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Of the personal history of Shakespeare, and of the usages of theatres formerly in relation to dramatic productions,' so little is now known, that it is impossible to say why he made no provision for the publication of his transcendent works. Whether, having written them for the stage, he was satisfied with their success in that arena, or had forfeited the power of giving them a wider circulation, or was confident enough in their merits to believe they must survive all accidents, no one probably will ever determine. All we know upon the subject is, that, unlike his learned contemporary, Jonson, he published no collection of his "Plays" as "Works," and that although some of them were printed during his life, and possibly with his sanction, there is no evidence to show that any one of them was ever corrected by his own hand. What is strange, too, of a writer so remarkable and of compositions so admired, not a poem, a play, or fragment of either, in his manuscript, has come down to us. What is still more surprising, with the exception of five or six signatures, not a word in his handwriting is known to exist! The first collective edition of his dramas did not appear till seven years after his death. This was the famous folio of 1623, in which his "fellows" Heminge and Condell brought together rather than edited the whole of the plays, Pericles excepted, which are by common consent ascribed to him.
In the singular prefatory address "To the Great Variety of Readers," written, as Steevens supposed, mainly by Ben Jonson, the editors, so to call them, confess it had been a thing "worthie to have bene wished, that the Author himselfe had liv'd to have set forth, and overseen his owne writings;" though they claim credit for the care and pain they have bestowed in collecting and publishing them, so that—"where (before) you were abus'd with
1 It is well ascertained that the printing of a play was considered injurious to its stage success"; and although in the sale of a piece to the theatre there may have been no express contract to that effect between the vendor and vendee, the purchase apparently was understood to include, with the special right of performing such piece, the literary interest in it also. Authors, however, were not always faithful to this understanding. Thomas Heywood, in the address to the reader, prefixed to his Rape of Lucrece, 1608, observes, "Though some have used a double sale of their labours, first to the stage, and after to the press, for my own part, I here proclaim myself ever faithful in the first, and never guilty in the last."
Sometimes plays were printed surreptitiously without the cognizance of either the authors or the company to which they belonged, and there is an admonition directed to the Stationers' Company, in the office of the Lord Chamberlain, dated June 10, 1637, against the printing of plays, to the prejudice of the companies who had bought
them" After my hearty commendations, Whereas complaint was heretofore presented to my dear brother and predecessor by his Majesty's servants the players, that some of the Company of Printers and Stationers had procured and printed divers of their books of Comedies, Tragedies, Interludes, Histories and the like, which they had for the special service of his Majesty, and their own use, bought and provided at very dear and high rates," &c.
Occasionally too, an author, from apprehension or in consequence of a corrupt version of his piece getting abroad, was induced to have it printed himself:- "One only thing affects me; to think, that scenes, invented merely to be spoken, should be enforcively published to be read, and that the least hurt I can receive is to do myself the wrong. But since others otherwise would do me more, the least inconvenience is to be accepted; I have therefore myself set forth this comedie," &c.-MARSTON'S Preface to the Malecontent, 1604.
diverse stolne and surreptitious copies, maimed, and deformed by the frauds and stealthes of injurious impostors, that expos'd them: even those, are now offer'd to your view cur'd, and perfect of their limbes; and all the rest, absolute in their numbers, as he conceived them," and profess further to have printed at least a portion of the volume from "papers" in which they "scarse received from him a blot." By the "diverse stolne and surreptitious copies" they point evidently at the quartos; but the depreciation of those editions is merely a clap-trap to enhance the value of their own folio. The facts, which are indisputable, that in many of the plays the folio text is a literal reprint of that in the quartos, even to the errors of the press, and that some of the publishers of the latter were bought off and included among the proprietors of the folio, prove that, if not absolutely authentic, the earlier copies had strong claims to accuracy and completeness. The seventeen of Shakespeare's plays which appeared in the quarto form prior to the publication of the folio 1623, are: King Richard II., King Richard III., Romeo and Juliet, Love's Labour's Lost, Henry IV. P. I., Henry IV. P. II., Henry V., The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Much Ado about Nothing, Titus Andronicus, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Hamlet, King Lear, Troilus and Cressida, Pericles, and Othello. The folio contains the whole of the above pieces (excepting Pericles), which had previously appeared in print, and twenty plays besides, which, so far as we know, till that time were only in manuscript.
2 Malone observes that what Heminge and Condell state regarding the imperfection and mutilation of the quartos "is not strictly true of any but two of the whole number," and that in general the other quartos "are preferable to the exhibition of the same plays in the folio; for this plain reason, because, instead of printing these plays from a manuscript, the editors of the folio, to save labour, or from some other motive, printed the greater part of them from the very copies which they represented as maimed and imperfect, and frequently from a late, instead of the earliest edition."
3" It is demonstrable that Heminge and Condell printed Much Ado About Nothing from the quarto of 1600, omitting some short portions and words here and there, and making some trivial changes, mostly for the worse:-that they printed Love's Labour's Lost from the quarto of 1598, occasionally copying the old errors of the press; and though in a few instances they corrected the text, they more frequently corrupted it; spoilt the continuity of the dialogue in Act III. Sc. 1, by omitting several lines, and allowed the preposterous repetitions in Act IV. Sc. 3, and Act V. Sc. 2, to stand as in the quarto:-that their text of A Midsummer Night's Dream was mainly taken from Roberts's quarto,-by much the inferior of the two quartos of 1600,-its blunders being sometimes followed; and though they amended a few passages, they introduced not a few bad variations, to say nothing of their being chargeable with some small omissions:-that for The Merchant of Venice they used Heyes's quarto, 1600, retaining a good many of its misprints; and though in some places they improved the text, their deviations from the quarto are generally either objectionable readings, or positive errors-that in King Richard II. they chiefly adhere to the quarto of 1615, copying some of its mistakes; and though they made one or two short additions, and some slight emendations, they occasionally corrupted the text, and greatly injured the tragedy by omitting sundry passages, one of which, in Act I. Sc. 3, extends to twenty-six lines-that their text of The First Part of King Henry IV. is, on the whole, more faulty than that of the incorrect
quarto of 1613, from which they printed the play :-that their text of King Richard III., which materially differs from that of all the quartos,-now and then for the better, but oftener perhaps for the worse,-was in some parts printed from the quarto of 1602, as several corresponding errors prove, and though it has many lines not contained in any of the quartos, it leaves out a very striking and characteristic portion of the 2d scene of Act IV., and presents passages here and there which cannot be restored to sense without the assistance of the quartos:-that they formed their text of Troilus and Cressida on that of the quarto of 1609, from which some of their many blunders were derived; and though they made important additions in several passages, they omitted other passages, sometimes to the destruction of the sense :-that in Hamlet, while they added considerably to the prose-dialogue in Act II. Sc. 2, inserted elsewhere lines and words which are wanting in the quartos of 1604, &c., and rectified various mistakes of those quartos; they,-not to mention minor mutilations of the text, some of them accidental,omitted in the course of the play about a hundred and sixty verses (including nearly the whole of the 4th scene of Act IV.), and left out a portion of the prose-dialogue in Act V. Sc. 2, besides allowing a multitude of errors to creep in passim :- that their text of King Lear, though frequently correct where the quartos are incorrect, and containing various lines and words omitted in the quartos, is, on the other hand, not only often incorrect where the quartos are correct, but is mutilated to a surprising extent, -the omissions, if we take prose and verse together, amounting to about two hundred and seventy lines, among which is an admirable portion of the 6th scene of Act III. *** In short, Heminge and Condell made up the folio of 1623 partly from those very quartos which they denounced as worthless, and partly from manuscript stage-copies, some of which had been depraved, in not a few places, by the alterations and botchery of the players,' and awkwardly mutilated for the purpose of curtailing the pieces in representation."-DYCE.
This folio of 1623, then, forms the only authority we possess for above one half of Shakespeare's plays, and a very important one for the remainder which had been published before its appearance. Unhappily it is a very ill printed book; so badly edited, and so negligently "read," that it abounds not only with the most transparent typographical inaccuracies, but with readings disputable and nonsensical beyond belief. Such, indeed, are its errors and deficiencies that Mr. Knight, who professes more deference to the authority of its text than any other editor, and has gone the length of saying that "perhaps, all things considered, there never was a book so correctly printed," was constrained to abandon it in thousands of instances. The truth is, that no edition of Shakespeare founded literally on the folio would be endured by the general reader in the present day. Opinions may differ as to the extent to which the quartos are required in correcting and supplementing the players' copy; that they are invaluable for these purposes it would be the height of prejudice to deny. Some portion of the corruptions in the folio may be due to obscure or imperfect manuscript, papers originally received from the author's hands with scarce a blot, were probably much worn and soiled by years of use in the theatre, but the clusters of misprints, the ruthless disregard of metrical propriety, the absolute absurdities of punctuation, which deform this volume, too plainly indicate that it received little or no literary supervision, beyond that of the master printer who prepared it for the press.
The second folio, published in 1632, is no improvement on its predecessor in point of accuracy. It corrects a few of the most palpable typographical mistakes of the former folio; but the editor, as Malone has shown, was entirely ignorant of Shakespeare's phraseology and versification, and has left few pages undisfigured by some capricious innovations.
The third folio, bearing the date 1664, is very scarce, a large number of copies having been destroyed in the Great Fire of London, in 1666. Like the second folio, it is, as regards the acknowledged plays, merely a reprint, perpetuating the errors of the first, and adding new ones of its own. This edition, however, possesses a special interest, as it contains seven additional plays, "never before printed in folio:" viz. Pericles Prince of Tyre; The London Prodigal; The History of Lord Cromwell; Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham; The Puritan Widow; A Yorkshire Tragedy; and The Tragedy of Locrine. No one of these plays, with the exception of Pericles, is ever now included in the editions of Shakespeare's works, nor has any other of them a claim to such distinction.
The fourth folio of 1685 is nothing more than a reproduction of the third copy, and, like its immediate precursor, not only presents blunders of its own, but repeats the most obvious errors found in the second folio. Such were the earliest collected editions of this poet's dramas, and such the only volumes in which these dramas were accessible for nearly a hundred years after his decease. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, a
The Rev. Joseph Hunter gives a different and much truer character of the folio:-"Perhaps in the whole annals of English typography there is no record of any book of
any extent, and any reputation, having been dismissed from the press with less care and attention than the first folio." --Preface to New Illustrations of Shakespeare.