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Internet Shakespeare Editions

About this text

  • Title: King John: Textual Introduction
  • Author: Michael Best
  • ISBN: 978-1-55058-410-3

    Copyright Michael Best. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: Michael Best
    Not Peer Reviewed

    Textual Introduction

    The manuscript, the scribes, and the compositors

    The manuscript for King John, from which the compositors were working, appears to be unusual in that there is evidence from variant spellings that it was transcribed by two scribes, conventionally designated X and Y (Taylor "'Swounds" 59, "Appendix II" 250-53, Jowett 317, Braunmuller 20-25). In general, there are few signs that it was directly connected to the theater, and there are a number of features that suggest close connection to Shakespeare's own papers, foul or fair.

    5Scribe X seems to have been responsible for the first two thirds of the play, from roughly TLN 1-1893, scribe Y responsible for TLN 1941 to the end of the play (the intervening lines being a no-scribe's-land where there are insufficient clues to assign to one or the other). Because some of the spellings favored by X accord with spellings that may be Shakespeare's preferences, Taylor ("Appendix II" 253) argues that X was either Shakespeare, or a scribe who followed the original Shakespearean manuscript more closely than scribe Y. If X was indeed Shakespeare, we must assume that his transcript was partially modified in order to introduce the occasional expurgations, and the confusing act/scene breaks in the first section of the play (see below). In general, I accept Taylor's conclusion, that at least part of the play was printed from a late transcription; if the first section of the play was set from a Shakespearean manuscript of some kind, it must have been partially modified by another hand.