Page images
PDF
EPUB

Art. X.-On the earliest Quarto Editions of the Plays of

Shakespeare.

There is no edition of Shakespeare, nor any list of his plays, where the title-pages are given exactly as they stand, and in the form in which they are printed, in the original quartos. This is a defect I now propose to supply.

In the impression of the works of our great dramatist, not long since superintended by me through the press, I inserted before each drama the exact words and letters of the old titlepages, (information no where else supplied) but I was unable to give the precise manner in which the words were disposed and arranged, by which a notion, more or less accurate, may be formed of the degree of prominence given by the old printer, under the direction of the author or of the publisher, to particular parts of the title. Thus, in reference to “ King Lear," I could not show how unprecedently obvious the name of “M. William Shake-speare ” was rendered at the top of the title-page, in order to attract attention to the fact that it was his play, and no other, which was then offered for sale. This, however, is a point of no little importance in connexion with the reputation and popularity of our great dramatist, only two or three years before the termination of his theatrical career. I mention this tragedy only by way of illustration ; but, as the reader turns over the following pages, he will become aware of the value of the knowledge to be derived merely from the inspection of the title-pages of the old quartos. The groundwork on which I proceed is, that there is no matter, however minute, in relation to Shakespeare, that is not well worth ascertaining

I have necessarily had all the early impressions of Shakespeare's Works through my hands within the last few years. The Duke of Devonshire lent me all his copies, and the Earl

of Ellesmere added to them the editions handed down in his family: some of these had never been even seen by previous editors of Shakespeare, and I was certainly the first that ever had them all in his hands and at the same time. I had therefore peculiar means of obtaining the information I am about to furnish; and I transcribed every old title-page with the utmost accuracy, taking care in all cases to observe capitals or italics, and the proportions of the various types employed by the printers at the latter end of the reign of Elizabeth, and in the beginning of that of James I.

It is to be remarked, that black-letter is not used in the printing of any one of Shakespeare's Works: it was not even resorted to to give variety or effect to any of his title-pages, although it was not very uncommon in his day still to employ it in plays which became especially popular. Many, if not most, of the works in prose and verse, addressed at that date to readers among the lower orders, were printed in black-letter: such was invariably the case with chap-books and ballads; and we might enumerate various dramas in the same predicamentthree of them reprinted by the Shakespeare Society, viz., “ Patient Grissell," and the two parts of " Edward the Fourth.” Other plays by Dekker, Heywood, Munday, Chettle, Rowley, &c., were also issued in black-letter, because it was more attractive than Roman type to the popular eye.

It has generally been said, that there are twenty quarto editions of plays by Shakespeare printed anterior to the folio of 1623 ; but the fact is that, exclusive of “ The Taming of the Shrew,” the title-page of the quarto edition of which bears date in 1631, there are only seventeen quartos. Steevens, in 1766, to make up the number, added the two parts of “The troublesome Reign of King John,” 1611, which nobody in modern times has imputed to Shakespeare, although “Written by W. Sh.” was inserted fraudulently on the title-page by the old printer : he also reprinted among his “ Twenty Quartos” the two parts of the “Contention between the two Houses of

[ocr errors]

Lancaster and York;” but he strangely omitted “ Pericles," which had much more than an equal claim to the distinction. The undoubted plays of Shakespeare, which came from the press in quarto before 1623, were the following, and our list is made out according to the dates of publication :

[merged small][ocr errors]

Romeo and Juliet
Richard the Second
Richard the Third
Henry the Fourth, part 1
Love's Labours Lost
Much ado about Nothing
Midsummer Night's Dream
Merchant of Venice
Henry the Fourth, part 2
Henry the Fifth
Titus Andronicus
Merry Wives of Windsor
Hamlet
King Lear
Troilus and Cressida
Pericles
Othello

· 1597
1597
1597
1598
1598
1600
1600
1600
1600
1600
1600
1602
1603
1608
1609
1 609
1622.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Thus it will be seen at once how irregularly Shakespeare's dramas came from the press, viz., three in 1597, two in 1598, six in 1600, one in 1602, and another in 1603, one in 1608, two in 1609, and one in 1622. Why six separate productions were crowded into 1600, while in various years none at all appeared, is matter of curious and interesting speculation : five of these six were printed from good manuscripts, whether derived from the theatre or from any other source, while the sixth was indisputably surreptitious, and never could have been authorized by any body. I shall speak of them separately presently, and in the mean time I shall proceed to insert exact reprints of the

ancient title-pages, with such remarks and information regarding each as occur to me, taking them in the order above observed.

AN

EXCELLENT

conceited Tragedie

OF

Romeo and Juliet.

As it hath been often (with great applause)
plaid publiquely, by the right Ho-
nourable the L. of Hunsdon

his Seruants.

LONDON
Printed by Iohn Danter.

1597.

At the top of the page is an arabesque ornament, and Danter's device above the name of the printer. This is the earliest, and, no doubt, spurious edition of “Romeo and Juliet,” made

up

from notes taken at the theatre during performance, with assistance derived from portions of the tragedy as delivered out to some of the actors. The subsequent impression of 1599 was “newly corrected, augmented, and amended,” and gives the play nearly as it was represented : nevertheless, the 4to. of 1597 contains important matter, of which we need only select one proof, where it is said of Romeo

“His agile arm beats down their fatal points,"

יי

[ocr errors]

instead of “ aged arm, as it absurdly stands in the quartos of 1599, 1609, and even in the folio of 1623: the folio of 1632 alters the word “aged” to able ; but "agile," of the 4to. of 1597, is the true reading. The title-page of the more complete impression of 1599 is this

THE

MOST E Xcellent and lamentable Tragedie, of Romeo

and Iuliet.

Newly corrected, augmented, and

amended:

As it hath bene sundry times publiquely acted, by the
right Honourable the Lord Chamberlaine

his Seruants.

LONDON Printed by Thomas Creede, for Cuthbert Burby, and are to be sold at his shop neare the Exchange.

1599.

This edition must have been prepared from a good manuscript, notwithstanding the strange misprint of aged for "agile” above noticed. It was from the press of Creede instead of Danter, and it has also a respectable publisher's name (before wanting) in the imprint. It is remarkable, however, that the name of Shakespeare no where appears in any of the editions of “Romeo and Juliet” before it was included in the folio of 1623. The third quarto impression “for John Smethwick,” in 1609, has no claim to peculiar notice: it was a mere reprint, with the addition of various errors.

It is not possible, perhaps, to ascertain which of the two historical plays, “ Richard the Second” or 6. Richard the

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »