While scholars have rightly paid a great deal of attention to the development of the First Folio, and to the editorial tradition of Shakespeare's texts that Nicholas Rowe initiated in 1709, other printings of the Folio are regarded with scorn and derision, despite the evidence of editorial revision evident in some of these Folio printings (180).
Rowe used the Fourth Folio (F4) as the basis for his edition, and other 18th century editors followed suite, until Dr. Johnson argued for the textual superiority of F1 over other editions of the 17th century (181).
Despite the fact that Rowe began an editorial tradition that held sway until the 1980s, his changes to his F4 copy text are largely cosmetic. Some of these changes in F4 are clearly not accidental or the result of compositorial tampering (181).
Perceptions of F4 as a corrupt reprint of F3 derive mostly from Black and Shaaber's Shakespeare's Seventeenth Century Editors, 1632 - 1685, wherein they argue that the printing of F4 was shared by three different printers, and thus 'some or all of the changes found in F4 may be the work of three different correctors of the press, each regularly employed in one of the three printing offices involved.' It is noteworthy, however, that even Black and Shaaber found fault with their own theories, recognizing that the Cambridge editors (some of their work was based on the Cambridge Shakespeare 2nd Ed.) 'collated [F4] somewhat negligently' (182).
Certain instances in progressive emendations to Corialanus from F1 to F4 show that F4, while presenting emendations to the text that are not as satisfactory as some more recent editions, does perfect the text of previous Folios to restore sense and meaning to the lines (183 - 184).
"Both the Statute of Anne and Nicholas Rowe's edition of Shakespeare's Works were issued in 1709. The trigger for the rise of the professional editor of Shakespeare, in other words, was not only the increasing literary status enjoyed by his works, but also a wider legal impulse towards the definition of intellectual property, including editorial activities" (190).
Annotators of copy for print in the 17th century were guided by an impulse to correct the text to determine the best possible reading, but the named editors of the 18th century attempted to correct the text in order to recover Shakespeare's original words. "The recognition of editorial labour as intellectual property implied the recognition of the primacy of authorial intentions in the interpretation of a literary work" (191).
There is a thin line between the editorial practice of Nicholas Rowe and those anonymous editors who prepared the second, third, and fourth Folios of Shakespeare's works for print. As editorial practice developed into the pursuit of biographical and bibliographic knowledge of the author and his circumstances, it grew distinct from the early modern practice of perfecting texts for print. The same criticisms some modern editors have levied at earlier ones could often be applied to the anonymous annotators of the early modern period, who were more concerned with crafting legible texts than with developing bibliographies.
While modern editors will often view F4 as corrupt because it is farther removed from what Shakespeare wrote than the other Folios, it has been carefully prepared from annotated copy to restore sense to several passages that were otherwise senseless, some from the very beginning. Modern bibliography may dismiss such endeavors, but they were seen as improvements by the first generation of named editors.