Shakespeare and the Impact of Editing
As readers, almost all of us first encounter Shakespeare in a modern printed edition of his works rather than something resembling the forms in which his first readers encountered him. The conventions of spelling in Shakespeare’s time present a barrier that modern editors feel obliged to remove. It is hard enough to understand what Caesar means when he says ‘What touches us ourself shall be last served’ (Julius Caesar, 3.1.8) without having to read it in the original spelling and punctuation as ‘What touches vs our felfe, shall be last feru’d’.1 The old-fashioned long s, the appearance of u where we would expect v and vice versa, the abbreviation of preterite verb endings (‘d), and the use of punctuation to show pauses for breathing rather than to mark off grammatical clauses — if indeed that is why a comma here obtrudes between a verb and its subject — convey nothing we really need to know. These features merely distance Shakespeare’s writing from modern readers.
KeywordsComplete Work Modern Reader Early Edition Preceding Edition Stage Direction
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