Cathleen ni Hoolihan Additions

My copy of Cathleen ni Hoolihan is an interesting edition as it is printed on a limp vellum binding, but it is also an interesting edition textually, as there is very little paratext present. However, the paratext that is visible is extremely revealing of the ideas that the publisher and author had on how the book should be read. This book does not do much to enable the reader to jump around the book. Instead, it presents a play that is clearly meant to be read front to back, and then analyzed page by page later on.

We can assume these intentions of the author and publisher through the use of paratext, which is the printed text in the book that is not a part of the actual work. Some examples of paratext are page numbers, tables of contents, and indexes; as you can see, these elements of the book are not typed in by the author, but are placed by the publisher to help assist or direct in the reading of the book. In this copy of Cathleen ni Hoolihan, there are very few examples of paratext, but the ones that were printed, and the lack of others, gives us clues into the intended purpose of the edition.

The most striking piece of paratextual evidence is the lack of a table of contents and of an index in this printing. Many modern printings of plays contain tables of contents for each act and scene, as this is extremely useful to someone studying the play. This allows for a reader to jump around to parts they want to read, and skip anything they see fit. Instead of being able to skip from scene to scene, readers of this edition of Cathleen ni Hoolihan are coerced into reading the play from front to back. This has twofold function: firstly, Cathleen ni Hoolihan is an interpretation of an old Irish folk tale, so it makes sense that the play would be read front to back like the tale it is based on. Secondly, it encourages readers to understand the story as a whole, and not to pick through it for the best scenes to read. While omitting the table of contents hinders a reader’s mobility when reading this copy, it encourages the “right way” to read this play.

Another notable piece of paratext is the short character summary that is given on page 4. Here, each character is named and a short description is given for each of them. This extra information has no meaning in context of the play its self, but is meant to help readers understand the text in front of them. Whomever is responsible for adding this character guide believes that it will benefit readers to know who the characters in the play are before they begin reading. This may seem odd, but it makes sense in the context of this specific play, as it is a one act piece, which does not leave much time for character building. This table functions to help the reader understand the characters in the play without having to devote stage time to their development.

All of these elements come together with the original text to create the functional book. Paratext such as the table of contents (or lack thereof) or a character list not only adds visually to the book’s quality, but can also improve or change the reading experience greatly. Chapter titles, page numbers, footnotes, and even dedications are all important contributors to the medium of books, and all play large roles in how books are read and interpreted across the globe.