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A Midsummer Night’s Dream /

An Introduction to This Text: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

By Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine
Editors of the Folger Shakespeare Library Editions

A Midsummer Night’s Dream was first printed in 1600 as a quarto. Then in 1619 someone slightly edited a copy of the 1600 quarto, adding a few stage directions and, perhaps, supplying some obvious verbal corrections, to make it the basis of a second quarto edition of the play. A copy of this 1619 quarto was, in turn, annotated and used as printer’s copy for the First Folio text published in 1623. Again both stage directions and a few words of dialogue were affected. Chief among the changes introduced into the Folio text was the substitution of Egeus for Philostrate in Act 5, scene 1. Some scholars think that whoever annotated the 1619 text before it was reprinted in the Folio must have referred to a manuscript of the play that had actually been used in the theater, but this conjecture rests on the most slender evidence.

The present edition is based directly on the earliest quarto of 1600.1 For the convenience of the reader, we have modernized the punctuation and the spelling of the quarto. Sometimes we go so far as to modernize certain old forms of words; for example, when a means “he,” we change it to he; we change mo to more and ye to you. But it has not been our editorial practice in any of the plays to modernize some words that sound distinctly different from modern forms. For example, when the early printed texts read sith or apricocks or porpentine, we have not modernized to since, apricots, porcupine. When the forms an, and, or and if appear instead of the modern form if, we have reduced and to an but have not changed any of these forms to their modern equivalent, if. We also modernize and, where necessary, correct passages in foreign languages, unless an error in the early printed text can be reasonably explained as a joke.

Whenever we change the wording of the First Quarto or add anything to its stage directions, we mark the change by enclosing it in superior half-brackets ( ). We want our readers to be immediately aware when we have intervened. (Only when we correct an obvious typographical error in the First Quarto does the change not get marked.) Whenever we change the First Quarto’s wording or change its punctuation so that meaning changes, we list the change in the textual notes, even if all we have done is fix an obvious error.

We, like a great many editors before us, regularize a number of the proper names. For example, more often than not, the character Robin Goodfellow enters and speaks (according to the stage directions and speech prefixes) under this, his proper name. Sometimes, however, he appears under the name “Puck.” He is, as he himself tells us, a puck or a hobgoblin. Most editors since Nicholas Rowe in 1709 have used the name “Puck” for Robin throughout their editions, but we choose, instead, to employ the proper name “Robin Goodfellow” throughout this edition. Sometimes Nick Bottom, the weaver, is referred to as “Clown” in stage directions and speech prefixes; again we use his proper name throughout. Finally, the workers who rehearse and stage a play for Theseus and Hippolyta are often designated in the speech prefixes by the names of their roles rather than by their proper names; e.g., Bottom speaks as “Pyramus,” his role. In our speech prefixes we supply both the name of the character and the name of his role. We expand the often severely abbreviated forms of names used as speech headings in early printed texts into the full names of the characters. Variations in the speech headings of the early printed texts are recorded in the textual notes.

This edition differs from many earlier ones in its efforts to aid the reader in imagining the play as a performance rather than as a series of fictional events. Thus stage directions are written with reference to the stage. For example, in Act 3, scene 1, when the workers are rehearsing their play, they want to know if the moon will shine the night that they hope to perform it. In the fiction of the play, they consult an almanac to find out, and some editors print a stage direction of the form “Quince consults an almanac.” However, in staging the play, no actor need use an almanac itself; any book of reasonable size will do as a hand prop. And so, writing stage directions from the perspective of the stage, we print “Quince takes out a book.” Whenever it is reasonably certain, in our view, that a speech is accompanied by a particular action, we provide a stage direction describing the action. (Occasional exceptions to this rule occur when the action is so obvious that to add a stage direction would insult the reader.) Stage directions for the entrance of characters in mid-scene are, with rare exceptions, placed so that they immediately precede the characters’ participation in the scene, even though these entrances may appear somewhat earlier in the early printed texts. Whenever we move a stage direction, we record this change in the textual notes. Latin stage directions (e.g., Exeunt) are translated into English (e.g., They exit).

In the present edition, as well, we mark with a dash any change of address within a speech, unless a stage direction intervenes. When the -ed ending of a word is to be pronounced, we mark it with an accent.

Like editors for the past two centuries, we display metrically linked lines in the following way:

 So is Lysander.
THESEUS  In himself he is.

However, when there are a number of short verse-lines that can be linked in more than one way, we do not, with rare exceptions, indent any of them.

  1. We have also consulted the computerized text of the First Quarto provided by the Text Archive of the Oxford University Computing Centre, to which we are grateful.