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date: 07 August 2020

(p. 523) Textual Production and Reproduction

In the previous section, Rubright’s essay on Henry the Fifth considers Princess Katherine’s speech as it takes form in modern editions as well as in its ‘typographic embodiment on the printed pages’ of the Quarto and the Folio. As she points out regarding an authoritative modern edition, the French princess ‘both gets her French better and her English worse than she did in 1623’. In thus revealing ‘how minor editorial changes convey important ideological investments’, she joins a growing group of critics, editors, and theorists who have transformed our, and our students’, encounters with Shakespeare. Paying similar attention to material textuality, three scholars in this section, each of whom has edited early modern texts, present theoretical challenges and practical solutions regarding the ways that textual matters—from tracing source texts to crafting glosses to unpacking wordplay—are implicated in gender, race, status, and sexuality, as well as knowledge relations.

Valerie Wayne’s approach to editing is informed by a ‘strategic essentialism’ that highlights the role of women editors while demystifying the labour of editing. She begins by acknowledging that current editors are more diverse in terms of gender, sexuality, class, and race than they were a generation ago, and that textual scholarship nowadays is well informed by literary criticism and theory as well as political and historical frameworks. The concept of ‘the text’ is widely agreed to be less stable, more multiple, and more contingent than before. Providing a brief history of the general principles of and activities involved in textual editing, she then describes the specific innovations of feminist editors. Turning to Cymbeline, she explains how her own editorial sleuthing discovered a troubling history of (p. 524) editorial ‘discretion’, stemming from a normative connection between female genitalia and shame, in past editors’ failure to identify a source for Posthumous’s misogyny. Stressing that concerns of eroticism, social rank, and race are co-implicated, she argues that the homoerotic bondings in the play ‘relate to its conflation of social rank with race-based ancestry and critique of elitism’. She urges recognition that, while labour such as textual collation ‘is often not as stimulating as constructing a critical argument or relating large theories to a localized body of texts … it is a form of meaning-construction’. Her awareness that ‘Shakespeare has always been remade over time to speak to those with changing commitments and cultural values. Editing is a (literally) meaningful part of that process’ connects the consideration of textual generation with which she concludes to the cultural performances, past and present, with which this volume closes.

In accord with Wayne’s contention that ‘[e]‌diting can sometimes feel more like recovering what intervening centuries have occluded than interpreting a text from more current perspectives’, Jeffrey Masten applies pressure to particular words and their variants to reveal their early modern meanings, enacting a historical practice informed by intersectionality and attuned especially to the sexual alterity of early modern language. He argues that,

even as scholarship in the history of sexuality has begun to make its way into the introductory materials in editions, editors must work harder to think about the broader ramifications of research into the history of sexuality for editing the text ‘itself’, and for how we produce the glosses that incrementally and constitutively underwrite the text and its meanings.

Thus merging, in the manner advocated by Wayne, textual and interpretative issues, he considers the case of a heretofore little-noted crux in Othello by asking a seemingly ‘straightforward glossarial question’: What is ‘tupping’? His answer reveals not only the importance of bodily hierarchy to sexual positions (‘[t]‌he question of who’s on top is for this culture a crucial question’), but that such sexual positioning intersects ‘with the play’s minute calibrations of class and service hierarchies’ as well as its ‘rhetorics of race and related racist discourses of power-related positioning and animality’. Providing a model for how editorial practices could more fully engage with the intertwined histories of sexuality, race, gender, and status, Masten shows what is at stake—ideologically, textually—with the meanings and assignations of a single word. Along the way, he theorizes future imperatives for textual editing and proffers strategies to handle the multiplicities of possible reference to which a ‘queer philology’ would be attuned.

Like Masten, Laurie Maguire is interested in how words resist our efforts to gloss them, and like Rubright, she examines forms of ‘typographical embodiment’ that literally inscribe corporeal (and other) meanings into texts. Ranging across a vast corpus of early modern literary texts, she considers the use and meaning of ‘etcetera’, typically typographically abbreviated as ‘&c’ or ‘etc’. Early modern etceteras, she argues, consistently direct ‘the eye to a vacancy’. Among its uses and meanings are sexual euphemism and sexual slang; self-censorship; interruptions in the form of the dash; the rhetorical figure of aposiopesis, indicating silence; and invitations to supply or complete. Emphasizing that ‘[i]‌f etcetera means “break off”, “don’t complete”, it also means its opposite’ as well as the barriers to interpretation it poses, she finds in its multiplicity both the creativity of early modern (p. 525) writers and a challenge to our presumptive knowledge about early modern language. As she puts it,

… ‘etcetera’ plays a conceptually sophisticated tease of hide and seek with boundaries and cusps, with abruption and continuation, with suspension and extension of meaning … [it] is not just what is absent from the text but also what refuses to go away: it is the ghost character of early modern writing, the site of perpetual exchange between the potential and the actual in knowledge.

(p. 526)