To use a comma, or not to use a comma? That is the question editors of Mr. Shakespeare’s text must answer many, many times while working. A similar question may occur for periods, semi-colons, question marks, and exclamation points as well.
For those who don’t already know, the edition of a play that you pick up at your local bookstore does not reflect the punctuation that Shakespeare wrote. If you compare editions you will find that they are punctuated differently, some might look nothing alike; they could even create different meanings.
To students new to Renaissance texts this might seem rather odd. “What’s wrong with the punctuation Shakespeare wrote?” The answer depends on who you ask. One issue is that the surviving texts we have today in the form of Folios and Quartos may not necessarily reflect the punctuation Shakespeare wrote, but rather what the typesetter thought was best. So scholars sometimes try to “correct” the texts to make them as Shakespeare intended. A bigger reason is that the punctuation isn’t really how we normally have it in modern times. Capitalization was even different on a few words that aren’t at the beginning of a line or sentece. What’s all that about?
Scholars take it upon themselves to re-punctuate the text in order to make it comprehendible to the reader of their edition… to create a more familiar format of text.
That may be well and good for the English student, but what about the actor? Are the editors helping thespians too? Let’s explore that, shall we?