- Editing on Stage:Theatrical Research for a Critical Edition of John Fletcher and Philip Massinger’s Love’s Cure, or The Martial Maid
During the spring and summer of 2012, a team of theater practitioners under my coordination conducted a practical theatrical project at the Shakespeare Institute of the University of Birmingham in Stratford-upon-Avon. The aim was to investigate the staging possibilities of Love’s Cure, or The Martial Maid, the play by John Fletcher and Philip Massinger that I was editing.1 The main aim was to field-test the preliminary text of my critical edition using original theatrical practices (OP). These included employing an all-male cast, period costume and music, universal lighting, a bare stage, and a frons scænae with two flanking doors, a wide central opening, and an upper playing space.2 The project was kindly funded by the Centre for Learning and Academic Development at Birmingham, and was designed as a collaborative endeavor. My two collaborators in leading the project were Robert F. Ball, artistic director of FRED Theatre, and Red Smucker, our costume designer.
This essay presents an analysis of some of the results of that project, and of how I incorporated them to the text and annotation of my modern-spelling edition of the play. Although Love’s Cure did not seem particularly difficult to stage, in the process of rehearsing our production I was expecting to find plausible solutions to some key moments that I found difficult to visualize on my own. Some of the solutions to crucial staging problems that we came up with during the rehearsals openly contradicted my assumptions about the text. I use the pronoun “we” quite deliberately, since the felicity of some of these solutions was due to the process of working with a diverse team of practitioners who brought different creative energies to the rehearsal room. Not only did [End Page 69] they actively discuss the staging of the scenes, but also the meaning and significance of a number of archaic terms, and the complexities of some of the characters. They creatively and collectively challenged my editorial stage directions (SDs) and my modernized punctuation and spelling, with the fundamental objective of being able to perform the text in front of an audience. After the process, my text emerged strengthened and corroborated by actual theatrical practice. This seemed even more important as we were dealing with a play that has never been performed professionally since the closing of the theaters in 1642, and has only received, so far, three semi-professional productions at institutions of higher education in England, including our own.3
In the absence of a substantial stage history, editors have only a few options available to support their editorial SDs and their annotation with appropriate reference to the theatrical realization of the text. The most common approach has been to rely solely on the imagination to consider how the scenes may have been performed in their own time, or what staging possibilities they may allow in modern production. However, there have been a number of exceptions to this rule in the last ten years, the most salient being the Richard Brome Online project, which produced a multilayered hypertext for each play in the Brome canon, enriched with explanatory notes and parallel texts—early printed and edited—as well as a number of accompanying videos showing footage of the series of workshops undertaken to explore the staging practicalities of the plays. Richard Cave, Eleanor Lowe, and Brian Wolland have written about the methodology they developed, which is not dissimilar to the processes that derived from our own experience. We fundamentally coincided in our sense of surprise at the felicity of some unexpected results, as well as in appreciating the tentative, non-definitive nature of the process of running the workshops and obtaining usable results.
We also coincided in the pursuit of historical authenticity: “Editing in this manner could, we discovered, become an exercise in informing the editorial process with degrees of theatrical-historical insight” (Cave, Lowe, and Woolland 219). Unlike the approach proposed by Lynette Hunter and Peter Lichtenfels, for whom a piece of Renaissance drama...