Friday, February 15, 2008

Working with the Original Folio and Quarto Texts

Some words below from Paul Sugarman on ASC's text process, and particularly the Folio and Quarto texts we have been using on Merchant of Venice. Paul has been an ASC actor for several seasons now, and is Salanio in Merchant. He is also the company's resident text expert, which is saying something, considering the general level of Shakespeare nerdiness and self-dramaturgy at ASC! Paul was an editor of the immensely useful Applause edition of the First Folio, and he publishes his own pocket editions of original texts under his Raw Shakespeare imprint.

One of the things that I find most exciting about the Actors Shakespeare Company is that we work with the original published texts of the First Folio and Quartos to get closer to Shakespeare’s original intent. The First Folio was the first collection of Shakespeare’s plays published in 1623, seven years after his death. It included 36 plays, 18 of which had never been published. The book was edited by members of Shakespeare’s acting company and it is believed that the theatre companies prompt scripts were used as a reference, since the stage directions are often quite specific about what needs to be done. The Quartos were texts of individual plays. Most people are probably unaware of how much the modern texts of Shakespeare have been cleaned up and edited to make Shakespeare into a neat literary package. The First Folio and Quarto texts are much messier but with many clues for actors.

Recently there has been a lot of interest in looking at the clues for actors in these early texts, thanks largely to the work of Patrick Tucker who wrote “Secrets of Acting Shakespeare” and Neil Freeman who has compiled “The First Folio of Shakespeare in Modern Type.” The spelling in these original texts is often quite bizarre as you have to keep in mind that this was more than a century before the first English dictionaries, many times these spellings suggest how the words sound. There are also clues for the actors in punctuation and capitalization. Since there was precious little time for rehearsal in Shakespeare’s time (as they could often put on 10 different shows in a 2 week period) there needed to be clues for the actors to pick up their parts quickly. Capitalizing a word in the middle of a line can be a suggestion that the word should be emphasized. A colon can be an indication of a change of approach or a physical move.

Actors Shakespeare Company uses Patrick Tucker’s Folio “kits” which include a master script and cue-scripts, or sides, for the actors, which contain only the character’s lines and their cues, as well as cues for exiting or entering. In Shakespeare’s time that would be all the actor would get, because of the amount of work involved in copying the script and because of the fears of the script being stolen and published in a pirate edition. Working with these “cue scripts” gives us a chance to use some “original practices” by attaching them onto dowels these sides become “rolls”.

Paul Sugarman, in a less scholarly mode

The benefit for an actor of just having your own “roll” is that you only have your own lines and cues to focus on and to have them make sense. It forces the actors to listen for their cues. Being open to the clues in the original text often solves many problems for the actor. Almost all the actors who work with the original text find that these clues often help. Working on these plays in this way it becomes clear that they were written to be performed and were made by the consummate man of the theatre, William Shakespeare.

The Merchant of Venice was popular in Shakespeare’s lifetime and was published several times in “Quarto” form. This gives us and added text to reference along with the First Folio. Many Shakespearean scholars believe that the First Quarto of Merchant is the closest to Shakespeare’s original writing and a better text than the First Folio. Most of the play is the same but there are some key differences. For our production we have started with the First Folio but all the actors were given copies of the First Quarto so that they could refer to it and update their texts if desired.

There will be an Actors Shakespeare Company Quarto published of our performance text of Merchant of Venice with endnotes indicated the textual choices made.

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