Internet Shakespeare Editions


4.4.5. Stage directions

a) Scene location

You should omit from the text editorial notes of location, but you may, if you wish, collate or discuss the matter in the commentary. See 5.2.10 below.

b) Wording

Retain the wording of original stage directions, unless emendation or substitution is essential. Collate such emendations or substitutions. Indicate additions to stage directions by square brackets, and collate substantive additions, including names of editors who introduced them. See 4.6.1 below.

c) Punctuation

Stage directions should be followed by a period when they make a complete sentence. Thus Exit and Exeunt are followed by a period, while Aside and To the King are not.

d) Placing of stage directions

When action or stage business is simultaneous with dialogue, place stage directions in what seems the most convenient place and explain any resultant difficulty in the commentary. You must decide where to place entry or exit stage directions in relation to lines referring to arrival or departure of the characters in question (e.g. how long a time elapses between visible entry and arrival at downstage positions). Since the possibility of overhearing often has profound effects on the interpretation of a scene, you should discuss the different possibilities in the commentary. When you find it necessary to move a stage direction from its position in the copy text, use no square brackets, but do collate the emendation. See E. A. J. Honigmann's "Re-enter the Stage Direction: Shakespeare and some contemporaries," Shakespeare Survey 29 (1976), 117-25.

Where possible, stage directions should be placed on a separate line. The software will then italicize and center them (except for exits, which, according to tradition, will be right aligned). Asides and "whoto" stage directions may be placed within a line of dialogue.

e) Ambiguous or uncertain stage directions

The electronic medium offers some alternative methods for indicating uncertainty in entrances and exits; see the demonstrations by Michael Best at ​ (Possible use of animation for recording textual variants is demonstrated at ​>, especially on the page at​ You may choose to indicate uncertainty in a stage direction by a query:

<SD>Exit Petruchio [and Katherine?].</SD>

Editors should feel free to indicate where stage directions, especially entrances or exits, are tentative. Note: there will be room for some discussion with the Coordinating and General Textual Editors here. Either a simple query may be used:

<SD t="exit, uncertain">Exit (?).</SD>

or possibly an arrow up or down to indicate variability.

See also the discussion at 4.1.2.c.

f) Foreign languages

Collate stage directions translated from a foreign language.

g) Latin in stage directions

With the exception of Exit and Exeunt, Latin words in stage directions, such as Ambo, Manet, should be translated, enclosed in brackets and collated. Manet may be rendered as "s/he remains/stays behind," or else the stage directions may be rephrased as "Exeunt all but," enclosed in brackets and collated. Omnes may be retained in the formula Exeunt omnes, but should be translated elsewhere in stage directions, and also when used as a speech heading, either as ALL, or with indication of the group in question. Once again, all such instances must be collated.

h) Format and tagging

All stage directions should be separated from the surrounding text by blank lines, except when they occur within a speech. Use the container <SD> </SD> for all stage directions; there is no need to italicize them, since the tag will indicate where the font should change. To make the analysis of stage directions more accurate, you should indicate the "type" of the stage direction, according to this list:

<SD t="entrance | exit | setting | sound | delivery | whoto | action | location| other | optional | uncertain"> </SD>

Where a stage direction contains more than one instruction, the different types should be separated by commas. Where there is a clear sequence of events, the separate actions should be indicated individually on separate lines. Examples:

<SD t="sound, setting">Hautboys. Torches.</SD>

<SD t="entrance, setting">Enter a Sewer, and divers
Servants with dishes and service over the Stage.</SD>

<SD t="entrance">Enter Macbeth</SD>

Of course there will be single instructions that include more than one direction; in such cases indicate the types, separated by commas:

<SD t="entrance, setting"> Enter Lady Macbeth alone with a Letter.</SD>

i) Capitalization

All stage directions should begin with an initial capital (whether the stage directions occur within a speech or separately).

In entries and exits write proper names in normal font (e.g. Bianca, not BIANCA); write common nouns referring to minor characters (e.g. "Servant," "Lord") or used as prefixes (e.g. "Lady Montague") in the same way: lower case with an initial capital. The same is true of common nouns referring to major (i.e. individualized) characters in capitals (e.g. "Duke" in Measure for Measure). However, minor characters who do not speak, but are mentioned in stage directions, should not be capitalized; that is, an "attendant" with no lines, whose presence is included (in the copy text or by the editor) because he has to exit to fetch another character, would not be capitalized, ("Exit an attendant."). Note that in the very common case when a nameless servant does have a line or two, the stage direction will read (for example) "Enter Servant."

These instructions also refer to the list of characters.

j) Editorial changes and additions

Editorial stage directions and editorial additions to stage directions of the basic text(s) should be enclosed in square brackets. Do not use square brackets for expansion of abbreviations. Comment on additions and alterations of substance to the stage directions of the basic text(s) in the commentary. Original punctuation of stage directions to which additions are made should remain outside the square brackets, editorial punctuation goes within them.

k) Asides

Asides should be indicated by <SD t="whoto">[Aside]</SD> immediately before the relevant words if there is no doubt that they are an aside; the following words of the speech, if not spoken aside, should be preceded by <SD>[To them]</SD> or whatever is appropriate. Be cautious in designating speeches as asides, since to do so will materially alter the interpretation of surrounding speeches; where relevant, discuss the issue in the commentary. If there is a stage tradition where a speech has sometimes been spoken as an aside, sometimes not, you can indicate uncertainty: <SD t="whoto, uncertain">[Aside (?)]</SD>.

l) Disguise

You should normally draw attention to the adoption of disguise by adding in square brackets the assumed name of a disguised character after the regular name in entry stage directions, separated by "as."

<SD t="entrance">Enter Kent disguised [as Caius]</SD>

Collate assumed names of disguised characters in entry stage directions in accordance with the normal procedures for stage direction variants. Do not introduce into the stage directions a disguise name unused, or rarely used, in dialogue. Use the commentary for fuller discussion of any point of difficulty, or where disguise identities change within a scene.

m) Line numbers of stage directions

On numbering stage directions in the commentary, collations, and introduction, see 2.7.2 above, and Appendix A.

4.4.6. Speech prefixes

For a recent discussion of some of the issues involved in speech prefixes, see Susan Snyder, "Naming Names in All's Well That Ends Well" SQ 43 (1992): 265-79.

a) Normalization

Normalize speech prefixes throughout a play. Use the full form of a character-name throughout. Collate significant variations in the copy text, and note the matter in the commentary; you may also wish to discuss the issue in the Textual Introduction. Do not use square brackets [ ] in the text for altered or supplied speech prefixes.

b) Format

Speech prefixes will use upper and lower case as in normal prose: Macbeth, not MACBETH. Give speech prefixes in the shortest unambiguous form of the name or description of the speaker: e.g. Canterbury or Archbishop rather than Archbishop of Canterbury. Where rank or title changes during the action, you may change speech prefixes to reflect the fact, unless confusion is likely to result.

NOTE: The current display of speech prefixes on the site shows them in capital letters with a reduced font size. This is for stylistic reasons: the computer converts lower to upper case. The reason we have chosen standard lower case for prefixes is that it's possible to convert them automatically to upper case, but not the other way around, since the computer program will not be smart enough to know what to do with MacDuff, for example.

c) Groups of characters

Speech prefixes for groups of characters should use numerals: 1, 2, 3, etc., rather than first, second, third. e.g. 1 Soldier, 2 Servant.

d) Epithets

Where characters of the same name are distinguished by epithets, usually "old" and "young," treat these epithets as part of the name thus: Old Siward.

e) Assignment of speeches

Where major innovation or editorial decision is involved in assignment of speeches, you should discuss the matter in the commentary.

f) Typographical appearance

All speech prefixes must follow these conventions:

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