Confessions of an Annotation-Note Writer

Abstract

Writing commentary notes for an edition of Shakespeare (or indeed any other early modern author) is an art that has made considerable progress in recent years, as demonstrated brilliantly by the Folger Shakespeare Library editions edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine and by some other editions of recent note. Earlier practice, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries especially, tended to focus on historical information and translation of foreign phrases, along with one-word glosses that too often paid little or no attention to complex sentences and possible multiplicities of meaning. Stage directions, another crucial means of providing commentary on stage action or suggestions of location, were often inadequate in similar ways, or, conversely, too often asserted a single staging interpretation that left out equally viable options. The best exemplars of commentary annotation posit a wealth of accumulated wisdom achieved by careful reading and scholarship, teaching, and appreciation of the plays in live theater.