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Altering the Letter of Twelfth Night: ‘Some are born great’ and the Missing Signature

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2007

Peter Holland
Affiliation:
University of Notre Dame, Indiana
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Summary

Some are become great, some atcheeues greatnesse, and some haue greatnesse thrust vppon em . . .

First Folio

We are all aware of passages from Shakespeare where the editorially emended text has become not only what is familiar but possibly also what is preferred or even beloved. One of the most famous and frequently cited is Theobald’s ‘a babled of green fields’ in the scene of Falstaff’s death in Henry V, a ‘babbled’ that in modern editions replaces the Folio’s ‘a Table of greene fields’ and the potential sexual allusion to backgammon and its ‘green fields’ that has recently been argued for these lines. What I want to consider here is a much less well-known case of editorial reconstruction, though of an equally familiar text – the letter of the Letter Scene in Twelfth Night, in which the famous formula starting with ‘some are born great’ appears nowhere in any of the Folio texts and the familiar ‘Fortunate-Unhappy’ signature does not appear until the eighteenth century, when it was created by Capell, and accorded its own separate line by Malone, the form in which we usually see it in modern editions.

My reason for foregrounding these influential emendations is that in the course of preparing a new Norton Critical Edition of Twelfth Night, I have found that the fact that neither of these appears in the Folio texts of the play came as a surprise not only to me but to other experienced Shakespearians. What I want, then, to do in what follows is to trace the historical process of their editorial creation, and to open up for discussion other possibilities for considering the Folio texts themselves, as well as ways of making the process of historical production more visible to readers.

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Shakespeare Survey , pp. 49 - 62
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2006

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