Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Textual Criticism

Henry Fielding (1707-1754), A Journey from This World to the Next, chapter 8:
I then observed Shakespeare standing between Betterton and Booth, and deciding a Difference between those two great Actors, concerning the placing an Accent in one of his Lines: this was disputed on both sides with a Warmth, which surprized me in Elysium, till I discovered by Intuition, that every Soul retained its principal Characteristic, being, indeed, its very Essence. The Line was that celebrated one in Othello;

      Put out the Light, and then put out the Light,

according to Betterton. Mr. Booth contended to have it thus;

      Put out the Light, and then put out the Light.

I could not help offering my Conjecture on this Occasion, and suggested it might perhaps be,

      Put out the Light, and then put out thy Light.

Another hinted a Reading very sophisticated in my Opinion,

      Put out the Light, and then put out thee, Light;

making Light to be the vocative Case. Another would have altered the last Word, and read,

      Put out thy Light, and then put out thy Sight.

But Betterton said, if the Text was to be disturbed, he saw no reason why a Word might not be changed as well as a Letter, and instead of put out thy Light, you may read put out thy Eyes. At last it was agreed on all sides, to refer the matter to the Decision of Shakespeare himself, who delivered his Sentiments as follows: 'Faith, Gentlemen, it is so long since I wrote the Line, I have forgot my Meaning. This I know, could I have dreamed so much Nonsense would have been talked, and writ about it, I would have blotted it out of my Works: for I am sure, if any of these be my Meaning, it doth me very little Honour.'

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