George MacDonald's 1885 Folio-Based Edition of Hamlet

by Ann Thompson
George MacDonald's 1885 Folio-Based Edition of Hamlet
Ann Thompson
Shakespeare Quarterly
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George MacDonald's 1885 Folio-based
Edition of Hamlet

N A 1995 NOTE IN SHAKESPEARE QUARTERLY, David Chandler pointed out that in 1845 Joseph Hunter proposed an edition of Hamlet based on the text of the Folios which would introduce "slight corrections" from the quartos "but not pas- sages which we have reason to think have been altered by the author himself, or which are found in the quartos and not in the folios. These passages are too good to be lost, but their proper place would be in the margin."' According to Chandler, "Hunter deserves the credit for first stating the need for an edition based on the the- ory of authorial revision, even though nearly a century and a half elapsed before it was reali~ed."~

He refers here to the 1986 Oxford Complete Works, which privileged the Folio text and consigned Q2-only passages to an appendix.3

Certainly Hunter deserves credit for his proposal. But Chandler is incorrect to assume that the 1986 Oxford text was the first Folio-based edition of Hamlet justified by the theory of authorial revision: George MacDonald produced just such an edition a hundred years earlier in 1885.~ That his text was published under the

Joseph Hunter, New Illustrations ofthe Lfe, Studies, and Writitigs ofShakespeare, 2 vols. (London: J. B. Nichols, 1845), 2:203; quoted here frotn David Chandler, "Joseph Hunter's 1845 Proposal for a 'Radically New Text' of Hamlet," Shakespeare Quarterly 46 (1995): 80-81, esp. 80.

Chandler, 80.

'See William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. Stanley Wells, Gary Taylor, John Jowett, and William Montgomery (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986). G. R. Hibbard did the same in his 1987 edition of Hamlet for the Oxford Shakespeare. Another recent editor, Philip Edwards, has agreed with the principle of a Folio-based Hamlet but has taken the less radical step of printing the Q2-only passages in brackets within the main text; see his 1985 edition for the New Cambridge Shakespeare. Some scholars have of course been less convinced by the revision hypothesis; see, for example, Paul Werstine,"The Textual Mystery of Hamlet," SQ 39 (1988): 1-26.

George MacDonald, The Tragedie ofHamlet, Prince ofDenmarke: A Study with the Text ofthe Foiio of 1623, ed. George MacDonald (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1885). The Folger Shakespeare Library possesses a copy of an earlier nineteenth-century text of Hamlet "interleaved with criticisms by George MacDonald:' as the catalogue record describes it (call no. PR 2807.A493 Sh.Co1.). The first blank page carries the inscription"May 16/76 Geo MacDonald." The tnanuscript comments in


title The %agedie ofHamlet, Prince ofDenmarke: A Study with the Text ofthe Folio of1623 may have caused editors to overlook it, assuming it to be a critical study rather than an edition. But MacDonald's is very much an edition-and a thoroughly scholarly one at that. As MacDonald, the author of adult and children's fiction such as Phantastes (1858),At the Back ofthe North Wind (1871), and The Princess and the Goblin (1872), wrote to J, 0.Halliwell-Phillipps,"I have spent a labour over this work that might have served me to write three novel^."^

The edition is laid out with the original-spelling Folio text on the left-hand page and MacDonald's often extensive notes on the facing page. All the Q2-only passages are printed at the foot of the left-hand page, set in smaller type and separated from the main text by a line, An asterisk in the main text indicates each passage's position in 42. Other Q2 variants are printed in even smaller type in the right-hand mar- gin. F-only passages are marked with a vertical black bar on the left edge. Numerous readings from the First Quarto are cited and discussed in the notes, in accordance with MacDonald's description of Q1as "Shakspere's sketch for the plaf despite its having come into print as "the surreptitious edition, the mere inchoation of the drama."6 The editor clearly states his reasons for privileging the Folio:

[All1 the changes of importance frotn the text of the Quarto I receive as Shakspere's own. With this belief there can be no presumption in saying that they seem to me not only to trim the parts immediately affected, but to render the play more harmonious and consistent. It is no presumption to take the Poet for supe- rior to his work and capable of thinking he could better it-neither, so believing, to imagine one can see that he has been successful.

A main argument for the acceptance of the Folio edition as the Poet's last pre- sentment of his work, lies in the fact that there are passages in it which are not in the Quarto [Q2], and are very plainly from his hand. If we accept these, what right have we to regard the omission frotn the Folio of passages in the Quarto as not proceeding from the same hand? Had there been omissions only, we might well have doubted; but the insertions greatly tend to remove the doubt. I cannot even imagine the arguments which would prevail upon me to accept the latter and refuse the former. Omission itself shows for a master-hand: see the magnificent passage omitted, and rightly by Milton frotn the opening of his Comus.

this text are often very close to the notes in MacDonald's published edition, though sometimes more


outspoken in matters of interpretation; for example, the king's opening speech in 1.2 is described as "hypocritical" (123), and Polonius is seen as"tyranica1 [sic] to Daughter and over-indulgent to Son. Both great faults" (opposite 145). MacDonald was clearly already committed to his firm view of the Folio as an authorial revision, commenting on Hamlet's soliloquy in 4.4: "S. struck out this" (opposite 193).

Letter from George MacDonald to J. 0.Halliwell-Phillipps, dated 8 March 1885, now in the collection of the Folger Shakespeare Library (call no. W.b.83:61). Halliwell-Phillipps had written to MacDonald thanking him for the copy of the edition sent to him by the publishers.

MacDonald, ed., viii and xiii.


'But when a man has published two forms of a thing, may we not judge between him and himself, and take the reading we like better?' Assuredly. Take either the Quarto or the Folio: both are Shakspere's. Take any reading from either, and defend it, But do not mix up the two, retaining what he omits along with what he inserts, and print them so. This is what the editors do-and the thing is not Shakspere's. With homage like this, no artist could be other than indignant, It is well to show every difference, even to one of spelling where it might indicate possibly a different word, but there ought to be no mingling of differences, If I prefer the reading of the Quarto to that of the Folio, as may sometimes well happen where blunders so abound, I say I prefer-I do not dare to substitute. My student shall owe nothing of his text to any but the editors of the Folio, John Heminge and Henrie C~ndell.~

MacDonald's distinction between "the editors" and the "artist" seems significant here. Perhaps his partisanship on the artist's side made it easier for subsequent editors to ignore his contribution. His editing practice is fully consistent with his theoretical position. In his notes he discusses both F-only and Q2-only passages, giving argu- ments for why Shakespeare might have inserted or cut them. Loyal to the Folio, he prints itsl'Oh that this too too solid Flesh, would melt" but in a note indicates why he prefers Q2's"sallied [=sullied] flesh.'I8 Similarly, he prints F's version of the "tristfull vis- age" passage but explains at length why "the Quarto reading of this passage [is] the more intelligible, as well as much the more powerful."%e prints F's "like the kinde Life-rend'ring Politician" (which he calls a "curious misprint" for Q2's "Pelican") but speculates,"may we not suspect a somewhat dull joker among the compositors?"10 He prints F's "I haue shot mine Arrow o're the house, / And hurt my Mother," noting that Q2's "brother" is "much easier to accept, though Mother might be in the simile."ll He specifically defends some F readings rejected by all four of the F-favoring modern edi- tions mentioned above, such as "whilst they bestil'd / Almost to Ielly with the Act of feare" rather than Q2's "distil[l]'d"; "Let it bee treble in your silence still" rather than Q2's "Let it be tenable"; andl'inobled queen" rather than Q2's "mobled queen."12

Less certainly, he argues that F's "Oh terrible woer" may be right rather than Q2's "0treble woe:'l3 Occasionally he will argue of a single word, "This change from the Quarto seems to me to bear the mark of Shakspere's hand."14 Here he

MacDonald, ed., xi-xii.

MacDonald, ed., 24-25. While MacDonald numbers his notes and cross-references, he does not number lines; I therefore include here in footnotes the page numbers on which the above quotations appear in his edition.

MacDonald, ed., 168-69.
MacDonald, ed., 204-5.
MacDonald, ed., 262-63.

l2 MacDonald, ed., 29, 32, and 106.
l3MacDonald, ed., 241.
l4 MacDonald, ed., 35.


refers to F's "peculiar Sect and force," comparing it with Q2's "particuler act and place"; but he is equally capable of finding both F and 42 readings "Shaksperian," as, for example, "[Laertes] Keepes on his wonder" (F) or "Feeds on this wonder" (~2)." At times he confesses: "Which of these is right, I cannot tell" (with refer- ence to F'sl'dilated and Q2's"delated"),"I cannot tell which is the right reading (F's "one to" or Q2's "and to"), or "I hardly know which to choose as the speaker of this speech" (F's speech prefix "Kin" or Q2's "~uee").'~

He assumes throughout that a) Shakespeare wrote both texts; b) the Folio is Shakespeare's revision of 42 and should therefore be printed if it makes any conceivable sense; and c) the transmis- sion and printing of both texts were sufficiently unreliable that both can contain nonauthorial errors.

In 1885 a Folio-based text was an anomaly. As Barbara Mowat has shown, the conflated text established by William George Clark and William Aldis Wright in the Cambridge Shakespeare of 1866 dominated editorial practice until the 1980s.'~ MacDonald's edition is mentioned neither by Edward Dowden in his 1899 Arden edition nor by Joseph Quincy Adams in his 1929 kverside edition. John Dover Wilson notes MacDonald briefly but tellingly in his The Manuscript of Shakespeare's Hamlet and the Problems of its Tvans~nissionwhen he says that in printing "sullied flesh," he has "unwittingly reviv[ed] a suggestion made by the novelist George MacDonald in 1885."18 Dover Wilson does not give a precise source here, nor does he refer to MacDonald in his own edition apart from naming him for this reading, again without a precise source and on this occasion undated.lg It is not surprising that subsequent editors down to Harold Jenkins attribute"sul1ied" to Dover Wilson without any mention of MacDonald, who thus disappears from the editorial tradi- tion. Perhaps more surprisingly, this Folio-based edition was not rediscovered in the 1980s. Neither Hibbard nor the Oxford editors note it; Philip Edwards refers to a suggestion of MacDonald's in his introduction but does not discuss the edition as a precedent for his own work.20 William Raeper barely mentions the edition in his 1987 biography of Ma~Donald.~'

In addition to crediting George MacDonald for this innovative edition on tex- tual grounds, I would recommend his commentary on literary grounds: the

l5MacDonald, ed., 201.

l6MacDonald, ed., 17,77, and 245.

l7 See Barbara A. Mowat,"The Form of Hainlet's Fortunes;'Retiaissatice Drama 19 (1988): 97-126.

J. Dover Wilson, The Mantiscript ofShalzespeare's Harnlet and the Problems ofits Transmission: An essay in critical bibliography, 2vols. (New York: Mactnillan; Catnbridge: The University Press, 1934), 2:307. l9 See The Cambridge Shakespeare Hamlet, ed. John Dover Wilson (Cambridge: Cambridge UP,

1934), 151. 20 See Edwards, ed., 16. 21 William Raeper, George MacDor~ald (Tring, Hertfordshire, UK: Lion Books, 1987), 337.


encounter between MacDonald and Shakespeare is always thoughtful and modest, often entertaining and original. I would also urge editors and publishers to consid- er his and Longman's elegant and reader-friendly layout as a possible model for modern editions of two-text plays. In his essay"St. George's Day, 1564,"written to celebrate the third centenary of Shakespeare's birth, MacDonald imagined a memo- rial to Shakespeare in the form of a research library with al'simple and moderately- sized theatre atta~hed"~~-an institution not unlike the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. His own memorial in his edition of Hamlet also deserves to be remembered, and I can assure future readers that all the pages of the copy in the Folger collection have now been cut.
Early Exits: An Open Letter to Editors

HOIVIASL. BERGER, WITH WHOM I AM COLLABORATING in the Variorum edi- tion of Henry V, has called to my attention the situation at the end of 2.3, in which Bardolph, Nym, Pistol, and the Boy take leave of the Hostess. The departure of the quartet is marked in the Folio with"Exeunil (TLN 884) at the last line of the scene. (The quarto text reads "Exit omnes" [sig. C1'].)l Berger has proposed that another interpretation of the dramatic context, suggested originally by Henry Irving (and adopted after him only by E. K. Chambers), which provides for the sequential departure of the Irregular Humorists, will produce a more effective and affecting close to the scene than does the single exeunt direction of the olio.^ This "peeling off" of the characters, one after another (indicated by my added stage directions below), each following his clear "exit line," might recommend itself to directors and also to editors who would wish to encourage readers to visualize this kind of closure here and elsewhere in appropriate scenes.

Pist. Touch her soft mouth, and march.

Bavd. Farewell Hostesse. [Kisses her and exit.]

22"St.George's Day, 1564" in George MacDonald, A Dish oJOrts: Chiejly Papers on the Imagination, atid on Shakspere (London: Satnpson, Low, Marston and Co., 1893), 77-140, esp. 138.

Folio quotations follow The Norton Facsitnile: The First Folio of Shakespeare, ed. Charlton Hinman, 2d ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1996). Quotations from the quartos follow Shakespeare's Plays in Quarto, ed Michael J. B. Allen and Kenneth Muir (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: U of California P, 1981).

Henry Irving and Frank Marshall, eds., Henry V (1888), and E. K. Chambers, ed., Henry V (1905).

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