Hard Choices: A REED Editor Battles House Style

By Nelson, Alan H. | Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England, Annual 2011 | Go to article overview

Hard Choices: A REED Editor Battles House Style


Nelson, Alan H., Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England


In 1990 I found myself locked in combat with a copy editor from Shakespeare Quarterly over the text of an article called "Women in the Audience of Cambridge Plays." (1) My typescript read thus: "Two years later, in 1615, [King] James paid a visit which was so successful that it prompted yet another visit in the same year." Wrong, said the copy editor, SQ uses the construction "visit that" rather than "visit which." In my mind's ear I heard my fourth-grade teacher's voice: "person who; thing which." For a human being, "who" or "whom"; for an inanimate object or an event, "which." Never, never "person that" or "thing that." Such a construction is only for people too stupid or too lazy to distinguish between human beings and things. The authority of my fourth-grade teacher was no match, however, for the authority of my copy editor, whose rules of engagement were simple and direct: "My way or the highway." I tried to explain my fourth-grade teacher's reasoning, and the hideousness of "a visit that was so successful that ..." When these arguments failed to work their magic I fell back on the claim of individual freedom and personal style. No dice.

This was not my first encounter with editorial tyranny, for I am a veteran editor of Records of Early English Drama (REED). (2) One of my early battles was over an index entry for the Yorkshire city of Hull. The entertainers from Hull who visited King's College, Cambridge, in 1536-7, naturally ended up in REED: Cambridge (1989). I therefore made an entry for "Hull" in my draft index. Wrong, said the editors, we don't list the city as "Hull" but as "Kingston upon Hull." Just a minute, says I, I've looked up Hull on maps, been to Hull, know people from Hull. I've never known a native who calls the city anything but Hull. British Rail has Hull on its maps, and its trains stop at a station with a sign identifying "Hull." The conductor calls out "Hull" in a full Yorkshire accent as the train approaches the station. As early as 1817 J. C. Craggs published his Guide to Hull for curious visitors. In 1980 Oxford University Press published an authoritative account by Edward Gillett and Kenneth A. MacMahon, titled A History of Hull. Ergo, the name of the city is Hull. No dice.

Since it was "My way or the highway," I had to agree to "Kingston upon Hull." The result? Say you want to look up "Hull" in REED: Cambridge. You naturally begin by consulting the index under "Hull." There you find "see Kingston upon Hull." You duly turn to "Kingston upon Hull" and are directed to page 734. There you find Kingston upon Hull in a discursive entry (not written by me) and are directed to "Patrons and Traveling Companies." There you find a single entry under Kingston upon Hull, which directs you to page 112, where you find:

  Item soluti mimis de Hull per manus Magistri Viceprepositi xijd

Your Latin being weak, you turn to "Translations":

  Likewise paid to performers from Hull by the agency of master
vice-provost 12 d

So you start with Hull, are directed to Kingston upon Hull, and when you finally get to your goal you are back in Hull.

In the course of my ineffectual protests I put the obvious question to the REED editorial staff: if the town was called Hull by Cambridge dons in 1536-37 and is still called Hull by all its residents and by Oxford University Press, isn't that good enough for REED? The answer: REED doesn't make up its own rules for place-names, but follows the lead of Eilert Ekwall, Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-names, published by Oxford University Press, most recently in 1981. (3)

I admit to seeing a certain logic in REED's house style. As REED is a long-term project which has published and will continue to publish numerous collections over many years, rules had to be laid down from the beginning. The alternative would have been to work out one set of rules for the first collection, which happens to have been York (1979): these rules would naturally derive from the peculiarities of York documents, and perhaps from the personal inclinations of the York editors. …

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