The ‘sensuall-lyfe’ of Punctuation: Hyphen Part 3

Since it’s early stages of my project, I am focussing on brackets in romance in prose, but eventually I’d like to cover brackets in all kinds of romance, prose, poetry, and drama. So, as preparation for that second stage (and because it’s fun), I called up two manuscripts of Harington’s Orlando Furioso translation. One, a beautifully-bound clean book in secretary hand, both by Harington himself and his scribe (Bodleian, MS Rawl. poet. 125.). One a manuscript by a private person, one Richard Newell who transcribed choice passages of the poem, putting them together with copies of letters and accounts (MS Malone 2).

The book is quite a big folio, and wrapped in smooth but ungainly vellum. A book of use. Around ten to thirteen pages at the front and back are written in mixed secretary-italic hand with a fairly thick nib, and still dark black ink. The letters on the one side, and the accounts on the other, are dated to 1623.

Sandwiched between these letters and accounts, however, the largest part of the manuscript, is a selections of Harington’s 1591 English translation of Ariosto’s 1532 Italian romance Orlando Furioso. At the beginning of the tidy, nearly faultless transcription in a fairly small, neat italic hand is the date, 1645, and even the months that the writer worked on it (January and February). The ink is quite fair, and/or strongly faded, making it hard to read sometimes.

Newell picks and chooses from across the work, usually focussing on sets of scenes, or descriptions, rarely single stanzas. Scenes will have titles for improved finding, and he is careful to include the stanza number, ensuring accessibility for the sake of comparison, or re-reading of the printed text. This was a conscientious transcriber.

There area marginal inscriptions, pointing to the Italian, or commenting (inevitably, on the racy action of certain kinds of merrymaking!). I didn’t yet compare this manuscript to printed versions of the work, which would be key in terms of discovering whether those notes are from Newell himself or copied from the printed text (or an intermediate manuscript?). This would also be key in relation to the bracket. There are quite a few in this copy, and they are always carefully opened and closed, much in comparison to an Arcadia MS at the Bodleian that I recently looked at that had orphaned bracket halves dangling alone all over the place (entry on this to come soon!).

That work is for later, though. What struck me most with this manuscript was the persistent hyphenation of adjective-noun-combinations. Not always, but constant enough to point to a habit, and perhaps one of rhyme and reason.

In the ‘Description of Aleyna’, her hair is compared to ‘wire of beaten-gold’. Is ‘beaten-gold’ different from ‘beaten gold’? Perhaps.

I thought that, maybe, adding a hyphen between adjective and following noun is just a personal quirk, a slip of the eye or the hand even. But Newell is too thorough, and the phenomenon is too consistent to be accidental. On the other hand, it’s not always the case. Aleyna’s description continues:

Her lovely-Cheekes with shew of modest shame With roses and with Lillies painted are’.

Why ‘lovely-Cheekes’ and not ‘modest-shame’? Perhaps cheeks can only be lovely, while there are different kinds of shame. Or is this proof Newell’s hyphens are, well, not that deliberate after all?

I’d have to really look through the entire copy in order to assess that with more grounding in numbers of incidents. As it is, though, only because each and every case has not yet been judged, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Because it is. There. ‘Lovely-Cheekes’.  

My particular favourite comes in the description of two lovers, sporting a carefree life devoted to such very naughty things as hunting and frequent changing of clothes. And, of course, kissing in a way that makes it impossible to tell which tongue belongs to whom. We call that the French way.

In short: they lead a truly ‘sensuall-lyfe’.

See line 5.

Wrapped in each other, tongues twisting in French kiss, the hyphen makes their physical bonding visible. The distinction between adjective modifying noun disappear; the discrete boundaries between bodies do. It’s all one thing, the platonic whole, hyphenated sex. Sensuall-lyfe.

The Early Modern What-d’ye-call-it Hyphen, Part 2

In a previous post, I wrote about how we are using fewer and fewer hyphens these days. But going back in time does not mean returning to a hyphenated (literary) world either! Lately, I was playing around with some Renaissance manuscripts in the Bodleian library in Oxford, and discovered some curious punctuation habits (including hyphenation) by one prolific commonplace book keeper, called William Sancroft, some time archbishop of Canterbury (between 1678 and 1690).

MS Sancroft 29 is one of his commonplace books in which he excerpts literary quotations for a variety of issues and situations (such as ‘Angry and Waspish’, or ‘Lust’).

The length of quotation varies, ranging from just one line to several. How far Sancroft preserves the original quotation also depends. Since he’s excerpting for use, he’s happy to change the pieces a bit, especially the grammar, changing pronouns, and syntax, so that it becomes a little hard to find the source text through EEBO. Most of Sancroft 29 are dramatic extracts, most from Shakespeare and other Renaissance plays. Only rarely does Sancroft record in the margin where the quotations are from, which makes for some exciting detective work.

A rare recording of the excerpts’ origins, Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, unfortunately upside down.

As I familiarized myself with the volume, I realized that Sancroft is careful about punctuation, using the whole array at his disposal, ranging from question and exclamation marks to brackets, dashes, apostrophes, commas, colons, semi-colons, and, yes, hyphens, too. I was curious whether Sancroft copied the original punctuation (presumably from their printed sources), or whether he changed it according to his own needs and habits. And the latter is what he did.

I stumbled across a proliferation of hyphens, and started to track down their sources. Here’s one from As You Like It, Act II, scene iv, where the two Arden shepherds Silvius and Corin are arguing about love, and how the elderly Corin cannot understand young Silvius’ pains for unrequited passion for Phoebe.

Sil. No Corin, being old, thou canst not guesse,

Though in thy youth thou wast as true a louer

As euer sigh’d vpon a midnight pillow:

I checked the spelling of all three first folios, and the word remain two. But Sancroft writes this:

See top line.

As true a lover, as ever sigh’d upon a midnight-pillow

The lines before and after are from different plays; unsuccessful in most attempts to discover the sources, I quickly gave up, and focussed on the juicy punctuation bits.

Sancroft has at least two more instances of adding hyphens between compound words, including ‘parish-church’, and ‘wits-pedlar’ in Love’s Labour’s Lost. The most delightful example, though, remains the outsized ‘Dort-what-d’ye-call’ from an unidentified play.

See line 5 from the bottom up.

 This is a lovely example of hyper-hyphenation which I unfortunately cannot read very well…Dort? I don’t know. Always the sixteenth-century secretary-hand-er. Italic is just too young for me! I particularly love this example, though. It feels so modern. Like when we say ‘what’s-his-name’.

In my previous post, I briefly spoke about the difference that this little horizontal line between two words makes: it links them in a little visual and cognitive burst in a way that a blank space simply can’t. There’s some crucial reason why two particular words are being connected like that, and it’s up to us to find that out. It’s not just a pillow, but a pillow for sleeplessness, but not just that, it’s for that particular insomnia coming in the middle of the night, when it’s neither yesterday nor tomorrow, and we’re locked in the fuzzy transitional zone of ambiguity. That’s when we lie on that pillow, that midnight-pillow. The hyphen makes a metaphor legible.

Sancroft, in his punctuation choices, intuits meaning, and increases its perceptible nature by adding that little belt of a hyphen. Of course, Shakespeare might have included a hyphen in his manuscript, and the lack of it is a personal choice of the type-setter’s taste, or the practicalities of printing. Of course, Sancroft might not have worked from the folios. But he can’t have used the quartos, at least not for As You Like It, because none existed. He might have worked from manuscript texts with their own punctuation, borrowed them from someone else, and just copied that, but one assumes he worked from the printed texts, since he did bequeath his enormous book collection of 6.000 volumes to Emmanuel’s College, Cambridge. And in any case, Sancroft was quite cavalier with the “correctness” of the original quotations, re-jigging words as he pleased, so why painstakingly keep the punctuation from someone else for something he was going to change anyway?

No, Bishop Sancroft chose to add hyphens, and although it might seem a small matter, it’s actually a big one: adding punctuation is not incidental, and not accidental. It’s a statement. It’s appropriating a text, words, some else’s words, and doing something to those words, and those meanings. Adding punctuation is literary criticism right there.

For more on the Sancroft manuscripts, see Laura Estill, Dramatic Extracts in Seventeenth-Century Manuscripts (Lanham, 2015).

Hyphen Confusion (or should that be ‘Hyphen-Confusion’?)

Note the ‘=’ sign commonly used as hyphen in the early modern period. (Pudsey commonplace book, ca 1600, Bodleian Library).

Recently, our old neglected friend the hyphen has made a brief re-appearance (oh, there it goes again!) in the BBC news about Labour party leadership contender Rebecca Long-Bailey, also known as Long Bailey. She doesn’t care.

Double-barelled names are becoming more and more current as society gets used to women not changing their last names upon getting married, but double-barelling it with their husband’s (sometimes, rarely, joined by those very husbands!), or passing their maiden name on to their double-barelled children. Not even speaking of all those other kinds of non-heterosexual non-married unions that, thankfully, are possible today. For the record, double-barelled names are the norm in Iberian cultures. It’s all got to do with the level of importance families have, and advances in gender equality. Or should that be gender-equality?

And here be the crux: rules for hyphenation are pretty loose. Of course, some rules make a lot of sense in the name of avoiding confusion, homographic and otherwise, such as ‘un-ionized’ and ‘unionized’. I also love ‘man-eating shark’ and ‘man eating shark’. It also makes sense to avoid the ungainly looks of vowel clash (‘anti-inflammatory’, as opposed to ‘anti inflammatory’, or even worse ‘antiinflammatory’). I once saw someone write ‘no-one’ and never looked back.

Apart from the prefix- and disambiguation-use of the hyphen (and the floating hyphen that just occurred), hyphenation is pretty much a matter of personal choice. New words tend to be hyphenated until people get used to them: think of us 90s kids laboriously typing out ‘e hyphen mail’ before we became stressed adults hardly having time to write ’email’. More than habituation, it’s the increase, speed, and informality of digital communication which are ringing the death knell to the humble but crucial hyphen. Nobody (make that ‘no-one’) has time for that little parallel line anymore, and so, the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary of 2007 has kicked out hyphenation of a whopping 16.000 words, including such gems as ‘pot-belly’. ‘Pot belly’ is just not the same!

And truly, it is not the same.

Hyphens are ambivalent creatures: they separate – and they connect.

They help us see through the thicket of words precisely by disconnecting the connection, and at the same time, they connect what’s previously been disconnected.

Punctuation status: it’s complicated.

So, if the hyphen highlights simultaneous (dis)connection, then, one imagines, it makes a lot of difference if nouns like ‘pot-belly’ or ‘ice-cap’ have an actual umbilical cord, a visual rope that ties them together. A wedding-ring as it were.

A hyphen is the simile of punctuation marks. It establishes a sudden, unexpected link, a levelness, balancing this against that. This is like that, and that is like this. Both terms still remain discreet. A simile is not a metaphor, merging, as it does, two original terms in mysterious ways.

A hyphen is just that, a double-barelled name that tells you that this child came from these two people. On second thoughts, hyphens aren’t even similes, they’re the bringers of real equality. There’s no comparison implied. There’s no directionality, object A being seen in terms of object B. Both words before and after the hyphen, no matter how long or short they are, no matter if they’re Latinate, or Germanic, or even as small asthe ‘in’ of the ‘mother-in-law’ — hyphens establish and maintain equality. Any words, all words, just…connect.

And doesn’t Sidney say compounding is the beauty mark of any language? Let’s keep compounding with that little unassuming line hovering in the horizon. Unassuming, but adamant. Here to stay.

For the history of the hyphen, check out Shady Characters by Keith Houston

Interesting starting points for more research could be: linguistic/cognitive science studies on the hyphen slowing down the speed of reading, and the implications of that for readers of different ages and visual abilities, as has been done a couple of times in the community. But that’s for another post.