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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

§ 17. Johnson and Steevens’s Text

George Steevens, who, in 1766, had done good service by printing twenty old quartos, was, in 1773, associated with Johnson in bringing out a new edition of Shakespeare. The text of this edition was the best that had yet appeared. It contained all the most important conjectures hitherto made, and, owing to the removal of many unnecessary emendations which Capell had introduced, was more faithful to the original copies than that editor’s text had been. But it is quite certain that Capell’s text formed the basis of Steevens’s collation, and that to it was largely due the accuracy of the resultant text. In his advertisement, Steevens says:

  • The Second Part of King Henry VI is the only play from that [Capell’s] edition which has been consulted in the course of this work; for as several passages there are arbitrarily omitted, and as no notice is given when other deviations are made from the old copies, it was of little consequence to examine any further. This circumstance is mentioned, lest such accidental coincidences of opinion, as may be discovered hereafter, should be interpreted into plagiarism.
  • The criticism of Capell’s text here offered by Steevens is sheer misrepresentation. The only “passages” omitted by Capell are a few lines inserted by Theobald from the defective quarto and also omitted by Malone and the editors of The Cambridge Shakespeare. All Capell’s deviations from the folio, except the most trifling, are scrupulously noted by him. Thus, Steevens’s statement as to the use made by him of Capell’s text, while suspicious in itself, must be altogether rejected; as a matter of fact, he follows Capell, in the main, even to his punctuation, and also adopts some of his conjectural emendations.