Bad Quartos & Piracy

One way in which Shakespeare’s plays were sustained and edited into their modern-day forms was through the reference of “bad quartos.” Bad quartos were faulty replications of Shakespeare’s work; individuals who came and watched his plays performed at the Globe sometimes sat with pencil and paper in hand, copying the dialogue. In other words, it was the 16th century equivalent of taking a video camera into a movie theater today to film the show, i.e. piracy.

However, while I certainly do not condone piracy, these bad quartos have been helpful in maintaining the quality of Shakespeare’s plays. One thing that Shakespeare’s original folios lacked was clear and specific stage directions. While Shakespeare’s folio of The Winter’s Tale was wonderfully written, without bad quartos we might not know that a bear pursues Antigonus when he flees the stage in Act 3, among other stage directions that bring Shakespeare’s plays to life when performed.

With that being said, detailed stage directions are about all that bad quartos are helpful for; the language they were written in lacks the luster of Shakespeare’s original works. The most famous example of an poorly written bad quarto can be seen in Hamlet:

Picture from:,_good_quarto,_first_folio.png
Picture from:,_good_quarto,_first_folio.png

Below are links for further reading on Shakespeare’s bad quartos:

1) Hamlet

2) Hamlet – Creating the 21st Century:

3) The Winter’s Tale – The Bear:

***So, the real question may be, “If piracy had at least one positive effect on Shakespeare’s fame, is it positive at all in today’s digital society?”

The answer to this question is a complicated one. Almost every debate has come to the same conclusion: piracy is bad. However, recently two researchers at the University of Washington Foster School of Business –  Atanu Lahiri and Debabrata Dey – have found that piracy may have its uses. They conclude that piracy drives competition, increasing the quality of digital products produced by major companies such as Dell and Microsoft and breaking up monopolies.

For further reading of their argument read:


Author: Emily

Senior at Florida State University. English Literature and Classic Civilizations major. Loves Shakespeare and Poetry!

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