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people was then far inferior to what it is in our days. As then the best Playhouses were Inns and Taverns (the Globe, the Hope, the Red Bull, the Fortune, &c,) so the top of the profession were then meer Players, not Gentlemen of the stage: They were led into the Buttery by the Steward, not plac'd at the Lord's table, or Lady's toilette : and consequently were intirely depriv'd of those advantages they now enjoy, in the familiar conversation of our Nobility, and an intimacy (not to say dearness) with people of the first condition.
From what has been said, there can be no question but had Shakespear published his works himself (efpecially in his latter time, and after his retreat from the stage) we should not only be certain which are genuine; but should find in those that are, the errors leffened by some thousands. If I may judge from all the distinguishing marks of his style, and his manner of thinking and writing, I make no doubt to declare that those wretched plays Pericles, Locrine, Sir John Oldcastle, Yorkshire Tragedy, Lord Cromwell, The Puritan, and London Prodigal, cannot be admitted as his. And I should conjecture of some of the others, (particularly Love's Labour's Loft, The Winter's Tale, and Titus Andronicus) that only fome characters, single scenes, or perhaps . a few, particular passages, were of his hand. It is very probable what occasion’d some Plays to be supposed Shakespear's was only this; that they were pieces produced by unknown authors, or fitted up for the Theatre while it was under his administration: and no owner claiming them, they were adjudged to him, as they give Strays to the Lord of
the Manor: A mistake, which (one may also observe) it was not for the interest of the House 'to remove, Yet the Players themselves, Heminges and Condell, afterwards did Shakespear the justice to reject those eight plays in their edition; tho' they were then printed in his name, in every 'body's hands, and acted with some applause; (as we learn from what Ben Johnson says of Pericles in his Ode on the New Inn.) That Titus Andronicus is one of this class I åm the rather induced to believe, by finding the same Author openly express his contempt of it in the Induction to Bartholomew-Pair, in the year ị614, when Shakespear was yet living. And there is no better authority for these latter fort, than for the former, which were equally published in his life-time.
If we give into this opinon, how many low and vicious parts and passages might no longer reflect upon this great Genius, but appear unworthily charged upon him? And even in those which are really his, how many faults may have been unjustly laid to his account from arbitrary Additions, Expunctions, Transpositions of scenes and lines, confusion of Characters and Persons, wrong application of Speeches, corruptions of innumerable Passages by the Ignorance, and wrong Corrections of 'em again by the Impertinence, of his first Editors ? From one or other of these confiderations, I am verily perswaded, that the greatest and the groffest part of what are thought his errors would vanish, and leave his character in a light very different from that disadvantageous one, in which it now appears
I will conclude by saying of Shakespear, that with all his faults, and with all the irregularity of his Drama, one may look upon his works, in comparison of those that are more finish'd and regular, as upon an ancient majestick piece of Gothick Architecture, compar'd with a neat Modern building: The latter is more elegant and glaring, but the former is more strong and more folemn. It must be allow'd, that in one of these there are materials enough to make many of the other. It has much the greater variety, and much the nobler apartments; tho' we are often conducted to them by dark, odd, and uncouth passages. Nor does the Whole fail to strike us with greater reverence, tho’ many of the Parts are childish, ill-plac'd, and unequal to its grandeur. Note that one paragraph of this preface is omitted as containing matters particular ta Mr. Pope's Edition, and which no ways relate to This.
T seems to be a kind of respect due to the memory of excellent men, especially of those whom their wit and learning have made famous, to deliver fome account of themselves, as well as their works, to Pofterity. For this reason, how fond do we see
some people of discovering any little personal story of the great men of Antiquity! their families, the common accidents of their lives, and even their shape, make, and features have been the subject of critical enquiries. How trifling soever this Curiosity may seem to be, it is certainly very natural; and we are hardly satisfy'd with an account of any remarkable person, till we have heard 'him describ'd even to the very cloaths he wears. As for what relates to men of letters, the knowledge of an Author may sometimes conduce to the better understanding his book: And tho' the Works of Mr. Shakespear may seem to many, not to want a comment, yet I fancy some little account of the man himself may not be thought improper to go along with them.
He was the son of Mr. John Shakespear, and was born at Stratford upon Avon, in Warwickshire, in April 1564. His family, as appears by the Register and publick Writings relating to that Town, were of good figure and fashion there, and are mention'd
as gentlemen. His father, who was a considerable dealer in wool, had lo large a family, ten children in all, that tho' he was his eldest fon, he could give him no better education than his own employment. He had bred him, 'tis true, for some time at a Freeschool, where ʼtis probable he acquired what Latin he was master of: But the narrowness of his circumstances, and the want of his affistance at home, forc'd his father to withdraw him from thence, and unhappily prevented his further proficiency in that language. It is without controversy, that in his works we scarce find any traces of any thing that looks like an imitation of the Ancients. The delicacy of his taste, and the natural bent of his own great Genius, (equal, if not superior to some of the best of theirs) would certainly have led him to read and study 'em with so much pleafure, that some of their fine images would naturally have insinuated themselves into, and been mix'd with his own writings ; so that his not copying at least something from them, may be an argument of his never having read 'em. Whether his ignorance of the Ancients were a disadvantage to him or no, may admit of a dispute; For tho' the knowledge of 'em might have made him more correct, yet it is not improbable but that the regularity and deference for them, which would have attended that correctness, might have restraind some of that fire, impetuosity, and even beautiful extravagance which we admire in Shakespear: And I believe we are better pleas'd with those thoughts, altogether new and uncommon, which his own imagination supply'd him fo abundantly with than if he had given us the most beautiful passages out of the Greek and Latin poets, and that in the most agreeable manner that it was possible for a master of the English language to deliver 'em.
Upon his leaving school, he seems to have given entirely into that way of living which his father propos’d to him; and in order to settle in the world after a family manner, he thought fit to marry while he was yet very young. His wife was the Daughter of one Hathaway, said to have been a substantial yeoman in the neighbourhood of Stratford. In this kind of settlement he continu'd for some time, 'till an extravagance that he was guilty of forc'd him both out of his country and that way of living which he had taken up; and tho' it seem'd at first to be a blemish upon his good manners, and a misfortune to him, yet it afterwards happily prov'd the occasion of exerting one of the greatest Genius's that ever was known in dramatick Poetry. He had, by a misfortune common enough to young fellows, fallen into ill company; and amongst them, some that made a frequent practice of Deerstealing, engagʻd him with them more than once in robbing a Park that belong'd to Sir Thomas Lucy of Cherlecot, near Stratford.