Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Shall I Compare Thee to a Quarto?

It seems we’re not alone in our disappointment with Julian Fellowes’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet (sans Shakespeare’s words). While the language still sounds lofty, they’re not Shakespeare’s word choices – and that’s a big deal.

R&J Posters - Shall I Compare Thee to a Quarto

Terry Guerin suggested in the comments that one of the quotes was perhaps based on First or Second Quarto language – which made me think that maybe Fellowes was working from an early text instead of the ones with which we’re more familiar. So I went to the library sherpa, Alan Katz, who linked me to the texts in the Luna database so I could reference them from the comfort of my own desk (where I can still consume coffee and cookies – unlike in the Reading Rooms!).

Using images of each page from a 1597 First Quarto and 1599 Second Quarto, I ran through the quoted lines from the Fellowes trailer again. The results for a few notable differences are below, but this reminded me so strongly of a really cool video segment and activity idea from our 2012 Electronic Field Trip, that I just have to share that first:

In this clip, Dr. Gail Kern Paster speaks about how comparing two texts of the same play is useful for editors as they make their choices about what language to use when they create their edition of the play, and she references these two Quartos. On page 4 of the accompanying teaching guide for this program, we included images of the passages Dr. Paster references for students to compare in their own classrooms.

It becomes obvious, below, that Fellowes’ “translation” is not even close to First or Second quarto language, and is actually closer to that blasted “no fear” than anything else – which I’ve included, too.

What do these comparisons make you think? What’s gained and lost with each iteration?

Fellowes: On honor of my blood, I’ll strike him dead
First Quarto: Now by the stocke and honor of my kin, To strike him dead I hold it for no sin.
Second Quarto: Now by the stocke and honor of my kin, To strike him dead, I hold it not a sin
Folger Edition: Now, by the stock and honor of my kin, To strike him dead I hold it not a sin.
No Fear: Now, by the honor of our family, I do not consider it a crime to kill him.

Fellowes: [Juliet, if your heart like mine is full then tell the joy that weights us this night,]
I cannot tell of what is limitless.
First Quarto: NOT FOUND
Second Quarto: My bountie is as boundlesse as the sea, My love as deep, the more give to thee The more I have, for both are infinite:
Folger Edition: My bounty as boundless as the sea, My love as deep. The more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite
No Fear: My generosity to you is as limitless as the sea, and my love is as deep. The more love I give you, the more I have. Both loves are infinite.

Fellowes: Romeo! Come settle with me, boy!
First Quarto: Bace boy this cannot serve thy turn, and therefore drawe.
Second Quarto: Boy, this shall not excuse the injuries That thou hast done me, therefore turn and draw.
Folger Edition: Boy, this shall not excuse the injuries That thou hast done me; therefore turn and draw.
No Fear: Boy, your words can’t excuse the harm you’ve done to me. So now turn and draw your sword.

Fellowes: What have I done but murdered my tomorrow?
First Quarto: Ah, I am fortunes slave.
Second Quarto: O I am fortunes fool.
Folger Edition: O, I am Fortune’s fool!
No Fear: Oh, I have awful luck.

Fellowes: Then you are mine no more, so help me God.
First Quarto: If you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend: If not, hang, drowne, starve, beg, Dye in the streets: for by my Soule Ile never more acknowledge thee, Nor what I have shall ever doe thee good, Thinke ont, look toot, I doe not vie to jest.
Second Quarto: And you be mine, Ile give you to my friend, And you be not, hang, beg, starve, dye in the streets, For by my soul ile nere acknowledge thee, Nor what is mine shall never do thee good: Trust too’t, bethink you, ile not be forsworne.
Folger Edition: An you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend. An you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets, For, by my soul, I’ll ne’er acknowledge thee, Nor what is mine shall never do thee good. Trust to ’t; bethink you. I’ll not be forsworn.
No Fear: If you act like my daughter, I’ll marry you to my friend. If you don’t act like my daughter, you can beg, starve, and die in the streets. I swear on my soul, I will never take you back or do anything for you. Believe me. Think about it. I won’t break this promise.

Fellowes: Take this vial… and drink through the last drop… and there will be no sign of life within you.
First Quarto: take thou this Violl, And this distilled Liquor drinke thou off: … No sign of breath shall testifie thou livst.
Second Quarto: Take thou this violl…And this distilling liquor drink thou off,… No warmth, no breast shall testify thou livest.
Folger Edition: Take thou this vial… And this distilling liquor drink thou off… No warmth, no breath shall testify thou livest.
No Fear: take this vial, mix its contents with liquor, and drink… Your flesh will be cold, and you’ll stop breathing… It will seem like you’re dead


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