Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: Jennifer Forsyth
Peer Reviewed

Cymbeline: Textual Introduction


Source Text and Provenance

1The earliest surviving text of the play, The Tragedie of Cymbeline (listed as Cymbeline King of Britaine in the catalogue of plays in the First Folio of 1623), is also the only independent authority for a source text. The cleanness of the text, along with certain indications such as the number of parentheses, a predilection for hyphens, and reasonably consistent idiosyncratic spelling preferences suggest that Ralph Crane, a scribe who worked for the King's Men on a number of occasions, copied the text, possibly specifically for the publication of F1, from an unknown source.

2For a number of reasons, identifying the source from which Ralph Crane made his transcription presents a challenge, not the least of which is the fact that Paul Werstine and other scholars have demonstrated how such staple concepts in twentieth-century bibliographic studies as "foul papers," "fair copy," and "promptbook," not to mention the qualitative judgments attached to the various classes of documents, are not the absolute categories once believed. Nevertheless, some distinctions once applied to these groups allow us to discuss the characteristics of different texts.

3A drastic simplification of the categories as outlined by W. W. Greg aligns foul papers with authorial drafts, fair copy with a clean copy of the author's final revision, and the promptbook as the copy annotated with performance directions. For the last, none of the signs that bibliographers generally interpret as evidence of theatrical manuscript origins is present: Cymbeline is free from confusion between actors' and characters' names, early entrances suggestive of influence from a prompter's notes to warn an actor of an imminent entrance, and musical cues. Instead, the text features increasingly elaborate stage directions which seem descriptive rather than prescriptive: "Enter in State" (1374), for instance, renders an impression of royal pomp without providing the kinds of information believed necessary to staging a performance, such as the numbers and kinds of attendants or musical cues for a sennet; and

4Enter (as in an Apparation) Sicillius Leonatus, Father to Posthumus, an old man, attyred like a warriour, leading in his hand an ancient Matron (his wife, & Mother to Posthumus) with Musicke before them. Then after other Musicke, followes the two young Leonati (Brothers to Posthumus) with wounds as they died in the warrs. They circle Posthumus round as he lies sleeping" (3065-71)

5is full of details which would be interesting to a reader but whose wordiness would likely interfere with rather than promote the smooth function of staging the scene. Logically, then, if the provenance of F1 Cymbeline is not theatrical, it must be authorial. However, the nature of those authorial papers remains in doubt. Even Taylor and Jowett prefer the explanation that the few demonstrable orthographical inconsistencies between the two halves of Cymbeline result from its having been transcribed by two scribes (Ralph Crane and an "unknown" scribe) to the conclusion that Crane copied the entire play from a play written collaboratively or heavily revised by a second author (256). Thus, applying Howard-Hill's observations regarding Crane's practices to Cymbeline in order to evaluate the evidence that Crane prepared the whole script, in context of the preferences of the Jaggard compositors and the tendencies of Shakespeare and other possible co-authors, especially John Fletcher (known to have collaborated with Shakespeare on Henry VIII, The Two Noble Kinsmen, and the lost play Cardenio) presents a more fruitful avenue of exploration.

6Evidence on the work of Ralph Crane has been slow to accumulate. Since F. P. Wilson's article for The Library in 1926 on Ralph Crane's idiosyncratic spelling and punctuation, only Trevor Howard Howard-Hill's benchmark work in 1972 identifying five comedies transcribed by Crane, Ralph Crane and Some Shakespeare First Folio Comedies, and a few subsequent articles also by Howard-Hill have substantially elaborated on Crane's preferences and experiences as scribe. For instance, Howard-Hill identifies a number of features which are typical of (in some cases, invariant in) Crane transcripts, one of the most prominent of which is Crane's tendency to use hyphens in such unusual cases as to connect verbs and pronouns (e.g. "whip-you") or possessives with substantives (vertue's-sake) (40-41). The list of hyphenated words in Appendix A will give some indication as to their prevalence in Cymbeline; this list naturally excludes the use of hyphens indicating a word wrapping between lines. Because Howard-Hill limited his scope to the comedies, he does not consider the evidence for or against Cymbeline as a Crane transcript. In Shakespeare Reshaped (1993), Gary Taylor and John Jowett offer some arguments developing the suggestion from A Textual Companion that Cymbeline is a sixth Crane play, relying upon Howard-Hill's observations. Roger Warren's edition of Cymbeline (1998) extends the Oxford case to deliver the most complete analysis of the Crane elements present. Compositor studies such as Charlton Hinman's monumental analysis of the traits of the compositors in the Jaggard print shop who set text for the Shakespeare First Folio also provide an invaluable contribution to our ability to evaluate the possible kinds of alteration made to a text, as have those who have confirmed and in some cases refined Hinman's conclusions.

7Crane's idiosyncratic spellings also support the conclusion that he is the source of the scribal transcription from which Cymbeline was set, although it is necessary to examine the compositorial preferences overlying and in many cases obscuring Crane's habits, and doubt remains. His invariable spelling "guift" occurs five times in Cymbeline, with "gift" never. "Ceize," long noted as extremely rare outside of Crane manuscripts, occurs once in Cymbeline. His preference for a doubled medial "t" in "cittie" and "pittie" but not before other occurrences of "-ie" also is the rule in Cymbeline. Crane's tendency to include an "a" following a long vowel recurs in theame, groane, yoake, smoake/ie/s, choake/choak'd, but not generally in "stroke" or "strokes."

8Other characteristic spellings are obscured by compositorial preferences which could be representative of confirming or replacing the original. For instance, Crane prefers the spellings "I'ld" or "Il'd" over "Ide" or "I'de" (Ralph Crane 88); "I'ld" appears three times and "Il'd" once in Cymbeline, with no occurrences of the other two spellings. "Blood," either by itself or as "bloody/ie" is invariant, as is true of Crane's manuscripts but also generally of B's stints. "Traitor" and "vertue," other preferences, likewise occur exclusively. On the other hand, Crane's preferred forms "auncient" and "goe" may either have been covered up by B's preferences or not present in the first place. In either case, with very strong preferences by Crane and B, the evidence cannot be used as proof of Crane's presence or lack thereof.

9The most convincing orthographic evidence may occur when, despite B's usual practice, some of Crane's unusual favored spellings appear. "Extreamitie," a variation of Crane's "extreame," occurs at 1687, and "powre(s)" and "flowre(s)" both occur more frequently than their B-preferred counterparts. Single occurrences of "gon" and "goe," the first in a song and the second in a stage direction, may or may not be significant. Two instances of the contraction "it's" with an apostrophe, still a relatively new linguistic development at the time, appear. Crane's preferred spellings of answer, approach, behind, old, sun, war, and courtesie also appear with some frequency. The patterns seem to be similar to those Howard-Hill analyzes for the five comedies; nevertheless, B uses alternate spellings elsewhere in enough instances to make this orthographic data inconclusive.

10Crane's elaborate stage directions and use of parentheses have also been used in the past to identify Crane transcripts. Of the facts that can be taken to demonstrate that Cymbeline is as likely as any of the other five comedies in F1 to be considered set from Crane transcripts, the observation that "aside from one example in King John, only the five Crane texts and Cymbeline contain parentheses in stage directions" is one of the more persuasive (Textual Companion 604). John Jowett elsewhere observes that "One phrase in particular, '(as in an Apparation)', is striking in that exactly the same words occur, again within brackets, in at least two of Crane's transcripts of A Game at Chess." (113-14). He further considers the wording of stage directions (focusing on The Tempest, but with observations that pertain to Cymbeline as well), noting that the kinds and quantities of descriptions in stage directions, particularly in the use of specific vocabulary words, are similar in Cymbeline and in the stage directions in Crane plays (111). Furthermore, the word "solemn(e)," besides its two instances in Cymbeline, occurs only in The Tempest and the Fletcherian parts of Henry VIII. Crane did not restrict his fondness for parentheses to stage directions but is well known for his use of parentheses around names or titles in vocative address and in general dialogue. Howard-Hill ranks Cymbeline third among Crane comedies in frequency of parentheses and hyphenated-prefix words ("Shakespeare's Earliest Editor" 128, n. 51).

11Another valuable observation is that Crane often altered the spelling of his sources to ensure that rhymes also were eye rhymes, the multiple copies of A Game at Chess making it possible to identify variations and multiple stages in alteration (Howard-Hill, "Shakespeare's Earliest Editor" 119). Without multiple versions, knowing whether any change was made is difficult: if a rhyme is also an eye rhyme, there is no proof that the original author did not write it that way. It is only possible to note that, of the infrequent rhymes in Cymbeline, several do seem to be as close to eye-rhymed as possible, and that this is not something to which Shakespeare usually paid attention. For instance, in his speech to "Briton Lord" after the battle, Posthumus makes several rhymes. Some of them may simply be coincidentally preferred spellings; others seem to be eye-rhymed. Between 2986 and 3014, we find six couplets, ending as follows: lane/bane, end/Friend, doo/too, Britaine/againe, death/breath, and agen/Imogen. The rhyme agen/Imogen occurs once previously at 2020-21, and these are the only two instances of the spelling "agen"; all twenty-three other instances are spelled "againe." At 2610-11, it is possible that Crane's intervention in preference of eye-rhyme has created an editorial problem as it corrupts the grammar. The F1 text reads, "The ground that gaue them first, ha's them againe: / Their pleasures here are past, so are their paine." On the other hand, at 588-590, the triple rhyme do/untrue/you is evidently not adjusted -- but whether this should be taken as counter proof is less clear, since it is so problematical to identify a spelling which would accommodate all three of these words, all of which have accepted orthographical spellings that are incompatible. In the other couplets as well, determining whether the spelling is altered or not simply cannot be established. Nevertheless, even if it cannot prove whether or not Crane is the scribe behind the text from which Cymbeline was set, understanding Crane's practices can help explain the kinds of changes that might have been made, in at least one of which the editorial practices of a professional scribe may have created a wording that has largely been taken by later editors to be an error.

12Howard-Hill also notes that Crane occasionally wrote "Ext" for "Exeunt." In at least one place in Cymbeline, "Exit" and "Exeunt" are evidently confused. At TLN 587, a singular exit is given for a group exiting, "Exit Qu. and Ladies." An alternative explanation besides a misinterpretation of Crane's "Ext" is readily available, however. It is possible, although the line is not full as it stands, that the compositor altered "Exeunt" to "Exit" and possibly abbreviated Queen(e) to "Qu." in order to create enough room for the stage direction to stay on the same line as the text it follows. Again, at TLN 887 and 901, compositorial confusion over an abbreviation may have created some confusion. The scene contains Clotten, First Lord, and Second Lord; Clotten invites the lords to leave, saying, "Come: go." Second Lord responds that he will come soon, and an exit is recorded at TLN 887, followed by a soliloquy by Second Lord. What is unclear whether Clotten, First Lord, or both exit. If both leave, then the direction "Exeunt" at TLN 901 is incorrect. If "Exeunt" is correct, then either First Lord or Clotten must exit and the other remain, but there is no indication as to which would do which. (See note for TLN 901). The only other commonly emended exit occurs with "Exit Lucius, &c." (TLN 1912), where it is impossible to rule out the possibility that the unusually abbreviated direction led to the conclusion that "Exit" would be correct. (The ampersand in a stage direction is commonly associated with Ralph Crane as well, but this line is already full, so the ampersand, like "Exit," might well be compositorial, as might the unusual spelling, "happines," also consistent with Crane's other spellings.) Additionally, exits commonly suffer from irregularity. In a nearly 4000-line play, these few confusions should not be considered too unexpected.

13Beyond the textual evidence characteristic of Crane, his autobiographical comments in The Works of Mercy and The Pilgrim's New Year's Gift (1621 and 1625?) support the possibility that he could have transcribed Cymbeline. Howard-Hill cites these notes as evidence that Crane's association with the King's Men was broken off during the printing of F1, apparently because Crane, at around seventy years of age, was slowing down too much to be of use to a dramatic company where speed was often of the essence ("Shakespeare's Earliest Editor" 125-29; see also Howard-Hill's discussion of the creation and copying of Fletcher and Massinger's Sir John van Olden Barnavelt in "Crane's 1619 'Promptbook' of Barnavelt and Theatrical Processes" for his assessment of a time-sensitive composition.) After the printing of the First Folio, no further evidence of Crane's working for the King's Men exists, although he took commissions from individual authors, including Webster, Middleton, and Fletcher (Howard-Hill, "Shakespeare's Earliest Editor" 127). If we merely extend Howard-Hill's timeline slightly to allow Cymbeline's inclusion as a Crane transcription, it would provide a more tidy timeline for the end of Crane's association with the King's Men. (Of course, it usually pays to be suspicious of tidiness when reconstructing events.) Even without altering the timeline, it is possible that Cymbeline was set from a Crane transcription, given that a transcription could have been made at any point from the beginning of its composition until the printing, though the occasion of the publication is often taken as the occasion of transcription as well. Crane's own testimony that his writing speed was diminishing may help explain the delinquency of The Winter's Tale text in getting to the printers, and possibly why Cymbeline, like The Winter's Tale, is printed last in its section of the folio.

14Because only five other plays from F1 (the first four comedies and the final comedy, The Tempest, Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Measure for Measure, and The Winter's Tale) show convincing evidence of having been copied by Crane, it is tempting to establish a link between this group of plays and Cymbeline that would indicate why only these six required copying. As the tragedies (except for Troilus and Cressida, inserted as the first tragedy but in fact the final play set for the Folio) were included in the Folio in the order in which they were set, with Cymbeline being the last play, genre and printing order can be dismissed. Chronological order of composition can be eliminated: although Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest are among the last of Shakespeare's independently written plays (assuming Cymbeline was, in fact, independently written), Two Gentlemen of Verona is early, and The Merry Wives of Windsor and Measure for Measure are from the middle of Shakespeare's career. Nor does it appear that these plays shared a remarkable textual history such as having been heavily censored or manifestly rewritten. It is possible that some unknown common factor such as being favorites of a patron is at work, but it is also equally possible that they were transcribed for different reasons. The Tempest could have been a presentation copy, Merry Wives could have been so heavily censored that it was difficult even for early modern compositors to set, and so on. Alternatively, the five comedies might share some common feature, and Cymbeline might have been transcribed for a different reason. Perhaps all thirty-five plays were to have been transcribed before printing, but the cost and time became prohibitive, given Howard-Hill's estimate that it took Crane around three-quarters of an hour to transcribe one page of about fifty-five manuscript lines ("Crane's 1619 'Promptbook'" 155). Or, perhaps the first four were printed first precisely because clean copies already existed, for various reasons, and some difficulty with The Winter's Tale and Cymbeline was discovered which required transcription later, during the printing. A problem with the text, whether copious and confusing revisions, unintelligible handwriting, or some other difficulty, might account for the printing difficulties which could be solved by a professional copy. Given the paucity of evidence regarding theatrical documents and the controversy over the questionable utility of traditional bibliographic terminology, the likelihood of ever discovering or recovering knowledge that would provide a causal link is small.

15One of the primary unexplained questions about Cymbeline is the break of some kind between 2.4 and 2.5 (TLN 1336 and 1337) as evidenced by the sudden shift from the spelling "O" to "Oh," which both Compositor B and E follow in their respective stints. This evidence is available because Crane appears to have had no preference between "O" and "Oh" but to have preserved whatever orthography he found. Taylor and Wells conclude that "the Folio copy was a Crane transcript, itself copied from a manuscript in which a second hand took over at 2.5.0.1/1154.1" (Textual Companion 604). Because the shift is not affected by the alternations between compositors, compositorial preference can be eliminated as the source; and because Crane had no preference and because signs of his presence are present in both halves, it appears not to be a scribal change. Another option -- the one which Taylor and Jowett apparently favor -- that two scribes copied the text of a single author, with Crane perhaps copying the first half from authorial papers and the second half from a copy made previously by a different scribe, is suspect on the basis that, spellings aside, a number of vocabulary choices mark the dichotomy (not to mention the illogic of paying a scribe to copy a copy). For instance, forms of "choose" ("chuse," "choose," and "chose") occur only in the first half (four times), while forms of "never" ("ne're" and "nere") occur only in the second half (seven times). More strikingly, the author of the first half exclusively prefers "betweene" and "betwixt" (seven times) while the author of the second half only uses "among" and "amongst" (five times). Other preferences support this split: "either" occurs in the first half only twice, while "either," "eyther," "neither," and "neyther" appear a total of thirteen times in the second half. The second half also demonstrates a marked preference for forms of "taken," with "t'ane" appearing only once in the first half and "'tane" and "tane" appearing nine times. We see "ha's," "has," and "hast" in the first half only in E's stints, and "hast" fourteen times in the second half to one "ha's."

16With most words, the sections do not divide so clearly by orthography or usage, and slight or even moderate preferences do not preclude the use of the word in question. Intriguingly, a few discrepancies suggest the possibility that the two hands are not entirely separate after TLN 1336. The speech prefix for Pisanio, for instance, is "Pisa." through 654 (13 times), heavily favors "Pis." from 1129 to 2750 (thirty-two times, compared to four of "Pisa."), and then returns to exclusive use of "Pisa" (six times between 2779 and the end). Counting by act, Act 1 and 5 favor "Pisa.," with Act 3 favoring "Pis."; Pisanio has only three lines combined in Acts 2 and 4.

17Unfortunately, Taylor and Jowett do not speculate on the nature of the two hands they detect in the text; the problem they are concerned with is determining whether this observation throws doubt on the conclusion that Shakespeare's preference was for "O" (255). If their surmises are correct regarding Crane's participation and the "two hands," it would be logical to extend those assumptions to say that Shakespeare's is the first hand, since the single piece of orthographical evidence they bring forth, the preferred spelling of "o(h)," associates Shakespeare with the first section, through TLN 1336. This agrees with Howard-Hill's provocative assertion that the copies Crane made were frequently of collaborative plays ("Shakespeare's First Editor" 126).

18While not entirely decisive, the weight of evidence makes reasonable the conclusion that the Folio text of Cymbeline was printed from a transcription made by Ralph Crane, probably during the printing of F1 but possibly earlier, from authorial papers of unknown kind and mixed provenance. The shift between the two parts not only in orthography but in some matters of usage as well suggests that the differences represent a collaboration between Shakespeare and another author, conceivably John Fletcher, with whom he later collaborated on three plays.