University of Virginia Library

Act and Scene Divisions

The Folio's introduction of act and scene divisions supplies the final piece in the jigsaw. They were almost certainly marked on to the quarto copy. The theatrical significance of act divisions remains in some doubt, but it is most probable that by 1610 the King's Men's promptbooks were regularly marked with act divisions.[30] There is no particular reason to doubt the validity of F's act division. (No one will doubt that the beginning of Act 4 at least is correctly positioned.) The scene divisions, on the other hand, include a generally-recognized error. Despite Q1's direction 'Exeunt. Manet sir Pierce Exton, &c.' (2651-52), almost all editors agree that the required staging is indicated in F: 'Exeunt. | Enter Exton and Seruants'. But F does not introduce a scene break, instead continuing its scene 5.3, and so misnumbering 5.5 and 5.6 as 5.4 and 5.5. This single anomaly can scarcely be unconnected with the form of the direction in Q.

The evidence of Richard II itself is here supported by an examination of other texts. The Folio contains eight plays set from lightly annotated quarto copy. One of these (Romeo and Juliet) has no act or scene divisions, and shows few if any signs of promptbook consultation;[31] five (Love's Labour's Lost, The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Much Ado about Nothing, and Titus Andronicus), which were collated against theatrical manuscripts, provide act divisions only.[32] In Titus and Dream the text has been adjusted to accommodate an act division, which therefore seems likely to have come from the promptbook;


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the authority of the division in Love's Labour's Lost has been doubted, but the act divisions in the two other comedies are at least acceptable and may derive from theatrical manuscripts. On the basis of these six other plays we might expect consultation of a promptbook to result in the provision of act divisions, but not scene-breaks. Only Richard II and I Henry IV provide act and scene divisions; as with the other texts, the act divisions are sensible, but in both plays an error in the scene divisions results from a misleading quarto direction. In I Henry IV, after TLN 2890 Q5 (following Q1) has the stage direction,
Here they embrace, the Trumpets sound, the King enters with his power,
alarme to the Battell: then enter Dowglas, and Sir Walter Blunt.
Whether or not one accepts Rowe's interpolation of 'and exeunt' after 'embrace', the stage is evidently cleared at some point before the entrance of Douglas and Blunt; all editors mark a new scene (5.3). The Folio omits 'Here', substitutes 'entereth' for 'enters' and 'alarum vnto' for 'alarme to', but does not supply the missing scene division, and consequently mis-numbers the two following scenes. As with Richard II, it seems fairly evident that scene divisions were not marked in the annotator's manuscript, and that the annotator failed to mark a division here because he did not see the need for one. He could easily have been misled by the fact that Q5 does not contain the keyword 'Exeunt' or 'Exit'; either the manuscript also failed to supply the word, or he failed to transfer it from that source.