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Notes on 'asides' in Elizabethan drama.

Having recently been startled to hear a well-known expert on Elizabethan drama venture the opinion that the dramatists of the time had no vocabulary for the stage action that modern editors call 'aside', I guess it may be worthwhile to draw attention to a range of instances. These not only indicate Elizabethan awareness of the practice in the theatre but also show the range of vocabulary that could be used in printed texts to describe it. In the examples cited below,(1) modernized versions (where they exist) invariably insert an 'aside' stage direction.

(1) Sometimes the existence of an aside is only indicated by what is said in the regular dialogue, describing an actual movement away from the person being spoken to, as in the following two instances:

Tourneur, The Revenger's Tragedy (1606; 1607/8, sig. B4v (Foakes, I.iii. 126f.):

Vindice. O my sister, my sister!

Lussurioso. Why dost walk aside?

Marlowe, The Jew of Malta (1589; 1633), sig. [H1.sup.v] (Bowers, IV.ii.47f.):

Ithamore. Now am I clean, or rather foully out of the way.

Bellamira. Whither so soon?

(2) More commonly we are alerted to the presence of an Aside by a stage direction. The wording used varies from text to text, and even inside single texts.

The Jew of Malta is, understandably, given the nature of its intrigue, full of asides, not all signalled, but with a fuller list than any other play of the period. Sometimes the stage effect is indicated by simply printing the phrase spoken aside in italic, as, for example, on sig. D1 (Bowers, I.ii.356), sig. H3 (IV.iii.29-30, sig. [H3.sup.v] (IV.iii.53). Sometimes the Italic print is reinforced by printing aside in the left-hand margin, as on sig. D4 (II.iii.52), [D4.sup.v] (II.iii.82), sig. E1 (II.iii.88-90, and II.iii.94), sig. [E2.sup.v] (II.iii.8-10), [G2.sup.v] (IV.i.47). But the commonest form in this text adds aside to a statement printed in roman, as on sig. [H4.sup.v] (6 examples from IV.iv.48 to 68), sig. [D4.sup.v] (3 examples from II.iii.60-7), [B3.sup.v] (I.i.52-3), etc. On two occasions, when Barabas' asides are directed to Abigail, the stage-direction reads aside to her (I.ii.359, 361).

See also:

Marston. The Malcontent (1604; 1604), sig. [D2.sup.v] (Hunter, II.iii.53):

Ferrardo. A most fine brain-trick.

Celso. (tacite) Of a most cunning knave.

sig. [D2.sup.v] (II.iii.75f.):

Mendoza. With me of much desert.

Celso. (tacite) Much!

Piero. Your silence answers Ay.

Anon., Wily Beguiled (1602; 1606) sig. [H1.sup.v] (MSR, line 1881): He speakes to him self.

Chapman, The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois (1610; 1613), sig. [H1.sup.v] (Lordi, IV.iv.12):

Henry. Well, take your will, sir, (Aversus) I'll have mine ere long.

Webster, The Devil's Law-Case (1617; 1623), sig. C4 (Lucas, II.i.138: This is spoke aside.

Heminges, The Jews Tragedy (1626; 1662) prints 'Apart' at sig. C3, [C3.sup.v], [Gs.sup.v], [G3.sup.v].

Anon., The Tragedy of Claudius Tiberius Nero (1607; 1607):

sig. [F1.sup.v]: Piso. It may be? Nay, that's sure. (speaking aside).

sig. M2: Tiberius: She's gone, and if I live thou shalt go after (Aside).

Heywood's The Four Prentices of London (1600; 1615) seems to have the most varied forms for stage directions to mark asides: We find 'Private' on [C2.sup.v], C3 (pp. 179, 180), 'Private to Himself' on sig. C2 (p. 179), 'in Private' on sig. F4 (p. 209), 'Apart' on sig. [D4.sup.v] and [G2.sup.v] (p. 192, 216), 'Apart to Himself' on sig. D2 (p. 187), 'Apart to his Own People' on sig. [D4.sup.v] (p. 193). The page numbers come from the Pearson Reprint, vol. I).

Yarrington, Two Lamentable Tragedies (1594; 1601), on sig. B1 and [B1.sup.v] (three instances) has To the People; on B2 it has just People. - it is worth remembering that Yarrington was a professional scribe.

(3) Percy Simpson's Shakespearian Punctuation (1911), 95f., discusses Ben Jonson's use of brackets to indicate asides. He cites the following:

Catiline (1611; 1611), sig. O00 1 (Herford and Simpson, III.130): - in this case the aside is not marked in the 1611 quarto, but only in the 1616 folio text.

Catiline. (I would withdraw with you a little, Julius.

Caesar. I'll come home to you; Crassus would not ha' you To speak to him 'fore Quintus Catulus.

Catiline. I apprehend you.) -

Catiline. sig. D3 (Herford and Simpson, II. 188):

Sempronia. Th'art a most happy wench that thus canst make Use of thy youth and freshness in the season, And hast it to make use of.

Fulvia. (Which is the happiness.)

Sejanus (1603; 1605) sig. K3 (Herford and Simpson, V.155ff.:

Macro. (That secret would have burnt his reverend mouth Had he not spit it out now:)

(4) The sixteenth-century Terence commentators note ad Spectatores at points where a modern editor might print Aside. Thus, for example, Barptolomaeus Latomus on Eunuchus 274 (p. 232, 'ad spectatores'), on 297 (p. 245, 'Parmeno admonet spectatorem'), on 418 (p. 253, 'ad spectatores Parmeno'), on 431 ('ad spectatores'), on 457 (p. 259, 'Ironia Parmenonis ad spectatores), and the gloss on 254 (p. 229, 'velut nunc Parmeno procul audiens Gnathonem loquitur'). The page numbers given here come from the Paris 1552 edition of P. Terentii Afri. . . Comoediae ('apud Ioannem de Roigny, in via Iacobaea, sub insigni quattuor Elementorum', but since the same commentaries were reprinted in one edition after another they can be found in many places. These Terence editions, designed for school use, tell us that any person who had passed thrugh grammar school was likely to have an acquaintance with the aside even if he had been given no generally agreed way of describing it.

G. K. HUNTER Yale University

1 The two dates given in the list refer to the year of performance and the year of first publication, as those are given in Alfred Harbage, Annals of English Drama (2nd edn, rev. Samuel Schoenbaum, 1964). The name given in brackets refers to the modern edition from which the lineation is cited.
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Title Annotation:stage action
Author:Hunter, G.K.
Publication:Notes and Queries
Date:Mar 1, 1997
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