Alarums and Defeats: Henry VI on Tour
University of Central Lancashire
Hampton-Reeves, Stuart. "Alarums and Defeats: Henry VI on Tour." Early Modern Literary Studies 5.2 (September, 1999): 1.1-18 URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/05-2/hampalar.htm
"O, heavy times": Henry VI and Lost Ethnicity
O heavy times, begetting such events.
From London by the King was I pressed forth;
My father, being the Earl of Warwick's man,
Came on the part of York, press'd by his master. (63-66) 
The son's description of how he and his father came to be on separate sides of the battle points to a social instability underlying the civil war, which has nothing to do with the dynastic conflict of the Wars of the Roses, but rather to do with the nature and consequences of social changes in the sixteenth century. The son describes what was by then a common experience of male adolescence; he left his family in Warwickshire to make his career in London, leaving behind his communal roots to establish himself away from home, away from his family. Opportunities, ambition, and hardship in the provinces all contributed to the well-documented phenomenon of population mobility in the sixteenth century. Of course, just the same thing had happened to Shakespeare, who may have moved to Lancashire, and certainly moved to London, leaving behind his Stratford community; and if the nobility of the 1590s had quarrelled in the same way, Shakespeare might very well have been the son, pressed forth by the Queen; his father, the Earl of Warwick's man, might very well have been one of his victims. The father/son scene, then, rests upon the social instability of this situation, and the potential for conflict which arises from it: civil war, as a war with one's social 'self,' could here taken to be a metaphor for the problems of social and cultural identity in an age when such mobility was common, when communities no longer had a stable population or cultural continuity, when society, as Keith Wrightson describes it, was becoming increasingly polarised (Wrightson, 1982).
As Mary Blackstone points out, it is tempting to draw a parallel between the mobile Elizabethan youth, and the travelling players who also trod the roads of England, and who included in their repertoire a version of this play (Blackstone, 1999). Playing companies had undergone a similar change to the son: until the beginning of Elizabeth's reign, it was by no means unusual for playing companies to be named after the town that the players originated from; new laws regulating playing companies abolished this practice, and insisted that players take the name of an aristocratic patron. The son and the father may be soldiers, not players, but they speak to the players of the day; the father is Warwick's man because he is a Warwickshire man; the son is the King's Man because he moved to London and was pressed into service. In this reading, the son represents an image of social dislocation and of cultural dislocation, whilst the body of his father which he cradles in his arms represents a connection with his own local history. This connection represents a lost ethnicity, a cultural connection broken by the son's move from the community of his family to London: the son says, "Pardon, father, for I knew not thee" (l.70). Like the father who has killed his son, this soldier has "murdered" where he "should not kill" (l.122): "O heavy times, begetting such events." The scene, then, is not simply a metaphor for the miseries of civil war; it is a worrying and subtle dramatisation of instabilities within social relations, in which political identity conflicts with family identity, in which fraternity conflicts with paternity, in which national formations conflict with older, regional formations. It anticipates the full emergence at the end of the play of Richard, whose very being reaches beyond the social relationships which underpins this drama. Richard's being is, by birth, a rejection of all social affiliations; he carried "no impression like the dam" (Act III, sc.2, 1.62), i.e. he looked nothing like his mother; he has "neither pity, love, nor fear" (Act V, sc.6, l.68); he denies his brothers and, most significantly, his father (looking back to the father/son scene): "I had no father, I am like no father / I have no brother, I am like no brother ... I am myself alone" (Act V, sc. 6, l. 80-84). Richard is the ultimate individual, the complete denial of the meaning of social relationships. The father/son scene shows this social bond in a state of collapse: Richard dramatises the emptiness beneath it.
The reading which I offer here is not my own; it is based on a production of the play by the English Shakespeare Company, who added an adapted version of it to their repertoire of Shakespeare's History plays, which they toured in the late 1980s under the title The Wars of the Roses (3 Henry VI was retitled Henry VI: House of York, and it included materials from the last two acts of 2 Henry VI). In past productions, the scene has focused on the King, who, as chorus to the tragedies he witnesses, emerges as a man of moral insight. The ESC's version focused on the soldiers rather than the King, and made pointed criticisms of the King. Through the first tetralogy cycle, King Henry wore (as he did in this scene) the military dress of imperial Britain; the soldiers were presented as victims of the British imperial war machine. They began as the riffraff of the Boar's Head tavern in 1 Henry IV; they were sucked in by Henry V's jingoistic rhetoric to an invasion of France that was deliberately reminiscent of the Falklands conflict; they were betrayed and deserted by their masters as the French empire collapsed, and they found a voice for their frustrations through a Johnny Rotten-styled Jack Cade; but here too they were betrayed, and sent finally into civil war. This narrative roughly traces a defeat for English culture; that is, English culture defined against the empty, nationalistic, tabloid-style symbols of Great Britain which Henry V established, and Henry VI tried, inadequately, to give moral meaning to. The soldiers were shown to be, at first, mercenary and immoral in the way they looted their victims, but they were themselves victims of a long process of cultural expropriation in the interests of the State; their regional, cultural identities had been subsumed in a concept of national unity. The discovery that their victims were their kin was a powerful moment of self-awareness, of how far they had come from their own roots, from their own sense of cultural belonging. 
This interpretation only worked because the audiences themselves were, or were thought to be, regional. The English Shakespeare Company was established in 1986 by director Michael Bogdanov and actor Michael Pennington as a touring company devoted to producing 'big' Shakespeare and exploiting the old 'number one' circuit of large regional theatres, which had largely fallen into disuse. Their productions deliberately worked against interpretations of Shakespeare and of national history which sought to celebrate and underpin Great Britain and the memory of empire; the ESC sought to find regional audiences for Shakespeare, and in doing so, find and recover the regional voices within Shakespeare. In his published account of The Wars of the Roses tour, Bogdanov gives a romantic and vivid description of the kind of cultural nationalism that he had found in Ireland and Eastern Europe, referring to "the deep, dark despair, the laughter and tears, story telling and music, the religion, the politics, a sense of cultural belonging that is once again manifesting itself in Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Hungary" (Bogdanov and Pennington, 1990, xiii). It was just such a cultural belonging which the ESC aimed at recuperating from Shakespeare, through an explicit focus on touring the regions of England. The ESC's performance of the death of authentic English culture was, of course, a not too thinly-disguised satire on the impact of Thatcherism and the Conservative government of the 1980s, but it also reflected generally what happens to cultural identity in a society which is increasingly polarised and increasingly centralised. The productions were nostalgic for the certainties of regional identity, but they were ultimately works about the death of culture, about lost ethnicity, about a world in which sons are separated from their original communities, from their local histories, from their local accents, and have that void filled with jingoistic rhetoric. In one vivid scene earlier in the cycle, during the Cade riots, the rebels chanted "You're gonna get your fuckin' heads kicked in" and similar hooligan lines to English folk tunes like Cock O' the North. Here, an authentic expression of past English ethnicity was emptied of its meaning, reduced to the level of a football chant, and serviced to a mob. The only form of cultural expression left to them was violence.
This interpretation of 3
Henry VI follows from its condition as a major regional tour, with
a specific cultural agenda. The question that I would like to ask is,
to what extent does a touring production actually activate this interpretation?
In what ways does a regional context for its performance discover within
the play a similar cultural agenda to that of the ESC's? That is to
say, to what extent can this 1980s reading be applied to the play itself?
Is there a historical basis for this interpretation? Or, to put it more
simply, to what extent can we relate this tour of England of the Henry
VI plays by the ESC, with the last tour of England of the Henry
VI plays, which was in 1592-3, by the Earl of Pembroke's Men?
Touring: A New Context for Criticism
In 1595, Thomas Millington published The True Tragedy of Richard, Duke of York and on the title page noted that it had been "sundrie times acted by the Right Honourable the Earle of Pembrooke his servants." Although the Earl of Pembroke had a company at least as early as the 1580s, it is usually thought that the company which toured under his patronage in 1592 was formed out of Lord Strange's Men who, forced out of the Rose by plague, took to the road in October of that year. An entry in Henslowe's diary for a long run (by Elizabethan standards) of a play called "harej the vi" is further evidence linking Shakespeare's earliest history plays to the company, in both its post-1592 incarnations. Lord Strange's went off to the south-west, whilst Pembroke's took the North Road. The tour apparently lasted ten months and, famously, Pembroke's Men returned to London broke. So, Pembroke's Men's tour of 1593 is the first known performance of this play: it actually enters recorded theatrical history as a touring play, not as a London play. However, if the ESC's interpretation is legitimate, then we must also think about the possibility that Shakespeare wrote it as a play to be toured, as a play in which regional audiences would create a specific kind of reading, a specific kind of interpretation, along these lines. This is not to say that 3 Henry VI would not also have been staged for a London audience: Greene famously punned on York's "tiger's heart wrapped in a woman's hide" speech, indicating that he heard the play acted in London at some point, whilst the tour of 1592-3 was forced on the company by the closure of the theatres in 1592 due to plague. However, Shakespeare is known to have written with mutliple audiences in mind. Multi-perspectivism in his works has often been remarked upon, and the commercial pressures of having to write crowd-pleasing dramas which would also sit well in a court context partially explain this. This is by no means a reductive approach: studies which locate Shakespeare's plays in the stage spaces they were thought to have been written for have uncovered exciting and dynamic readings which emerge from this context. Could Shakespeare have written 3 Henry VI (and its prequel) as a play which could be taken on tour, which would play well with the provinces, which would dramatise the tensions between regional and national discourses, and the effects of social change upon identity?
... no poet wrote with anything but the London companies in mind. London was where the players could perform in their own custom-built playhouses, week after week and year after year. Everywhere else they had to use town halls, market-places, or if they were lucky the great halls in the manor-houses of the nobility. Although Bristol had its own playhouse in the early years of the seventeenth century, no poet wrote expressly for it, or for the companies that passed through Norwich or Newcastle or even Stratford. In London there were regular venues, regular audiences, regular incomes. Every player's ambition was to belong to a company securely resident in London. And equally, the only place where a play could be profitably marketed was with the companies working in London. (6-7)
So, touring was not only important, it was, until the end of the century, the "Tudor norm," it defined the period, it fashioned all early playing practices, it set up the traditions, practices, structures and attitudes of the playing companies. Long after the establishment of the London playhouses, the mindset of travelling, of touring, exerted its influence: only half way through Shakespeare's career did London playing "begin" to dictate standards. In the first of these quotes, Gurr maintained that no poet ever wrote with anything in mind other than the London playhouses and London or court audiences; now plays are recognised as mobile, portable, "things that could be carried from one place to another."
It is not such a great stretch now to argue that the Henry VI plays were written with touring in mind, that there is an agenda behind their writing which the ESC productions keyed into, and that that agenda is provincial in nature, and is implicated in the playing companies' own existence. If we move from a position which considers touring as a condition forced upon the companies which performed these plays, to a position where provincial performance was an integral part of a playing company's identity, then a new space opens up, a new context for the study of early Shakespearean drama, and in particular those history plays in which regional histories are dramatised alongside national histories, in which the relationship between regional identity and national identity is in conflict -- the social condition, if you like, of civil war.
Looking through either of the Henry VI quartos, it is not hard to see why they were selected as touring pieces. The plays' locations range across England. 2 Henry VI is set almost entirely in the south-west of England, especially in Kent, which was one of the main regions for touring. The main road south took the companies to Kent and Dover, and it is interesting to reflect on how many plays of the time are set in or relate to Kent in some way: 2 Henry VI, Jack Straw, Woodstock, and Arden of Faversham for example. Pembroke's Men took the north road, however, and it is possible that they did not take 2 Henry VI at all; one scenario may be that Lord Strange's Men took take 2 Henry VI, as they toured extensively in the south, at the same time as Pembroke's Men were in the North. The first two acts of 3 Henry VI are set mainly in York and its surrounding areas: York was one of the key cities for the northern tour, and it also has an important scene in Coventry, another key city, and a city which apparently had its own Edward IV play, recorded in 1591. The records for Coventry record that the company received 30s, whilst the records from York show that it received 40s, both significantly higher than most other towns that the company visited that year. These are not records of actual takings, of course, which makes intepreting them problematic; however, the disparity between known moneys received in these cities against the other places which the company visits suggests a strong financial motive for having in their repertoire a play which represents those cities. When Pembroke's Men returned to Coventry in 1599, presumably without 3 Henry VI in their repertoire, they collected a measly 10s. This is circumstantial evidence, of course, but if we can place Pembroke's Men in York and we can assign them a play which has several scenes set in York and carries the slightly misleading title of The True Tragedy of Richard, Duke of York, then I think that the hypothesis that this is the play which they chose to perform is not an unreasonable one. Also, when writing the plays, Shakespeare must have known that Kent, York, Coventry and so on were key venues for travelling companies: the emphasis which he puts on these locations is a strong clue that he had touring in mind when he wrote the plays.
The York scenes are particularly significant, as they give a regional focus to the play in the north, in much the same way that, in 2 Henry VI, the Kentish rebellion of Jack Cade gives a southern regional focus. There is, in fact, a subtle north/south theme running through 3 Henry VI: the second line of the play pursues "the horseman of the north" and there are repeated references to north/south divisions. Here, the ESC got it wrong; the ESC portrayed the Yorkists as bluff northerners, and the Lancastrians as haughty southerners, but the play makes it clear several times that York's power base is actually in the south, in Kent and London, whilst Henry, with the Duchy of Lancaster and the might of Northumberland, holds the North. Henry is defeated at St.Albans, in the south; York loses the next battle because he is isolated in the northern city of York. Battles take place around York, there are scenes in its castle, the Duke of York's head is mounted on its walls, so that "York may overlook the town of York" (Act I, sc.4, l.l.181); Clifford's head later replaces it; and finally, there is a confrontation at the gates of York between Edward, returning to claim his Dukedom, and the Mayor of York.
If the play was performed in York in 1593, one of the performances would have certainly been in front of the Mayor, setting up an interesting synergy between the real mayor, who holds the power to license the performance locally, and his civic ancestor, here portrayed as nobly standing up to the usurper Edward, in the name of the Lancastrian King. Later, the Mayor of Coventry will make an appearance too, although he has no lines; again, there may be a certain amount of civic flattery involved here. 
3 Henry VI continues to be performed in York; the ESC, in fact, did a run at the York Royal, and it was here that they did their press previews, performing all eight plays over a weekend. Bogdanov chose York because of the Henry VI scenes; in his books, he says that "York could not have been more appropriate for the marathon" (Bogdanov and Pennington, 157). Some years later, in 1994, the York Royal commissioned its own adaptation of 3 Henry VI. The stage for that production drew upon images familiar to York residents and tourists, in particular the walls and the gates of York which are still standing. The preservation of York as one of England's few recognisably medieval towns gives the play's performance here a unique resonance. In these regional performances, the "place of the stage" becomes a truly potent concept, as the town hall, or the local theatre, is transformed by the dramatic representations of the town physically and historically. For York, at least, 3 Henry VI will always be a local play. Its performance in York shifts the narrative emphasis onto the story of the Dukes of York, and of the scenes and battles set in and around York. Two Yorks gaze across at each other: the real York, with its mayor; and the represented York, with its mayor, so that "York may overlook the town of York."
One objection to this argument is that the play is not overly specific in its reference to either region or place: in fact, Randall Martin even goes so far as to say that the play is remarkably "delocalised" in his forthcoming edition of 3 Henry VI for the Oxford Shakespeare. However, touring companies are themselves delocalised, it is the condition of a touring company that it does not write for any fixed place. Here, regionality emerges as a concept in itself, which can be used historically and politically. The locality of York and Coventry, and their presence in national history, stands for the relationship between regional identity generally, and national identity. This certainly was the experience of the ESC, who always sought in their work to establish regionality as an aesthetic concept in itself: to be regional, whatever your region, was to be more authentic, more "connected" (culturally speaking) than the accents, dress and symbols of a fake and homognised imperial culture. 3 Henry VI may have an added edge, an added market appeal, when it is taken to either Coventry or York; but a delocalised presentation of these cities opens up the dramatisation of tension between regional and national identity to other localities.
By placing the stage of
3 Henry VI into a provincial milieu, not only does the ESC's intepretation
gain an added historical basis, but the location of touring in itself
opens up new contexts for criticism. In the same way that "the place
of the stage" in London and at court has formed the basis of critical
studies of the plays in their social and political context, and of ideological
and historicists explorations of drama's role in culture, touring now
presents itself as an additional arena for the critical study of Shakespeare
and other dramatists' work. The work of REED represents a significant
challenge to contemporary historicist studies of the period which have
yet to take on board the full English context of the period's drama. Jean
E. Howard's The Stage and Social Struggle in Early Modern England
(1994), for example, uses England and London interchangeably; the 'stage'
in the title is, to all intents and purposes, the stage of the London
playhouses and of the court. In this reading, the stage never moves beyond
the limits of London, and consequently never enters into the broader social
struggles of early modern England. The truth, as it now emerges, is that
the stage was always a mobile one, that the structures and demands of
touring defined the stage's cultural context more than the fixed, binary
structures of the London playhouses and court performances. Touring, which
is complex, even rhizomatic, in its structures, in the way that it traverses
the country, the way that it enters a play into a variety of different
situations, different politics, even different cultural identities, lends
itself well to current modes of critical thinking. Theory, however, has
been surprisingly resistant to this possibility: Steven Mullaney, whose
monograph The Place of the Stage (1988) is one of the best and
most sophisticated attempt to bring together theory and theatre history,
has actually been one of the most outspoken critics of REED. In "After
the New Historicism" (1996) Mullaney sets out to deconstruct the methodologies
of the so-called "new antiquarianism." 
Mullaney makes many fair points, but he fails to recognise the challenge
that REED poses to his own conception of "the place of the stage:"
like Howard, the full title betrays his assumptions: The Place of
the Stage: License, Play, and Power in Renaissance England
(my emphasis). The book begins with a map of London.
If my thesis is correct, then the ESC productions returned the plays to what in some senses was their roots, a tour of England, in which regional histories and regional identities intersected with, competed over and contradicted national identity. To be English in this play, as the father/son scene shows, is a complicated and contradictory statement. The ESC tour looks back to and speaks to the tour which possibly gave these plays their first theatrical life, and discovers, beneath the traditions of jingoistic, nationalistic performance, a fragmentation of England which speaks directly to historic contradictions in concepts of national identity, and to the mobile nature of theatre itself, as a touring institution, in an age where identity, in the 1980s as in the 1590s, was increasingly problematised by social changes and political manipulations.
Since the ESC's pioneering tour, there has been one other tour of 3 Henry VI, which deserves a brief mention here. In 1994, the RSC staged a production of the play, directed by Katie Mitchell, at The Other Place. It was called Henry VI -The Battle for the Throne. Whereas the ESC added scenes from 2 Henry VI, the text for this production was relatively uncut. It was trimmed, and lines were added from Richard III and Gorbuduc to underline the theme of civil war. Mitchell also drew heavily on the octavo text. In some respects, then, the Pembroke's Men tour of Richard, Duke of York was revisited by this 1990s tour of what was practically the same play. Independently of the ESC, Mitchell developed a very similar theme, drawing suggestive parallels between the civil wars of the fifteenth century with the 'culture wars' in former Yugoslavia. Here, civil war was dramatised as a rift in which political interests violated ethnic bonds, and creates false, destructive oppositions. At the centre of the stage was a giant painting of St. George, to which both sides swore allegiance. The atrocity of civil war was shown to undermine the religious and social beliefs which both sides fought for. The throne which they battled over was, ironically, only a small wooden chair.
In this paper I've used a contemporary performance as a basis for a reading of 3 Henry VI. This is a counter-intuitive strategy, since the ESC's intepretation of the plays neither needs historical verification nor presents itself as a critical study of the play. However, the strong regional sub-texts which emerge from a provincial context does present the possibility that, quite simply, the play 'works' in this context, lending strong subjective support to a scenario in which Shakespeare did write the play to be performed in the provinces. This hypothesis can draw on internal and external evidence to make the case, and does not need the ESC's experience to support it, but the ESC demonstrated vividly one way in which the play's interest in regionality can be interpreted on a critical level, as a nostalgia for a lost ethnicity, for a lost sense of community. This leaves the way open for a full critical study of 3 Henry VI as a touring play, relating its representations of regions, regional identity and regional history to wider historical issues of social change and identity in the period.
1. The edition used throughout is Wells and Taylor, eds, William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986).
2. Greenfield, 1996, p. 253.
3. Notable productions include the RSC's The Plantagenets (1988-1990), directed by Adrian Noble; Jane Howell's full-text productions for the BBC Shakespeare Series (1983); the RSC's only full-text production of the trilogy, directed by Terry Hands (1977-9) and the seminal The Wars of the Roses, directed by Peter Hall and adapted by John Barton for the RSC in 1963-5.
4. The radical agenda and subversive style of the ESC productions has attracted a number of academic studies. Hodgdon (1991) and Potter (1991) discuss the Henry VI plays specifically, both drawing attention to the representation of gender, whilst Jackson (1989), Phillips and Jarvis (1990), Armstrong (1989), Manheim (1994) and Hattaway (1994) look more generally at the ESC project, its politics and its reception. The best work on the ESC is, however, Bogdanov and Pennington's own memoir of The Wars of the Roses (1990).
5. Pembroke's Men and its tour of 1592-3 has been much discussed, especially because of the possibility (suggested by their repertoire) that Shakespeare may have been part of the company. See Edmond (1974), Pinciss (1974), George (1981), and Wentersdorf (1977; 1979) for articles on the company and the Shakespeare debate. Although now very out-of-date, John Tucker Murray (1910) remains the starting point for any study of the Elizabethan playing companies. Gurr (1996) uses published and unpublished research from the Records of Early English Drama to trace touring patterns of all the companies. His meticulous and authoritative lists of the known whereabouts of Pembroke's Men and Lord Strange's Men is the basis for some of my discussion here (pp. 273-277).
6. For a detailed summary and engagement with the long running debate over the Henry VI plays' first performances, see Hattaway's introduction to his edition of The First Part of King Henry VI (1990). On the relationship between the so-called 'bad quartos' and provincial touring, see McMillin (1972) and King (1992) who both argue, on internal grounds, that the quarto texts are based on touring productions.
7. The 'London Focus' has been frequently challenged in recent years, particularly by scholars connected with the Records of Early English Drama. For robust, anti-metropolitan rhetoric, see Nelson (1994), who argues that sophisticated and innovative stage techniques were known outside of London before 1576; and Ingram (1992), who argues that performance flourished until the establishment of the London playhouses. Articles by Ingram (1993), Maclean (1988), Greenfield (1997) and Somerset (1995; 1998) lend weight to a growing consensus that the importance of provincial touring has been underestimated.
8. For a less conservative view of the importance of provincial touring, see Greenfield (1997), Ingram (1993), MacLean (1988; 1993), Somerset (1995), Wasson (1985) and MacLean and McMillin (1998).
9. See MacLean (1993) for a detailed discussion of Elizabethan playing companies' touring routes. Kent and the south-west were toured the most frequently: the density of towns and its proximity to London made it a lucrative area.
10. Wright (1990) argues that this play had been performed several times, and that Thomas Heywood's Edward IV plays may have been based on it. He does not mention a possible relationship with 3 Henry VI, but if the Coventry Edward IV play had been performed before 1591, then this must remain a possibility. Wright also discusses at length the historic relationship between Coventry and Edward IV, underlining the appropriateness of this chronicle material for Coventry audiences. See also Griffin (1999).
11. These figures are based on Gurr (1996), pp. 276-77.
12. For further information about early modern performances in York, see Johnston and Rogerson (1989).
13. The players would presumably have played at York Common Hall. MacLean and McMillin (1978, pp.74-5) discuss York Common Hall as a venue for the Queen's Men and they include photographs and diagrams of the hall, which still stands. Tittler (1991) explores the social and political significance of the early modern town hall; Berry and Stokes (1993) look more specifically at actors and town halls.
14. I am grateful to Randall Martin for sharing his research with me in advance of publication and for looking at an earlier version of this paper.
15. A similar critique is also made by Coletti (1991).
16. The RSC was initially resistant to this idea. Adrian Noble insisted that Mitchell start her production with York's return from Ireland in 2 Henry VI. (Noble's own production of the play, as part of The Plantagenets cycle, had started with Jack Cade). An early press release announced that the production would be a conflation of 2 Henry VI and 3 Henry VI and because of this, several reviewers and even the Shakespeare Centre's own catalogue record the production as an adaptation of these two plays. However, Mitchell was determined to remain faithful to the original texts. In the final event, not a single line from 2 Henry VI made it into the final script.
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Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.
© 1999-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).