PUNCTUATION AS AN “ORATORICAL STAGE DIRECTION”. I mentioned in this post that I imagine Chaucer reading The Wife of Bath’s Tale aloud and taking pleasure in stirring up conversation among the husbands and wives in the audience. Keith Houston in a review of David Crystal’s MAKING A POINT (Wall Street Journal Oct. 17-18) says that “Through Anglo-Saxon times, punctuation worked as a kind of oratorical stage direction.” Texts were read aloud, and punctuation marks helped readers perform texts. Later, the comma, colon, and period, which developed within a hundred years of the Gutenberg Bible, were a guide for those reading aloud as to how long a pause should be. A comma was one beat, a colon two beats, a semi-colon four and a period eight beats.

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