Peter Holland reflects upon Nicholas Rowe as one of the first editors of Shakespeare. Holland discusses, in his words, “the stages by which Rowe arrived at his mode of modernization and the implications of the set of conventions he established, especially as it affects punctuation” (24). The vehicle Holland uses in his exploration is Rowe’s 1709 edition of The Tempest.
Holland’s initial examination is that of which folio Rowe used in his edition. Because a 1708 trial edition of The Tempest had been found, Holland was able to compare the 1708 and 1709 editions to the folios to determine which folio is the likely origination of the 1709 edition. The differences in spelling and punctuation between F2 and F4, the folios that Rowe had readily available in his work, are subtle, but amazing. Rowe followed F2 closely in his 1708 edition, but consistently modernized F4 in his 1709 edition. Tracking through several word variations between 1708, 1709, F2, and F4, Holland agrees with his fellow scholars that the 1708 edition followed F2, and the 1709 edition follows F4. It makes clear sense to me that if Rowe came across a copy of F4, that it would already have some modernizations beyond F2 and would be the wise choice to utilize.
Rowe tried to clear up some confusion in Shakespeare’s language by changing “Butt” in 1.2.146 to “Boat.” As Holland points out, “an emendation that no one would now accept but which shows Rowe trying to make sense of a word he could probably see only as inappropriate” (28). I am intrigued that editors and typesetters played with the language of Shakespeare while retaining the meaning of Shakespeare.
Holland notes that Rowe changed the heading from “Actus Primus. Scæna Prima.” to “ACT I. SCENE I.,” moving Shakespeare’s work from classical work to contemporary work. This appears to be a small alteration, but aides in associating Shakespeare’s work with modern works.
Holland reveals that Rowe makes the largest impact on The Tempest in repunctuating the text. Holland notes that while most scholars worry that the original text has been distorted by repunctuations of editors, typesetters, etc., Rowe – a successful dramatist – “was well aware of the tension between print and speech” (30). Rowe used semicolons to break up large passages and long dashes to indicate leaps in thought. The manner in which editors used punctuation to create a pause for the actor is easy to accept, but the notion that editors, typesetters, etc. “sprinkled” the passages with punctuation (“eye-driven punctuation,” as Holland puts it) is unbelievable.
Holland continues his demonstration of Rowe’s punctuation by comparing it to Oxford’s punctuation. Of the passages displayed, Rowe’s 1709 edition closely parallels that of Oxford. Over the years I have read of the continuing complaints of scholars about the changes made to Shakespeare’s works, and I must agree with any editing that modernizes the text while retaining the meaning. The only fear of modernization that I have is that Shakespeare’s poetics have been negatively affected – destroying the rhythm, necessary figures of speech, or flow of the verse. From what I have read and studied of modern Shakespeare, I am confident that every effort has been made to prevent such instances from occurring.