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his were first collected) was published by two players, Heminge and Condell, in 1623, seven years after his decease. They declare, that all the other editions were stolen and surreptitious, and affirm theirs to be purged from the errors of the former. This is true as to the literal errors, and no other: for in all respects else it is far worse than the quartos.
First, because the additions of trifling and bombast passages are in this edition far more numerous. For whatever had been added, since those quartos, by the actors, or had stolen from their mouths into the written parts, were from thence conveyed into the printed text, and all stand charged upon the author. He himself complained of this usage in Hamlet, where he wishes that those who play the clowns would speak no more than is set down for them. (Act III, sc. ii.) But as a proof that he could not escape it, in the old editions of Romeo and Juliet there is no hint of the great number of the mean conceits and ribaldries now to be found there. In others, the low scenes of mobs, plebeians, and clowns, are vastly shorter than at present: and I have seen one in particular (which seems to have belonged to the play-house, by having the parts divided with lines, and the actors names in the margin) where several of those very passages were added in a written hand, which are since to be found in the folio.
In the next place, a number of beautiful passages, which are extant in the first single editions, are omitted in this: as it seems, without any other reason, than their willingness to shorten some scenes: these men (as it was said of Procrustes) either lopping, or stretching an author, to make him just fit for their stage.
This edition is said to be printed from the original copies; I believe they meant those which had lain ever since the author's days in the play-house, and had from time to time been cut, or added to, arbitrarily. It appears that this edition, as well as the quartos, was printed (at least partly) from no better copies than the prompter's book, or piece-meal parts written out for the use of the actors: for in some places their very* names are through carelessness set down instead of the Persone Dramatis; and in others the notes of direction to the property-men for their moveables, and to the players for their entries, are inserted into the text through the ignorance of the transcribers.
The plays not having been before so much as distinguished by Acts and Scenes, they are in this edition divided according as
*Much Ado about Nothing, Act II: "Enter Prince Leonato, Claudio, and Jack Wilson," instead of Balthasar. And in Act IV, Cowley and Kemp constantly through a whole scene.
Edit. fol. of 1623, and 1632. Pope.
"My queen is murder'd! Ring the little bell."
- His nose grew as sharp as a pen, and a table of green fields," which last words are not in the quarto. Pope.
There is no such line in any play of Shakspeare, as that quoted above by Mr. Pope. Malone.
they played them; often when there is no pause in the action, or where they thought fit to make a breach in it, for the sake of musick, masques, or monsters.
Sometimes the scenes are transposed and shuffled backward and forward; a thing which could no otherwise happen, but by their being taken from separate and piece-meal written parts.
Many verses are omitted entirely, and others transposed; from whence invincible obscurities have arisen, past the guess of any commentator to clear up, but just where the accidental glimpse of an old edition enlightens us.
Some characters were confounded and mixed, or two put into one, for want of a competent number of actors. Thus in the quarto edition of Midsummer Night's Dream, Act V, Shakspeare introduces a kind of master of the revels called Philostrate; all whose part is given to another character (that of Egeus) in the subsequent editions: so also in Hamlet and King Lear. This too makes it probable that the prompter's books were what they called the original copies.
From liberties of this kind, many speeches also were put into the mouths of wrong persons, where the author now seems chargeable with making them speak out of character: or sometimes perhaps for no better reason, than that a governing player, to have the mouthing of some favourite speech himself, would snatch it from the unworthy lips of an underling.
Prose from verse they did not know, and they accordingly printed one for the other throughout the volume.
Having been forced to say so much of the players, I think I ought in justice to remark, that the judgment, as well as condition of that class of people was then far inferior to what it is in our days. As then the best play-houses were inns and taverns, (the Globe, the Hope, the Red Bull, the Fortune, &c.) so the top of the profession were then mere players, not gentlemen of the stage: they were led into the buttery by the steward:* not placed at the lord's table, or lady's toilette: and consequently were entirely deprived of those advantages they now enjoy in the familiar conversation of our nobility, and an intimacy (not to say dearness) with people of the first condition.
From what has been said, there can be no question but had Shakspeare published his works himself (especially in his latter time, and after his retreat from the stage) we should not only be certain which are genuine, but should find in those that are, the
* Mr. Pope probably recollected the following lines in The Taming of the Shrew, spoken by a Lord, who is giving directions to his servant concerning some players:
Go, sirrah, take them to the buttery,
"And give them friendly welcome, every one."
But he seems not to have observed that the players here introduced were strollers; and there is no reason to suppose that our author, Heminge, Burbage, Lowin, &c. who were licensed by King James, were treated in this manner. Malone.
errors lessened by some thousands. If I may judge from all the distinguishing marks of his style, and his manner of thinking and writing, I make no doubt to declare that those wretched plays, Pericles, Locrine, Sir John Oldcastle, Yorkshire Tragedy, Lord Cromwell, The Puritan, London Prodigal, and a thing called The Double Falshood,* cannot be admitted as his. And I should conjecture of some of the others, (particularly Love's Labour's Lost, The Winter's Tale, Comedy of Errors, and Titus Andronicus,) that only some characters, single scenes, or perhaps a few particular passages, were of his hand. It is very probable what occasioned some plays to be supposed Shakspeare's, was only this; that they were pieces produced by unknown authors, or fitted up for the theatre while it was under his administration; and no owner claiming them, they were adjudged to him, as they give strays to the lord of the manor: a mistake which (one may also observe) it was not for the interest of the house to remove. Yet the players themselves, Heminge and Condell, afterwards did Shakspeare the justice to reject those eight plays in their edition; though were then printed in his name,† in every body's hands, and acted with some applause (as we learned from what Ben Jonson says of Pericles in his ode on the New Inn). That Titus Andronicus is one of this class I am the rather induced to believe, by finding the same author openly express his contempt of it in the Induction to Bartholomew Fair, in the year 1614, when Shakspeare was yet living. And there is no better authority for these latter sort, than for the former, which were equally published in his life-time.
If we give into this opinion, how many low and vicious parts and passages might no longer reflect upon this great genius, but appear unworthily charged upon him? And even in those which are really his, how many faults may have been unjustly laid to his account from arbitrary additions, expunctions, transpositions of scenes and lines, confusion of characters and persons, wrong application of speeches, corruptions of innumerable passages by the ignorance, and wrong corrections of them again by the impertinence of his first editors? From one or other of these considerations, I am verily persuaded, that the greatest and the grossest part of what are thought his errors would vanish, and leave his character in a light very different from that disadvantageous one, in which it now appears to us.
This is the state in which Shakspeare's writings lie at present; for since the above-mentioned folio edition, all the rest have implicitly followed it, without having recourse to any of the former, or ever making the comparison between them. It is impossible to repair the injuries already done him; too much time has elapsed, and the materials are too few. In what I have done
* The Double Falshood, or The Distressed Lovers, a play, acted at Drury Lane, 8vo. 1727. This piece was produced by Mr. Theobald as a performance of Shakspeare's. Reed.
His name was affixed only to four of them. Malone.
I have rather given a proof of my willingness and desire, than of my ability, to do him justice. I have discharged the dull duty of an editor, to my best judgment, with more labour than I expect thanks, with a religious abhorrence of all innovation, and without any indulgence to my private sense or conjecture. The method taken in this edition will shew itself. The various readings are fairly put in the margin, so that every one may compare them; and those I have preferred into the text are con stantly ex fide codicum, upon authority. The alterations or additions, which Shakspeare himself made, are taken notice of as they occur. Some suspected passages, which are excessively bad (and which seem interpolations by being so inserted that one can entirely omit them without any chasm, or deficience in the context,) are degraded to the bottom of the page; with an asterisk referring to the places of their insertion. The scenes are marked so distinctly, that every removal of place is specified; which is more necessary in this author than any other, since he shifts them more frequently; and sometimes, without attending to this particular, the reader would have met with obscurities. The more obsolete or unusual words are explained. Some of the most shining passages are distinguished by commas in the margin; and where the beauty lay not in particulars, but in the whole, a star is prefixed to the scene. This seems to me a shorter and less ostentatious method of performing the better half of criticism (namely, the pointing out an author's excellencies) than to fill a whole paper with citations of fine passages, with general applauses, or empty exclamations at the tail of them. There is also subjoined a catalogue of those first editions, by which the greater part of the various readings and of the corrected passages are authorized; most of which are such as carry their own evidence along with them. These editions now hold the place of originals, and are the only materials left to repair the deficiencies or restore the corrupted sense of the author: I can only wish that a greater number of them (if a greater were ever published) may yet be found, by à search more successful than mine, for the better accomplish-ment of this end.
I will conclude by saying of Shakspeare, that with all his faults, and with all the irregularity of his drama, one may look upon his works, in comparison of those that are more finished and regular, as upon an ancient majestick piece of Gothick architecture, compared with a neat modern building: the latter is more elegant and glaring, but the former is more strong and more solemn. It must be allowed that in one of these there are materials enough to make many of the other. It has much the greater variety, and much the nobler apartments; though we are. often conducted to them by dark, odd, and uncouth passages. Nor does the whole fail to strike us with greater reverence, tho gh many of the parts are childish, ill-placed, and unequal to its grandeur.
TO THE READER.
[Prefixed to Mr. Steevens's edition of twenty of the old quarto copies of SHAKSPEAKE, &c. in 4 Vols. 8vo. 1766.]
THE plays of Shakspeare have been so often republished, with every seeming advantage which the joint labours of men of the first abilities could procure for them, that one would hardly imagine they could stand in need of any thing beyond the illustration of some few dark passages. Modes of expression must remain in obscurity, or be retrieved from time to time, as chance may throw the books of that age into the hands of criticks who shall make a proper use of them. Many have been of opinion that this language will continue difficult to all those who are unacquainted with the provincial expressions which they suppose him to have used; yet, for my own part, I cannot believe that those which are now local may once have been universal, and must have been the language of those persons before whom his plays were represented. However, it is certain, that the instances of obscurity from this source are very few.
Some have been of opinion that even a particular syntax prevailed in the time of Shakspeare; but, as I do not recollect that any proofs were ever brought in support of that sentiment, I own I am of the contrary opinion.
In his time indeed a different arrangement of syllables had been introduced in imitation of the Latin, as we find in Ascham; and the verb was frequently kept back in the sentence; but in Shakspeare no marks of it are discernible: and though the rules of syntax were more strictly observed by the writers of that age than they have been since, he of all the number is perhaps the most ungrammatical. To make his meaning intelligible to his audience seems to have been his only care, and with the ease of conversation he has adopted its incorrectness.
The past editors, eminently qualified as they were by genius and learning for this undertaking, wanted industry; to cover which they published catalogues, transcribed at random, of a greater number of old copies than ever they can be supposed to have had in their possession; when, at the same time, they never examined the few which we know they had, with any degree of accuracy. The last editor alone has dealt fairly with the world in this particular; he professes to have made use of no more than he had really seen, and has annexed a list of such to every play, together with a complete one of those supposed to be in being, at the conclusion of his work, whether he had been able to procure them for the service of it or not.
For these reasons I thought it would not be unacceptable to the lovers of Shakspeare to collate all the quartos I could find, com. paring one copy with the rest, where there were more than one of the same play; and to multiply the chances of their being pre