The Pelican Julius Caesar has I.2.140 as

men at sometime were masters of their fates

(even noting the archaic meaning of "sometime" as at one time) while the Arden Julius Caesar has it as

men at some time are masters of their fates

and a Google search results lists many (admittedly not particularly scholarly) articles that use both without seeming to notice the difference.

What are the textual sources for this difference?

  • Could you please add the editor and the year of publication of both the Pelican edition and the Arden edition? The Arden edition is now in its third series, so there are probably three Arden editions (although the older one are out of print now).
    – Tsundoku
    Jun 8, 2018 at 15:30
  • To clarify my previous comment: Julius Caesar in the third series of the Arden edition dates from 1998. Is that the edition you are using, or do you have this play in the second series?
    – Tsundoku
    Jun 8, 2018 at 16:04

1 Answer 1


Some of Shakespeare's plays were printed individually in quarto editions during Shakespeare's lifetime, but Julius Caesar is one of the plays that was first printed after Shakespeare's death in the so-called First Folio of 1623. As a consequence, the First Folio text of Julius Caesar is the only authoritative text of the play, and any variations you see are a consequence of decisions by editors. One such decision is to what extent to modernise punctuation and spelling. For the line you cite, the First Folio had the following:

Men at sometime, are Masters of their Fates.

The "modern spelling" edition of the Internet Shakespeare uses the following spelling and punctuation:

Men at some time are masters of their fates.

(The Internet Shakespeare notes that "at some time" means "sometimes, occasionally".)

So what you see in the Pelican and Arden editions that you cite are two degrees of modernisation, unless "sometime" in the Pelican edition is a printing error.

Update: The change from "are" to "were" appears to go beyond mere modernization, as orome pointed out in a comment. Arthur Humphreys' edition of Julius Caesar for the Oxford Shakespeare (1984, not the text included in the single-volume edition of Shakespeare's plays that is also titled "The Oxford Shakespeare) has the following note:

F reads 'at sometime', which OED defines as '... in former times, formerly', its last example being of 1579. If Shakespeare wrote 'Men at sometime were ...' Cassius, very fittingly, would be lamenting Rome's fall from sturdy independence (see ll. 150-61). But the evidence is not certain enough to warrant emending F's 'are' to 'were' (as John Jowett suggests).

('F' refers to the First Folio; OED refers to the Oxford English Dictionary; John Jowett is one of the general editors of the Oxford Shakespeare - both the series of single-play editions and the single-volume edition.)

So the Pelican edition's change to 'were' brings the verb tense in agreement with an older meaning of 'sometime' and slightly changes the meaning of Cassius' words.

  • The difference between “are” and “were” seems to go beyond mere modernization.
    – orome
    Jun 8, 2018 at 20:52
  • @orome I updated my answer with an explanation for why an editor might change "are" to "were".
    – Tsundoku
    Jun 9, 2018 at 18:40
  • So “were” is an unusual correction, if you will, to match the contemporary meaning of “sometime”, while most editors have apparently concluded that “some time” was intended and have made the change there, leaving “are”.
    – orome
    Jun 9, 2018 at 18:54
  • @orome I don't know to what extent it is unusual change (I would not call it a "correction" since we don't know what Shakespeare wrote) because I checked only Penguin and the Oxford editions. Editorial practices have changed over time and more recent editions tend to refrain from changes that go beyond modernising the spelling and the punctuation.
    – Tsundoku
    Jun 10, 2018 at 15:15
  • The (recent) Oxford Shakespeare also has "were", but I still can't make out the motivation for the change from "are". Nonetheless this answers the basic question: there is no textual source (in the sense of there being or example, a Quarto with the alternate formulation). This is a recent editorial change that seems to have its roots in the latest Oxford effort.
    – orome
    Jun 10, 2018 at 17:38

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.