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throw the books of that age into the hands of criticks who fhall make a proper ufe of them. Many have been of opinion that his language will continue difficult to all those who are unacquainted with the provincial expreffions which they suppose him to have used; yet, for my own part, I cannot believe but that thofe which are now local may once have been univerfal, and must have been the language of those perfons before whom his plays were reprefented. However, it is certain, that the inftances of obfcurity from this fource are very few.
Some have been of opinion that even a particular fyntax prevailed in the time of Shakspeare; but, as I do not recollect that any proofs were ever brought in fupport of that fentiment, I own I am of the contrary opinion.
In his time indeed a different arrangement of fyllables had been introduced in imitation of the Latin, as we find in Afcham; and the verb was frequently kept back in the fentence; but in Shakspeare no marks of it are discernible; and though the rules of fyntax were more ftrictly obferved by the writers of that age than they have been fince, he of all the number is perhaps the moft ungrammatical. To make his meaning intelligible to his audience feems to have been his only care, and with the ease of converfation he has adopted its incorrectness.
The past editors, eminently qualified as they were by genius and learning for this undertaking, wanted induftry; to cover which they published catalogues, tranfcribed at random, of a greater number of old copies than ever they can be fuppofed to have had in their poffeffion; when, at the fame time, they never examined the few which we know
they had, with any degree of accuracy. The laft editor alone has dealt fairly with the world in this particular; he profeffes to have made ufe of no more than he had really feen, and has annexed a lift of fuch to every play, together with a complete one of those supposed to be in being, at the conclufion of his work, whether he had been able to procure them for the fervice 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, comparing one copy with the reft, where there were more than one of the fame play; and to multiply the chances of their being preferved, by collecting them into volumes, instead of leaving the few that have escaped, to fhare the fate of the reft, which was probably haftened by their remaining in the form of pamphlets, their use and value being equally unknown to those into whofe hands they fell.
Of fome I have printed more than one copy; as there are many perfons, who, not contented with the poffeffion of a finifhed picture of fome great mafter, are defirous to procure the first sketch that was made for it, that they may have the pleafure of tracing the progrefs of the artift from the firft light colouring to the finifhing ftroke. To fuch the earlier editions of King John, Henry the Fifth, Henry the Sixth, The Merry Wives of Windfor, and Romeo and Juliet, will, I apprehend, not be unwelcome; fince in these we may difcern as much as will be found in the hafty outlines of the pencil, with a fair profpect of that perfection to which he brought every performance he took the pains to retouch.
The general character of the quarto editions may more advantageoufly be taken from the words
of Mr. Pope, than from any recommendation of my
"The folio edition (fays he) in which all the plays we now receive as his were firft collected, was publifhed by two players, Heminges and Condell, in 1623, feven years after his decease. They declare that all the other editions were ftolen and furreptitious," 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 refpects elfe it is far worfe than the quartos.
"Firft, because the additions of trifling and bombaft paffages are in this edition far more numerous. For whatever had been added fince those quartos by the actors, or had ftolen from their mouths into the written parts, were from thence conveyed into the printed text, and all ftand charged upon the author. He himself complained of this ufage in Hamlet, where he wishes those who play the clowns would speak no more than is fet down for them, (Act III. fc. iv.) But as a proof that he could not escape it, in the old editions of Romeo and Juliet, there is no hint of the mean conceits and ribaldries now to be found there. In others the scenes of the mobs, plebeians, and clowns, are vaftly shorter than at prefent; and I have seen one in particular (which feems to have belonged to the play-house, by having the parts divided by lines, and the actors names in the margin,) where
· feveral of those very paffages were added in a
8 It may be proper on this occafion to obferve, that the actors printed feveral of the plays in their folio edition from the very quarto copies which they are here striving to depreciate; and additional corruption is the utmoft that thefe copies gained by paffing through their hands.
written hand, which fince are to be found in the folio.
"In the next place, a number of beautiful paffages were omitted, which were extant in the firft fingle editions; as it seems without any other reafon than their willingness to fhorten fome scenes."
To this I must add, that I cannot help looking on the folio as having fuffered other injuries from the licentious alteration of the players; as we frequently find in it an unusual word changed into one more popular; fometimes to the weakening of the fenfe, which rather feems to have been their work, who knew that plainness was neceffary for the audience of an illiterate age, than that it was done by the consent of the author: for he would hardly have unnerved a line in his written copy, which they pretend to have transcribed, however he might have permitted many to have been familiarized in the representation. Were I to indulge my own private conjecture, I fhould fuppofe that his blotted manuscripts were read over by one to another among those who were appointed to transcribe them; and hence it would easily happen, that words of fimilar found, though of fenfes directly oppofite, might be confounded with each other. They themselves declare that Shakspeare's time of blotting was paft, and yet half the errors we find in their edition could not be merely typographical. Many of the quartos (as our own printers affure me) were far from being unskilfully executed, and fome of them were much more correctly printed than the folio, which was published at the charge of the fame proprietors, whofe names we find prefixed to the older copies; and I cannot join with Mr. Pope in acquitting that edition of more literal errors than thofe which went before it. The
particles in it seem to be as fortuitoufly difpofed, and proper names as frequently undiftinguished by Italick or capital letters from the reft of the text. The punctuation is equally accidental; nor do I fee on the whole any greater marks of a skilful revifal, or the advantage of being printed from unblotted originals in the one, than in the other. One reformation indeed there feems to have been made, and that very laudable; I mean the fubftitution of more general terms for a name too often unneceffarily invoked on the ftage; but no jot of obfcenity is omitted: and their caution against profaneness is, in my opinion, the only thing for which we are indebted to the judgment of the editors of the folio.9
How much may be done by the affiftance of the old copies will now be easily known; but a more difficult task remains behind, which calls for other abilities than are requifite in the laborious collator.
From a diligent perufal of the comedies of contemporary authors, I am perfuaded that the meaning of many expreffions in Shakspeare might be retrieved; for the language of converfation can only be expected to be preferved in works, which in their time affumed the merit of being pictures of men and manners. The ftyle of conversation we may suppose to be as much altered as that of
and their caution against profaneness is, in my opinion, the only thing for which we are indebted to the editors of the folio.] I doubt whether we are fo much indebted to the judgment of the editors of the folio edition, for their caution againft profaneness, as to the ftatute 3 Jac. I. c. 21, which prohibits under fevere penalties the use of the facred name in any plays or interludes. This occafioned the playhouse copies to be altered, and they printed from the playhouse copies.