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Solved: Why the 1622 Edition of Othello was Published:


Students of the authorship problem have often wondered why the 1622 edition of Othello was published only to be replaced the next year by the First Folio's edition.

Some have suggested the death of Mary Sidney Herbert played a role in the publication of the First Folio, because it removed her from any potential embarrassment over the possible question of "Mr. W. H.'s" parentage.

My solution to the puzzle of the double publications is that Othello, the jewel of the First Folio, was resurrected from its slumbers, and put on display in order to rekindle an interest, in the reading public, over the "lost" plays of "Shakespeare."

The edition was thus brought to press by Thomas Walkley in the usual fashion, registered on Southampton's 47th birthday (i.e., 6 October 1621), perhaps to tap Southampton's purse, and brought out shortly later in the 1622 edition.  Certainly at the expressed direction of the First Folio group.

The Author being alive, read this 1622 edition, realized changes could be made, as authors often do, after seeing a manuscript in print, and made the now famous revisions to the 1622 text on its face, including the some 160 new lines that revise and more acutely develop the interrelationship between Emilia and Desdemona, as noted by Harold Bloom.

This revision served an economic, as well as, an esthetic purpose.  It assured prospective readers, readers who had only just purchased the 1622 quarto of Othello, that the First Folio, did in fact, contain newly revised editions, just as its ads proclaimed.  

While modern bibliographic scholars know these ads were misleading, on the whole, they stand, in the particular case of Othello, as entirely truthful.  Othello had been significantly revised.  Anyone who bothered to look could quickly spot the new materials.

So the publication of two versions of Othello, within a year of each other, can be seen to fit well into a "promotional" schemata designed to first stimulate interest about "Shakespeare's" plays and, later, to certify to prospective customers of the First Folio, that it did include "newly revised and augmented" materials more reflective of the Author's intentions than did the quarto of 1622.

Walkley's edition was likely a sell out, so it made money for the cartel, or, at the very least, paid for itself, while it promoted the necessary interest in the upcoming collection.  The appearance of this soon ensuing superior edition of Othello in 1623 would induce wise readers towards additional purchases.

Meanwhile the exclusion of the poems, from the First Folio, would protect Sir William Herbert and his family from any embarrassment over his "hidden" connection to the poet.


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