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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

§ 9. Subsequent history of the Text of Shakespeare

Special causes for these mistakes are to be found, first, in differences of spelling in vogue in the Elizabethan age, e.g. “antique” and “antick,” “rights” and “rites,” “symboles” and “cymbals.” Again, an uncommon word sometimes caused the substitution of one more usual: “moe” and “more”; “intentively” and “instinctively”; “foysons” and “poisons”; “prescience” and “patience”; “unprevented” and “unprepared.” This practice was a thoroughly characteristic licence at a time when an editor had no hesitation in substituting a word which he considered more suitable to the context—“unprofitable” for “improbable”; “the way to study death” for “the way to dusty death”; “phlegmatick” for “choleric.” Thirdly, contractions commonly used in manuscripts often caused variations in the endings of words: “h’as” and “hath”; wc=which; ye=the; yt=that; yu=thou or you; I=ay; “ignomie” and “ignominy”; “conster” and “construe.” The abbreviation “L.” doubtless accounts for such variations as “liege” and “lord.” Finally, there were the ordinary misprints with which everyone is familiar—due to the dropping out of letters (“contradict” and “contract”; “remuneration” and “remuration”); to the omission of words (“his trusty Thisby’s” Qq, “his Thisby’s” F1, “his gentle Thisby’s” F2 F3 F4); to wrong letters (“Loue” Q1 (Duke of Devonshire’s copy), “Ioue” Q1, “Ioane” F1, F2, “Joan” F3 F4); to wrong punctuation (the first folio reads “Dispatch Enobarbus.” As Enobarbus is not present, the second, third and fourth read “Dispatch Eros.” The right punctuation solves the difficulty: “Dispatch Enobarbus!”); to permutation of letters (“Athica” for “Ithaca”); to repetition of letters (“involverable” F1, “invaluerable” F2 F3 F4, for “invulnerable”). Such is the process by which the text of Shakespeare has been evolved—a process precisely similar to that undergone by any classical text. The quartos and folios represent the work of copyists—that of editing follows.

The subsequent history of Shakespeare’s text falls, naturally, into two divisions—a period of conjecture, during which the great bulk of accepted emendations were made, and a period of consolidation, in which a fuller knowledge of the old copies and a firmer grasp of textual principles combined to produce the received text of to-day.