Five variations on “The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice”

The archive at University of Victoria hosts high-resolution scans of antiquated printings of Shakespeare’s works. Since we’re currently studying Othello, I looked at several versions of that particular play (First Folio, Second Folio, Third Folio, Fourth Folio and Quarto 1). The page that I chose to look at in-depth included Act 3, scenes 1, 2 and the beginning of section 3.

First Folio: When I first scanned the page, my brain translated the stage directions (Enter Caffio, Muffitians, and Clowns) as Enter Coffee, Muffins, and Clowns. This version isn’t particularly different from my version other than the s-character looking to similar to the f-character, and certain words or punctuations being used differently. Occasionally, there’s an extra ‘e’ at the end of certain words (winde, paines, etc.) or in the middle of other words (heere, seeme). Also, the ‘u’ and ‘v’ are apparently flipped (flauor and vnto).

Second Folio: This edition is much easier to read, and the ‘u’s and ‘v’s aren’t flipped! Unfortunately, the f’s still looks like s’s, but other than that, there wasn’t anything drastic that changed between the first and second folio. Emilia is also spelled with that weird-looking AE character and abbreviated as AEmil.

Third Folio: Likewise, the Third Folio also isn’t very different from the other two. Certainly, the copy looks much cleaner, the sections are clearly separated, and as always, there are differentiations in spellings (and the y’s have been replaced in i’s).

Fourth Folio: This final folio is by far the easier to read, both in that the page was much neater and the text was (relatively) easier to comprehend (Like, if I had read the First Folio of Othello without having read my own version first, I doubt I would have any idea what was going on).

Quarto 1: Apparently the Quarto isn’t divided in acts and sections? Also, as mentioned before, the Quarto is the only version that out of these five that includes religious oaths (Zounds, Marry). And in the right-hand corner of every page was one word that, if you aren’t careful, is very easy to overlook. I have no idea what it’s doing there or why just that one word. Then, there’s an H also just there, at the bottom of the page, by itself? I’ve heard that some Quartos have gross translations of Othello, but the few pages I read didn’t seem that different, other than the fact that it just seemed, in terms of format, all over the place.


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