Shakespeare and the Impact of Editing

  • Gabriel Egan


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.


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Select Bibliography

  1. Egan, Gabriel (forthcoming) ‘Folio Provenance’ in Emma Smith (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare’s First Folio (1623) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).Google Scholar
  2. Egan, Gabriel (2010) The Struggle for Shakespeare’s Text: Twentieth-Century Editorial Theory and Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Erne, Lukas (2013) Shakespeare and the Book Trade (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Erne, Lukas (2003) Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).Google Scholar
  5. Wells, Stanley and Gary Taylor (1979) Modernizing Shakespeare’s Spelling, with Three Studies in the Text of Henry V (Oxford: Clarendon Press).Google Scholar
  6. Wells, Stanley, Gary Taylor, John Jowett and William Montgomery (1987) William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion (Oxford: Oxford University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Werstine, Paul (2013) Early Modern Playhouse Manuscripts and the Editing of Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).Google Scholar

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  • Gabriel Egan

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