AYL: laying the textual groundwork

OK, so step one in the pre-production process: creating the text.

What, you say… you need to prep Shakespeare?

With As You Like It, it’s not as big a deal as with some other plays. The text is pretty straightforward. It’s first appearance was in the First Folio, 1623. So there’s no earlier version (for example, Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet have earlier Quarto editions). Here’s the process: I take the most easily captured electronic copy of the play… for me, that’s the Folger Digital Texts edition, which you can download in a number of formats (including PDF, HTML, XML, MS Word [with and without line numbers], and straight text). I take the MS Word (no line numbers) version and dump it into Google Docs–I’m a Chromebook kinda guy, what can I say.

Then I format the hell out of it, reflowing the prose passages (of which there is an absolute boatload… over 56%, the third most in the Canon, behind Much Ado–which has a whopping 77%–and Twelfth Night [63%]). Why do I do this? A couple of reasons, beyond my OCD: number one, I want to save space and paper (and thus printing costs for my producers and/or actors), so I tend to widen the margins of the prose sections; number two, I want to double-check to see if some of the shorter of the lines aren’t actually verse. Then I style line headers (speaker names) and stage directions (italicizing for readability and pushing exits over to the right margin). Yeah… I know. I could just copy and paste the damn thing and be done with it. But like I said: OCD.

Then I put a page break between each scene. Because OCD.

THEN the fun begins.

Preproduction text work
Preproduction text work

I take three other editions of the play: the original Folio (with its spellings and bizarre typesetting), the New Oxford edition, and the version I used when I first read the play for this Project–the Pelican edition–and I pore over each, making note of how they differ from the Folger text. Most are minor punctuation (which is suspect to begin with), but there are the occasional difference in wording.

Preproduction text work: punctuation
Preproduction text work: punctuation differences between the editions…I’ll decide which punctuation works best to convey the meaning of the speech and to help the actors understand the structure of the lines

My goal here is to compare what three different editors have done with the original Folio text (now if there was an earlier Quarto edition, I’d employ that, too…. and brother, THAT’s where you can find the most differences…but thankfully, that’s not the case with As You Like It).

This is where I am now. I’m just about through Act Two…and I’ve been at this for almost a week, off and on. It’s a pain in the ass, but it’s incredibly helpful.


Well, beyond the fact that I’m finding some interesting though minor differences, it’s allowing me to read the play, scene by scene, FOUR more times. I’m really getting to know these characters and the interactions pretty damned well, and with the read-throughs I’m catching things (and jokes) I didn’t see before. Plus, I’m beginning to see how my punctuation will differ slightly from any of the editions…I’ll do this to help the actors understand the structure of some of these pretty unwieldy sentences. It’s also allowing me to find words and phrases that I am going to want to replace in my final script…this will help me help the audience understand what is going on…and it helps me find some modern language jokes that I can insert…AND it helps me find some cases where I will change the speaker of a line or two.

Preproduction text work: speaker changes
Preproduction text work: speaker changes… I want to split up this speech between three characters to heighten the Jaques-bashing of Amiens and the two lords in their reportage to Duke Senior


Maybe not. But for me, I know I’d wake up in the middle of the night somewhere in the last weeks of rehearsal, wondering if I’d miss something (of course, I probably will anyway, but now at least I can tell myself I did everything possible).

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