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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

§ 19. Nineteenth century Editors: Singer; Hudson; Collier; Halliwell-Phillipps; Delius; Staunton; Grant White; Dyce

Nineteenth century editors may be distinguished broadly by their attitude to these two texts. Samuel Weller Singer (1826) mainly followed the text of Malone. He led a revolt against superfluous notes and bulky volumes; but he went to the opposite extreme. Out of scores of emendations incorporated in it, chiefly from Theobald, only a few are assigned to their authors, while, in the Life prefixed to the edition, we are told that “Theobald did not wholly abstain from conjecture, but the palm of conjectural criticism was placed much too high for the reach of his hand.” Singer was the first to attempt a refutation of Collier’s “corrector.” Hudson followed in his footsteps with another well printed and convenient edition (1851–2). His introductions deal ably with textual questions, but his chief merits lie on the literary side. Payne Collier, in his first edition (1844), shows distinct bias in favour of the quartos. The text is marred by the retention of many errors, owing to a slavish adherence to the old copies. Collier is quite supercilious towards former editors, expressing doubts about “a’ babbled o’ green fields,” and retaining “strange companions” for “stranger companies” in the passage in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to the detriment of rime, metre and sense. When he does adopt a conjecture, he speaks of it as though it were only the correction of an obvious misprint. Collier now underwent as sudden and as complete a conversion as Steevens had passed through before him. From a hopeless Tory among editors, he now developed into a confirmed Radical. His own Notes and Emendations appeared in 1853. Certain of these conjectures are amongst the best produced in the nineteenth century, and some among them are quite in Theobald’s style. But most of the emendations in his book recall Warburton’s eccentricities. Nevertheless, had they been given to the world as his own suggestions, Collier’s fame would still be untarnished. As a matter of fact, he deceived the very elect into believing that these emendations were corrections in a seventeenth century hand in his copy of the second folio (the “Perkins folio”), until Nicholas Hamilton, of the British Museum, proved them to be fabrications.

A magnificent folio edition was begun in 1853 and completed in 1865 by James Orchard Halliwell(-Phillipps). The text is very conservative, but contains more conjectures than Collier had admitted. Its chief value lay in the fact that, for the first time, full materials for the study of the text were embraced in one edition. Several old quartos are here reprinted, and facsimiles of parts of other old texts; and the notes give a very full account of variant readings. Though Halliwell-Phillipps will chiefly be remembered by his antiquarian researches, his reproductions of the first folio and the quartos were of immense service to the textual study of Shakespeare.

Nikolaus Delius (1854) adopted the first folio as the standard authority for the text of all the plays, and carried out his work with a critical sagacity which makes his text valuable to all scholars. This principle has been shown to be unsound, so far as the duplicate and doublet quarto plays are concerned. The first quarto, from which the folio text was derived, ought to be the basis of the text of the duplicate quarto plays, and Delius is compelled, at times, to depart from his principle. Thus, in The Merchant of Venice (act II, sc. 5, 29), folios have “the vile squealing of the wry-neck’d fife.” Delius reads “squeaking,” with the first quarto. So, again, with the doublet quartos. In Hamlet (act I, sc. 1, 65), the quartos (including the defective quarto) read “jump at this dead hour.” The folios have “just.” Delius followed the quartos in his first edition, though he comes round to the folio in his second. On the other hand, his principle rightly applies to the variant quarto plays. His text of these plays is probably the best extant from a critical point of view. But, in two pamphlets on Richard III and King Lear—the best studies extant of the relations between the quarto and folio text—he rejects the theory of a later revision by Shakespeare. The quarto and folio text, he concludes, both represent the same original; but the quarto is an inferior pirated copy. Howard Staunton introduced many improvements into his edition (1860) from the text of Dyce. He shows a sound judgment on textual questions, and considerable resource in emendation. His notes contain a fairly full textual apparatus in very brief compass. He followed the folio text in the main for the variant quarto plays, except in the case of Richard III, and introduced several fresh readings from the defective quarto in Romeo and Juliet.

Grant White (1861) may be mentioned in the same connection, inasmuch as he professed that his text was founded “exclusively upon that of the first folio,” which marks him as a disciple of Delius.

  • “The superior antiquity of the quarto texts,” he remarks, “is not infrequently brought to the attention of the critical reader of Shakespeare in support of a reading taken from some one of those texts—as if the age of a surreptitiously printed edition could supply its lack of authenticity!”
  • The plays in which the folio text is taken from the “surreptitious” edition are here entirely ignored. Yet his text draws on the quartos almost as much as on the folios. He is often even one of a minority who follow the quarto. In spite of this inconsistency, however, his textual studies have a distinct value. His opinions, though always vigorously expressed, have often been hastily formed, as when he prints “Judean” in his text, but favours “Indian” in his notes.

    Alexander Dyce’s acuteness and soundness of judgment enabled him to produce what his reviewer called “the best text which has yet been given to the world” (1857). He showed a fine discrimination, with regard both to the quarto and folio readings, and to the conjectures which he admitted into the text. He was well versed in Elizabethan literature, and thoroughly conversant with his authorities. He had already given evidence of his ability in his Remarks on Collier’s and Charles Knight’s editions; and, in 1859, he mercilessly exposed the absurdity of many of the “corrections” put forward by Collier. His conjectures are never wide of the mark, and some have been generally adopted. One example may be given from Part III of Henry VI, where the folios make Henry say:

  • Let me embrace the sower Adversaries
  • For wise men say it is the wisest course.
  • Dyce restored a certain reading in “Let me embrace thee, sour Adversity.”