Some Account of the Life of Mr. William Shakespear (1709)

Some Account of the Life of Mr. William Shakespear (1709)

Some Account of the Life of Mr. William Shakespear (1709)

Some Account of the Life of Mr. William Shakespear (1709)

Excerpt

The Rowe-Tonson edition of Shakespeare's plays (1709) is an important event in the history of both Shakespeare studies and English literary criticism. Though based substantially on the Fourth Folio (1685), it is the first "edited" edition: Rowe modernized spelling and punctuation and quietly made a number of sensible emendations. It is the first edition to include dramatis personae, the first to attempt a systematic division of all the plays into acts and scenes, and the first to give to scenes their distinct locations. It is the first of many illustrated editions. It is the first to abandon the clumsy folio format and to attempt to bring the plays within reach of the understanding and the pocketbooks of the average reader. Finally, it is the first to include an extended life and critique of the author.

Shakespeare scholars from Pope to the present have not been kind to Rowe either as editor or as critic; but all eighteenth-century editors accepted many of his emendations, and the biographical material that he and Betterton assembled remained the basis of all accounts of the dramatist until the scepticism and scholarship of Steevens and Malone proved most of it to be merely dubious tradition. Johnson, indeed, spoke generously of the edition. In the Life of Rowe he said that as an editorRowe "has done more than he promised; and that, without the pomp of notes or the boast of criticism, many passages are happily restored." The preface, in his opinion, "cannot be said to discover much profundity or penetration." But he acknowledged Rowe's influence on Shakespeare's reputation. In our own century, more justice has been done Rowe, at least as an editor.

The years 1709-14 were of great importance in the growth of Shakespeare's reputation. As we shall see, the plays as . . .

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