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  • Print publication year: 1965
  • Online publication date: March 2007

Shakespeare’s Text—Then, Now and Tomorrow


Then, now and tomorrow! The past, the present and the future! You will agree that my title is tolerably comprehensive if nothing else. My aims, however, are less immodest than they may seem. I shall say something about the history of Shakespearian textual scholarship; yet I shall be chiefly concerned with aspects of that history which belong rather to today and tomorrow than to yesterday. And here I propose to limit myself pretty strictly to specific illustrations of three main points-one about compositors, one about printing-house methods, and one about the kind of copy from which some of the plays were-or may have been-first printed.

To be sure, all three of these subjects can be said to fall under the then of my title in this sense: all are concerned with the falsifications that Shakespeare's text suffered during his own lifetime and in the few years just after his death, especially 1622-3, during the printing of the Okes quarto of Othello and, of course, of the First Folio. And what lies closer to the heart of 'the textual problem in Shakespeare' than the question of how much and what kinds of corruption characterize the various substantive editions of the plays? But all three of these subjects also involve now in that not until now, or at any rate until very recently, have they been intensively studied. And I hope to persuade you, finally, that all three not only deserve further investigation but may have some bearing on future editorial practice-on our continuing efforts to produce hereafter more satisfactory texts of the plays than any we have so far achieved.

One further preliminary. As I have been concerning myself with the quartos rather than the Folio of late, I beg to be indulged in giving particular attention to the quartos today. Not of course to all of them; not, for instance, to the Good quarto of Hamlet or the 'doubtful' one of Lear; mainly to the substantive quartos of certain history plays.

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Shakespeare Survey
  • Online ISBN: 9781139052986
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