Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 1, No. 81. Monday, 15 Oct 1990.
Date:         Mon, 15 Oct 90 23:32:54 EDT
From:         Ken Steele <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Subject:      Possessives and Apostrophes
        On HUMANIST tonight, Roy Flannagan posed the
following question:
  Query about c-17 compositors and apostrophes with italics.  A
  weird question for anyone on the list who can answer it.  I
  have noticed that the compositors who set *Paradise Lost*
  rarely, if ever, used apostrophes with possessive nouns unless
  they happened to be setting proper names in italics, proper
  names that happened to be in the possessive.  Does anyone
  who has messed around with early printing methods or with
  setting their own books in hand-presses have any explanation
  for this?  The type face for the 1667 and 1674 editions was a
  form of Garamond and the point size about ten.  Thanks for
  any help.
        My apologies for responding here on SHAKSPER -- but
I'm not going to pretend to answer Roy's query, only to use it to
demonstrate the Shakespeare Text Archive's potential
applicability to such bibliographical questions.
        A quick check of the Archive suggests that this
tendency may be more widespread than one might think.  There
are a great many instances of *'s in Shakespeare's original texts
-- 4332 to be exact -- and they are distributed as follows:
                            Frequency   -- Percentages --
        Range Names           Count  Actual Expect   Diff
        First Folio            3280    76%    66%     10%
        Good Quartos            596    14%    26%    -12%
        Bad Quartos             183     4%     7%     -3%
        Minor Poems             273     6%     2%      4%
        Comedies               1104    25%    27%     -2%
        Histories               588    14%    27%    -13%
        Tragedies              1615    37%    31%      6%
        Romances                683    16%     9%      7%
        Jacobean               2222    51%    30%     21%
        Prefatory                 5     0%     0%      0%
The concentration of apostrophes (of all kinds) seems
*significantly* higher in the Folio texts, in the plays composed
in the Jacobean period, and in the "later" genres (Tragedies and
Romances), all of which suggest an increasing use of the
punctuation mark.  (I have found similar results for the use of
the semicolon, which surges in the Folio texts.)
        Of course, most of these occurrences are not
possessives but contractions, and a manual weeding-out of all
4332 would be a little tiresome at this hour of the night.  Using
words beginning with the letters A through C, however, as a
somewhat random sampling (can you tell I'm no statistician?) we
find a grand total of 69 *possessives* (all proper names,
incidentally) which use an apostrophe:
        alecto's, angelo's, anthonie's, anthonio's, antonio's,
        apollo's, appollo's, ariachna's, art's, astrea's, attalanta's,
        austria's, banquo's, bassanio's, bassiano's, bellona's,
        bianca's, bohemia's, calcha's, calcho's, calphurnia's,
        camillo's, caska's, cassandra's, cassio's, cato's, claudio's,
        cleopatra's, cytherea's
These 69 possessives are distributed as follows:
                            Frequency   -- Percentages --
        Range Names           Count  Actual Expect Difference
        First Folio              59    86%    66%     20%
        Good Quartos              8    12%    26%    -14%
        Bad Quartos               0     0%     7%     -7%
        Minor Poems               2     3%     2%      1%
        Comedies                 20    29%    27%      2%
        Histories                 3     4%    27%    -23%
        Tragedies                28    41%    31%     10%
        Romances                  9    13%     9%      4%
        Authorial                51    74%    70%      4%
        Jacobean                 37    54%    30%     24%
        Prefatory                 0     0%     0%      0%
Again, we see significantly higher occurrences in the First Folio
and later plays.
        In confirmation of Roy's findings, all but *three* of
these 69 apostrophes occur in italics.  The three notable
exceptions, which perhaps prove the rule, are all from the Folio:
  Reuenge from Ebon den, with fell Alecto's Snake, for
          (2 Henry 4 (F1) 5.5:35)
  Cleopatra's {Maiestie:}
          (As You Like It (F1) 3.2:141)
  Attalanta's {better part},
          (As You Like It (F1) 3.2:142)
Furthermore, note that the two occurrences from AYLI are
roman type *in italic verse* -- in short, the apostrophes are used
in an italic context, although the proper names are in roman
type.  (I should point out that italicization in this textbase is
indicated through the use of curly braces.)
        Of these 69 apostrophized possessives, then, only one,
Pistol's ranting prose, actually occurs outside italics:
  Reuenge from Ebon den, with fell Alecto's Snake, for
          (2 Henry 4 (F1) 5.5:35)
This seems overwhelming (though statistically a little vague)
confirmation of Roy's observation -- but does anyone have any
explanations?  Shakespeare's compositors clearly did *not* avoid
the apostrophe in roman type -- they *often* use it for
contractions.  Only when dealing with possessives do they seem
so particular -- the apostrophe is used only with possessive
proper nouns, which are almost always italicized.  Was the
apostrophe thought unnecessary when dealing with possessive
ordinary nouns?  And why does Pistol merit one in roman type?
For that matter, why isn't Alecto italicized?
Abbott's *Grammar* doesn't seem to help here, and now I'm
curious too.
                                       Ken Steele
                                       University of Toronto

Subscribe to Our Feeds


Make a Gift to SHAKSPER

Consider making a gift to support SHAKSPER.