Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Order of Persons, Part II and III

In the last half of Taylor's essay, "The Order of Persons," he discusses lists of fictional people, "identification tables." These are the lists of the persons in the play, the dramatis personae, at the beginning of the play when we read it today.

Plays were not always published with these, though, because plays were not always published to be read by an individual for pleasure. The first early modern plays were published with woodcuts as part of the paratext; these woodcuts, images of generic persona represented in the play such as in Everyman, performed some of the function of later lists.

However, after 1562, most plays were published sans woodcuts, with identification tables which may have evolved as a cheaper alternative to woodcuts. Taylor proposes that these plays were published more for amateur performance purposes than for a silent reader; households might have bought plays and performed them for entertainment after supper; touring troupes might have bought them to perform in various towns.

After the Vagabond Act outlawed unlicensed players and the theater became professionalized, such plays did not need identification tables. So when they began to spring up again, it was for a different reason--to add literary legitimacy to the play. Playwrights such as Ben Jonson added them, Taylor thinks, because classic Latin and Greek plays all had identification tables in the early-modern humanist editions.

From 1611 on, though, it seems that identification tables become steadily more common, quadrupling in the next century, indicating a shift in the consumers of plays. Plays are now commodities for readers, not just for actors, and an identification table is part of the paratext that helps a reader along. In fact, Taylor makes an interesting point that identification tables are the paratextual piece most likely to interpose itself in the act of reading.

Of the plays published during Middleton's lifetime, six have identification tables included in the paratext. We do not know that he wrote them or was involved in their printing, but this can be measured by other signs of involvement: signed epistles dedicatory, introductory letters, or prefatory poems. After examining the evidence, Taylor concludes that Middleton was almost certainly involved in the Masque of Heroes identification table.

Taylor lists a few things that we can learn from such lists, indicating a way in which lists show bias rather than objectivity. Lists represent hierarchies and expose values; in identification tables, men often come before women, higher class characters before lower class characters. In The Roaring Girl, characters are listed by households.

Grouping by gender caught on slowly but gained popularity by 1679. As Taylor says, “Absence of gender as organizing principle in those [earlier] lists results, primarily, from the almost complete absence of women." By 1660 women were no longer invisible or excluded but their presence was "characterized."

An interesting, but probably unanswerable, question Taylor asks is, if a play "represents" persons who exist outside the play, where do they exist?

Finally, Taylor concludes that today's editors cannot help but mediate the text as they present it for publication, paratexts included. We either stray away from choices that the original author/publisher made, by organizing identification tables alphabetically or in order of appearance, or we value the primacy of the original by keeping the "original" (sometimes dubiously so) table with all its hierarchical values intact.

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