Internet Shakespeare Editions

About this text

  • Title: Twelfth Night: Textual Introduction
  • Authors: David Carnegie, Mark Houlahan

  • Copyright Internet Shakespeare Editions. This text may be freely used for educational, non-proift purposes; for all other uses contact the Coordinating Editor.
    Authors: David Carnegie, Mark Houlahan
    Peer Reviewed

    Textual Introduction

    1Twelfth Night was first published in 1623, as the second to last comedy in the "Comedies" section of the 1623 FirstFolio. All subsequent editions, including ours, are based on it. The very first readers of Twelfth Night, however, would have been Shakespeare's fellow actors in the Lord Chamberlain's Men, likely some time in 1601, for whom their parts (their own speeches, plus the last word or two of the preceding speech as a cue) would have been copied out onto individual scrolls by a theatre scribe. The only complete official version of the play would also have been handwritten, the manuscript "Book" of the play licensed by the Master of the Revels. This was retained by the "bookholder" at the theatre for use as the prompt copy; the theatre company owned the play, not the author. Until 1623, Twelfth Night was only available to the public in performance. Like about half of Shakespeare's plays, it was never printed during his lifetime.

    Shakespeare died in 1616. As a tribute to him, two of his old colleagues in the company prepared his plays for publication in a prestigious folio format by a small syndicate of publishers, and it appeared in 1623 as Mr William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. This edition, known as the First Folio, was the first appearance in print of Twelfth Night. In the absence of any surviving manuscripts, or any earlier text, the Folio is therefore not only the first but the only authoritative edition.

    Although the Folio is the only extant authority, it is not the manuscript Shakespeare gave the company over twenty years earlier, nor do the printers appear to have set the play from the "Book". The Folio text has loose ends that would have had to be tidied up in the playhouse, in particular inadequate stage directions, especially entrances, which are at points insufficient to guide a performance. In our edition we have provided suggestions as to what Shakespeares company almost certainly did (these are enclosed by brackets [ ]), and others as to what the company probably did (enclosed by brackets [ ] and in gray type).

    The Folio text does, however, reflect some of the characteristics of a text prepared by a professional scribe. In the stage directions and speech prefixes, for instance, Orsino is consistently called "Duke", despite the Folio dialogue sometimes calling him Duke and sometimes Count. If the copy for the Folio text came from the "book" of the play used in the playhouse, the consistency of stage directions and speech prefixes may be attributable to a scribe (although the inconsistency within the dialogue may be deliberate; see Introduction, pp. 000–000). Another indication of someone other than Shakespeare arranging the text is evident from each new act and scene starting with a heading in Latin. If you look, for example, at page 255 (through page number 273) of F1 , you will see the terms Actus Primus, Scaena Prima and Scena Secunda (Act One, Scene One, and Scene Two). The Folio then marks each scene in Latin, and notes the end of each Act (except Act Three) with Finis (the end). This is a clear characteristic of a text prepared to be read, as it reflects the desire to make English texts resemble Renaissance editions of Latin and Greek playtexts, and the information in Latin would not have been useful to the players themselves until nearly a decade after the play was written. Only towards 1610 did all playwrights start to write their plays in acts as well as scenes (Taylor 1993, 3–50).

    5We know from Charlton Hinman's groundbreaking work that a delay in preparing the First Folio took place when most of the comedies had been printed, and that the press jumped ahead from All's Well That Ends Well to print the first two histories--King John and Richard II--before coming back to finish the comedies (Hinman, II. 480-486). All's Well, which precedes Twelfth Night in the Folio,was likely set from a manuscript in Shakespeare's hand, though this manuscript has not survived (Wells & Taylor 1987, 492). This would probably be a rough draft containing errors and inconsistencies, and evidence shows the compositors had some difficulty reading it. The subsequent delay may well have resulted from the printer demanding that the two comedies remaining to be printed be first recopied professionally. We know that The Winter's Tale was set from a transcript prepared by a scribe called Ralph Crane; it seems likely that Twelfth Night was also a transcript of Shakespeare's manuscript in a good, fair copy. It is unlikely that Crane was the scribe who made this version of the play but we do not yet know who that scribe was (Howard Hill 1992, 128).

    Since the scribe does not seem to have been copying the prompt copy for Twelfth Night, what was he copying? We shall probably never know for sure, but it seems most likely that it was either a rough draft by Shakespeare (which itself just might have become the "Book"), or a fair copy written out for delivery to the theater company.

    Thus our earliest printed copy of the play has been through the hands of compositors and proofreaders in the printing house, themselves working from a scribal transcript, itself a copy of another manuscript which may or may not have been in Shakespeare's hand, and which was almost certainly not identical to the company's promptbook. At each stage of transmission we can be sure that minor errors, alterations and attempted corrections or even improvements were added. And at no stage was consistency of spelling a matter of concern. Nevertheless, Twelfth Night is, by Renaissance standards, a clean text with relatively few significant misprints or obvious misreadings.

    Several aspects of the play suggest the possibility of revision, as if the manuscript the scribe used, showed Shakespeare changing his mind as he wrote the play; or having made some adjustments after finishing it. In 1.2, Viola's first plan is to dress as a eunuch who can sing. Instead, when we next see her, she has been accepted at Orsino's court as the page Cesario. Cesario never sings. Instead it is the Clown who sings for the Duke in 2.5 ('Come away, come away Death'). Some have thought this change arose because of changes in the theatre company. Perhaps some time after 1602 (when we know the play was first performed) the boy playing Viola could no longer sing a boy soprano part; then too, singing was a specialty of Robert Armin, the actor who played the main comic parts in the King's Men's plays in the early 1600s. These changes are now usually seen as deliberate artistic choices on Shakespeare's part. The clown's songs are a remarkable feature of the play; and of all Shakespeare's clowns, he is the one most identified as being a professional entertainer, who sings, plays music and makes jokes for money. Though our edition tidies some of the typos in the Folio and amends terms which seem clearly mistaken, we assume that, on the whole, the Folio text is the closest we can come to the play Shakespeare actually devised.

    The fair copy of the play delivered to the theatre would have been adapted to the requirements of the company in details of casting, props, and other practical elements. On stage, the actors provided the punctuation, deciding for themselves where to pause as they spoke, and their "parts" would either have very light or no punctuation (Palfrey and Stern, 2007, 15–29). For the printed edition, the scribe and compositors supplied most of the punctuation, producing a text intended for readers rather than actors. In neither case can we recover an authentic "Shakespearean" original, because a play (as many modern studies have shown) is a cooperative, social enterprise, subject to negotiation and adaptation, both in the theater and the printing house.

    10This edition enters into a similar collaboration in presenting a text with modernized spelling and punctuation, and speech prefixes and stage directions which provide consistency in order to allow the reader to visualise a performance and the actor to get on and off the stage at the right time. There is always a danger, however, that editorial choices, particularly in punctuation, may close off genuine alternative interpretations. Editors, like Shakespearean actors, select options that appear best to serve the play. Others who come later may make other choices; and the curious reader should consult the digital copy of the Folio Twelfth Night on the Internet Shakespeare Editions website. There you can also read our old spelling, diplomatic transcript of the Folio Twelfth Night. This uses a modern typeface, but preserves all the spelling and punctuation from the Folio.

    In this edition, the names of characters have been regularised in speech prefixes and stage directions. Variations in spelling or presentation (e.g. Antonio/Anthonio, Andrew/Sir Andrew) are silently made consistent. Orsino and Olivia, except for the first entry of each, are referred to by name only, although the Folio always refers to Orsino as "Duke" (or its abbreviation) in speech prefixes and stage directions. Unlike many modern editions which employ the name Feste, this edition follows the Folio in referring to him throughout as Clown, thereby emphasising his role in the structure of the play and in the company, rather than seeing him as a "character" with a novelistic "inner" life. The "speech prefix 'Clown'", Keir Elam remarks, "looks today like a form of strategic distancing or alienation" (Elam 372). We agree with Elam, but draw a different conclusion, seeing the Clown's strategic distance as part of Shakespeare's scheme, allowing the Clown to stand both within and without the world of Illyria. The staging experiments by Shakespeare's Globe in London and other companies exploring early modern staging have shown how much direct contact the clown might make with the audience in his eye-line and all around him.

    It is a common though not universal practice in editions of Shakespeare to "step" part lines of verse in order to provide a visual indication of a completed iambic pentameter when the line is shared between two or more speakers For instance, most modern editions print the three separate lines in Folio at TLN 569–571 (1.5.280–1) as two lines, thus:

    Viola. But you should pity me. Olivia. You might do much. What is your parentage?

    Here the editors' decision that Olivia completes Viola's blank verse line would suggest to the actor of Olivia a quick cue so as to sustain the rhythm. It also leaves Olivia with an incomplete line following ("What is your parentage?"), which might imply a hesitation by Viola before she answers.

    15In our text, however,whenever new characters speak, their words are justified to the left margin as follows:

    Viola. But you should pity me.
    Olivia. You might do much.
    What is your parentage?

    Readers and actors using this text therefore need to be alert with the ear rather than the eye to the likelihood that often one character completes a blank verse line started by another. Such completions are rich in implications about cooperation, harmony, urgency, interruption, quick or slow cuing, pauses and other possibilities for actors. In this particular case, it is possible that Viola's half line remains incomplete, with the hesitation following it being Olivia's. If that option were chosen, Olivia's two half lines might be made a single iambic pentameter, in which case Viola would have no pause implied before she replies. The most important occasions in our text of potentially shared lines have been noted. Since entry directions for characters have been silently moved where necessary to precede the first words spoken to them, an iambic pentameter line is often broken at these points.

    When "and" means "if," the spelling "an" has been adopted. Prose has silently been restored in the early part of 3.4 for several speeches which Folio mistakenly set as verse.