Shakespeare in Shorthand: The Textual Mystery of King Lear

The year 2008 marks the four hundredth anniversary of the first publication of King Lear , and for four centuries the play has remained a consummate bibliographical mystery. Winner of the 2007 Jay L. Halio prize for best manuscript in Shakespeare studies, Shakespeare in Shorthand demonstrates that many textual anomalies derive from the play's transcription in Elizabethan shorthand. The shorthand system of John Willis, Stenographie (1602), shows a high correlation with the unusual textual features found in the first quarto of Lear (1608). The patterns of variants in the quarto conform to Willis' rules regarding the reduction of diphthongs and digraphs and the omission of aspirated, doubled, or unsounded letters. In the past two decades the textual interrelation of quarto and folio (1623) Lear has proven one of the most contested issues in Shakespearean studies, and an examination of Stenographie reveals that some of these textual differences result not from authorial revision, but from transmission in abbreviated writing. Bibliographical evidence also indicates that some textual omissions from the folio version are neither authorial nor theatrical, but derive from the printing house.