Is what you read what Shakespeare wrote?
The single most important thing to remember about the texts for Shakespeare's plays is that no manuscripts exist that are in Shakespeare's hand, nor did he supervise the printing of any of this plays. And all of the primary texts, including the vaunted First Folio, freaquently have been heavily censored for political and religious reasons, at times whimsically edited, copied from poor copies of copies or set down from imperfect memories, poorly typeset in places, and much more.
During the past 400 years a number of editors have tried to improve the texts with varied success, sometimes adding more imperfections than they created and even basing some of their editions, not on the primary sources but on the corrected texts of the predecessors.
KickAss shakespeare presents three versions of the text for its produced plays which can be displayed singly or in combination with the other version for comparison.
First Folio Text (shown top right) is very close to the original text printed in the First Folio and various Quarto editions over four-hundred years ago. There are a few changes such as the Old English letter 'æ' has been separated into 'a' and 'e' because many modern word processors have problems searching for and displaying the old style. And places in the text where the typesetter ran out of w's and so used two v's instead have been entered as the original w. But most misspellings (the infamous wh?ch) has been changed to which along with similar absurdities. However the syntax, line breaks and almost everything else is exactly the same as it first appeared in the original source documents.
The original texts for half of the extant plays are based on this First Folio published in 1623 - seven years after Shakespeare's death. The source for other plays is noted in the play notes. No matter where the original texts come from we refer to them as the Primary Tests so as not to confuse them with the sources Shakespeare used himself for the plots and settings of his plays.
Common Text (shown middle right) is a heavily edited variation of the original (First Folio) text that is present on most websites and used in most of the books (think of the dusty, common paperback books seen on the selves bookstores and libraries) that are not designed for use by rabid scholars, demanding dramaturges, and serious - if not obsessive - actors. These renderings have corrected the source texts by changing syntax, punctuation and even words or phrases to make them more as the authors believe Shakespeare should have written the plays (or as they believe Shakespeare must have written them originally).
KickAss Format (show bottom right) has been created by KickAss Shakespeare to make Shakespeare easier to read without changing any of the words. It based on the Common Text but has reformatted the text into familiar sentences and paragraphs and modernized the punctuation.
Fortunately KickAss Shakespeare also presents the original side-by-side with these corrected versions so that you can decide for yourself.
But for readers new to Shakespeare the original syntax and punctuation, which follows far different conventions and rules than today's writing (and sometimes follows no rules or conventions at all) can make reading Shakespeare for the first (and even second and third) time agonizingly slow and difficult.
The important thing to remember is that no manuscripts exist that were written by Shakespeare nor any books of the plays that he supervised: all of the play texts, including the First Folio have been heavily censored, edited, poorly typeset in places, and much more more. And different editions - even those published in Bill's lifetime - can vary wildly not only in punctuation and phrasing but also in content.
Spelling: Elizabethan to Modern: While spelling was much more flexible in Shakespeare's time there are some general differences that generally apply, generally. Those are noted here:
- 'I' can be used instead of a 'J' to start a capitalized word: Iudgement, Ioyes.
- 'j' can replace 'i' in the middle of some words: Rejoycing, worthyest.
- 'y' sometimes replaces a mid-word 'i': Neyther, leysure.
- Many word have an added 'e' or even 'es' at the end: Againe, Darknesse, newes.
- Possessives are sometimes formed by adding an 'es' instead of the modern apostrophe 's'
- Plurals are sometime formed with an apostrophe 's' instead of 'es'.
- 'll' sometimes replace a single 'l' at the end of a word: Capitall
Divisions: Acts and Scenes
The division of the plays into acts and scenes (typically into five acts of three to five scenes each) along with their titles are often the inventions of editors who attempted to make the plays more understandable. Even the divisions in the primary texts may not have been specified by Shakespeare.