A Crazy Scheme?
The Applause First Folio of Shakespeare should not be confused with a facsimile of the 1623 folio published by Applause in the 1990's. In the earlier facsmile, Applause used the images from
the Norton Facsimile without permission. W. W. Norton sued, and Applause withdrew the facsimile. In 2001 Applause published another edition of the first folio, this one being in modern
type. It's not specifically a facsimile edition, but it does present the Shakespeare's plays in the order they were presented in the 1623 folio. Though this edition is in modern type the spelling and punctuation of the first folio have been for the most part retained.
In his acknowlegements Freeman thanks his publisher for persisting with such a crazy scheme. Crazy? Perhaps. Audacious? Certainly. You see, Freeman is an actor, not a textual scholar and he rejects the work of textual scholars. For example, he proposes that the punctuation marks of the folio are rhetorical signals. They are the cues for the actors. This controversial proposition has been roundly criticized by many scholars, but Freeman is undaunted. I applaud his audacity. The great value of this edition is that it retains so much of the spelling and punctuation of the 1623 folio. Finally we have an original spelling edition of most of Shakespeare's plays in print.
It is important to note that this is not a complete edition of Shakespeare's writings. The narrative poems, the sonnets, the occasional poems, "Pericles," and "Two Noble Kinsmen" are not included.
It should be stated that this edition does not in every instance reproduce the spelling of the 1623 folio. Freeman's treatment of abbrivations is unsatisfactory. For example it was common practice in the 17th century to represent certain words by a special kind of abbrivation. On page lviii Freeman explains that "y" with an umlaut was usually short hand for "you," "thee," "thou," "thy," "thine," or "yours." The 1623 folio usually spells these abbrivations differently from the way Freeman describes it. The word "thou" could be represented by the letter "y" with the superscript "u" directly on top of it. The word "that" could be written with the letter "y" with the superscript "t" directly over it. The word "the" could be written with the letter "y" with the superscript "e" directly over it and so on. In Freeman's edition all the superscript letters are replaced by umlauts, so there is no way of telling what the superscript letter was, and hence no way of knowing what the word is. So when you come across the line "Thou do'st then wrong me, as (y/with umlaut) slaughterer doth" (page 441, col. 2, line 1) are you supposed to read:
"Thou do'st then wrong me, as thou slaughterer doth," or
"Thou do'st then wrong me, as thee slaughterer doth," or
"Thou do'st then wrong me, as that slaughterer doth"?
You'll have to go to a facsimile edition to find out that that the third line is the correct reading. It is also interesting to note that the word "that" doesn't appear in Freeman's list of what "y with umlaut" could stand for.
The edition should be used with caution.