Digital Renaissance Editions

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5. Notes and Commentary

The notes and commentary of the Digital Renaissance Editions are the place where you will most clearly be aware of the differences between a conventional printed edition and an electronic one. The hypertextual linking of text to notes, and notes to further resources means that the structure of your notes should be conceived in a significantly different way (see the introductory remarks on hypertext above, 1.1-2).

5.1. General considerations

Writing yet another gloss on a passage that has been discussed in dozens of editions, several appearing in the last twenty years, can be an exercise more in ingenious paraphrase than scholarship. Be aware of the kinds of problems Leah Marcus and others have identified in the long tradition of editors shaping the text according to the expectations of earlier audiences that are by now substantially changed in their expectations. Avoid what Randall McLeod calls "right-answerism": be sceptical of the kinds of annotations that have embedded earlier attitudes, and exercise the capacity of the electronic text to provide the reader with multiple choices (see 5.2.5 below for the kinds of electronic resources you can include in your search for alternatives). If you retain an earlier gloss, in general it is better to quote an earlier editor who said it well, giving due credit, rather than to juggle words in an attempt to make the annotation seem different. Note, however, that longer quotations might run into copyright problems, and where it is difficult to determine the original editor who made a comment repeated by others it may be simpler to juggle.

Recommended articles on writing notes and commentary: 

5.1.1. Levels of annotation

There will be three levels of annotation and an independent glossary. The first two levels of annotation will be accessed immediately from the modern text.

  1. Basic annotation (level one) will be that part of the notes primarily explanatory of meanings, at roughly the level of one of the standard student texts (New Mermaids, for example). Make sure that it is sufficiently detailed for a student reader; on the other hand, level one annotations may be accessed online by a simple mouse-over "pop-up" note, so they should be kept concise. 
  2. Advanced annotation will contain a more complete discussion, roughly equivalent to current annotation in editions like the Arden Early Modern Drama or Revels. 
  3. The third level will allow you to deal with especially interesting, controversial, or complex material in a discursive additional note. Remember, however, the injunction above that a click should be worthwhile; the third level of annotation will normally be a substantial discussion, and will be contained in a separate file. The ready availability of the third level of annotation should make the second level somewhat more concise than in equivalent printed editions. Cross-referencing should be limited to the second and third levels of annotation. For level three annotations, see section 5.4.

Tags indicating level follow this format:

<level n="[number]">Text of annotation.</level>

See Appendix, section 2.6 for details.

5.1.2. What should be annotated

Explain whatever seems to you to demand explanation, bearing in mind the audience the editions are aimed at: first year university student to advanced scholar. Normally, you should avoid glossing difficult words more than once; you may, however, use your discretion on this (e.g. if many scenes intervene between two or more uses).

5.1.3. Annotate in larger units when possible

Especially in an electronic edition, fewer, more inclusive notes will be more effective and less obtrusive for the reader. For example, when characters indulge in a series of plays on words it will require fewer clicks for the reader to be told in one longer explanation when the wordplay begins, rather than explaining each pun as it appears. See the general comments about writing good hypertext above (1.2.2). Note, however, that where several words are discussed in a longer commentary, each word should be linked to the same passage, since the reader may choose to click on any of them. 

5.2. Kinds of annotation

5.2.1. Notes to passages that are obscure

Where the text contains obscurities which you can neither explain nor emend, you may choose not to refer to such obscurities in the commentary, but you may, if you prefer, say "Unexplained" or give the best guesses, indicating uncertainty by a question mark in parentheses.

5.2.2. Necessary explanations of what happens on the stage

Editors should only insert stage directions where they are considered essential to the text working as a functional script, e.g. in the case of missing entrance or exit directions. Also, where some essential action on stage has not been recorded in the printed text and when this action is not obviously implicit in the text (avoiding duplication), example? Asides to the audience and indications of who a character is speaking to should only be inserted for clarity and where there is clear evidence to support the insertion (rather than a conjectural reading). Editors should not insert stage directions which shape the action in a particular way, i.e., they should not behave as if they are directors of performance on the page; prescriptive stage directions are not within the remit of the editor's duties.

Where further clarification is useful, you should discuss stage action implied by the dialogue and/or offer options in a level 2 or 3 note (depending on the length of the discussion).

5.2.3. Comments on vocabulary and syntax

You should indicate where usage differs from the modern or seems especially characteristic of the playwright(s). Vocabulary with technical (e.g. legal, medical) associations usually requires explanation.

5.2.4. Explanations of reference to customs, events, etc.

Customs and references to the life of the time such as are not likely to be understood by a first-year university student should be explained. Include references that may be familiar in Britain that might not be clear to readers overseas, e.g. districts in London. Be particularly attentive to explaining issues of geography, measurement, and currency.

5.2.5. Illustrative passages from Elizabethan literature

Use parallel passages from early English literature to illustrate references, vocabulary, syntax, usage, etc. Editors should if possible make use of the growing repositories of electronic texts from the period and earlier, such as Chadwyck-Healey's Literature On-Line (LION), the Early English Books Online Text Creation Project (EEBO-TCP), Ian Lancashire's Lexicons of Early Modern English (LEME), and other major searchable collections on the Internet. 

Although the OED will often provide adequate information (but see Alice Walker and Timothy Billings, cited above), editors should check with wider references in the case of particularly interesting word usage, since such resources as LION and EEBO-TCP will often uncover materials not included by the OED readers. 

Quotations from Shakespearean plays not yet published in the Internet Shakespeare Editions, or from non-Shakespearean early English plays not yet published in the Digital Renaissance Editions, may rely upon any edition (whether modern/scholarly or original/facsimile) as appropriate, with indication in the list of abbreviations of what edition is used.

5.2.6. Parallel passages

If you are referring to parallel passages from classical authors, works by Shakespeare, proverbial lore, the Bible, etc., you should normally provide some quotation, not simply the reference. The space offered by a second or third level note will be useful here. Otherwise, in instances where the whole work is included as part of the supplementary materials to the edition (or as part of another edition published by the Digital Renaissance Editions, Internet Shakespeare Editions, or Queen’s Men Editions), we will be able to link your quoted passage to the whole work.

5.2.7. Alternative meanings

If you provide alternative meanings of a word or phrase, indicate which is the primary meaning and which is innuendo or association (but for a reconsideration of the way signification signifies with readers, see Booth). Bawdy innuendo, especially in an extensively bawdy scene, may require tactful handling but should not be glossed over or dealt with so circumspectly that meanings are obscure (see Maguire). Sometimes a single comprehensive note at the beginning of such a passage can indicate a succession of bawdy connotations, rather than itemizing each.

5.2.8. Biblical quotations and allusions

Biblical quotations should be from the edition deemed by the editor as the most appropriate for the play and recorded as the standard reference for citations in the Bibliography. For example, the Geneva Bible may not be an appropriate edition for plays written and performed prior to its publication in 1576. Biblical allusions should be glossed; you will be wise to assume that the current generation of university students is fundamentally ungodly.

5.2.9. Classical allusions

Classical allusions should be explained; only provide a brief synopsis of the myth or figure referred to inasmuch as it provides the reader with information that is directly relevant to the interpretation of the passage (see Hamilton). For example, in glossing Hamlet's Nemean lion (1.4.83), the fact that slaying the lion was the first of the labours of Hercules is relatively irrelevant; Hamlet's claim that "My fate cries out / And makes each petty artery in this body / As hardy as the Nemean lion's nerve" requires a gloss noting that the Nemean lion's fur made it impervious to harm. It will often be useful to refer to the playwright(s)'s source for the allusion. 

5.2.9. Foreign languages

Quotations from classical or other non-English authors should normally be in the original language, surrounded by the tags <FOREIGN lang="[language]"> </FOREIGN>, followed by a translation. Greek words must be transliterated, since most browsers are at present unable to display Greek characters. Foreign-language passages should be translated. Be acutely aware of performance issues arising from playbooks' rendering a foreign language in phonetic spellings.

5.2.10 Headnotes

A headnote at the beginning of each scene may be used for brief comment on such matters as editorial notes of location; the dramatic significance of the sequence and juxtaposition of scenes; the relation of the scene to particular sections of known sources. Number such a headnote from the first TLN number of the scene, with the addition of a zero after a period, thus: <TLN n="1202.0" /> where the first line is TLN 1202.

5.2.11 Illustration of performance

You are encouraged to comment on interesting issues in the text as they may be or have been illuminated by specific performances. Where you are able to obtain copyright permission for graphics, these should be linked from the level two note; it is often possible, however, to indicate variations in performance traditions by referring to specific productions on stage or film without actual illustration.

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