The Lady of May: a Case Study in the Rhetoric of Electronic Text
Risa S. Bear
Arts And Administration
University of Oregon
AbstractThis paper examines the history of the print editions and the online edition of Philip Sidney's early pageant known as "The Lady of May." Electronic image scans of pages from print editions are iconically compared with the same text as typed into a computer and as coded in increasingly complex HTML code, culminating in an interactive presentation with online helps. This examination will seek an answer to the following question: Will traditional book arts continue to influence text design in the online world?Suzi Gablik in The Reenchantment of Art (5) reminds us that for some time now the focus of art has been on the individual acting alone, defying the gods, defying society. Even the reaction to this ethos in what has been called postmodernism retains this disconnectedness, or rather extends it, by proposing nihilism, the death that is final because it is individual death, denying to society the locus of what is to be called life (40). In literature this disconnectedness has been possible only through cognitive dissonance, for every act of publication is an act of making public, of making to the world the gift of the textual object, and publication has generally been a team effort in any case, as it is a complex maneuver: author, editor, publisher, designer, printer and distributor have all been required. The Internet seems to offer a new field for the play of individualism in publication, yet it is the most communal medium (Leppert 7) yet devised, as the give-and- take of communication between authors and readers becomes what is known as a "thread" or single intertwining strand of textuality. Where there is community, there is tradition, that glue of temporally conditioned expectations by which the community maintains itself through the present into the future. Traditions in text design are migrating from other media to the Internet. This paper will examine the possibility that tradition will continue to influence design in the new medium, helping to orient readers to the text at hand.
Keywords: Etext, HTML, Internet, Markup, World Wide Web, Design
Among the many texts appearing online are those which have appeared before in print and hold enough attraction for generations of readers to have become what are called classics. As the Internet grows, questions arise as to how best to represent classic texts online. Some, of whom Michael Hart of Project Gutenberg (Neuman, 365) is the best known, have advocated using "pure vanilla" ASCII code, the lowest common denominator of text encoding, so that no one need be left behind while those having more buying power move on to more expensive and complex systems. Others feel no effort should be spared in marking up texts for research, which may require a more sophisticated technology to use, but offers the best chance of producing new knowledge. In the forefront of this movement are the proponents of TEI, the Text Encoding Initiative (Neuman, 367). TEI is an implementation of the capabilities of the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML), a coding scheme that permits in-depth analysis of the parts of a text. SGML is currently the best approach for providing scholarly electronic editions to those few scholars doing computer-based analyses of texts, but it is ill suited to the production of popular editions. Fortunately, there is a middle way between these extremes, offering much of the simplicity of ASCII with a glimpse of the power of SGML: HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language). HTML is a subset of SGML designed for transportation of hyperlinked documents, graphics, sound files, and motion pictures via a network such as the Internet. Users who have never otherwise attempted computer programming have discovered the ease of working in HTML. There are now more than fifty million Web-accessible documents (HotBot), of which over five thousand are classic texts traditionally presented in codex book form, ranging from Homer's Odyssey to James Joyce's Ulysses (Ockerbloom).
With software of a new type called a web browser, one can now consult a rapidly expanding library of texts in ways not possible previously. A text-only browser such as LYNX, when combined with speech software, can read online text to a visually impaired user. Browsers have search capability, so that each instance of a given word or phrase in a given work may be located and studied in context; every online edition is thus also a concordance. Selected portions of longer works in the public domain such as an act of "Hamlet" or chapter of Lord Jim can easily be downloaded, reformatted, printed out and used in class packets. Thus, although text read from a monitor is not as legible as from paper, electronic text is useful enough to drive a movement to provide such access. As noted above, however, there is disagreement on how to do this.
At Cornell University, the Library of Congress, and elsewhere (McClung), experiments are going forward in presenting the original pages of classic print editions in electronic facsimile, much as has been done through microfilm technology. Such images may contain visual information, such as marginalia in the handwriting of previous owners of the scanned print copy, which cannot be effectively presented by SGML or HTML, but have their own drawbacks. A single page scan takes from ten to a hundred times as much memory as stored text, and is accordingly slow to transport over a network. Also, an image does not easily support text searches, though dual editions are planned that will do so. For the time being, then, for networked access, SGML offers the best choice for a scholarly edition, ASCII is still suitable for a popular edition, and HTML, with its increasingly diverse options for presentation design, offers a solution for teaching editions.
At the University of Oregon I am experimenting with design of etexts suitable for teaching use. They are of varying length and complexity, from Philip Sidney's pageant known as "The Lady of May" (Sidney) to Edmund Spenser's epic Faerie Queene (Spenser). As techniques become available, they are tested first on shorter works, and then, if proven useful, applied to longer ones. "The Lady of May" is a handy test bed. In effect a one-act play, it contains a variety of design elements. It also interests students of literature and history, as it contains decent poetry and was performed before Queen Elizabeth I, whose presence was material to the progress of its plot.
"The Lady of May," performed in 1578, would perhaps have been lost to posterity but for the fame of its young author, killed at Zutphen in 1586. Interest in his writings remained strong throughout the 1590's, and a version of the pageant was accordingly appended to the 1598 edition of the Arcadia. A facsimile of the first page (figure 1) shows the style of printing of the time (Colaianne 570). The iconographic conventions of the page are, despite the intervening centuries, largely familiar to us and would also have been familiar to medieval scribes. The header or title is long by our standards but presents the sixteenth century compositor with an opportunity to set centered lines of descending type size and length, a usually pleasing effect harking back to manuscript book design. Also of venerable origin is the ornate initial letter at the head of the main matter of the text. Some of the conventions have been abandoned in the centuries since: here, "j" is not yet in general use, and is still represented with "i", use of "u" for "v" within words, or use of "v" for "u" at the beginning of words, is still common. Spelling is richly variable: "reape," "sweete," "formallie." Note also the convention of printing verse in italic. Throughout much of the history of text, as here, economics does battle with legibility for the upper hand in design: for legibility, white paper and black ink serve to produce sufficient contrast to distinguish type easily, and type design has improved over the black letter ("gothic" type) in common use a few decades earlier. On the other hand, economics has led to the use of smaller type sizes (figure 1 is reduced from a large folio page, but even for a folio the types are relatively small) than formerly, and little white space is left between the blocks of text. The wide margins (not shown) are a product more of technological than aesthetic considerations: the presses could not produce more than four folio pages per impression, so these had to be grouped together in a rectangular pattern near the center of the sheet to facilitate consistent printing from the available hand-operated platen lever. When folded and sewn, the folios show a text-page closer to the gutter than to the outside of the page, and closer to the top than to the bottom. Over the years, as printing technology has changed from hand platen presses to mechanically driven rotary presses and on to photo-offset lithography, the technical requirement for traditional page placement has been rendered obsolete, yet the tradition itself has force and non-traditional designs, while offering a momentary exhilaration of freedom, generally have become quickly dated, while the old standard page remains. This may be due to what George Landow calls the "rhetoric of arrival" and the "rhetoric of departure" (82). Communication depends for success on the relative absence of elements that have little or nothing to do with the idea to be communicated; standardization of textual elements, from grammar and style to the use of titles, headings, running heads, and folio numbers is intended to reduce the energy expended by the reader in extracting information from the page (Carlson 62). Serious deviations from tradition pose problems for the reader. Our text in figure 1 is four centuries old, yet we know our way around in it; it is familiar territory and we know where to enter and where to exit.
Figure 2 shows the opening page of "The Lady of May" in a copy of The/Miscellaneous Works/of Sir Philip Sidney, knt./With A life of the Author and Illustrative Notes/By William Gray, Esq./Of Magdalen College, and the Inner Temple, dated 1860 (Gray, 265). The rhetoric of scholarship in the nineteenth century frequently called for florid titles and titled editors. Editing required editing; the effects of Mr. Gray's heavy hand can be seen throughout. Note the updated spelling on the page and the changed punctuation, especially the exclamation points. The passage used in the Renaissance for a title has been dropped into an introductory note in six-point type, and a new title, which has come into usage in the intervening years, is offered without explanation. The archaism of the piece is marked by its being given an ornate dropped initial, as before, and a headpiece, a device which was used in Sidney's time though the folio edition of our text lacks one. The editor seeks throughout to locate and isolate the narrator's voice in small type, giving to the text more of the conventions of a play-book than its original warrants. These changes might loom large in the mind of an editor, but to the average reader, not much has happened to the text. Page design basics have not really been tampered with. The compositor in the shop which produced this artifact lived by much the same rules as those who produced the 1598 edition.The technology also remains relatively little changed after 262 years: the book is laboriously composed in hand-set types as before, though the press is probably a rotary press powered by steam, using stereotype plates produced from the galleys of type, an economical advance in book production.
Figure 3 shows a Cambridge University Press edition from 1962 (Feuillerat); 102 more years have passed, and editorial conventions have changed, albeit very slowly. This is actually the Feuillerat edition of 1912. The publishers caution that he had not the best copy texts or manuscripts available, yet reprint his assertion that "the text is reproduced without any deviations from the originals in the matter of spelling or punctuation." The page before us shows that much of the spelling and punctuation has in fact been restored, though the sixteenth century usage of "u" for "v" within words, "v" for "u" at the beginnings of words, and of "i" for "j" throughout, have not. Feuillerat is uncomfortable with the late title of "The Lady of May" but evidently feels it must be included, and so it appears here within square brackets, and as a running head. This shows that by 1912 the instability of text (McGann 182) has been noted, and editorial practices instituted to stem the flow of blood, so to speak. The first three lines of the Renaissance "title" have been restored, centered, in descending type sizes, perhaps as a bit of archaism to set the mood, but the rest have been moved into page-width justified text, as if they were the beginning of the main matter. The main matter is still signified, however, by the use of a dropped initial--no longer ornate, but simply a larger type size of the same font. Gone is the headpiece, and the entire design has been constructed from a single typeface in various sizes depending upon usage. Although it does not show here, this is a scholarly edition in that variants have been recorded; they are appended at the end, by page number and by line number on the page.
The printing technology in use here is offset lithography, albeit from plates photographed from the edition of 1912, which was composed on the Monotype machine, with titles set by hand, and printed by letterpress from stereotypes as in 1860. That they have reprinted, with only their own preface and a bit of his, the entire 1912 edition is a sign that the overall book plan, page design, and type style are deemed adequate for a new printing after fifty years! The agreements on arrivals and departures made centuries ago between those responsible for producing texts and those who read them still hold true, even as lithography makes possible complete freedom in page design.
Lithography gives a blacker, more uniform letter, and is the technology of choice for conversion by scanning; Figure 3 yields a more legible image than Figure 2, and would produce fewer errors for OCR (Optical Character Recognition) scanning. Lithographic printing arrived in time to facilitate the wholesale conversion of canonical works into electronic texts and enable the use of new computer technology in humanities research. But just as technology has made conversion possible without the labor of retyping, so that new editions could be prepared whenever new scholarship became available, the very text pages that would support such conversion are frequently unavailable for this use, because they are still under copyright. Copyright, or text ownership, depends on when (and where) the text in question was authored: in the United States, if it was published, the copyright expires 75 years from the date of publication (if the copyright has been renewed) if authored before 1978. If authored after January 1, 1978, the author-owned copyright will last the life of the author, plus 50 years, or if owned by a publisher, 75 years from the date of publication, or 100 years from the date of creation, whichever comes first (Benedict). Nineteenth century editions are very unlikely to have copyright problems, and for this reason are frequently found among the conversions that have appeared on the Web, like the Jowett translations of Plato (Ockerbloom). If you wish to work from editions earlier than the nineteenth century, OCR becomes inefficient due to the older typefaces, irregularities in printing and stains on pages, etc. It may be necessary to type. This is the method used in converting "The Lady of May."
Figure 4 shows the first of my efforts to introduce "The Lady of May" to the computer age. This etext edition, produced in 1993 as a term paper for Dr. Lyell Asher at the University of Oregon, derives from the British Museum copy (Catalogue # C.39.h.8) of the 1605 edition of the Arcadia, pps. 570-576. Long "s" has been modernized, largely because it is unavailable for ASCII anyway (!!), and catchwords and marginalia have been removed. Sixteenth/seventeenth century usage of "i" for "j" and of "u" and "v" has been retained, along with the original spelling. A few errors have been emended within brackets. Many italics, such as those used for proper names, have been omitted. Endnotes are indicated within braces. These are editorial decisions that are relatively little influenced by the medium at this point, because this is not a hypertext edition, nor is it in one of the formats determined by the visual iconography of desktop publishing, such as TEX or Postscript. This is Michael Hart's "pure vanilla ASCII," the basic character set devised originally for the 8-bit computers of the 1960's and 1970's. Aesthetically speaking, this is a bit of a step backward. Depending on the monitor available (mine had yellow characters on a black background) the viewer would see generally eighty columns by twenty-four lines of a fixed width font resembling Courier. Visually, the text of figure 4 is not at all as attractive as the print editions of the previous three hundred ninety five years. Yet it represents a significant advance. Anyone can now take up a floppy disk containing the file "may.txt" and do a wide variety of things with it. Even the simplest word processors can do word counts, character counts, and what are called "string searches," in which a set of characters can be located successively in each of the contexts in which it occurs. This was the primary use envisioned by the creator of the original etext, Roberto Busa, working in the 1950's on St. Thomas Aquinas (Raben 343). Concordancing and linguistic software can do even more, and the file can also be converted into practically any format that has been or is yet to be invented, including typesetting for paper book production.
"May.txt" was not typed from the edition of 1860, as that edition seemed to me to have taken too many liberties with the text. Nor was it typed from the edition of 1598, partly because I was unaware, through faulty scholarship (!!), of its existence, and partly because it was unavailable to me at the time anyway; the 1605 edition was available on microfilm, and I worked directly from photocopies. It was impossible for me to produce a truly scholarly edition, as I had no resources for comparing early editions, let alone copy-texts, on my own; others had done this, and will continue to do this, better than I. I felt that I had two new contributions to make: that I could competently produce a contemporary introduction to the text, exploring rhetorical issues raised by the work of the "new historicists," and that I could produce an electronic edition which, while it might never be the best text, would be one of the earliest Renaissance English works to appear in the new medium, useful to students all over the world who might not otherwise have access to it in paper form. I believe those aims were achieved, as I have received electronic mail from students (and scholars!) in many countries who seem glad to have had access to this and some fifteen other texts (Bear) that I have similarly produced.
Not everyone is happy to see texts like "may.txt" appear on the Internet. Periodically a thread of heated discussion erupts in online seminars such as HUMANIST or SHAKSPER as to whether such texts are "useful" editions. The gist of the academic community's objections is that effort should be expended primarily on work produced in circumstances like those of peer-review in academic journals, i.e. on "authorized" editions for which they themselves will do the authorizing, the primary use of which will be for scholarly analysis. Even granting this authority, however, will not prevent the appearance of editions aimed at being read, and as a wider readership tends to require a more accessible text, this is where design comes into its own.
"May.txt" actually is constructed a bit like an MLA-style term paper, with a general title, note on the text, introduction, text, notes, and bibliography, in sequential order. As it is an electronic text, it is searchable, downloadable, printable, and readable, but its readability (with the exception of its being readable by speech software for the vision-impaired) is its weakness. Scrolls were replaced by codex books, beginning about AD 400 (Manguel 127), at least in part because they were accessible only sequentially. Codex books permit random access, so that a reader may readily consult a particular passage. The text must be made more accessible and attractive.
The advent of the World Wide Web presented new iconic possibilities for those who seek to produce readers' and teaching editions. This was not immediately so (McLaurin). HTML was originally devised with only one graphic design model in mind, that of the text outline with nested levels of headers, which is the model most familiar to the creators of software manuals. An outline is easily converted into a concept map and vice versa, as it is a hierarchical and sequential linking of concepts. Thus, a visual flowchart of elements could be reduced to a pre-organized verbal model for teaching new users to master a program. This is a powerful paradigm for information transmission among the hard and social sciences, as the iconic "page" that appears onscreen conveys an impression of a single culture united in a belief in causation. (Where there is causation, investigation is possible and results may be tested.) But users were not satisfied with a Web consisting of an infinity of links between black-on-gray "outlines." Images, which the author of HTML envisioned would be mostly photographs and charts exchanged among scientists across the variety of computing platforms in use, began immediately to be used as design and even typographic elements. Sensing an opportunity, Netscape Corporation (Netscape) in 1994 leaped ahead of the committees that had been entrusted with the development of HTML protocols, and introduced codes for, among other things, centering of text and font sizing. Web page designers seized upon the "unauthorized" codes immediately, and "unauthorized" texts of classic works began, within months, to clothe themselves in the graphic elements of traditional book arts, acquiring the rhetoric of those arts without, so to speak, having to pay the dues thereof. Combined with the hypertextual powers of HTML, the new design elements created a workable tool for re-presenting texts in an entertaining and informative telecommunications environment that rapidly gained popularity (Ockerbloom).
Figure 5 shows how the "The Lady of May" responded to the early design opportunities of HTML. A list of links, or a kind of interactive table of contents, whisks the reader to the text-matter of choice: introduction or main matter or notes or bibliography. Notation no longer merely refers to notes, but puts the note onscreen. A click of the "back" button returns the reader to the context in which the notation appeared. Typographic design is now possible, and the ritualistic richness of the Elizabethan title is restored in full. The earliest version of this file accepted the default background color of the browser (usually gray); it now specifies white (hexadecimal "#ffffff"), as do many other "books" in cyberspace (Project Bartleby). Margins also have been restored, in imitation of the white space around the text that had been dictated by printing technology in the days of hand-operated presses. As a subtle clue that this is a text transcribed by R.S. Bear, there are additional visual effects, common to all the classics I have published: "links" and "visited links" are not Netscape's default blue and purple, but brown and green, and notes appear in a dark blue text color, to differentiate them from the black of the main matter.
As HTML has evolved, more and more formatting control has gone to the information provider, with mixed results. Many, new to the idea of access to publication design, have based their documents on print advertising and television commercials, the design of which reflect millions of dollars spent on research into capturing attention. "Pages" have gaudy graphics, with blinking text, animated GIF's (Graphic Interface Format), tiled background images, banners, and clashing text colors, often masking the absence of significant content. At the other extreme are government documents containing millions of characters, with no more structure than numbered chapters, sections, and paragraphs, all on the same gray background. Those working with classic texts, however, tend to be aware of the rhetorical power of traditional book design, and their ideas on the use of HTML to translate this power to the Web are convergent. While I do not have space here to demonstrate this assertion exhaustively, I suggest that the reader examine a few texts accessible from the Books Online Page (Ockerbloom); Project Bartleby (Project Bartleby) of the University of Columbia is a particularly fine instance. Or see an egregiously obvious instance: Milton against a background of a right-hand book page, with the actual gutter at far left (Milton Project)!
Traditional page design is still authoritative because of its familiarity. The reader, reassured as to the points of arrival and departure, is free to concentrate on the matter being communicated. There are, however, other traditional models besides those we have considered up to this point, and some of these might be worth examining as we consider the future of etext. Elements of HTML not previously available will make it possible for notes and glosses to pop up onscreen when their key, or referent, is clicked (as a hypertext link). It is already possible to foreshadow this technique by using "frames"--more than one window opened by the browser at one time. Figure 6 shows one way in which traditional design and frames can be brought together to create a teaching edition, with an interactive sidebar. In figure 6 we are at the point of arrival. Both the page title and the HTML header proclaim that centuries-old "title" of the piece not found in the original, orienting the modern reader upon arrival. The paragraphs following the header explain how to use the notes, introduction, and bibliography, as well as making available a non-frames version of the text, for access from older browsers. I have retained white as the background color of the main matter, along with the brown and green links, but the Notes window has a tan/ivory background and a (very) dark blue text color, to distinguish it easily from the main matter.
Much of the information once found at the head of the file, including text source and acknowledgements, I have moved into the note that appears when the text is first accessed. Other information, including links to my home page and to the Edmund Spenser Home Page, the gateways to "The Lady of May," I have moved to the bottom of the file in the main (left) window, as newly arriving readers are apt to click on these, leaving the frames environment abruptly and becoming disoriented. The aim here is to make a variety of reading and study strategies available to the reader without unduly distracting from the narrative continuity of the text, an aim that echoes that of the modern pedagogical codex textbook.
Figure 6 serves as our point of departure from this present narrative, presenting an edition of "The Lady of May" separated by four centuries of technology and editorship from the first edition, yet retaining an iconic likeness that is not accidental. The rhetoric of arrival, of presence within a text, and of departure still follows an ancient law: that of conservation of energy. In social behavior, such conservation is known by the name of tradition, and we are not unwise when we pack our traditions with our other belongings when seeking out new lands.
1. Prometheus, the popular symbol of the artist working alone, steals fire from the gods and is punished, but this theft is undertaken on behalf of his people, and is a social act.
2. May.txt permits this also, but as members of my audience at two lectures on the Internet which I gave for the Oregon Humanities Center in the early nineties assured me, many potential readers will be put off by the steepness of the learning curve in becoming comfortable with their software's capabilities. They will tend to "page down" interminably through the Introduction (which is as long as the text itself!), thinking all the while that the only way to read this pageant is to get a copy from the library and curl up with it in front of a fire.
3. I am aware that there is no inherent virtue in "samizdat" publishing of classic liturature; my own first outing, probably still available in a few places as "ballads.txt," was a disaster of poor proofreading, and I was rightly taken to task in a number of postings to scholarly lists for releasing it in such condition. With freedom comes responsibility, and the publisher must rise to the occasion or leave well enough alone!
4. These changes were suggested by beta testers of the file, who responded to a request for participation posted on three Internet discussion groups (also known, somewhat inaccurately, as "listservs"): RENAIS-L, SPENSER-L, and HUMANIST. Several of the responses are reproduced below:To: [email protected]
Subject: Lady of May
I thought that it worked very well. Perhaps a little bit of instruction in
the initial notes column might make it easier to use, but this might
only be relevant to "cold-calls" on the internet and not affect use by
your students. One design suggestion: display the notes in a smaller
font. One usability suggestion: provide a consolidated notes file in
case students want to download or print the notes (this may be contrary
to your goals in the project). As far as using HTML rather than TEI
SGML, an SGML purist might look down their nose, but if you ever
need the functionality of TEI SGML, it shouldn't be much problem to
convert if you've done things well in HTML. Please let me (or the
whole list) know how this feedback request worked for you. I've made
a synopsis of the five major gospels and might ask for quick reviews in
a similar manner.
To: [email protected]
Subject: Lady of May/presentation of texts
I've visited your site and feel that this is precisely the kind of material
that need to be put up on the Web. From a design point of view
though, I would say that you need some kind of visual differentiation
between links targeting the "Notes" frame, and links to "unframed"
pages. (I DO think that your use of the Notes frame to contain concise
supplementary material is very intelligent.) It is a bit disconcerting to
click on the first four links: R.S. Bear, University of Oregon,
Introduction and Bibliography, and be whisked completely out of the
frames environment back to the single page. Solutions?: Target
these links to load in the main text frame or (gulp) create a third
frame containing the introductory material with its links to unframed
pages. The former is probably preferable given most people's visceral
reaction against a multiplicity of frames. (Isn't Netscape's frames
version of its homepage the worst implementation of frames you
To: [email protected]
Subject: Lady of May
Dear Risa -
Saw the announcement of Lady of May (your framed version) on
Humanist. Terrific - frames are the way to go! But am curious... you talk
about comparing print versions; I didn't see that; I presume it is
still to come; and will there be two frames with each text version.
Wouldn't three columns crowd the screen too much and hamper
reading? Good work.
To: [email protected]
Subject: Page Design
I found the page design to be a very useful adaptation of hypertext
design within the limitations of current html standard. In the near
future, Windows type help (popups and jumps) will be introduced
to Web pages but for now, your design provides for the
integration of notes and text.
To: [email protected]
Subject: Lady of May
As I recall, you wanted feedback on the site, so this: the text of
The Lady of May is beautifully done, but I see no reason at all for
the frames, which just sit there occupying almost half the screen.
As it stands, the side frames just disrupt the visual pleasure of the
screen. The version without frames is much nicer. In short, frames
are amusing gadgets and sometimes useful, but I don't see a
justification for them on your site.
(This one failed to discover the linkage between the textual keys and the notes. That is an important clue; and I plan further clarification in the header to prevent this problem.)
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Sidney, Sir Philip (1598, 1996). The lady of may. [Online]. Available: http://www.luminarium.org/renascence-editions/may.html. Frames version: http://www.luminarium.org/renascence-editions/may/mayframe.html.
Spenser, Edmund (1596, 1995). The faerie queene. [Online]. Available: http://www.luminarium.org/renascence-editions/fqintro.html.
This paper was authored and hand-coded with BBEdit Lite by R.S. Bear at the University of Oregon, November 28, 1996.