This version of The Tragedy of Messalina, The Roman Empress has been prepared using the unedited 1640 quarto, which is available online at Chadwyck Healy: http://lion.chadwyck.co.uk/dr_basic/fulltext?WARN=N&TOCHITS=N&ALL=Y&ACTION=BYID&ID=Z000115435. When referring to this edition, I have used the abbreviation ‘CHMess’, and when quoting other texts accessed on this site, ‘CH’.
The play is mainly in blank verse, varied by occasional heroic couplets, and by two songs in rhymed trochaic octosyllabics. There is frequent use of asyndeton, and word jingles, where words are repeated or two words of similar sound are used in succession, give a jingular effect. I have omitted Richards’ Latin footnotes and front matter.
In order to make the text more accessible, I have modernised the spelling and punctuation in instances where the metre remains unaffected, and removed extraneous colons, semi-colons and brackets. I have also added exclamation marks. The verse required frequent correction, and cannot always be fixed with certainty; in instances where I have altered verse to prose, or rearranged words to regularise the verse, I have added a footnote and provided the text as it reads in the CHMess edition.
For ease of reading, I have added scene divisions and line numbers. I have amended the speech tags to consistently refer to each character by their first name, rather than their title, and I have used the modern spellings of their names, for example ‘Messalina’ rather than ‘Messallina’. I have on occasion simplified the stage directions, or added new ones, and when I refer to them in the footnotes I use the abbreviation ‘SD’.
In the case of difficult or unknown words, I have offered possible meanings, but they are by no means exhaustive. In the many instances of sexist language, I have not altered the text, but in the introduction to the edition I have attempted to situate the play in its political and cultural context.