The Performance of Editing and Editing for Performance (Emily’s short paper)

My posting for this week chiefly concerns Michael Cordner’s two articles, which raise major questions about the responsibility of a play-editor, particularly an editor of Shakespeare. I want to address, primarily, the practical implications of his discussion about performance-responsive scholarly editions. While creating a performance-responsive edition is a worthy goal, I think more conversation about what such an edition might look like, and how one might go about creating it, is necessary. I don’t know if fully bridging the gap between page and stage is possible or how it might best be done—but, nevertheless, I think it must be attempted. And in the attempt, as I point out toward the end of the post, we may discover that scholarly editors and theatrical ones have more in common than may at first appear. Given the apparent animosity between the two groups (evidence of which we find in Cordner’s anecdotes and in Stephen Unwin’s introduction to King Lear), finding such common ground will be essential to creating responsible scholarly editions that benefit both scholar and actor.

I agree with the major premise of Cordner’s two articles, that responsible play-editing necessarily involves recourse to performance and theatrical interpretation. In my own research, I have found that the most helpful annotations on a given page are often those on the performance history or the performance possibilities of a particular line or passage—almost always they are the most intriguing, even inspiring, notes on the text. Along with Cordner, I would like to see more of this in standard scholarly editions. I also wholeheartedly agree with Cordner’s points about transparency: regarding annotation, emendation, punctuation, and probably a whole range of other editorial activities, the reader (at least the scholarly reader) should know as far as possible what an editor is doing and how and why he or she is doing it.

But one potential shortcoming of Cordner’s articles is that they do not really suggest practical remedies for the problems that he points out. In fact, the articles don’t claim to deal with such issues. In “Actors, Editors, and Annotation,” Cordner writes

I will not attempt to draw up comprehensive guidelines for a more performance-responsive style of annotation. It seems to me that the immediate need is simpler – i.e. to establish clearly that serious problems in this respect do repeatedly arise in Shakespearian annotation as it is currently practised. (183)

Cordner, I think, does accomplish this goal: the articles clearly establish the “serious problems” in Shakespearian annotation at the time he was writing, in 2002 and 2003. The question now is what is currently being done, or what should be done, to address the issues he raises?

Implementing practical solutions to these problems is more difficult, I think, than it may at first appear, particularly in regard to creating a “more performance-responsive style of annotation.” The major issue in creating such an annotation would be determining what, exactly, to annotate. An editor could conceivably write performance-responsive commentary for every line of text that has ever been performed by a major company. So, what are the criteria for deciding which portions of the text to annotate with information about the performance of that line or passage? An editor of any kind of text will have to deal with questions about what to annotate and what to leave alone, but bringing performance into the question seems to make the issue even more fraught.

Additionally, while I agree that editors should not necessarily privilege their own interpretations at the expense of others in their annotations, I wonder how an editor should determine exactly which other interpretations to foreground. There’s no way to address every possible performance interpretation, or even every interpretation that has appeared on a major stage. I do appreciate notes that explain common or unusual ways of performing a passage of text. But the question is where an editor should draw the line on these notes. Cordner does begin to address this question:

Annotation cannot, of course, track all the possible, plausible, performance extrapolations which have been, and could be, made from Shakespearian scripts; but, in offering explanatory help which many readers may well find indispensable in negotiating the texts’ complexities, editors need to avoid prematurely delimiting that rich field of potentiality. (187)

I agree that an editor should not “prematurely delimit” the possibilities. But a text, even a scholarly one, can only bear the weight of so many annotations, and those annotations can only take up so much space. (Unless, I suppose, you’re working on a variorum, which is another issue.) Cordner’s examples from both articles illustrate just how far an editor might go in commenting on the potential interpretations of a passage—some of his commentary on particular passages of text stretches to a page or even two, far too long for a single annotation.

I would add that an editor is valuable to a reader in part because of his or her expertise. We rely on Shakespearian editors to provide us with what they see as the best, or most accurate, or most relevant or important information about critical and stage traditions that are almost inexhaustible. Cordner criticizes editors like Rene Weis and Philip Edwards for annotations that present what is basically the editor’s subjective opinion about a certain line of text, qualifying it only with the words “probably” or “likely.” Cordner thinks these words indicate only a surface-level concession to the possibility of other interpretations. But they might equally be considered as a necessarily economical invitation to attentive readers to question the editor’s interpretation. While I think the editors should ideally provide more in the way of other interpretations, the limited space for annotations may make such additions impossible, or at least complicated. I also do appreciate, from time to time, a subjective editorial opinion. After all, we ask certain people to edit certain texts because they have a high level of expertise—the question is how much of their expert opinion they should include and how they might best go about qualifying that opinion or placing it in context.

Near the end of Cordner’s other essay, on scripts and performances in Shakespearian comedy, he encourages editors to provide more “alternative opinions” in their annotation, asking, “Do readers not deserve to be more fully briefed?” Yes, of course. But practical considerations—concerning space, particularly—may limit how briefed they can be, as I have already noted. I would also ask, “Which readers?” Cordner seems to be talking about actors and about scholars. Both of these groups have something to learn from the other and should be mutually informing. Both are also looking for different things when they come to the edited text. One of my major questions is whether one edition can handle the weight that Cordner wants to put on it without becoming overburdened, difficult to use, or in some way inaccessible. We already have editions of Shakespeare that concentrate on performance—the Shakespeare in Production series, for example, primarily details the stage history of the plays—and one might argue that there is no need to highlight such considerations in other major scholarly editions. Cordner would argue that performance is integral to interpreting Shakespearian texts, and scholarly editions that do not prioritize performance are necessarily limited. I agree—but how can we put all this information into one text?

The New Oxford Shakespeare: Modern Critical Edition begins to suggest a solution. It includes standard scholarly notes at the bottom of the page and additional performance notes in the margins. Though the pages can become cluttered, all the information is there. The performance notes and the textual notes are full, but are clearly delineated and visually separated on the page. I wonder what Cordner might think of this solution, since he insists that one cannot separate textual interpretation from performance interpretation. I also wonder how we could, in a digital edition of Shakespeare, address some of the problems that Cordner points out. Certainly a digital edition, with the capability to link to video and audio clips, has the potential to make performance much more accessible and immediate to its users—this seems to me one of the distinct advantages of the digital edition. It also presents an opportunity to link to performance content and commentary for more information on a certain passage: an editor could craft a quick note and refer readers to a fuller explanation elsewhere. The digital is making it much easier to foreground performance in the Shakespeare edition. We just have to determine the best ways to do it.

Though I have questions about the best ways to practically implement the changes Cordner suggests, I think he is right that our current scholarly editions do not do enough to encourage collaboration with actors and other theatre professionals. We have read Cordner’s account of actors’ dissatisfaction with the ways Shakespearian editors handle the text: Derek Jacobi, in particular, “asserts the authority of his hard-won experience as an actor against his academic critics’ inclination to assume that only their own mode of expertise has authority in this field” (“Scripts and Performances” 167). Jacobi’s feud with the editors happened two decades before Cordner was writing, but more recently, Stephen Unwin’s fascinating (and, one might say, aggressive) introduction to his performance edition of King Lear, written around the same time as Cordner’s two articles, shows us that the conflict between scholars and theatre professionals continues. Unwin writes that his aim was to produce an edition that is “clear, straightforward and immediate,” in contrast, one can only suppose, to unclear, unnecessarily complex, and outmoded scholarly editions of the play. He calls such editions “intimidating” and even “counterproductive” citing the Oxford Shakespeare, with its two editions of King Lear, as an example. (Though one might wonder what exactly it means to be “counterproductive” in this context.) He thinks that “Shakespeare scholars may hate” his more straightforward edition, but he highlights its effectiveness as a script in its defense (23). Unwin’s closing words are even more confrontational:

We should discover Shakespeare’s dramatic demands from his words, and not from what modern editors think. Shakespeare was an actor himself and his plays were written to be heard and on the stage. It is time for the people who stage these plays today to reclaim his extraordinary texts as their own. (24)

What an terrible impression theatre professionals must have of Shakespeare scholars—I suppose if Cordner is right, however, their resentment of editors is not wholly undeserved. That actors and directors feel they must “reclaim” Shakespearian texts from the editors, as if they were being jealously hoarded, does not speak well for our handling of them. Even if our texts are edited primarily for scholarly use, shouldn’t theatre professionals be able to glean something from them without feeling as if they must “reclaim” them for the stage? Though I’m not sure we can, or even should, keep the texts from being “intimidating,” we would do well to think more deeply about their performance, their intended medium, when crafting editorial commentary and apparatus.

Perhaps a good first step is to follow Cordner’s suggestions by being more transparent, and probably more humble, about our editorial interventions. Unwin seems to object to the same editorial hubris that Cordner points out, one that annotates as if it were handing down a play’s single, unquestionable interpretation from the Shakespeare gods. This is, of course, an exaggeration, but it is nevertheless a trap that editors may fall into. Such editors may not be entirely to blame—as I have already suggested, practical considerations may limit the types of editorial interventions they can make and the extent to which editors may incorporate other voices and other commentary. But making an attempt to collaborate more fully with our counterparts in the theatre seems well worth the effort for both of us, as Cordner argues, and easier than ever in the digital age, as I have noted.

We may also observe that our scholarly editorial activities are not, in fact, so very different from those required by theatre adapters and directors. They involve many of the same types of interventions, and both are concerned with modernization of some kind. We can see evidence of this in some of the discussion in Peter’s book chapter on theatre editions and in the film script for Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth, but Unwin’s preface to King Lear is the most explicit about its editorial process. Unwin writes that one of his first editorial acts was to identify (and cut) anything “incomprehensible”; the academic editor must also identify and explain those passages. Additionally, Unwin has undertaken to emend the play’s punctuation, a task scholarly editors also perform (though not very satisfactorily, if we are to trust Cordner’s opinion). Furthermore, theatre professionals, like scholarly editors, must decide, when the early texts offer alternatives, which actor speaks which line—as in the final scene of Lear, for example.  And all of the ways in which adapters, directors, and actors cut, add, rearrange, and otherwise emend Shakespeare’s text involve, in some cases even constitute, acts of interpretation, as does their ultimate performance of that text. Interpretation is, of course, a foundational practice, maybe the foundational practice, of both actors and scholars. Perhaps we may begin to bridge the gap by acknowledging the many similarities between how we, as scholars, handle Shakespeare’s words and how theatre professionals handle them.

At the end of his essay on scripts and performances in Shakespearian comedy, Cordner suggests a concrete way to form productive relationships with Shakespearian actors:

In the rehearsal room pragmatic day-by-day reality demonstrates the susceptibility of words upon the page to different – even sometimes radically opposed – vocalizations. Only by conceding this, and acting wholeheartedly upon its implications, can an open-minded, mutually profitable dialogue with ambitious and intelligent actors such as Jacobibe made possible. (182)

Perhaps this is the pitch we should make to Shakespearian editors: create performance-responsive editions; talk to celebrities. If becoming a good editor of Shakespeare allows me to engage in “open-minded, mutually profitable dialogue” with Benedict Cumberbatch (or Patrick Stewart, or Helen Mirren, or Michael Fassbender, or…), then count me in.

Digital Lear by Anne Marie

I like the idea of a parallel edition of a text with two versions, but this is obviously easier to accomplish in an actual book when there are only two versions. A screen doesn’t have the same limitations as a book, so it would be possible to display three different pages next to each other at the same time without having to deal with awkward page turns. For a digital edition of Lear, the Q, F, and conflated texts could each have their own tabs that the reader could close or re-order so that no text always comes first or in the middle of the page. Each text could be spaced so that they all versions of the play end in the same place, although this might make for some awkward gaps on the page. In the interest of looking at the texts simultaneously, there could be an option to have all three texts scroll at the same time or separately, or two at the same time while the third remains static.

I also like being able to choose how much information I see at one time, so the conflated version could have an option to turn on or off highlighted text indicating whether it came from Q or F. Similarly, both Q and F could have the option to turn on or off highlighted variations, or places where the other version is different, thus giving readers the option to consider individual word variances. There could also be hyperlinks to notes and commentary in each text, which could pop up in a window below the text tabs so the reader doesn’t have to navigate away from the texts, similar to the TEAMS Middle English text series that Rachel mentioned.

Since it has options to turn information on and off, this digital version could work for scholars wanting to study variations as well as for casual readers who only want to read one version.

Digital Texts of King Lear by Emily

In his post about editing King Lear for Internet Shakespeare editions, Michael Best notes that Pervez Rizvi thinks editors should be able to produce a single version of the play. But I think that producing a “fair representation of the author’s art,” which Best cites as Gabriel Egan’s conception of an editor’s responsibility, necessarily involves producing two texts. The starting point for any edition of King Lear has to be either quarto or folio. That is not to say, however, that we can’t look at two texts at the same time.

If I were producing a digital text of King Lear, I would start, as Best has done, with clean, edited copies of both the quarto and the folio. But I would create an option to “turn on” the other text. So, if you’re looking primarily at the folio, you could add in the additions and variants from the quarto (and vice versa). I would probably distinguish these additions and variants as the editors in the Enfolded Hamlet have done, with a different color and the use of brackets. (At first, I thought this system would be cluttered and confusing, but after viewing the Enfolded Hamlet edition, I changed my mind. It’s actually quite easy to read.)

I like the annotation model provided by the Milton Reading Room, where each portion of the text that includes a note is underlined, as if hyperlinked. You can click on the hyperlink to see the note, which appears just to the side of the text. When you click on another portion of text, the new note appears and the previous note automatically disappears. (Internet Shakespeare Editions does something similar, but it’s a little clunkier—you have to click the note again if you want it to disappear.) The notes themselves could also easily link to outside sources as they do in the Milton Reading Room—for example, if Milton quotes a passage from the bible, you can click the link to read the full passage in context on another site. However, unlike the Milton Reading Room, I would create an option to turn off the annotations.

I’m still not fully satisfied with this solution, since there are a few technical details to work out and I could see it being quite cluttered. But I’m not sure there’s a means of providing all this information in a way that is completely clean—giving readers options to turn off the information, and therefore the clutter, seems like the best solution for now.

Literary Property: Character, Parody and Intellectual Property (Laura’s Paper for Wednesday)

In their articles, Zahr Said (2013) and Mark Rose (1988) both explore and try to define the notions of intellectual property and copyright. Although they focus on different aspects of this topic – Rose defending the author as the main proprietor and Said focusing mostly on the individual copyrights of characters – both share similar questions such as: What is considered as intellectual property? Who owns the original text? What is, or what can be, owned? What entails a copyright infringement and how can an author defend himself from such an accusation? These questions are difficult to answer, as Said and Rose demonstrate, for the notions of ownership of literary texts and copyrights seem to ambiguous and biased at best. I would like to try to answer these questions, or at least open a debate, using four different examples: the graphic novel Kill Shakespeare, Harry Potter’s fanfiction, the Fifty Shade trilogy, and the musical parody Spell Block Tango.

Quickly summarized, we understand copyrights as the protection of an author’s original text. Our contemporary understanding of copyrights comes from the Copyright Act of 1976, as explained by Rose, which was established to promote the creation of original material. This act grants authors, rather than the publishers, the right to determine when or how to copy, perform, distribute, or display their works. A copyright infringement thus occurs when a second author uses the preexisting work to create any sort of derivative work. According to Rose, “parties may infringe the rights of original authors in their copyrighted works or characters in a number of ways: by reproducing, displaying or performing the works verbatim or distributing them without authorization” (Rose, 54). The key word in Rose’s definition are verbatim. What happens when an author uses just some elements of a preexisting text, but not everything? This could fall under the case of “fair use”.

Beyond the general rules of copyright, there are certain circumstances that are allowed. These are called “fair uses defenses,” a legal defense used when an author is accused of infringement. Per the Lemoine Law Firm, there are a few factors used when analyzing a possible case of “fair use”:

  • Whether the original copyrighted work is commercial or non-commercial
  • The purpose of the derivative work: criticism, commentary, scholarship, etc.
  • The degree of transformation of the original work
  • The substantiality of the portion used of the original text
  • The effect of the derivative work in the market

Basically, if a text is copyrighted for purposes of criticism, is distinguishable transformed, presents new and original work, and is not used for profits, it can fall under the category of “fair use” and the author won’t suffer any consequences. Based on this definition, a parody work is a sort of “fair use”. We understand as “parody” a derivative text that aims to comment and/or criticize the original work or an element of it. In this sense, a parody is transformative, usually from serious to silly but not restricted by this. A parody uses a substantial amount of the original text, but only as much as necessary to recall and reference the original. An author of a parody must include original material as to separate both works. However, it is this question of substantiality that complicates the distinction between parody and copyright infringement. How much originality is needed? How much can an author take from the original work? And most importantly, what can he borrow from the original work? Rose summarizes this debate by explaining that:

First, the proponents of perpetual copyright asserted the author’s natural right to a property in his creation. Second, the opponents of perpetual copyright replied that ideas could not be treated as property and that copyright could only be regarded as a limited personal right of the same order as a patent. Third, the proponents responded that the property claimed was neither the physical book nor the ideas communicated by it but something else entirely, something consisting of style and sentiment combined. (Rose, 65)

Based on this, ideas cannot be treated as property, and thus cannot be copyrighted. However, the Copyright Act protects the execution or expression of an idea by an author. For example, the idea of a girl fighting for her freedom in dystopian world is too vague and cannot be copyright protected, but the story of Katniss Everdeen can. This at least clarifies the question of the metaphysical ownership of the book and what can be used in a parody. Nonetheless, one could wonder, if an expression cannot be duplicated, what happens to the use of famous characters in parodies?

In theory, characters are or should be automatically protected in a copyrighted work as they are part of it. However, as Said exposes, this is complicated by the relationship between readers and characters. He explains that copyright laws have not taken into consideration evidence that readers work a lot with characters. Characters evolve per their readers, they can be completed by their imagination. In this sense, characters seem o stand by themselves, independent from their work. Readers become attached to characters, sometimes even more than to the story itself. This makes them more valuable for authors for “creating enduring characters increases the likelihood that audiences will buy subsequent works” (Said, 4). However, whether the authors can protect their characters or not is very unclear. There are too many variables, such as the nature of the character and their relationship to the text, what do they contribute to the story, and how they are described and delineated. At the end, it is even unclear who the characters belong to, especially if we take into account Posner’s view of how “word portraits” leave the characters to the imagination of the reader, which arguably makes the character more of a creation of the reader instead of the author. This is particularly relevant to the case of the graphic novels Kill Shakespeare.

Created by self-proclaimed comic nerds Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col and published by IDW, the Kill Shakespeare graphic novels were first published in 2010. Kill Shakespeare is somewhat similar to the DC Comic Fable (2002). Fable takes many different myths and fairy tales characters, from Cinderella to Little Red Riding Hood, and reimagines them in modern-day New York. Similarly, Kill Shakespeare takes William Shakespeare’s characters and places them in an alternate universe where they all interact with each other. Hamlet, the protagonist, meets King Richard III, Juliet, the Weird Sisters, and many others. Obviously, the plotlines themselves are transformed so that they all interlaced with each other and follow the main plot of the comics, that of Hamlet’s quest to find the great wizard/god William Shakespeare. Yes, the Bard himself is a character in these graphic novels.

Kill Shakespeare is not an adaptation of Shakespeare’s plays not an illustrated play. It is a parody of not only the plays, but the author himself. One might wonder, what sort of parody? It could be a critique. McCreery comments on how students tend to be forced to read Shakespeare, implying that it is a tedious task (McCreery, 448). Could we see Kill Shakespeare as a critique of the medium and a way to make students want to learn about the English writer? It is also a commentary and praise of Shakespeare’s works, for McCreery claims to have been a huge fan of Shakespeare as a student mostly because he saw an analogue between Shakespearean characters and his favorite comic superheroes: “Caliban was Wolverine” (McCreery, 449). Perhaps the parody intends to both criticize and comment, that’s not the main problem. The important questions are: what is being parodied? What are McCreery and Del Col borrowing from Shakespeare? Hypothetically, could we make a case for copyright infringement?

Now, although the graphic novel and the original plays differ quite a lot, there are certain elements that can be found in both. For example, Hamlet’s lines when he kills Polonius are remarkably similar, almost taken verbatim (Kill Shakespeare, p. 9 //, 32-42). Some plot elements remained but were transformed, such as Romeo and Juliet’s romance. However, the main element McCreery and Del Col took from Shakespeare’s canon are the characters. The characters remain the same. Even their behavior is the same, such as Hamlet’s melancholic nature and Lady Macbeth’s seductive danger. Would this be enough to open a copyright case? It’s complicated. Although these are well known characters with famous linguistic tendencies, catchphrases, mannerisms, relationships, and emotional traits, per the legal definition, Kill Shakespeare is clearly a parody work. Thus, it falls under the “fair use defense” and cannot be categorized as an infringement. However, as Said explains, if a character constitutes what the story is, they could be copyrighted independently. We could debate for hours whether Hamlet is the most important character in Hamlet, but we cannot ignore that he does constitute a big portion of the play. Same with Rome and Juliet, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, etc. Could we then say that McCreery and Del Col are committing a copyright infringement? Probably not. Here is where Posner’s rationale about the reader’s imagination enters. Although in regards to personality traits the characters appear to be exactly the same as in Shakespeare’s original text, visually we have no idea if they resemble Shakespeare’s idea. We do not know much about their physical attributes and we cannot base ourselves in actors or actresses that have portrayed them before because they are all too different. The characters in Kill Shakespeare share the name given to them by Shakespeare, but physically they are owned by McCreery, Del Col, and Andy Belanger, the graphic artist.

Now, we can argue about the ownership of characters based in their delineation in Kill Shakespeare, but we can only argue about the difference between copyright infringement and parody in a hypothetical case since Shakespeare and his work are actually public domain. It is impossible for McCreery and Del Col to do a copyright infringement by using Shakespeare’s original text, even if they copied it verbatim. A better example for this are fanfictions.

Fanfictions are, as the name implies, works of fiction written by fans of particular canonical universe such as Star Trek, Doctor Who, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and many others. They are pieces of fiction created by authors who use material from pre-existing works. Perhaps the biggest collection of fanfictions right now is that of the Harry Potter series. Copyright law requires that writers who use pre-existing material ask permission to the original author. Although fanfictions writer do not contact J.K.Rowling for her permission and usually claim they are merely “Taking the characters out to play”, the writer has tweeted about her support of fanfiction writers. Legend says she even has a FanFiction.Net profile! Yet, one cannot help but to wonder: are fanfiction legal? Thinking about the factors that allow for a “fair used defense”, we could say that they are. Fanfictions usually make no money for they are published online. They sometimes quote Rowling’s books verbatim, but only the necessary amount to establish the universe and context of the work. Also, most of the fanfiction writers labeled their works as AU (alternative universes) and their characters as OOC (out of character). They claim to merely use Rowling’s ideas and transform them. However, the problem is that whether the fanfictions are AU or canon-verse, the characters are problematic, no matter if they are OOC or follow the canon mannerisms and emotional traits. Said explains:

Courts have protected characters’ names (when accompanied by at least some other characteristics); characters’ catchphrases; visual depictions of characters; and so on. What literary understandings of character show is the oversimplification of this view of characters’ easily discernible relationship to their texts. (Said, 32)

In the case of Harry Potter fanfictions, the physical attributes of the characters are problematic. Perhaps due to its popularity and its cinematographic adaptation, every reader has more or less the same vision of the character. The words used to describe them in the fanfictions are sometimes the exact same words used by Rowling. It could still be argued that some of these descriptions are a bit vague and/or can include a broad range of people, but what about Harry’s lightening-shaped scar? How many literary characters have that scar? What about Voldemort’s snake face with red eyes? What do we make of this?

Another problem is that not every work of fanfiction is free. Some writers can and have made money out of their fanfiction works. Some web platforms make money out of publishing fanfictions. When fanfictions started with Star Trek and Star Wars, many authors profited by selling their novel-length, paperback-printed fanfictions. However, perhaps the most infamous case is that of the book trilogy Fifty Shades. EL James, under the pen name Snowqueens Icedragon, started her series as a fanfiction titled Master of the Universe, an AU based on Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga. She has been very vocal about this. Her main characters, Anastasia and Christian, are based on Bella and Edward. EL James changed their names, but their physical and personality traits remain the same. In addition, many argue that Master of the Universe is also based on the film adaptation of Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada. From this she borrowed the idea of an interoffice relationship between an older boss and a younger assistant. This might be evidenced by her pen name, a common name in The Devil Wears Prada fandom due to the main character, Miranda Priestly, being called a snow queen, ice lady, and dragon lady. Now, whether this is true, we could argue in favor of Fifty Shades based in Rose’s argument:

The same ideas might very well occur independently to different people. Would that mean that each would be a separate proprietor of the same idea? Could Newton claim an exclusive property in the laws of the universe? (Rose, 61)

Nonetheless, Fifty Shades is still a well-known fanfiction from which EL James has profited tremendously. What do we make of this? Even if she changed names and the setting, it is known that she “borrowed” the core of the plot and the characters’ traits from a pre-existing works? Again, she has been very vocal about this. Should this be considered as copyright infringement? Once more, it is complicated. Due to its role in the market, we could argue that yes. However, we could also argue that the plot is a common idea and as such does not qualify as copyright protectable material.

Finally, what happens when a fanfiction/parody work not only makes money but is based on visually delineated characters? Posner’s rationale explains that literary characters are tricky to be protected by copyrights because readers usually must complete the image with their imagination, no matter how detailed the “word portraits” are. But what do we do with characters from visual media, such as cartoons? Take for example Todrick Hall’s YouTube parody titled Spell Block Tango. Hall remakes the famous “Cell Block Tango” from the musical Chicago using famous Disney villains: Scar, Ursula, The Queen of Hearts, Maleficent, the Evil Queen, Cruella De Vil, and Captain Hook. About theater performances, Hapgood (1992) debates:

Should an heir or agent exercise such total control? Who but the playwright can truly say whether changes are or are not true to the spirit of the work? As times and styles change, there is more and more need for renovative mediation between the play and its audience. In turn, performers might refrain from attempting to update plays whose authors are still alive, without explicit approval in advance, devoting more of their efforts instead to plays already in the public domain and labeling their freer versions with phrases like “adapted from” and “based upon.” (Hapgood, 53-4)

The problem with Hall’s parody is that it is adapted from two different universes, one that still has active copyright, Kander’s Chicago, and the Disney universe, which is ambiguous. Focusing on Chicago, the parody is problematic because it re-uses the musical’s score and iconic dance, even if most of the lyrics were rewritten to fit the story of the Disney villains, with clear exceptions as the chorus: “he had it coming”. In the case of Disney, one could argue that most of these characters are public domain, such as the Evil Queen from Snow White. However, Hall did not use just any version of the characters, but Disney’s version. This is comparable to the argument that although Shakespeare is public domain, the Riverside Shakespeare is not. Furthermore, Hall also profited financially from this parody, as many YouTubers do. He even did several tours around the country. Keeping in mind Disney’s unforgivable nature, it is highly probable that Hall received permission to do this parody. Nonetheless, it is a case worth discussing.

Overall, just as Said and Rose explained in their articles, the question of intellectual property and copyrights is very complicated and ambiguous. Just like any legal situation, different cases of copyright infringement must be treated and analyzed differently. Some of the examples discussed in this paper present this ambiguity, others are more straight forward. Mostly this paper is filled with unanswered questions. My hope is that they will serve to open our discussion on parody and literary property.






Hall, Todrick. Spell Block Tango. Web:

Hapgood, Robert. “The Rights of Playwrights: Performance Theory and American Law.” Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism VI.2 (1992): 41-59. Print.

Holland, Peter. “Selling Shakespeare: Comic Books, Novels and Manga.” Anglistik: International Journal of English Studies 25.1 (2014): 77-89. Print.

McCreery, Conor, Anthony Del Col, and Andy Belanger. “A Sea of Troubles.” Kill Shakespeare. Vol. 1. IDW Publishing, 2010. 1-148. Print.

McCreery, Conor. “Shakespeare and Four-Colour Magic.” Living with Shakespeare. Ed. Sussannah Carson. New York: Vintage , 2013. 444-65. Print.

“Parody, Fair Use, Or Copyright Infringement?” Lemoine Law Firm. Web. 18 Feb. 2017.

Rose, Mark. “The Author as Proprietor: Donaldson v. Becket and the Genealogy of Modern Authorship.” Representations 23.Summer (1988): 51-85. Web.

Said, Zahr. “Fixing Copyright in Characters: Literary Perspectives on a Legal Problem.” Cardozo Law Review 35 (2013): 1-57. University of Washington School of Law Research Paper No. 2013-09. Print.

Suntrust Bank v. Houghton Mifflin Co. No. 01-12200. United States Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit. 10 Oct. 2001. Print.

Designing a Digital Edition by Rachel

Last class we talked about how one might design a digital edition of King Lear that doesn’t prioritize one version of the text above the other, that is readable as each individual version of the play, and that allows you to see variants when they occur. I think it’s theoretically impossible to get an edition of multiple witnesses of the text that does not even in the slightest privilege one version above another–one edition conceptually has to get put first, whether it’s the first listing in a drop-down menu of which version you’d like to look at, the first discussed in the introduction, or the default version to pop up when you click to look at the play. I think that no matter the attempt one makes to emphasize all the versions of the text equally, whatever the first option in that drop down list happens to be is still probably going to get more traffic than the other options. That said, I do think that there are some design practices that might minimize the prioritization of one edition over another. First of all, I think that a digital edition would need separate texts of each version that viewers could access independently of the others. They could hyperlink to each other at points of textual variance, but you’d need equally robust editions of each text of the play to create an unbiased edition. You could maybe even create a separate edition that acts somewhat like the one Arnaud had described in class–one where there are hyperlinks to look at alternate forms in other manuscripts.

I would probably handle footnotes or links to other recensions in an edition of King Lear similarly to how Susannah Fein’s online edition of the Harley 2253 manuscript handles footnotes. The footnotes are present and scrollable in a bar at the bottom of the page (I’ve linked to it here so that you can play around with it, because it’s difficult to see how it works from only a screenshot). There are hyperlinks in the text to any points of interest in the footnotes, and clicking on any of those hyperlinks takes you to the relevant point in the footnote bar, but leaves the main text where it’s at so that you can see them in parallel with each other:

Moreover, you can pull the footnote bar to wherever you like on the screen–the footnotes can take up most of the screen, or can be pulled out of the way if all you’re interested in is looking at the text. But I rather like this way of handling footnotes because it keeps the footnotes easily accessible at every point in your reading, doesn’t take you away from the main text when you click a footnote hyperlink, and you can choose how much of the screen you’d like it to take up. I think that for a project like the editing of King Lear, it’d be nice to have a multipurpose footnote bar–you could set it to show different things–the band of death, critical commentary on the passages, textual variants in other recensions, or even other witnesses of the same recension.

Schedule of Writers and Respondents

February 22 Writer: Laura Ortiz Mercado / Respondent: Arnaud Zimmern

March 1 Writer: Emily Donahoe / Respondent: Anne Marie Blieszner

March 22 Writer: Rachel Hanks / Respondent: Shinjini Chattopadhyay

April 5 Writer: Arnaud Zimmern / Respondent: Emily Donahoe

April 12 Writer: Anne Marie Blieszner / Respondent: Rachel Hanks

April 19 Writer: Shinjini Chattopadhyay / Respondent: Laura Ortiz Mercado


Cordelia, “our last and least”

I’ve attached a passage from Act I of King Lear, from two different editions of the play. I first selected Harvard Classic’s edition of King Lear. Charles W. Eliot started the Harvard Classics anthologies in order to create a sort of reading course easily available to anyone interested in receiving a general liberal education. He selected what he considered some of the most important literary texts, including many of Shakespeare plays. In the edition of Elizabethan Drama, which includes Marlowe and Shakespeare, Eliot wrote brief general introductions to each play and some footnotes. However, the edition is troublesome because it eliminates line numbers and most footnotes are merely definitions of terms. In general, this edition is not very helpful for scholars or literature students. Nonetheless, while going through the first scene of King Lear, I was drawn to one peculiar footnote about line 82 (based on H.H. Furness’ edition of the play), when King Lear addresses Cordelia and asks her to speak about her love. Eliot remarks that the Quarto reading of this line is “Although the last, not least in our dear love” instead of the Folio’s version he used, “although our last and least, to whose young love”. Being fairly familiar with Laurence Olivier’s (1983) and Ian McKellen’s (2008) interpretation of King Lear, used to hearing them both say “our last, but not least”, I am intrigued about the reason behind the different editions of this particular line and what it means.

Looking at Horace Howard Furness’ edition of the play, which includes long footnotes and seems to be more useful for scholars and students, I noticed that there is a lot of debate about this line. Furness quotes several critics such as Malone, Dyce, Staunton, White, Hudson, Schmidt, and others. According to Malone, the correct formula should have been “last not least” as it is applied to people highly valued to the speaker, and Cordelia is clearly Lear’s preferred child. However, White explain that in King Lear, “least” is used to allude to the personal traits and family positions of Cordelia, the fact that she is Lear’s youngest child. In this sense, Furness explains, the Folio formula is more accurate for it demonstrate that Cordelia was “her father’s little pet, while her sisters were big, bold, brazen beauties” (p. 14). Furness also discusses how according to Schmidt certain performances of the play might have influenced the reprinting and alterations of this line. At the end, Furness gives his own opinion, leaning towards the Folio’s formula being more in accordance with the nature of the play and the relationship between Lear and Cordelia.

I’d be interested to write about other possible readings of this line and its different variations, since I always took for granted that the correct formula is “last, but not least”, thinking that the Folio’s formula must have been a printing mistake (another possible explanation, according to Dyce and Staunton).  Furness’ notes seems to be a good starting point to research this topic, but it’d be interesting to look into newer research about it, if there is any.



Eliot, Charles W. Elizabethan Drama: Marlowe, Shakespeare. Danbury, Connecticut: Grolier Enterprises Corp., 1988. Print. Attachment (C.W. Eliot)

Shakespeare, William. A new variorum edition of Shakespeare: King Lear. Ed. Horace Howard Furness. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1880. Web. Attachment (H.H. Furness)



Bevington’s Location Notes and Scene Changes

Like Arnaud, I am reading King Lear out of David Bevington’s The Necessary Shakespeare. Bevington’s edition is a student edition, and accordingly most of the footnotes are simple glosses to the text or paraphrases of difficult passages. However, Bevington also consistently provides footnotes indicating the current location of the action of the scene, which I found interesting since they at once seem to offer extensive editorial interpretation of where the scene takes place, and divide even the notes to the text into scenes, even as the fact that these occur in the footnotes shows a desire to make these interpretations of location seem clearly editorial rather than authorial.  I’ve chosen the page below, the beginning of act 4 scene 5, both because its footnotes are interesting and because it provides a good cross-section of the kinds of footnotes in the volume:

In the above picture, the note to 4.5 states that the scene continues, and Juliet’s bed remains visible. Although some of these location notes are hardly debatable–the note about Juliet’s bed makes sense given the text of the play here, the running interpretation of location clearly isn’t a feature of the original folio and quarto texts, and provides a tacit editorial intervention and interpretation of the scene change.

The location notes are also interesting on a visual level. Bevington formats his notes so that glossed words appear in bold while their definitions appear in regular font. Any comments lending historical context tend to appear in parentheses, and Bevington provides very loose paraphrases of particularly complex passages after “i.e.,” thereby distinguishing his paraphrases from exact translations of the Early Modern English text. Aside from the words excerpted from the text, which are bolded at the beginning of each footnote, all the notes are in regular typeface at roughly 8pt font. The location commentary at scene changes, however, is bolded in its entirety, subdividing even the notes into scenes. This admittedly isn’t as much an interpretive decision as a design choice, however, it’s one that emphasizes the scene changes more than other editions do even if only in the notes.

The emphasis of the edition on scene beginnings is interesting in conjunction with the way Bevington formats scene beginnings in the main body of the text. Although Bevington’s edition has text in each of the three lines of print dividing scene four from scene 5, the scene number is in a large font, making these three lines take up space equivalent to sic regular lines of the play. Accordingly, these three lines of print leave substantial negative space between scenes, accentuating the division between them. The small clover-shaped flourish at the end of scene four and the bold typeface for the scene number heighten this division. However, both the scene numbers and stage directions are offset with square brackets, which at once make it explicit that these additions are editorial interventions and perhaps also add a visual sense of uncertainty–although these are the traditional scene divisions, they’re tentatively put forward as the result of editorial tradition rather than words from Shakespeare’s pen. Like the location notes, the formatting of the scene change is at once designed to provide a clear division between the scenes, and to show that these subdivisions of the text and editorial interventions may not have been available to a contemporary reader of the play.

Editorial Interpretation

I am reading an 1879 version of King Lear edited by Rev. Henry N. Hudson. Because it was meant for classroom use, the editorial notes are generally glosses, explanations of etymology, explanations of allusions, and comparisons to Shakespeare’s other plays where he uses words similarly. There are also several interpretations of key lines, and not all of them are Hudson’s—he frequently provides other editors’ interpretations, most often Coleridge’s. The purpose of providing interpretations of certain passages is probably to help students not only appreciate Shakespeare’s language, but also go one step further and learn interpretation. These interpretations, particularly Coleridge’s, illustrate the universal applications of the play’s themes. But Hudson also shows that students should not be limited to one interpretation. In Act III scene vii, note 11, he provides an explanation for part of Gloucester’s speech, emphasizing the word “cruels.” He first gives his own original interpretation, then another editor’s that he prefers, modeling how opinions about texts can and should change. The difficult passage is made clearer for students—and this clarity at the same time highlights the passage’s complexity and resistance to a single explanation. This comment as well as many others throughout the play includes judgment about one of the characters, in this case Regan. While these judgments are helpful for students, they might limit interpretation when it comes to thinking about the complexity of characters’ motives.

PDF here