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Richard III /

An Introduction to This Text: Richard III

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

The early printing history of Richard III is a fascinating study. It testifies to the enduring popularity of the play among readers. Furthermore, although several other Shakespeare plays are like Richard III in that they survive in more than one printed version, Richard III is unique among even these plays for the degree of complexity in the relations between the two quite different versions of it printed in the period 1597–1623. The complexity arises from the evidence that the first version to see print in 1597 is very likely a later version of the play than the second version that was printed in 1623. But the complexity does not end there. The 1597 printed version was reprinted over and over again. More than one of the reprinted texts of this version also appear to have influenced what was printed in the second version of 1623. And so the versions of Richard III crisscross: the first printed version, almost all scholars agree, provides a second state of the play, and later printings of this second state, in turn, influenced the printing of the play in its first state. It is possible (and necessary) then to write a quite detailed account of what lies behind the extant printed versions—and possible to do so with reference only to extant printed texts, without resorting to questionable narratives about Shakespeare’s own manuscripts or about memorial reconstructions of plays by actors in the provinces.

This account begins by identifying and briefly describing the seven earliest printings of Richard III in the order of their printing. The play first appeared as The Tragedy of King Richard the third. Containing, His treacherous Plots against his brother Clarence: the pittiefull murther of his iunocent [sic] nephews: his tyrannicall vsurpation: with the whole course of his detested life, and most deserued death. As it hath beene lately Acted by the Right honourable the Lord Chamberlaine his seruants . . . 1597. This printing was a quarto or pocket-size book known today as “Q” for “(First) Quarto.” Since it offers one of the two basic versions of the play, we need to pause to remark on its differences from and probable relation to the other basic version, which was not printed until 1623, the version usually called simply “F” by editors because it is found in the so-called First Folio of Shakespeare. The Quarto (Q) version is the shorter one: gone from Q are about 200 lines of the Folio (F) version. The passages unique to F range all the way from single words and phrases to one stretch of over fifty lines. But Q also has nearly forty lines that are not in F, including one passage of about twenty lines. In total the individual verbal variants between F and Q—for example, substitution in one text of a word (say, “evils” Q) that is often nearly synonymous to the word found in the other (“crimes” F), or transpositions of the same words (“may you” Q; “you may” F)—run into the hundreds.

Explore the First Quarto of Richard III (1597) in the Folger’s Digital Collections.

Ordinarily when such a textual situation presents itself, there is no way to determine the priority of either text. In the case of Richard III, however, there is a kind of variation between the texts that has enabled editors to arrive at a convincing judgment about the priority of the F text to the Q text. Certain characters appear in Q engaging in dialogue unsuited to them in scenes where they evidently do not belong; their inappropriateness to these situations seems all the more striking in comparison to the appropriateness of their counterparts in the same scenes in F. It therefore appears that in these cases it is Q, rather than F, that is substituting one character for another, and that therefore Q is the later version than F. (It is impossible now to determine just who introduced these changes into the text printed as Q, but since the substitutions affect roles, many have thought that the changes were made in the playhouse.) While there are quite a few examples of this pattern, two instances will suffice to outline it.

The first occurs in 2.4. There in F an anonymous messenger enters to deliver some very bad news to, among others, the Duchess of York, Queen Elizabeth, and the Duke of York, who is the Queen’s young son. The messenger announces that the Queen’s brother Lord Rivers, her son Lord Grey, and Sir Thomas Vaughan have been captured by their political opponents Richard and Buckingham. Once the Queen has heard the messenger’s news—which he delivers baldly, as is appropriate for a mere messenger who can scarcely intrude on the Queen’s grief to offer comfort in her distress—she entirely ignores him and instead laments the ensuing “ruin of [her] house [i.e., family]” and flees with her son to the protection of sanctuary. No one says farewell to the messenger, nor does he say farewell to anyone. He, like other messengers in this play and many others, just exits.

In Q, F’s anonymous messenger is, instead, the Marquess of Dorset, another of the Queen’s sons. Yet he delivers virtually the same lines as F’s anonymous messenger; like the messenger, then, he fails to comfort his grieving mother; like the messenger, he is ignored by his grieving mother, who is so intent on preserving her other son, the young Duke of York, that she fails to remark on the danger of death also confronting her son Dorset; treated as the anonymous messenger into whose role Dorset has been somehow miscast in Q, Dorset leaves the stage without even a single farewell being spoken. The parallel between this scene (2.4) and another later in the play (4.1) only serves to highlight how misplaced Dorset is in 2.4. In the later scene, Dorset is onstage in both Q and F when it is announced by Stanley that, in another obviously threatening move against the Queen’s family, Richard has seized the throne from the Queen’s son Prince Edward. Then, in both texts, Dorset attempts to comfort his mother; then in both texts she voices her anxiety about Dorset’s survival by bidding him “hie thee from this slaughter-house, / Lest thou increase the number of the dead.” Before he exits, in both texts, Dorset formally takes his leave of the new queen, Anne, and is wished “good fortune” by the Duchess of York. While a few critics and editors have attempted ingenious defenses of Q’s substitution in 2.4 of Dorset for F’s anonymous messenger, there is little question that the F messenger is the character who is wanted, and that Dorset has somehow been put in a place made for a messenger.

A similar substitution appears in Q’s version of 3.4, where Catesby evidently takes the place of F’s Lovell and Ratcliffe, and leads Hastings off to execution. In both Q and F, Hastings and his escort address each other as strangers. Such a conversational style is appropriate in F’s version because in neither F nor Q has Hastings ever claimed either Lovell or Ratcliffe as a friend—but utterly inappropriate in Q, because Catesby is no stranger to Hastings. Both versions of the play have earlier presented Hastings’s great trust in Catesby; depending on his “good friend Catesby,” Hastings boasts that “nothing can proceed that toucheth us / Whereof I shall not have intelligence.” Both versions also present Catesby’s deception and betrayal of Hastings, something that would need to be remarked if Catesby were later to lead Hastings to the block. Again it seems that the substitution has been made in Q; again substitution marks Q as a version derivative from the F version. There are a number of other instances: substitution of Brakenbury for the Keeper in Q’s 1.4; of the Cardinal for the Archbishop in Q’s 2.4; of Catesby for Lovell and Ratcliffe in Q’s 3.5; of Catesby for Ratcliffe alone in 4.3; of Ratcliffe for the Sheriff in Q’s 5.1; of Catesby for F’s Surrey in 5.3. In addition, now and again Q appears to eliminate characters from scenes—and sometimes awkwardness is the result. See, for example, Q’s 2.2, from which Rivers and Dorset have seemingly been cut. Or see Q’s 4.1, where, with the removal of Clarence’s daughter, Q’s “my niece Plantagenet” (in the first line) can refer to nobody then onstage. It has been argued that the Q version, even with these questionable substitutions and cuts, could still be performed onstage. No editor would deny such a possibility; the resourcefulness and imagination of theatrical personnel are equal to almost anything. Nevertheless, there is a strong case that the F version of Richard III represents, in large part, the earlier state of the play and Q a later state in which some roles have been disturbed.

Q, the First Quarto of 1597, was reprinted five times before the F version saw print in 1623. In each reprinting of the quarto version, the typesetters occasionally recognized usually obvious errors in the printed copy in front of them, and then corrected these, as, for example, did the typesetter(s) of the Second Quarto (Q2, 1598) in resetting the text of Q; more often, however, the typesetter(s) miscorrected their copy or made mistakes. Thus each subsequent quarto that derives directly or indirectly from Q, the First Quarto, has an identifiable pattern of errors in it. There is no good evidence that any printers of these derivative quartos had recourse to manuscripts of the play. Instead, the pattern of errors in each quarto allows scholars to discover exactly which earlier quarto each printer used as his copy for a subsequent quarto. Long ago scholars concluded that, as already mentioned, the Second Quarto reprints the First, the Third (Q3, 1602) reprints the Second, the Fourth (Q4, 1605) reprints the Third, the Fifth (Q5, 1612) reprints in part Q3 and in part Q4, and the Sixth (Q6, 1622) reprints the Fifth.

None of these quartos differs very much from the others in comparison to the great difference already described between the Q version and the F version printed in 1623. No doubt the printers of F, unlike the printers of Q2–6, had access to a manuscript of the play, a manuscript very different from the one behind Q. But, as has already been suggested, the F version is by no means wholly independent of the tradition of quartos. The dependence of part of F upon a quarto becomes strikingly evident to anyone who is comparing Q and F (or anyone who consults the textual notes) as soon as one arrives at Act 3. In the first two acts, one encounters hundreds of variants between Q and F; but in the first 169 lines of dialogue in Act 3, there are only thirteen verbal differences between Q (1597) and F. Ten of these differences are also found in one or more of the five derivative quartos (Q2–6); part way through these first 169 lines of Act 3, F even begins to reproduce Q’s distinctive speech prefix for Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Glo.), rather than Rich., which is invariable in F until this point, and to which F returns at line 184 of Act 3. Q3 is the only one of the quartos that has all ten of the verbal differences from Q found in the F printing of the first 169 lines of Act 3. Thus scholars have concluded that this portion of F was printed directly from a copy of Q3. Closely similar circumstances begin to present themselves again at 5.3.52 and are in force until the end of the play. And so scholars conclude that for the end of the play the printers of F also employed Q3 as copy.

While it is hard to deny that a copy of Q3 served as the basis for these two parts of F (3.1.1–169; 5.3.52–end), the relationship of F to the quartos is fraught with additional complexity. Consider the rest of F, i.e., the five-sixths of its text outside of the two parts just discussed; there one finds that F prints about four dozen or so readings that had already appeared in the derivative quartos (Q2–6). Some of these readings are corrections; some are obvious errors. Coincidence may be the explanation for these readings common to F and to the derivative quartos, but it is hard to trust to a belief in coincidence in the face of F’s demonstrable dependence on Q3 in the two stretches of text already discussed. Thus no editors, including ourselves, have been able to eliminate the possibility that F may have picked up these readings from the derivative quartos. For a long time, scholars have held the opinion that the F typesetters must have had in hand a derivative quarto after that quarto had been for the most part very thoroughly annotated with reference to a manuscript from which so many of the differences between Q and F must be presumed to arise. The difficulty with this hypothesis is that scholars have not been able to demonstrate which derivative quarto served as printer’s copy for the five-sixths of F that are not demonstrably dependent on Q3. One scholar argues that Q3 alone was used throughout the printing of F; others argue that Q6 was used in combination with Q3, and some have proposed intricate patterns of alternation between Q3 and Q6 by the F printers. Such disagreement among advocates of the use of printed copy for F weakens their case that printed copy must have been used to print the five-sixths of F still in question. In spite of the difficulties attending arguments that the F printers had Q3 or Q6 or both actually in hand during the typesetting of F, we as editors still cannot afford to ignore the possible influence of the derivative quartos on F at any point in its text.

Throughout the editorial tradition, editors have disagreed on the much larger issue of which of the two versions to select as the basis for an edition of the play. For much of the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, Q was given precedence over F. More recently the choice has been made in terms of the narratives that scholars have written about the origins of the manuscripts behind Q and F. The preferred narrative about Q has been that it is based on a memorial reconstruction of the play by an entire company of actors (with Shakespeare perhaps among them); the preferred narrative about F is that the manuscript behind it is directly related to what Shakespeare first wrote. In light of such narratives, recent editors, in their quest to decide and present to their readers what Shakespeare wrote, have chosen F as the basis for editions. More recently, however, editors, while still on the whole preferring F to Q, have been admitting more readings from Q into editions, sometimes on the grounds that Q may contain Shakespeare’s revisions (which these editors claim to have winnowed from the “corruptions” in Q), or sometimes in the belief that Q, allegedly a memorial reconstruction by actors, offers access to the play as it was originally performed. Since all that we have are the early printed texts, these narratives of origin are mere speculation and provide no reasonable basis for a choice between Q and F.

The present edition is based upon a fresh examination of the early printed texts, rather than upon any modern edition.1 This examination has been conducted in light of the needs of today’s readers, and not under the influence of the ungrounded narratives just recounted. We have preferred F to Q on the following grounds: (1) F has fewer errors in need of emendation; (2) its role assignments are to be preferred (as has been exemplified above); (3) it has fewer gaps that require the addition of lines. While the present edition offers its readers the Folio printing of Richard III, it is far from slavish in following F. It prints such editorial changes and such readings from other early printed versions as are, in the editors’ judgments, needed to repair what may be errors and deficiencies in the Folio. One major deficiency in F is, of course, its dependence upon Q3 in the two portions (3.1.1–169; 5.3.52–end) already discussed. For those portions our edition is based on Q (from which, of course, Q3 derives). Indeed, every time elsewhere in the play that F prints a reading that first appears in a derivative quarto, we scrutinize the reading; only if it is a necessary correction of Q do we print it; otherwise we adopt the reading of Q. (This policy allows for the possibility discussed above of bibliographical or textual influence from Q3 and/or Q6 upon the five-sixths of the F text not based on Q3.) In spite of our caution about possible influence on F by derivative quartos, it is also our policy to resist some of the more ingenious arguments advanced by editors on their presumption that the F printers must have had a particular quarto in hand when setting a particular reading in the F text.2 Since the present edition is an edition of a single version of Richard III, the F version, we do not include Q-only lines unless they are needed to fill what we judge to be gaps in F; thus while we at one point print a stretch of twenty lines from Q in order to fill what we believe is a gap in F’s 4.2, we do not include a number of lines that many editors have imported into F from Q in their attempts to fashion from the F and Q versions a purely ideal Shakespearean work that transcends F and Q. However, when there has been some measure of recent editorial agreement about incorporating lines from Q into the F version, these lines are printed.

Whenever we change the wording of the Folio (or of the Quarto in the two long passages for which we must rely on it) or add anything to stage directions, we mark the change by enclosing it in brackets. We use three different kinds of brackets:

(1) superior half-brackets ( ) enclose all readings that do not derive from either F or Q;

(2) pointed brackets ( ) enclose all readings taken from Q in the five-sixths of the play for which our edition is based on F; and

(3) full square brackets ([ ]) enclose all readings taken from F in the two substantial passages (3.1.1–169 and 5.3.52–end) for which our edition is based on Q.

We want our readers to be immediately aware when we have intervened. (Only when we correct an obvious typographical error in the Quarto or Folio does the change not get marked.) Whenever we change a word in the Folio or Quarto or change punctuation so that the meaning changes, we list the change in the textual notes, even if all we have done is fix an obvious error.

For the convenience of the reader, we have modernized the punctuation and the spelling of both the Folio and 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 is not our practice in editing any of the plays to modernize forms of 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 correct or regularize a number of proper names, as is the usual practice in editions of the play. For example, the proper name of the Lieutenant of the Tower usually appears in F as “Brakenbury”; however, in the passage at the end of the play where F is dependent on Q3 and this edition follows Q, we find the Q spelling “Brookenbury,” which we regularize to “Brakenbury.”

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 historical events. Thus stage directions are written with reference to the stage. For example, in the fiction of the play at 5.3.43, Richmond hands his “good Captain Blunt” a letter for Lord Stanley, and so many editors add a stage direction that reads “He gives a letter.” However, when the play is staged, one actor hands another not a letter but a paper prop that stands for a letter. Thus we print the stage direction “He gives a paper.”

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).

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. 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 last two centuries, we display metrically linked lines in the following way:

 Bid me farewell.
ANNE  ’Tis more than you deserve;


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 a computerized text of the First Folio provided by the Text Archive of the Oxford University Computing Centre, to which we are grateful.
  2. For example, at 3.5.67, where Q reads “cause,” Q6 “ease,” and F “case,” editors who are strongly persuaded that the F printers used Q6 at this juncture argue that the F reading (quite unobjectionable in itself) is a careless and unauthoritative alteration of the reading “ease” offered by Q6 alone among the derivative quartos. Here, rather than accept such an ingenious argument, we follow F.