The Taming of a/the Shrew

Above is the title page of a 1594 quarto edition of The Taming of a Shrew. Debate continues as to whether this is a quarto of Shakespeare’s play, or a reconstructed memorial copy supplied to the printer by the actors and an unknown writer. For anyone unfamiliar with the term ‘quarto’, it refers to a play printed as a single stand-alone text which sold for around 6d (about £3.50). Not all of Shakespeare’s plays were printed in quarto editions, at least 18 didn’t appear in print until the first collected works, known as the First Folio, was published in 1623. Below is the opening scene of the above play from 1594, and, following it, the opening scene from the First Folio. So the question is, did Shakespeare revise his play between 1594 and 1623, or was the early Shrew play reconstructed from memory rather than printed from Shakespeare’s manuscript, or were there in fact two very similar Shrew plays in existence? My money is on the 1594 Shrew being a memorial copy, but I’d welcome comments.

The Taming of a Shrew (1594) (Quarto)
The Taming of The Shrew (1623) (First Folio) Click on the image to open a larger version.

Since posting this, I came across an entry in the Stationers’ Register dated 22nd January 1607: ‘Entred for his copies by direccon of A Court and with the consent of Master Burby under his handwrytinge These iij copies. ROMEO AND JULIETT. Loves Labours Loste.The taminge of A Shrew.’ Since The taminge of A Shrew is entered at the same time as two other plays by Shakespeare, would it make sense to assume that this quarto of A Shrew became The Taming of The Shrew by the First Folio?
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One comment

  • May 30, 2011 - 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Must be doing something wrong, tried to post a comment earlier. Don’t know where it went. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this all afternoon. Before the first folio was published would there have been many copies of Taming of the Shrew in circulation? if not could it have been a case of plagiarism. Someone sitting at the back of a theatre, copying it word for word and trying to cash in. Could not the a/the Shrew be significent. In case they got caught, they could say its a diferent title. This could all be rubish, and if it is hopefully you will forgive me

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