Toronto Metropolitan University

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Parallel-text analysis and practical dramaturgies

posted on 2023-02-22, 16:59 authored by Toby MaloneToby Malone

Compilation of prompt books, performance texts, and rehearsal scripts is an active process. Scripts evolve, develop, contract, and expand during rehearsal and performance, and for many dramaturgs pre-production script compilation both looks ahead to the script’s future while acknowledging past productions and dramaturgical innovation. Literary critic Gérard Genette evocatively suggests that “the object of poetics is not the text but … its textual links with other texts”: usefully, comparative analysis of extant texts, including manuscripts, drafts, prompt books, and ephemera, is one key to a dramaturg’s preparation. For classical dramaturgs, familiarity with past textual approaches – both iconic and local interpretations that might exist in an audience’s memory – offers the opportunity to learn from and speak to past adaptations. Further afield, textual benefits lie in historical comparison, which highlights the breadth of the great variety of copy-texts (both primary sources and re-edited editions) that might be considered in script compilation. Comparison of prompt books and staged texts can be a logistically elusive process, given that performancereflective editions, when available, are difficult to manually contrast. This paper draws attention to the dramaturgical efficacy of digital parallel-text analysis, a textual approach which has heretofore rarely included working scripts. As a working dramaturg, I find great practical, applicable use in understanding historical treatments of texts I develop, which includes primary texts and editions, but also extends to performance-and publication-based cuts, additions, and alterations, in productions both local to me and further afield. Comparative textual analysis is traditionally undertaken piecemeal through archival searching for uncollated fragmentary evidence. Disorganization is a particular inconvenience for the practical dramaturg: incomplete data can compromise the efficacy of script collation. Not all development requires precedent for classical dramaturgs, but as Laurie E. Osborne notes, “it is comparison, not origins, which authorizes any text.” Quite simply, it is the juxtaposition of dramaturgical and artistic choices which illuminates any performance edition far beyond singular analysis. To address this functionality gap, I turned to and adapted a long-standing technique of data comparison, called parallel-text analysis. As a process, parallel-text presentation of scripts has its origins in Shakespeare studies – pioneered with P. A. Daniel’s 1874 facsimile comparison of Romeo and Juliet4 – as a means of

comparing quarto (Q) and folio (F) editions of a single play. Ever since, scholars have applied parallel-text fundamentals to test theories, compare published versions, and “translate” texts into modern English, as simplified learning tools. This technique uses the parallel placement of Q-F texts to demonstrate correlations and departures between versions, to illuminate changes made by first-generation scribes, typesetters, and performers. Parallel-texts offer convenience, clarity, and readability for textual questions often difficult to quantify singly, including chronology, provenance, influence, and departures. Despite the establishment of Q-F parallel-text analysis, the technique has untapped potential as a dramaturgical tool: without the logistical difficulties of manual comparison, parallel-text analysis can be used to compare changes made in performance, will offer insight into structure, and may even be applied to multiple drafts of a single script, to root out chronology of changes. This paper demonstrates my constructive technique, and concludes with a brief set of examples to show the insight on text cutting, character analysis, doubling, staging, and design that such analysis can offer. This analysis is a comprehensive entry into the textual and structural questions arising from both classical, repeatable scripts and postmodern, devised works, in which dramaturgical detail may fluctuate through a creation process and benefit from progressive tracking. While this structural work is a possibility of the parallel-text system, this paper will focus on treatments of Shakespearean texts.




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