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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

§ 3. Duplicate, Variant and Doublet Quartos

This explains the origin of the quartos, in which form the text of nineteen plays first saw the light. As all these plays appear again in the folio edition (Pericles for the first time in the third folio), the relative value of the quarto and folio texts becomes the fundamental question for textual discussion. No generalisation is possible with regard to the quarto text, owing to its unequal character. But, for textual purposes, the quarto plays may be classified as duplicate, variant and doublet. The duplicate quarto plays are those in which the text of the first folio has been derived from that of one of the quartos. The first quarto, therefore, is entitled to rank as the only authoritative text for these eight plays. The printing of some of these plays is equal to anything in the first folio; that of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is excellent. Their comparative freedom from corruption and their adoption by the editors of the first folio suggest that they were drawn from copies not far removed in date from Shakespeare’s manuscript. The spelling of the quarto text is more archaic than that of the first folio. In many cases, it resembles that of the first quarto of the Poems, which may fairly be taken to represent Shakespeare’s own spelling.

The text of the remaining quarto plays diverges to a very large extent from that of the folio, not only in respect of verbal differences, but by the addition or omission of passages amounting, in some cases, to thirty or forty lines, and even to whole scenes. In Parts II and III of Henry VI, Henry V and The Merry Wives, the omissions are all made by the quarto, as are also the most serious omissions in Part II of Henry IV; in Troilus and Cressida, King Lear and Othello, they are fairly evenly divided. The greater completeness of the folio text constitutes it the chief authority for these variant quarto plays. An exception has to be noted in the case of Richard III. Here, the omissions in the folio are trifling, compared with those in the quarto; but textual evidence conclusively proves that the folio text follows two different quarto texts and contains systematic alterations. The first quarto, therefore, becomes the authoritative text for all except the omitted passages. Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet are unique in possessing doublet quarto texts. The first quarto, in both cases, is very defective; but, in the case of the former play, the folio text was derived from the second quarto, while, in the case of the latter, the folio text was taken from a copy which was considerably less complete.