What is the function of an editor in treating the text of a Shakespeare play?

          The dictionary defines an editor as one who "prepares written material for publication or presentation, as by correcting, revising, or adapting".   When editing modern books, the editor often works both with the author on the content of the manuscript as well as with the publisher to prepare the manuscript for publication.  When editing the work of an author who is no longer living, he assures that the work adheres to the writer's intention and is free of earlier publishing and printing inaccuracies, errors or corruption.  In either circumstance, certainly for writers in the last century or more, the editor generally has a single original manuscript, prompt script, or printed edition on which to base his editorial work and his function is to take this material and ensure that it is accurate, coherent and ready for printing and publication.

          In dealing with Shakespeare's texts, however, there is an additional editorial challenge.  Not only is the playwright long dead, but no original manuscripts of his plays have survived.  All that the editor has to work with are a series of early editions of varying quality and authority based on varied, unclear and sometimes questionable sources.  This makes the editor's job much more complex.  He is faced not only with editing a text, but with first determining which text to edit.  To do this he must identify and envision his own perception of what Shakespeare intended literarily and theatrically, define the parameters of the edition that he wants to create, and then approach the choice of text in a way which serves that intention.  But first, as W. W. Gregg writes, he must "determine the nature and authority of the text or texts in which [Shakespeare's] works have come down to us."  Until that is done "we can hardly begin to consider what were the actual words he wrote, much less what was the meaning he intended to convey."             

          An editor approaching Shakespeare's Hamlet is faced with a clear choice of text.  Hamlet was first entered into the Stationers' Register in 1602, and subsequently published in three substantive and quite different editions.  The First Quarto (Q1), published in 1603, is considerably shorter than the other editions (only about 2,200 lines), and is different in dramatic structure, major plot points, dialogue, and even character names.  Some think it might be an early draft of the text, others believe it based on a playbook shortened and revised for subsequent performances or even, possibly, a memorial reconstruction.  The Second Quarto (Q2), published in 1605, is the longest version at about 3,800 lines. Substantially different from Q1, it was most certainly based on an independent manuscript and is thought by many to be the version closest to Shakespeare's original foul papers before they were revised for production.   The First Folio (F or F1) Hamlet, published in 1623, is some 230 lines shorter than Q2 but includes 70 additional lines not found in Q2.  It is widely believed to be based on a manuscript or playbook revised for theatrical performance.  

          Each editor must decide what he wants to achieve with his edition and then choose which of these substantive versions or combination of versions will enable him to accomplish that goal.  Those who choose to reproduce Q1 are dealing with a specific, distinct, albeit clearly early, corrupted or shortened text.  But those intending to create an edition which is closest to the Hamlet of Shakespeare's day most often base their editions on either Q2 or F1.  Some choose to use either the Q2 or F1 exclusively, creating a discrete text with little or nothing added from any other text.  Others may choose to include passages from the other text in a separate appendix.   Some, particularly since the eighteen century, choose a third alternative  producing, to a greater or lesser degree, a conflated, more eclectic text using one edition as their foundational text but including elements of both.  In this case the editor draws upon his own knowledge of Shakespeare's writing, as well as the history of Elizabethan printing and publishing, to select their primary text.  Some use the Folio as their base, adding passages from Q2 that they feel may have been cut to create F1.  Many, especially in the last century, have chosen Q2 as their base edition, adding some of the additional passages from the Folio or cutting some of the Q2 passages which they felt to be corrupt, non-Shakespearean or theatrical in origin.  Only then do they begin to edit from between the two texts choosing the specific names, spellings, words, phrasing, and stage directions that fit their concept of the play and its origins. 

          An editor's choice of text is never an arbitrary one, nor is it the only determining factor in the final look of each edition.  Although two editors might choose the same text, their reasons for that choice will make a huge difference as to how they approach their edition.   Harold Jenkins, editor of Arden's 1982 second edition of Hamlet, said in his introduction:

                    This edition, like most others since Dover Wilson established Q2 as the most authoritative
                    text, is based primarily upon it In seeking to present the play as Shakespeare wrote it rather
                    than as it was shortened and adapted for performance, I do no more than follow tradition

Jenkins did not hesitate, however, to critically examine F1 to establish to his own satisfaction whether the words or passages occurring in F1 but not in Q2 were Shakespeare's or theatrical additions. He wrote:

                    While following Q2's fuller version, I naturally include also anything preserved in F which
                    I take to have been lost from Q2; but all words and phrases in F which I judge to be playhouse
                    additions to the dialogue I omit where words occurring in F only are more easily attributable
                    to Shakespeare than to the actors I accept the probability of omission by the Q2 compositor."   

Jenkins' decision to attempt to create as closely as possible the text as Shakespeare originally wrote it was the basis for both his choice of Q2 and his selective addition of specific lines from F1.

          G.R. Hibbard, on the other hand, called Jenkins' position "an illogical one." Hibbard too intended to produce an edition that reflected Shakespeare's original text, but, for a number of reasons including what he considered the extensive number of errors and apparent corruptions in Q2, he disagreed with Jenkins' opinion that Q2 was produced from Shakespeare's fair papers.   He chose to use the Folio as the basis of his 1987 Oxford Shakespeare Hamlet, believing that F1 was published from a theatrical manuscript revised by Shakespeare himself for the stage before 1606.   He cited the lack of expurgation of profanity from the Folio as evidence that the manuscript for F1 could not have been used as a prompt-book at the Globe after the passage of the Act of 1606 prohibiting the use of the name of God on the stage.  He also asserted that, while the stage directions in F are more detailed than those in Q2, they still would not have been sufficient to have been based in performance, making it unlikely that F1 was taken from a prompt-book.   He wrote in the introduction to his text:

                    In keeping with the hypothesis that F Hamlet is based on Shakespeare's fair copy and not,
                    as many recent editors and textual critics have argued, on an annotated copy of Q2 or a
                    manuscript that had been compared with Q2, F is used as the control text for the present edition.

Like Jenkins, Hibbard chose to examine Q2 as well, and to include selected passages within the text of his edition.  Unlike Jenkins, however, Hibbard indicated that he chose to make the majority of Q2 passages not included in the Folio available to the readers in an appendix, stating: 

                    The passages peculiar to Q2, which were part of the play as originally drafted but then
                    excised from it before it came to performance, are therefore relegated to Appendix A. 
                    Omissions from F which are obviously accidental are, of course, supplied from Q2.

          The editors of the 1988 Oxford Complete Works Compact edition also chose the First Folio for their control text.  Stanley Wells, affirming and expanding on Hibbard's reasoning, wrote in his introduction to their volume:

                    The Folio was clearly influenced by, if not printed directly from, a theatre manuscript We
                    believe that the 1604 quarto represents the play as Shakespeare first wrote it, before it
                    was performed, and that the Folio represents a theatrical text of the play after he had revised
                    it. The theatrical version is, inevitably, that which comes closest to the 'final' version of the play.

Citing the cuts in the Folio that evidence "literary" revision as well as Shakespeare's own immersion in theatre, the editors, like Hibbard, believed that Shakespeare himself made F1's revisions and therefore "this edition chooses, when possible, to print the more theatrical version of each play."  They, therefore, use the Folio Hamlet with lines from Q2 which are not present in F1 printed as "Additional Passages," maintaining that "however fine they may be in themselves, Shakespeare decided that the play as a whole would be better without them."

          Finally, in the 1993 Everyman Hamlet, editor John F. Andrews takes a different tack.  He comments in his introduction:

                    In places the disparities between Q2 and F1 point to different ways of staging particular
                    moments.  In the process they suggest that what we've tended to think of as Hamlet might
                    more accurately be described as a succession of Hamlets, each with the traits required to
                    bring it into conformity with a given setting and occasion.

This is a very different and much more theatrical approach.  If Andrews believes that no one version is the "definitive" text, and if each quarto and folio show something different and yet relevant about Shakespeare's writing process, then no one version alone would be a sufficient text on which to base his edition.  He continues:

                    The Second Quarto brings us as near as we can hope to get to the original Hamlet of the
                    author's imagination, the Hamlet Shakespeare conceived in the first instance as a scriptwriter. 
                    But it doesn't preserve all the revisions he would have made as he and his fellow thespians
                    rehearsed, performed, and revived the play in a diversity of venues over the balance of its
                    creator's professional life.  The First Folio brings us as near as we can expect to get to the
                    Hamlet of the playwright's maturity.  But it is so compromised and contaminated by non-
                    authorial material that there is no way a modern editor can be completely confident about
                    any procedure designed to sift the Shakespearean wheat from the non-Shakespearean
                    chaff in F1's presentation of the playscript.

Andrews addressed this dilemma by basing his edition on Q2, which he considered to be "a script that is far more subtle in its nuances than even its staunchest advocates have fully appreciated," then adding to it "most, though by no means all" of the Folio passages not found in Q2, but only those that "seem compatible with the Hamlet preserved in the Second Quarto printing."    

          These editorial philosophies and choices of source text establish the foundation for quite different editions, and act as guidelines as each editor approaches the text itself.  The first evidence we have of editorial decisions in each text is the choice of character names and speech prefixes.  In the Oxford Complete works, Hamlet's editor, Gary Taylor, chose to use the full names of each character, including in his speech prefixes the titles for King and Queen but for no other characters, using "Queen Gertrude" and "King Claudius," but simply "Hamlet." In keeping with his theatrical approach to the text, he refers to the characters of the gravediggers by their theatrical identities, First and Second Clown.  Hibbard's Oxford edition eliminates the titles altogether, using "Gertrude," "Claudius," "Hamlet," etc. as well as also using First and Second Clown.   Jenkins chose to use titles alone, referring to Gertrude and Claudius as "Queen" and "King," but used abbreviations for the other characters, as "Ham." and "Hor."  Oddly, he used Q2's stage direction "Enter two Clowns" to introduce the gravediggers (5.1), but added in brackets, [-- the Grave-digger and Another].  He then used the speech prefixes "Grav." and "other" to identify them in the text.  Finally, Andrews also chose the speech prefixes of "King" and "Queen" for Claudius and Gertrude, and "Clown" and "Other" for the gravediggers.  However, while three of the four editions use fairly consistent modern names and spellings for most of the characters and the text itself, with only minor variations in spelling such as "Reynaldo" and "Reynoldo," "Voltemand" and "Valtemand," Andrews chose to use not only much of Q2's original spelling, capitalization and punctuation for his edition, but also many of the original spellings of the names as they appeared in Q2, including Gertrard, Rosencraus, Fortinbrasse, Ostricke, and even setting the action in "Elsonoure," explaining that "it illustrates the working methods of an artist who is less interested in being geographically or historically accurate than in producing a verbal pattern that will have the desired effect upon the ears of his audience."

          A vital choice in the editing of Hamlet is the editor's approach to those sections present in Q2 but cut from F1.  One such section is found near the end of the closet scene after Gertrude's "Alack, I had forgot. 'Tis so concluded on." (3.4.203)  Both Andrews and Jenkins, basing their editions on Q2, with small differences in spelling, capitalization, punctuation and lineation, include the passage:

                              There's letters seal'd, and my two schoolfellows,
                              Whom I will trust as I will adders fang'd 
                              They bear the mandate, they must sweep my way
                              And marshal me to knavery.  Let it work;
                              For 'tis the sport to have the engineer
                              Hoist with his own petard, and't shall go hard
                              But I will delve one yard below their mines
                              And blow them at the moon.  O, 'tis most sweet
                              When in one line two crafts directly meet. (3.4.204-212)

The two Oxford editors, though, basing their editions on F1, chose not to include that section in the text, relegating it to an Appendix or Additional Passages.  Hibbard comments that "The omission of these lines from F contributes to the suspense and surprise of what is to follow in Act 4 by making Hamlet's letters to Horatio and the King completely unexpected."   While this may be true and dramatically interesting, it also changes our perception of Hamlet.  It could be said that omitting them from the text deprives us of an insight into the actively planning mind of Hamlet.  Without this passage, we are left without a vital understanding of Hamlet's perceptions regarding Rosencrantz and Guildenstern which later motivate his examination of the letter they carry.  His actions on the ship then seem out of character, impulsive and reactive, whereas everything else in the play points to Hamlet's actions as being thoughtful, strategic and well-planned.  Does this cut serve a dramatic purpose at the expense of Hamlet's character, or is Shakespeare, by its omission, indicating a change in the way Hamlet reacts after the death of Polonius and his own exile?  This is one of the decisions that an editor must make.

          The use of stage directions also depends on how the editor sees the text   as a literary or theatrical creation.  The very first stage direction in Hamlet is an example of how different editors might use the stage directions to express their intentions.  The stage direction in both Q2 and F1 are almost identical, reading "Enter Barnardo, and Francisco, two Centinels."  Andrews and Jenkins, both basing their text on Q2, chose to use the original stage direction with only slight modernization of spelling and punctuation: "Enter Barnardo and Francisco, two Sentinels."  Both Oxford editors, however, chose to modify them to a more theatrically useful form.  Taylor's stage directions read, "Enter Barnardo and Francisco, two sentinels, at several doors" making it clear that they are meeting on stage, not entering together.   Hibbard goes even further, separating their entrances altogether and defining not only where they enter, but in what order and their intentions: "Enter Francisco, a sentinel, who stands on guard.  Enter Bernardo, to relieve him." (1.1)  Clearly these last two choices attempt to express the idea of how the play might actually be staged.  This expands on the editors' intention to create a theatrical text rather than simply a literary one.

           There are a number of words and phrases in the text of Hamlet for which the meaning and, indeed, the actual word Shakespeare intended is not clear, and each editor must decide which reading they believe is the most accurate interpretation of Shakespeare's original intent.  One of the most debated readings in Hamlet is found in Hamlet's soliloquy which begins, "O that this too too solid flesh would melt, Thaw and resolve itself into a dew," (I.2.129).  The Folio used solid, Q1 and Q2 read sallied, and some have speculated that sullied might be the word that Shakespeare intended.   The Oxford editors, Taylor in the Complete Works and Hibbard, in his earlier Hamlet edition, both followed F1.  Hibbard explained in a long note:

                    Nevertheless, solid is preferred in this edition for several reasons.  First, if the origin of F,
                    as set out in the textural introduction, is valid, solid is either what Shakespeare wrote in his
                    first draft or a revision of what he wrote there.  Secondly, the sallied of Q2 could well have
                    come from the sallied of Q1, and is, therefore, suspect. 

He went on to add that Dover Wilson considered that sallied may have been a misprint of sullied. He then protested that Wilson's reasons for preferring sullied  Hamlet's reference to dirty snow and the speculated unintended and distracting humor of the rather large Burbage referring to his "too too solid flesh"  were unlikely explanations.  

          Jenkins, in the Arden Hamlet, chose to use sullied.  He also included a long note exploring the history of the use of the word saying that "Earlier editors, with their preference for F, naturally adopted solid" but that "Dover Wilson's establishment of Q2 as the more authoritative text brought sullied into favour."  He also claimed that "sullied enlarges the meaning as solid does not" and that it "gives at once the clue to the emotion which the soliloquy will express, brings to mind its near-homonym (solid), which helps to promote the imagery of melt, thaw, resolve dew."   Andrews, on the other hand, retained the original sallied from Q2, noting "a variant of sullied, blemished, defiled.  The folio prints solid, and Hamlet may be combining the two senses in an image of bloated flesh."  

          Each of these editors used their own knowledge of Shakespearean style, literary history and criticism, as well as their own editorial philosophy, to determine their choice of word in this instance and others throughout the text.  And this same knowledge and philosophy has influenced their preferences in every aspect of their editions, from the initial selection of control text to the option of including or excluding additional lines from other editions; from the cutting of suspect lines to the individual choices for stage directions, punctuation, individual words and phrases.  The function of these editors, and, indeed, all editors, in treating Shakespeare's text, is to use their own expertise to draw from the mass of conflicting versions, documentation, criticism and opinion, to establish what they believe is the most authoritative edition of Shakespeare's plays.

                                                                                                    --- Arlene Schulman, August 2006

The Shakespeare Institute
MA "Shakespeare and Theatre"

Module: The Text of Shakespeare
Essay # 1