Most female parts were written for young male actors or boys, so Shakespeare did not often write big roles for them or keep them actively engaged onstage for lengthy periods.Writing for the clowns of the company—who were important popular attractions in any play—presented the problem of allowing them to use their comic personalities and tricks and yet have them serve the immediate interests of theme and action.
Much was discovered by textual scholarship after Heminge and Condell did their original work, and the result was a considerable revision in what came to be regarded as the best choice of original text from which an editor ought to work.
In plays published both in folio and quarto (or octavo) format, the task of choosing was immensely complicated.
especially became a critical battleground in which editors argued for the superiority of various features of the 1608 quarto or the folio text.
The two differ substantially and must indeed represent different stages of composition and of staging, so that both are germane to an understanding of the play’s textual and theatrical history.
(For a discussion of music in Shakespeare’s plays, .
Despite much scholarly argument, it is often impossible to date a given play precisely.Popularity led to an insatiable demand for plays: early in 1613 the King’s Men—as the Chamberlain’s Men were then known—could present “fourteen several plays.” The theatre soon became fashionable, too, and in 1608–09 the King’s Men started to perform on a regular basis at the Shakespeare’s first associations with the Chamberlain’s Men seem to have been as an actor.He is not known to have acted after 1603, and tradition gives him only secondary roles, such as the ghost in , but his continuous association must have given him direct working knowledge of all aspects of theatre.Occasionally a play was issued in a seemingly unauthorized volume—that is, not having been regularly sold by the company to the publisher. Greg, Fredson Bowers, and other practitioners of the so-called New Bibliography generally regards these texts as suspect and perhaps pirated, either by unscrupulous visitors to the theatre or by minor actors who took part in performance and who then were paid to reconstruct the plays from memory.The acting company might then commission its own authorized version. The unauthorized texts do contain elements that sound like the work of eyewitnesses or actors (and are valuable for that reason).At certain times, however, the companies might be impelled to do so: when a company disbanded or when it was put into enforced inactivity by visitations of the plague or when the plays were no longer current.