Punctuation in Process: ‘this tytty tytty a the tongue’

The Three Versions

Yonder comes some one, hem: Skink to your trickes this tytty tytty, a the tongue I beleeue will faile mee.

Yonder comes some one. ’Hem! Skink, to your tricks this titty titty. Ah, the tongue, I believe, will fail me.

Yonder comes someone, hem: Skink to your tricks, this tytty tytty o’ the tongue I believe will fail me.

The Break-down

1. vocative ‘Skink’: Skink is talking to himself. Does that require a vocative comma? Does the fractional pause of a vocative comma exist naturally whether or not it appears visually? This may be the first time my supervisor didn’t insist on putting one in, and I’m going to stay very quiet for fear he changes his mind.

2. tytty vs. titty: This is a moment when I love modernizing.
The OED has no entry for ‘tytty’, but four for ‘titty’ (3 nouns, 1 adjective), none of which seems to appear before 1725. In order, the noun entries refer to: a sister/young woman, a kitten, and the variant of ‘breast’ commonly used today (at least in the US); the adjective is dial. and colloq. for ‘diminutive or insignificant’. None of these makes sense of Skink’s line, and a few rather severely increase the play’s MPAA rating. For now I’ve left the odd two-y spelling to highlight the onomatopoeia and downplay any relation to the more common and current slang usage.
[nb The closest the OED gets is ‘stitty stitty’ (adj.; nonce-wd.), the only reference is to a later moment in LAY when one character refers to another as a ‘stitty stitty stammerer’.]

3. ‘a the tongue’: Hazlitt reads the ‘a’ as another interjection; I read it as a preposition (a cf. OED prep.2). Two reasons: 1) the prepositional usage appears more frequently in the play than the interjectional, and 2) I think modern readers are more likely to dwell on the syllable ‘Ah’ than ‘a’ or ‘o’, which changes the tone and meaning of the line.

4. meaning and function: Hazlitt gives a footnote to say, ‘[Skink] means the stammer of Redcap, which he intends to imitate’, and I totally agree. The difference I see is that replacing Q’s comma with a full stop disconnects the stammering (i.e. the ‘tytty tytty’) from the thing that will fail at it (i.e. his unpractised tongue). Dramatically, Skink knows the town watch approaches. This is not a time for reflection, but a time for action through fear.

5. fair play: I do like what Hazlitt’s done with the ”Hem!’, and I may adopt something like that as I work more on the onomatopoetic interjections scattered through the play.

The Final Thought

One of my procedural goals is to stay as true to Q punctuation as possible. This isn’t because I place much priority on the authority of punctuation in texts from early modern printing houses, especially in a case like LAY where we can only guess at the textual transmission. This is because I don’t want to make the play into a novel, and because punctuation in the period was far more rhetorical than grammatical. Rhetorical punctuation sometimes looks funny on the page, but usually reads beautifully when voiced. The pointing gives clues to breath, and breath gives emphasis, and emphasis gives meaning. I am also sure that pointing also gives clues to character, though I’m not yet sure why. (Or, perhaps, how, since every actor approaches the text her own way.)

In other words, Mr Hazlitt, what’s the point of splitting the line into smaller thoughts? Punctuation slows a reader, and therefore a speaker, because it indicates pauses for clauses that are harder to ignore when present than to add when absent.

My practice is to read the lines aloud, especially when I see possible confusions. If the first read makes sense, I usually leave it be. If it takes two or more reads, I start looking to emend punctuation. If I change punctuation and find a new meaning to the line, I re-think the change, and often as not, leave the line as in Q and footnote the alternative options.

I wonder if Hazlitt did the same thing.


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