« ZurückWeiter »
T is faid of the oftrich, that the drops her egg at random, to be difpos'd of as chance pleases; either brought to maturity by the fun's kindly warmth, or elfe crufh'd by beafts and the feet of paffers-by: fuch, at leaft, is the account which naturalifts have given us of this extraordinary bird; and admitting it for a truth, fhe is in this a fit emblem of almost every great genius: they conceive and produce with eafe thofe noble iffues of human understanding; but incubation, the dull work of putting them correctly upon paper and afterwards publifhing, is a tafk they can not away with. If the original state of all fuch authors' writings, even from HOMER downward, could be enquir'd into and known, they would yield proof in abundance of the juftnefs of what is here afferted but the author now before us fhall fuffice for them all; being at once the greatest instance of genius in producing noble things, and of negligence in providing for them afterwards. This negligence indeed was fo great, and the condition in which
Dr. Johnfon's opinion of this performance may be known from the following paffage in Mr. Bofwell's Life of Dr. Johnfon, fecond edit. Vol. III. p. 251 : « If the man would have come to me, I would have endeavoured to endow his purpose with words, for as it is, he doth gabble monftrously."
his works are come down to us fo very deform'd, that it has, of late years, induc'd feveral gentlemen to make a revifion of them: but the publick feems not to be fatisfy'd with any of their endeavours; and the reafon of it's difcontent will be manifeft, when the state of his old editions, and the methods that they have taken to amend them, are fully lay'd open, which is the firft bufinefs of this Introduction.
Of thirty-fix plays which Shakspeare has left us, and which compofe the collection that was afterwards fet out in folio; thirteen only were publifh'd in his life-time, that have much refemblance to those in the folio; thefe thirteen are" Hamlet, First and Second Henry IV. King Lear, Love's Labour's Loft, Merchant of Venice, Midfummer-Night's Dream, Much Ado about Nothing, Richard II. and III. Romeo and Juliet, Titus Andronicus, and Troilus and Crefsida." Some others, that came out in the fame period, bear indeed the titles of― "Henry V. King John, Merry Wives of Windfor, and Taming of the Shrew ;"" but are no other than either first draughts, or mutilated and perhaps furreptitious impreffions of thofe plays, but whether of the two is not easy to determine: King John is
7 This is meant of the first quarto edition of The Taming of the Shrew; for the fecond was printed from the folio. But the play in this first edition appears certainly to have been a spurious. one, from Mr. POPE's account of it, who seems to have been the only editor whom it was ever feen by: great pains has been taken to trace who he had it of, (for it was not in his collection) but without fuccefs.
[Mr. Capell afterwards procured a fight of this defideratum, a circumftance which he has quaintly recorded in a note annexed to the MS. catalogue of his Shaksperiana: "-lent by Mr. MaLone, an Irith gentleman, living in Queen Ann Street Eaft."]
certainly a first draught, and in two parts; and fo much another play, that only one line of it is retain'd in the fecond: there is alfo a first draught of the Second and Third Parts of Henry VI. publifhed in his life-time under the following title,-" The whole Contention betweene the two famous Houses, Lancaster and Yorke:" and to these plays, fix in number, may be added-the first impreffion of Romeo and Juliet, being a play of the fame ftamp: The date of all these quarto's, and that of their feveral re-impreffions, may be seen in a table that follows the Introduction. Othello came out only one year before the folio; and is, in the main, the fame play that we have there and this too is the cafe of the first-mention'd thirteen; notwithstanding there are in many of them great variations, and particularly in Hamlet, King Lear, Richard III. and Romeo and Juliet.
As for the plays, which, we fay, are either the poet's first draughts, or else imperfect and stolen copies, it will be thought, perhaps, they might as well have been left out of the account: but they are not wholly useless; fome lacunæ, that are in all the other editions, have been judicioufly fill'd up in modern impreffions by the authority of thefe copies; and in fome particular paffages of them, where there happens to be a greater conformity than ufual between them and the more perfect editions, there is here and there a various reading that does honour to the poet's judgment, and should upon that account be prefum'd the true one; in other respects, they have neither use nor merit, but are meerly curiofities.
Proceed we then to a description of the other fourteen. They all abound in faults, though not in equal degree; and thofe faults are fo numerous,
and of fo many different natures, that nothing but a perufal of the pieces themselves can give an adequate conception of them; but amongst them are these that follow. Divifion of acts and scenes, they have none; Othello only excepted, which is divided into acts: entries of perfons are extreamly imperfect in them, (fometimes more, fometimes fewer than the scene requires) and their Exits are very often omitted; or, when mark'd, not always in the right place; and few scenical directions are to be met with throughout the whole: fpeeches are frequently confounded, and given to wrong perfons, either whole, or in part; and fometimes, inftead of the perfon fpeaking, you have the actor who prefented him and in two of the plays, (Love's Labour's Loft, and Troilus and Crefsida,) the fame matter, and in nearly the fame words, is fet down twice in fome paffages; which who fees not to be only a negligence of the poet, and that but one of them ought to have been printed? But the reigning fault of all is in the measure: profe is very often printed as verfe, and verfe as profe; or, where rightly printed verfe, that verse is not always right divided: and in all these pieces, the fongs are in every particular ftill more corrupt than the other parts of them. These are the general and principal defects: to which if you add-tranfpofition of words, fentences, lines, and even fpeeches; words omitted, and others added without reason; and a punctuation fo deficient, and so often wrong, that it hardly deferves regard; you have, upon the whole, a true but melancholy picture of the condition of these first printed plays: which bad as it is, is yet better than that of thofe which came after; or than that of the fubfequent folio im
preffion of fome of these which we are now speaking of.
This folio impreffion was fent into the world feven years after the author's death, by two of his fellow-players; and contains, befides the laft mention'd fourteen, the true and genuine copies of the other fix plays, and fixteen that were never publifh'd before: the editors make great profeffions of fidelity, and fome complaint of injury done to them and the author by ftolen and maim'd copies; giving withal an advantageous, if juft, idea of the copies which they have follow'd: but fee the terms they make use of. "It had bene a thing, we confeffe, worthie to have bene wished, that the author himfelfe had liv'd to have fet forth, and overseen his owne writings; but fince it hath bin ordain'd otherwife, and he by death departed from that right, we pray you do not envie his friends, the office of their care, and paine, to have collected & publifh'd them; and fo to have publifh'd them, as where (before) you were abus'd with diverfe ftolne, and furreptitious copies, maimed, and deformed by the frauds and ftealthes of injurious impoftors, that expos'd them even those, are now offer'd to your view cur'd, and perfect
There is yet extant in the books of the Stationers' Company, an entry bearing date-Feb. 12, 1624, to Meffrs. Jaggard and Blount, the proprietors of this first folio, which is thus worded: "Mr. Wm. Shakespear's Comedy's Hiftory's Tragedy's fo many of the faid Copy's as bee not enter'd to other men :' and this entry is follow'd by the titles of all thofe fixteen plays that were firft printed in the folio: The other twenty plays (Othello, and King John, excepted; which the perfon who furnished this tranfcript, thinks he may have overlook'd,) are enter'd too in thefe books, under their respective years; but to whom the tranfcript fays not.