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Short Assignment: editing a passage

The assignment | Submission | Format | An example

The assignment

For this assignment, you will be given a passage of 30-40 lines from King John to edit. Students will each work with a different passage.

The passage will be in the original spelling: you will modernize the punctuation and spelling, and create notes on the text that are designed to help a first-year student at UVic understand the passage. Your notes will be of two kinds: a "gloss," where necessary, that provides a simple explanation for a word or phrase; and a full note that goes further into a discussion of the language or the function of the section being explained in the play as a whole.

You may consult other editions of the play, but in addition you are expected to work with several online resources that will allow you to learn about the language in detail:

All these resources are available through the Humanities databases in the MacPherson Library. We will explore these resources in class so you are familiar both with the usefulness of each, and how to access them.

I have placed three advanced-level editions of the play on reserve for you to use and emulate:

  1. Shakespeare, William. King John. Arden II. Ed. E. A. J. Honigmann. London: Methuen, 1954. PR2818 A6H6 1954.
  2. Shakespeare, William. The Life and Death of King John. Ed. A.R. Braunmuller. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989. PR2818 A2B7.
  3. Shakespeare, William. King John. New Cambridge Shakespeare. Ed. L.A. Beaurline. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990. PR2818 A2B4 1990.


All assignments must be submitted electronically to my email (mbest1@uvic.ca). Please avoid the footnote feature in your word processor. Word files, or plain text files are preferred.


An example

This example is from Much Ado About Nothing.

Monica Murphy

ENGL 366C, F01

Much Ado About Nothing

from Act II, Scene 1

Original text from the 1st Quarto:

2.1.219-46, TLN: 639-75

  Pedro The ladie Beatrice hath a quarrell to you, the Gen-
tleman that daunst with her, told her shee is much wrongd by [640]
  Bened. O shee misusde me past the indurance of a blocke:
an oake but with one grene leafe on it, would haue answered
her: my very visor beganne to assume life, and scold with her:
she tolde me, not thinking I had beene my selfe, that I was the
Princes iester, that I was duller than a great thawe, huddleing
iest vpon iest, with such impossible conuieance vpon me, that
I stoode like a man at a marke, with a whole army shooting
at me: she speakes poynyards, and euery word stabbes: if her
breath were as terrible as her terminations, there were no liu- [650]
ing neere her, shee would infect to the north starre: I woulde
not marry her, though shee were indowed with al that Adam
had left him before he transgresst, she would haue made Her-
cules haue turnd spit, yea, and haue cleft his club to make the
fire too: come, talke not of her, you shall find her the infernall
Ate in good apparell, I would to God some scholler woulde
coniure her, for certainely, while she is heere, a man may liue
as quiet in hell, as in a sanctuarie, and people sinne vpon pur-
pose, because they would goe thither, so indeede all disquiet, [660]
horrour, and perturbation followes her.

Enter Claudio and Beatrice.

  Pedro Looke heere she comes.
  Benedicke Will your grace command me any seruice to the
worldes end? I will go on the slightest arrand now to the An-
typodes that you can deuise to send mee on: I will fetch you a
tooth-picker now from the furthest inch of Asia: bring you
the length of Prester Iohns foot: fetch you a haire off the great
Chams beard: doe you any embassage to the Pigmies, rather [670]
than holde three words conference, with this harpy, you haue
no imployment for me?
  Pedro None, but to desire your good company.
  Benedicke O God sir, heeres a dish I loue not, I cannot in-
dure my Ladie Tongue.   exit.

Modernized version and notes


Pedro: The lady Beatrice hath a quarrel to you; the gentleman that danced with her

told her she is much wronged by you. [220]

Bene: O, she misused me past the endurance of a block!

An oak but with one green leaf on it would have answered her;

my very visor began to assume life, and scold with her.

She told me - not thinking I had been myself -

that I was the Prince's jester, that I was duller than a great thaw, [225]

huddling jest upon jest, with such impossible conveyance upon me,

that I stood like a man at a mark, with a whole army shooting at me.

She speaks poniards, and every word stabs;

if her breath were as terrible as her terminations,

there were no living near her - she would infect to the North Star. [230]

I would not marry her, though she were endowed with all

that Adam had left him before he transgressed.

She would have made Hercules have turned spit,

yea, and have cleft his club to make the fire too.

-- Come, talk not of her! -- [235]

You shall find her the infernal Ate in good apparel.

I would to God some scholar would conjure her,

for certainly, while she is here, a man may live as quite in Hell, as in a sanctuary,

and people sin upon purpose, because they would go thither;

so, indeed, all disquiet, horror, and perturbation follow her. [240]

Pedro: Look, here she comes.

Bene: Will your grace command me any service to the world's end?

I will go on the slightest errand to the Antipodes that you can devise to send me on;

I will fetch you a tooth-picker now from the furthest inch of Asia;

bring you the length of Prester John's foot; [245]

fetch you a hair off the great Cham's beard;

do you any embassage to the Pigmies,

rather than hold three words conference with this harpy!

-- You have no employment for me?

Pedro: None, but to desire your good company. [250]

Bene: O God, sir, here's a dish I love not: I cannot endure my Lady Tongue!


221. misused] verbally abused, insulted

222-3. An oak...and scold with her] A dying oak or Benedict's costume mask could have answered Beatrice better than he did. Beatrice generally gets the better of Benedict in public battles of wit, leaving him to make up for it by fuming eloquently in private.

225. duller than a great thaw] In the spring of Shakespeare's time, melting snow made it nearly impossible to travel, forcing people to stay at home in boredom (Arden Shakespeare).

226. huddling] "heaping together confusedly" together (Concise O.E.D.).

conveyance] "a means of transport; a vehicle" (Concise O.E.D.). In modern usage, the object conveyed is usually a physical entity such as money or raw materials. In Shakespeare's time conveyance had a broader meaning to include, for example, transmission of song - "harmony so distinguisht by the ...changeable conveyance of the song" (Campion, Thomas. A maske presented in honour of the Lord Hay's marriage. 1607), or revenge - "my reuenge will haue a more neate and vnexpected conueyance..." (Dekker, Thomas, ca. 1572-1632 / Webster, John, 1580?-1625?. North-ward hoe: Sundry times Acted by the Children of Paules. V.i, 1607). Here, "impossible conveyance" is extraordinary delivery, either in speed or dexterity.

227. at a mark] at a target; a man would stand near the target to tell the archers how close their arrows landed to the bull's eye (Arden).

228. poniards] daggers

229. terminations] words, expressions

230. North Star] The star most nearly in line with the earth's axis of rotation. It is now (and was in Shakespeare's time) Polaris, and is within a degree of the axis.

232. Adam...transgressed] According to Biblical teaching, Adam was endowed with immortality and perfect happiness before he disobeyed God. As a consequence of his disobedience he and all of humanity became subject to death, disease, and misery (Genesis 2, 3).

233-234. Hercules...make the fire too] Hercules, or "Herakles" as he was called in Greek, was the son of Zeus and Alcmene. He was the greatest hero of the Classical world, but was subject to fits of rage which were instigated by Hera, Zeus' jealous wife. In one of these rages Hercules killed his wife and children. To atone for this sin, he had to undergo his twelve famous labours under Eurystheus. One of these was killing the Nemean lion, which could not be harmed by swords or arrows. Hercules killed the lion with a great wooden club and his bare hands. Hence, he is often depicted wearing the skin of the lion and carrying a club.

As punishment for killing his friend Iphicles in another of his fits, and for trying to steal the tripod from the sacred oracle at Delphi, Hercules was sentenced to servitude under Omphale, queen of Lydia, in what is now Turkey. She "...took the Club, and wore the Lyons skin./ He took the Wheele, and maidenly gan spin" (W.S., fl 1594. The Tragedy of Locrine, the Eldest Son of King Brutus. IV.i, 1664). The "turn-spit," a servant who turned the spit upon which meat was roasted, occupied the lowest position in the household (Arden). Thus, Benedict is accusing Beatrice of being even more demanding than Omphale.

235. Benedict orders his friends to stop talking about Beatrice, but he is actually the only one doing so. Furthermore, he promptly disobeys his own advice - a sign that he is, in fact, in love with her.

236. Ate in good apparel] Ate is the Greek goddess of Ruin and Folly: "Delusion is the elder daughter of Zeus, the accursed who deludes all; her feet are delicate and they step not on the firm earth, but she walks the air above men's heads and leads them astray" (Iliad. XIX. 91 ff.). In Plato's Symposium Agathon quotes this passage and identifies the goddess as Ate (Symposium 195d). Ate's mother was Eris ("Strife" or "Discord"), whose golden apple began the Trojan war.

237. scholar] Here, as in I..1. 42 of Hamlet, Shakespeare refers to the belief that Latin was the language of exorcism and that therefore only scholars, who were educated in Latin, could perform exorcisms. Whether or not Shakespeare held this belief himself, it is at odds with Anglican teaching, for Edward VI's 1549 Book of Common Prayer (in English, of course) included an exorcism within the rite of Baptism.

conjure her] i.e., cast the demons out of her or send her back to Hell.

238-9. Hell is a sanctuary compared to living with Beatrice on earth, so people sin on purpose to go to Hell and escape her.

243. Antipodes] Area of the world where men walked upside down. From the Greek anti-podes, "having the feet opposite"(Concise O.E.D.). The idea of "the Antipodes" is ancient; in the fifth century St. Augustine dismissed it as being "on no ground credible" (City of God. XVI ch. 9).

245. Prester John] Also called Presbyter John or Priest John. He was a legendary Oriental priest-king of fabulous wealth. The first mention of him is in Otto von Friesing's "Chronicle" of 1145, where he is described as a Nestorian descendant of the Magi. In Otto's Annals of Admont of 1181 there is a mention of "Johannes presbyter rex Armeniae et Indiae". Marco Polo identified Prester John as Unc-Khan, prince of Keria. At the end of the fifteenth century the Portuguese sought Prester John's kingdom along the African coast and thought they had found it in Ethiopia, but in the late 1500's began to refer to Abyssinia as the "Terro de Preste". A map from 1507 places John's country in Tibet (Catholic Encyclopedia).

246. Great Cham] "Cham" was the title of Mongol rulers or Khans. The "Great Cham", who is usually identified as Kublai Khan, was the ruler over Tartary: "the great Cham gouernes Tartaria" (Chester, Robert, 1566-1640: A meeting Dialogue-wise betweene Nature, the Phoenix, and the Turtle Doue. [from Loves martyr (1601)] ln 236). In modern English a "cham" is an "autocrat, dominant critic" and the epithet "great Cham" refers to Samuel Johnson (Concise O.E.D.).

246. embassage] ambassador's duty

Pigmies] diminutive race of people who were alleged to live in India or Ethiopia.

248. harpy] mythological creature with a woman's face and body but a bird's wings and talons.

Works Consulted

Anglican Resource Collection: The Book of Common Prayer. Ed. Charles Wohlers. 2006. 4 October 2006 <http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/1549/Baptism_1549.htm/>.

"Antipodes," "Cham," "Conveyance," "Huddling." The Concise Oxford Dictionary. 7th ed. 1982.

Augustine of Hippo. The City of God. Trans. Marcus Dods. New York: Random House, 1993.

Cotterell, Arthur. Illustrated Encyclopedia: Classical Mythology. New York: Lorenz Books, 2000.

Gill, N.S. "Omphale." About: Ancient/Classical History. 28 September 2006 <http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/herculespeople/g/Omphale.htm/>.

Greenblatt, Stephen, ed. The Norton Shakespeare. New York: Norton & Company, 1997.

Homer. The Iliad. Trans. Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1961.

Humphreys, A.R., ed. The Arden Shakespeare: Much Ado About othing. London: Methuen, 1981.

Literature Online. Ed. Dan Burnstone. 2006. 28 September 2006. <http://lion.chadwyck.com.ezproxy.library.uvic.ca/search/>.

Plato. "Symposium." In The Collected Dialoguese of Plato. Ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978.

Shakespeare, William. The Complete Works. The Shakespeare Head Press Edition. New

York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1994.

Stockmann, Alois. "Prester John." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Online ed. 2003. 4 October, 2006 <http.//www.newadvent.org/cathen/12400b.htm/>.

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This page last updated on 28 August 2006. © Michael Best, 2002.