Æthelflæd

A friend of mine is writing a musical about Æthelflæd, Queen of Mercia, and has asked me to make a font for the libretto. He's asking for something with a mediaeval feel to it but easily readable. I've gone for a kind of textura, since most of what we know about Æthelflæd comes from later chroniclers, and because it's a lot more readable than proper insular.

I'm really in the early stages, and what you see below is all the glyphs I've got, but it's good to check in early. How is it going?


I'm really struggling with the /d - trying to find a compromise which makes the textura construction more familiar for modern readers. 
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Comments

  • Cool. Please make a "Ae" ligature.
  • Yeah, the /d just looks tipped over, I think because its ascender is too straight. In this case maybe compromising was making the situation worse. I'd try letting the ascender curve more, and making the join higher too. 
    Pay attention to counter sizes: I think /h's and o's are too wide. 
  • The title word shows a lot of indecision about how to treat stroke ends, sometimes even implying different writing implements (pen? brush?). Blackletter is all about consistency.
  • Blackletter is all about consistency.
    Maybe in the display realm. Being a text-head to me blackletter is mainly about extender diversity.
    http://www.themicrofoundry.com/ss_fraktur1.html
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,765
    edited December 2020
    While it will help you to develop such a face, at the moment it doesn’t look like that is the best option for your friend. I suggest you consult “Fraktur Mon Amour” and present them with several options from that collection (e.g. Herb), and see which they like best in their documents. Then, if necessary, you can develop something along those lines, but fine-tuned to their documents. Oh, and long s will really “early up” things!
  • I’d actually think a Carolingian minuscule would be a better choice than a textura.
  • @Joshua Langman Don't actors need to get in the mood too? Maybe even most? But yes, readability matters.
  • By the time actors need to get "in the mood," they're no longer using their scripts.

    The real answer to your question, Hrant, is yes and no. Directors put a great deal of thought into establishing the atmosphere of the rehearsal room. For this reason, I have sometimes considered doing some very subtle typographic styling for rehearsal scripts. But in the end utilitarian concerns outweigh everything else. Ultimately, scripts are internal documents. They are never seen by the public. They need to be efficient tools for the actors' use, and they need to function in a way that allows multiple people to collaborate on the files.

    But if you're looking to improve the typography of something theatre-related, have a go at playbills! They are often terribly designed, including on Broadway. West End playbills are better, but you have to pay for them. Beware, though: everyone's contract has specific requirements about the typography for their program credit, and these can often be very stringent and legally must be honored to the letter (so to speak).
  • One more thing I could mention: for decades, the industry has embraced the guideline that one page of a script in standard formatting equals 1.5 minutes of stage time. This is perhaps less true now for various reasons (that have more to do with trends in playwriting than typography), but it is worth at least keeping in mind that doing anything typographically unusual may throw off this traditional metric.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,765
    Times Roman, then?

  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,765
    What about the libretto for the audience to read, to help them follow what’s being sung? Perhaps that’s what is being discussed here.

  • A good point, Nick, but wouldn't that be more common for an opera than a musical? I suppose it might depend on what Simon meant by "musical."

    For anyone who may not be familiar with how musical theatre scripts look, I've attached a couple of pages of one here.

    This is set in Adobe Garamond, but Palatino is more common in my experience. Note the use of all caps for lyrics. Because lyrics may be intermingled with dialogue, caps vs u&lc is often the only indication of whether a line is spoken or sung. Scene titles/numbers are in, apparently, Helvetica bold. Orchestral cues are white on black. Note that orchestral cue "#7a," in the black band on the second page, isn't a "song"; it's a little bit of incidental music to cover the transition from one location to another.
  • Cool. Please make a "Ae" ligature.
    Pedantic note: there are no AE ligatures in "Æthelflæd". There are two occurrences of Old English æsc which was a separate letter, not a ligature.
  • edited December 2020
    @André G. Isaak OK. Although a rose by any other name...  :-)

    BTW, I said "Ae", not "AE"...
  • The pedant medievalist in me has got to pipe up to say: (1) @André G. Isaak is right: textura is centuries in the future at the time of Æthelflæd: it would be rather like using Avenir to give a period feel to an edition of Paradise Lost. True that insular minuscule would pose legibility challenges (though it has several times been adapted for modern readers), but English Caroline Minuscule (not strictly contemporary with Æthelflæd, but just decades in the future), is extremely legible. You can find a relatively early and exceptionally beautiful example in the mid-tenth-century Benedictional of St Æthelwold.
    And (2) Æthelflæd was not a queen: Mercia was by this time subject to the kings of Wessex (who would soon start to style themselves kings of England). As far as I know, only foreign or late sources describe her as "queen."
  • Joshua LangmanJoshua Langman Posts: 49
    edited December 2020
    One further thought that occurs to me, because of the specific topic of the musical under discussion: if the Æthelflæd musical happens to include lyrics or dialogue that are actually in Anglo-Saxon, you might consider typing them out in IPA in the libretto — either next to or in place of the actual Old English orthography. You may be surprised to find that many professional actors are fluent in IPA, having learned it as part of their training. All opera singers are, and it is not uncommon for entire opera scores to be printed in IPA. That way, singers don't need to learn how to pronounce French and German and Italian and English, etc. They only need to learn one alphabet to pronounce any text correctly, regardless of language.
  • And (2) Æthelflæd was not a queen: Mercia was by this time subject to the kings of Wessex (who would soon start to style themselves kings of England). As far as I know, only foreign or late sources describe her as "queen."
    I’m decidedly not a mediaevalist, so I should probably just defer to you here, but I was always under the impression that the status of Mercia was somewhat ambiguous between the reigns of Ecgberht through Æthelstan, so it might still have been considered semi-autonomous during Æthelflæd’s time.
  • Peter BakerPeter Baker Posts: 114
    edited December 2020
    I’m decidedly not a mediaevalist, so I should probably just defer to you here, but I was always under the impression that the status of Mercia was somewhat ambiguous between the reigns of Ecgberht through Æthelstan, so it might still have been considered semi-autonomous during Æthelflæd’s time.
    I wouldn't be surprised if the historians argue about it. The conventional wisdom (=good enough for literary scholars) is that the last king of Mercia died during the reign of Alfred, and afterwards, whatever of Mercia the vikings hadn't gobbled up was ruled by ealdormen subject to (or at least tolerated by) Alfred and his descendants. Æthelflæd was Alfred's daughter.
    Anyway, this was in support of the point that contemporary sources don't call Æthelflæd a queen: she was "Lady of the Mercians." If the libretto calls her a queen, some in the audience (assuming we ever get to go to the theater again) will laugh.

  • Anyway, this was in support of the point that contemporary sources don't call Æthelflæd a queen: she was "Lady of the Mercians." If the libretto calls her a queen, some in the audience (assuming we ever get to go to the theater again) will laugh.
    Actually, I would suspect that the majority of the audience won’t have heard of Ætheflæd, so whatever position the libretto takes is simply going to be taken as “true” regardless of whether it is historically accurate.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,765
    edited December 2020
    Is this the kind of “ligature” that Hrant was referring to?



    I put a set of those in one of my typefaces, coded as Discretionary Ligatures, although strictly speaking as there is only one character, it’s not a ligature.
    Can’t recall why, probably just for the hell of it!


  • Actually, I would suspect that the majority of the audience won’t have heard of Ætheflæd, so whatever position the libretto takes is simply going to be taken as “true” regardless of whether it is historically accurate.

    In Britain I expect a good number would know. Here in the U.S., not so many. If the title of the piece were (say) "Queen Æthelflæd," I doubt I'd go. Why not get it right?
    @Nick Shinn : I love those. Aren't letters like æ and œ, which consist of two letters joined together but typically represent single sounds, called digraphs?
  • Joshua LangmanJoshua Langman Posts: 49
    edited December 2020
    In my mind, French and Anglo-Saxon ethel and ash are lexical ligatures, as opposed to typographic ligatures. Digraphs are non-joined sequences of two letters that are treated as single alphabetical characters in a certain language, like cs in Hungarian, ij in Dutch, etc. They may or may not be considered single glyphs for typesetting purposes.
  • edited December 2020
    @Nick Shinn YES! What a great find. Is that packaging recent? And great that you've made an "Ae". I think I know why, and it's the same reason those people made an "Oe": it simply makes words look decent, while "Œufriers" for example decidedly does not. And wait 'til somebody publishes "Æsop's Œuvre".  :-)
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 859
    edited December 2020
    A good point, Nick, but wouldn't that be more common for an opera than a musical? I suppose it might depend on what Simon meant by "musical."

    Yes; I am inclined to think that it is very likely that the libretto is something to be handed out to the audience, and that may mean that the dramatic presentation is more akin to an opera in character than it is to, say, Anything Goes or The Sound of Music.
    For people to get technical terms confused is much more likely than for a special typeface of reduced legibility to be commissioned for scripts to be used by actors - or, indeed, for any other case where people are expending a great deal of effort doing something which obviously makes no sense.
    And this might not really be a case of confusion either. Perhaps while the dramatic presentation in question is akin to an opera, it may not quite dot all the "i"s or cross all the "t"s in its definition - and thus, viewing 'opera' as a technical term in classical music with a very precise meaning (just as it isn't a sonnet if it doesn't have fourteen lines) he used the term 'musical' as a generic term (perhaps even viewing 'musical comedy' as the related more specific term).
  • It's a musical in the sense of musical theatre; not an opera. I may have got the "libretto" term wrong; I'll have to check precisely how he wants to use it but I am fairly sure he means the font to be audience-facing. And no, the musical won't be in Anglo-Saxon.

    I called her Queen of the Mercians, not him. I'm not a history buff. I accept it may not be technically true, but she is much revered here in Gloucester where I live.
  • English Caroline Minuscule (not strictly contemporary with Æthelflæd, but just decades in the future), is extremely legible. You can find a relatively early and exceptionally beautiful example in the mid-tenth-century Benedictional of St Æthelwold.
    Ooh, that is brilliant. I was kind of looking at things like the Cartulary and Customs of Abingdon Abbey. But I think this is the way to go.
  • It's a musical in the sense of musical theatre; not an opera. I may have got the "libretto" term wrong; I'll have to check precisely how he wants to use it but I am fairly sure he means the font to be audience-facing.

    The thing is, if it's a musical like Oklahoma, why on Earth would the audience require paper subtitles to be able to understand what the actors are saying?
    That's why I'm having trouble with what you're saying here.
    So I had been thinking that perhaps "operetta" was the word you were looking for: no recitative, but still a fair amount of sung dialogue.
    Of course, another possibility is that it is a musical, but some audience members will have difficulty in understanding the dialogue from quite another cause: perhaps there is a diversity of accents in the Gloucester area.
  • The thing is, if it's a musical like Oklahoma, why on Earth would the audience require paper subtitles to be able to understand what the actors are saying?

    I would assume that the printed libretto would be intended more as a souvenir of the performance than of something the audience would make use of during the performance.
  • Joshua LangmanJoshua Langman Posts: 49
    edited December 2020
    Perhaps Simon's friend wants to use the typeface for the playbill, not the libretto, and something got lost in translation? That would make this whole conversation make a little bit more sense.

    (A couple of non-typographical notes: Ordinarily, at least in commercial U.S. theatre, musical theatre scripts are guarded zealously and would never be distributed to the audience, even as paid souvenirs. This is a marked difference between the intellectual property practices of straight and musical theatre. Scripts for straight plays can often be bought through normal trade channels, and they are also often available for purchase as souvenirs at major productions. Musical theatre scripts, on the other hand, are made deliberately inaccessible, and it is virtually impossible to get ahold of them unless you are involved in a licensed production. When I have needed to cite a musical in my research, I have had to rent a hard copy, which arrives in the mail accompanied by all sorts of dire warnings, and which I then mail back to the licensing agency within a set time. Obviously, commemorative editions of blockbuster hits like the coffee-table Hamilton libretto are an exception.

    Regarding genre: the contemporary distinction between opera and musical theatre has little to do with whether there is spoken dialogue, recitative, etc. It has more to do with the stylistic tradition of the piece, its production approach and position within the cultural landscape, and its intended audience. Les Misérables, Once on This Island, and Hamilton, for instance, are all "sung-through" musicals with no spoken text. One could argue that this puts them in the category of opera, but the industry regards them as musicals, and they are performed in theatres, not opera houses. An interesting case is Blitzstein's The Cradle Will Rock, which was billed as an opera when it premiered in the 30s but is now regarded as part of the musical theatre canon. Sondheim musicals tend to be not only "sung-through" but also "through-composed," with little melodic repetition and a lot of what opera people would call recitative. But they are still musicals. In fact, Sondheim is credited with initiating the shift from "musical comedy" to "musical theatre" and demonstrating the possibilities of the medium as a serious art form. The last couple of decades have seen an increasing number of "plays with music," which are dramas with a smattering of songs that don't conform to many of the conventions of musicals. But I digress.

    Back to typography.)
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