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TOPIC: Renaissance punctuation

Renaissance punctuation 9 years 6 months ago #1069

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When I look at the printed texts of Shakespeare's day, one of the first things that strike me is the horrible quality of the punctuation. Commas, periods and question marks (not to mention colons and semi-colons) seem to be all over the place, and anywhere but in the right place!

Is this because of poor punctuation skills on the part of the printers, or is it because punctuation was far more fluid in those days than it is now? Correct punctuation seems to me to be quite important for being able to gloss the right meaning, so it seems odd to me that it should be so immensely fluid as it certainly is in many texts from Shakespeare's day.

And if this messy punctuation turns out to be the result of multitudinous mix-ups and misprintings, then how far can we trust the rest of the text?!

Who is't that can inform me?
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Renaissance punctuation 9 years 6 months ago #1070

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If you're referring to the Folio, the idea is that the punctuation was used as a tool to cue the actors when to breathe (usually a caesura), pause, or continue on...running items together.
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Renaissance punctuation 9 years 6 months ago #1081

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I see - is that theory or known fact?
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Renaissance punctuation 9 years 6 months ago #1082

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Depends... :)

I'm not sure if there's any specific and verifiable reference for it, but that's the way Shakespeare is taught in every theatrical course in the US & UK (where Shakespeare is read/performed in English). The line endings are where an actor may pause for thought, etc. The idea is to preserve the rhythm of the language and provide the actor(s) with clues as to when "something is happening" in the text.

An example I like of showing how Shakespeare included clues in the text for actors is in King John:

https://www.playshakespeare.com/king-john/scenes/778-act-iii-scene-3

It's the discussion John & Hubert are having (or not having) about killing the young boy.
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Renaissance punctuation 9 years 6 months ago #1083

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But doesn't that depend on whether students are taught from original or modernized texts? You're linking to a modernized text; my original observation was regarding the original texts.
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Renaissance punctuation 9 years 6 months ago #1084

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Yes. The original texts are used for comparison with modern texts. Depending on the edition, it may keep the punctuation intact for specific areas. But the original folio/quarto versions are the reference point for the "acting clues" I'm referring to.
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Renaissance punctuation 9 years 6 months ago #1085

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OK, interesting - but I don't think it quite explains the generally haphazard punctuation.
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Renaissance punctuation 9 years 6 months ago #1095

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Why don't you think so? There's also an emphasis on capitalized words. When Shakespeare capitalized a word in a sentence it was made more operative.
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Renaissance punctuation 9 years 6 months ago #1096

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shakespeare wrote:
Why don't you think so?

Well, I guess some examples would not be amiss. One I have handy is my favorite passage from Edward III (and feel free to supply other examples):

Original quarto version:

A way loose silkes or wauering vanitie,
Shall the large limmit offaire Brittayne.
By me be ouerthrowne, and shall I not,
Master this little mansion of my selfe;
Giue me an Armor of eternall steele,
I go to conquer kings, and shall I not then
Subdue my selfe, and be my enimies friend,
It must not be, come boy forward, aduaunce,
Lets with our coullours sweete the Aire of Fraunce.

Modern edited version:

Away loose silks and wavering vanity!
Shall the large limit of fair Britain
By me be overthrown, and shall I not,
Master this little mansion of myself?
Give me an armor of eternal steel;
I go to conquer kings; and shall I then
Subdue myself, and be my enemy's friend?
It must not be. - Come, boy, forward, advance!
Let's with our colours sweet the air of France.

The original version has a period in the middle of a sentence (end of line two), a complete disregard for question marks and exclamation marks, missing several commas, and fails to denote an obvious pause in the penultimate line (before "come boy").

Are you saying that the original version had correct and useful punctuation by the rules of Renaissance conventions? I am not dismissing it, I'm just asking. I admit there seems to be some sense to what you're arguing. In the original version, "vanitie" and Brittayne" probably rhymes, so it's understandable to put a period after the latter to indicate a slight pause, for the audience to appreciate the rhyme. And in the penultimate line, I guess it is a good indicator of the pronunciative flow to just write "It must not be, come boy forward, aduaunce". So you may be right - but today, when we are used to proper punctuation, the original version does seem rather... unruly.
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Renaissance punctuation 9 years 6 months ago #1097

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This is a difficult conversation to have because I can't recite anything for you. But the idea is that there are two schools of thought. One says that the only time an actor pauses when reciting the verse is at the end of a line. The second school of thought is that actors may insert a caesura when there is a period mid-line. When there's more than one possibility for an operative word, the idea is Shakespeare's intention is the capitalized one (proper nouns not included, but first words are worth further exploration). Commas are ignored most of the time, but may give clarification in the expressing of certain ideas.

In your example: "Giue me an Armor of eternall steele," the author wanted to emphasized the word "armor" over other possible operative words. The editor then modernized it and felt it was mostly a complete thought so decided to end it with a semi-colon. It's probably a correct way to modernize it, but it's for the benefit of the reader, not the listener.
sorensonian wrote:
Are you saying that the original version had correct and useful punctuation by the rules of Renaissance conventions?

Yes!
sorensonian wrote:
I am not dismissing it, I'm just asking. I admit there seems to be some sense to what you're arguing.

It's not my argument. It's a commonly accepted practice for teaching & reciting Shakespeare. But there's actually a lot of sense to it. As an occasional teacher of acting Shakespeare, I'm a fan of creating a smorgasbord for students, allowing them to pick and choose which tools work best for them.

sorensonian wrote:
In the original version, "vanitie" and Brittayne" probably rhymes, so it's understandable to put a period after the latter to indicate a slight pause, for the audience to appreciate the rhyme.

But the actor would likely pause at the end of the lin anyway.

sorensonian wrote:
And in the penultimate line, I guess it is a good indicator of the pronunciative flow to just write "It must not be, come boy forward, aduaunce". So you may be right - but today, when we are used to proper punctuation, the original version does seem rather... unruly.

The idea here is that even if there is a period mid-line, the verse continues. The actor has to find a way to make that work in performance. It's very common in everyday speech to hear someone speaking a full sentence, start the first or second word of another sentence..then pause...before continuing with their thought. This is exactly how actors can run through a verse line and run right over a period, question mark, or exclamation point...punctuation tha twould normally express the completion of an idea and therefore a pause.

It's a bit convoluted, but it actually works. :)
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