In recent years, ways of dealing with Shakespeare’s texts and with the interpretation of his plays have been undergoing significant change. This edition, while retaining many of the features that have always made the Folger Shakespeare so attractive to the general reader, at the same time reflects these current ways of thinking about Shakespeare. For example, modern readers, actors, and teachers have become interested in the differences between, on the one hand, the early forms in which Shakespeare’s plays were first published and, on the other hand, the forms in which editors through the centuries have presented them. In response to this interest, we have based our edition on what we consider the best early printed version of a particular play (explaining our rationale in a section called “An Introduction to This Text”) and have marked our changes in the text—unobtrusively, we hope, but in such a way that the curious reader can be aware that a change has been made and can consult the “Textual Notes” to discover what appeared in the early printed version.
Current ways of looking at the plays are reflected in our brief introductions, in many of the commentary notes, in the annotated lists of “Further Reading,” and especially in each play’s “Modern Perspective,” an essay written by an outstanding scholar who brings to the reader his or her fresh assessment of the play in the light of today’s interests and concerns.
As in the Folger Library General Reader’s Shakespeare, which the New Folger Library Shakespeare replaces, we include explanatory notes designed to help make Shakespeare’s language clearer to a modern reader, and we hyperlink notes to the lines that they explain. We also follow the earlier edition in including illustrations—of objects, of clothing, of mythological figures—from books and manuscripts in the Folger Shakespeare Library collection. We provide fresh accounts of the life of Shakespeare, of the publishing of his plays, and of the theaters in which his plays were performed, as well as an introduction to the text itself. We also include a section called “Reading Shakespeare’s Language,” in which we try to help readers learn to “break the code” of Elizabethan poetic language.
For each section of each volume, we are indebted to a host of generous experts and fellow scholars. The “Reading Shakespeare’s Language” sections, for example, could not have been written had not Arthur King, of Brigham Young University, and Randal Robinson, author of Unlocking Shakespeare’s Language, led the way in untangling Shakespearean language puzzles and shared their insights and methodologies generously with us. “Shakespeare’s Life” profited by the careful reading given it by S. Schoenbaum; “Shakespeare’s Theater” was read and strengthened by Andrew Gurr, John Astington, and William Ingram; and “The Publication of Shakespeare’s Plays” is indebted to the comments of Peter W. M. Blayney. We, as editors, take sole responsibility for any errors in our editions.
We are grateful to the authors of the “Modern Perspectives”; to Leeds Barroll and David Bevington for their generous encouragement; to the Huntington and Newberry Libraries for fellowship support; to King’s University College for the grants it has provided to Paul Werstine; to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, which provided him with Research Time Stipends; to R. J. Shroyer of Western University for essential computer support; and to the Folger Institute’s Center for Shakespeare Studies for its fortuitous sponsorship of a workshop on “Shakespeare’s Texts for Students and Teachers” (funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and led by Richard Knowles of the University of Wisconsin), a workshop from which we learned an enormous amount about what is wanted by college and high-school teachers of Shakespeare today.
In preparing this preface for the publication of King Lear in 1993, we wrote: “Our biggest debt is to the Folger Shakespeare Library: to Werner Gundersheimer, Director of the Library, who has made possible our edition; to Jean Miller, the Library’s Art Curator, who combed the Library holdings for illustrations, and to Julie Ainsworth, Head of the Photography Department, who carefully photographed them; to Peggy O’Brien, Director of Education, who gave us expert advice about the needs being expressed by Shakespeare teachers and students (and to Martha Christian and other ‘master teachers’ who used our texts in manuscript in their classrooms); to the staff of the Academic Programs Division, especially Paul Menzer (who drafted ‘Further Reading’ material), Mary Tonkinson, Lena Cowen Orlin, Molly Haws, and Jessica Hymowitz; and, finally, to the staff of the Library Reading Room, whose patience and support have been invaluable.
“Special thanks are due Richard Knowles, who allowed us to see his commentary on Acts 1 and 2 for his forthcoming New Variorum edition of King Lear.”
As we revise the play for publication in 2015, we add to the above our gratitude to Michael Witmore, Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, who brings to our work a gratifying enthusiasm and vision; to Gail Kern Paster, Director of the Library from 2002 until July 2011, whose interest and support have been unfailing and whose scholarly expertise continues to be an invaluable resource; to Jonathan Evans and Alysha Bullock, our production editors at Simon & Schuster, whose expertise, attention to detail, and wisdom are essential to this project; to the Folger’s Photography Department; to Deborah Curren-Aquino, for continuing superb editorial assistance; to Alice Falk for her expert copyediting; to Michael Poston for unfailing computer support; to Anna Levine; and to Rebecca Niles (whose help is crucial). We are grateful to Leslie Thomson and Roslyn L. Knutson for theater history expertise. Among the editions we consulted, we found René Weis’s Parallel Text Edition (2010) and R. A. Foakes’s Arden edition (1997) especially useful. Finally, we once again express our gratitude to the late Jean Miller for the wonderful images she unearthed, to Stephen Llano for twenty-five years of invaluable assistance as our production editor, and to the ever-supportive staff of the Library Reading Room.
Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine