Molly Yarn on Shakespeare's 'Lady Editors'

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 185

Over the centuries there have been hundreds of editions of Shakespeare’s plays: Small, inexpensive schoolbook copies of individual plays, massive, leatherbound editions of the complete works, and everything in between.

At some point, every one of those editions passed under the eyes of an editor who decided which version of which disputed word would be included, how characters’ names would be spelled, whether a quarto’s version was the best to use here or maybe the version in the First Folio, and so on.

While the names of the many of Shakespeare’s male editors are well-known, up until now there has been little to nothing written about another group of Shakespeare editors: Women, who—since the early 19th century—have labored editing Shakespeare in the shadows of men, sometimes getting no credit at all, and sometimes—as you’ll hear—only getting blame. 

While Molly Yarn was writing her doctoral thesis on women editing Shakespeare, she discovered almost seventy female editors of Shakespeare. Now, she’s written about them in a new book, Shakespeare’s “Lady Editors.” She talks with Barbara Bogaev about Elizabeth Inchbald, Laura Valentine, Charlotte Stopes, and their editorial sisters in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Listen to Shakespeare Unlimited on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Soundcloud, NPR One, or wherever you find your podcasts.

Dr. Molly G. YarnDr. Molly G. Yarn, an independent scholar living in Athens, Georgia, is the author of Shakespeare’s ‘Lady Editors’: A New History of the Shakespearean Text. It was published by Cambridge University Press and released in the United States in 2022.

From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast. Published March 1, 2022. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This podcast episode, “A Woman's Voice May Do Some Good” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. Leonor Fernandez edits our transcripts. We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California, and Andrew Feyer at Brooklyn Podcasting Studio in New York. 

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Shakespeare Unlimited: Editing Shakespeare
Editors Suzanne Gossett (The Norton Shakespeare) and Paul Werstine (The Folger Shakespeare) explain the why and how of editing Shakespeare's works.

Diary and account book of Mrs. Inchbald
From the Folger's collection, take a look at Elizabeth Inchbald's diary.

Autograph letters from H.M. Bowdler to various correspondants
Examine some personal letters from Henrietta Bowdler (the O.G. Bowdlerizer) in the Folger's Reference Image Collection.


MICHAEL WITMORE: When the topic of discussion is Shakespeare editors, if it's your field, you know the names: Nicholas Rowe, Alexander Pope, Lewis Theobald. But what about Elizabeth Inchbald? What about Charlotte Stopes? What about Laura Valentine? No? Well keep listening.

From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I’m Michael Witmore, the Folger’s director. 

Over the centuries there have been hundreds of editions of Shakespeare’s plays: Small, inexpensive schoolbook copies of individual works, massive, leatherbound editions of the complete works, and everything in between.

At some point, every one of those editions passed under the eyes of an editor who decided which version of which disputed word would be included, how character’s names would be spelled, whether a quarto’s version was the best to use here or maybe the version in the First Folio, and how much would be explained about each of these edits, or how little.

While the names of the male editors of many of these Shakespeare editions are famous, up until now there has been little or nothing written about another group of Shakespeare editors: Women, who—since the early 19th century—have labored editing Shakespeare in the shadows of men, sometimes getting no credit at all, and sometimes—as you’ll hear—only getting blame. 

Independent scholar Molly G. Yarn has written a new book titled Shakespeare’s ‘Lady Editors’ that is designed to remedy this oversight. Dr. Yarn’s book began as her doctoral thesis at Cambridge University and has unearthed the names and stories of dozens of women previously lost to history.

She came into a studio recently for this podcast that we call “A Woman's Voice May Do Some Good.” Dr. Molly Yarn is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.


BOGAEV: When you started working on this project, how many forgotten or lost or overlooked women editors did you expect to find?

YARN: At the time, I knew of about 20 maybe, and I was hoping to find another 10. I mean, 10 would have been a good number for me, you know? It was for a PhD dissertation, but of course I ended up with almost 70, so that was a very different outcome.

BOGAEV: Wow, that's a home run. I mean, that's quite a difference.

YARN: Yeah. Yeah.

BOGAEV: Did it shock or surprise you that you found so many?

YARN: It did, yeah. I was actually really surprised to find 70. Honestly, it's very much a champagne problem, when you're doing a dissertation to suddenly have too much to write about.

BOGAEV: Oh yeah, I would have hated you if I was also going for my PhD.

YARN: Yeah.

BOGAEV: Who was the earliest lady editor of the Shakespeare collection or edition that you found?

YARN: There are two who are working almost contemporaneously who I would identify as the earliest. One of whom is Elizabeth Inchbald, who was an actress and a writer, and was hired to write introductions in London in around 1806, 1807.

The other one is a name that will probably be familiar, in some form, to a lot of people. Her name is Henrietta Bowdler, and what she did was edit an edition that had all the dirty parts taken out. When we now say that we “bowdlerize” a text, that in fact comes from her name.

BOGAEV: Right, that actually came from a woman. But I want to back up to Elizabeth Inchbald because she was pretty well known at the time.

YARN: Yeah, yeah, pretty well known. She wrote plays. She wrote some novels.

BOGAEV: She was commissioned to give a take on Shakespeare? That was her role, she introduced the edition?

YARN: Yeah, exactly. The company was looking for a name, and she was known for playing Shakespearian heroines. So that was the perspective that she brought to those introductions.

BOGAEV: Yeah, and that's an interesting part of the story. I mean, it really gets to the meat of what you write about, because women who wrote introductions, they weren't considered editors. In fact, I think you say that they were just considered being “good hostesses” to the writings. And, that literary criticism of any kind was just considered some kind of diversion or, you know, play. And, it was often done by women who, you quote a historian who put it as, “Women who indulge in various forms of appreciation. Men make. Women interpret.”

YARN: Yeah, so throughout the 19th century is when we really see the development of English studies as a field, and the reality is that that was something that was developed for and by women students.

You know, men were taught the classics. They were taught Latin and Greek. As education for women started to become more common, this became sort of the equivalent for them, you know? They weren't expected to learn Latin and Greek, but they studied literature instead in English.

As it moved into the universities—which was a gradual process over the century, particularly in the more conservative universities—there was, sort of, a need to make the study of English feel more serious. They started to apply methods that are used in biblical studies and in Greek and Latin to the study of English. That's where you start to get this sort of pseudoscientific version of textual editing, and this very intense form of literary criticism.

BOGAEV: So, in terms of Elizabeth Inchbald, she wasn't collating the text. So that meant she was just a hostess.

YARN: Right, she was interpreting. Yeah, exactly. She was introducing them and offering her take on them, but not necessarily manipulating the text itself.

BOGAEV: This is how, as you say, this kind of editing work becomes so highly gendered. It seems there are so many ways to diminish women's contributions, and some of them are really unsavory. For instance, the predilection of male editors to use women secretaries, and women typists, and often very young women who they hired when their wives might have gotten tired out assisting them, while also, you know, having all their children and managing the house.

YARN: Yeah, I mean, it really… when I think about particularly textual editing, before the digital age, it genuinely took a village. By village, I mean the people around a man who were unpaid labor for him, and who maybe got a thank you in the credits.

It's amazing, once you start to dig beneath the known surface of literary history and start to understand how many women made this whole thing happen.

BOGAEV: Yeah, and you could ask how much has changed in some ways. I mean, I told my husband about the interview I was going to do with you and he said, "Oh yeah, what was that movie, The Prize, with Glenn Close: the woman who wrote her husband's books?"

YARN: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Yeah.

BOGAEV: But it was a real double-edged sword, right? To collaborate with your husband or your brother on editing any text, but also Shakespeare text. I mean, how often did that obscure a woman's professional contribution?

YARN: Yeah, pretty frequently. I mean, even when a woman's name was included as one of the editors, people tended to assume that she hadn't really done that much.

You know, you see that with someone like Mary Cowden Clarke in the mid-19th century, who worked with her husband. One reviewer said, "We must blame the lady editor for the numerous faults in the text."

Then, you see that even into the early to mid-20th century with Evelyn Simpson, who worked with her husband, and a very distinguished textual scholar reviewing it saying, "I think we can safely assume that this is mostly the work of Dr. Percy Simpson, and that Dr. Evelyn was mostly the corrector." But then, he sort of rubbed salt in the wound a few lines later saying, "But it could have been corrected better. I feel like there were a lot of typos missed."

BOGAEV: So, women were used almost as scapegoats, it sounds like?

YARN: Yeah, yeah, I mean, it could be. “Double-edged sword,” yeah, is exactly the right way to look at it. You were able to get access, but there were drawbacks to it. You became associated with the man that you were working with in certain ways. You might sort of get associated with his methodology, whether you agreed with it or not. Yeah, so there were a lot of ways that could go wrong really.

BOGAEV: Yeah, especially if you're just considered the polisher.

YARN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: You know, when you're polishing, there's almost inevitably going to be some unshiny, dull points to pick apart.

YARN: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: So Elizabeth Inchbald in 1807, and you mentioned Mary Cowden Clarke. She has an 1860 edition that she edited.

YARN: Yes.

BOGAEV: Why is this work important to the story? Why is she important to the story?

YARN: Essentially, she is the first woman who's editing the complete works of Shakespeare that we know of. The women who were working before were not doing all of the plays.

Although Elizabeth Inchbald's name was included on the title page, essentially, she was given credit. Henrietta Bowdler published her work anonymously, and then in the years that followed, her brother kept publishing new editions of it and put his name on the title page, and claimed credit for it, which I think was done…

BOGAEV: Oh, that's why we think a man is—we have a man to blame for bowdlerizing Shakespeare?

YARN: Exactly. Exactly.

BOGAEV: Remind us what that means, to “bowdlerize” Shakespeare.

YARN: So to “bowdlerize” means to expurgate. To take out all the dirty bits, all the parts that, as Henrietta put it, "You wouldn't want to read aloud in a family setting," essentially.

BOGAEV: Right. The good bits, a lot of them.

YARN: Yeah, the fun bits. You know, one of the things you see with expurgation is even a woman editing saying, "I took out the comedy bits because those are the bits that the girls wouldn't care about or enjoy or understand anyway."

BOGAEV: They wouldn't get the jokes.

YARN: They wouldn't get the jokes, exactly. So Mary Cowden Clarke, when she's working in the 1860s, is the first woman both to be editing the complete works that we know of, and she's also the one who is doing so publicly with her name on it most prominently.

She was already well-known at the time. She had done a massive work called The Shakespeare Concordance. She had developed her own level of fame. She was the first woman that she knew of who was editing and thought of herself that way. She said, "You know, I'm the first. I'm lucky and privileged to be the first woman to be working on our great author's plays."

BOGAEV: Well, some collections of Shakespeare didn't identify editors by name at all, right? For instance, the Chandos Classics Shakespeare series, which does turn out to be the work of another woman editor.

YARN: Yes. So that's coming out around the same time that Mary Cowden Clarke is working, and is published without an editor's name on it. It just says it's edited with consideration of the best text, et cetera, et cetera, this sort of marketing language. There's actually never a name put on the title pages of those, even though they're reprinted for decades.

It's only when you dig and look at how they are identified later, which is by the editor of the Chandos Classics. Then, you put that together with other evidence that you realize that the editor of the Chandos Classics was in fact a woman named Laura Valentine.

BOGAEV: Wow, so you had to do some detective work.

YARN: Yes. Yeah. There's a good bit of detective work in here. Yeah, finding Laura Valentine, I think, was one of the highlights of my process, really.

BOGAEV: Yeah, it sounds like it, because she sounds like a swashbuckler almost. Like the hero of a 19th-century English novel. Her father was an admiral, and was she born on a ship?

YARN: So, that was sort of the exaggerated version of her biography that went around after her death. It's funny because she's not remembered, but she was clearly known at the time.

What I think is the case is that, in fact her father was a ship captain, and I think it's possible that she did live on a ship; a very famous ship, being the HMS Victory, which was Lord Nelson's ship, which was at the time docked in Port Smith Harbor, and actually housed sailors and their families on it.

She wrote a novel later where she describes—there's a scene where there are children who live on the Victory with their parents, one of whom is an officer, obviously. And the children are hiding, and they jump out at visitors, and the whole thing is just so vivid and specific that it honest—that bit of the sort of exaggerated biography I did end up feeling like, "Yeah, I think that's true that she did live there for a while." I don't think you come up with that and describe it like that without having…

BOGAEV: Oh, so the admiral and being born on the ship, that's all kind of a tall tale that I swallowed hole.

YARN: Yeah.


YARN: No, no, there's definitely a nugget of truth in there, yes.

BOGAEV: Well, is there, since you said that, what they called shilling Shakespeare editions, like the Chandos Shakespeare, where they never named the editors. Do you think gender was a factor in the decision not to identify Valentine, or was it just common practice?

YARN: I think it probably was a factor. Some of them did have named editors and some of them didn't, and Valentine at the time did a lot of work for this publisher, Frederick Warren, who ultimately later is better known for publishing Beatrix Potter. She did a lot of work for him.

But most of what she was known for, most of what her name was on, were things for children. I do think that there's some strategy in choosing not to admit that it's a woman doing the work.

BOGAEV: Because a woman editor, that would just undermine the whole, undertaking the seriousness or the validity of the work?

YARN: Yeah, I think it would be strange at that point. Mary Cowden Clarke, I think, in many ways was sort of an exception at the time. She was already quite famous for her Shakespeare work. Whereas someone like Laura Valentine, who, you know, she'd written some novels, but she wasn't really famous or anything.

But, of course, that's the reality of editorial work it's usually not sort of a celebrity name doing the editing. You know, it's somebody who that's their job. They didn't want to make a big fuss over it. They wanted to sort of fly under the radar with it.

BOGAEV: Yeah, and for every Mary Cowden Clarke, then there were maybe 10 Laura Valentines, and that's why you found 70 of these women who've been lost to the field.

YARN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: Well, it looks like things really opened up for lady editors of Shakespeare when publishers started putting out Shakespeare editions for students and for a popular audience.

YARN: Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: So, was there just more work in general for editors then, or was it more acceptable for women to work in the field of educational publishing, because you know, women teachers?

YARN: Yeah, I think both. With the growth of the educational franchise in England at the time, there's suddenly so much more call for editions, and it becomes a huge market for them. They just needed more people to do the work.

At this time they also start publishing plays in single editions. So, at that point, you need enough people to edit each play. It's not just you're finding somebody who has all of his time for ten years to put together a complete works edition. You're wanting to get these out quickly. You need, you know, a single person to do As You Like It, and somebody to do Midsummer. There's suddenly a lot of opportunity.

At that same time you also have a lot more educated women. You know, you're starting to have the women's colleges open up. And yeah, as I said earlier, you know, the study of English was always sort of more of a women's subject at the time. And as you say, women are also sort of more associated with education in that period.

BOGAEV: Also these editions were for a less elite audience, and Shakespeare's becoming less of an elite reading experience, it sounds like. So did that mean gradually the job of editing Shakespeare, it was okay for women to do it? It didn't have to be a male occupation?

YARN: Yeah, I think what we see is the big editions are still being done by men. But these small, cheap, quick editions that are being printed off in great numbers, you start to see more of those being done by women, yeah.

BOGAEV: What did scholars think of these school editions? It sounds like they knocked them pretty hard.

YARN: Yeah, I think we… you know, when we look back at these editions, we're always looking at them from a modern perspective, and the editorial field, like any field, changes and evolves.

By the mid-20th century, you have someone huge in the field, Fredson Bowers, who was, you know, one of the major textual scholars of the period, saying that they're just—essentially, they're just trash. They're just pointless and lazy work.

But you know, that's always looking back at them. When you're actually looking at them from the perspective of 19th and early 20th-century people, a lot of school editors were themselves quite prominent Shakespeareans who were also doing this.

BOGAEV: I collect encyclopedias and school texts from the 19th century and early 20th century, and they're just fascinating. What were these actually like, these school editions? I mean, were they often just reprints from another edition with text and just two pieces of cardboard, or what?

YARN: Well, they could be that. There are a lot of them that reused texts from other editions that the publisher owned or that they could get—pay a fee to use. But not all of them. There were some that, you know, I found evidence of the process of doing the text as well as writing the introduction. So it's mixed.

But a lot—you know, they all look quite unassuming. They certainly don't have fancy covers or anything, and a lot of them haven't survived because they were meant for school children, and school children, frankly, destroy their schoolbooks.

BOGAEV: Right, they write on them, and you have some photos of pages that have been written on. The ephemeras are really, kind of cool.

YARN: Yeah, I think they're wonderful and really evocative.  I started just buying them as I found them while I was working because I realized that, you know, the… I was finding single surviving examples of texts in depository libraries, like the British Library, or the Cambridge Library, where the publishers are required to send the text. But those had never been used, of course.

So when I started thinking about, "Well, how were they actually used? Were they actually used?" I started looking around, and you know, they're available for sale. You can find them on Biblio or eBay or wherever. And when you look at the ones that are actually marked up, you get a lot more insight into how they were used. Yeah, really wonderful glimpse into children's lives, to me. I love them.

BOGAEV: What's your favorite thing that you—note or doodle—that you found in these school editions?

YARN: Oh, there's a wonderful little bit of doggerel verse that I can't… I couldn’t quote it exactly, but…

BOGAEV: Oh, I happen to have it here, and it's great, because it ends with—it starts with, "They were sitting in the parlor just contented as could be, when the clock upon the mantle struck the hour of 23. Then she murmured low and whispered 'Can't you take a hint or two? 23 don't mean 11, it means skidoo, skidoo for you.’" 23 skidoo. That really takes you back to… what year is this? 1920?

YARN: Yeah, maybe a little earlier. I don't have a date on that.

BOGAEV: Yeah. So this was some kid writing down something he read somewhere else or he just heard this? It's not quite a limerick.

YARN: I think that one was probably a girl. I don't know where it comes from. I don’t know if it's a thing that exists outside of this or… it could be a song lyric, for all I know, honestly.

BOGAEV: Oh, that's true. We'll probably get an email from someone telling us, who specializes in early 20th-century songs.

YARN: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: Well, getting back to the many ways that work was gendered and that contributed to women editors being written out of the history of Shakespeare scholarship, tell us about “deviling.”

YARN: Mmm. Deviling is what it was called when people were hired to go to a library and do research for somebody else. This is associated mostly with what was then the British Museum, now the British Library.

What would happen would be that scholars who couldn't go there. For example, if somebody is in Chicago and needs something that's at the British Museum, you would hire somebody who lived in London to go and transcribe it for him, or take notes on something, and that was… a lot of that work was done by women.

It's an interesting little sidelight into academic research. Another one of those places where you suddenly find all of these women contributing to things that you wouldn’t have otherwise known they were involved with.

BOGAEV: Yeah, and I'm thinking that so much of scholarship and editing is about details, and in identifying interesting, telling details, God in the details. And that that's the work that the, do you call them a deviler? What do you call the…

YARN: Yeah, deviler indeed, which is a…

BOGAEV: Yeah, what the devilers were doing.

YARN: Yeah, and this is sort of not just with devilers, but throughout what we're talking about, a lot of the work that women were doing were sort of seen as these mechanical tasks. You know, things like transcription, where you sort of think, "Oh, well, there's nothing to that."

But the act of transcription, particularly when you're talking about something in, say, secretary hand from the 17th century, or even print from the 16th and 17th century, which has a huge amount of variety, and spelling, and typography. All of that is an act of interpretation to transcribe something. It required somebody who was looking at it and making decisions about what they were doing, and what they were writing down, and what they were going to send to you. So, it's really a major intervention in work at that point.

BOGAEV: Yeah, and then there was another way to diminish women scholarly contributions, and that was to call a woman a “Shakespeare enthusiast.” So tell us about Charlotte Stopes. She got pinned with that description.

YARN: Charlotte Stopes. Yes, she's an incredibly interesting figure, somebody who worked so hard and was so dedicated to Shakespeare scholarship.

She’s interesting outside of that. You know, she was one of the first three women to graduate from Edinburgh at the time when they had first started a program for women. Of course, they weren't given degrees technically, but she was one of the first three to finish that program. And, two of those three actually went on to edit Shakespeare.

But Charlotte, you know, her husband was basically no good. She ended up in debt. She needed to work, and what she did, a lot of it was Shakespeare scholarship.

I think it's safe to say that she was both a difficult person herself and somebody who was punished on account of her gender. You know, as any woman knows, you're a lot quicker to be called difficult when you stand up for yourself as a woman, than if you do that as a man, and I think that's part of what happened to her.

But, yeah, she's working at the end of the 19th century. As I said, at that time English is moving into the universities, it's becoming more of an official field of study, and part of that is creating a professional class of people who study literature. And, when you create a professional class, you have to, by contrast, create an amateur class, and that was where women were stuck.

Charlotte was one of those who was described as an enthusiast in a big work that she contributed to. Sort of, that “tireless enthusiast,” and you see that phrasing of, you know, "Person who works with so much zeal, so enthusiastic." You know, it's damning with faint praise.

BOGAEV: So condescending.

YARN: Yeah, very much so. Yeah.

BOGAEV: Although she didn't have a degree, as you said, so did this happen to men without PhDs too? Did they get called Shakespeare enthusiasts?

YARN: No. You know, up until the early 20th century, still a lot of the people who were doing it were people who didn't necessarily have what we would now think of as training in literary scholarship. They were part of scholarly societies that sort of did it for fun. And there are some of them, some particularly eccentric ones who you can see other people sort of being like, "This guy's kind of a crackpot."

But I think women are much more likely to be deemed enthusiastic amateurs rather than professionals as we move into that, as I say, amateur-professional binary.

BOGAEV: Hmm. I want to pick up on what you were talking about before, with Thomas Bowdler and Henrietta Bowdler and bowdlerizing Shakespeare, because all of this concerned the genre of the family Shakespeare edition. So, tell us about the family Shakespeare editions. I think this is a really interesting corner of the publishing world.

YARN: When Henrietta conceived of the family Shakespeare, what she wanted to do was replicate the experience that she had had where her father would read Shakespeare aloud to the family, and he would remove the parts that he didn't think were appropriate for the whole family to hear.

BOGAEV: On the fly.

YARN: Yeah, he would just sort of do it as he went. So, she said, "Well, not everybody has a discerning father to read aloud to them, so I want to create a text that anybody can read in a family setting without provoking blushes," is a phrase that was used around that time.

BOGAEV: Yeah, I think of her as kind of the Phyllis Schlafly of Shakespeare editions.

YARN: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, so she had published this first edition anonymously, and her brother then did an extended edition about a decade later, and that's when it really took off. There are so many editions of this published throughout the 19th century. But it also really—it made a lot of people really angry, and he was accused of—the terminology that they used—he was accused of castrating Shakespeare.

But as I said, at the time they're moving Shakespeare out of just the province of an educated upper class really, and the process of doing that had prompted them to think, "Well, should we be letting them read all of these things?” You know, “There's some stuff in here that we know is 'dirty.' Should we be letting our wives and children have open access to this?"

BOGAEV: Yeah, and it's certainly true that a lot of people were introduced to Shakespeare in the home. So, I can see how there was a real need for family editions. But it sounds like the idea of a family Shakespeare lumps women and children together, as if women are children.

YARN: Yeah. Absolutely, and that's something that I write about and I've noticed is that there's sort of a similar sense of both protectiveness but also repressiveness that you see when men are talking about allowing access to literature for women and children and for working class people.

Those are the communities that they were concerned about what they would allow them to read, and that they felt that they needed to control what those people read. You see quite similar sort of rhetoric and marketing around editions for women, children, and working-class people.

BOGAEV: Stepping back and looking back over your whole book, what kind of connections or similarities do you draw between these women editors, “lady editors” of Shakespeare?

YARN: I think there are some interesting similarities that you see. You know, each of them is an individual and each of them have their own circumstance and life story. But one thing that you see is that a lot of them are teachers, and that didn't necessarily mean that they taught in universities. You know, a lot of them taught in elementary and secondary schools. Probably eighty percent of them never got married and even smaller number had children.

A lot of that has to do with… well, changing demographic things at the time, but also, you know, if you were a woman who had a post at a university, if you got married, you would lose that post. So, a lot of them were more scholarly women who stayed unmarried so that they continued to work in academia.

BOGAEV: This was the late 19th century and early 20th? You would still—couldn't be married if you were teaching in a university?

YARN: It wasn't necessarily an official rule, but you know, the marriage bar was very much an unspoken thing. If you see somebody like Evelyn Simpson, who I mentioned earlier, who had a post at Oxford, I believe, at the time. She got married and gave up that post. It goes on into the mid-century.

BOGAEV: Because your husband would support you, and you're taking up a job from a man, I guess.

YARN: Exactly. Exactly.


YARN: That's a whole interesting topic in itself, and something that affected a lot of women editors.

BOGAEV: For sure. I mean, the other thread that you pick up on is that many of these women had same sex partnerships with other women. They were gay.

YARN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: And they helped each other out, it sounds like.

YARN: Yeah, a lot of them had same sex partnerships. And while we can't necessarily sort of be definitive about the nature of those, it's something that is quite common around the women's colleges that are growing during the late 19th century.

They were called sometimes Boston Marriages because they were associated with Wellesley College, which was outside of Boston, you know. All of these women who lived in partnership with other women. You see a lot a number of women editors who had lifelong female partners.

You also see broader networks of support among academic women developing, and specifically among some women editors as well. You see women who were taught by women editors becoming editors themselves. You see one woman helping another get a job as an editor. You're definitely seeing a sort of developing sense of camaraderie and support.

BOGAEV: I've got to say, this was a light at the end of a long tunnel that made me really angry reading your book. How did you feel at the end of your research?

YARN: There's definitely a sense of frustration when you look back and see how much has been obscured or lost. There's a whole area of conversation that we could have about archives and how we feel about archival loss. But, I certainly felt that, when I would look and try to find information about somebody, and would be unable to really find almost any record that that person had existed, other than their name on a title page of this little edition of As You Like It or whatever.

I felt loss and frustration to a certain degree. But I also just felt amazement and awe at what they had achieved, and that it had survived in any way. I felt like I owed it to them to honor their work and to record it, and to let people know that they existed and that they did this.

BOGAEV: Well, you completely accomplished that, and you were also just lovely to talk with today. Thank you so much for doing this.

YARN: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me on. I really enjoyed it.


WITMORE: Dr. Molly G. Yarn, an independent scholar living in Athens, Georgia, is the author of Shakespeare’s ‘Lady Editors’: A New History of the Shakespearean Text. It was published by Cambridge University Press and released in the United States in February of 2022. Dr. Yarn was interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

Our podcast, “A Woman's Voice May Do Some Good,” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer, with help from Leonor Fernandez.

We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California, and Andrew Feyer at Brooklyn Podcasting Studio in New York. 

If you’re a fan of Shakespeare Unlimited, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. That’s a really important way to get out the word about the work we’re doing here, especially to people who don’t know about the podcast yet. Thanks so much for your help.

Shakespeare Unlimited comes to you from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the Folger is dedicated to advancing knowledge and the arts. You can find more about the Folger at our website, Thanks for listening. For the Folger Shakespeare Library, I’m Folger Director Michael Witmore.