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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

XI. The Text of Shakespeare

§ 16. Scientific criticism of Capell

Scientific criticism of the text begins with Edward Capell. He was the first to base his text actually on the quartos and folios; and later editors, even when they go back to the original authorities, owe an incalculable debt to his painstaking and remarkably accurate collation of the old copies. Ever since the publication of Hanmer’s edition, Capell had been silently laying his foundations. He is said to have transcribed the whole of Shakespeare ten times. His services, like those of Theobald, have been greatly underrated. An involved style obscured the value of his preface, quite the best piece of textual criticism in the eighteenth century. An unfortunate method, which caused him to avoid noting anything at the foot of the page, except the original reading which had been changed in the text, failed to reveal the prodigious labour which he underwent to form his text, and transferred the credit of it to others. His discrimination between the quarto and folio texts, on the whole, is remarkably accurate. He rightly gave the preference to the first quarto in the case of the duplicate quarto plays; but he certainly underestimated the value of the folio text when he said that “the faults and errors of the quarto are all preserved in the folio, and others are added to them: and what difference there is, is generally for the worse on the side of the folios.” He did not, however, act on this opinion, for he often adopts the folio reading, after taking the quarto as his basis. He made a thorough investigation of Shakespeare’s versification, and his arrangements of lines are often those which are now generally adopted. His care for the metre led him to introduce many words into the text. In fact, he was far too free in introducing conjectures. The original readings are always given at the bottom of the page; but neither these nor the conjectures are assigned to any one. Although he adopted the most important of Theobald’s conjectures, it is remarkable that he should speak of Theobald’s edition as “only a little better than Pope’s by his having a few more materials, of which he was not a better collator than the other, nor did he excel him in use of them.” His own conjectures (distinguished by black type), as a rule, are not happy; but there was no justification for Johnson’s slighting opinion that his abilities were “just sufficient to select the black hairs from the white for the use of the periwig makers.” Three quarto volumes of notes published after his death gave some idea of the labour which his neat little edition had cost.