The First Folio, the grand edition of Shakespeare’s theatrical works edited by his two fellow actors, John Heminges and Henry Condell, contains 36 ‘playes’ subdivided into Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies, ‘cur’d, and perfect of their limbes; and all the rest, absolute in their numbers, as he conceiued the[m]’.1 The late romances or tragicomedies are not recognised as a genre of their own: Pericles is totally missing, as well as The Two Noble Kinsmen; The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale respectively commence and conclude the Comedies group, and Cymbeline is put among the Tragedies (see Figure 10.1). The irony of the two editors’ desire to produce a rigorous classification lies in the natural confusion of kinds that was typical of the Elizabethan age, as shown by the title-pages of many in-quartos that allude to the contamination of forms and avoid any attempt at rigid dramatic categorisation. As Jean E. Howard has pointed out, ‘[i]f one examines the quarto versions of many of the plays later included in the first folio, a similar instability in generic labelling becomes equally apparent’.2 It is only in modern editions that the term ‘romance’ appears, in order to emphasise the presence of a more elaborate dramatic plot which, after an intricate series of peripeteia and extraordinary happenings, suddenly unravels in a happy ending.3 The characteristic features of these plays invested thematic, stylistic, and ideological structures and transformed previous convention – founded on metaphorical, mimetic, and non-
1 Mr William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories & Tragedies, Facsimile edition, by Helge Kökeritz, and Charles Tyler Prouty, ‘Preface: To the great Variety of Readers’. On the editorial history of Shakespeare’s works and on the First Folio in particular, see Sonia Massai, Shakespeare and the Rise of the Editor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), especially pp. 136-79.