Scholarly Editing: The Example of Shakespeare

Course Organiser: Professor John Jowett
26-30 June

This course explores the practical and conceptual dimensions of literary editing, with particular reference to the example of Shakespeare. It aims to provide a general introduction to editorial practice, and will encompass the study of primary materials, issues of authorship attribution and collaboration, the relation between version-based editing and the emendation of error, the scope and techniques of editorial practice, and the function of the literary edition as the communication of a text to readers. The course will address the implications for the editor of the loss of the original manuscripts of Shakespeare’s works. It will also consider the significance of surviving manuscript materials both as editorial copy texts and as indirect evidence for what is otherwise missing. 

Course Outline


1 What is a modern edition? What is it for?
2 A quarto text: book history and bibliographical analysis.


3 Defining a canon: authorship attribution.
4 Materials for an edition: printed books and manuscripts.
5 Copy text and versions.


6 Emendation: principles and practice; resources.
7 From early modern playbook to modern edition: modernization and stage directions.
8 Sir Thomas More: features of a play manuscript.


9 Plots, parts, prologues, songs.
10 Indirect manuscript copy as an editorial problem.
11 King Lear: issues for an editor.


12 What makes a text ‘bad’?
13 The editor as Janus. Conclusions.

Outcomes for Students

  • Acquire grounding in the nature of the printed book and the manuscript.
  • Develop an understanding of the methods of textual editing
  • Acquire grounding in the skills necessary to embark on an editorial project.
  • Understand the conceptual problems that inform editorial practice.
  • Understand the issues relating to the example of Shakespeare as early modern dramatist.

Recommended Introductory Reading

Blayney, Peter W.M., ‘The Publication of Playbooks’, in J.D. Cox and D.S. Kastan, eds, A New History of Early English Drama (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997). 
Gaskell, Philip, A New Introduction to Bibliography (Oxford: Clarendon, 1972).
Greetham, D.C., Theories of the Text (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).
Greg, W.W., ‘The Rationale of Copy-Text’, Studies in Bibliography 3 (1950-51), 19-36.
Jowett, John, Shakespeare and Text (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
Kastan, David Scott, Shakespeare and the Book (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
Kidnie, Margaret Jane, and Sonia Massai, eds., Shakespeare and Textual Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015).
Digital images of Shakespeare First Folio and early quartos as available on Shakespeare Internet Editions,, and Shakespeare in Quarto,

John Jowett is a Shakespeare scholar and editor. He is the Professor of Shakespeare Studies at the University of Birmingham and Deputy Director of the Shakespeare Institute.

Born in Lancashire, England, Jowett took his BA and MA at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and was awarded a PhD from Liverpool University. His doctoral thesis was an edition of Henry Chettle’s Tragedy of Hoffman (1983). He went to the Oxford University Press as an academic editor of the Oxford edition of Shakespeare's Complete Works (1986-87). He was subsequently lecturer at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand, and taught for a year at Glasgow University. He is the general editor of the recently published New Oxford Shakespeare, and general editor of Arden Early Modern Drama. His publications include the Oxford World Classics editions of Richard III and Timon of Athens, the Arden edition of Sir Thomas More, and the Oxford Shakespeare Topics book Shakespeare and Text.