Of Folios and Facsimiles:

Photoreprints of the First Folio of Shakespeare

A review by T.L. Hubeart Jr.

1998 by T.L. Hubeart Jr.

A high degree of interest in the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays, the 1623 First Folio, has emerged in the last few decades. Once mainly the domain of scholars, who distilled the fruits of their researches in edited texts of Shakespeare, the Folio has become far more a "book of the people" than ever before. Photo-reprints of the Folio are available in more than one facsimile. A compact disc version of the Folio text (with texts of numerous later editions of Shakespeare) is produced by Chadwyck-Healey, although the target audience is large libraries and universities rather than the home user.1 The University of Victoria in Canada is making transcripts from the Folio and early quartos accessible on the WWW as part of a project called "Internet Shakespeare Editions"--a project which, because of its scope, will likely take years to complete.2 And actors are showing interest in learning their parts in Shakespeare's plays directly from the Folio; since it offers a text without the mediation of later editors, Doug Moston, a teacher and actor who wrote the preface to the Applause Facsimile, asserts that "having recourse to the First Folio is becoming more important to actors today than ever before." 3

Obviously the initial impetus to all this "Folio-mania" was the publication in 1968 of the first edition of The Norton Facsimile: The First Folio of Shakespeare, prepared by Dr. Charlton Hinman.4 There had been no fewer than five previous facsimiles of the Folio, the first being prepared by scholar and chess authority Howard Staunton in 1866, and the last being the Yale Facsimile of 1954.5 However, all these had suffered from the serious liability of only being able to reproduce from one copy, no matter how deficient it might be in spots.

The physical deficiencies of a given copy of the Folio take two basic forms. One is that when originally printed, a given page of the Folio may have obtained excessive show-through from the other side of the page that makes the text hard to read. The interested reader may see an example of this online, at the University of Pennsylvania's CETI site: every page of Hamlet in the First Folio at the university's Furness Memorial Library, carefully photographed, can be viewed in the form of one (rather large) JPEG file per page, and the first page (especially TLN 32-6) demonstrates the kind of excessive show-through that makes doing a Folio facsimile where everything is clear and legible such a challenge. Another is the post-printing fate of any given copy: some Folios have pages in a less than desirable state of preservation, often because the books were carelessly treated by their owners. One can see such a copy in the reproduction of the Folio's opening pages given in the Pelican Shakespeare.6 This copy, from Trinity College, Cambridge, not only shows Trinity's bookplate affixed to the recto of the title page and some water-spot damage on the lower corner of "To the great Variety of Readers" and the Jonson tribute, but actually has the signature of an early owner, "Edward Duke," defacing the dedication page. Another copy, in the Folger Shakespeare Library,7 shows decoration with pen-and-ink lines by its owner.

Nor are these physical defects all that made Hinman's task challenging. Since press-correction of the pages often occurred during printing, and the uncorrected sheets were not thrown away but mixed in with the corrected ones, all being used in the final product, no two copies of the Folio are exactly alike; all have a different mix of corrected and uncorrected pages. Thus the most fully corrected versions of each page in the best state of preservation had to be determined before such a volume as the Norton was even possible--and in addition, one would have to assemble a great number of original Folios to determine this and to be able to reproduce such a volume. Hinman, however, was able to draw from the eighty copies of the First Folio available at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., and his endeavor was, in Hinman's own words, to reproduce "the First Folio text"8--one in which the most fully press-corrected and most legible versions of each page were collected together in one volume. Nor was this all: Hinman also numbered each line of the Folio text with a system called "Through Line Numbering" (or "TLN"), which provided a universal reference standard to the text which had been sorely needed.

The Norton Facsimile had an enormous impact on Shakespeare studies; however, its first edition was allowed to go out of print in 1990.9 In late 199410 a slightly-reduced edition in which 96% of the pages were drawn from the Norton11 was published by Applause Books.

Introduced by Doug Moston, it was mainly directed, as one of Moston's prefatory essays is entitled, "To the great Variety of Actors." As noted above, Moston advocated the use of the Folio text by actors in preparing their interpretations of Shakespearean roles. However, this readily available and inexpensive reprint of (most of) the Norton's pages, along with Hinman's "TLN" numbers throughout, excellently filled the breach after Norton allowed the first edition of Hinman's work to go out of print. I am not sure whether Moston's replacement of some Norton pages with pages from other sources--the Yale Facsimile and the New York Public Library's Folios--was part of the terms of Applause's agreement with Norton to use so much of Norton's materials, or an independent decision. However, a comparison of the replaced pages in Applause's edition with their counterparts in the Norton demonstrates that Moston made these decisions with care. Apart from one somewhat blurry page in Twelfth Night12, these replacement pages generally are satisfactory and well-chosen.

Unfortunately, Applause's edition is no longer available. What seems to have happened13 is that Norton licensed Applause's use of Norton's facsimile for a limited time, but either cancelled their permission or allowed it to lapse when Norton decided to reprint its own facsimile in 1996. In 1998 another facsimile published by Routledge appeared with an introduction by Moston, but this is based on the Halliwell-Phillips facsimile of 1876 and thus, inevitably, its reproduction quality is notably inferior to that of his earlier Applause volume based on the Norton.14

Obviously, then, the best facsimile available is the excellent Norton, now available in its 1996 second edition. Indeed, the fact that it is a full-sized reproduction means that the detail is uniformly good to excellent throughout (for even the Applause edition, printing the pages at 90% of their original size, loses some detail)15 and makes it the only real option for scholars, as well as the premier choice for Shakespeare lovers of all levels of expertise.

This second edition has been bettered by the addition to the late Dr. Hinman's introduction and facsimile of a new introduction by Dr. Peter W.M. Blayney, a recognized expert on the printing and typography of the First Folio. I find Blayney's remarks on what has been superseded and rendered doubtful about Hinman's introduction to be a needed corrective, not only to scholarship rendered obsolescent by nearly thirty years of further research, but to the somewhat pessimistic tone Hinman adopts as to the reliability of the compositors' work. For example, in Hinman's introduction, Compositor B appears as a most shadowy and nefarious character, ready to exhibit "a careless disregard for the authority of the copy," as demonstrated by Dr. Alice Walker's study of his poor job in setting the Folio's text of 1 Henry IV from the Quarto of 1613.16 Blayney is able to cite in contrast Dr. Paul Werstine's research indicating that Compositor B's performance in setting this play was unlike other work he did that can be checked, and that Walker's findings only prove that B was "capable" of performing poorly--not that he inevitably did so.17 Blayney thus sounds a more positive note (though not without some qualification) than Hinman on behalf of the Folio's compositors. In addition, Blayney provides fuller information as to the history of the printers and publishers--two different roles, he notes--responsible for the production of the 1623 edition.

I want to return to one of the uses to which the newly-popularized First Folio text is being put, that of acting. Moston's Applause edition introduction gives a great deal of interesting information regarding methods that some actors today are using to enhance their performances of Shakespeare's plays. Moston describes Elizabethan techniques that present-day directors have experimented with, such as the use of "cue scripts." Such scripts were the normal means of learning lines in Shakespeare's day, when scribes rather than photocopiers reproduced the text of a play, meaning that every actor only received a script with his own lines and the last few words of every speech before any of his lines (his "cues"). For example, the part of Ophelia in Hamlet, Act 3 scene 1, would not contain anything of Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy except the final few words (say, " . . . Be all my sins remembered"), which are the "cue" for her first line, "Good my lord,/How does your honor for this many a day?" In addition, traditional "rehearsals" of the complete script are not done; when the actors in such a production get together, they rehearse other plays than the one for which they have such scripts. Moston stresses the usefulness of such a method:

. . . This strategy is what provides the element of surprise for actors and audience. The actor does not know precisely what his partners are going to say or do next. Compelling surprises always result . . . . What must it feel like to be an actor and only know what you will say and do in isolation from the imaginative life surrounding your role? . . .18

Moston also makes some remarks about the punctuation of Shakespeare's text that indicate a dissatisfaction with the edited versions of those texts. After citing remarks from the Arden, Pelican, and Signet Classic editions of Shakespeare, he writes:

It is because of these editorial changes, which are intended to make the play more understandable, that we become further removed from the original. The newly edited punctuation might be more contemporary and technically correct, the line divisions will now conform to proper poetical structure, but now some difficulties are produced for the player.19

To a large extent, Moston's criticisms are quite apt. Many editions of Shakespeare, particularly those of the 18th and 19th centuries, are marred by excessive punctuation and unnecessary emendations. (And many of the 19th century editions are still in circulation as cheap, popular reprints of Shakespeare's collected works.) Two brief examples will illustrate this. Here is a speech from Troilus and Cressida as it appears in the First Folio (I.i.,25-29; TLN 61-5):20

Troy.Patience her selfe, what Goddesse ere she be,
Doth lesser blench at sufferance, then I doe:
At Priams Royall Table doe I sit;
And when faire Cressid comes into my thoughts,
So (Traitor) then she comes, when she is thence.

In Howard Staunton's edition of 1860, the last two lines of this appear thus:

And when fair Cressid comes into my thoughts,--
So, traitor!--when she comes!--when is she thence?

Not only is this over-punctuated, with its heavy dashes and exclamation points, but it also alters the last line with a conjecture by Nicholas Rowe, the first editor of Shakespeare (1709), which is not needed. Rowe apparently did not understand the line the way it stands in the Folio (and, presumably, the way Shakespeare wrote it), with Troilus accusing himself as a "traitor" for ever having Cressida out of his thoughts. He therefore sophisticated it into something that there is no reason to believe represents Shakespeare's intentions. (To Staunton's credit, he does at least call attention to the change in a footnote in which he gives the original reading.)

Another example, from 1 Henry VI (I.iv.14-18; TLN 479-82)--

. . . To intercept this inconuenience,
A Peece of Ordnance 'gainst it I have plac'd,
And euen these three dayes haue I watcht,
If I could see them. Now doe thou watch,
For I can stay no longer.

--is given by Staunton thus:

. . . To intercept this inconvenience,
A piece of ordnance 'gainst it I have plac'd;
And fully even these three days have I watch'd,
If I could see them. Now, boy, do thou watch,
For I can stay no longer.

The additional words "fully" and "boy" derive from the Second Folio of 1632, which is merely a reprint of the First Folio with several changes introduced at the whim of the compositors, completely without authority from anyone connected with Shakespeare. Though they may smooth out the blank verse, there is no reason to believe the added words approximate anything in the original text of the play.

Though this kind of thing is less marked in more modern editions, it still often happens that what one editor will discard as an unnecessary emendation to the original texts will be retained by another as a genuine correction. One instance of this, showing a widely accepted but (I believe) mistaken correction, is a line from Midsummer Night's Dream, V.i.204, which in most editions reads (following a conjecture by Alexander Pope), "Now is the mural down between the two houses"--despite the extreme unlikelihood that the word "mural" represents what Shakespeare actually wrote!21

Moston's argument therefore has some merit. However, I can see a few possible objections here. One is that it is hard to know how much of the Folio's punctuation derives from Shakespeare himself and how much was added by others. The first editors of Shakespeare paid scant regard to the source texts' punctuation, changing it at will (Samuel Johnson's comment "I have considered the punctuation as wholly in my power" is often quoted as exemplifying this attitude), while later scholars beginning with Percy Simpson (author of Shakespearian Punctuation, 1911) gave it new consideration. M.R. Ridley summarizes:

. . . Simpson's main thesis . . . [was] that "Shakespearian" punctuation was not, like ours, an aid to understanding the syntactical construction of a sentence, but rather a guide to how the sentence should be delivered. It was "dramatic" or "rhetorical" rather than logical, and was, largely for that reason, usually considerably lighter than ours . . . . It was a dramatic tool, not a grammatical one22.

Nevertheless, when one has two authoritative texts, Quarto and Folio, for one play--as for instance is the case in Othello--and these show different amounts of punctuation, it seems likely that one received elaboration by someone other than the playwright. Indeed, Ridley surmises that with Othello's First Quarto (1622) the punctuation is "moderately near to Shakespeare," while Othello in the Folio seems punctuated "as though it were intended to help the reader" rather than the actor and thus probably received "a good deal of elaboration by Heminge and Condell," Shakespeare's colleagues.23 In addition, some of the Folio texts are believed to have been prepared from transcripts by the scrivener Ralph Crane, whose transcriptional peculiarities (including punctuation) are known from surviving manuscripts of other dramatists' plays that he prepared.24 Also, one cannot discount the possibility that at times the compositors may have interfered with the punctuation, either by accident or because they felt another pointing was more correct or appropriate.

Thus it would be nave at best to assume that even the Folio always gives us an unmediated text of Shakespeare. I do not think that this is what Moston is saying, although some of his statements (e.g., "Closer to the truth [than the Folio] we can never come"25) can easily be misconstrued without a knowledge of the true circumstances. If one assumes that a Folio facsimile of any kind is going to bring one the unfiltered text of Shakespeare, including his own punctuation, and that this will magically unlock the ultimate interpretation of the lines, then one is probably in for disappointment. However, if Moston means to imply, as I believe he does, that here an actor has a valuable tool that may help him or her find something to make a given character "click," then this is a valid point indeed.

Moston is less happy, I think, when he challenges editorial emendations like Lewis Theobald's famous one in Henry V (II.iii.16 [TLN 839], where Quickly is made to say "'a babbled of green fields" rather than the Folio's "a Table of greene fields").26 I am not quite sure of the drift of Moston's objections here. To say that Falstaff's "nose was as sharp as a pen and a table of green fields" makes, as far as I can tell, no coherent sense whatsoever, nor does Moston's citing of the Shakespearean Lexicon seem to shed any light on what kind of a meaning he thinks was thrown out by the emendation he disparages. Moston's criterion for such situations as this--"To find the answer to which is correct, say it, or play it, both ways and discover which works best theatrically"27--seems to me insufficient at best and perhaps in some cases irresponsible to the audience. For instance, an actor who has inadequately researched a given situation may feel that the solution "which works best" might be what scholars recognize as a Folio misprint, or as an 18th-century emendation that is now recognized as mistaken. Is such creative anarchy necessarily true to Shakespeare's intent? I think it may be doubted.

However, I would be the last one to suggest that no one but recognized scholars should be allowed to make or question emendations to Shakespeare's text. I find the concept of an elite or priesthood which can claim sole ownership of such a text and all matters pertaining to it (as is paralleled in many other fields--for example, in biblical "scholarship") to be repugnant and undemocratic. Shakespeare belongs to all of us, but all of us owe it to him to treat what he wrote in a responsible manner, approaching such situations as in Moston's example with at least some knowledge and awareness of possibilities, plausibilities, and ramifications. Inasmuch as the newly-available Folio texts bring the original printings of Shakespeare's plays closer to the people and (when used with other helps) enhance the dissemination of such awareness, I think they are a good thing to have.

We can all be grateful to the late Prof. Charlton Hinman, whose years of labor with the Folger's copies of the First Folio have paid off so handsomely not only to scholars, but to all lovers of Shakespeare. What the dramatist's two colleagues, Heminge and Condell, said in the prefatory material to the Folio--

. . . And so we leaue you to other of his Friends, whom if you need, can bee your guides: if you neede them not, you can leade your selues, and others. And such Readers we wish him.28

--seems never to have been more apt than now, when so many "need not" (or need not as much) the editorial "guides" who offered the sole access to Shakespeare that most previous generations had. Of course those who undertake to "lead [them]selves, and others" should be, not blind guides, but responsible to the spirit of Shakespeare and true to the rich heritage he has left us--"such readers" as not only Heminge and Condell, but Shakespeare himself, would feel had done the plays justice.


1 A correspondent of mine forwarded to me (in October 1997) a response he received from this company to his inquiry regarding the Chadwyck-Healey CD ROM "The Bible in English," giving the price as $2,000. I assume that the Shakespeare CD is comparably priced.
2 Personal communication from Prof. Michael Best of the University of Victoria, 6-15-98, in response to a question of mine. As may be seen from the site, much more is planned than original-spelling texts, including modern-spelling texts with full annotation by Shakespeare scholars.
3 The First Folio of Shakespeare, 1623: The Applause Facsimile. Prepared and Introduced by Doug Moston. NY: Applause, 1995, p. xiii. (Subsequent notes referencing this edition will be headed "Moston" and cite the page number.)
4Citations of the Norton will be from the second edition ("With a new introduction by Peter W.M. Blayney," NY: Norton, 1996), headed with the word "Norton" and citing the page number. Much of my subsequent description of Hinman's accomplishment draws from his introduction in this volume, pp. ix-xxvi.
5Described in Norton, pp. xxii-xxiii, and Moston, pp. xxii-xxiii. The latter of these lists two earlier 19th century Folio "facsimiles," but it is obvious from the description that these are reprints in modern type rather than true facsimiles.
6Alfred Harbage, gen. ed., William Shakespeare: The Complete Works (The Pelican Text Revised). Baltimore: Penguin, 1969, pp. xi-xxx.
7Folger copy no. 24; a page showing the "wholly uncorrected" state of The Tempest's first page as it appears in this copy is given in Norton, p. 910.
8Norton, p. xxii.
9Moston, p. xxii.
10 The Applause edition is dated "1995," but I acquired my copy of this edition at the end of 1994.
11The figure is from Peter W.M. Blayney's "Introduction to the Second Edition" in Norton, p. xxvii, note 2. The remainder of the pages in the Applause edition came from the Yale Facsimile and from original copies of the First Folio at the New York Public Library.
12See Moston, p. 257, a page from a New York Public Library Folio; perhaps a bad photo is to blame, or discoloration of the source page? Cf. note 15 below.
13 I think this surmise is reasonable given the known facts. In 1996 I tried to enquire of Moston himself via e-mail as to the status of this edition, but received no response. It may be that at the time I asked, Moston himself did not know what form the next edition of his facsimile would take--only that the Applause edition would no longer be available.
14At Amazon.com, one comment is particularly severe on this new facsimile, asserting that "In places it is obvious that the original photographer 'touched up' the prints" and that "one page in The Winter's Tale appears to have several lines written by hand." My brief examination of the Routledge was done before I saw these comments; however, they are consistent with Blayney's remark that "[e]arlier facsimiles" than the Norton "could not always be trusted; it was well known that at least three of them contained a number of pages in which well-meaning 'enhancement' and retouching of the photographs had falsified the text" (Norton, p. xxvii). However, in Moston's defense it should be noted that, with the loss of rights to the Norton's outstanding materials, his options on what to reproduce were severely limited. In addition, the audience to which his edition is targeted is different from the scholars and enthusiasts who are the main audience for the Norton itself; his publication is directed toward actors. One subsequent reader on the Amazon site praised Moston's Routledge edition and noted that the price difference between this and the Norton makes the former far more attractive to actors. (At present writing, the Norton lists at $150.00 and the Routledge at $50.00, although one can find better prices on both books by shopping around.)
15See, for example, Moston, pp. 888-9 (last two pages of Cymbeline), where what seems to be poorly-inked type in the original edition reproduces poorly at the bottom of either page. In Norton, pp. 906-7, the same areas are light but clear; shrinking these Norton pages for Applause has adversely affected their legibility. (This would seem to explain why pages from other sources were sometimes substituted in Moston's volume, as mentioned above; perhaps it was seen that certain of the original Norton pages would not have reproduced well when reduced. )
16Norton, p. xviii.
17Ibid, p. xxxiv.
18Moston, p. xxxv.
19Ibid, p. xiii.
20Act, scene, and line numbers follow the Pelican Shakespeare; TLN numbers are from Norton. The text of Staunton is quoted from the reprint of the 1860 edition by Park Lane (NY, 1979).
21 The Folio (TLN 2010) reads "morall downe," the First Quarto "Moon vsed." The Oxford English Dictionary notes that "mural" in the sense of "wall" is "introduced . . . by a doubtful conjecture into the text of Shakespeare" and records no genuine uses of the word in this sense after 1555! (See O.E.D., 'mural sb. 1.) It would seem that the simpler emendation "wall down" (mentioned in O.E.D. and Penguin) is much likelier to be what Shakespeare wrote than Pope's anachronistic guess.
22M.R. Ridley, ed., Othello (The Arden Shakespeare). London: Methuen, 1958, pp. 210-11.
23 Ibid, p. 216 (emphasis Ridley's).
24Cyrus Hoy, "The Original Texts," in the Pelican Shakespeare, pp. 41-2.
25Moston, p. xxi.
26Ibid, p. xliii-xliv.
27Ibid, p. xliv.
28"To the great Variety of Readers," in Norton, p. 7.

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