Ye, No.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to have celebrity impressionist Jim Ross Meskimen do some Shakespeare of my choosing. I knew exactly the voice and passage I wanted – Robin Williams as Prospero doing “We are such stuff as dreams are made on.” It is quite breathtaking.

Unfortunately it was breathtaking for all the wrong reasons for long-time reader JM who, aghast, returned to comment, “It’s yea, not ye. Ye is a pronoun, (you) Yea is affirmation, or ‘yes’. I have no idea why he didn’t know that.” Such a small thing, and yet I can only imagine to someone more versed (ha!) in the verse than I, it would be like hearing someone say “all intensive purposes” or worse, “could of.”

Thing is, Jim didn’t make the mistake, I did. I copied the text for him. I rushed to the source I used – MIT’s version (people smarter than I see where this is going). I checked Open Source Shakespeare. Same problem. I checked the actual First Folio (with JM’s link), and there it is, the right way:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air -- into thin air --
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

The problem is that both MIT and Open Source Shakespeare are based on the Moby Shakespeare, a public domain version of the complete works that is (a) darned near ubiquitous (see “public domain”) but also (b) known to have substantial errors.

I know this. I guess I just always assumed that the errors were like very small needles in a very big haystack, and that they would simply never be an issue for me. That is not good thinking. I won’t say it wrecked my tribute to Robin Williams, but it sure tainted it. I wonder if Mr. Meskimen would make us another one? I’ll have to ask.

What other errors have you found propagated all over the internet because of Moby? Any really glaring ones? I know that Open Source Shakespeare actively updates their text to fix errors as they are reported, but I don’t believe MIT does (which would also no doubt be true of 99% of the other texts out there).

3 thoughts on “Ye, No.

  1. Wow, Duane. You have no idea how this heartens me. Shakespeare is hard enough for some without starting out in a misinformed hole in the first place. Every little bit helps. For those of us who care–and I know you do–thank you.

    1. Sorry it took me so long! The idea for the post came almost immediately after your original comment.

  2. And we have it “on authority” since The Tempest is one of the 18 plays first appearing in print in F1.

    Kudos to you.

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