For the first time ever, Elizabethan Drama is presented with notes and commentary located immediately next to the text of the play. No longer does a reader have to search for a footnote on a different page or click on an icon to discover the meaning or interpretation of a word, line or speech. No longer must you jump around and continuously lose your place in the play. All the information you need is located as close and conveniently as possible, right next to the text.
Some conventions of the annotations: all glossed words and phrases are underlined; an ‘=’ sign in the annotation, located on the same line, leads to the definition, paraphrase, or explanation of the underlined text. If a whole line, or set of lines, is glossed, the specific line numbers are indicated. A line number with an f (e.g. 46f) means the note applies to the remainder of the speaker’s speech; a line number with ff (e.g. 46ff) mean the note applies to several succeeding exchanged lines of dialogue.
I have made great use of two sources in particular to help with the annotations: (1) the Oxford English Dictionary online edition, which captures the history and known nuances of every word ever used in the English language, and (2) David and Ben Crystal’s Shakespeare’s Words (London; New York: Penguin, 2002), which, if you plan to spend any time at all in your life reading Shakespeare, or any 17th century English literature, is indispensable. Shakespeare’s Words, of course, focuses on the vocabulary of Shakespeare’s plays; but Shakespeare’s language was the language of all the poets of the era, and so, if you are stumped by a word or phrase in a non-Shakespearean work, there is a good chance you will find it in this volume by the Crystals.
The 18th and early 19th century editors of collections of Elizabethan authors and drama engaged in a great deal of pre-computer and even pre-electricity work in annotating many of the old plays. These classically trained scholars were especially useful in identifying many of the obscure literary and proverbial allusions in the plays, as well as identifying conventions of Elizabethan life that are frequently referenced in the plays. I have borrowed liberally from their efforts, always of course giving credit when I did so.
There is a great deal of ambiguity in Elizabethan drama; individual words can convey multiple senses, often at the same time, sometimes deliberately, sometimes not; some cryptic speeches can be interpreted in more than one way. I generally have taken the riskier road of attempting to interpret unclear lines; as a result, I expect readers will disagree with some number of these glosses; many of them may be flat out incorrect. Where allusions or meanings are unclear, and I could find nothing in my research to help clarify such, I have said so. Anyone with interpretations and explanations that can correct or supplement my own are invited to email me.
If anything, I have tended to over-annotate. As one of the goals of this site is to introduce these plays to a new generation of readers, an intense level of explanation is provided for those who wish to engross themselves in learning to understand the language, nuances and references to the greatest degree possible within the confines of my format.
A final note on the much-discussed smuttiness of our ancient authors: a number of books and articles have been published, both in print and online, which obsess over how dirty our dramatists, and in particular Shakespeare, were. The annotators of Thomas Middleton’s plays (Taylor, Gary, and Lavagnino, John, Eds., Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works; Oxford University Press, 2007; very inexpensive, and highly recommended), for example, seem to be determined to squeeze out every single possible double-entendre and dirty meaning from these works that they can – and quite explicitly, at that.
I have chosen not to go hog-wild in attempting to identify every possible naughty meaning that I imagine seeing in the text; however, there are plenty of lines in which I think the intent to be suggestive is reasonably clear, and I identify them as such with a simple annotation, such as “suggestive”, “possibly suggestive”, or, if a little raunchier, “dirty”; the reasons for this are two-fold: for one thing, I intend this site to be “family-friendly”, and therefore see no need to be explicit: and secondly, if such references are of interest to you the reader, you should not need any further hints to figure them out.