« PreviousContinue »
some changes were undoubtedly made from ignorance of his meaning and phraseology. They had, I suppose, been made in the playhouse copies after his retirement from the theatre. Thus in Othello, Brabantio is made to call to his domesticks to raise
some special officers of might," instead of "officers of night;" and the phrase " of all loves," in the same play, not being understood, "for love's sake" was substituted in its room. So, in Hamlet, we have ere ever for or ever, and rites instead of the more ancient word, crants. In King Lear, Act I. sc. i. the substitution of " Goes thy heart with this?" instead of" Goes this with thy heart?" without doubt arose from the same cause. In the plays of which we have no quarto copies, we may be sure that similar innovations were made, though we have now no certain means of detecting them.
After what has been proved concerning the sophistications and corruptions of the Second Folio, we cannot be surprized that when these plays were republished by Mr. Rowe in the beginning of this century from a later folio, in which the interpolations of the former were all preserved, and many new errors added, almost every page of his work was disfigured by accumulated corruptions. In Mr. Pope's edition our author was not less misrepresented; for though by examining the oldest copies he detected some errors, by his numerous fanciful alterations the poet was so completely modernized, that I am confident, had he "re-visited the glimpses of the moon," he would not have understood his own works. From the quartos indeed a few valuable restorations were made; but all the advantage that was thus obtained,
was outweighed by arbitrary changes, transpositions, and interpolations.
The readers of Shakspeare being disgusted with the liberties taken by Mr. Pope, the subsequent edition of Theobald was justly preferred; because he professed to adhere to the ancient copies more strictly than his competitor, and illustrated a few passages by extracts from the writers of our poet's age. That his work should at this day be considered of any value, only shows how long impressions will remain, when they are once made; for Theobald, though not so great an innovator as Pope, was yet a considerable innovator; and his edition being printed from that of his immediate predecessor, while a few arbitrary changes made by Pope were detected, innumerable sophistications were silently adopted. His knowledge of the contemporary authors was so scanty, that all the illustration of that kind dispersed throughout his volumes, has been exceeded by the researches which have since been made for the purpose of elucidating a single play.
Of Sir Thomas Hanmer it is only necessary to say, that he adopted almost all the innovations of Pope, adding to them whatever caprice dictated.
To him succeeded Dr. Warburton, a critick, who (as hath been said of Salmasius) seems to have erected his throne on a heap of stones, that he have them at hand to throw at the heads of all those who passed by. His unbounded licence in substituting his own chimerical conceits in the place of the author's genuine text, has been so fully shown by his revisers, that I suppose no critical reader will ever again open his volumes. An hundred strappadoes, according to an Italian comick writer, would not have induced Petrarch,
were he living, to subscribe to the meaning which certain commentators after his death had by their glosses extorted from his works. It is a curious. speculation to consider how many thousand would have been requisite for this editor to have inflicted on our great dramatick poet for the same purpose. The defence which has been made for Dr. Warburton on this subject, by some of his friends, is singular. "He well knew," it has been said, "that much the greater part of his notes do not throw any light on the poet of whose works he undertook the revision, and that he frequently imputed to Shakspeare a meaning of which he never thought; but the editor's great object was to display his own learning, not to illustrate his author, and this end he obtained; for in spite of all the clamour against him, his work added to his reputation as a scholar."-Be it so then; but let none of his admirers ever dare to unite his name with that of Shakspeare; and let us at least be allowed to wonder, that the learned editor should have had so little respect for the greatest poet that has appeared since the days of Homer, as to use a commentary on his works merely as "a stalkinghorse, under the presentation of which he might shoot his wit."
At length the task of revising these plays was undertaken by one, whose extraordinary powers of mind, as they rendered him the admiration of his contemporaries, will transmit his name to posterity as the brightest ornament of the eighteenth century; and will transmit it without competition, if we except a great orator, philosopher, and statesman, now living, whose talents and virtues are
The Right Honourable Edmund Burke.
an honour to human nature. In 1765, Dr. Johnson's edition, which had long been impatiently expected, was given to the publick. His admirable preface, (perhaps the finest composition in our language,) his happy, and in general just, characters of these plays, his refutation of the false glosses of Theobald and Warburton, and his numerous explications of involved and difficult passages, are too well known, to be here enlarged upon; and therefore I shall only add, that his vigorous and comprehensive understanding threw more light on his author than all his predecessors had done.
In one observation, however, concerning our poet, I do not entirely concur with him. "It is not (he remarks) very grateful to consider how little the succession of editors has added to this author's power of pleasing. He was read, admired, studied and imitated, while he was yet deformed with all the improprieties which ignorance and neglect could accumulate upon him."
He certainly was read, admired, studied, and imitated, at the period mentioned; but surely not in the same degree as at present. The succession of editors has effected this; it has made him understood; it has made him popular; it has shown every one who is capable of reading, how much superior he is not only to Jonson and Fletcher, whom the bad taste of the last age from the time of the Restoration to the end of the century set above him, but to all the dramatick poets of antiquity:
Jam monte potitus,
"Ridet anhelantem dura ad vestigia turbam."
Every author who pleases must surely please
more as he is more understood, and there can be no doubt that Shakspeare is now infinitely better understood than he was in the last century. To say nothing of the people at large, it is clear that Dryden himself, though a great admirer of our poet, and D'Avenant, though he wrote for the stage in the year 1627, did not always understand him. The very books which are necessary to our
"The tongue in general is so much refined since Shakspeare's time, that many of his words, and more of his phrases, are scarce intelligible." Preface to Dryden's Troilus and Cressida. The various changes made by Dryden in particular passages in that play, and by him and D'Avenant in The Tempest, prove decisively that they frequently did not understand our poet's language.
In his defence of the Epilogue to The Conquest of Granada, Dryden arraigns Ben Jonson for using the personal, instead of the neutral, pronoun, and unfeard for unafraid:
Though heaven should speak with all his wrath at once, "We should stand upright, and unfear'd."
"His (says he) is ill syntax with heaven, and by unfear'd he means unafraid; words of a quite contrary signification.-He perpetually uses ports for gates, which is an affected error in him, to introduce Latin by the loss of the English idiom."
Now his for its, however ill the syntax may be, was the common language of the time; and to fear, in the sense of to terrify, is found not only in all the poets, but in every dictionary of that age. With respect to ports, Shakspeare, who will not be suspected of affecting Latinisms, frequently employs that word in the same sense as Jonson has done, and as probably the whole kingdom did; for the word is still so used in Scotland.
D'Avenant's alteration of Macbeth, and Measure for Measure, furnish many proofs of the same kind. In The Law against Lovers, which he formed on Much Ado about Nothing, and Measure for Measure, are these lines:
nor do I think,
"The prince has true discretion who affects it." The passage imitated is in Measure for Measure: Nor do I think the man of safe discretion, "That does affect it."
If our poet's language had been well understood, the epithet safe would not have been rejected. See Othello: