[Criteria for Collected Editions of Shakespeare]

Previously unpublished; unfinished; © the estate of eric sams



     Collected editions of Shakespeare continue to follow each other, in every sense. Thus theRiverside Shakespeare 2/1997 maintains the nineteenth-century theory adopted by theOxford Shakespeare 1986-8, namely that certain so-called Bad Quartos are in fact botched corruptions made by the bad memories of actors. Never mind the obvious objections, or the swelling chorus of dissent, or the total absence of evidence that any Elizabethan or Jacobean actor ever memorially reconstructed anything. And never mind the dissension about King Lear 1608, treated by Riverside as memorially contaminated and by Oxford as a Shakespeare masterpiece. At least one of these world authorities must be hopelessly wrong and misleading. But who cares?

     This article suggests some objective checks. For simplicity's sake these are confined to the first editions of (a) 2 Henry VI (1594), (b) 3 Henry VI (1595), (c) Romeo and Juliet(1597), (d) Henry V (1600), (e) The Merry Wives of Windsor (1602) and (f) Hamlet (1603). If the 'memorial' theory is right, the written copy behind each of these publications was supplied by dishonest and forgetful actors from their own bad memories. Alternatively these are early Shakespeare plays, printed from copy in his own hand. How did that hand write? Only one holograph has yet been identified. Some of its curious quirks, such as its amazing variability of spelling in text or speech-prefixes, its plethora of capital Cs, or its doubled final consonants in monosyllables, would no doubt have been normalised by attentive editors or compositors. But Shakespeare's accredited plays contain many uncorrected eccentricities also found in this autograph, such as the apparently gratuitous use of capitals, or the indifference between an and aun (Comand/Comaund, etc.), or the old-fashioned substitution of y for i (Cytty, etc.). Compositors, then as now, would often strive to set what they saw before them.

     Here are some More spellings also found in the six 'Bad' Quartos specified above, as shown: armes (a,b,f), basterd (d), bin (=been: a,b,c,d,e,f), braule (c), Brother (c,f), com (b), Come (b), Countrey (d), Country (a,c,f), Earle (a), fellowes (c,e,f), frends (c,f), graunt (d,f), hart (=heart: a,b,c,d,e,f), howse (f), obay (b,f), offendor (a), ore (=o'er: c,d,e,f), rebell (a), saies (a,b,c,d), seriant (=sergeant: e), tane (=ta'en: c) thers (=there's: d), throtes (d), traytor (b,c,d), voyce (c,d,f), uppon (f), waight (=weight: b), watrie (=watery: c), weele (=we'll: a,b,c,d,e,f), wherin (f), whether (= whither: c), willd (e), wisdome (d), youle (=you'll: a,d,b). This admittedly sparse haul may be misleading: thus the 'Bad' Quartos copiously exemplify the More usage of y for i in other words; compositorial intervention may have been frequent; the More manuscript may have been much earlier or much later than 'Bad' Quartos; perhaps Shakespeare's manuscript signs, such as a line over the letter m indicating that it is to be doubled, or his use of one single symbol for per or pro, were not always correctly interpreted; and the sheer variability and obscurity of his handwriting imposed intractable difficulties. Most observers are soon out of their depth in these hazardous waters, a fact sufficiently attested by their currently uncharted state. But they should surely now be mapped, at a time when computers afford unrivalled opportunities for doing so.

     Take for example the rule which compositors and copyists would prima facie be most likely to accept without alteration, namely the presence or absence of capital letters. All six 'Bad' Quartos seem to be following the same rules of capitalisation. This claim can be verified from the 1974 Spevack Concordance (Vol. IX). The rule is that all precious or semi-precious substances, or personifications, or aspects of the supernatural, or parts of the body are to be capitalised, together with all flora and fauna (including birds and insects), writings of all kinds, including legal documents, implements including weapons of war or musical instruments, trades or types, status or kinship, the stage, unclassifiable concepts beginning with C, or sometimes other letters, as if small initial capitals could be confusing or even illegible, titles or other words (such as months of the year or days or the week) which could or might well be capitalised in modern English sources, times and seasons, points of the compass, food or drink, and finally natural phenomena. Examples of these categories, respectively (and arranged in alphabetical order) are agate, crystal, diamond, ebony, gold, jewel; age, beauty, charity, desire, grace, love, sorrow; angel, devil, ghost; arm, head, nose; ape, ass, bee, buck, crab, cuckoo, deer [spelt deare], dog, eagle, flea. flower, fox, gnat, horse, lamb, lark, lion, owl, plantain, raven, roe, rose, serpent, sycamore, violet, woodcock, worm; apology, article, author, ballet [=a poem], books, epitaph, epithet, ink, law, letter, pen, poet, poetry, scholar, school, sonnet; arme, armed, armour, arrow, butt-shaft, cannon, drum, falchion, fan, lute, passado, rapier, sword, trumpet; bastard, beadle, beggar, braggart, butcher, collier, constable, courtier, fool, herald, lover, man, men, messenger, officer, painter, parson, pedlar, priest, saint, souldier, tyrant, virgin, wench, wife; boy, daughter, father, maid, maiden, son; comedy, play, prologue, scene; chain, chimney, coach, coal, combat, come, commons, conduct, country, court, crown, earth, embassy, jig, log, maske, physic, pox, ring, sack, tent, tomb, town, watch, water; corporal, duke, gentleman, gentlemen, grace, king, knight, lady, ladyship, liege, lord, madam, majesty, master, mistress, noble, prince, queen; day, time, summer, winter; east, north, north-east, south, west; ginger, nutmeg; meteor, moon, sea, star, sun.

     To save space, this list omits plurals and near misses; but it still amounts to one hundred and fifty six items, some of which are surprisingly rare. No doubt, too, the categories are not exclusive, and might be justifiable reclassified. But the point is not only that the C-capitalisations are found in Shakespeare, and nowhere else; each word listed is also capitalised in Love's Labour's Lost 1598, which has never been called a 'Bad' Quarto; on the contrary, it is a widely held view that this text was set up from Shakespeare's own foul papers.