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R E A D E R.
HE plays of SHAKESPEARE have been fo often republished, with every feeming advantage which the joint labours of men of the first abilities could procure for them, that one would hardly imagine they could stand in need of any thing beyond the illuftration of fome few dark paffages. Modes of expreffion must remain in obfcurity, or be retrieved from time to time, as chance may throw the books of that age into the hands of critics who fhall make a proper use of them. Many have been of opinion that his language will continue obfcure to all those who are unacquainted with the provincial expreffions which they fuppofe him to have ufed; but for my own part, I cannot believe but that those which are now local may once have been universal, and must have been the language of those perfons before whom his plays were represented. However, it is certain that the inftances of obfcurity from this fource are very few.
SOME have been of opinion that even a particular fyntax prevailed in the time of SHAKESPEARE; but, as I do not recollect that any proofs were ever brought in support of that fentiment, I own I am 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 fentence; but in SHAKESPEARE no marks of it are difcernible: and though the rules of fyntax were more ftrictly obferved by the writers of that age than they have been fince, He of all the number is perhaps the most ungrammatical. To make his meaning intelligible to his audience feems to have been his only care, and with the eafe of converfation he has adopted its incorrectness.
THE past editors, eminently qualified as they were by genius and learning for this undertaking, wanted induftry; to cover which they published catalogues, tranfcribed at random, of a greater number of old copies than ever they can be supposed to have had in their poffeffion; when, at the fame time, they never examined the few which we know they had, with any great degree of accuracy. The laft Editor alone has dealt fairly with the world in this particular; he profeffes to have made ufe of no more than he had really feen, and has annexed a lift of fuch to every play, together with a complete one of those fuppofed to be in being, at the conclufion of his work,