Textual Editing, Shakespeare’s Metre and the Reader on the Clapham Omnibus

Peter Groves

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Just as in recent years many editors have paid insufficient (or inconsistent, or even contradictory) attention to the authority of the metre in editing early modem play-texts, so more recent editions have begun to discard even the rather basic assistance that has traditionally been supplied to the metrically unsophisticated reader: the Arden 3 editions, for example, no longer indicate the syllabic status of preterite suffixes in the text (perhaps fearing that the occasional grave accent might frighten the horses), and Jonathon Bates’ recent RSC edition rejects the helpful practice, normal since Edmond Malone and George Steevens, of indicating the structure of shared lines by indentation, on the cogent grounds that the First Folio didn’t do it. Ironically, this retreat from the authority of the metre has coincided with large advances, based in part upon linguistics, in our understanding of how metre works. But if metre is not some arid formality but rather a signifying system, this kind of negligence is doing that reader a disservice. This paper will explore some of the ways in which editors might discreetly assist the reader in grasping metrical and prosodic variation (where such variation seems relevant or important), and in exploring (without oppressing the reader with unnecessary detail) the kinds of editorial choices offered by two equally but variously substantive witnesses, such as Q2 and FI Hamlet: one role of the editor here is to draw attention to meaningful variation while filtering out mere noise.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-137
Number of pages21
JournalVariants: the journal of the European Society for Textual Scholarship
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • textual editing
  • editorial tradtion
  • metrics
  • prosody
  • William Shakespeare

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