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TEXT OF SHAKESPEARE.
every touch that woo'd its stay Hath brush'd its brightest hues away.
Byron. The Giaour.
COMPREHENSIVE glance at the history of the
text of Shakespeare will be a fitting introduction to the following pages; especially for those who are not familiar with that history or with Shakesperian literature, and who doubtless form the greater number of those whom I salute as 'gentle readers.' The few whose enthusiasm or steady devotion has enabled them to wade through the heaps of rubbish which have accumulated around the works of Shakespeare, during the last century and a half, will excuse a concession to the happy ignorance of their less learned, but perhaps not less devoted and appreciative fellow admirers.
The Plays of Shakespeare, unlike his Poems, were, with a few exceptions, given to the world without his concurrence or even his consent. Eighteen of them, to wit :-Merry Wives of Windsor, Much Ado about Nothing, Midsummer Night's Dream, Love's Labours Lost, Merchant of Venice,
Richard II., Henry IV. Part I. and Part II., Henry V., Henry VI. Part II. and Part III., Richard III., Troilus and Cressida, Titus Andronicus, Pericles, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet, were printed in quarto form during his lifetime. The copies of most of these plays used by the printer were, almost without doubt, surreptitiously obtained, and they are of comparatively little authority in determining the text ; their office being merely auxiliary. It is worthy of notice here, that such was the value of Shakespeare's name, such his indifference to his dramatic reputation outside the theatre, and such the impunity of the press in his time, that during his life six other plays were also published under his name, which there are no grounds for receiving as his, which were repudiated by his first editors,—his fellow players and business partners in the theatre,—and which have been rejected by all his subsequent editors, except Nicholas Rowe.
In 1623, seven years after his death, the first collected edition of Shakespeare's Plays was published in folio, under the title, “Mr. William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories and Tragedies. Published according to the True Originall Copies.” This is known in Shakesperian literature as the first folio ; and it is the only admitted authority for the text of his Dramatic Works. It contains all his plays except one: nineteen which had been surreptitiously or carelessly printed before its publication (one,-Othello, having been published in quarto after his death), and seventeen which appeared in it for the first time. The play not included, is Pericles, Prince of Tyre ; and it is conjectured that the refusal of the holder of the copyright of that play to part with it, or to come into the enterprise of publishing the first folio, caused its omission. The Preface of the editors of this first folio,—who, it should be constantly remembered, were Shakespeare's friends, fellowactors, and joint theatrical proprietors,--shows beyond all cavil, it would seem, that the publication was made, as its title professes that it was, “according to the true original copies," and that it has an unquestionable claim to implicit deference from the editors of subsequent editions, except in those instances in which illegible manuscript or careless proof-reading has palpably obscured or perverted the author's meaning. John Heminge and Henry Condell say with regard to their labor of love :
“It had bene a thing, we confesse, worthy to have bene wished, that the Author himselfe had liv'd to haue set forth, and ouerseen his owne writings: But since it hath bin ordain'd otherwise, 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 and publish'd them: and so to haue publish'd them, as where (before) you were abus'd with diverse stolne and surreptitious copies, maimed and deformed by the fraudes and stealthes of injurious impostors, that expos'd them : even those are now offer'd to your view curd and perfect of their limbes ; and all the rest, absolute in their numbers, as he conceived them. Who, as he was a happie imitator of Nature, was a most gentle expresser of it. His mind and hand went together; and what he thought, he uttered with that easinesse, that we have scarce received from him a blot in his papers."
Few readers of Shakespeare can have failed to peruso this Preface, which appears in nearly every edition of his works; but the above extract from it deserves to be ever present in the minds of all who come to the critical consideration of his text. Indeed, such is the authority of this first folio, that had it been printed with ordinary care, there would have been no appeal from its text; and editorial labors in the publication of Shakespeare's works, except from such as might think it necessary and proper to obtrude explanatory notes and critical comments upon his readers, would have been not only without justification but without opportunity. But, unfortunately, this precious folio is one of the worst printed books that ever issued from the press. It is filled with the grossest possible errors in orthography, punctuation, and arrangement. It is not surprising that Mr. Collier estimates the corrections of “minor errors," – that is, of mere palpable misspelling and mispunctuation, in his amended folio, at twenty thousand. The first folio must contain quite as many such blunders; and the second is worse in this respect than the first. But beside minor errors, the correction of which is obvious, words are so transformed as to be past recognition, even with the aid of the context ; lines are transposed ; sentences are sometimes broken by a full point followed by a capital letter, and at other times have their members displaced and mingled in incomprehensible confusion; verse is printed as prose, and prose as verse; speeches belonging to one character are given to another; and, in brief, all the possible varieties of typographical derangement abound in that volume, in the careful printing of which of all others, save one, the world was most interested. This it is which has made the labors of careful and learned editors necessary for the text of Shakespeare ; and which has furnished the excuse for the exhibition of more pedantry, foolishness, conceit, and presumption than have been exhibited upon any other subject,-always excepting that of Religion ; but with this advantage as to time on the side of the Shakesperian commentators,—that their follies have been perpetrated within one hundred and fifty years, while the labors of commentators upon the Bible have extended through more than fifteen hundred.
The cost of the first folio was £1, equal to about five at the present day, that is, about twenty-five dollars; and it is a pleasing proof of the esteem in which the works of Shakespeare were held at a period so nearly contemporaneous with him, that in spite of the numerous quarto copies of many plays, the comparatively small class which furnished purchasers, or even readers, and the rapid increase of the Puritanic school, which taught abhorrence of all stageplays as an essential of its practice, a second folio was published nine years afterwards, in 1632. It is upon a copy of this edition, known to Shakesperian students as the second folio, that the manuscript emendations of the text which Mr. Collier advocates are made. This second folio is, in effect, but little more than a paginal reprint of the first. Comparatively few of the typographical errors of the first are corrected in the second, and not only are the remainder faithfully reproduced, but to them are added many others equally grave and confusing. In the very points, therefore, in which the text of the first folio is faulty, that of the second is much worse ; and it is important to remember this in the consideration of the subject before us.
It is not surprising, that during the Commonwealth Shakespeare's Plays were not reprinted ; but in 1664 a third folio was issued, containing, in addition to those which had appeared in the two previous folios, Pericles and the six spurious plays which had been published as Shakespeare's during his life. The fourth folio appeared in 1685. Its contents are the same as those of the third. Neither of the two later folios are of the slightest authority in determining the text of Shakespeare ; and the second is only of service in those instances in which it corrects typographical errors in the first.
Up to this time Shakespeare had gained or suffered from no other editing but that of his brother players, which seems to have been limited to collecting his manuscripts, placing them in the printer's hands, and writing the Dedication and Preface to the volume. In the seventeenth cen