January 8, 2013 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

Story by Agnes Chick

After fifteen years of research, Paul Werstine, English professor and general editor of the New Variorum Shakespeare, is looking forward to his latest work Early modern playhouse manuscripts and the editing of Shakespeare being published this February.

Drawing on the work of influential scholars A.W. Pollard and W.W. Greg, Werstine tackles challenging issues surrounding "foul papers" and "promptbooks" and reconsiders modern Shakespeare editing practices. This book analyzes the methods of theatrical personnel and reconstructs backstage practices of Shakespearean playhouses. It also offers a detailed analysis of 19 manuscripts and three annotated printed texts that provide insight into how plays were put into production during Shakespeare’s time. Using these manuscripts as a framework, Werstine explores editorial choices about what to give today’s readers as Shakespeare's writing.

“This book is for Shakespeare editors, textual critics and Shakespeare graduate students," says Werstine. “Since the early 20th century, people have tried to understand the manuscript origins of Shakespeare's printed texts by studying the surviving manuscripts of plays by other dramatists of his time, particularly those manuscripts marked up for production . Yet no one analyzed these manuscripts in detail. My research focuses on these materials and talks about where the Shakespeare printed texts come from.”

In a related development, Werstine’s school edition for the Folger Shakespeare Library, edited with Barbara A. Mowat, is currently being digitized and is being posted on the Folger Shakespeare Library's website as Folger Digital Texts, launched in December 2012. These free digital texts come with a source code for noncommercial app builders, scholars and others to build their own Shakespeare-oriented projects.  Users can read plays online, download PDFs for offline reading, search a play, and navigate by act, scene, line, or the new Folger throughline numbers.

“The Folger has taken these texts, without commentary, and placed them on a website freely for noncommercial use,” explains Werstine. “Until now, free internet Shakespeare texts were primarily those edited in the 19th century. The Folger wants to give people up-to-date versions of these texts.”

There are currently twelve plays featured in the debut of Folger Digital Texts, including Hamlet, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest, and Twelfth Night. The other plays, along with Shakespeare’s poetry, will be added throughout 2013.

For more information on Werstine and his research interests, please visit https://www.kings.uwo.ca/academics/english/english-people/dr-paul-werstine/

For more information on Folger Digital Texts, please visit www.folgerdigitaltexts.org/