First posted August 29, 2014.

While preparing the prompt book for our 2015 production of Much adoe about Nothing, I was struck by the scene in which Dogberry interrogates Borachio and Conrad. The scene involves the characters Dogberry, Verges, the Sexton (or Clerk), Borachio, Conrad and several members of the watch. The line attributions, however, are listed as follows:

Keeper, Cowley, Sexton, Andrew, Cowley, Sexton, Kemp, Borachio, Kemp, Conrade, Kee., Conrade, Kemp, Borachio, Kemp, Sexton, Kemp, Watch 1, Kemp, Borachio, Kemp, Sexton, Watch 2, Kemp, {Constable}, Sexton, Watch 1, Kemp, Sexton, Watch, Sexton, Constable, Sexton, Kemp, {Cowley}, Kemp

What this says to me is that the printers did not change anything on these pages, they simply printed what was given them – as is the practice with modern printers. It follows then that the punctuation, spelling and capitalization on these pages also were printed as the originals were presented. If they would not change something so important to the understanding of a scene, from a reader’s point of view, as the names of the characters speaking, why would we assume or conjecture that they changed any spelling or punctuation?

There may be variations between the original copies and what was eventually printed, but I believe that these were more along the lines of misread handwriting. The spelling and the punctuation were taken from the source documents. Much like today’s Kinko’s, the employees behind the counter print what you give them, errors and all. What the printers were given were not errors. When put into practice, these devices work on stage as directions and rhetorical devices. If the printers made changes to the text, apprenticed as they were in the art of printing, not acting, did they know that their changes would translate so well in performance? They wouldn’t. They printed what was handed to them, and what they were given were the prompt books and cue scripts owned by the King’s Men. From a practical point of view, the idea that the spelling and punctuation in the First Folio are a result of printers who were not highly educated, skilled or even alcoholic does not hold any water.

This also is some evidence, although by no means conclusive, that scenes were added or changed by Shakespeare’s actors. The line attributions, in some cases, are clearly made for the actors playing these roles and not for the specific characters. It is a slip that appears throughout the First Folio, but this entire scene seems as though it was written down as it was being played. That is an exaggeration, but it smacks of being an interlopation at some point in the play’s history. That is not to say that Shakespeare did not have a hand in it, but the inconsistency of the line attributions hint that it was not written at the same time as the rest of the text.

Usually I find arguments about the physical printing of the First Folio and authorship tedious and moot since we have the plays that we have and what matters is what we do with them for our audience today, not what they meant to the playwright or his audience back then. This just struck me, and took my thoughts in this direction for once. Although The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project will work from the First Folio, rest assured whatever role they had, Compositors A-F will not be getting any of the billing.

-Andy Kirtland, The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project

Andy Kirtland, The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project

The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project

Author The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project

The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project (USP), which is produced by The New Renaissance Theatre Company, specializes in the performance of William Shakespeare's plays using the Unrehearsed Cue Script Technique.

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