« ElőzőTovább »
Some have been of opinion that even a particular syntax prevailed in the time of Shakespeare ; but, as I do not recollect that any proofs were ever brought in support of that sentiment, I own I ain of the contrary opinion.
In his time indeed a different arrangement of fyllables had been introduced in imitation of the Latin, as we find in Ascham; and the verb was very frequently kept back in the sentence; but in Shakespeare no marks of it are discernible : and though the rules of Tyntax were more strictly observed by the writers of that
than they have been since, he of all the number is perhaps the most ungrammatical. To make his meaning intelligible to his audience seems to have been his only care, and with the ease of conversation he has adopted its incorrectness.
The past editors, eminently qualified as they were by genius and learning for this undertaking, wanted industry; to cover which they published catalogues, transcribed at random, of a greater number of old copies than ever they can be supposed to have had in their poffeffion; when, at the same time, they never examined the few which we know they had, with any degree of accuracy. The last editor alone has dealt fairly with the world in this particular; he professes to have made use of no more than he had really feen, and has annexed a lift of such to every play, together with a complete one of those supposed to be in being, at the conclusion of his work, whether he had been able to procure them for the service of it or not.
For these reasons I thought it would not be unacceptable to the lovers of Shakespeare to collate all the quartos I could find, comparing one copy with the reft, where there were more than one of the fame play; and to multiply the chances of their being preserved, by collecting them into volumes, instead of leaving the few that have escaped, to share the fate of the rest, which was probably haftened by their
remaining in the form of pamphlets, their use and value being equally unknown to those into whose hands they fell.
Of foine I have printed more than one copy; as there are many persons, who, not contented with the possession of a finished picture of some great master, are desirous to procure the first sketch that was made for it, that they may have the pleasure of tracing the progress of the artist from the first light colouring to the finishing stroke. To such the earlier editions of King John, Henry the Fifth, Henry the Sixth, The Merry Wives of Windfor, and Romeo and Juliet, will, I apprehend, 'not be unwelcome ; since in these we may discern as much as will be found in the hafty outlines of the pencil, with a fair prospect of thaç perfection to which he brought every performance he took the pains to retouch.
The general character of the quarto editions may more advantageously be taken from the words of Mr. Pope, than from any recommendation of my own.
66 The folio edition (fays he) in which all the plays $ we now receive as his were first collected, was pub" lished by two players, Heminges and Condelì, in “ 1623, seven years after his decease. They declare " that all the other editions were stolen and furreps titious, and affirm theirs to be purged from the “ errors of the former. This is true as to the literal
errors, and no other ; for in all refpects else it is s far worse than the quartos.
First, because the additions of trifling and bom" baft paffages are in this edition far more numerous., - For whatever had been added fince those quartos “ by the actors, or had stolen from their mouths into “ the written parts, were from thence conveyed into " the printed text, and all stand charged upon the “ author. He himself complained of this usage in “Hamlet, where he wishes those who play the clowns. 5 would speak no more than is set down for them (Act
^ iii. Sc. iv.) But as a proof that he could not
escape it, in the old editions of Romeo and Juliet, is there is no hint of the mean conceits and ribaldries
now to be found there. In others the scenes of the " mobs, plebeians, and clowns are vastly shorter " than at present; and I have seen one in particular
(which seems to have belonged to the play-house, by having the parts divided by lines, and the actors
names in the margin) where several of those very “ passages were added in a written hand, which since « are to be found in the folio. **“ In the next place, a number of beautiful passages
were omitted, which were extant in the first single 6 editions ; as it seems without any other reason than " their willingness to shorten some scenes.”
To this I must add, that I cannot help looking on the folio as having suffered other injuries from the licentious alteration of the players; as we frequently find in it an unusual word changed into one more popular; sometimes to the weakening the sense, which rather seems to have been their work, who knew that plainness was necessary for the audience of an illiterate age, than that it was done by the consent of the author ; for he would hardly have unnerved a line in his written copy, which they pretend to have transcribed, however he might have permitted many to have been familiarized in the representation. Were I to indulge my own private conjecture, I should suppose that his blotted manuscripts were read over by one to another among those who were appointed to transcribe them; and hence it might easily happen, that words of similar sounds, though of senses directly opposite, might be confounded with each otherThey themselves declare that Shakespeare's time of blotting was past, and yet half the errors we find in their edition could not be merely typographical. Many of the quartos (as our own printers affure me) were far from being unskilfully executed, and some of them were much more correctly printed than the folio, which was published at the charge of the same proprietors, whose names we find prefixed to the older copies; and I cannot join with Mr. Pope in acquitting that edition of more literal errors than those which went before it. The particles in it seem to be as fortuitously disposed; and proper names as frequently undistinguished by Italick or capital letters from the rest of the text. The punctuation is equally accidental; nor do I see on the whole any greater marks of a skilful revisal, or the advantage of being printed from unblotted originals in the one, than in the other. One reformation indeed there seems to have been made, and that very laudable;
laudable; I mean the fubftitution of more general terms for a name too often unnecessarily invoked on the stage; but no jot of obscenity is omitted: and their caution against prophaneness is, in my opinion, the only thing for which we are indebted to the judgment of the editors of the folio.
How much may be done by the allistance of the old copies will now be easily known; but a more difficult tasks remains behind, which calls for other abilities than are requisite in the laborious collator.
From a diligent perusal of the comedies of contemporary authors, I am persuaded that the meaning of many expressions in Shakespeare might be retrieved; for the language of conversation can only be expected to be preserved in works, which in their time assumed the merit of being pictures of men and manners. The stile of conversation we may suppofe to be as much altered as that of books; and in consequence of the change we have no other authorities to recur to in either case. Should our language ever be recalled to a strict examination, and the fashion become general of striving to maintain our old acquisitions, instead of gaining new ones, which we-fhall be at laft obliged to give up, or be incumbered with their weight; it will then be lamented that no regular collection was ever formed of the old English books from which, as from antient repositories, we might recover words and phrases as often as caprice or wantonness fhould call for variety; instead of thinking it necessary to adopt new ones, or barter folid strength for feeble' splendour, which no language has long admitted, and retained its purity.
We wonder that, before the time of Shakespeare, we find the stage in a state so barren of productions, but forget that we have hardly any acquaintance with the authors of that period, though some few of their dramatick pieces may remain. The same might be almost said of the interval between that age and the age of Dryden, the performances of which, not being preserved in fets, or diffused as now, by the greater number printed, must lapse apace into the lame obscurity.
Vixere fortes ante Agamemnona
And yet we are contented, from a few specimens only, to form our opinions of the genius of ages gone before
Even while we are blaming the taste of that audience which received with applause the worst plays in the reign of Charles the Second, we should consider that the few in poffeffion of our theatre, which would never have been heard a second time had they been written now, were probably the best of hundreds which had been dismissed with general censure. The collection of plays, interludes, &c. made by Mr. Garrick, with an intent to deposit them hereafter in some publick library, will be considered as a valuable acquisition ; for pamphlets have never yet been examined with a proper regard to pofterity. Most of the obfolete pieces will be found on enquiry to have been introduced into libraries but some few years fince ; and yet those of the present age, which may one time