The works of playwrights pushing their pens in Shakespearean times may struggle for attention in the 21st century – even though tales of sex, money, politics and death never age.
But now two Renaissance dramas produced by Shakespeare’s contemporaries, Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton, have been revived thanks to the efforts of Professor Joost Daalder from the English and Creative Writing discipline at Flinders University.
The original and updated plays – The Honest Whore, Part 1 (written in 1604 by Dekker and Middleton), and its sequel The Honest Whore, Part 2 (written in 1605 by Dekker alone) – have been released on a new free online website dedicated to Renaissance plays.
“I am delighted that digital publication enables readers to view both the early 17th century and my modernised versions online,” Professor Daalder said.
“I see Part 2 as Dekker’s finest play, now given a new lease of life and renewed vigour for centuries to come.”
The exhaustive makeover of these two plays has been a labour of love by the highly accomplished retired Flinders University Renaissance literature academic and publishing editor.
The project “offers a very scholarly and hugely comprehensive edition of two important Renaissance plays that clearly belong together,” Professor Daalder said.
“Part 2, in particular, had received very little attention so far, yet it continues the narrative and presentation of themes set in motion in Part 1.”
The two plays focus on the ordeal of ‘the honest (or decent) whore’, Bellafront. She decides to abandon prostitution in the course of Part 1, but is treated with contempt until she eventually is triumphant at the end of Part 2.
“Issues of gender are quite prominent in both plays and treated intelligently by Dekker in a way modern readers and audiences will find interesting,” he said.
“It is also high time that both plays get acted out on stage in full, and I hope that my work will facilitate that outcome.”
The peer-reviewed editions of the two plays were launched, along with an edition by Eleanor Lowe of Chapman’s An Humorous Day’s Mirth, at the Shakespeare Association of America’s 43rd meeting in Vancouver last month (4 April 2015).
The online publication of the three plays has kickstarted an innovative series of plays now available for free on the open access Digital Renaissance Editions website.
Veteran stage actors Vanessa Redgrave and Mark Rylance are patrons of the series which will help preserve and revive Renaissance literature (1530-1660).
The digital format has allowed Professor Daalder to offer a degree of thoroughness impossible to achieve in books – including modernised spelling and punctuation, much-needed stage directions, along with explanatory notes on difficult words and passages in the original text.
“In no commercial hard copy publication would one be able to publish the original versions of plays along with one’s own text, including a lengthy introduction to both plays, and corrects the many printing errors which occur in books produced circa 1600,” he said.
“The new online series is almost certain to become the leading one for publications of editions of Renaissance drama ‘outside Shakespeare’ – a field in which interest is growing and more and more work is getting published,” Professor Daalder said.
Professor Daalder, who taught at Flinders for 25 years, describes the project as the most ambitious of his career as a publishing editor, acknowledging the support of coordinating editor, the distinguished Australian scholar Brett D. Hirsch.
Along with several scholarly editions and research papers on both Renaissance dramatists (including Shakespeare) and poets, his edition of the Middleton and William Rowley play, The Changeling (first published in 1990), has been reprinted ten times in Britain and the United States.
His publications have been accessed more than 95,000 times in the past four years via the Flinders Academic Commons portal.
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