Editing Othello by Ren Draya

This essay on preparing an Oxfordian edition of Othello was first presented by Ren Draya, PhD, as part of a talk entitled “The Dramatist’s Knowledge of Music as Shown in Othello” at the Shakespeare Fellowship and Shakespeare Oxford Society 2009 joint annual conference in Houston, Texas.

Editing Othello
by Ren Draya, PhD

So, this business of editing Othello — well, I survived!  And the book is available from Llumina Press. How did it all start? Richard Whalen, a most persuasive and tenacious Oxfordian, asked me in the cafeteria of Concordia University in April 2005 if I’d be willing to tackle the project. Bedazzled by his Irish charm, I agreed. I had no idea it would stretch into a more than four-year-long endeavor.

Initially, I re-read the play, looked through all my files, and started collecting various editions of Othello. Editing an entire play involves three components:  working on the play text, writing an introductory essay, and preparing line notes.

Getting a copy of the play text on my computer simply meant a download from MOBY on June 9, 2005, which was done by the computer whiz at Blackburn College. Most of the work for this project was done in my very pleasant office at Blackburn College. As you might guess, teaching full-time or being committed to any full-time job, does not fit in well to a mammoth task such as editing a Shakespeare play. About 90-percent of my work was done during holiday times, occasional weekends, and the long summer breaks.

In that first summer, 2005, I spent a week at the British Library, happily requesting and reading dozens of articles and books on the play. (This was July 2005 – just two weeks before the bus and tube attacks blocks from my hotel.)

I wrote the first draft of the introduction in August 2005 and sent it off to Richard Whalen and Dan Wright. Richard became the main communicator — except that we discovered my Macintosh wasn’t always on speaking terms with his PC.  There were initial difficulties with the computers not communicating effectively (or at all) with each other. Because there was no common word-processing program, line numbers did not match up. With help from my students and professional technical advice, the problems were eventually resolved. I also received help from the college library staff, who sent for all sorts of material via inter-library loan from JStor.

I received emotional support from Dr. Michael Delahoyde, an Oxfordian buddy, who is editing the Oxfordian Antony and Cleopatra and who teaches at Washington State University. We teamed up and did presentations on both plays;  the sharing of ideas and encouragement definitely helped each of us during times of overwork and exasperation.

By the summer of 2006, I was polishing up the play text, word by word. I paid an English major to work with me and we checked every word and mark of punctuation. We made sure that spelling was consistent and, when necessary, modernized — for example, verbs ending in ‘d became ed. And I continued to work on the Introduction, extending the main points and compiling a bibliography.

By the summer of 2007, I tackled the line notes (Richard recommends doing this first). The task meant explaining obsolete terms and, especially, pointing out links to Oxford. For example, nautical phrases, details that showed knowledge of Venice and its government, characters and actions reminiscent of commedia dell’arte — all these congruencies are stressed in the line notes.

At various times, often squeezed in during the academic year, I hunted down articles that could be useful in the appendix, wrote for permission, and tried to make balanced decisions about what to include.

Many, many e-mails were exchanged between Whalen and myself. On July 19, 2008, I actually thought I was done. I circled the day on my desk calendar and whooped aloud. But, no — the manuscript was not truly done. Richard sent tactful (but clear and forceful) suggestions for changes, both in the Introduction and for certain line-notes. There were subjects he felt needed investigating. My fall semester of 2008 started up; it was a sabbatical semester, and I had a line-up of travels and projects ahead of me. So, in January 2009, I suggested to Whalen that he be listed as co-editor — there was simply not enough time for me, alone, to follow up on all of the research and investigations. He graciously agreed.  Throughout the spring of 2009, Richard and I madly sent electronic files back and forth. I spoke on the topic of music in Othello at the Concordia authorship conference in April.  Richard wrote about Oxford in Cyprus, and we decided to use both papers in the appendix to our Othello edition.

More adjustments, more re-writing followed.

By this past summer, we were able to send files to Dan Wright — co-editor with Richard Whalen of the entire Oxfordian project — and in October 2009 he declared the manuscript ready to be printed.

I have many feelings about this 4 1/2 year project!  Obviously, relief to be finished–and pride. I did not grow tired of the play; indeed, I have a list of details to investigate further. Most importantly, the work of editing Othello has completely affirmed my belief that Oxford is the rightful author. I note especially:

  • the fact that the dramatist had clearly read Cinthio’s original story, in Italian;
  • the fact of Oxford’s travels in Italy and his familiarity with Venice and (likely) Cyprus;
  • the characters and plot devices from Italian commedia dell’arte;
  • the many accurate nautical and military references, details which the man from Stratford was not privy to;
  • the congruencies to Oxford’s own life–the themes of pride and the importance of reputation; a husband suspicious of his young wife.  The more I delved into Othello, the more sure I felt of my Oxfordian beliefs.

My co-editor Richard Whalen and I hope that you will read the Oxfordian Othello, with its introductory essay and line notes and appendices. The book is out now and available from Llumina Press. We welcome your comments.

In finishing the project I have realized the importance of my topic: the dramatist’s knowledge of music. I believe that the plays’ sounds, aural imagery, metaphors utilizing music, and the inclusion of songs all provide compelling evidence that Edward deVere is Shakespeare.

Ren Draya, PhD, teaches English at Blackburn College, Carlinville, Illinois. The Oxfordian Shakespeare Series Othello is available from Llumina Press.

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