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Oh that this too much grieu'd and sallied ?esh
Would melt to nothing…
The second quarto, the next form to appear, reads
O that this too too sallied ?esh would melt
The First Folio of 1623, the only source to contain (almost) all of Shakespeare's plays,
O that this too too sollid ?esh would melt
It is believed that the “sallied” of the second quarto is to be understood as “sullied.” The
folio reading is a divergent spelling of the common reading “solid.”
So which is it? Solid ?esh? Sullied ?esh? Grieved and sallied ?esh (which might in this
case mean something like “battered”)?
The ?rst quarto reading can be ignored; it comes from a “bad quarto,” imperfectly
remembered by one of the actors of the play. But the second quarto and the ?rst folio
are both fairly good texts. And both readings make good sense. If it is “solid ?esh,” it is
natural to ask that it would melt. But “sullied ?esh” has its own aptness, as Hamlet
would have inherited it from his mother, who in her weakness has turned to Claudius. In
choosing between them, a critic must decide which one best explains the other.
There is no de?nitive answer to this one. The Yale Shakespeare, which strikes me as
rather casually edited, reads “solid.” The revised Pelican has “sullied.” The Riverside
Shakespeare, in both the ?rst and second editions, dodges the issue and prints
“sallied.” I personally think “sullied” the slightly better reading; it's in the second quarto,
now considered the best witness, and the ?rst quarto reading seems to presuppose it;
even the folio reading uses a similar spelling. But we can't be certain; there is no
guaranteed way to choose between the texts. This is the general problem of textual
criticism, of which New Testament TC is a (somewhat exceptional, and certainly very
important) example.
Rather than dwell on non-Biblical examples, let's take a handful of Biblical examples. By
seeing how an actual apparatus criticus (table of information about variations) is
constructed, we can probably make things a lot clearer.
For our ?rst example, take part of 1 John 2:23. The King James version renders its
Greek text “Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father.” After this,
however, they add, in italics (meaning that it is not a correct part of their text) “[but] he
that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.” Almost all modern version accept this
longer reading as original — that is, as part of the correct and original text.
The Encyclopedia of New Testament Textual Criticism