Internet Shakespeare Editions

About this text

  • Title: Julius Caesar: Textual Introduction
  • Author: John D. Cox
  • ISBN: 978-1-55058-366-3

    Copyright John D. Cox. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: John D. Cox
    Peer Reviewed

    Julius Caesar: Textual Introduction

    Textual Introduction

    1Julius Caesar appeared in only one early version, and all subsequent texts are based on it. This is the version in the First Folio, printed in 1623 by William and Isaac Jaggard as a profit-making venture undertaken by four individuals named on the last page of the book. The publishers were assisted in their venture by John Heminge and Henry Condell, Shakespeare's fellow actors, who signed a brief and much-quoted preface, "To the great Variety of Readers." Two copies of the Folio text appear in facsimile on the ISE website, together with a diplomatic transcription of the facsimile that Charlton Hinman prepared and published with W. W. Norton in 1968 (subsequently republished with a new introduction by Peter Blayney in 1996 [Blayney, Norton Facsimile]). Readers of the modernized ISE text of Julius Caesar thus have unparalleled access with unequalled ease to the text on which it is based—or at least to three versions of that text, as will become clear in what follows.

    The Printing of Julius Caesar in the Folio

    2A great deal is known about the Folio and about the text of Julius Caesar in particular, and a great deal more is the subject of informed scholarly speculation. A "folio" was a large book, printed from sheets of approximately 14" by 18" (35cm by 45cm), with each sheet folded once to make a total of four pages when printed on both sides in the finished book. These sheets were gathered in separately sewn "quires," or groups of three sheets, so that each quire was equivalent to twelve printed pages, or about half the length of a typical play. In Hinman's facsimile Julius Caesar occupies all twelve pages of the tenth quire in the tragedies (marked with the printer's alphabetical "signature," kk) and ten pages of the twelfth quire (marked ll). Quires were eventually sewn together, and the book was sold in bookshops unbound. The cost of binding was usually borne later by the customer, if he or she chose to pay it; no unbound copy of the Folio survives today. Skilled workers called "compositors" set the type by hand, with each letter and punctuation mark normally represented by a different piece of type (called simply a "type" by printers), though groups of two and sometimes even three letters were sometimes manufactured on a single type, called a "ligature." Compositors had to learn not only how to select and correctly set individual types that were a mirror image of the letters to be printed but also how to set pages of the script out of order and sometimes even in reverse order.

    3This emphatically non-linear process was required for efficiency. As Charlton Hinman showed in his study of the Folio, compositors did not work page by page; they worked by the sheet. Each side of a sheet of paper in a given quire was printed from a single "forme," or two pages of type locked into a frame called a "chase." The inside sheet was printed first, with two facing pages (114 and 115 in the first quire for Julius Caesar) on one side, and 113 and 116, printed from a separate forme, on the other. A compositor began setting the two innermost pages and proceeded outwards, so that the final forme set for the first quire of Julius Caesar was for pages 120 and 109, on the reverse side of 119 and 110, respectively.

    This illustration shows the two quires that make up Julius Caesar (and the first two pages of Macbeth) in the Folio. Each group of two pages (120 and 109, for example) was set by the compositor in a single "forme" for the printing press. When all six sides of the three sheets in each quire had been printed and the printing ink had dried, the sheets were folded as shown, gathered in their proper order, and sewn through the fold or "gutter." Eventually all sewn quires were assembled in the order of their printer's "signatures" (denoted alphabetically), stabbed across the gutter margin and sewn together. This is the form in which the book was sold. A leather binding was added at the cost of the purchaser.

    4The efficiency of this method was determined by the need to recycle scarce (because expensive) type in order to keep the compositors busy. Having printed all pages from the first forme (for the Folio, this probably involved about 750 copies [Blayney, Norton Facsimile, xxxiii]), a compositor unlocked the chase, and replaced (or "distributed") its type in one of two of his set of type-cases, one for Roman letters and one for Italic, each with separate boxes for each letter of the alphabet (lower-case and upper-case—terms still in use that derive from the early print shop [Moxon, 27-30]), for all the ligatures, for every kind of punctuation, for numerals, for decorations, and for spaces of various sizes. The compositor then used the same type to set another forme. With enough type in the shop to set two formes at once, compositors could thus work continuously, but the method indicates that a given compositor was likely to learn very little about linear features of the play whose type he was setting, such as plot and character, especially since print shops typically worked on more than one book at a time, so a compositor would be continuously shifting from one to another.

    5Experienced printers were able to estimate how many printed pages would be required by a given manuscript, and on the basis of their estimate the type for each printed page was "cast off," so that the compositor could begin setting type for page 6 of the first quire for a given play without wasting expensive imported paper in the end. The casting-off for Julius Caesar was quite accurate, as one can see from the final page of the play in the Folio, which leaves about half the page blank—filled with "FINIS" and a large printer's ornament. By contrast, the play immediately preceding Julius Caesar in the Folio, Timon of Athens, occupies a space originally cast off for a longer play, Troilus and Cressida, and two full pages therefore remain void of play text at the end, one partially filled with a list of characters in Timon and the other left entirely blank—an unusual outcome and an undesirable one where the project's financial profit was concerned, because it wasted paper. Lists of characters like the one at the end of Timon—included for just seven plays out of thirty-six in the Folio—invariably occur only at the end of plays that were inaccurately cast off or were subject to some other printing anomaly, thus allowing space on the last page for such a list. Descriptions of characters in these lists ("Caliban, a saluage and deformed slaue," "Cassio, an honourable Lieutenant") therefore need to be regarded with some skepticism as to authorial intent, since the lists were made possible only by the circumstances of printing and were therefore necessarily generated in the printing house seven years after the author's death.

    6Scholars who have become familiar with early printing methods have reconstructed remarkable detail about the printing of the Folio. In an essay published in1920 Thomas Satchell pointed out distinct habits of spelling, punctuation, and spacing in Folio Macbeth, occurring in patterns that could best be explained by the typesetting of two compositors, whom Satchell designated A and B. Satchell's observation was substantiated and expanded almost fifty years later, in the unparalleled two-volume study by Charlton Hinman, The Printing and Proof-Reading of the First Folio of Shakespeare, which makes the case for a total of five compositors, whom Hinman designated A through E, following Satchell's example. Since Hinman's book was published, others have refined his research, and some scholars argue for as many as nine compositors who set type for the Folio, though the method of analysis has tended to yield diminishing returns. For Julius Caesar in particular, Hinman found that the typesetting was done by two journeyman compositors, A and B, who set most of the tragedies from two type-cases, x and y, with which they were respectively associated. Compositor B, however, had the major responsibility for Julius Caesar, setting all but three pages in the tenth quire in the tragedies (kk3v, kk3, kk2v) and one in the eleventh (ll5), which were set by A (Hinman, Printing, 169, 177, 183). Hinman's analysis of typesetting for Julius Caesar is still substantially accepted by most textual scholars (Blayney, Norton Facsimile, xxxvii).