Introducing the original texts

The book Shakespeare's Words was published by Penguin, so we had to use the Penguin editions of the plays and poems - supplemented by a text of King Edward III (compiled by David Crystal) and the Arden edition of Cymbeline, as at the time neither of these plays were available in the Penguin series.

Reliance on a single edition is inevitably limiting, so we took pains to include in the dictionary all the editorial variants that readers would encounter in the other major editions, most of which derive from a particular reading found in the First Folio (occasionally later Folios) and early Quartos. These are listed in entries using abbreviations such as F and Q1.

This 'bottom up' approach draws attention to individual editorial decisions, but it doesn't allow readers to get a sense of the original texts as a whole. For this new edition of, we've therefore introduced an additional 'top down' feature, in the form of a transcription of the entire First Folio text, along with the First Quarto texts for items that weren't included in the First Folio (Pericles, The Two Noble Kinsmen, King Edward III, and the poems).

David's personal edition of the First Folio was used - alas, only the Methuen full-size reproduction of 1910 - supplemented by transcriptions based on facsimiles of the other editions, and as comparators the items in the splendid series produced by the University of Victoria (Internet Shakespeare Editions).

You'll notice occasional gaps in the original text. These are the places where modern editors have added lines from the Quartos that do not appear in the First Folio, and for the time being we've left them blank so that the coverage of the First Folio can be easily seen. We plan to include Quarto text at a later stage of the development of Shakespeare's Words, when time and money permit.


Two uses of the original texts

We've used the original texts in two ways. For the plays, the text is divided into Acts: if you're reading, for example, a scene in Hamlet Act 1, clicking on the First Folio icon will bring up the original text of the whole of Act 1. We don't divide the Acts into scenes, as scene division are often not recognized in the original texts, and we wanted the appearance of those texts to be as little influenced as possible by the decisions made by the modern editors.

The second use we make of the Folio and Quartos is to allow the reader of the modern editions to see how a particular line appeared in the original text. There are innumerable cases where a modern editor has altered the original - not just to correct an evident typographical error, but to make a choice about alternative readings of a word (Hamlet's solid vs sullied is a well-known example) and to alter the length of a verse line to make it conform to the editor's view of its metrical structure.

By using our parallel text presentation, it's now possible to make a line-by-line comparison, and to see, for example, cases where editors have omitted Folio lines, where they have changed punctuation and capitalization, and where the Folio compilers were constrained by law to replace a religious oath by words perceived to be less blasphemous. This method of presentation also clearly shows cases where extra lines (eg from a Quarto text) have been added to the Folio.

If a distinctive Folio spelling of a word in a Glossary entry is typed into the search box, it will link directly to the associated definition. By 'distinctive' we mean a spelling that doesn't coincide with the entry as shown in modern English spelling. This includes words that are spaced or hyphenated differently from the modern version.


Transcription changes in the parallel text

It's important to appreciate that to make a line-by-line presentation work, we often need to adapt the original texts - which is of course our main reason for also including them without any interference. In particular:

- Modern editors sometimes alter the sequence of lines. For example, in Romeo and Juliet (I.iv.59-61) Mercutio's three lines describing Queen Mab's chariot come later in the speech in the First Folio.

- Modern editors sometimes make a verse line division where there is none in the original text or conflate more than one line in the original; when this happens, we show the conflation using a forward slash /. For example, line I.ii.132 in Richard III in the modern edition is:


Curse not thyself, fair creature – thou art both.

In the Folio, it is:

Rich. Curse not thy selfe faire Creature,

Thou art both.

In the parallel text presentation, the equivalence is shown like this:

Rich. Curse not thy selfe faire Creature, / Thou art both

This convention is also used when two lines are conflated without any punctuation mark, and where the line division would otherwise be unclear. Using this system, it's possible to see cases where, for example, an editor has tried to make Folio lines metrically regular, as in Coriolanus II.i.229ff.

- Modern editors sometimes alter the entrances and exits of characters, as can be seen by a comparison of the line-by-line presentation with the unaltered original texts. Such comparisons can draw attention to points of literary or theatrical interest. Two examples:

In King Lear (IV.ii.25), Goneril's line is not heard by Edmund in the Folio, but is heard by him in the modern text:


Bast. Yours in the rankes of death.




Gon. My most deere Gloster.

In Troilus and Cressida (I.ii.280), Cressida's remark is heard by Pandarus in the Folio, but not in the Modern text (unless she shouts after him):


Cres. By the same token, you are a Bawd. 




Pan. I, a token from Troylus.

Other changes

- We've replaced VV and vv by W and w respectively.

- We've replaced long s by short s.

- If a speech has clearly been misassigned to the wrong character, we omit the wrong speaker-label in the parallel transcription (but retain it in any cases where there is doubt).

- If no speaker name is assigned to a speech in the original text, we leave the line blank in the line-by-line transcription.

- If a speaker name is indicated twice (eg when a speech is interrupted by reading a letter, the speaker's name is often reintroduced in the original texts), we omit the second instance in the line-by-line transcription.

- Lines spoken at exits are sometimes ranged right in the original texts; these are all ranged left in the line-by-line transcription.

- Some stage directions are centered in the original texts, especially at the very beginning of a play; these are all ranged left in the line-by-line transcription.

- When a typesetter of the original text was unable to fit a word, or part of a word, into the column measure, because the verse line was too long, the 'extra' element was placed on the next line and marked off by a preceding (. All such cases are incorporated into the line in the line-by-line transcription, as we don't have the constraint of line length.