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VI. Textual History of Richard II

If this hypothesis about Q1's omission and F's provision of an abdication episode is correct, then the relationship of the two underlying manuscripts becomes easier to understand. Scholars have generally agreed that Q1 was set from something other than a promptbook; whether the papers were foul or fair, whether autograph or scribal, has been disputed, but


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there seems little doubt that the manuscript was reasonably clean; Q1 shows no discernible evidence of extensive corruption or sophistication. The simplest assumption, one which at least accords with the available evidence, is that the manuscript was holograph; we may conveniently classify it as 'foul papers', so long as we recognize that some foul papers are much fairer than others.[54] As suggested above, the omission of the original abdication episode from Q1 can be explained as the result of censorship by one or other agent, directly interested in the printing rather than the performing of the text. Long before this manuscript was delivered to the printers, however, a transcript of Shakespeare's foul papers must have been prepared for use in the theatre. Such a transcript might be scribal or authorial; the number of minor verbal variants in F which seem to result from authorial tinkering suggests that Shakespeare at some stage made his own transcript of the foul papers. This autograph fair copy might have been transcribed yet again, or it might simply have been marked up for direct use as the promptbook; the latter is the more economical assumption (though not demonstrably the correct one). This promptbook (whether autograph or scribal) would then have been submitted to the Master of the Revels; he might well have demanded that the original abdication episode be altered. The play was revived in 1601 (at the time of the Essex rebellion) and at some time before 1608 (when Q4 refers to, and apparently acquires its text of the abdication episode from, recent performances). Some time after the publication of Q5 (1615), someone discovered that one page was missing from this manuscript, and patched the gap by transcribing the text of the affected passage from that edition, with some alterations to the stage directions which suggest that a performance was intended. Some time between 1615 and 1622, copy for Jaggard's compositors was prepared by marking up an exemplar of Q3 (1598), by reference to the promptbook. The annotator supplied act and scene divisions; the latter were almost certainly editorial, but the former may have been present in the manuscript. (Certainly, the King's Men were regularly providing act-intervals in performances after c. 1610, so that if a post-1615 revival did occur, the act divisions could have been supplied then.) The annotator also systematically collated stage directions and speech prefixes, transferring promptbook readings to Q3; he collated dialogue variants as well, but performed this function much less systematically.


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On the most economical assumptions, then, Q1 was set from foul papers, or a transcript of them, censored for printing; F was set from an exemplar of Q3 which had been collated against an autograph promptbook, containing a version of the abdication episode and one short passage transcribed from Q5.[55]

The consequence of such a textual history is that the Folio text demands more attention than it is usually accorded. Shakespeare may have revised the abdication scene; certainly, the absence of the episode from Q1 puts the state of the text in Shakespeare's original papers beyond confident recovery. And given that edited texts supply the Folio abdication scene, it would be logical for them to include other Folio readings which also seem to be Shakespeare's minor revisions. The state of innocence would appear to be unattainable. Besides, the Q1 text, though unsullied by the stage, had apparently not, in some of its finer details, reached maturity. Where we can find it, we may prefer to opt for the sprinkled authority of experience.