What’s in a Name?

What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.

So I got my Shakespeare, as mentioned in an earlier post. I love the books. They’re not cheap and flimsy, but they’re not beautiful. If they were beautiful, I’d worry about ruining them.

The Introduction points out the difficulties in getting the text right. For example, this edition of Romeo and Juliet uses the quote above. But there’s not a single early text that matches that exact quote.

The earlier texts each have their own slightly different variations, and editors have to decide whether to pick one of them, or go with some mix of them, basically guessing at what the original could have been.

So there are apparently three early texts to choose from. Here are their versions:

First Quarto, 1597. (This almost matches the modern version, but leaves out a whole line, and seems to say “band” for “hand.”):

Whats Mountague? It is nor band nor foote,
Nor arme, nor face, nor any other part.
Whats in a name? That which we call a Rose,
By any other name would smell as sweet:

Second Quarto, 1599. (This one is pretty different from the modern. A major difference is that she asks Romeo to be another name belonging to man. The modern version doesn’t say that at all):

Whats Mountague? it is nor hand nor foote,
Nor arme nor face, o be some other name
Belonging to a man.
Whats in a name that which we call a rose
By any word would smell as sweete,

First Folio, 1623. (This is similar to the last one, but weirder.):

What’s Mountague? it is nor hand nor foote,
Nor arme, nor face, O be some other name
Belonging to a man.
What? in a names that which we call a Rose
By any other word would smell as sweete,

The punctuation changes don’t mean much, as this was to be spoken, not read, and the spelling doesn’t matter either. But the changes in words and meaning are significant, and we don’t know which is right. And, as the Introduction says, “this is the most famous speech in the play.”

In the end, I find it interesting, but I don’t think it matters much. This stuff was entertainment. Every night, the actors probably read them slightly differently, anyway. And they probably changed lines here and there in response to the way that audiences reacted to earlier shows.

In Shakespeare’s day, no one suspected that each exact word would be some precious jewel for future literary miners to extract. Get the point across, get the poetry across (when it’s supposed to be poetry), entertain the audience, and call it a day.

But there are still high-schoolers across the world who are told that they’re memorizing Shakespeare, rather than the best guess of a modern editor. And they still probably think it impresses women, and it still probably does not.

4 Responses to What’s in a Name?

  1. A1phab3t December 14, 2006 at 10:16 am #

    I like “by any other name” much more than “by any other word” and I wonder why they took the “u” out of “Mountague” and that Second Quarto just looks like a hack job, and the First Folio is just nonsense– where the First Quarto actually makes sense syntactically, with the exception of the typo “band”. But it leaves out the entreaty “O, be some other name” which is basically inexcusable as that’s where the emotion is, whereas the poetry is in the rose bit. IMO.

    When people examine these editions, I wonder if they chalk anything up as a mistake. Do they make a catalog? “In the opinion of this editor, the following items are typographical or transcription errors.”

  2. weeklyrob December 14, 2006 at 6:28 pm #

    They definitely assume that some weirdness is due to transcription errors.

    I like name, too, and I think it’s because I’ve always heard it that way. It doesn’t make more sense, because the word rose isn’t a name in any commonly used way.

    But then, she’s talking about a name, Montague, so maybe it feels consistent.

    I don’t know why they took the U out. My absolutely wild guess is that they figured that it’s pronounced as mont, not mount, so they modernized the spelling. They can figure out how things were pronounced, and they do modernize lots of the spelling throughout. And I’m glad they do (though it’d be nice if I could see both the modern and the “original,” though I shouldn’t ask too much for $2.50 a book).

  3. Jeffrey December 18, 2006 at 1:08 am #

    I’m guessing “band” was a mistaken reading of “hand,” not an intentionally different word. With had enough bandwriting, an “h” can easily look like a “b,” esp. if there’s a flourish applied to it.

    Juliet’s wistful longing for Romeo to be from another family sounds familiar. Does it appear somewhere else?

  4. weeklyrob December 18, 2006 at 5:51 pm #

    I don’t know if it appears somewhere else. Nothing that I know of.

    As far as band, yeah, I think everyone assumes it was an error.

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