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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: March ::
Ralph Crane: Accidental Editor
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0559  Friday, 25 March 2005

From:           John Briggs <
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Date:           Friday, 25 Mar 2005 00:50:47 -0000
Subject:        Ralph Crane: Accidental Editor

One still encounters the idea that Heminges and Condell were the first
'editors' of Shakespeare, but their role in the production of the First
Folio may have been restricted to deciding which titles to include - and
it may have been a negative influence, at that.  It has been suggested
that the dubious accolade of 'Shakespeare's First Editor' should instead
be conferred (presumably by default) upon Ralph Crane.

What was Ralph Crane doing, and, more to the point, what did he think he
was doing?  Ralph Crane seems to have been employed as a scrivener by
the King's Men since 1619.  1619 may or may not be significant: that is
the date of the abortive "Pavier Quartos" edition.  The "Heminges and
Condell" edition may have been conceived as either a successor or a
rival to that.  Crane's transcripts are the core of the First Folio.  It
is usually asserted that his transcripts are "literary", but I would
suggest instead that his role was to make new playbooks - he would
therefore insert act divisions, and automatically carry out expurgation
in line with the 1606 Act (expurgation was only required for
performance, not publication).

Crane may not have been told that his transcripts were to be printer's
copy - using his transcripts while he was on the King's Men payroll may
have represented a hidden subsidy to the Complete Works project (such a
situation would be not unknown today).  In any case, if he was employed
to produce transcripts suitable for use as playbooks, that is what he
would have done, hence the expurgation and the general tidying-up in
which he seems to have indulged.  There may anyway have been a general
programme of updating playbooks - making them more suitable for indoor
performance, or other changes in theatrical practice (Crane's famous
"massed entries" may be related to that), or the King's Men's archive
may have been damaged in the Globe fire, and there was a general need to
have recourse to back-up material.  Publishing Shakespeare's Complete
Works may have been a spin-off from that.  There is, for example, the
slightly mysterious incident of the King's Men being permitted in 1623
to perform "The Winter's Tale" (one of Crane's texts) despite 'the
allowed book being missing'.  Crane must have supplied the replacement
playbook.  Crane's transcripts are "The Tempest", "Two Gentlemen of
Verona", "The Merry Wives of Windsor", "Measure for Measure", "The
Winter's Tale" and "Cymbeline".  To these Ernst Honigmann has added
"Othello".  Other Folio texts were printed from late transcripts, e.g.
"Twelfth Night", so Crane may not have been working alone on the
project, whatever it was.

John Briggs

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