« ElőzőTovább »
Explanatory of the Plan of the Work, and containing an In
quiry into the Merits of Shakspeare's Principal Editors, Commentators, and Critics.
No author has, perhaps, given rise to more extensive commentary, criticism, and persevering literary research than Shakspeare ;' and none
• The very orthography and orthoepy of his name have become a subject of doubt, and have given rise to no slight controversy; though I am persuaded not only from the third signature to his will, which is indisputably written William Shakspeare, but from the following very curious document which has been communicated to me by Captain James Saunders, of Stratford-upon-Avon, who has with indefatigable industry collected a large mass of very valuable materials relative to the poet and his family, that the intermediate e was very seldom written, and yet more rarely pronounced.
“ Notices of the Shakspeare's taken from the Entries of the Common Council of the Corporation of Stratford, from their book A.
certainly has better claims, from the excellency and utility of his writings, to every illustration
“ The name of John Shakspeare occurs in this book 168 times under seventeen different modes of spelling, viz: Modes. 1. Shackesper
4 times. 2. Shackespere
4 3. Shacksper
2 4. Shackspor
1 5. Shackspere
3 6. Shakespere
13 7. Shakspayr
1 8. Shaksper
1 9. Shakspere
5 10. Shakspeyr
15 11. Shakysper
3 12. Shakyspere
10 13. Shaxpeare
65 14. Shaxper
8 15. Shaxpere
23 16. Shaxspere
9 17. Shaxspeare
168 “One leading point of controversy," observes Captain Saunders, “ seems to be materially put to rest by the preceding summary; viz. the pronunciation of the name at that time. The first syllable was, evidently, given short, without the lengthening and softness of the intermediate e; for only three such modes, embracing twenty-one instances, are to be found here. It must be allowed, a middle y occurs in two varieties of thirteen instances, which may be of doubtful authority; but the great body of testimony is in favour of the short power of the first syllable. There is much reason to presume that the 10th variety was the spelling and pronunciation of John Shakspeare himself; for they were his own accounts, or those of
which philology and philosophy can afford; especially since we know that the bard, partly from extrinsic circumstances, and partly from the innate modesty of his nature, which led him to a very humble estimate of his own merits, was prevented paying that attention to his productions which is now almost universally extended to every publication, however trivial in its subject, and insignificant in its style.
There are three modes by which it has been attempted, through the medium of the press, to illustrate and render more familiar the writings of Shakspeare, and these may be classed in the following order :Istly. Editions of Shakspeare accompanied by
Prolegomena and copious Annotations. 2dly. Detached Publications exclusively ap
propriated to Shakspeare. 3dly. Criticisms on Shakspeare dispersed
through various miscellaneous departments of
literature. It will be evident from the tenor of the
others made by him, and if not by himself, immediately under his inspection. The 13th mode is by far predominant, and was thus written by Mr. Henry Rogers, who was a man of education, and town-clerk, though even in his hand the 15th variety is sometimes seen.”
I have only to add that, as the letter x was manifestly introduced as corresponding in sound with ks, and for the sake of dispatch perhaps in writing the name, the vast preponderance of examples under No. 13, ought and must, I should think, decide all doubts both as to the spelling and pronunciation.
present volume, that of these modes a selection from the last almost entirely occupies its pages ; but before we proceed any farther in relation to its construction, it may not be useless or uninteresting to make a few observations on what has been effected for the poet in the two prior branches by his editors and more formal critics.
Nothing can place in a more striking point of view the incurious disposition of our ancestors with regard to literary and biographical information, than the circumstance that four folio editions of the works of Shakspeare, who had been highly popular in his day, and in the most popular department of his art, were suffered to appear and occupy the
space of nearly one hundred years without a single explanatory note, or the annexation of a
• It is well known that there were two impressions of the third folio edition of Shakspeare's Plays, one in 1663, and the other in 1664; the first with Droeshout's head of Shakspeare in the title-page, and the second without any engraving ; but both these copies have been hitherto referred to as containing the spurious Plays; whereas the impression of 1663 does not include them, but ends with the play of Cymbeline, both in the catalogue prefixed, and in the book itself. In the title-page also of the copy of 1663, the work is said to be “ Printed for Philip Chet winde," whilst the impression of 1664 has only the initials of the bookseller, P. C. in the title-page. Both these copies, owing to the great fire of London occurring so soon after their publication, are even more scarce than the first folio; and I should add that, in three copies which I have seen of this folio of 1663, one of which is in my own possession, the head of Shakspeare exhibits a clear and good impression.
particle of biographical anecdote. Indeed, an apathy nearly approaching this appears to have, existed until a late period in the eighteenth century; for, with the exception of Betterton, who took a journey into Warwickshire for the
of collecting information relative to the poet, scarcely an effort was made to throw any additional light upon his history until the era of Capell and. Steevens, when, as might have been expected from such a lapse of time so unfortunately neglected, the keenest research retired from the pursuit baffled and disappointed.
The few facts which Betterton collected with such laudable and affectionate zeal at the close of the seventeenth century, were presented to the world by Rowe, who, in his edition of the bard in 1709, first gave to the admirers of dramatic genius a Life of Shakspeare. The fate of this document must be pronounced somewhat singular, and certainly undeserved; it had remained, until within these last seven years, nearly the sole source and
• What, previous to Rowe, had been incidentally mentioned as connected with the name of Shakspeare by Dugdale, Fuller, Phillips, Winstanley, Langbaine, Blount, Gildon, and Anthony Wood, amounted to a mere trifle; and what has since transpired through the traditionary medium of Mr. Jones of Tarbick, and Mr. Taylor of Warwick, who died in 1790, and from the MS of Aubrey and Oldys, has added but little that can be depended upon. The researches, however, which have been lately made into the proceedings of the Bailiff's Court, the Register, and other public writings of the poet's native town, have happily contributed two or three facts to the scanty store.