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Coriolanus /

An Introduction to This Text: Coriolanus

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

Coriolanus was first printed in the 1623 collection of Shakespeare’s plays now known as the First Folio. The present edition is based directly upon that printing.1 For the convenience of the reader, we have modernized the punctuation and the spelling of the Folio text. Sometimes we go so far as to modernize certain old forms of words; for example, usually when a means he, we change it to he; we change mo to more, and ye to you. It is not our practice in editing any of the plays to modernize 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 Folio 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 Folio does the change not get marked.) Whenever we change either the First Folio’s wording or 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 regularize spellings of a number of the proper names in the dialogue and stage directions, as is the usual practice in editions of the play. For example, the First Folio occasionally uses the forms “Latius” and “Marcus” but our edition uses only the more usual Folio spellings “Lartius” and “Martius.”

This edition differs from many earlier ones in its efforts to aid the reader in imagining the play as a performance. Thus stage directions and speech prefixes are written and arranged with reference to the stage. For example, at the end of 1.4, which presents the Roman army entering the gates of the Volscian city Corioles to capture it, the First Folio offers a stage direction written entirely in terms of the play’s fictive action: “They fight, and all enter the City.” We supplement the Folio’s direction with the words “exiting the stage” in order to aid our readers in imagining not just the fictive action but also the way that action would be realized in a production. Through such directions, we hope to help our readers stage the play in their own imaginations in a way that more closely approximates an experience in the theater.

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, setting the added direction in brackets to signal that it is not found in the Folio. (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 a character in mid-scene are, with rare exceptions, placed so that they immediately precede the character’s 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).

We expand the often severely abbreviated forms of names used as speech headings in early printed texts into the full names of the characters. We also regularize the speakers’ names in speech headings, using only a single designation for each character, even though the early printed texts sometimes use a variety of designations. For example, in the First Folio the Roman military leader Titus Lartius is given a variety of speech prefixes—“Titus Lartius.,” “Lartius.,” “Latius.,” “Tit.,” “Lart.,” and “Lar.” However, in this edition, he has a single speech prefix, “LARTIUS.” An exception to this principle arises with the play’s leading character, who because of his prowess is given a new name partway through the play. Before he is honored for his bravery in the battle of Corioles, he is usually addressed in dialogue as “Martius,” the name we therefore use as his speech prefix. However, after he is awarded the honor of the name “Coriolanus” in 1.9, he is usually addressed by that name, and it becomes his speech prefix for the rest of this edition. Variations in the speech headings of the early printed texts are recorded in the textual notes.

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 print metrically linked lines in the following way:

 Where’s Caius Martius?
MARTIUS  Here. What’s the matter?


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 Folio provided by the Text Archive of the Oxford University Computing Centre, to which we are grateful.