[Droeshout engraving of Shakespeare]

Notes on Shakespeare

For a person whose field is not literature, finding out anything about Shakespeare can be a rather daunting task: there's such a superabundance of crap out there on the issue, and sifting through can be very tedious. But there are enough people who enjoy Shakespeare for himself to make it possible to find academic and sometimes non-academic works that are directed toward the generally intelligent inquisitor. What I'm hoping to do here is document some of those that I've found, and also plead for people to direct me to others where I have an unresolved question &c. (Often marked with an "@@". Contact details are at the bottom of the page.)


Stuff that I wrote so much about I had to move it to separate pages:

Folios and Quartos Online

Please let me know if there are others. The Glasgow First Folio deserves some mention for having been written about online, though it's sadly not been entirely digitised. It contains some interesting annotations which indicate that the annotater knew some of the players involved.

In searching for a good First Folio Facsimilie, T.L. Hubeart Jr.'s Of Folios and Facsimiles often comes up in searches, and is rather a good read though it's very much an essay with its own point to push instead of merely a review of the current alternatives. I've found the Norton Facsimile, the most famous of all, to be excellent, though there is something to be said for facsimiles that try to maintain the feel of the original—for example, even the much maligned Chatto half-size version of 1876. Then, why even bother with the original? As an Amazon reviewer for the Routledge (1998; ironic due to it being based on the Chatto version, which has many amendations) edition put it:

With so many modernized editions of Shakespeare's plays available why would a anyone want to read a facsimile edition? I confess that I have a growing impatience with modern editors and editions of Shakespeare. All too often I am unconvinced by the conclusions modern editors have. All too often when I am suspicious of a line in a play, and when I check the line in a facsimile edition I see that the editor has changed it.

The "unique variants preserved in this facsimile" that the reviewer mentions earlier on in his review may perhaps be the Chatto amendations, but I'm not fully sure about that: the Folios have many errors too. He gives: 'Richard III (V.3.13)which correctly ends "the adverse faction want." In this facsimile the line ends "the adverse faction went."' as an example.

Hamlet, as you would expect, garners a lot of attention and hence interesting links. Nothing particularly related to First Folio versions, but Roth's site does link to a rather excellent enfolded text of Hamlet showing the differences between Q2 and F1. No Q1, of course.

Heh, this is cool: Autolycus's lines from Winter's Tale. I must admit that he's a very intriguing character in probably one of Shakespeare's most underrated plays, but not sure how much you gain from having a part's lines in seclusion from the rest of the play.

Chronology of the Plays

It'd be good if someone made a diagram showing the date ranges in which the plays are likely to have occured, instead of coming up with a specious linear order. Wikipedia's Chronology of Shakespeare plays is a nice clean summary.

Play Popularity

The following list was gagued by Googlecounting the name of the play along with the name "Shakespeare". Definite articles were omitted. The historical plays may feature higher than they ought; especially those of rulers close to Shakespeare's time (Henry VIII). These were counted on 2004-10-22 and differ slightly from a similar survey I did a few months previously.

@@ Plays sorted by length. "According to research conducted by noted Shakespearean scholar Tucker Brooke, Hamlet has the most lines (3924 lines) and The Comedy of Errors has the fewest (1770 lines). Macbeth is the shortest tragedy (with 1993 lines)." - Plays FAQ.

References to Shakespeare

@@ Stuff about portraits.

The Shakespeare Authorship site contains a nice summary list of non-literary references and literary references to Shakespeare in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The most entertaining contemporary reference to Shakespeare is from the diary of John Manningham (@@ link to book), dated 1602-03-13: "Upon a time when Burbidge played Richard III there was a citizen grew so far in liking with him, that before she went from the play she appointed him to come that night unto her by the name of Richard III. Shakespeare overhearing their conclusion went before, was entertained, and at his game ere Burbidge came. Then message being brought that Richard III was at the door, Shakespeare caused return to be made that William the Conquerer was before Richard III. Shakespeare's name William." (source: William Shakespeare Documentary Evidence, which is plentiful in tidbits).

Evidence of Shakespearian Revision

Evidence of how Shakespeare revised his plays is often taken from Love's Labour's Lost, which I first came across at a uvic.ca site on the matter. Runs a little contrary to Heminge and Condell saying that "wee have scarse received from him a blot in his papers", but then revision isn't blot. Here's one of the most likely revisions:

From women's eyes this doctrine I derive:
They are the ground, the books, the academ[i]es,
From whence doth spring the true Promethean fire.
From women's eyes this doctrine I derive:
They sparkle still the right Promethean fire;
They are the books, the arts, the academ[i]es,
That show, contain, and nourish all the world;
Else none at all in aught proves excellent.

With the latter being a clear improvement.

Editing Shakespeare

Sillygwailo quoted one of my unpublished works (without asking me; grumble) on the matter, and added his own thoughts:

Sean B. Palmer: "Unless the publication is to be a faithful reproduction of the folio, where errors-and-all may as well be preserved, it behooves the editor to reduce the untoward effect that the spelling, typography, and inconsistencies between the versions have on the reader. The difficulty is, as always in careful editing, retaining the intent and style of the author. With any work of Shakespeare's, this becomes ever more imperative."

In the three works of Shakespeare I've read--Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Hamlet, which I can say without embarrassment were all assigned readings--I also made sure to read the introductions written by the editor. (I read the acknowledgements of every book I read, in case I recognize a name, and in one case, the first acknowledgement was a friend of mine.) I can't remember a single thing they've written, but it always struck me as interesting as to the number of versions of Shakespeare's place as well as the amount of work put in to make Shakespeare's plays accessible, at least in a typographic sense, to as many people as possible.

Retaining the Intent of the Author

It seems there are more low points in the editing of Shakespeare than high ones, and William Warburton is often indicated to be the lowest of all the troughs, but such as the reading of "alarmed" for "all arm'd", there are some amusing bits.

Quick example of how the differences between the Quartos and Folio can drive any would-be editor insane:

Hamlet Q1: And then they say, no spirite dare walke abroade,
Hamlet Q2: And then they say no spirit dare sturre abraode
Hamlet F1: And then (they say) no Spirit can walke abroad,

On the other hand, here are also some really excellent pieces of Shakespearean editing from time to time:

[...] consider a moment earlier in this same scene, at lines 26-28:

NATHANIEL Laus Deo, bone intelligo.
HOLOFERNES Bone? 'Bone' for 'bene'! Priscian a little scratched; 'twill serve.

A little Latin wordplay, a misuse of those language scraps. Easy enough, no? But here's how this exchange appears in both Q and F (although without the full speech prefixes):

NATHANIEL Laus Deo, bene intelligo.
HOLOFERNES Bome boon for boon prescian, a little scratched, twill serve.

Complete nonsense. Oxford's emendation comes from Theobald's 1733 edition of Shakespeare, and we have to say it makes perfect sense (unlike the 1863-66 Cambridge emendation "Bon, bon, fort bon, Priscian...").

NewsPro Archive

Incidentally, the writer of that piece is wondering why the Quarto and Folio material's transcribers could so mess up that small Latin joke and yet render honorificabilitudinitatibus correct each time. I think the answer is that when you're copying such a word as honorificabilitudinitatibus, you don't tend to rely on memory for the spelling and so you check very carefully each part of the word according to the original as you go along. With the Latin, it was probably just mechanistic copying.

Shakespearean Criticism

Being perhaps the most famous author in the world, there is of course plenty of material discussing every aspect of his works. Sadly, the vast majority of it in my experience is shapeless, spiritless, bodiless, soulless, senseless, helpless, worthless rubbish (cf. Swinburne). For the most part, I have to echo Rowe's "the Works of Mr. Shakespear may seem to many not to want a Comment" to some extent with a few obvious exceptions: those of the greatest Shakespearean commentators through history that have provided us with real illumination. Examples: the ascertaining of Hamlet's age, deducing why The Winter's Tale is set in summer, etc. Rarely can I bring myself to trawl through the tripe that's so glaringly extant to find these sorts of gems, but it seems in my uneducated experience so far to be the case that the older writers on the subject, i.e. ones that were not forced into writing obscure diatribes on Proto-Marxist Feminist tendencies in R&J or whatever, bear more fruit.

Online biographies:

Rough Notes

@@ Cuckoo-buds, cf. Charlotte Strachey and Stellaria holostea (Addersmeat, or Greater Stitchwort). OED: "Shakespeare has been variously supposed to refer to the buttercup, marsh-marigold, and cowslip; Clare perhaps meant an Orchis, or the Cuckoo-pint in bud."

"He had, in Love's Labour's Lost, composed a musical theme of six notes and given it to Holofernes. Curiously, no musician has ever taken that theme up and developed it. C D G A E F - it is suitable for a ground bass; it can be extended into a fugal subject."

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Sean B. Palmer