From Restorer to Editor: The Evolution of Lewis Theobald's Textual Critical Practice
The Library: the transactions of the Bibliographical Society
This article examines Lewis Theobald’s development as a textual critic from his review of Alexander Pope’s edition of Shakespeare’s plays in 'Shakespeare Restored' (1726) to his use of Pope’s text as the basis for his own edition (1733) several years later. In 'Shakespeare Restored', Theobald argued the need for an editor skilled in conjecturing to remedy the corruption of Shakespeare’s text. However, when he came to produce his own edition, Theobald emphasised his commitment to collating the extant texts in search of solutions to textual problems as well as his belief in the value of conjectures. This essay reconstructs Theobald’s textual critical practice in the interval between 'Shakespeare Restored' and his edition to explain the shift in his editorial theory. It demonstrates that collation became an integral part of Theobald’s textual critical practice as his collection of Quarto and Folio editions expanded after 1726. It also shows that he made use of variant readings to correct the text in his edition to a far greater extent than he had in 'Shakespeare Restored'. Yet Theobald did not restore many of the variant readings available in Quarto and Folio texts; as a result, a large number of readings introduced on no authority by Pope remain in Theobald’s text. The reasons for Theobald’s preservation of these readings have been disputed. This essay uses evidence from Theobald’s correspondence with William Warburton in 1729 and 1730 to explain this puzzling aspect of his editorial practice. It argues that far from failing to collate thoroughly enough to discover Quarto and Folio alternatives, Theobald chose to appropriate many readings in Pope’s text as part of his mission to produce a more intelligible text of Shakespeare.
textual criticism, Lewis Theobald, Alexander Pope, William Shakespeare, King Lear