Romeo and Juliet


e script of a film; the script is not the film, and the play text is not the performed play. Even if we want to talk about the play that Shakespeare “intended,” we will find ourselves talking about a script that he handed over to a company with the intention that it be implemented by actors. The “intended” play is the one that the actors–we might almost say “society”–would help to construct.

Further, it is now widely held that a play is also the work of readers and spectators, who do not simply receive meaning, but who create it when they respond to the play. This idea is fully in accord with contemporary poststructuralist critical thinking, notably Roland Barthes’s “The Death of the Author,” in Image-Music-Text (1977) and Michel Foucault’s “What Is an Author?,” in The Foucault Reader (1984). The gist of the idea is that an author is not an isolated genius; rather, authors are subject to the politics and other social structures of their age. A dramatist especially is a worker in a collaborative project, working most obviously with actors–parts may be written for particular actors–but working also with the audience. Consider the words of Samuel Johnson, written to be spoken by the actor David Garrick at the opening of a theater in 1747: The stage but echoes back the public voice;

The drama’s laws, the drama’s patrons give,

For we that live to please, must please to live.

The audience–the public taste as understood by the playwright–helps to determine what the play is. Moreover, even members of the public who are not part of the playwright’s immediate audience may exert an influence through censorship. We have already glanced at governmental censorship, but there are also other kinds. Take one of Shakespeare’s most beloved characters, Falstaff, who appears in three of Shakespeare’s plays, the two parts of Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor. He appears with this name in the earliest printed version of the first of these plays, 1 Henry IV, but we know that Shakespeare originally called him (after an historical figure) Sir John Oldcastle. Oldcastle appears in Shakespeare’s source (partly reprinted in the Signet edition of 1 Henry IV), and a trace of the name survives in Shakespeare’s play, 1.2.43-44, where Prince Hal punningly addresses Falstaff as “my old lad of the castle.” But for some reason–perhaps because the family of the historical Oldcastle complained–Shakespeare had to change the name. In short, the play as we have it was (at least in this detail) subject to some sort of censorship. If we think that a text should present what we take to be the author’s intention, we probably will want to replace Falstaff with Oldcastle. But if we recognize that a play is a collaboration, we may welcome the change, even if it was forced on Shakespeare. Somehow Falstaff, with its hint of false-staff, i.e., inadequate prop, seems just right for this fat knight who, to our delight, entertains the young prince with untruths. We can go as far as saying that, at least so far as a play is concerned, an insistence on the author’s original intention (even if we could know it) can sometimes impoverish the text.

The tiny example of Falstaff ‘s name illustrates the point that the text we read is inevitably only a version–something in effect produced by the collaboration of the playwright with his actors, audiences, compositors, and editors–of a fluid text that Shakespeare once wrote, just as the Hamlet that we see on the screen starring Kenneth Branagh is not the Hamlet that Shakespeare saw in an open-air playhouse starring Richard Burbage. Hamlet itself, as we shall note in a moment, also exists in several versions. It is not surprising that there is now much talk about the instability of Shakespeare’s texts.

Because he was not only a playwright but was also an actor and a shareholder in a theatrical company, Shakespeare probably was much involved with the translation of the play from a manuscript to a stage production. He may or may not have done some rewriting during rehearsals, and he may or may not have been happy with cuts that were made. Some plays, notably Hamlet and King Lear, are so long that it is most unlikely that the texts we read were acted in their entirety. Further, for both of these plays we have more than one early text that demands consideration. In Hamlet, the Second Quarto (1604) includes some two hundred lines not found in the Folio (1623). Among the passages missing from the Folio are two of Hamlet’s reflective speeches, the “dram of evil” speech (1.4.13-38) and “How all occasions do inform against me” (4.4.32-66). Since the Folio has more numerous and often fuller stage directions, it certainly looks as though in the Folio we get a theatrical version of the play, a text whose cuts were probably made–this is only a hunch, of course–not because Shakespeare was changing his conception of Hamlet but because the playhouse demanded a modified play. (The problem is complicated, since the Folio not only cuts some of the Quarto but adds some material. Various explanations have been offered.)

Or take an example from King Lear. In the First and Second Quarto (1608, 1619), the final speech of the play is given to Albany, Lear’s surviving son-in-law, but in the First Folio version (1623), the speech is given to Edgar. The Quarto version is in accord with tradition–usually the highest-ranking character in a tragedy speaks the final words. Why does the Folio give the speech to Edgar? One possible answer is this: The Folio version omits some of Albany’s speeches in earlier scenes, so perhaps it was decided (by Shakespeare? by the players?) not to give the final lines to so pale a character. In fact, the discrepancies are so many between the two texts, that some scholars argue we do not simply have texts showing different theatrical productions. Rather, these scholars say, Shakespeare substantially revised the play, and we really have two versions of King Lear (and of Othello also, say some)–two different plays–not simply two texts, each of which is in some ways imperfect.

In this view, the 1608 version of Lear may derive from Shakespeare’s manuscript, and the 1623 version may derive from his later revision. The Quartos have almost three hundred lines not in the Folio, and the Folio has about a hundred lines not in the Quartos. It used to be held that all the texts were imperfect in various ways and from various causes–some passages in the Quartos were thought to have been set from a manuscript that was not entirely legible, other passages were thought to have been set by a compositor who was new to setting plays, and still other passages were thought to have been provided by an actor who misremembered some of the lines. This traditional view held that an editor must draw on the Quartos and the Folio in order to get Shakespeare’s “real” play. The new argument holds (although not without considerable strain) that we have two authentic plays, Shakespeare’s early version (in the Quarto) and Shakespeare’s–or his theatrical company’s–revised version (in the Folio). Not only theatrical demands but also Shakespeare’s own artistic sense, it is argued, called for extensive revisions. Even the titles vary: Q1 is called True Chronicle Historie of the life and death of King Lear and his three Daughters, whereas the Folio text is called The Tragedie of King Lear. To combine the two texts in order to produce what the editor thinks is the play that Shakespeare intended to write is, according to this view, to produce a text that is false to the history of the play. If the new view is correct, and we do have texts of two distinct versions of Lear rather than two imperfect versions of one play, it supports in a textual way the poststructuralist view that we cannot possibly have an unmediated vision of (in this case) a play by Shakespeare; we can only recognize a plurality of visions.

Editing Texts

Though eighteen of his plays were published during his lifetime, Shakespeare seems never to have supervised their publication. There is nothing unusual here; when a playwright sold a play to a theatrical company he surrendered his ownership to it. Normally a company would not publish the play, because to publish it meant to allow competitors to acquire the piece. Some plays did get published: Apparently hard-up actors sometimes pieced together a play for a publisher; sometimes a company in need of money sold a play; and sometimes a company allowed publication of a play that no longer drew audiences. That Shakespeare did not concern himself with publication is not remarkable; of his contemporaries, only Ben Jonson carefully supervised the publication of his own plays.

In 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death, John Heminges and Henry Condell (two senior members of Shakespeare’s company, who had worked with him for about twenty years) collected his plays–published and unpublished–into a large volume, of a kind called a folio. (A folio is a volume consisting of large sheets that have been folded once, each sheet thus making two leaves, or four pages. The size of the page of course depends on the size of the sheet–a folio can range in height from twelve to sixteen inches, and in width from eight to eleven; the pages in the 1623 edition of Shakespeare, commonly called the First Folio, are approximately thirteen inches tall and eight inches wide.) The eighteen plays published during Shakespeare’s lifetime had been issued one play per volume in small formats called quartos. (Each sheet in a quarto has been folded twice, making four leaves, or eight pages, each page being about nine inches tall and seven inches wide, roughly the size of a large paperback.)

Heminges and Condell suggest in an address “To the great variety of readers” that the republished plays are presented in better form than in the quartos: Before you were abused with diverse stolen and surreptitious copies, maimed and deformed by the frauds and stealths of injurious impostors that exposed them; even those, are now offered to your view cured and perfect of their limbs, and all the rest absolute in their numbers, as he [i.e., Shakespeare] conceived them.

There is a good deal of truth to this statement, but some of the quarto versions are better than others; some are in fact preferable to the Folio text.

Whoever was assigned to prepare the texts for publication in the first Folio seems to have taken the job seriously and yet not to have performed it with uniform care. The sources of the texts seem to have been, in general, good unpublished copies or the best published copies. The first play in the collection, The Tempest, is divided into acts and scenes, has unusually full stage directions and descriptions of spectacle, and concludes with a list of the characters, but the editor was not able (or willing) to present all of the succeeding texts so fully dressed. Later texts occasionally show signs of carelessness: in one scene of Much Ado About Nothing the names of actors, instead of characters, appear as speech prefixes, as they had in the Quarto, which the Folio reprints; proofreading throughout the Folio is spotty and apparently was done without reference to the printer’s copy; the pagination of Hamlet jumps from 156 to 257. Further, the proofreading was done while the presses continued to print, so that each play in each volume contains a mix of corrected and uncorrected pages.

Modern editors of Shakespeare must first select their copy; no problem if the play exists only in the Folio, but a considerable problem if the relationship between a Quarto and the Folio–or an early Quarto and a later one–is unclear. In the case of Romeo and Juliet, the First Quarto (Q1), published in 1597, is vastly inferior to the Second (Q2), published in 1599. The basis of Q1 apparently is a version put together from memory by some actors. Not surprisingly, it garbles many passages and is much shorter than Q2. On the other hand, occasionally Q1 makes better sense than Q2. For instance, near the end of the play, when the parents have assembled and learned of the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, in Q2 the Prince says (5.3.208-9), Come, Montague; for thou art early vp

To see thy sonne and heire, now earling downe.

The last three words of this speech surely do not make sense, and many editors turn to Q1, which instead of “now earling downe” has “more early downe.” Some modern editors take only “early” from Q1, and print “now early down”; others take “more early,” and print “more early down.” Further, Q1 (though, again, quite clearly a garbled and abbreviated text) includes some stage directions that are not found in Q2, and today many editors who base their text on Q2 are glad to add these stage directions, because the directions help to give us a sense of what the play looked like on Shakespeare’s stage. Thus, in 4.3.58, after Juliet drinks the potion, Q1 gives us this stage direction, not in Q2: “She falls upon her bed within the curtains.”

In short, an editor’s decisions do not end with the choice of a single copy text. First of all, editors must reckon with Elizabethan spelling. If they are not producing a facsimile, they probably modernize the spelling, but ought they to preserve the old forms of words that apparently were pronounced quite unlike their modern forms–lanthorn, alablaster? If they preserve these forms are they really preserving Shakespeare’s forms or perhaps those of a compositor in the printing house? What is one to do when one finds lanthorn and lantern in adjacent lines? (The editors of this series in general, but not invariably, assume that words should be spelled in their modern form, unless, for instance, a rhyme is involved.) Elizabethan punctuation, too, presents problems. For example, in the First Folio, the only text for the play, Macbeth rejects his wife’s idea that he can wash the blood from his hand (2.2.60-62): No: this my Hand will rather

The multitudinous Seas incarnardine,

Making the Greene one, Red.

Obviously an editor will remove the superfluous capitals, and will probably alter the spelling to “incarnadine,” but what about the comma before “Red”? If we retain the comma, Macbeth is calling the sea “the green one.” If we drop the comma, Macbeth is saying that his bloody hand will make the sea (“the Green”) uniformly red.

An editor will sometimes have to change more than spelling and punctuation. Macbeth says to his wife (1.7.46-47): I dare do all that may become a man,

Who dares no more, is none.

For two centuries editors have agreed that the second line is unsatisfactory, and have emended “no” to “do”: “Who dares do more is none.” But when in the same play (4.2.21-22) Ross says that fearful persons Floate vpon a wilde and violent Sea

Each way, and moue,

need we emend the passage? On the assumption that the compositor misread the manuscript, some editors emend “each way, and move” to “and move each way”; others emend “move” to “none” (i.e., “Each way and none”). Other editors, however, let the passage stand as in the original. The editors of the Signet Classic Shakespeare have restrained themselves from making abundant emendations. In their minds they hear Samuel Johnson on the dangers of emendation: “I have adopted the Roman sentiment, that it is more honorable to save a citizen than to kill an enemy.” Some departures (in addition to spelling, punctuation, and lineation) from the copy text have of course been made, but the original readings are listed in a note following the play, so that readers can evaluate the changes for themselves.

Following tradition, the editors of the Signet Classic Shakespeare have prefaced each play with a list of characters, and throughout the play have regularized the names of the speakers. Thus, in our text of Romeo and Juliet, all speeches by Juliet’s mother are prefixed “Lady Capulet,” although the 1599 Quarto of the play, which provides our copy text, uses at various points seven speech tags for this one character: Capu. Wi. (i.e., Capulet’s wife), Ca. Wi., Wi., Wife, Old La. (i.e., Old Lady), La., and Mo. (i.e., Mother). Similarly, in All’s Well That Ends Well, the character whom we regularly call “Countess” is in the Folio (the copy text) variously identified as Mother, Countess, Old Countess, Lady, and Old Lady. Admittedly there is some loss in regularizing, since the various prefixes may give us a hint of the way Shakespeare (or a scribe who copied Shakespeare’s manuscript) was thinking of the character in a particular scene–for instance, as a mother, or as an old lady. But too much can be made of these differing prefixes, since the social relationships implied are not always relevant to the given scene.

We have also added line numbers and in many cases act and scene divisions as well as indications of locale at the beginning of scenes. The Folio divided most of the plays into acts and some into scenes. Early eighteenth-century editors increased the divisions. These divisions, which provide a convenient way of referring to passages in the plays, have been retained, but when not in the text chosen as the basis for the Signet Classic text they are enclosed within square brackets, [ ], to indicate that they are editorial additions. Similarly, though no play of Shakespeare’s was equipped with indications of the locale at the heads of scene divisions, locales have here been added in square brackets for the convenience of readers, who lack the information that costumes, properties, gestures, and scenery afford to spectators. Spectators can tell at a glance they are in the throne room, but without an editorial indication the reader may be puzzled for a while. It should be mentioned, incidentally, that there are a few authentic stage directions–perhaps Shakespeare’s, perhaps a prompter’s–that suggest locales, such as “Enter Brutus in his orchard,” and “They go up into the Senate house.” It is hoped that the bracketed additions in the Signet text will provide readers with the sort of help provided by these two authentic directions, but it is equally hoped that the reader will remember that the stage was not loaded with scenery.

Shakespeare on the Stage

Each volume in the Signet Classic Shakespeare includes a brief stage (and sometimes film) history of the play. When we read about earlier productions, we are likely to find them eccentric, obviously wrongheaded–for instance, Nahum Tate’s version of King Lear, with a happy ending, which held the stage for about a century and a half, from the late seventeenth century until the end of the first quarter of the nineteenth. We see engravings of David Garrick, the greatest actor of the eighteenth century, in eighteenth-century garb as King Lear, and we smile, thinking how absurd the production must have been. If we are more thoughtful, we say, with the English novelist L. P. Hartley, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” But if the eighteenth-century staging is a foreign country, what of the plays of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? A foreign language, a foreign theater, a foreign audience.

Probably all viewers of Shakespeare’s plays, beginning with Shakespeare himself, at times have been unhappy with the plays on the stage. Consider three comments about production that we find in the plays themselves, which suggest Shakespeare

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