Text Me, Hamlet: One last thing (Romeo and Juliet)

One last thing on the whole “early texts and editions” subject:

All editions have been edited. Period. End of discussion (though it’s really the beginning of this discussion).

I don’t know what metaphor is more apt: Shakespeare as jigsaw puzzle. Or: Shakespeare as Chinese restaurant menu (one from column A, two from column B, etc).

An example from Romeo and Juliet:

If I ask you what speech is most famous in the play, there’s going to be a couple of go-to answers: Queen Mab, But soft what light, the prologue. And of course,

O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
  • Romeo and Juliet, II.ii.33-49

The first four lines of the speech and the last half dozen or so are wonderfully consistent from the First Quarto through the Second and the First Folio, to our text today. But that section that is sandwiched in between?

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? … etc
  • Romeo and Juliet, II.ii.38-43

Oh, boy.

The First Quarto reads:

Tis but thy name that is mine enemie.
Whats Mountague? It is nor hand nor foote,
Nor arme, nor face, nor any other part.
Whats in a name? … etc.

The First Quarto is missing the second line and the fifth line.

The Second Quarto?

Tis but thy name that is my enemie:
Thou art thy selfe, though not a Mountague,
Whats Mountague? it is nor hand nor foote,
Nor arme nor face, O be some other name
Belonging to a man.
Whats in a name … etc

The Second Quarto skips the the second half of the fourth line, jumps to the second half of the fifth line, then jumps back to the first half of the fifth line for a completely grammatically nonsensical line.

The First Folio does the exact same thing as the Second Quarto:

Tis but thy name that is my Enemy:
Thou art thy selfe, though not a Mountague,
What’s Mountague? it is nor hand nor foote,
Nor arme, nor face, O be some other name
Belonging to a man.
What? in a names … etc

Even these versions that are supposedly closer to the “authorial manuscript” are obviously wrong.

The modern and accepted reading of the speech takes the first three and a half lines from the Second Quarto/First Folio texts then add to that the second half of the First Quarto’s third line (“nor any other part”), which appears in none of the other versions, but is grammatically necessary to link what comes next in those other versions (“Belonging to a man”) … but does NOT appear in the First Quarto. The modern reading then keeps the Second Quarto/First Folio’s first half of the fifth line (“Belonging to a man”) exactly where it is, where it makes sense, then takes the second half of those versions’ fourth line (“O be some other name!”)–a sequence of words that does not appear in the first quarto and puts it in the second half of that fifth line.

The final sequence of words does not appear in any ONE of the early texts. Half lines get moved around like puzzle pieces. Editors take a half line from column “First Quarto” and replace a different half line from column “Second Quarto” and then take a half line from column “First Folio” to combine with the “First Quarto” … and voila! the modern reading.

But what work to get there… Nothing is handed down to us from the quill of Willy Shakes. The modern reader must either take what intervening editors have created, or go to the original texts themselves and piece out a new meaning…

Conclusion: All editions have been edited. Period. End of discussion.

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