate, practice, and promote [Reynolds']
method of making history, we will find ourselves in a world in which reasoning,
truth, and responsible historiography are alien." However, the investigative-expansive
mode, which acknowledges the mediating historical and cultural factors that
Nesvet presumes are absent in early modern English cultural studies, is
a more "responsible" approach to historical research than a methodology
that neglects an important aspect Reynolds emphasizes in his book: "all
of our means of exploring [early modern English] criminal culture are highly
mediated through time, language, and personal bias (ours and that of the
chroniclers)" (124). Moreover, the contingencies of historiography
can provide scholars with the opportunity to transversally engage with their
subject material. As Reynolds writes in reference to the subject of Becoming
Criminal, "This mediation encourages the production of imaginary
components of our own study of criminal culture. Just as its early modern
chroniclers were forced, and probably capitalized on the opportunity, to
extrapolate at times because of their limited access to this exclusive and
clandestine culture, historical difference, both sociocultural and spatiotemporal,
forces us to extrapolate on the available information" (124).
The scholarly act of extrapolation, which Reynolds argues is "a transversal
venture into differential conceptual spaces" (124), is a necessary
and widespread methodology utilized by literary critics, theatre scholars,
historiographers, and, particularly, editors of early modern English drama,
who are asked to clarify references as well as to provide an interpretation
of texts originally intended for live performance. Due to the scarcity of
documentary evidence regarding performance practices in early modern England,
and the mediating factors informing the extant evidence, such as sociocultural
and spatiotemporal differences and the biases of chroniclers and contemporary
interpreters of the chronicles, editors frequently "extrapolate on
the available information" in order to provide readers with a vivid,
albeit speculative, picture of how a given moment on the page might have
appeared on the early modern stage. For instance, the first footnote in
Sylvan Barnet's edition of Doctor Faustus offers an extrapolated
interpretation of the text's opening stage direction: "Prologue s.d.
Chorus a single actor (here, perhaps, Wagner, Faustus' servant-student"
. Similarly, in his edition
of Titus Andronicus, Jonathan Bate, whom Nesvet hails as a defender
of "the pursuit of objective historical facts in the study of English
and cultural studies," includes an editorial note describing how Act
One, Scene One may have appeared on the stage: "The setting is Rome;
the gallery aloft represents the Capitol/Senate House; the tomb of
the Andronici could have been represented by the discovery-space at the
back of the stage or the trap-door downstage, though some eds suggest a
free-standing structure (but this would have to be removed at the end of
the scene" .
Transversally venturing into the "differential conceptual spaces"
of early modern English audience member, actor, director, producer, and/or
playwright allows Barnet and Bate to supply the contemporary reader with
a theatrical rendition of how the opening scenes of these two texts may
have been produced. Additionally, both Barnet and Bate acknowledge the provisional
and creative basis of textual editing with their inclusion of the conditional
phrases "perhaps" and "could have been," respectively.
While Nesvet might fault Barnet and Bate, as she does Reynolds, for providing
"speculative conclusions" or for making "discoveries"
that "are grounded upon under-evidenced generalisation," such
conclusions, necessarily speculative due to the lack of historical evidence
and the mediating factors informing the extant evidence, are imperative
due to the theatrical medium of the plays. Without such transversal editorial
acts of extrapolation, readers might neglect the theatrical context within
which these plays were originally produced, thereby risking the reductive
interpretation of these texts as literature rather than theatrical literature.
The act of editing and interpreting early modern English drama can be
a transversal enterprise that "encourages the production of imaginary
components of our own study of [early modern theatre]." Venturing into
the "differential conceptual spaces" of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century
spectators and theatre practitioners is a vital exercise that functions
to preserve and ensure the appreciation of texts originally produced in
the mediating space of the theatre, where radical contingencies ranging
from weather to the vocal range of a given performer might impact the meaning
of a play.
 Rebecca Nesvet, "Review of Bryan Reynolds, Becoming Criminal: Transversal Performance and Cultural Dissidence in Early Modern England". Early Modern Literary Studies 10.2 (September, 2004) 10.1-5 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/10-2/revnesb.html>.
 Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus, ed. Sylvan Barnet (New York: Signet Classic, 1969), 23.
 William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus, ed. Jonathan Bate (London: Arden, 1995), 127.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.
© 2005-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).