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Reviewed by:
  • The First Quarto of “Romeo and Juliet.”
  • Beatrice Groves
William Shakespeare. The First Quarto of “Romeo and Juliet.” Ed. Lukas Erne. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Pp. xvii, +156 +. appendices. $85.00.

This is an excellent edition of a wonderful play. Lukas Erne's annotations celebrate Q1 for what it is, rather than simply as an interesting adjunct to the received text. The challenging introduction, careful collations, insightful notes, and useful appendices open up the play to the wider audience it deserves, and the edition marks a distinct step forward from Cambridge's previous early quarto editions by giving textual notes at the bottom of each page. The appendices on the use of Q1 in an Elizabethan literary anthology, and detailing the 199 readings from Q1 adopted by eighteenth-century editors, show how the play—almost hidden in the modern theatrical tradition—has influenced readers and editors throughout its history.

Erne's edition is perhaps at its best in its refreshingly open acknowledgment, and even celebration, of the fact that there is no single, simple explanation for the distinctiveness of Q1. As Erne argues, the text shows the influence of memory, while clearly not being simply the result of "memorial reconstruction"; passages show evidence of cutting, although this is not simply a text that has been shortened for a provincial tour; sections have been carefully revised, although Q1 is not simply an authorial first draft. Erne's edition will encourage academics and students alike to embrace the complexity of genesis to which this quarto witnesses, providing as it does an insight into the workings of Elizabethan theater and print culture, and into the creative mind of the revising author.

Erne's most distinctive, and provocative, emphasis is on the possibility that some of the differences between the two texts are due to Q2's being intended for reading, Q1 for performance. He extrapolates from the fact that Q2 "establishes verbally what Q1 suggests visually" (note to 17.27 SD 2) the idea that Q1 eliminates "what the reader needs to be told but a spectator would be about to see" (note to 8.8). Erne's interest in the literary aspect of Shakespeare's texts, however, can lead him into dangerous waters—such as suggesting that the "roundness" of Q2's characterization is related to a readerly rather than theatrical reception, the logical extension of which would be that two-dimensional characterization is typical of Shakespearean theater (33–34).

More often, however, Erne is at pains to show that comparisons between the two texts need not lead to the detriment of Q1—as Edward Capell expressed it, "here and there a various reading that does honour to the Poet's judgement" (170). In many of the single-word variants—such as Q1's "flattering eye [Q2: truth] of sleep" (18.1)—it is the earlier text that has more immediate appeal. Mercutio's Queen Mab speech, likewise, can be persuasively argued to be superior in Q1 and, to the sympathetic ear, elliptic lines (such as 10.122) begin to [End Page 525] sound like the poetic compression of the author of the sonnets, rather than garbled misremembering. Other effective differences are found in what appear to be cuts: Q1 ends the scene between Juliet and the Friar with the words "Be sure thou send for my dear Romeo" (15.92), as opposed to the verbosity of the Friar in Q2. While this is not a complex dramatic technique, leaving the doom-laden words hanging in the air suggests theatrically sensitive redaction that may actually produce a superior dramatic moment.

Erne's concentration on Q1 means that he works hard to find as acceptable readings that editors have previously denigrated. A particularly attractive example lies in Mercutio's roll call of abusive names for his friend—"Romeo! Madman! Humours! Passion! Liver!" (5.8). Q2 ends with "Lover!" but the substitution of a letter may not simply be a mistake. Erne notes that the liver was the ancient seat of love and, while the Q2 reading must remain the most likely one, there is something appealingly abusive about "Liver!" that creates a funnier line, and as such, may take us...


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