Hear ye, hear ye, Greengrocer’s, breathe a sigh of relief

August saw a lot of things the world did not need, such as anti-corona-mask protests everywhere, the Trumpian banshee Kimberley Guilfoyle screaming her head off about the best which was yet to come, and her husband’s self-published 29,99 dollar book on the apocalyptic plans of commie candidate Sleepy Joe and the Democrat’s Defense of the Indefensible. We need to put a [sic] there: the Democrat’s [sic] Defense of the Indefensible. Yes, it’s sickening. There’s either one single Platonic ur-democrat from whom all the policies flow, or Don Junior needs to mind his possessive apostrophes a little more. [I’m italicizing quotations to avoid apostrophe-quotation-mark-confusion.]

Alas, it’s now corrected…

But –’s  -s’ woes also trouble politicians this side of the pond: when Bojo sent the then EU-president Tusk a letter, asking for yet another Brexit extension, he, too, struggled with placing the possessive apostrophe correctly:

“We must bring this process to a conclusion so that we can move to the next phase and build our new relationship on the foundations of our long history as neighbours and friends in this continent our people’s [sic] share.”

That’s surely our peoples’ share, as in all the 28 peoples (or rather nations) of the EU. But this would mean understanding share as noun. Then, there’d be a comma missing, as in this continent, our peoples’ share. Bit clumsy, but hey ho. Most probably, though, Boris intended no apostrophe at all, and yet it crept in. Is that a problem?

Yes and no.

It depends, among others, what we want our institutions to do and represent, and it depends if we buy into the idea of standardization.

Most written languages nowadays will have a degree of standardization of spelling and grammar. This makes a lot of sense since it would take quite a while to rid a tekst if evriuan wrout it the wai thei thot wes rait, no? Forgive me, this was a bad attempt at idiosyncratic phonetic spelling!  Punctuation, like orthography and grammar, does its part in supporting standardization for the sake of readability.

Then there’s the question of official uses of language, or rather, language used by officials. Ideally, you’d want your institutions and representatives to seem (if not be, hopefully?) credible, and one way of projecting that trust is through using language in a way that most people, over many centuries, have somehow or other agreed on. Conventions. Not talking here about poets, and meme-creators having fun wiz cheezeburgers. We’re talking about a kind of reference point in the general confusion of life.

Obviously, it’s not a big deal if St Andrews Street in Cambridge has lost its possessive apostrophe over the years it’s been there. We still understand. But punctuation, an apostrophe – that tiny mini footprint of an ant – if we take care over it or not, and in which contexts – that does say something about who we are, doesn’t it. It’s not perfectionism. It’s not unquestioning dogma-worship. It’s not patronizing pedantry.

It’s care.

It’s paying attention.

It’s attending to something beyond the necessity and functionality of communicating a message.

Should it worry us if the leader of a society does not make really seriously sure he pays attention in a message of such import?

I think it should.

Should it worry if someone misplaces an apostrophe in an agitated text message?

I don’t think so.

But where did it come from at all? The apostrophe, possessive and otherwise. Here followeth a potted history of the little mark, leaving a big imprint on our ways of relating to each other.

I am *no* grammar guru, nor a particular grammar fan, but here’s what I understand about the two main uses of the apostrophe in English:



Elision is pretty straightforward (or so one thinks, but more on that later): usually, the apostrophe flags up that one letter has been omitted somewhere in the word, like so: ever –> e’er

If it’s in connection to a verbal expression of whatever kind, you mush the words after the personal pronoun together:  I have not –> I haven’t    I should have –> I should’ve

As you see, the apostrophe can also stand for two omitted letters. It can actually stand for a whole lot, but that’s a treasure I am keeping for later on in this post. Hang in there, it gets so exciting!

[Note well, the apostrophe is not an abbreviation, as in Mr –> Master  or    Co. –> Company (for some thoughts on abbreviations & dots, come back later…at some point.]

So. We’ve got our elisions, and now we need our possessives, and here it gets sticky: a singular owner of something is easy, that’s the dog’s bones. When you have several, it’s the dogs’ bones.

Social Distancing When Not Done During Covid | Garfieldhug's Blog
Watch the distance between the possessive pronoun and letter elision.

If you have a singular noun ending on -s or -x, the rule applies, but the pronunciation changes, as in Bridget Jones’s Diary pronounced as /Joneses/. If you have a name with a double -s like Lynn Truss’s book, it’s preferred to rephrase as the book by Lynn Truss.

Hey, F.R. Leavis, have you met Miss Jones?

I learnt that if the noun is a classical name, you treat it as if it was plural, like Aristophanes’ punctuation. This rule is not accepted everywhere, and the (in)famous Apostrophe Protection Society which will appear again later makes no kind of exception at all. Not even for Jesus and Jesus’s disciplines. Rad.

According to linguist David Crystal, the possessive s stems not from the kind of early modern post-positioned possessive pronoun (the king his book morphing to the kingis book and eventually the king’s book), but rather from the Old English case system, signalling the genitive case through -es or -ys- or -is. Over the centuries, the vowel would fall away, leaving only the apostrophized-s behind.

There are more apostrophe uses such as marking plural when there is potential for confusion (the 1990’s; dot your i’s), and of course there’s the rhetorical figure of the apostrophe: when a speaker addresses an absent person or object or entity, such as Stella, the moon, or death. Or love, as in this sonnet by Lady Mary Wroth in which the speaker laments falling prey to over-whelming love thus losing her peace of mind. She apostrophizes Cupid (‘Thy babish tricks’):

Why should we not love’s purblind charms resist?

    Must we be servile, doing what he list?

    No, seek some host to harbour thee: I fly

Thy babish tricks, and freedom do profess.

    But O my hurt makes my lost heart confess

    I love, and must: so farewell liberty. (Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, 16)

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first use of the word with this meaning is 1533, just basically taken over from classical style manuals without any kind of Englishing. The first record of apostrophe as the little hovering sign marking elision or possession is from 1598. And from Shakespeare. But let’s have a look at its inception in the first place.

The apostrophe as we know it springs, of course, from the mind of Punctuation Super Star & Bestest Printer Genius of his age Aldo Manuzio, and it first appears in the ground-breaking publication of 1496 that also features the invention of italics, the semi-colon, and the hook-shaped comma we use today: it’s Pietro Bembo’s De aetna. Always the classicist, Aldo imports accents (that’s diacritical marks) from Greek into Latin, as well as the marking of vowel elision.

In 1529, the apostrophe occurs in France for the first time, squeezing between the collision of two vowels for ease of pronunciation. Its earliest English appearance is in William Cunningham’s Cosmographical Glasse printed by John Day in 1559. It’s to mark elision, not possession (David Crystal from whom I take this information offers two telling examples: the partes of th’earthe as opposed to the Anglo-Saxon legacy of the moones age). Crystal writes how it took around half a century for the apostrophe to settle enough to be widely used, though confusion quite how persists.

In his early 17th-century English grammar, Ben Jonson complains about the printers omitting his marks for laziness (or for saving space? for setting type faster?), but, Crystal suggests, ‘genuine uncertainty’ persists. And that’s perhaps why there is so much variation over the title of Shakespeare’s play which records the apostrophe’s first use as something other than the rhetorical figure. And that’s Love’s Labour’s Lost. Or should that be Love’s Labours Lost? Or even Loves Labours Lost? If we’re not sure, they sure weren’t sure.

Alright, reader, if you thought there was anything technical in the above, you’re in for the deep ride now. But we can take the technical hurdle step by step. And of course, getting up close and cosy with punctuation means slowing down and looking!

Branagh’s early Shax.

So, when a play was printed in Shakespeare’s time, it would most of the time be printed as a thin pamphlet sort of thing, a booklet, which you’d pick up from a publisher/printer/book seller himself or herself (yes, there were women), and have them bound at a book binder’s, and only if you were collecting. You’d probably bind them with other plays, probably with a whole bunch of other kinds of texts that you wanted to preserve. These publications – relatively cheap, relatively vulnerable to time and use – are called quartos, because they were printed on big sheets that were folded four times (hence the name).

Quartos are a common enough size for the time; there was also octavo (folded eight times, so smaller, cheaper, easier to tuck away in your pocket), and folio (folded just once, so quite big, more expensive, for special kinds of books like a church Bible, theological or classical works, histories, maps).

When a text or author got the folio-treatment, that meant they did it in the publishing world of the Renaissance. The collected plays of Shakespeare came out post-humously in 1623 in what’s called the First Folio (there were two more in the 17th century). There is not a single authorial manuscript for those plays which are in the folio, so we can’t tell what spelling or punctuation or stage direction or or or Shakespeare intended – and indeed if he cared. That doesn’t mean one shouldn’t be thinking about those things, as the people who did make those publication choices were his contemporaries, after all, and most of the time sensitive to a whole lot of contextual conditions we’re not sensitive to.

There’s so much more to say, but the quarto/folio distinction is the most important bit to remember. I’m going to call the play LLL, because that’s least confusing, apostrophe-wise. So, the first individual publication of LLL was a quarto in 1598. Title page titles of both quarto and folio are always in roman, running titles (the title on the top of the page) and table of content titles always italicized. It doesn’t really matter for the point in question, so I just italicize all of them here.

On the title page of quarto, then, the play is called Loues labors lost. The ‘u’ of Loues just means ‘v’, don’t worry about it. The running title, however, is Loues Labor’s lost. Does that make any difference? Well, the title without apostrophe is less clear about the plural, for one. Are we to imagine a pause between the words? Something like LOVES     LABOURS    LOST

The play, after all, is about lots of kinds of love, and lots of people being in it. Love. But that’s maybe straining it a bit. The editor of Arden (third series) says it means ‘the lost labours of love’, perhaps suggesting there are also the successfully accomplished labours of love? Love won? An apostrophe somewhere or other would make sense, one feels.

In the running title, then, it’s clear that Labor is singular, so the labour of love is lost (though that meaning becomes clearer if there’s another earlier apostrophe). Or, more evidently, the labour of many loves is lost.

The signature, fittingly, is L1v-L2r.

The first folio follows quarto’s running title for its title on the title page and its running title (I hope this makes sense! all those titles…), but not for the table of contents of the whole volume which keeps quarto’s apostrophe-free title, and even offers the unique occurrence of Loues Labour lost: should we imagine a dramatic pause here? Loves/Love’s Labour  [drumroll]  Lost!

The second folio of 1632 has Loves Labour’s lost for all three places. And it’s only with the third folio of 1664 that we finally have the title under which the play is now known: Love’s Labour’s Lost. Two apostrophes, two capital L. Mind you, the table of contents title has none at all. Perhaps the typesetters used them all up. This sounds like a joke, but isn’t! Available page space and available type have produced many an interesting variation that seems intended, but is accidental (though not any the less worthy of study therefore!).

One might also take into account Love’s Labour’s Won (or any of its apostrophe versions), a potential lost sequel or misnamed other (Shakespeare?) play. Its first mention is in Francis Meres’s 1598 printed list of Shakespeare plays as Loue labours wonne, following Loue labors lost. This is interesting because ‘love’ is singular, so ‘love labours’ make way more sense as one word (making any apostrophe redundant) than ‘loves labours’.

Francis Meres’s record. /Merses/!

It’s all confusing. Here’s a witty improvisation of a Twitter friend on the topic, when I asked if anyone had thoughts on the play titles: ‘I know a Lib Dem who isn’t happy the Tories have won but loves Labour’s lost’.

All of the above also assumes the typesetters definitely thought about the apostrophe in the way we do today. As possessive, not as marking plural, for example (that famous greengrocer’s’ apostrophe).

Does any of this matter?

Yes and no. As before.

We understand the gist of it: when one is in love, one labours to woo the other, but that’s often labour lost; and after one has watched the play, one knows that Love’s or Cupid’s efforts to ennoble people through the feeling just sometimes run up against realities of lust. We understand the wit and humour, so the number and placing of apostrophes is unlikely to change our overall grasp of the title which is instantaneous enough, and vague enough for this vaguely-ending play.

But then, this is Shakespeare’s play most interested in language, and all its pitfalls and promises, notably represented by the insufferable tutor Holofernes. The title perfectly encapsulates the play’s teasing (of) wit in its three monosyllabic words, initial alliteration followed by assonance, strung together by the final s, regardless of plural or possessive. Aurally speaking, the title is swift, crispy, rolls trippingly off the tongue, and is just so suitable to the energetic repartee-laden dynamic between the couples, and actually everyone to everyone else, servant to mistress, man to woman.

So even though I am hesitant to make a big case about the title variations, they do deserve discussing, especially in relation to the play’s language concerns as a whole.

There’s one person in the play who pushes a love for language to the extreme, and that’s the Pedant, or teacher, Holofernes, who peppers his speeches with inkhorn terms (that’s Latinate English terms), spinning interminable synonym after synonym, for example ‘caelo’, ‘the sky’, ‘the welkin’, ‘the heaven’.

Holofernes and Sir Nathaniel | Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive
The first-mentioned-apostrophe is coming! A Victorian engraving of Holofernes glancing over poetry.

That’s funny, and we can laugh about the caricature of the teacher we all had when we were young (I mean, we the humanist school students in the audience), but it’s a gentle sort of poking fun at the serious business of creating a national language worthy to write great literature in. On a par with Latin and Greek, and Homer, and Virgil. English was thought poor at the beginning of the sixteenth century, and in need of words to express depth of thought, so humanists would import classical terms, either wholesale or slightly adapted into English. That often resulted in convoluted unpronounceable terms like ‘exsufflicate’ in Othello which is supposed to mean empty, hence frivolous, and which Othello uses to refer to Iago’s ‘surmises’ of Desdemona’s unfaithfulness. He’s still hanging in there, rejecting the idea of becoming jealous. Some inkhorn terms we kept such as ‘to impede’; some were quickly discarded, and indeed mocked.

Because people were unsure about how to translate certain terms, they would often offer two, or even three English words for one Latin, resulting in massively blown up texts. The widespread habit of keeping notebooks with quotations and elegant expressions for all sorts of thematic occasions when writing a letter or speech also meant people had several alternative phrasings at their disposal, and would pop them all in rather than choose. Never too much of a good thing! That Tudor volubility, then, comes from various sources: the mixed Germanic and Romance nature of English, humanist language teaching, the project of a rich national language, and sheer joy and excitement of playing with words.

So, although we can laugh at someone like Holofernes who’s so over the top prolix, I think he’s also a witness to the one hundred years of profound development of the English language, and attitudes towards it. And love. Of it.

Holofernes’ (or should that be Holofernes’s?) is also the first use of apostrophe as a word referring to the mark for elision. The play has several likely and unlikely couplings, and lots of love poetry passed around. In Act 4, scene 2 a sonnet from Biron to Rosalynd goes astray, and a character reads out what Holofernes calls ‘a staff, a stanza, a verse’ – basically, just a poem. When his friend bungles the metre, Holofernes comments ‘You finde not the apostraphas, and so misse the accent.’

This puzzles me, because there are no necessary elisions at all in this sonnet. It’s alexandrines all the way except for two lines which are hypermetrical, that is they have 13 instead of 12 syllables, but you wouldn’t be able to elide any syllable within those lines in order to force it to fit, and anyway, the rhyme words ‘thunder’ and ‘wonder’ stand out nicely. So, I’m thinking that’s perhaps a typically pedantic Holofernian remark, showing that he doesn’t actually get it, and is throwing around unfamiliar terms from classical rhetoric in order to seem oh-so smart. I tried to find a performance but some YouTube-recorded stagings or readings just cut the lines!

I think the apostraphas in the title (and the single, potentially incorrect, mention by Holofernes) attest to the unfixed notions people had of its use. It’s only slowly that apostrophe conventions (and indeed those of a whole host of other punctuation marks) were standardized in the course of the 17th and 18th centuries, only then to fall out of favour in the 20th: after a perhaps over-use of punctuation during the 19th century, people preferred what they considered an uncluttered look on the page. That certainly was in the zeitgeist with all the modernist sleekness and straight lines and block features of the Bauhaus design. Think ‘form follows function’. Think simple design. Think sans-serif type (horrible, I know). So, it’s no surprise people will want to re-think if they really need that many marks, and among those the apostrophe which, oftentimes, is not exactly necessary for comprehension.

Vitra Design Museum The Bauhaus #allesistdesign
Vitra-Design Museum, southern Germany.
Looks a bit like Moulin Rouge if you ask me.

Take the high-end store Harrods, for example. It started as Harrod’s Stores in 1849, then the Stores fell away, and it became Harrod’s, and sometimes Harrods. By the early 20th century, there were hardly any apostrophe version of the name around anymore, and none at all after 1920 when the shop officially Ldropped the Stores. We recognize the brand when we see it, and we sort of know that the person giving it its name wasn’t really called Harrods, but Harrod. I think we do, at least. But we’re just not really bothered. The same goes with Boots, and Sainsbury’s (the apostrophe hanging in there), and Waterstone’s which has become Waterstones.

If we generally understand what’s said well enough without the apostrophe, why still keep it? That’s what plenty of thinkers and writers have asked. It’s ‘largely decorative’ and ‘rarely clarifies meaning’ (Peter Brodie), ‘unnecessary’ because ‘context will resolve any ambiguity’ (Adrian Room), and a ‘waste of time’ (John Wells), and even compared to ‘metastatic cancers [and] narcissistic con men’ of which the world will at some point be rid (Anu Garg).

The apostrophe – spreading everywhere, selfish, showy-offy. A fake.

In 1902, George Bernard Shaw already affirms he has been writing cant, wont, havent, whats, and lets with impunity for 20 years. That’s his way of signalling colloquial dialogue. He only makes exceptions for he’ll and hell. Anything else makes the page look ‘ugly’. Here’s what he says in full:

“There is not the faintest reason for persisting in the ugly and silly trick of peppering pages with these uncouth bacilli.”

Karte (Kartografie) - Apostrophe Island - MAP[N]ALL.COM
There’s no apostrophe-named bacillus, but here’s apostrophe island in the Antactric.

If Shaw says it, if English professors suggest it, if urban planners, prime ministers, and greengrocers happily omit and misplace the apostrophe (that famous veg seller association is from 1991, by the way, from a book on English by Keith Waterhouse) – if all those treat the poor apostrophe in a cavalier way, why do we get all huffy and puffy and grammar-nazi, correcting rogue bacilli on billboards and street names?

We evidently care.

Else, there’d be no Apostrophe Protection Society with the aim of ‘preserving the correct use of this currently much abused punctuation mark’. The website of the society founded by John Richards in 2001, is charmingly old-school, and offers little surfing delight except images of apostrophe misdemeanour, and a handful of concise commandments (see Jesus above). Because of Richards advanced age (97 by now), the society closed down in December 2019 – only to see a many hundred-fold increase of clicks. Either through hitting the news with its vanishing quaintness, or because people genuinely Googled apostrophe. There’s a new feature showing monthly page views (ca 2,500 in August), and a world map. It gives me an exquisite sort of joy to see multiple visits from places as vastly different as Honolulu and Iran. That’s the past 9 months. We might be coping with a global pandemic of a century, but we still care.

And we still care although it takes an effort to type an apostrophe on the keyboard of the computer or the phone. It would be so much faster to write without apostrophe, and easier on the old opposable thumbs for those of us who are not exactly digital natives. So the care we do take over punctuation, and particularly apostrophes, becomes a proof for how highly we value the person receiving our message, and a proof that what is being  written is not a dashed off piece of information, but an actual Message.

Enter Double (and Triple and) Contractions in One Word.

We know ’twouldn’t from Shakespearean language. And we also know should’ve, and even shouldn’t’ve. At least in spoken language. The written form does look a bit clumsy. That’s the apostrophe eliding one letter (the n of the negation), and two letters (the ha- of the auxiliary verb), sucking up the space between words into one mega word.

Shouldn’t’ve is not mega, enough, though. Not for the internet.

I found people discussing ‘y’all’ld’ve (you all woudl have), and the formidable y’all’ll’nt’ve’d’s, meaning you all will not have had us. This is in answer to “what’s the longest contraction in English still making sense” from a 2017 Reddit subthread in the category NoStupidQuestions. A possible sentence containing this beauty was ‘Y’all’ll’nt’ve’d’s scared to death if you didn’t jump off that bridge!”. I’m no sure I understand, but maybe you do.

Another minor digital ripple was in 2016 when someone invented whomst:

And the spin-off whom’stn’t’ve (who must not have).

I’m sure I’ve already said (though not written) shouldn’t’ve, but I only know one person who uses multiple contractions with joy and confidence, so I asked him the why and wherefore. He says it started when he was a teenager, he had a penchant for small things, and would journal in short-hand in small notebooks, trying to use minimal resources to maximum effect.

Then, with the coming of the mobile phone, he tried to press every drop of expressive meaning from the limited number of characters an SMS would allow. Gone are the days! Whatsapp and free unlimited character provision have killed the full stop (maybe), as I’ll write about in another entry.

My friend also says he actually likes how the apostrophe (and the multiple contractions) look like, and that it’s supposed to replicate the spoken, hence create intimacy. Perhaps that’s why university colleagues didn’t appreciate it! But he concurred that going to the length of including multiple contractions means lavishing attention on your writing, and so intimating that you spend time on this person. He also calls those constructions ‘a bit less mundane’ in a world of ‘self-rightously silly’ writing, and a good way ‘to queer the pitch a bit’. Isn’t that wonderfully put? Let’s hope the authorities that be catch up with what’s happening out there in the digital ether: the Oxford English Dictionary has shoulda, but not should’ve, let alone shouldn’t’ve. I think we should use them big time, so that there’s pressure to change.

This has been a long history of a tiny smudge of a mark – that yet like none other is capable of ruffling feathers over a missing or misplaced one.

But the more I work on punctuation, the more relaxed have I become. I think it’s nice to have it, and I think it’s necessary, especially in official correspondence, and perhaps also in public spaces. And perhaps also in private letters. But what punctuation is not is a tool for patronizing and bullying. It just cant be. It’s too wayward and independent for that.

So, before you correct a greengrocers sign next time you see a possessive-looking-plural, think again: if the likes of Shaw and Shakespeare had fun taking it out or putting it back in, why should not we?

I’m going to take a couple of weeks of blog-pause now. If I write such long entries on such minuscule marks, I might as well write the entire book, and you can read it there in a much more comfortable old-school fashion. So, until further notice, I’ll take my leave with a formidable bang of a contraction:

Crassly Stupid: Welcome to the World of Grammar (and Rhetoric)

A while ago, at the end of May or beginning of June, I wrote an encyclopedia entry on the role of punctuation in literature (and not a cameo appearance at that!), and was thrown back to the basics – or so I thought: the basics are actually not basic at all, but quite hard to wrap your head around. I was grappling with the relationship of punctuation between grammar and rhetoric, roughly, between syntactical sense based units of language, and pause and rhythm in performance, that is, reading out loud. I’m re-reading Parkes’ magisterial work, uncovering punctuation in the West from Antiquity onwards (wait for the Big Review of it shortly), and I find myself wondering again: just what is the difference? What is the difference between rhetorical punctuation and grammatical punctuation? In the classical sense, I guess.

I mean, what is a period? And a colon, and a comma. For Shakespeare, Jonson, Erasmus, and Cicero.

A period (I think) is a unit of words that is complete in terms of grammar and of meaning (sententium).

A period is made of at least two colons which are themselves made of at least two commata. Those terms don’t refer to the marks as such (since the Romans didn’t really have punctuation marks at all), but the verbal units within the marks, and it’s only with time that the names also migrated to refer to the marks themselves. Since Isidore of Sevilla was still describing the ancient Greek dot system in the 7th century, but Renaissance scholars like Aldus and Erasmus speak of colons to refer to the mark as well, that conflation between sign and verbal unit must have occurred in between, during the Middle Ages, while the dots moved up and down the line, acquired little hooks and became commas, and or twinned themselves to a colon. In any case, in the classical framework, the terms refer to the verbal unit as a whole. So, a sentence could look like this:

       Xxx , xxx : xxx , xxx.

Or:  Comma, comma : comma, comma.

Or:   C  O  L  O  N    :  C  O  L  O  N.

Or:   P         E        R         I        O    D.

One sentence, two colons, four commata. Right? I hope it’s right!

The comma seems most straightforward: a unit that is incomplete in both sense and grammar.

A colon is a grammatically complete unit which, however, lacks somewhat in sense. It is complete in sense too, but not in meaning (the overall meaning gathered through the entire sentence). It’s understandable on its own, but not really, not ideally. As it were. I guess it’s a grey zone.

Why, then, should there be any difference at all between punctuation marking grammatical boundaries, and boundaries of pause and rhythm? It seems to me that they co-incide pretty much all the time.

However, my classical training is on the small side (little Latin, and less Greek); I loved Latin at school, and took some Greek at uni, but not enough to get “it”. Then again, I also don’t quite get it when the sentences are in English, and the typesetter’s punctuation periodic. Or the Shakespearean composition? Perhaps both. Let’s have a look at punctuation in the wild:

At This 'Tempest,' Digital Wizardry Makes 'Rough Magic' - The New ...
Ariel in the high-tech RSC production of The Tempest in 2017.

The Tempest memorably starts with a shipwreck from Milan, the frightened passengers scrambling for something to hold onto, while the mariners attempt to get the ship under control. Consider the Boatswain’s speech, peppered with colons and commata (the marks) in a way that we are quite unused to today (I’m italicizing quotations rather than use quotation marks, hoping it’ll be easier on the eyes).

In the Boatswain’s second speech, there are nine commata, five colons, and one period, expressing the entire “meaning” of the Boatswain cheering his mariners on and shouting orders. So far so good, that’s not hard to identify thanks to the punctuation. The grammar and punctuation marks make sense together: the Boatswain’s indistinct shouts and encouragements to the others form the first colon (from Heigh to harts), with three internal commata, incomplete units of grammar that can’t stand on their own (they don’t have a subject and verb is what I mean, I guess).

In the last colon you have one independent and one dependent clause (beginning with the if) which necessitates a comma in between. The if-clause couldn’t stand on its own, it’s not a colon. It’s a comma, and it makes of the previous clause a comma, too. The three imperatives (Take…, Tend…, Blow) are, or could be, colons, because they are grammatically complete. The clauses starting Take and Tend are indeed colons. All three of them are patterned in an isocolic manner, they’re grammatically parallel, so it’s natural they can be grouped together as colons.

What puzzles me is the second colon (yare, yare).

As far as I know, yare is a synonym of ‘ready’; but then, two adjectives do not make a colon, no? If the adverb cheerely in the first colon only makes a comma for itself, and indeed ‘yare’ used as adverb (yarely) in the Master’s speech just before the Boatswain’s – why yare, yare as a colon, and not two commas either attached to the first colon, or introducing the second?

Perhaps it’s a question of rhythm. The first colon has a nice chiastic ring to it (my heartscheerilycheerilymy harts); the third, fourth, and fifth colon are beautifully lined up in isocolic imperative structure (plus the if-clause gentling us as coda out of the period). This is an incredibly dense scaffold where every single part talks to every other in their environment; breaking that up through two loose commata as tail or head to the previous or subsequent colon would make for a baggy rhythm of an otherwise taught period whose bones would be quite effaced. (Also, might it be that an imperative “Be yare”, be ready, is just ellided, so that the phrase is an implied imperative, just like those others around it?)

That yare, yare colon, then, might not be a grammatically correct colon, but a rhetorically effective one, working as brief respite between the highly-formal beginning and end of the speech – which doesn’t come across as highly rhetorical at all! Sure, the semantically meaningless shouts [h]eigh and yare, yare encouragements one would expect from a boatswain in a shipwreck, make for an ambience of urgency and dangerous excitement; but the tightly formal elements don’t intrude as formal. They contribute to the up and down back and forth forward and forward rhythm of the period.

I mean the monosyllabic stress of [h]eigh and yare, after which there follows a pause, creating an up and down rhythm (somehow? Is it just me?) – then the chiasmus, circling back onto itself – then the three imperatives, pounding monosyllables that push the beat of the period forward. That seems to be an awful lot of sonic movement in a scene of watery turmoil. We can hear the sea heaving up and down and all around, and, if we are in the theatre, we can see the Boatswain pointing to different mariners when he shouts his orders, and we hear how he manages to say his speech in exactly one big breath.

Consummate art, dissembling that it is.

Still. Consider this:

Here is one long colon, stretching from yare to Maine-course. But could it not also have been yare, lower, lower : bring her to Try with Maine-course ?

Perhaps the long sequence expresses a now more urgent hurry compared to the beginning. She’s not going up and down anymore, she’s going down. There’s no time to breathe.

I love the very long dash, maybe hiding some expletive (which could be added by the actor in the production! It’s prose so nobody can mess up the rhythm through some insulting creativity); the dash is a visual and aural shock of brevity and interruption, a wordless black line, after the longish wordish colon.

Yes, perhaps it makes sense like this. Then again, whose is the punctuation? Shakespeare’s? The typesetter’s? Set like this out of pragmatic necessity or true intent? Or custom and convention, according to the setter’s or author’s education? Perhaps nothing matters except for what’s there, however it got there.

Based on my analysis, The Tempest’s punctuation here is both grammatical and rhetorical. It’s based on the concept of the period, but also on a strongly aural way of thinking.

But it’s also rhetorical, and very much so, this being a play that was and can be performed. Consider also the presence of non-periodic punctuation marks: Heigh my hearts, cheerely, cheerely my harts isn’t actually a colon, no? It is, rhetorically speaking, but not grammatically. It doesn’t have a verb. It’s just like yare, yare, but it’s longer so you kind of don’t realize, I guess. So, the punctuation of the beginning of the speech is based on effective pausing in performance, while the second part converges grammatical and rhetorical punctuation. Phew. I’m still not sure.

So, was punctuation in early modern plays just an aid to performance? With three gradations of pausing?


Here’s the first dialogue between Prospero and Miranda as they watch the ship sink, she anxious for the lives seemingly lost, he excited to have his revenge finally initiated. It’s when he finally tells her who she is:

So, here’s Prospero saying (in a round-about way that just suits that long imposed exile, from his dukedom, and hence himself): I’m the real Duke of Milan, you’re my only heir. We’re royals.

It’s about family relationships, so it’s suitable there shouldn’t be a full stop anywhere except the end. If there was the pause of finality inherent in a period after daughter, for example, that’d be too much. It’d be too much of a cut-off. So would a colon.

A comma is decidedly too little of a distinction between mother and father.

A semicolon is perfect.

5 Great Island Books That Reimagine The Tempest | Literary Hub
John William Waterhouse’s Miranda, watching the ship in distress.

The semicolon is a bump small enough to not disrupt the flow of speaking (and Prospero is excited), while pause enough to mark off two different (though related) things. The mother and the father. The comma between father and daughter, then, figures their proximity: he is the Duke of Millaine, she is his onely heire. Note the lack of space after the comma – a common occurrence (also elsewhere in the dialogue) which may or may not contribute to that communication of closeness between parent and child. Punctuation is contingent (I’ll come back to that below).

The punctuation in this section functions in a way of seeing, not hearing. You need to see where the marks are, and which ones. You need to see the pauses. You can’t hear the difference between a semicolon or colon pause (I don’t think so, at least). The semicolon is a very nice pause, in the sense of subtle. It’s more to do with a certain kind of free flowy thought when one doesn’t quite want to end, but also needs to mark a pause of sorts; here, punctuation gains bodies; hands; sentences grasping each other across the void of the new clause. So the punctuation in The Tempest is both for the performer, the playgoer/listener, and the reader. At least, that’s how it looks like to me.

And what about that questionable status of punctuation? Did the typesetters work from Shakespeare’s original manuscript? Would they even have cared about his punctuation, if so? Did he care? Punctuation in the early modern printing shop is such a paradoxical controversial creature, it deserves its own entry (soon! I’ve got a couple of articles to read first). But basically, it all depends on

(a) the papers from which the typesetters worked;

(b) how they worked (e.g. was there someone reading the text out, or did they sit and work on it individually);

(c) the experience of the typesetters or layout planners (would they need to squeeze out spaces after commas for lack of space? Would they need to put really long dashes, because they happened to have too much of it?);

(d) the corrector (rarely authors themselves);

(e) available type;

(f) correct dis-assembling of type after printing so as to avoid messing up the “purity” of the cases;

(g) the education of typesetters. Someone with a bit of a humanist education or familiarity with reading might very well be able to recognize periodic style. Someone familiar with the play at the theatre might punctuate in a more oral/aural way.

And probably lots of issues more. The question is should we care? Should be care who put the mark in? Should we care about the marks at all?

I think we should care. But we also shouldn’t over-care.

I personally don’t mind at all if someone trashes my analysis of the semicolon, for example, by pointing out those contingencies of early modern punctuation. I know my case is hypothetical, and perhaps a bit too enthusiastic about really close close-reading. Maybe all that stuff is totally co-incidental. That still doesn’t mean it’s *not* worthwhile thinking about. Only because an experiment is nor replicable doesn’t mean it’s garbage. A case well made is one that I shall always engage with, no?

In any case, I had come up against this somehow-yes-but-also-not coincidence of rhetorical and grammatical punctuation time and again, and I just don’t understand. Parkes says periodic punctuation is a feature of rhetoric, meaning oratory, meaning performance. Which surprised me, as I thought it was the other way around, that colons, and commata signalled grammatical sectioning rather.

This blue is intentional.

So, I read a few grammar books in the hope of finding out the difference, but wasn’t successful at all. I read The Blue Book of Grammar which is a good enough introduction, with some quirky stuff to say about punctuation: while there is exactly *one* rule for the full stop (‘The End’), there are 16 for the comma, many of them with several sub-points down the alphabet. The semi-colon is an ‘audible pause’ between a comma and a full stop – which I found curious for two reasons: are there inaudible pauses? And is a semi-colon not rather a pause between a comma and, well, a colon? For the history of the semi-colon, see the next entry in a week!

Hyphens ‘notify readers’ (40) which words glue together and which don’t. I love the author’s free-for-all permission to be overly punctuatie: ‘Never hesitate to add a hyphen if it solves a possible problem,’ (42).

Ellipses, like always (and like brackets), get paradoxical good and bad press as ‘useful in getting right to the point’ when they represent deletion of irrelevant material, but a sign of weak brain capacity when used otherwise (they show ‘a wavering in an otherwise straightforward sentence’). There’s a fantastic monograph on ellipses by Anne Henry which I still have to read and review (but am apprehensive about, because she’s just so very good, and it’s going to take all my dwarf-on-the-shoulders-of-giants courage to dig in).

I finally also read through the famous You Have a Point There: A Guide to Punctuation and Its Allies by Eric Partridge from 1953. He doesn’t really talk about grammar much, nor about any theoretical or historical concept of punctuation. He just pushes his controversially made opinion, and offers plenty of examples. It was fun reading Partridge; he doesn’t apologize for the way he puts things, which is refreshing: the semi-colon is ‘clear-cut’, for example, the parentheses ‘smooth’ and the colon ‘cultured’ (11).

Partridge is definitely a fellow-enthusiast, arguing for punctuation’s intrinsic belonging to written language, because it participates in structure. Plentifully abound the flowery metaphors and similes: ‘punctuation is not something that, like a best suit of clothes, you put on for special occasions’ (11).

He’s also nice in his definitions about the glyphs: ‘true points’ are only points, that is, characters telling you about pausing. ? and ! are ‘marks’, and not really punctuation at all but elocutionary signs (82). In the first section, there are also ‘supernumeraries’ (dashes, parentheses, and ellipses). You can leave them out, but they kind of still belong.

The second section describes allies and accessories, among the which the capitals, italics, apostrophes, hyphens, quotation marks and more.

I appreciate this specificity. I had a bone to pick with too broad understandings of punctuation before (here), and I myself am guilty of it. (I’ve discussed hyphens before, for example, but really they’re not punctuation, they’re morphology of language, no?)

In any case, Partridge does short shrift of those pernickety petty language policers who want hard borders between grammatical and rhetorical punctuation: he likens a text to a country, grammar being the elected parliament, logic the head-of-state, and common-sense the people.

Got it?

Me neither.

I’m not entirely sure if Partridge intends for us to unpick his metaphor at all…I think it’s more a case of ‘grasp its drift immediately but don’t ask further’ kind of thing.

He does speak truth, though, and beautifully so, and worth quoting in full:

‘[T]o insist upon the dichotomy dramatic-grammatical would be both pedantic and inept. For much of the time, as is inevitable, the two coincide: a speaker tends to pause wherever either logic or grammar makes a pause; and even the most ‘logical’ or ‘grammatical’ of punctuators tends, when he is writing dialogue, to point what is clearly an elocutionary or dramatic pause’ (5).

Speaking of the comma, he goes on to say that to ‘attempt a rigid dichotomy’ between grammatical and rhetorical punctuation ‘would be crassly stupid’ (13). And so, perhaps, it is.

17 September: What’s aught but as ’tis valued

This, the title, is of course from everyone’s favourite play, good old Troilus and Cressida. We had that as our set play in the Cambridge tripos back in the days, so I feel nostalgic about it. I actually quite like it, less in the ‘oh, beautiful’ way, but rather ‘oh, interesting!’. Questions of honour, loyalty, the curious deflation upon fulfilling desire, how the past (or what we think it is) reaches into the present, the entrappings of myth, creating a perpetual loop, the tricks language can be made to play, and of course, most prominently, the relativity (or not?) of value.

Nothing has intrinsic value, Troilus says at the beginning of the play, discussing whether or not to persue the war with his brother Hector who wants to give Helen back to the Greeks. We assign value to something, and so, if we say Helen is worth all the pain and awfulness of war (though is he really convinced that it is so? does it matter?), she is. If we say the annotations and underlinings of the first folio in the Free Library of Philadelphia are made by Milton, then they are so.


An old supervisor of mine, Jason Scott-Warren from Gonville and Caius, Cambridge, has published a blog entry on the Cambrige Centre for Material Culture website a week ago which has made big waves in the scholarly world (and had, dare I say it, a small ripple effect in the cultural scene beyond that, see a Guardian article on the discovery). Having read Claire Bourne’s article describing the marginalia in the book which she locates anywhere between 1625 and 1660, Jason had a look at the handwriting and had a stroke of insight (if he’s right) that the hand looks like Milton’s in the few witnesses we have of him.

The reader of the folio made meticulous corrections to spellings, metrical irregularities, and general textual lacunae such as supplying missing lines from other quarto editions of plays. A proper editor. There are also some mark-ups and underlinings, probably referring to commonplacing, or general highlighting of nice passages. More thoughts, wordish criticism, is absent.

Jason provides some photos of the annotator’s hand and habits of forming letters, and tries to parse these with photos of Milton’s hand. Yes, things do look similar. But is it enough? Is palaeographical evidence sufficient for such a remarkable allegation? Maybe it is. Maybe the informed opinion of experts is enough, and goodness we need to listen to experts in today’s anti-education world. But maybe the wish is father to the thought. A little bit at least.

To Troilus’ case for the relativity of worth (one man’s beautiful is another man’s ugly), Hector replies, not less passionately,

But value dwells not in particular will;
It holds his estimate and dignity
As well wherein ’tis precious of itself
As in the prizer.

There’s something timeless and absolute in things that are worthwhile – and at the same time we choose to invest in it, or not. It’s both, Hector says. Troilus and Paris continue to press for war with, perhaps, somewhat unconvincing unsavoury metaphors (and different designs: Paris wants sex, Troilus wants occasions for glory), and Hector eventually gives in, a bit too fast. He, too, is a soldier, after all. He, too, is trapped in his story that already has an end for him in store.

What is aught but as ’tis valued? If we want this to be Milton’s copy of Shakespeare, we will find proof enough for it in his writings.

What irks me, though, is why do we jump to the conclusion that the hand is a man’s straightaway?

3 May 2019: Shakespeare in Translation: A Conference Report (German Shakespeare Society annual conference)

Fabulous. A fabulous conference, and anybody who was not there definitely missed out on some great research, trends, and activities. Luckily, the German Shakespeare Society conference happens every year, most of the time in the beautiful town of Weimar, so make sure to get there in 2020 when it’s all about Shakespeare and dance, apparently (to be confirmed soon).

For sundry weighty reasons, I only came to the second of three days, Saturday, but the programme as a whole really looks amazing, plenty of theatre and museum visits to opt into, and great international speakers like Warren Boutcher, Rui Carvalho Homem, and Alessandra Petrini (programme http://shakespeare-gesellschaft.de/en/conferences/upcoming.html – it’s in German, hm, though the programme is not…). My own panel in the morning was packed with brilliant early career presenters, giving provocative lightning presentations, summaries as follows:

Christine Schwanecke, junior professor at Mannheim University, spoke about self-translation in Henry IV, asking just why are there so many apparent re-caps and repetitions of the plot. (So translation in the sense of offering the same in a new form, form as language, not as in from one language to the other). Scholarship (she mentioned my old friend from Cambridge Callan Davies here, woop woop!) tends to give practical reasons, that theatre goers were dropping in and out of the playhouses buying snacks, and things and got too drunk to follow the linear action properly, circumstances which playwrights accommodated for by including micro-summaries of the plots. Christine disagreed, and explored two types of repetition, that is, diegetic and mimetic, the former being reports and messages recapping action, the latter referring to play inlets such as dumbshows and the like. She suggested these two kinds of multiple repetitions show that history (who’s in, who’s out, to speak with Lear) has little to do with God-given determination, but is made by narrative, that is, rumour. Through the insistance of re-telling events, Shakespeare emphasises that it’s the stories we choose to repeat which cause new stories to emerge and so on. An eternal spinning-off. Somebody asked an interesting question on whether we can at all speak of an original, then, if all sort of comes out of itself in an ever-circling spiral, as it were, and Christine said she deliberately avoided speaking of original and imitation, because she believes that’s not even the point of Shakespeare’s recapping. I’m not sure I do justice to Christine’s paper, but this is what I got while pre-occupied with my own paper which followed.

Then, it was my turn, and I spoke about shrew translations, or rather translation of women, see my previous post. I’ve put my research together in an article which submitted to this year’s Shakespeare Yearbook call, fingers crossed y’all can read about it next year!

The next mini-panel were Emilie Ortiga from Le Havre, and Jonas Kellermann from the University of Konstanz. Emilie’s paper looked at how Shakespeare trickled into France, focussing on Balzac’s reception and circulation of him. She mentioned a great instance from a Balzac novel (I missed which one) where a woman is singing the willow song from Rossini’s opera Otello, creating multiple echoes back to the Shakespearean original. The singer works through her grief about being cheated by her husband, while realizing her own attraction to another man who is in love with her,

and at that very moment of singing is staring at her intensely. She falters, which foreshadows her own relationship with this man, which, if we think of the lyrics from Shakespeare rather than Rossini, we already know even then (‘I’ll couch with more women, if you’ll couch with more men’). Note well that there are different versions of this popular ballad, some of whom do not include mutual cheating. Check out Ross Duffin’s Shakespeare’s Songbook for this one, and also publications by Linda Phyllis Austern. Having worked on Shakespeare, music, and memory in my PhD, I really loved this beautiful intertextual knot.

Jonas’ paper went really well with Emilie’s (and also spoke to my past research!), treating ballet performances of Romeo and Juliet, that is, the translatability of Shakespeare into dance. Usually, the ballet set piece of RJ is the pas de deux, the most intense duo dance, witness performances of Prokofiev’s opera. As Jonas said, ballet is all about tricking gravity, becoming air, ether. At least, the woman’s part is. All men do (or most of their function in ballet anyway), is lift women into that state of weightlessness. The aim is to show off legs and feet, basically. Although this can result in quite intense intimate emotion-laden dancing, it also means a discreteness, a lack of melting into one-ness, between the male and femal dancer. And that, surely, cannot be the point of Romeo and Juliet. Jonas, then, presented on a performance by Sasha Valtz of the ballet using the technique of contact improvisation, a form of modern dance from the 60s which is torso-based rather than leggie, as it were, and in which dancers give and take the weight of each other in continual action and reaction (called ‘listening’, or ‘noticing’). That means sometimes Romeo is carrying Juliet, and sometimes Juliet is carrying Romeo. Here’s to feminist dancing. This equality and closeness, Jonas mentioned, also communicates through the lovers’ linguistic reciprocity, and their rhyming intimacy. He mentioned my article on dance, rhetoric, and cognition in the brandnew Oxford Handbook to Shakespeare and Dance, which was very kind of him – somebody’s reading my stuff! Feeling happy and sheepish at once.

The next panel featured Marie Menzel, a PhD student at the Free University of Berlin, talking about how to translate Tragedy (yes, capital T) into the 21st century through the example of recent British stagings of Richard II. She looked at the Hollow Crown film of 2012, an RSC production from 2013, and a Globe one from 2015, realizing that all of them had changed one particular detail: where the text suggests Exton is the murderer of Richard, these productions shifted the act to Aumerle. Marie asked herself why this was the case, offering a possible answer in the dynamics of revision, the need to make the play (and Tragedy in general) relevant to modern audiences. In all versions, Richard and Aumerle had kissed before, making the subsequent murder all the more, well, tragic, placing the reasons for the catastrophic events on interpersonal grievances rather than, for example, divine-predestination, the rise and fall conception of Tragedy, the Elizabethan understanding of it. Tragic affect is created through the (added? emphasized?) queer love story between the king and lord, which is supposed to make the murder more intelligible to us. I came out with lots of questions, a good thing I guess, and lots of disagreement, for example with Marie’s statement that a modern audience cannot empathize with certain circumstances or understand conceptions of Tragedy anymore; that things have lost their relevance; that we need stories to change in order to enjoy, appreciate, or even get what’s going on. I strongly disagree with that, and one does not need to go far to look for even objective proof, re the Oresteia at the Globe in 2015. I think what’s more at stake in the unaccountable changing of who’s the murderer is that it’s those productions (rather than us the audience) which cannot manage the sheer randomness of the murder that happens because Exton interprets Henry’s gaze in Act 5.4. They suffer from a lack of negative capability, the frightening but all too frequent occurrence that random things can acquire so much momentum, that, restrospectively, they start looking like inevitability. Shakespeare is great at exploring that (for example in the random picking of rose colours by the factions in H6, resulting in what seems necessary but was accidental).

The last paper was a complete eye-opener. Anja Hartl, also from Konstanz, presented on myth-making in Dunsinane, a Macbeth-inspired play by Greig from 2000. I’ve never heard of this at all, and want to go off and read it right now. Anja spoke about how the play challenges neat historical assumptions by engaging with the facts of the real Macbeth’s reign (much longer and much more benign than portrayed in the propagandistic Shakespeare play). What we think we know is not what we actually know, historically speaking, under-cutting narratives (and even counter-narratives) of Scottish identity emerging from that dramatic myth. I’m so excited about the play, and want to see how it speaks to Scotland, back in its making almost 20 years ago, and today, post-referenda on independence and Brexit.

Rather than opting for papers, I participated in an acting workshop after our sessions, and after that in a presentation by Michael Mitchell on teaching Shakespeare at schools through prose spin-offs such as Atwood’s Hag-seed, or Chevalier’s New Boy – a long list that I am looking forward to diving into.

I can really recommend this annual conference which was well organized in beautiful surroundings, and featured lots of highly interesting and relevant papers, as well as other activities around drama.

26 April 2019: It’s Conference Time

What is true for battles is definitely true for conferences: one needs to pick them. When I was a PhD student, I went nerdily wild, and presented at five or six a year all over the world. But with experience and wisdom (jaded, anyone?) I now focus on what’s immediately important for my field, rather than just interesting – though nothing wrong with that if the conference is not expensive, and you can pick it up on the way to the library, as it were, rather than having to fly. Oh, all you London people, we provincials can only envy you.

So, here I am, off on a home visit in Berlin, and a little detour to the German Shakespeare Society Conference in Weimar, the town of Goethe and Schiller, one of my favourite places. As was to be expected, 2019 is all under the sign of inter-culturality and translation, both in Weimar as well as at the British Shakespeare Association conference in Swansea in July. Once again, this year more than ever, poor old Shakespeare has to serve as straw man: European for Remainers, Islander for Leavers, for or against immigration, women, gays, Jews, Blacks – you name the marginalised group or political issue, and he’ll have something to say about it, and it’s going to be what you want it to be. In any case: translation, and I’m presenting on what it means to translate women (and when women translate) across languages, plays, and times.

I’m looking at Ariosto’s 1509 comedy I Suppositi (roughly, The Changelings), George Gascoigne’s 1566 English translation Supposes, Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew (which uses the Supposes for the Bianca plot), and an anonymous late seventeenth-century German version of the Shrew, called Kunst über alle Künste: Ein bös Weib gut zu machen (An Art beyond all Art: How to make an Evil Wife Good – all translations here my own). Phew, that’s a lot of words to mean this: I’ll compare four plays in Italian, English, and German, and explore how the women are being treated in each of them, in the sense of how do the authors portray them in relation to genre, and the language they write in, what do they omit or add. Is there something lost or acquired in translation?

It’s exciting, and I’ve got lots to say, most of all because I’ve been working on the Shrew since September 2016 when I started my first postdoc at the University of Geneva (more info in the RESEARCH part of my page). We worked on four plays by Shakespeare which had found their way onto the continent via travel troups and in the entourage of diplomats. There are plays in Dutch, German, Danish, Czech and other European languages from pretty soon after Shakespeare’s death – not of an age, and not of one place either!

There are bits and pieces of Shakespeare’s plays in German here and there (e.g. the Pyramus and Thisbe inlet translated by Alexander Gryphius); we have given attention to those four which are extant in substantial ways, that is, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Titus Andronicus, and The Taming of the Shrew, the play I worked on. Check out the website of the project here: https://www.unige.ch/emgs/

What we did is re-translate the plays into English since they are substantially different (all of them in prose, for one!), give them annotations that explain the German and compare the Shakespearean original, a bibliographical apparatus collating German editions, and an introduction on both the play itself, and the historical background of the travelling players in German countries at the time. It’s gonna be yuge, and it’s going to be published with Arden Bloomsbury. We hope to bring attention to the very early reception of Shakespeare in Germany and the continent in general, and to spark lots of cross-linguistic cooperation.

And now, for some late-minute paper preparation. Conference reporting to be continued tomorrow…