Plays  +  Sonnets  +  Poems  +  Concordance  +  Advanced Search  +  About OSS

The Characteristics of the Globe Shakespeare Text

Until the mid-1800s, Shakespeare’s editors were learned men but did not hold academic positions. This passage from Gary Taylor’s Reinventing Shakespeare shows how fascinatingly varied they were:

Rowe was a playwright, Pope a poet, Warburton a clergyman. Johnson was omnicompetent. Theobald wrote plays; Capell licensed them. Sir Thomas Hanmer edited Shakespeare after retiring as Speaker of the House of Commons. Charles Jennens was an eccentric millionaire. Both George Steevens and the Reverend Alexander Dyce were comfortably sustained by the wealth their parents had accumulated from the East India Company. Edmond Malone was subsidized by his family estates in Ireland. James Boswell the younger succeeded to his father’s title as Lord Auchinleck. Charles Knight was an independent publisher and journalist. John Payne Collier began his literary career, like Dickens, as a parliamentary reporter, and his income from scribbling was later supplemented by a pension from the Duke of Devonshire and then another from the Civil List. S.W. Singer was bequeathed “a competency” sufficient to finance him for life by his friend the antiquarian Francis Douce. Howard Staunton was an international chess champion. James Halliwell supported himself with his pen, supplemented by profitable dealings in antiquarian books, until he was at last rescued from the need to earn a living by the death of his wealthy father-in-law. (185)

While these editors were not professional scholars, they did lay the groundwork for Clark and Wright and the professionals who followed them. One thread of continuity runs through Alexander Pope and Lewis Theobald, who carried on a vituperative public rivalry in the early eighteenth century but borrowed from each other’s work. Theobald used Pope’s edition as a base text for his own edition (Murphy, 73); when he was preparing the second edition, Pope incorporated over a hundred of Theobald’s corrections (69). In turn, the Globe used 150 of Theobald’s “substantial emendations” (76).

The common text used by the Globe and Cambridge Shakespeares is a critical edition, meaning that it draws from two or more texts to produce a single text, which (in theory) represents the “mind of the author,” or at least the mind of the author as the editors interpret it. Other types of editions include:

Facsimile editions, photographic representations of single texts. The editing requirements are minimal for this, save for indicating scene divisions and line numbers, and perhaps including marginal notes (Bowers, 67).

Diplomatic editions are typographic representations of the original texts. The idea is to correct minor and insignificant errors (such as replacing “nad” with “and”) while retaining any potentially significant detail (such as italic type for certain words). For prose, it ignores line breaks in the original text, and does not attempt a page-by-page reproduction (Bowers, 68). Diplomatic editions are edited with a light touch. Given the ease of producing facsimile editions with modern technology, printed diplomatic editions have fallen out of favor, as their only purpose was to cheaply reproduce a text when the original was unavailable or physically remote. However, producers of computer-related media have embraced diplomatic editions, as they let scholars search and manipulate these texts more rapidly than with paper-based media. The most prominent example of this is the Internet Shakespeare Editions (Best, “Internet”), which provides original-spelling versions of the folio and quarto texts that can be downloaded for free (Figure 12).

Variorum editions show how versions of a text differ among themselves. Originally, “variorum” referred to a text annotated by different editors, as it comes from the Latin phrase editio cum notis variorum editorum , “edition with notes from various editors.” Today, it usually starts with a copy-text that is used as the basis of the edition, and if other texts have passages that do not agree with it, the passages are noted and quoted.

Bowers writes that “a critical text is a synthetic text” (69). He means that Shakespeare did not himself work with the printers of the First Folio to make sure it represented his true thoughts. Since he was dead at the time, such oversight would have been problematic. He may have supervised the publication of other plays, but the evidence is spotty.

The modern textual workflow — the author delivering his completed draft to an editor, who works with him to deliver the final draft to the publisher, who then codifies the draft in a printed edition — had practically nothing to do with any of the works. A good portion of the copy was from “foul papers,” or drafts delivered to printers (Bowers, 12). Prompt-books used by theatrical companies were another source. “Memorial texts,” relying on the recollection of those who saw the plays, were likely used for the so-called “bad” texts that have confounded scholars, though they can shed light on the subject even in their degraded condition.

There is no definitive way to determine what “The Text” of a work ought to be. In all likelihood, Shakespeare did not have a an irretrievably fixed idea of any play (again, his poems were another matter.) He was a dramatist, concerned with live productions, not an author producing a novel. If a line was left out here and there, or a line was changed, it probably didn’t concern him terribly. Indeed, there was a collaborative aspect between the playwright and his troupe — if Shakespeare tried out his material and the actors did not like it, he could always rework it later, and the evidence suggests he did.

That is not to say that there is no such thing as a text, or that what we call a “text” resides entirely in the heads of the readers. However, one does not have to be a postmodernist to accept that variant readings cannot be resolved with Cartesian precision, and there is no ideal Text existing in a Platonic form, waiting to be plucked from the ether by a clever scholar. One wonders if Shakespeare himself could reconcile all of the differences. After all, his last name had several spellings when he was alive — why would his plays’ forms have been more concrete?

W.W. Greg said that “the judgment of an editor, fallible as it must necessarily be, is likely to bring us closer to what the author wrote than the enforcement of an arbitrary rule” (quoted in Bowers, 71). Wright would have agreed, as he did not hold to any particular textual school of thought, and neither, it would seem, did Clark. That may have been their greatest advantage, as they both agreed that they would try to insert themselves as little as possible and let the material shine through, rather than follow a pre-ordained doctrine.

Strange as it may seem to modern readers, the Globe text was the first critical edition offering “a complete collation of all the early editions, and a selection of emendations by later editors” (DNB, “Clark”). The amateur editors, talented as many were, had contented themselves with the “received” Shakespearean editorial tradition, and for the most part did not use the earliest folios and quartos to correct or buttress their judgments. Pope and Theobald’s main contribution was to import techniques from biblical and classical source criticism into their editorial labors, paving the way for these methods to be used on the earliest Shakespeare texts (Murphy, 69).

Clark and Wright succinctly described their approach in their preface to the Globe edition, and how it differs from their Cambridge edition (see Figure 1 for the complete preface):

For instance, in cases where the text of the earliest editions is manifestly faulty, but where it is impossible to decide with confidence which, if any, of several suggested emendations is right, we have in the ‘Cambridge Shakespeare’ left the original reading in our text, mentioning in our notes all the proposed alterations: in this edition, we have substituted in the text the emendation which seemed most probable, or in cases of absolute equality, the earliest suggested. But the whole number of such variations between the texts of the two editions is very small (Shakespeare [1864], v).

No biography of the author appears in the Globe, as it would if it were written today. Clark and Wright’s contemporaries viewed editorial and biographical work as discrete activities ( Taylor, 216). For them, the words of the texts were everything, and the details of Shakespeare’s life, however colorful or informative, were of no critical importance.

The Globe text was not without its critics, particularly as editorial techniques grew more sophisticated. Ironically, Clark and Wright themselves contributed to the rise of “Shakespeare expertise” by creating their popular scholarly edition, thus encouraging future academics to delve more deeply into the texts and cast doubt on some decisions contained within the Globe. Andrew Murphy, who otherwise seems to hold the Cambridge editors in high regard, finds them occasionally guilty of “eclecticism,” combining the folios and quartos with insufficient discrimination (216). “Fastidious as they had generally been as editors,” Murphy writes, they “lacked the kind of precise editorial methods that would have enabled them properly to weigh the competing authority of some of the earliest editions of Shakespeare’s plays” (Ibid).

The MLA’s Shakespeare Variorum Handbook, in reviewing Shakespeare editions, is specific about these shortcomings:

Clark and Wright did make serious errors: they mistook some of the falsely dated Pavier quartos, which were second editions, as first editions and hence as of superior authority in their readings, they also took the highly corrupt memorial texts of such plays as [Hamlet], [Lear], [Merry Wives of Windsor], and [Richard III] to represent early Shakespeare drafts, and so used them as the basis of emending [the First Folio] and, in the case of [Richard III], as the basic copy-text.

The Handbook continues, describing the influences that these errors have had on subsequent editions (Hosley 78-9). But it quotes Bowers yet again, to the effect that whatever the failings of the texts, they did not diminish Clark and Wright’s overall achievement.