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'Tut, tut': A Letter to the Editor

Michael Dobson wonders about the relationship between the Royal Shakespeare Company's new Bate-Rasmussen Complete Works based on the 1623 Folio and what its actors say in performance ('For his nose . . .' 10 May 2007). The RSC's production of Richard II currently being performed in Stratford-upon-Avon illustrates what's at stake, for like the new book it is based on the Folio text rather than the first quarto (1597) of the play. For this play, the Folio is essentially a reprint from the third quarto (1598), which was a reprint of the second quarto (also 1598), which was a reprint of the first quarto. Thus the actors are lumbered with a debased third-generation copy of the script.

The linguistic distortions that this policy produces are just as Dobson feared. Returning from banishment before the expiration of his sentence, Bolingbroke tries to pacify York with an oily "My gracious uncle . . .". York's angry response is the manifestly incomplete "Tut, tut, grace me no grace, nor uncle me" given in the Folio instead of the quarto's chiasmic "Tut, tut, grace me no grace, nor uncle me no uncle" (II.iii.86). When presented with the body of Richard near the end of the performance, Henry IV is made banally to object that the murderer has "wrought a deed of slaughter . . . upon my head" (as the Folio says) instead of the quarto's more meaningful "thou hast wrought a deed of slander . . . upon my head" (V.vi.35-36). Having taken a public vow to kill the enemies of the commonwealth, and efficiently carried it out, Bolingbroke is hardly likely to mind being associated with slaughter. But slander, a besmirching of reputation, strikes at monarchial legitimacy and is central to the action of this play and Parts One and Two of Henry IV that follow it. The dogma of trusting the Folio except where its readings are quite impossible (the Bate-Rasmussen policy in the new RSC Complete Works) denies actors access to the best raw material for their craft.

Gabriel Egan, Stratford-upon-Avon