A Digital Anthology of Early Modern English Drama (EMED) supplies newly edited texts for our featured plays. The EMED play texts are different from those you’re likely to find in a library, because they are “documentary editions.” Each one documents a single copy of the first edition of a play, including possible errors by the compositor, corrections made by the printer, and other copy-specific variations. As a result, the EMED text offers you the form of a play as an early reader would have seen it. This page takes you behind the scenes to explain how we produced these editions. We describe the nature of documentary editions, the text sources, and the ways in which our editions may help you understand the work of scholarly editions, as well as facilitate such work. All of this offers a window on to the choices and challenges involved in editing early modern English drama.

Documentary editions

Playbooks from the Folger Shakespeare Library collection.

The EMED Featured Plays are “documentary editions,” each of which draws on one individual copy of a play’s first edition (also known as a print “witness” to the text). An EMED documentary edition replicates the textual features of that single witness to the fullest extent possible. This will include attributes ranging from early modern spelling conventions to mistakes made when setting type. EMED documentary editions do not compare many copies of a work to determine the best exemplar. Documentary editions differ from “critical editions,” which base their readings on careful consideration of many copies (and even other editions), and draw on the work of other scholars and critics, sometimes in long chains of influence. Critical editions often include explanatory notes, modernize the text, and standardize elements like stage directions and act and scene divisions, which may or may not be present in the original playbook. The Folger Shakespeare editions and Folger Digital Texts are critical editions of Shakespeare’s works. They are part of a nearly 400 year tradition of editing Shakespeare’s plays. Some of Shakespeare’s contemporaries have received that same kind of scholarly attention in critical editions, but by no means all of them. EMED documentary editions give us access to lesser-known plays, as well as a fresh perspective on those that are more commonly taught and edited.

Textual origins

The majority of the early modern playbooks represented in EMED editions are held in university and special research libraries around the world, mainly in Great Britain and the United States. The Folger alone holds nearly 500 individual copies of early printings of these plays. EMED’s documentary editions do not privilege Folger holdings, however. The reason for that requires a bit of recent history in the establishment of new digital pathways for work with early modern English printed texts.

Three successive large-scale projects have photographed, digitized, and transcribed large numbers of early modern English texts. At the start of World War II, concern for the safety of early printed books in Britain accelerated a photography project that used microfilm (a revolutionary process at the time) to image rare books. The project continued after the war as the Early English Books microfilm series and incorporated early English books from non-British libraries, including the Folger. The images from this microfilm series were then digitized in the 1990s, creating the database now known as Early English Books Online or EEBO. One result of these successive projects was to bring together the holdings of libraries around the world for consultation in one place—your local university library. In the case of EMED playbooks, the five most commonly represented libraries are the Huntington Library (174), the British Library (98), Harvard (43), the Folger (29), and the Bodleian Library (18).

In the 21st century, a consortium of over 150 libraries worked with ProQuest / Chadwyck-Healey, the company that owns EEBO, to produce transcriptions of texts imaged in their online database as part of the EEBO-Textual Creation Partnership. With the image supported by a transcription, tens of thousands of early modern texts became searchable online. In 2015, 25,000 of these transcriptions were released into the public domain. Another 40,000 texts are due to be released in 2020. For a fuller history of the development of EEBO and the EEBO-TCP, see our History of EEBO on Folgerpedia.

EMED’s documentary editions are based on these freely available transcribed texts. In fact, researchers in many fields are embarking on projects working with these freely available texts. To keep just to the texts of early modern drama, the Shakespeare His Contemporaries (SHC) project, based at Northwestern University, processed hundreds of transcriptions of early modern plays, filling gaps left by the previous transcribers and adding further linguistic information, such as tagging for parts of speech. Our EMED documentary editions begin as SHC files. We then edit that text, including a thorough proofread against the digital images of the corresponding playbook in EEBO; the microfilm images of the playbook in Early English Books; or even the original printed book, when we have it to hand. Our goal is to present the text of that single printed copy as reliably as possible: see EMED editorial practice for details on our process and choices.

This brief material and digital history of these texts highlights the legacy of use and re-use, a legacy that collections like the Folger’s are meant to foster and which encompasses EMED’s documentary editions. EMED texts bear the footprints of these successive treatments, even as they are carried forward to be read, recontextualized, and re-appropriated by future readers at the Folger and elsewhere.

A microfilm reader at the Folger Shakespeare Library showing the first page of Christopher Marlowe’s Jew of Malta. EEB Microfilm series, STC / 852:06.
Christopher Marlowe, The Jew of Malta (Printed by I[ohn] B[eale] for Nicholas Vavasour, and are to be sold at his shop in the Inner-Temple, neere the Church, 1633, B1r. Early English Books Online, Proquest/Chadwyck Healey, http://eebo.chadwyck.com/

Steps towards critical editions: Building on EMED

Each copy of an early modern printed playbook is different. Mistakes made in setting type might be corrected while the work was being printed, type could shift or be damaged, and late additions could change the nature of the text. The EMED featured plays are documentary editions, each of which draws on one individual copy of a play’s first edition. EMED texts are not compared to other copies of the work to reveal differences and establish completeness (a process known as “collation”), and they do not have scholarly explanatory notes or apparatus. But they make excellent starting points for that sort of work, whether you are comparing multiple copies of a single edition, or comparing the first edition to later examples of a text.

For example, EMED’s The Jew of Malta is a representation of a copy of the play at the British Library, one of at least 25 known extant copies of this 1633 edition (British Library, 82.c.22.(5)). You could compare our play text to other copies of the 1633 edition that have been imaged by the Folger Shakespeare Library (STC 17412 copy 1) and the British Library (644.e.70). Copies can also be consulted in person: three at the Folger, three at the British Library, one at New York Public Library, and many more. To find them, you can check the locations specified in the English Short Title Catalogue, or ESTC. The ESTC entry for each play is linked to from the EMED play entry.

As another example, Editing Massinger’s The Renegado introduces a range of editorial activities one might perform to use an EMED documentary edition in creating a critical edition. In such ways, EMED documentary editions offer many opportunities for engagement with editorial practice and decision-making.

EMED editorial practice

Editing EMED plays involves four main activities: proofing the original spelling transcription as an accurate representation of the print witness; reviewing the regularized spelling view and correcting it as needed; ensuring existing tagging is accurate and appropriate; and adding transcriptions and tagging that offer information on the physical playbook, such as line breaks and forme work.

This guide describes the editorial practices we followed in creating the EMED documentary editions. You can read descriptions of how we treated each of the following issues in our texts, or download our encoding documentation to see how these editorial decisions are made legible to computers.

Original spelling
Regularized spelling
Gaps, errors, and textual notes
Line breaks and layout
Font distinctions
Paratextual materials
Line numbers and page information

Original spelling

Because an EMED featured play is a documentary edition, our original spelling view is an exact transcription of our single source text—including unfamiliar spellings, possible errors made by the compositor, or word choices that differ from later editions. (We also publish the same documentary edition, which is otherwise identical, in regularized spelling; see below for details.)

The original spelling transcription can be collated against other copies of the play or compared to modern editions to explore the idiosyncrasies of early modern print practice. It is also available for reading and computational analysis.

To see the original spelling version, go to the play text by selecting “Read” from the Featured Plays page or the play entry. Then select “Original” from the “Choose spelling” panel at right. You can also select an original spelling PDF from the Versions section of the play entry.

Regularized spelling

We also offer a regularized spelling version of our documentary edition, which is otherwise the same edition. The regularized spelling version is available on the “Read” page for the play (select “Regularized” from the “Choose spelling” panel) and as a PDF from the Featured Plays page and the play entry.

EMED spelling regularizations are relatively conservative, particularly for foreign languages. We regularize i/j and u/v, but retain early modern verb forms: for example, loueth is regularized to loveth, not loves. We typically retain contractions and many dialectical variants, particularly to preserve meter: for example, flowring is regularized to flow’ring rather than flowering.

This regularized version still retains some aspects of early print. To avoid being overly interventionist, at this stage we have not regularized punctuation or capitalization.

Our regularizations build on automated work performed by Shakespeare His Contemporaries project and Philip Burns’s MorphAdorner tool. Forme work, including running heads and catchwords, is not regularized or displayed in a regularized view.

Gaps, errors, and textual notes

Illegible or missing text in our original print witness is represented in the original spelling version as follows:

illegible letter or punctuation mark: [.]

missing letter or punctuation mark: [*]

missing word: [◇]

Thomas Heywood, The Fair Maid of the West, or A Girl Worth Gold. (London: printed for Richard Royston, 1631), E3v. Early English Books Online, Proquest/Chadwyck Healey, http://eebo.chadwyck.com/.
Thomas Heywood, The Fair Maid of the West, or A Girl Worth Gold. (London: printed for Richard Royston, 1631), E3v. Folger STC 13320 v.1.

If it is clear what letter or piece of punctuation is missing, the character will be provided in the regularized spelling version. In the left-hand image above, a blot in the Huntington copy of the play (imaged by EEBO) obscures two characters in the speech prefix (a letter and a period) and the subsequent letter. The passage would appear as “Roug[..] [.],” in our original spelling view, indicating a total of three illegible characters, and would be expanded to “Roughman I,” in the regularized spelling view. Compare our documentary edition to another copy of the play to explore our choices; for example, see the Folger’s copy for the unblotted original “Rough. I” (right-hand image, above).

We silently correct turned letters (i.e. type misplaced upside-down), typically but not exclusively u/n, throughout the texts in both original and regularized readings.

On occasion, we propose a regularized version of a word that is more than a spelling standardization. These problematic original spellings might be considered a “printer error,” caused by an error in the exemplar that the printer followed; a misreading of that text; the selection of a wrong piece of type either by mistake or due to a foul case; or by some other, unknown mechanism. For example, the river that runs through Paris in Massacre at Paris is twice spelled “Rene” in the printed playbook and in our original spelling documentary edition, but “Seine” in our regularized version; in Knight of the Burning Pestle, Barbaroso “bings” in the errant knight in the original version, but “brings” him in the regularized. We have not changed the original spelling reading in these cases, since we commit to reproducing an accurate version of this single play book, and the error may be informative to scholars, but we state in the textual notes section when such changes appear in the regularized view.

If there is a nonsensical or heavily contested reading in the original that we judge would be a substantial variant—arguably more than a slip of the compositor—we do not make any change to either the original or regularized reading, but we may add a comment in the textual notes section. These textual notes would be a useful starting point for exploring editorial choices.

Line breaks and layout

In order to reproduce the print witness (the single copy of the original playbook), we record line breaks in verse, prose, stage directions, and headers. We recognize that other projects may wish to format the text differently, and so we have attempted to provide flexibility in our encoding by using milestone units rather than enclosing the text in a line tag (see our encoding policy). We do not approximate vertical spacing, except to indicate when at least a full text-height line of space was inserted. In the encoding, one line of space is indicated by two line breaks; two or more lines of space are represented by three line breaks. Other elements that create space on the printed page, such as hard rules or decorative borders, are not reproduced. Scholars interested in these more visual elements are best served by referencing images of the work.

When compositors ran out of space on a typographical line, they sometimes chose to complete the verse line in the space above or below the line, if there was room. These “turnovers” and “turnunders” are often marked in our text with a parenthesis [ ( ]. They are represented in the documentary edition, but encoded as part of the line to which they belong; this allows us to flexibly preserve the original printing practice.

Christopher Marlowe, Tamburlaine the Great, 1 (London: printed by Richard Jones, 1590), A8r. Early English Books Online, Proquest/Chadwyck Healey, http://eebo.chadwyck.com/.
Christopher Marlowe, Tamburlaine the Great, 1 (London: printed by Richard Jones, 1590), A8r. A Digital Anthology of Early Modern English Drama, Meaghan Brown, Elizabeth Williamson, and Michael Poston, eds. Folger Shakespeare Library, https://emed.folger.edu.

Because most of our work is with digital facsimiles, a great deal of information about the layout of these works is unavailable to us, including the font size and the exact measurements for indentations, leading, and white spaces. We therefore do not reproduce horizontal spaces exactly, though we do align text left, right, or centered, as printed. Tight spaces between individual words are silently standardized to aid reading (see below, “to wneto” is read as “towne to”). We do not silently standardize spacing in cases of contracted or concatenated words (a concatenated word intentionally combines potentially separate words (see below, the spacing of “ ith ” is retained and regularized to “ i’th’ ”). Because we cannot represent the relative font sizes precisely, we have chosen to employ a single size font.

Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton, The Roaring Girl, or Moll Cutpurse. London: Nicholas Okes for Thomas Archer, 1611, C2v. EEBO image 10a, detail of word spacing.

Font distinctions

One of the goals of these digital editions is to make the language and orthography of early playbooks more accessible to users who are new to early modern English drama. This affects our decisions about certain fonts.

The typical font-families that are used in early modern playbooks include blackletter, roman, and italic, and most playbooks employ at least two fonts of these three. In playbooks that are printed primarily in a roman font, words that are emphasized in the body text are most often printed in italic. Stage directions are also typically printed in italic, so that emphasized words within the stage directions typically are presented in roman font. We aim to reproduce this in our display, as well as encode the meaning behind these font choices. For example, italics that highlight a foreign word are marked in the encoding as <foreign> and displayed as italic, while stage directions are encoded as <stage> and are also displayed as italic.

We depart from the original printing, however, by representing the three font families (roman, italic, and blackletter) with only two (roman and italic) in our display. We chose not to display blackletter, since this font is much less familiar to readers of modern English and presents a significant barrier to accessing the text.

Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus (London, printed by V.S. for Thomas Bushell, 1604), C1v. Early English Books Online, Proquest/Chadwyck Healey, http://eebo.chadwyck.com/.

For blackletter playbooks, we render the blackletter body text in roman and the emphasized words (which may be printed in roman or italic in the original) in italic. However, we try to preserve the reason for the emphasis in our encoding. For example, Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is primarily printed in blackletter and employs roman for names and italic for Latin in the original. The blackletter body text is rendered as roman and the emphasized words are rendered as italic in our encoded version, but with <name> and <foreign> tags to distinguish their reason for emphasis.

We aim to stay true to the intent of the original printing by preserving visual distinction while keeping meaningful mark-up. If fonts are nested, for example, such as an italicized, emphasized word within a roman stage direction, within blackletter body text, we indicate the change in font, nesting roman within italic within roman.

Paratextual materials

We include a variety of paratextual materials with the texts of our featured plays. Paratexts are texts that surround the play. They may include addresses to the reader, dedicatory epistles, publisher’s advertisements, or encomia (poems in praise of the play or playwright), most of which appear before or after the play itself. They also include “forme work,” which appears on nearly every page. Forme work may include running heads, catchwords, signatures, and (less commonly) page numbers that appear around each textual page. These paratexts show how the printer and early reader navigated the play.

We aim to reproduce the content of the playbook as it is printed, within the constraints of representing only one play per digital file. If a playbook contains multiple plays and multiple paratexts, we include the paratexts adjacent to the particular featured play, rather than all of the paratexts in the volume. In other words, the first play in a compilation will include the prefatory material, while the last play will include the back matter.

Line numbers and page information

We have introduced a kind of digital “forme work” of our own, to aid in navigating the editions. Every line in the play is numbered to the immediate left of the printed page, including stage directions and headers. These witness line numbers (wln) appear to the left of the play page in the format wln 0001. Each line in the prefatory materials and the back matter is also numbered, in the format ln 0001. Within the play, forme work, such as a running head, does not receive line numbers.

The text is divided into pages based on the original playbook. Every digital “page” is given an image reference number that includes the number of the EEBO image set for each two-page opening. The left of the two-page opening is designated a, and the right b, so the transcription of the right side of the fourth opening is labeled as img 4-b. Every page is also labeled with its signature and leaf, including recto and verso indicators. The verso of the third leaf of signature B is thus labeled B3v, while the recto of the fourth leaf is B4r. This additional information is provided even if neither page has a printed signature mark.

EMED documentation

Editing and encoding are subjective practices, reflective of the individual goals, priorities, and constraints of each editing project. The narrative above describes some of our decisions regarding spelling, layout, font, and so on, and the processes and reasons behind them. In order to maintain a consistent editorial practice over time and between individual editors, projects need to develop clear guidelines on every aspect of their treatment of the text. Below, we provide a PDF download of a summary of our encoding practice, i.e. which XML tags we use for what purpose. In due course, we will publish our editorial manual, to provide a record of how we treated everything from when to regularize roman numerals to how we treat words split over a typographical line. We hope that this will both serve our project philosophy of transparency and accountability, and be informative for those conducting their own editing work or making future use of EMED texts.

Download a PDF of our encoding documentation.

Further resources: Editorial history, context, theory