For questions about the history of the manuscripts, printed texts, or orally transmitted versions of a single work; or when and where a work was first published; or specific features of one or more editions; or how editors establish an accurate or authoritative text, etc. Not to be confused with the [publishing] tag, which is about publishing practices generally, or the [historical-context] tag, which is about relevant background information.
The various manuscripts or print editions of literary works often differ from each other. The differences can be minor, such as a misprint that is easily recognizable as such. But there can also be major differences. For example, Marlowe's Doctor Faustus has come down to us in two very different forms, called the A text (1604) and the B text (1616). Similarly, the 1603 and 1604 quartos of Hamlet differ greatly from each other and from the 1623 folio text. Establishing a text that best represents what the author actually wrote becomes a challenge in such cases.
In some cases, of course, authors themselves revise their work for a new edition: Tennyson made substantial changes to "The Lotos-Eaters" between its first appearance in 1832 and its republication in 1842. Such changes can illuminate the author's development, or can be in response to external circumstances such as censorship.
The history of the various texts of a work is therefore an area of inquiry for scholars and students of literature. This tag is for questions about the textual history of literary works, such as:
- When was a work first published?
- What was the publication format?
- Were there illustrations? How were they used?
- Are there manuscript sources for this work? If so, are there discernible differences between the manuscript sources and the print publication?
- Are there multiple printed versions / editions that differ significantly?
- What accounts for differences between the various manuscript and printed versions of the work? Authorial revision? Censorship? Printing error?
Questions about how folktales or myths that were historically part of an oral tradition transitioned to written form also fall within the scope of this tag.