Conjectures and Notes


Products of the variorum commentary tradition

(photos to left: Thirlby's annotations in Pope's 1725 ed.  Beinecke Library, Yale University)

As it became more prestigious to edit Shakespeare and "correct" his play texts to accord with contemporary usage and theory, the cottage industry of conjecture commentary sprung up. It seems to have begun in earnest with Styan Thirlby  (c 1691-1753), an acquaintance of Warburton and Theobald with whom he exchanged letters about Shakespearean emendation. Dr Johnson cited him freely in his 1765 edition. 

Thirlby's annotations in 18th century editions exist in photostat and in ms. but are not in an easily accessible form, such as a printed book or a website.  Some of his correspondence, fortunately, was preserved by John Nichols in letters exchanged with William Warburton and Lewis Theobald. 

The conjecturing tradition continued into the nineteenth century and intensified as the preference for pictorial illustration over the variorum mode of detailed commentary became the norm with the Shakspeare texts produced.  Commentary was an adjunct to the plays, but separate. 

Zachary Grey

Critical, Historical, and Explanatory Notes on Shakespeare, 2 vols. (1754)

vol. 1    vol. 2

Remarks upon a Late Edition of Shakespear (1755). A defense of Hanmer and attack on Warburton

E. H. Seymour

Remarks, Critical, Conjectural, and Explanatory, upon the Plays of Shakespeare, 2 vols. (1805)

vol. 1   vol. 2

Francis Douce

Illustrations of Shakspeare, and of Ancient Manners, 2 vols. (1807)

vol. 1  vol. 2  


John Nichols

Illustrations of the Literary History of the Eighteenth Century, vol. 2 (1817)

Correspondence between Warburton, Thirlby, and Theobald on editing

John Mitford

"Conjectural Emendations on Shakspere," Gentleman's Magazine, v. 22, 1844, pp. 115-36; 451-71.

"Conjectural Emendations on Shakepere"  Gentleman's Magaziine, v. 23, 1845,  pp. 115-32; 571-85.

Wiki entry on Mitford

William Sidney Walker

A Critical Examination of the Text of Shakespeare, 3 vols. (1860)

vol. 1   vol. 2    vol. 3  


Samuel Bailey

On the Received Text of Shakespeare's Dramatic Writings and Its Improvement, 2 vols. (1862)

vol. 1    vol. 2

Philip Perring