14a. Romeo and Juliet: c. 1591-1597

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams


(Numbers in bold refer to the Documents section and bibliographical citations refer to the Bibliography of The Real Shakespeare II, on-line edition)




   The first Quarto, Q1 (237) was published in 1597. For most of this century it has been called 'Bad' and rejected as a corruption of the allegedly pre-existing 'Good' version published as Q2 in 1599 (267). This weird theory has been enshrined as truth not only in critical studies (Chambers 1930, i, 341f; Hoppe 1948; Wilson 1970, 93-4; Evans 1971, 229; Wells 1978-83, 10, 149; Jackson 1986, 174; Boyce 1990, 46; etc.) but in every main modern edition (New Penguin ed. Spencer 1967, often reprinted, 284-6; Arden ed. Gibbons 1980, 1-13; Oxford ed. Wells 1986, 377 and ed. Taylor and Wells 1988, with Jowett, 288-90; etc.). For this purpose, as usual, the textual facts are regularly rejected or denied. To take only one example among hundreds: the Arden Shakespeare, which describes itself as 'the standard scholarly edition', begins with the amazing claim (Gibbons 1980, 1) that the second Quarto's self-description as 'newly corrected, augmented, and amended' cannot possibly mean what it says, namely that it is a revision of a previous version. That would make Q1 prima facieShakespearean, which is anathema to Academia; so each successive statement is slanted to fit the 'corrupted by actors' memories' hypothesis, which (in the only words offered as an argument for it) 'has come to be accepted' (ibid. 2).

   It should now come to be rejected. Shakespeare was a revising author, so revision is the rational explanation of all variant versions. This also sensibly preserves published date order, instead of reversing it. Then the 1597 Q1 text is restored to its previous status (Knight 1864, 3) also accorded to it by the Oxford English Dictionary to this day (in defiance of the Oxford Shakespeare: Wells, Taylor, loc. cit.) as Shakespeare's own first version and hence a precious source of his early style, offering unrivalled insights into his processes of revision. Thus the two versions of Mercutio's Queen Mab speech could be set forth side by side, and reasons offered for the changes. The finger-ring of a Burgomaster for example becomes the ring of an Alderman because on reflection the former is more a Dutch or Flemish than an Italian magistrate. Further, the satirical Nashe had complained about 'the pride of peasants' who 'come to be...gentlemen and...burgomasters'; an expression to be avoided. But Shakespeare's father had certainly been an alderman who may well have possessed just such a ring as the one Mercutio describes; and that exalted post would be in the poet's mind when Q1 was being revised. His 1596 application on his father's behalf for a coat of arms was granted in 1599 (218272) the publication year of the revised version. But the play about which the entire town was talking in 1598, as attested by the fine dramatist John Marston (251) was the first version, Q1. On title-page testimony, it was acted by 'Lord Hunsdon's Men' (237), as Shakespeare's own company was named between July 1596 and 1597. Its printing had as usual been delayed until it had run its course on the stage, whether in the provinces or the capital; but its inception may well be datable to early 1591, because the Nurse says 'T is since the Earth quake nowe eleauen yeares' (line 288 in the Bankside edition 1889, which is cited throughout this section). There is no earthquake in the play's sources; but a substantial tremor had been felt throughout England on 6 April 1580. Such a topical reference, which remains unchanged in later versions, is entirely typical of Shakespeare (RS1 1995, xv).1 But the memorial reconstructionists cannot abide this date, which fails to conform with their theory; so the dating as well as the authorship evidence has to be denied.

    The tide is turning; but it has not yet reached, let alone breached, the high defences of orthodoxy. The contradictions and confusions of the 1980 Arden edition were exposed, from inside the profession, in a scholarly journal (Macleod 1982). Latterly the claims of Q1 have been reasserted with detailed evidence (Bains 1995, 23-48). But few have listened, and nobody has answered; the article remains unmentioned by the Oxford editors (Taylor and Wells 1988, 290), whose own thinking is supersaturated with 'memorial reconstruction'.

   Let us sample this supposedly un-Shakespearean Q1. In it, Benvolio says 'Weele haue...no withoutbooke Prologue faintly spoke/After the Prompter, for our entrance' (337-8), a phrase which sounds so Shakespearean that modern editions illogically include it (as I.iv.7-8) in defiance of their own theory that Q1, its sole source, is a mere memorial corruption. Later, Romeo says of Juliet that 'This morning here she pointed we should meet/And consummate those never-parting bands/Witnes of our harts love by ioyning hands/And come she will' (1072-4); here the 'actor' is assumed to be adding lines of his own, which however conform closely with Shakespeare's well-attested deference to the solemnity of marriage. At her entrance, her lover cries 'See where she comes./So light of foote nere hurts the troden flower;/Of love and joy, see see the sovereign power' (1079-81), which is supposed, solely for the sake of modern literary theory, to be how the 'actor' misremembered 'Oh so light a foot will ne'er weare out the everlasting flint' (II.vi.17). Stripped of that theory, the change sounds far more like a revision from Q1 to Q2, undertaken because on second thoughts 'trodden' itself connotes 'hurt'. Q1 continues thus:



Rom: My Iuliet welcome. As doo waking eyes

(Cloasd in Nights mysts) attend the frolicke Day,

So Romeo hath expected Iuliet

And thou art come.

Iul: I am (if I be Day)

Come to my Sunne: shine foorth, and make me faire.

Rom: All beauteous fairness dwelleth in this eyes.

Iul:Romeo from thine all brightnes doth arise.

Fr: Come wantons, come, the stealing houres do passe

Defer imbracements to some fitrer time,

Part for a while, you shall not be alone

Till holy Church haue ioynd ye both in one.

Rom: Lead holy Father, all delay seemes long.

Iul: Make hast, make hast, this lingring doth vs wrong.

Fr: O, soft and fair makes sweetest worke they say

Hast is a common hindrer in cross way (1083-1097).


   These rejected lines are redolent of the young Shakespeare, whose Venus is also both human woman and airy goddess beneath whose feet 'the grass stoops not, she treads on it so light' (1028). In his mind, furthermore, the idea of mistiness has a special sense of dark obscurity unknown to the Oxford English Dictionary. Thus in the same poem, Venus and Adonis (184),'misty vapours...blot the sky';2 in The Rape of Lucrece (356) sunset is followed by 'misty night'. Even in the accepted text of Romeo and Juliet (III.iii.73), 'mist-like' means rendering invisible. shrouding like night. 'Frolic' is contrasted with darkness in A Midsummer's Night's Dream (V.i.387). The expressive phrase 'the stealing hours' is good enough for Shakespeare, who will use it in his still unwrittenRichard III (III.vii.168). The citation of a proverbial expression with 'they say' is another characteristic of his 1590s style, e.g. in Richard II (II.i.5).

    Again, in Q1 the dying Mercutio mourns that 'I shall be fairely mounted on foure mens shoulders...and then some peasantly rogue, some Sexton, some base slaue3 shall write my Epitapth, that Tybalt came and broke the Princes Lawes, and Mercutio was slain for the first and second cause. Where's the Surgeon? ...Now heele keepe a mumbling in my guts on the other side' (1168-1179). Here too the 'actor's' imagined invention achieves a surprisingly Shakespearean style, as with 'mounted' in the unusual sense of 'lifted up', the invented 'peasantly' (which would have qualified as the earliest modern usage, had the OED cited it), and the abusive application of 'rogue' and 'slave'. That last triad will later famously resound in Hamlet's solo 'O what a rogue and peasant slave am I' (II.ii.550); the collocation 'base slave' is shared with (2 Henry VI (IV.1.67). The bitter parody of a stock epitaph, which is written (not carved) as in The Merchant of Venice (IV.i.118), Timon of Athens (V.i.185) andPericles (IV.iv.32). 'The first and second cause' reappears in Love's Labour's Lost (I.ii.178); it may well refer toThe Book of Honour and Arms (Segar 1590) which gives the two just causes of a duel as (a) wrongful accusation of a capital crime and (b) honour in general.

   In Q1, when Juliet dies 'dead sorrow nips3 us all' (1953), and the bystanders cry in chorus 'all our joy and all our hope is dead/Dead, lost, undone, absented, wholly fled' (1955-6) while her father grieves 'to see my hope, my stay, my joy, my life/Depriude of sence, of life, of all by death/Cruell, vniust, impartiall destinies' (1959-61); here the 'actor' purloins Shakespeare's highly unusual and characteristic imagery of frost nipping flowers, all but parodies his rich thesaurus diction, and uses 'impartial' which according to the OED was his coinage in Richard II.4 Again, in Q1 the Friar asks, at the tragic climax of Romeo's death, 'what vnluckie houre/Is accessary to so foule a sinne?'. This phrase is plainly more like a first version than a misremembering of 'what an vnkind houre was guiltie of this lamentable chance?' (V.iv.145-6), especially given that the Q1 usage, which also personifies 'hour', surely characterises the OED sense of 'accessary' B1, first cited from Richard III (I.ii.192) as a Shakespeare coinage; cf. also 'accessary ...to all sins' in The Rape of Lucrece (922).

   The same disproof of 'memorial reconstruction', in this instance as in all others, is afforded by the converse cross-check of comparing the two Quartos. The supposed retrogression from from Q2 to Q1 reduces some 3,200 allegedly pre-existing lines (including stage-directions) to some 2,350; so the main function of the 'memories' of 'actors' has been to forget about a third of the play and invent much of the rest. Textual juxtaposition further shows that whole chunks of consecutive lines have vanished, which is surely incredible. The large blank spaces on both sides of the facing pages throughout the Bankside comparative edition (1889) sufficiently illustrate the obvious explanation; Q1 was revised and augmented, exactly as the Q2 title-page says. This simple explanation, furthermore, also clears up two major mysteries about Q2, namely why it sets Mercutio's Queen Mab speech (I.iv.53-94) as prose and many of the Nurse's lines (I.iii., between 2 and 78) in italics. The answer is that both these apparent anomalies occurred in Q1, the former because the set-piece speech was an afterthought added among run-on lines that looked like prose, and the Nurse's lines were originally written, perhaps in an attempt to achieve clarity, in the Italic hand instead of the usual secretary style of Tudor times. These minimal hypotheses further imply that all the 'badness' of so-called 'Bad Quartos' arises from the compositors' treatment of the text; there is no need at all to invent any other agents, or to accuse anyone of bad faith. There is no doubt, finally, some evidence that Q1 had been shortened; but it is again economical to accept that the abridgement had been practised on a longer version of Q1 1597 itself, not a text of Q2 1599 brought into being solely by the need to prop up an unsupported theory of 'memorial reconstruction'.

There are many other passages unique to Q1 which should all be restored to their proper status as representative of the young Shakespeare, not of the imaginary antics of 'actors'. As so often, a new edition of this first version is now needed; the present practice of muddling two different versions is as confusing as it is illogical.


1 That list could no doubt be lengthened; and such allusions include deliberate references to other Shakespeare plays. So it would not be at all out of character if the Q1 proverbial phrase 'the weakest goes to the wall' (30-1; also in later versions, I.i.13) provided a personal pointer to the early play The Weakest Goeth to the Wall, included by Everitt in his Six Plays Related to the Shakespeare Canon (1965, 61f).

2cf. Edmund Ironside, where a burning torch is all but extinguished by 'misty vapours' (797) and and a 'misty fog' (1504) is invoked to hide a fugitive as in Romeo (loc. cit.). 

3cf. Edmund Ironside, 'base...slave...peasant' (492-3) and the image of fatal nipping (743).

4however, the OED's further claim that 'impartial' in Q1 is merely a mistake for 'partial' is surely itself mistaken; Capulet is lamenting the cold indifference of the fates, in the exact sense of the Shakespearean coinage.