« PreviousContinue »
adopted from other editions; but where a syllable, or more, had been added for the sake of the metre only, which at first might have been irregular, such interpolations are here constantly retrenched, sometimes with, and sometimes without notice. Those speeches, which in the elder editions are printed as prose, and from their own construction are incapable of being compressed into verse, without the aid of supplemental syllables, are restored to prose again, and the measure is divided afresh in others, where the mass of words had been inharmoniously separated into lines.
The scenery, throughout all the plays, is regulated in conformity to a rule, which the poet, by his general prac tice seems to have proposed to himself. Several of his pieces are come down to us, divided into scenes as well as acts. These divisions were probably his own, as they are made on settled principles, which would hardly have been the case, had the task been executed by the players. A change of scene, with Shakspeare, most commonly implies a change of place, but always an entire evacuation of the stage. The custom of distinguishing every entrance or exit by a fresh scene, was adopted, perhaps very idly, from the French theatre.
For the length of many notes, and the accumulation of examples in others, some apology may be likewise expected. An attempt at brevity is often found to be the source of an imperfect explanation. Where a passage has been constantly misunderstood, or where the jest or pleasantry has been suffered to remain long in obscurity, more instances have been brought to clear the one, or elucidate the other, than appear at first sight to have been necessary. For these it can only be said, that when they prove that phraseology or source of merriment to have been once general, which at present seems particular, they are not quite impertinently intruded; as they may serve to free the author from a suspicion of having employed an affected singularity of expression, or indulged himself in allusions to transient customs, which were not of sufficient notoriety to deserve ridicule or reprehension. When examples in favour of contradictory opinions are assembled, though no attempt is made to decide on either part, such
* I retract this supposition, which was too hastily formed. See note on The Tempest, vol. xv. p. 84, n. 2. STEEVEns.
neutral collections should always be regarded as materials for future criticks, who may hereafter apply them with success. Authorities, whether in respect of words, or things, are not always producible from the most celebrated writers*; yet such circumstances as fall below the notice of history, can only be sought in the jest-book, the satire, or the play; and the novel, whose fashion did not outlive a week, is sometimes necessary to throw light on those annals which take in the compass of an age. Those, therefore, who would wish to have the peculiarities of
* Mr. T. Warton in his excellent Remarks on the Fairy Queen of Spenser, offers a similar apology for having introduced illustrations from obsolete literature. "I fear (says he) I shall be censured for quoting too many pieces of this sort. But experience has fatally proved, that the commentator on Spenser, Jonson, and the rest of our elder poets, will in vain give specimens of his classical erudition, unless, at the same time, he brings to his work a mind intimately acquainted with those books, which, though now forgotten, were yet in common use and high repute about the time in which his authors respectively wrote, and which they consequently must have read. While these are unknown, many allusions and many imitations will either remain obscure, or lose half their beauty and propriety: as the figures vanish when the canvas is decayed.'
Pope laughs at Theobald for giving us, in his edition of Shakspeare, a sample of
66 all such READING as was never read." But these strange and ridiculous books which Theobald quoted, were unluckily the very books which Shakspeare himself had studied: the knowledge of which enabled that useful editor to explain so many different allusions and obsolete customs in his poet, which otherwise could never have been understood. For want of this sort of literature, Pope tells us that the dreadful Sagittary in Troilus and Cressida, signifies Teucer, so celebrated for his skill in archery. Had he deigned to consult an old history, called The Destruction of Troy, a book which was the delight of Shakspeare and of his age, he would have found that this formidable archer, was no other than an imaginary beast, which the Grecian army brought against Troy. If Shakspeare is worth reading, he is worth explaining; and the researches used for so valuable and elegant a purpose, merit the thanks of genius and candour, not the satire of prejudice and ignorance. That labour, which so essentially contributes to the service of true taste, deserves a more honourable repository than The Temple of Dulness." STEEVENS.
Nym familiarized to their ideas, must excuse the insertion of such an epigram as best suits the purpose, however tedious in itself; and such as would be acquainted with the propriety of Falstaff's allusion to stewed prunes, should not be disgusted at a multitude of instances, which, when the point is once known to be established, may be dimi nished by any future editor. An author who "catches,' as Pope expresses it, at "the Cynthia of a minute," and does not furnish notes to his own works, is sure to lose half the praise which he might have claimed, had he dealt in allusions less temporary, or cleared up for himself those difficulties which lapse of time must inevitably create.
The author of the additional notes has rather been desi- › rous to support old readings, than to claim the merit of introducing new ones. He desires to be regarded as one,
who found the task he undertook more arduous than it seemed, while he was yet feeding his vanity with the hopes. of introducing himself to the world as an editor in form. He, who has discovered in himself the power to rectify a few mistakes with ease, is naturally led to imagine, that all difficulties must yield to the efforts of future labour; and perhaps feels a reluctance to be undeceived at last.
Mr. Steevens desires it may be observed, that he has strictly complied with the terms exhibited in his proposals, having appropriated all such assistances, as he received, to the use of the present editor, whose judg ment has, in every instance, determined on their respective merits. While he enumerates his obligations to his. correspondents, it is necessary that one comprehensive remark should be made on such communications as are omitted in this edition, though they might have proved of great advantage to a more daring commentator. The majority of these were founded on the supposition, that Shakspeare was originally an author correct in the utmost degree, but maimed and interpolated by the neglect or presumption of the players. In consequence of this belief, alterations have been proposed wherever a verse could be harmonized, an epithet exchanged for one more apposite, or a sentiment rendered less perplexed. Had the general current of advice been followed, the notes would have: been filled with attempts at emendation apparently unnecessary, though sometimes elegant, and as frequently with explanations of what none would have thought difficult. A constant peruser of Shakspeare will suppose
whatever is easy to his own apprehension, will prove so to that of others, and consequently may pass over some real perplexities in silence. On the contrary, if in consideration of the different abilities of every class of readers, he should offer a comment on all harsh inversions of phrase, or peculiarities of expression, he will at once excite the disgust and displeasure of such as think their own knowledge or sagacity undervalued. It is difficult to fix a medium between doing too little and too much in the task of mere explanation.' There are yet many pas sages unexplained and unintelligible, which may be reformed, at hazard of whatever licence, for exhibitions on the stage, in which the pleasure of the audience is chiefly to be considered; but must remain untouched by the critical editor, whose conjectures are limited by narrow bounds, and who gives only what he at least supposes his author to have written.
If it is not to be expected that each vitiated passage in Shakspeare can be restored, till a greater latitude of experiment shall be allowed; so neither can it be supposed that the force of all his allusions will be pointed out, till such books are thoroughly examined, as cannot easily at present be collected, if at all. Several of the most correct lists of our dramatick pieces exhibit the titles of plays, which are not to be met with in the completest collections. It is almost unnecessary to mention any other than Mr. Garrick's, which, curious and extensive as it is, derives its greatest value from its accessibility.*
There is reason to think that about the time of the Reformation, great numbers of plays were printed, though few of that age are now to be found; for part of Queen Elizabeth's injunctions in 1559, are particularly directed to the suppressing of " Many pamphlets, playes, and ballads: that no manner of person shall enterprize to print any such, &c, but under certain restrictions." Vid. Sect. V. This observation is taken from Dr. Percy's additions to his Essay on the Origin of the English Stage. It appears likewise from a page at the conclusion of the second volume of the entries belonging to the Stationers Company, that in the 41st year of Queen Elizabeth, many new restraints on booksellers were laid. Among these are the following: "That no playes be printed excepte they bee allowed by such as have auctoritye," The records of the Stationers, however, contain the entries of some which have never yet been met with by the most successful collectors; nor are their titles to be found in any VOL. I.
To the other evils of our civil war must be added the interruption of polite learning, and the suppression of
registers of the stage, whether ancient or modern. It should seem from the same volumes that it was customary for the Stationers to seize the whole impression of any work that had given offence, and burn it publickly at their hall, in obedience to the edicts of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Bishop of London, who sometimes enjoyed these literary executions at their respective palaces. Among other works condemned to the flames by these discerning prelates, were the complete Satires of Bishop Hall.*
Mr. Theobald, at the conclusion of the preface to his first edition of Shakspeare, asserts, that exclusive of the dramas of Ben Jonson, and Beaumont and Fletcher, he had read “above 800 of old English plays." He omitted this assertion, however, on the republication of the same work, and, I hope, he did so, through a consciousness of its utter falsehood; for if we except the plays of the authors already mentioned, it would be difficult to discover half the number that were written early enough to serve the purpose for which he pretends to have perused the imaginary stock of ancient literature.
I might add, that the private collection of Mr. Theobald, which, including the plays of Jonson, Fletcher, and Shakspeare, did not amount to many more than an hundred, remained d entire in the hands of the late Mr. Tonson, till the time of his death, It does not appear that any other collection but the Harleian was at that time formed; nor does Mr. Theobald's edi edition contain any intrinsick evidences of so comprehensive an examination of our eldest dramatick writers, as he assumes to himself the merit of having made. STEEVENS.
Whatever Mr. Theobald might venture to assert, there is sufficient evidence existing that at the time of his death he was not possessed of more than 295 quarto plays in the whole, and some of these, it is probable, were different editions of the same play. He died shortly after the 6th of September, 1744. On the 20th of October his library was advertized to be sold by auction, by Charles Corbett, and on the third day was the following lot: "295 Old English Plays in quarto, some of them so scarce as not to be had at any price: to many of which are MSS. notes and
*Law, Physick, and Divinity, bl. 1. may be found on every stall. Plays, poetry, and novels, were destroyed publickly by the Bishops, and privately by the Puritans. Hence the infinite number of them entirely lost, for which licenses were procured, &c. FARMER.