Post-Shakespearean generations in England and elsewhere are the fortunate inheritors of a body of dramatic masterpieces which by common consent are unsurpassed in the history of European literature at least since the ancient Greeks, and which are preserved in print in editions published during the lifetime of the author or shortly after. The only trouble (which is no problem at all to the vast majority of Shakespeare’s admirers but which is apt to worry dedicated interpreters) is that neither the quartos published prior to 1623 nor the great Folio collection of that year are the word of God. They have no absolute authority. Some of the plays have come down to us in variant versions. Some have peculiarities which indicate their provenance from untidy manuscripts (‘foul papers’) or memorial reports. The texts had an eventful history before reaching print. Transcripts were made for various purposes and by various persons. Stage performances would require adaptation, and special demands were made by court appearances and provincial tours. There was censorship before licence to play. And finally the printing process added its quota of interference. In all of this a great deal happened to the original texts by way of deliberate alteration or accident, particularly on the micro-level (obvious confusions and corruptions of detail have always been noticed), but sometimes on the macro-level too (and these are often harder to trace).


Romantic Love Recognition Scene Happy Ending Court Appearance Problem Play 
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  1. 2.
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  2. Rose, Shakespearean Design (1972).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Relevant quotations from Jonson, Manningham, etc. are conveniently collected in Chambers, William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems (1930), Vol. II, pp. 207–10, 328–44. There are photo-reproductions of the Swan sketch and the Titus scene inGoogle Scholar
  7. Thomson, Shakespeare’s Theatre (1983), plates 4 and 11. 7. ‘Unconformity’ is a term borrowed from geology and was first used in a Shakespearean connection by Rossiter — seeGoogle Scholar
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Copyright information

© Kristian Smidt 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kristian Smidt
    • 1
  1. 1.University of OsloNorway

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