Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor 1602 (Tudor & Stuart Library)
It will hardly, I conceive, be demanded that one who has made himself responsible for the humble task of reprinting the first quarto of the Merry Wives should produce a full critical apparatus to that play or should discuss the many and varied problems of literary history that surround it. That is the business of whoever undertakes to edit the more or less authoritative version provided by the folio of 1623. On the other hand it may be reasonably expected of one who turns bis attention particularly to this despised quarto that he should at least make some endeavour to solve the perplexing but fundamental problem of the relationship of the two extant versions of the play. When I lightheartedly set out upon this quest I very soon found that it demanded a far more minute investigation of the texts than 1 had originally imagined. The broad outline of the facts seemed fairly clear and well established, but no general theory appeared capable of explaining in detail the phenomena presented. I was forced to construct for my own convenience a paralleltext edition, by cutting up and pasting into a notebook copies of the present reprint of the quarto and of one of the ordinary modern editions of the folio text. I then began writing detailed notes on the peculiarities of the quarto version, and at last found myself with a mass of material upon which it seemed possible to base something like a critical opinion. To present the final judgment, however, in an acceptable form apart from the analysis upon which it was founded appeared a difficult, if not impossible, task, and I was driven, after some hesitation, to revise my material and put it forward in the shape of a critical commentary on the text. It should, however, be carefully observed that this commentary concerns the quarto alone, and only in so far as it differs from the folio version. Points which are common to the two texts fall within the province of the general Shakespearian editor, a responsible post to which I have neither claim nor ambition.
I ought to say a word as to the predecessors whose work I have used. Halliwell reprinted the quarto text in 1842, with critical apparatus. He assumed that the quarto represented a first sketch of the play and allowed no further discussion of the relation of the texts. His introduction is almost wholly devoted to a consideration of the play in general, and his notes contain little that can be of use to the modern student. There are two other writers, however, to whom I am seriously indebted.
The first of these is Mr. P. A. Daniel, whose short but valuable introduction to the Griggs facsimile contained the first serious contribution to the discussion. The second is the late H. C. Hart, whose critical edition of the play (from the folio, of course) appeared under the aegis of that encyclopedic Shakespearian, the late W. J. Craig. This is, at almost every point, an admirable piece of work, and not only is the delicate question of the relation of the texts most intelligently discussed in the introduction, but many of the peculiarities of the quarto version also receive detailed attention and lucid criticism in the ample notes with which the edition is furnished.
It will, I think, facilitate matters if, before turning to the discussion of the quarto, we consider briefly certain peculiarities of the folio. This, which derives from an altogether independent source, must be admitted to present a distinctly good, though demonstrably not perfect, text. The nature of the manuscript from which it was printed has never, I think, been determined. As a rule early printed editions of plays, when not manifestly corrupt, go back to manuscripts of two kinds: prompt copies—more or less official versions preserved in the playhouses j and private copies— transcripts made for literary circulation....
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- William Shakespeare(Author),W. W. Greg(Editor)
- CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (November 22, 2013)
- Literature & Fiction
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