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The storyteller of King Richard: Being a librarian at the Folger Shakespeare Library

Many things special about the Folger Shakespeare Library. It’s known for its world-class resources and early modern studies. That’s also one of the three great libraries of early modern books. The Folger for example has a Gutenberg Bible, It has Shakespeare first folios. That’s the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare, the riches that are held, they are just stunning.

The Folger Shakespeare Library and the George Washington University have always had an intimate relationship. Being a librarian at the Folger Shakespeare Library it’s kind of blessing you have to deserve. If you are a humble  employee, having  a common librarian resume, sample your chances: here you become King Midas in the world of literature. When you look at a text you get so nervous. It felt as if your breath kind of catches. When you’re holding a book and you see somebody’s written in it four hundred years ago, somebody picked up. This book is wrote  by Shakespeare, it’s really a thrilling and fantastic feelings.

Nicholas Rowe’s national heritage

Nicholas Rowe was a lawyer who switched careers and began writing for the London stage. When he was asked to edit Shakespeare’s plays in the early 1700s, he searched everywhere for Shakespeare’s manuscripts but they had already disappeared.

Rowe was thus forced to base his six-volume edition on the early printed texts, the 36 play is collected in the 1623 first folio and printed in the folios. That followed as well as the few plays he could find that had also been printed individually in small quarters, his edition published in 1709 made the plays available and accessible to a wide readership in many ways.

Among the most important he modernized the spelling and punctuation. He occasionally replaced a word that seemed incorrect, he standardized characters names and he added stage directions. He also used material from corto editions of Hamlet and Othello to add to or correct the folio texts. His edition became the basis of subsequent texts for many years. And many of his textual corrections and his decisions about characters names have stood for centuries.

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King Richard story – Inside the Collection

Barbara Mowat, editor of the Folger Edition of William Shakespeare’s King Richard, talk about issues she faces when editing this popular play.

The King Richard text is one that falls into the category of those, that only have the one text. It was only printed in the folio and that’s a big loss for the generations. Because there are things in the play, that would be really nice to have another text to go by. But on the other hand it makes it kind of easy for the editor, because you don’t have to worry about which one to use. You use the one that’s in the folio.

Considering this particular text there are certain passages in it and one whole scene, that many scholars feel and have felt almost from the beginning, were not written by Shakespeare. And that’s an unusual problem for somebody editing a Shakespearean play. The reason that this has some credence is that there is one scene and then parts of another scene, where in the verse versification the style feels very different in those scenes. The kind of image that you get in those scenes are different from what you get in the rest of the play. And there is a reference to a song that is to be sung and we know that the particular song was not written or published until a long time after the play was written. It’s edits from a play by Thomas Middleton contemporary of Shakespeare’s.

So many scholars have believed for a few centuries that it was not Shakespeare, who wrote that one scene and the parts of one act. Now in so long the editors have quickly decided that it’s not it’s not proved, it is what came out in the first folio. So we were going to print it, we would put a note to our readers, that there was some doubt about who had actually written these particular passages.

The other thing that was interesting in the play is the speech. In the prefixes there are two sets of characters. The word that the folio uses to introduce speeches of these characters are problematic. One of them is which in the end the dialogue of the plane. It comes with its own set of assumptions about what these are. So we just had to take note of that and we use to the speech prefix, because that’s what’s in the folio and it was something that we noticed.

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