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4.4.2. Modernization of Spelling and Usage

4.4.2. Modernization of spelling and usage

a) General

The principal issues involved in modernization are surveyed by Stanley Wells, in Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, Modernizing Shakespeare's Spelling (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), 3-36, and in Re-Editing Shakespeare for the Modern Reader (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), 5-31. His discussion should be of value to all editors of modernized Renaissance drama, not least in drawing attention to some of the words which will face editors with their most difficult decisions and in indicating how uncertain is the line that divides the categories of "genuine forms" (to be retained) and "variant spellings" (to be reduced to standard modern form). 

The style of this edition is to spell words as they are spelled today, whether using American or British spelling (provided the usage is consistent). Perhaps the most convenient reference for modern US spelling is the Merriam-Webster dictionary. It can be consulted online at ​ DRE editions avoid the kind of antique spellings, such as those found in the Riverside Shakespeare ("twelf," strook," "mushrump," etc.) As a general rule, check whether the OED lists a given word as a separate entry with its own linguistic history (thus distinguishing "corse" from "corpse," "clout" from "cloth," and "beholding" from "beholden") or simply as a spelling variant of a more standard form ("turbant" for "turban," "mushrump" for "mushroom," "sound" for "swoon"). OED practice in this regard can seem arbitrary at times — the distinguishing of "windore" from "window," for example, or "estrich" from "ostrich" gives independent entry to what is then identified as a variant form — but consider the evidence. 

Generally, spelling variants should give way to the modernized form, unless there appears to be compelling evidence of dialectical use (which might pertain, for instance, to "handkercher" and "neckercher" rather than "handkerchief" and "neckerchief," or "lanthorn" instead of "lantern") or some such special effect such as wordplay. Genuinely separate words like "sith," on the other hand, should not be abandoned; in this case there is an equivalent meaning in "since" but not an immediate linguistic connection.

In context, however, older forms like "holy day" (holiday) and "travail" (travel) may commend themselves powerfully. We should be careful not to lose resonances and wordplay when possible, while at the same time not clinging to older forms simply because of their quaintness or presumed color. Some early modern words, like "treacher," have no close modern equivalent ("traitor" being the closest) and should be retained.

b) Preferred modernizations

In the following list, the modernized form in the first column is to be preferred before the older form in the second column unless a plausible case can be made for the second form in context based on matters of rhyme, meter, wordplay, etc:

Preferred modernization Earlier form
'a (meaning "he") a
account accompt
an (meaning "if") and
an't (meaning "if it") and't
apiece a piece
artichoke hartechocke
bonfires bonefires
burden burthen
chemical chymical
coxcomb cockscomb
curtain cortine
curtsy curtsey
diamond diamante
enough enow
'em hem
errant arrant
gi' (meaning "give") gi
god b'wi'you god buy you
ha' (meaning "have") ha
ho (=surprise) hoa, hoo
I'll I'le
lantern lanthorn (unless dialectical)
lain lien
more mo
murder murther
mushroom mushrump
ne'er ne're
o'clock a clock
o'purpose a purpose
ourselves our selves
partridge partrich
powder poulder
salad sallet
show shew
Signor Signior
shipwreck shipwrack
struck strook, stroke
swoon sound
ta'en tane
than then
treacle triackle
triumphed triumpht
turban turbant
usher huisher
venture venter
vile vild, vilde
window windore
wreck wrack
yon yond

Distinguish, according to modern definition:

"diverse" and "divers"
"whether" and "whither"
"aught" and "ought"
"ensure" and "insure"

That is, print "whither" when the sense of the passage is "Whither [where] shall I go?" even if the early spelling is "whether"; print "diverse" if the sense calls for "sundry," even if the original reads "divers."

Some modernizations inevitably obscure a play of meaning: the interplay of "metal/mettle" in an original spelling like "mettall" cannot be fully incorporated in any single form, modern or ancient. In such a case, choose the modern form that seems to represent the primary meaning, and gloss. So too with the play of meaning in "trauell," often suggesting both "travel" and "travail."

Modernizing of spelling does not mean the abandonment of strong forms that are no longer current in the language. Retain, for example:

again or again' (for "against")
bare (for "bore," as in "he bare himself in such a fashion")
besides (for the modern "beside," as in "How fell you besides your five wits?")
brake (for "broke")
clawn (for "clawed")
drunk (for "drank," as in "My wife drunk to me last night")
foughten (for "fought")
gelt (for "gelded")
holp (for "helped")
infortunate (for "unfortunate")
is holden (for "is held")
prest (not "pressed"; "prest" means "ready")
something (for "somewhat")
spake (for "spoke")
unpossible (for "impossible")

Distinguish "Oh," (emotional outburst, cry of surprise or pain or vexation) from "O" as a clear vocative addressed to the gods or in apostrophe. "Oh" should normally be followed by a comma, "O" should not. Instances of exclamations are more common; opt for the vocative “O” only when invocation and apostrophizing are clearly at work.

c) Syllabic è

A word like "loved" is to be spelled "loved" when pronounced in one syllable and "lovèd" when pronounced in two. Similarly, "remedied" indicates pronunciation in three syllables, "remedièd" in four.

Words like "blessed" and "learned" present a special problem: in adjectival situations they are pronounced in two syllables, but as verbs are monosyllabic. It is best to spell them "blessèd" and "learnèd" when they are used adjectivally.

Note: wherever possible, please use the DRE tag for indicating the accent, thus: {`e}.

d) Contractions and elisions

Second person singular verbs:

The most satisfactory way to achieve consistency is to distinguish between modals and all others. See below on verbs that end in "-est."

Retain elision where appropriate for meter, in words like "fall'n," "wat'ry," 'threat'ning."

On spacing of elided words, generally close up phrases when two words are to be pronounced as one:

at's ("at his")
has't ("has it")
ha't ("have it")
he's (preferred to "h'is")
I've (preferred to "I'ave")
they're (preferred to "th'are")
thou'rt (preferred to "th'art")
this's ("this is")
you'd (preferred to "y'had")
you're (preferred to "y'are")
you've (preferred to "y'have")

When elision involves more than two words, close up all: "i'th'midst," "b'wi'you," "i'th'daytime," "i'th'soul."

Where the apostrophe in an elision is shared by the two words, the form often can take a modernized equivalent, as in

Preferred modernization Earlier form
he's h'as 
she's sh'as
I'd I'ld ("I would")
he'd he'ld ("he would")

The modern form will work if it means "he has gone" or "she has disappeared," but not if the meaning is "he has money" or "she has an appointment."

Some contractions and aphetic forms often require an apostrophe:

'bout (abbreviating "about")
'fore ("before")
'less ("unless")

Oaths generally require an apostrophe:

'Save (meaning "god save")

Some aphetic forms that have become assimilated into the language, or that were thus assimilated in the early modern period, do not require apostrophe:

faith ("i'faith")
point ("appoint")
rest ("arrest")


Earlier form Preferred modernization
for mercy sake for mercy's sake
for god sake for god's sake
for credit sake for credit's sake

e) Earlier practice

The practice of earlier editors may prove a helpful guide but should not be allowed to stand as an inhibiting precedent. Remember, however, that the originality of the Digital Renaissance Editions will lie more in the kind and depth of critical apparatus than in the text itself.

f) Neither flesh nor fish

Any compromise between full modernization and total retention of copy text forms creates a text that represents no known stage in the development of English orthography (unless it can be argued that the text thus created is itself a “stage” in this sense). The attempt to preserve the phonetic values of a few words (even if we could be confident of knowing what they were) is anomalous in a text whose standard of spelling is that of the late twentieth or early twenty-first centuries. Spellings inviting discussion should be collated, and may be discussed either in an additional note in the collation or in the commentary.

g) Non-standard forms

An obvious exception will occur when a character in a play is given to the use of non-standard or incorrect forms (indicating a dialect, for example): these should, of course, be retained, in whatever spelling best conveys their point.

h) Languages other than English

Words or passages in foreign languages should be given in correct standard modern form, unless, again, there is reason to believe the inaccuracies are intentional and are designed to characterize the speaker. (Foreign language spellings in early modern plays may also be phonetic; the editor should explain whether the effect of misspellings is authorial or compositorial/scribal.) In all such cases, the matter should be discussed in the commentary. 

Words and passages in foreign languages should use the standard tag <FOREIGN lang="[language]"> </FOREIGN>, and will appear in italic in the HTML format. Digraphs representing diphthongs in words or names of classical origin should be normalized as "ae," "oe," etc. 

Note: foreign alphabets translate erratically from computer to computer. Please list all Greek or other passages in a separate email to the Coordinating Editor, and proofread the Web version carefully.

i) Capitalization

Emphasis capitals, freely used in the early editions, should be reduced to lower case. If you find them of sufficient interest, you may collate them, with or without comment in the commentary. Retain or introduce emphasis capitals for titles only when individual and identifiable title-bearers listed with the title in the list of characters in the play are meant; e.g. King Henry in 1H4 will be referred to as "the King," but Arthur in King John in will be "the prince" because he is not titled "Prince Arthur"; "the Duke is coming" (but "the king's peace"). In cases of real uncertainty, you should consider whether the reference is specific or general and capitalize or not accordingly. Where context indicates reference to a particular holder of the office, capitalize "the Pope," and where reference is to the corporate institution, "the Church."

The DRE style is to use lower case for references to god, and to use lower case for pronouns referring to him or her, but upper case when God is a proper name; e.g. "Dearly beloved friends, we are gathered together here in the sight of God" (from the ISE text of The Marriage Service, modernized by David Bevington). Lower case is also used for "lord" in such phrases as "by the lord." Use upper case only when it is part of a proper name.

j) O and Oh

The form "Oh" should be used only for emotional outbursts, cries of surprise, pain or vexation, and should be followed by a comma. For vocative and other exclamations use "O" without comma. Use "O" for the vocative, "Oh" when an interjection. Particular instances may occur where editors may wish to depart from these general recommendations, e.g. where rhyme or dialect requires the other form.

k) Ambiguous forms

Some forms in Shakespeare's text may be ambiguous in terms of modern usage. For example, the forms "neer(e)" and "farr(e)" may represent either the positive forms "near" and "far" or the comparatives "nearer" and "farther." In such cases, use what seems to you the most appropriate modern spelling ("near" and "far") and discuss the matter in the commentary.

l) Archaic forms

Retain archaic forms only when (a) rhyme or meter makes them a logical choice, or (b) a modernized form would not give the required sense, or would obscure a play on words.

m) Verbs that end in "-est"

In the second person singular of verbs, follow consistently your own preferred practice in the treatment of the "-est" termination. If the copy text chooses "-est" or "-st" throughout, you may wish to follow it, except where metrical considerations dictate otherwise. When the "-st" termination is used, there should be no apostrophe unless an "e" is part of the verb stem (hence "wouldst," "standst," but "dar'st," "com'st"). You should include a brief statement explaining your practice in the textual introduction. This rule does not apply to superlatives. In the case of superlatives, do not elide the "-est" termination, whether the termination is syllabic or not.

n) Abbreviations

Where the copy text abbreviates, or where meter requires abbreviation, use the forms "I'd," "he'd," etc., for "I should," "he would," etc., and not "I'ld," "he'ld," etc. Where your reading differs from the copy text, collate it.

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