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Titus Andronicus /

An Introduction to This Text: Titus Andronicus

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

Titus Andronicus was first published in a quarto of 1594 (Q); this printing survives in only a single copy, now at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Q was reprinted in the Second Quarto (Q2) in 1600, which corrected a number of fairly obvious errors but also introduced many more. Evidently, the copy of Q used by the printer of Q2 had suffered damage at the bottom of its last two leaves, the damage resulting in the loss of several lines; the Q2 printer made up lines to take the place of these and added four lines to the end of the play. Until the single surviving copy of Q was found early in the twentieth century, the Q2 printer’s lines were universally accepted as authentic. Q2 was reprinted in a Third Quarto (Q3) of 1611. When what we now call the Shakespeare First Folio was published in 1623, it contained a text of Titus Andronicus that in large part simply reprinted Q3. However, F also provided an additional scene, 3.2, the so-called fly scene, as well as a few readings, mainly in the stage directions, that seem to exceed the capacity of any printer to introduce. The additional scene demonstrates that the F printer had access to fresh manuscript copy. If the scene and the new readings elsewhere in the F version come from the same manuscript, then that manuscript may have been a theatrical one. This kind of manuscript would pay attention, as do the stage directions unique to F, to the sounds, the flourishes or trumpet blasts, that accompany performance.

This present edition is based on the Q printing of the play1 but also includes F’s 3.2 (the “fly scene”) and a number of F’s new readings; the Folio material is placed within brackets, as described below. For the convenience of the reader, we have modernized the punctuation and the spelling of the Quarto and Folio material. 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. But 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 Q or, in 3.2, of F or add anything to Q’s stage directions, we mark the change by enclosing it either in superior half-brackets ( ) or in pointed brackets ( ). If the change is one first found in F, we enclose it in pointed brackets; if the change originated in an edition without the authority lent to F by its reference to fresh manuscript copy—i.e., Q2 or Q3 or any edition later than F—we enclose it in square half-brackets. We employ these brackets because we want our readers to be immediately aware when we have intervened. (Only when we correct an obvious typographical error in Q or, in 3.2, in F does the change not get marked.) Whenever we change the wording of Q or, in 3.2, of F, or alter their 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, as is the usual practice in editions of the play. For example, Q sometimes calls Titus Andronicus’s family “the Andronicy” or “the Andronicie,” but we use the spelling “Andronici” throughout the text. We also 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 Q’s speech prefixes, the Emperor Saturninus is sometimes called by his proper name, and sometimes called “Emperour” and sometimes “King,” but in this edition he is always called “Saturninus” in speech prefixes. 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 actual events. In the play’s first scene, for example, Titus makes clear that he brings back with him from his war with the Goths coffins containing the bodies of the sons he has lost in battle. In the same scene he also refers to his chariot. Some editors provide stage directions calling for multiple coffins (and multiple tombs in which to put them) as well as the chariot, the presence of which would seem to demand the addition of horses to draw it. Q, in contrast, calls for a single coffin and a single tomb, no chariot and no horses. We prefer not to add to Q directions that would require the stage, as it often came to be in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, to be filled with properties (coffins, a chariot drawn by horses) and a set (in the form of tombs) because we see no need to make performance represent every detail of the fiction. Instead we find it is more likely that performance both then and now present a symbolic version of the fiction. One coffin and one tomb stand for multiples of each; Titus’s verbal reference to his chariot serves by itself to bring it to the stage and into the imagination of the audience.

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 Q or, in 3.2, in F. (Exceptions to this rule occur when the action is so obvious that to add a stage direction would insult the reader, and there are many such exceptions in Titus Andronicus since the dialogue itself is often so powerfully clear in its indications of actions—actions often so horrific that there is nothing to be gained by repeating them in additional stage directions.) 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).

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:

 Lavinia, how say you?
LAVINIA  I say no.


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.