I’m taking you behind the scenes today. Did you know that the close-up shots in my scenes are actually filmed after the scene itself? When we’ve finished an entire scene, one of the cameramen takes focused shots of the book in our hands, or our fingers pointing out specific characteristics. This is called B-roll, and it is filmed without sound, meant to be woven with our speech from the scene just filmed.
As with printing, the reason you are getting this glance of how it works behind the scenes is because of a mistake. Recently an episode aired in which I evaluated a copy of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68. At one point I said that it was printed in German. However, in the final edit of that scene, unfortunately this comment was placed alongside an image of me pointing at the title page—which was in French.
This symphony, known as the Pastoral Symphony, was meant to depict a day in the country. As such, Beethoven added little descriptions to the beginning of each movement. For example, the second movement is described as “scene by the brook” (Szene am Bach) and Beethoven uses triplets to imitate the sound of running water. I was referring to these descriptions when I said it was printed in German.
The sound was put with the wrong B-roll footage, quite simply. But it’s your gain: you’ve gotten to hear a bit about how things work behind the scenes as a result.
One of the other reasons I wanted to write about this, and also why I think it’s rather fascinating, is that these are the types of mistakes that you see in the world of printing. Moreover, such mistakes can be crucial to teaching scholars about books and print. You see, if something is identified as an error, it also therefore identifies the standard that error has departed from.
Shakespearean scholar Tiffany Stern recounts many instances of printing errors in Shakespeare’s texts that have changed our readings, and incidentally teach us a bit about printing. In Antony and Cleopatra there is a line in which Cleopatra says that death “rids our dogs of languish.” However, as Stern says, “‘Anguish’ would undoubtedly make more obvious sense in this context, and what seems to have happened is that a space (which was also a piece of type) has been accidentally inked.” Did you know that spaces in letterpresses weren’t just the absence of type, the way we tend to think today? They were not empty space at all, but thin slivers of type meant to sink far enough down so as not to be inked and printed on the page. If they were inked, however, they would look a lot like a lower-case L—thus creating “languish” for “anguish.”
We are human. In the case of television or print, many intelligent and capable people must accidentally miss an error in order for it to make it through to the public. Such mistakes happen all the time and, while sometimes embarrassing, they are inevitable.
Some authors have felt rather strongly about them, however, and their recorded reactions can be rather entertaining to read. Here’s an excerpt from Robert L. Patten’s Dickens and his Publishers:
“Exasperation with his printers, who had set ‘Dark’ for ‘Deep’ in the Christmas number of Household Words, temporarily interrupted his writing: ‘I declare before God that your men are enough to drive me mad!…I don’t know where there is a beastly unstamped newspaper in London in which such a flagrant and unpardonable mistake would be made. I am so disgusted by it, that I throw down my pen in absolute despair, and could as soon paint an historical picture as go on writing.’”
While I must admit I wasn’t quite so upset by the mistake, I also admit that I’m no Charles Dickens. No Sturm und Drang: I just read French and some German. And if you noticed the mistake in the scene, you might just make an excellent bibliographer.
- The Stern quote about anguish/languish is from her book Making Shakespeare, page 155. It is full of interesting tidbits like this.
- The Patten quote is from page 223 of Dickens and his Publishers. Patten also recently came out with a biography of Dickens called Charles Dickens and ‘Boz’: The Birth of the Industrial Age Author.