As every writer knows, there is nothing like a great editor. Even for the most talented among us. Including William Shakespeare.
Debates continue about who exactly Shakespeare was, and whether or not he or someone else wrote his plays and poems. I stand on the side of those who attribute most of the words and work to the Bard of Avon--and the actors who were involved in performing and shaping his plays as a result--and not any of the other people whose names have been bandied about as the actual authors. But a question still remains: when William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories and Tragedies
, also known as the First Folio,
appeared in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death, someone, or several people, had to have edited it, and the given what we know about the two figures whose names are attached to it, John Hemminges
and Henry Condell
, it's unlikely that they had the knowledge, time or dedication to do so. So who edited Shakespeare?
Here's where an attentive eye and close reading, and the possibilities enabled by the digital humanities come into play. In The Guardian, author Saul Frampton guides us through his argument
, eventually to be a book, that a certain John Florio
(1553-1625) probably unknown to all but the most assiduous scholars of the English Renaissance and literary world, not only was the likely editor of Shakespeare's First Folio, but in some cases revised and rewrote Shakespeare's plays
. Not being a Shakespearean scholar, Frampton's argument sounds like a big deal to me, but perhaps it is old knowledge among people in that field. (I checked, and it turns out that there have been arguments that Florio's father
, Michelangelo Florio, wrote Shakespeare's plays, or that Florio may have written them completely by himself; his role as editor
has been less discussed.) What Frampton recounts, and how he goes about his argument, I continue to find utterly persuasive and enthralling.
The short is that Frampton, like many a scholar and reader before him, compared the First Folio with some of the extant quartos of Shakespeare's plays, and noticed differences between them, chiefly in terms of form standardization in the later compendium, but especially in terms of linguistic differences. I recall enough from my study of Shakespeare to remember this particular argument, which I also recall leading to discussions of whether Shakespeare, the players, some other very learned figure or some combo of all of the preceding wrote the plays or not. Digitization of the quartos, however, makes such comparisons much easier. What digitization has also made easier is comparison to other works during the same period, and the occurrence and frequency of certain words in Shakespeare's oeuvre as well as in the work of his contemporaries. What Frampton has found--if I am reading the article right, and this is his finding, or his synthesis of others' findings--is that a number of words that appear in the Folio do not appear elsewhere in Shakespeare's work, but they do
appear, with great frequency in the writings of John Florio, who very well may have been figured, in various ways, in several of Shakespeare's works.
Who was Florio? Born in England eleven years before Shakespeare, and the son of an Italian Protestant immigrant (of Jewish religious ancestry) who fled back to Italy during the brief Catholic Restoration under Queen Mary I
, Florio returned to his native country in the 1570s and made his mark, Frampton says, as a scholar, lexicographer and translator. His books included several landmark language treatises, First Fruits
of 1578 and Second Fruits
of 1591, a 1590 edited version of Sir Philip Sidney
, and his career-making translations, the Essays of Montaigne
in 1603 and Bocaccio
in 1620, as well as two major English-Italian dictionaries. His prodigiousness extends to the level of language itself: third only to Chaucer
and Shakespeare, Florio, according to the Oxford English Dictionary
, is the source of 1,224 first usages in written English, including such still-used words as "judicious," "management," "transcription," "masturbation" and "fucker." Yes, "management"!
Moreover, he had links to Isaac Jaggard
and Edward Blount
, the First Folio's printers, who each had printed several of his works. The First Folio's dedicatees, William
and Philip Herbert
, also had links to Florio all the way back to his father's era. Frampton points out that Florio, given his learned and literary background, deep knowledge of publishing, and links to both men, was an obvious choice as editor. He also knew William Shakespeare as well, and what's unclear to Frampton is whether the two men had beef, and whether Shakespeare was not mocking Florio in several of his characters, including not just Osric in Hamlet
, but in Malvolio and Shylock (because, as I noted, Florio's father had Jewish ancestors). Frampton adds that scholar Jonathan Bate
argues that the infamous "Dark Lady" of one-third of Shakespeare's sonnets may have been Florio's wife. By the time Shakespeare died, Florio was sailing through economically constrained straits, having not received a promised pension, and editing Shakespeare and further strengthening ties to the wealthy Herberts would have been to his advantage in more ways than one.
But this sounds like so much fascinating but circumstantial speculation. Where Frampton really begins to prove his supposition is when he goes to the texts themselves, and begins pointing out how the linguistically inventive Florio's diction and terms, found in his own texts, start to pop in the Folio versions of texts where it had not existed in the older quarto versions or anywhere else in Shakespeare's or even his major peers' works. Let me quote him directly:
If we look at Hamlet, for instance, we notice that the editor
of the Folio introduces a number of unusual words to the text. Thus in
Act 1 scene 5, Hamlet instructs his sinews to bear him "swiftly up" to
revenge. The Folio changes the quarto's "swiftly" to "stiffely", a word
never used elsewhere by Shakespeare but familiar to Florio, who uses it
four times. In Act 5 scene 2, "breed" is changed to "beauy" (bevy),
again a word never used elsewhere by Shakespeare but which Florio uses
three times. And the same can be said of a number of unusual additions
to the play – words such as "pratlings", "checking", "detecting",
"quicknesse", "diddest", "daintier", "hurling" and "roaming". In Act 2
scene 2, Polonius tells how Hamlet was "repell'd" (rejected) by Ophelia.
The Folio changes "repell'd" to "repulsed", the latter a familiar word
now, but one never used elsewhere by Shakespeare, or Marlowe or Jonson.
But such a substitution would occur naturally to Florio, who uses
"repulsed" four times, defining the Italian Ripulso as "repulsed, repelled".
This pattern continues throughout the Folio, in Henry V
, where the word "demonstrated" in the quarto version becomes "demonstrative" in the Folio, a word that not only Shakespeare, but neither Marlowe or Jonson used either, but which Florio used 20 times
in his own work; or in Henry IV, Part One
, the quarto's "intemperance" becomes the Folio's "intemperature," again a word Shakespeare (or Marlowe or Jonson) never used anywhere else, but which Florio uses in his work. Another strange coincidence involves the statement in Henry IV, Part Two
, that the King entered "on the Tarras," which Frampton notes Shakespeare have never used before nor ever again anywhere in his work, but which appears 13 times in Florio's translation of The Decameron
. The pattern continues in other Folio plays, both in terms of changes that favor Florio's lexicon, as well as rare words--"longly," "mothy," "queasines"--that appear not infrequently in Florio's writings, as well as some that appear only
there, such as "enfoldings" and "swaruer" ("swarver"?).
There are also instances where the editor expands and supplements Shakespeare's language, plumping it out rhetorically, making inferences more obvious, as in King Lear
, where Frampton shows someone at work drawing out Shakespeare's thought(s), creating not just amplitude but a richer and more emphatic statement (the words in italics are the Folio additions), as in this statement by Gloucester, in Act 1, Sc. 2:
In Cities, mutinies, Countries, discord; in Pallaces, Treason; and the Bond crack'd, 'twixt Sonne and Father. This
villaine of mine comes vnder the prediction; there's Son against
Father, the King fals from byas of Nature, there's Father against
Childe. We haue seene the best of our time. Machinations, hollownesse,
treacherie, and all ruinous disorders follow vs disquietly to our
Graues. Find out this Villain, Edmond, it shall lose thee nothing …
The original version relies on blank verse, as well as several rhetorical devices, including rhyme, parallelism and hysteron proteron, and the extreme concision of asyndeton and ellipsis to convey Gloucester's quick insight. The Folio editor, however, creates prose, adds, repeats and clarifies what must be worked at in the quarto original, giving himself away, Frampton notes, by some of the words that, as I have said before, appear nowhere else in Shakespeare but do pop up in Florio's own work. Frampton's insight may also explain the fact that Gonzalo's vision in The Tempest
has long been known to have been lifted straight out of Florio's own translation of Montaigne's essay "Of Cannibals", but the borrowing was thought to have been Shakespeare's. It very well now might be viewed as Florio having added his own work, which is to say, his and
Montaigne's, to that of the master dramatist.
Then there is Frampton's query, which also is explosive assertion: that Florio may have removed or edited a reference to himself in Hamlet
, but also might have done so with other Shakespearean plays as well. This leads Frampton to note that given how little we know--and lacking the kinds of powerful search tools now available many generations of Shakespearean scholars, though they have discussed Florio in various ways, appear to have overlooked the profound role he played--it may remain unclear just how extensive a role he played not just in editing, but writing and rewriting Shakespeare's "ragged written copy." Alongside this, there might have been particular motivations for Florio's effort: in addition to having the lines of a character, the clown Feste, correct the grammar and spelling in a letter he quotes that was written about Malvolio, the putative stand-in for Florio, a letter he neither heard read aloud nor repeated. In the play, however, Malvolio gets the last word(s), and, Frampton implies, they very well may have been Florio's guiding point: "Ile be reueng'd on the whole packe of you."
I often say I plan to read works I blog about, and I do try to do so whenever I can, but I can assure any reader here that as soon as I can get my hands on Frampton's study, I will. Until then, here's to Shakespeare, Florio, Frampton, dramaturgy, scholarship, literary study, reading, the digital humanities, and linguistic invention!