The subject of this thesis is Alexander Pope’s edition of Shakespeare: The Works of Shakespear in Six Volumes, Collated and Corrected by Mr Pope, (Jacob Tonson, London: 1725). My aim is to examine the nature of the editorial and critical decisions which informed it. This will, I hope, fill a critical gap. Pope’s edition of Shakespeare has been rarely discussed. Where it has been discussed it has been treated without sympathy. Consequently, the story of Pope’s work is incomplete and distorted. It is a secondary contention that a study of Pope’s edition can help us directly or obliquely to a better understanding of Shakespeare, of Pope, and of the requirements and difficulties of editing Shakespeare’s plays.

I have tried to take every question from the most basic level, and have made few assumptions about either Shakespeare, Pope or editorial procedure and tradition. Accordingly when particular scenes in Shakespeare’s plays are examined in detail, some context is given, and where scenes and speeches are referred to, some or all of their content is quoted. It is an inevitable consequence of studying an edition that some considerations are at, or even below, the level of the single word.

On the other hand my study is partial to Pope in that I attempt to adopt his priorities as a prerequisite for study; I hope only to grapple with his decisions after trying to understand them. A result of this partiality is that the critical issues examined are those that seem to have concerned Pope, which are not necessarily those that have concerned later editors. Pope’s complaint about the talentless in his Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, that

Comma’s and points they set exactly right,
And ’twere a sin to rob them of their Mite.
Yet ne’r one sprig of laurel grac’d these ribalds,
From slashing Bentley down to pidling Tibalds.                       (164-167)

suggests a set of priorities which I hope to follow, concentrating rather more on Pope and Shakespeare’s rights to their ‘laurel’ than on their points and commas. Pope’s emphasis on poetic sensibility is not the same as the rigorous requirements for accuracy faced by every modern editor, or even for editors following Pope such as ‘Tibald’ (Lewis Theobald). Indeed, while studying Pope’s edition, many errors have become apparent in it: misprints, mis-spellings, misplaced punctuation. I have largely ignored the peppering of such errors that continues throughout the volumes, partly in deference to what I imagine Pope’s priorities were, partly because such errors can be easily and mechanically sought by anybody minded to seek them, and partly because such an examination is unlikely to provide a significant contribution to knowledge.

At a larger level too the questions I ask have been dictated by what I assume to have been Pope’s own anxieties and interests as he undertook his edition. These, as I hope to show, centre on Pope’s worries over Shakespeare’s creative powers and the authenticity of much of the text that had any claim to be by Shakespeare.

The method employed by this thesis varies from simple factual presentation to attempts at qualitative judgement, what used to be called ‘literary criticism’. Since Pope put extremely few notes, fewer still explaining why he had taken a particular decision, the explanation for his decisions must draw on evidence from elsewhere in his edition and elsewhere in his life and work. Therefore no matter how much evidence accumulates, the means of moving towards an explanation for Pope’s edition remains essentially conjectural. I am unable to say at any point that a situation was certainly so, and have to remain in that uneasy realm where one possibility vies with another.

I have not attempted an account of every play in Pope’s edition, nor to cover every editorial  issue in the plays I do discuss. The thesis concentrates on five works: The Life and Death of King John, The Taming of the Shrew, The Life and Death of Richard the Second, Romeo and Juliet, and The Life and Death of King Lear. I have chosen these plays to demonstrate how wide-ranging were Pope’s editorial and critical decisions. Since the quality and extent of Pope’s poetical taste are the issues over which debate has ranged, the chosen plays are of different kinds, and represent his histories, tragedies and comedies. Variety, however, was not the only consideration. Some of the texts in Pope’s edition differ only trivially from their originals and from later editions. Such plays (for example The Merry Wives of Windsor) do not further our understanding of Pope’s edition. Other plays, which are the focus of particular modern editorial and critical interest, such as Hamlet, present in  Pope’s edition comparatively few critical challenges. The chosen plays offer a range of difficulties and show a broad sample of Pope’s responses. However, since it is eventually my contention that Pope’s editorial procedure is not a describable process, but a creative activity, it is impossible to represent the whole by examining parts, and this thesis can be no more than an introduction to Pope’s work which displays some of the problems Pope faced and suggests part of the way in which he dealt with them.

Throughout the thesis, parallel texts (bound separately) are used to illustrate the difference between Pope’s edition and the texts he was editing. These attempt to align on the page points of interest and to indicate where there are gaps or additions at a glance. Each text extract is labelled x.y where x is the chapter number and y is the ordinal of the parallel text in that chapter. For example, Chapter IV on Richard II has three parallel texts numbered 4.1, 4.2 and 4.3. Within each parallel text features which are referred to in the main body of the thesis are indicated by a thin vertical line to the right of the text. Each vertical line is numbered, for example:

  Ben. I pray thee good Mercutio lets retire,
The day is hot, the Capulets abroad:
And if we meet, we shal not scape a brawle, for now these
hot dayes, is the mad blood stirring.
  Mer. Thou are like one of these fellowes, that when he
enters the confines of a Taverne, claps me his Sword upon
the Table, and sayes, God send thee no need of thee: and by
the operation of the second cup, drawes him on the Drawer,
when indeed there is no need.
  Ben. Am I like such a Fellow?
┐ 1

Here Benvolio’s speech is numbered ‘1’ and may be referred to as ‘the speech marked 1’ in the body of the thesis. To save the reader having to cross-refer between two texts continually, the relevant quotation is sometimes included in the thesis itself.

Choosing which editions to use for these parallel texts has not always been easy. It seems from the evidence of Pope’s correspondence that he took as the basis of his editing, Rowe’s edition of Shakespeare. However, this does not imply that Rowe was a ‘copy text’ with the importance that term implies today. It is clear from a number of notes throughout Pope’s edition and in his Preface, that he saw his text as differentiated from the ‘common books’. These I take to mean the folios, including also Rowe’s edition which is, on the whole, a folio text reprinted in modern type with scene divisions and stage directions. It is in an attempt to be sympathetic to Pope that I have allowed the distinctions between folio texts and Rowe to dissolve except where a particular example demands attention. It seems that Pope was able to float between the ‘common books’ disregarding slight differences of spelling and the odd differing word: these, I shall argue, were not of primary importance to his project. Since Pope had access to the 1623 Folio, and since this text represents fairly, on the whole, the contents of the other folios and Rowe, I have taken this F1 text in all of the parallel texts to represent ‘unedited Shakespeare’, or what Pope termed ‘the common books’.

One means of defining Pope’s editorial position is to contrast it with others. Pope, in the Preface, and in notes throughout the text of the plays, often implicitly sets himself up for comparison with the editors of the folio texts. But these contrasts are not the only ones which enable us to see Pope’s sometimes unique editorial stance. The controversy immediately following the publication of Pope’s edition, and particularly the quarrel with the next editor of Shakespeare, Lewis Theobald, provide material with which to understand Pope’s editorial aspirations. The final chapter of the thesis discusses the immediate legacy of Pope’s edition, and in particular suggests that The Dunciad offers an opportunity for further insight into Pope’s beliefs about his edition of Shakespeare.

Throughout the thesis, Pope’s edition is contrasted with other editions as a means of helping to understand what Pope might have been doing, or what he might have been avoiding doing. Johnson’s edition is frequently cited, since points of activity in Pope often correspond to points where Johnson puts a note, sometimes referring directly to Pope’s edition. Although Johnson does not, as he promises in his Preface, reproduce all of Pope’s notes in his edition, he seems frequently to have made similar deductions about Pope’s editorial decisions to those suggested in this thesis: Johnson seems to have made an effort to guess at Pope’s procedures and the reasoning behind them.

As a representative modern ‘Shakespeare’ text, I have generally selected the editions in the Arden series. Although each presents its own particular problems, I have generally taken the Arden texts to represent the result of the editorial tradition which looks to Theobald as its progenitor< – the tradition which emphasises attention to the printed texts, advocates non-intervention on purely critical grounds, and tends to combine Shakespearean texts. (King Lear, an extreme example, which I discuss in chapter VII, is in the Arden edition a conflation, or inclusive combination, of the quarto and folio texts of the play, very different from Pope’s partial and selective combination.)

Over the last twenty years or so, a new approach to editing has been gaining academic support in the field. It is frequently argued that where ‘original Shakespearean texts’ vary, they are entirely different ‘versions’ of a play, and are printed accordingly. The essays in The Division of the Kingdoms, for example, generally expound a belief that there are two distinct plays, the Tragedy and the History of King Lear. I have not entered into discussion with this body of opinion since Pope’s practice is only obliquely relevant.

* * *

The overwhelming consensus for the last two centuries or so has been that Pope’s Shakespeare is valueless. Anyone attempting to suggest otherwise is bound to feel as Johnson felt in his Preface to Shakespeare when denying the universal applicability of the Unities of Time and Place: ‘I cannot but recollect how much wit and learning may be produced against me. [...] I am almost frighted at my own temerity; and when I estimate the fame and strength of those that maintain the contrary opinion, am ready to sink down in reverential silence; as Æneas withdraw from the defence of Troy when he saw Neptune shaking the wall, and Juno heading the besiegers.’ Brian Vickers, for example, in the second volume of his monumental collection of criticism of Shakespeare claims that Pope’s method as an editor was ‘the quite arbitrary workings of his own taste’. Vickers charges Pope with rejecting ‘what he called “trash” such as puns and word-play’ and complains that ‘over 1,500 lines of Shakespeare suffered this ignominy’. The case sounds devastating:

I never cease to be surprised by the arrogance with which Pope treats Shakespeare – despite his effusive panegyrics – and rejects lines or whole scenes that offend him. Sometimes he attempts to minimise the criticism by holding the players – those vulgar, unlearned, irresponsible people (nowhere is Pope’s superiority more misplaced) – to blame for corrupting the text.

It is the contention of the thesis that Vickers’ use of the word ‘Shakespeare’ embodies a critical, not a factual, premise. (Not even the ultra-conservative editors of the New Oxford edition assume that all the words, all the lines, in all the early texts, were written by Shakespeare.) I am offering a picture of Pope in the process of attempting to answer the question with which he was inevitably faced. Which or these plays, which of these words, which of these lines – were truly Shakespeare? Painting this picture inevitably involves supposition. In an attempt to resist Vickers’ notions of Pope’s ‘taste’ and ‘arrogance’ I have drawn attention to what seem violently contrasting critical positions. Further, I have drawn attention to the differences of opinion between Pope and some of his contemporaries and immediate successors. Comparisons between Pope and Johnson, for example, as frequently distinguish these poets’ opinions and beliefs, as they confirm their similarities. I have occasionally drawn on Pope’s other critical writings (such as An Essay on Criticism and his Preface to his translation of Homer) in an attempt to ascertain his general critical principles. It is however part of my case that editing Shakespeare presented Pope with critical problems which he had not foreseen, that Pope might, in the end, have taken the point of Johnson’s reproof of Pope for calling the duty of an editor ‘dull’:

An emendatory critik would ill discharge his duty, without qualities very different from dulness. In perusing a corrupted piece, he must have before him all possibilities of meaning, with all possibilities of expression. Such must be his comprehension of thought, and such his copiousness of language. [...] Such must be his knowledge, and such his taste. Conjectural criticism demands more than humanity possesses, and he that exercises it with most praise, has very frequent need of indulgence.