Study Guide

Textual Criticism Texts

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  • King Lear by William Shakespeare (1608)

    Shakespeare's tragedy is about a king who's betrayed by two ghastly daughters.

    Compare the Quarto version of King Lear with the Folio version. What are some of the important differences?

    What are some of the choices that modern Textual Critics have made in editing King Lear? Do you agree with these choices?

  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare (1603)

    Hey, it's Hamlet. What more is there to say?

    Compare Quarto 1 of Hamlet to the Folio version of Hamlet. How can you tell that Quarto 1 is a reconstruction from memory?

    Of the three versions of Hamlet (Quarto 1, Quarto 2, and the Folio), which would you pick as the copy-text version of the play, and why?

  • The Gypsies Metamorphosed by Ben Jonson (1621)

    Jonson's masque about gypsies who go from being dark-skinned to light-skinned and become much nicer in the process. Umm…

    The Gypsies Metamorphosed exists in various printed editions and in manuscript versions. Why do you think Textual Critics take all of these versions into consideration when editing the play?

    How does the play vary from one version to the next, and what does this suggest about the way that various printers or others "interfered" with the text?

  • Typee by Herman Melville (1846)

    Melville's first novel tells of the adventures of the sailor Tommo, who's stranded on an island in the Marquesas in French Polynesia.

    John Bryant argues that Typee is an example of a "fluid text." What about the novel's textual history makes him think so? Do you agree?

    What are some of the differences that you notice between the American and the English editions of this novel? In what ways are these differences significant?

  • The Tragicall History of D. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe (1604)

    Crafty Faustus sells his soul to the devil for knowledge and power. What could possibly go wrong?

    This play exists in two versions: the 1604 A text and the 1609 second edition, or A2. Compare and contrast the two versions. What differences can you see?

    Which of the two versions of the play do you think is more authoritative? If it is difficult to decide, why do you think that is that so?

  • "The Rationale of Copy-Text" by W.W. Greg (1949)

    The ideas in this essay made a big splash in the field. Greg challenges the "tyranny" of the copy-text among Textual Critics.

    Why does Greg think it's problematic to rely too heavily on one copy-text of a literary work?

    What methods does Greg suggest for arriving at the most "authoritative" version of a literary work?

  • Textual and Literary Criticism by Fredson Bowers (1966)

    Bowers's summary of the field picks up on and develops W. W. Greg's ideas.

    In what ways do Bowers's ideas represent an extension of W. W. Greg's ideas?

    Why does Bowers think that "eclecticism" is the method Textual Critics should adopt in editing literary texts?

  • A Rationale of Textual Criticism by G. Thomas Tanselle (1992)

    Tanselle argues in this book that literary criticism and Textual Criticism are like two peas in a pod.

    According to Tanselle, what are some of the fundamental links between literary criticism and Textual Criticism?

    What, according to Tanselle, is the basis of a Textual Critic's work?

  • A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism by Jerome McGann (1992)

    McGann attacks some of the fundamental assumptions of the field in this book. In particular, he's got some issues with the idea of an authoritative text.

    Why does McGann think that we need to conceive of authorship as a "socialized" process?

    How do McGann's ideas revise the notion of "textual authority"?

  • The Fluid Text: A Theory of Revision and Editing for Book and Screen by John Bryant (2002)

    In this book, John Bryant argues that we shouldn't be talking about copy-texts; we should be talking about fluid texts.

    What, according to Bryant, are the defining characteristics of a fluid text?

    Why is it more useful to think about fluid texts—as opposed to copy-texts—when we're dealing with several, equally authoritative versions of a text?

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