Published online by Cambridge University Press: 07 September 2010
Though some curious views about the printing of the two narrative poems have been held, and may be studied in H. E. Rollins's New Variorum edition (1938), pp. 369–74 and 406–8, little serious disagreement is now possible. Both poems were printed by Shakespeare's fellow-townsman Richard Field, and it is clear that this very competent printer took pains to produce an accurate text. The variations in spelling, contrary to what Sidney Lee supposed, are perfectly normal for the period, and the degree of normalization that Field habitually introduced can be studied by comparison of manuscript and printed texts of Harington's Orlando Furioso (1591), discussed by Sir Walter Greg in The Library, 4 ser. IV (1923–4), 102–18, who notes that Field's spelling is ‘more consistently modern than that of most printers of the time’ (p. 114).
It has been customary to talk of Shakespeare ‘seeing’ the poems ‘through the press’, and it is easy to believe that he took an interest in the progress of the first heir of his invention, and of its more ambitious successor. But to argue from the fewness of misprints to his having personally corrected the proofs is perhaps to exaggerate his probable proficiency in this specialized skill. For Lucrece, there is positive evidence against authorial proof-correction; see below. But whatever the reasons, the task of the textual editor is easier here than any where else in the corpus.