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The text of "The Cambridge Shakespeare edited by W. Aldis Wright" is used by the kind permission of Messrs. Macmillan & Co., Ltd.
First Published 1915.
HIS edition of Shakespeare's plays is meant to place them before ordinary readers in the simplest possible form, for use and enjoyment. Pains have been taken by careful arrangement of the page to remove inconveniences attaching to most printed texts of Shakespeare from his own time onward. The plays are printed so as to show quite clearly what persons take part in each scene, and who is speaking at each moment. The " stage directions," or explanatory matter required in order to follow the action indicated by or implied in the dialogue when the play is read in a book and not seen in action on the stage, have been remodelled on a new plan. They are so printed that they cannot be mixed up with Shakespeare's own text, but close beside the part of that text to which they apply. Their object is to give all explanation of the action that is necessary for intelligent enjoyment, without the burden and distraction of a commentary. By readers who do not require them, they may be ignored; but it is hoped that they will be found of real use by others; for many readers, and all young or inexperienced readers, find difficulty in following the action of a play when they only read it and do not see it acted. They cannot realise very clearly, point by point, what happens in successive scenes, without some help beyond the bare book of the words. In ordinary editions of Shakespeare the stage directions are scanty, and often incorrect, or at least misleading. Modern plays on the other hand are often printed with a set of "stage directions " in the full sense of the term; with full directions, that is to say, for the furnishing of the stage of the theatre in each scene, and for the appearance, dress, movements, gestures, and tones of the actors. What is done here is nothing of this sort; it is so much of explanation or guidance as to make what is going on easily intelligible, and no more. From
these helps, and from the text itself, each reader must form a picture in his own or her own mind.
The purpose of this edition being to bring its readers straight to Shakespeare, and Shakespeare straight to them, there are no notes, and no introductory matter. These may be found elsewhere. Introductions to any writing which is a work of art tend as a rule to impair direct appreciation of the work, and come between the reader and the author. The same is true of commentaries. Both serve their purpose best when kept separate, and used for help when the work is being carefully studied, or when something in it is felt to require further elucidation. But knowledge and enjoyment of the work itself should be the previous condition of any such fuller study. In order, however, to obviate the need of reference to a dictionary, there is at the end of each volume a glossary of words or phrases in the text of the play which have become obsolete, or have materially changed their meaning, or are so unfamiliar that they require to be explained if a passage is to be understood.
A very few lines are omitted in the text which transgress the accepted standards of decency, and the excision of which, without materially injuring the scenes in which they occur, removes a real cause of offence and a real source of discomfort or anxiety. For obvious reasons this is not the place either to argue out the policy of doing so, or to indicate more particularly the lines in question. In an edition which makes a wide appeal, and which is meant more particularly for the use and the enjoyment of young readers (whether in school or at home), the arguments for printing an absolutely complete text may properly give way to other and equally grave considerations.
NOTE ON READING ALOUD.
THE universal diffusion of the power of reading by eye has had one unfortunate effect. The art of reading aloud has been neglected, and its practice has fallen largely into disuse. It is now once more beginning to be taught carefully in schools; but it has not yet reinstated itself as a function of social life. This is a grave loss; for words, if taken in merely through the eye, lose much of their vitality.
Shakespeare's plays were written in order to be spoken and heard in the theatre. Some of them-even these but seldom, and usually in garbled versions are still so spoken and heard. But even off the stage they depend largely for their effect on the interpretation of the live voice, and gain immensely by being read aloud, if they are well read; that is to say, if the reading is such as carries to the listener not only the sense, but the quality of the language.
A play, or scene, may be read aloud either by a single reader, or with the parts distributed. The latter method has this advantage, that it removes the need for a pause between each two successive speeches, and the temptation to mark the change of speaker by an artificial change of voice.
Reading aloud is a fine art; and reading aloud at sight is an art involving special aptitude and no little skill, and is not a thing lightly to be undertaken or even to be attempted except in a real emergency. It means that the eye must keep well ahead of the words as they are spoken, and that the two processes must never interfere with one another. With most people, therefore, previous acquaintance with what they are reading aloud is indispensable towards reading it effectively. To read their Shakespeare aloud so as to impart intelligent enjoyment, they must first know their Shakespeare.
The first and last aim of a reader should be to convey the substance of what he is reading in the form impressed upon it by the author, neither less nor more. "Dramatic" or highly-coloured reading is to be avoided; over-emphasis is as much a fault as monotony and