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то THE FIRST EDITION.
NEW edition of SHAKSPEARE, and an edition of fo fingular a form as the prefent, in which all his plays are comprehended in One Volume, will, perhaps, appear furprising to many readers; but, upon a little reflection, their furprize will, the editor doubts not, be converted into approbation.
Much as Shakspeare has been read of late years, and widely as the study and admiration of him have been extended, there is ftill a numerous class to whom he is very imperfectly known. Many of the middling and lower ranks of the inhabitants of this country are either not acquainted with him at all, excepting by name, or have only seen a few of his plays, which have accidentally fallen in their way.
It is to fupply the wants of thofe perfons that the prefent edition is principally undertaken; and it cannot fail of becoming to them a perpetual fource of entertainment and inftruction. That they will derive the highest entertainment from it, no one can deny; for it does not require any extraordinary degree of knowledge or education to enter into the general fpirit of Shakspeare. The paffions he defcribes are the paffions which are felt by every human being; and his wit and humour are not local, or confined to the customs of a particular age, but are such as will give pleasure at all times, and to men of all ranks, from the highest to the lowest.
But the instruction that may be drawn from Shakspeare is equal to the entertainment which his writings afford. He is the greatest master of human nature and of human life that, perhaps, ever exifted; so that we cannot peruse his works without having our understandings confiderably enlarged. Befides this, he abounds in occafional maxins and reflections, which are calculated to make a deep impreffion upon the mind. There is fcarcely any circumftance in the common occurrences of the world, on which fomething may not be found peculiarly applicable in Shakspeare; and, at the fame time, better expreffed than in any other author. To promote, therefore, the knowledge of them, is to contribute to general improvement.
Nor is the utility of the prefent publication confined to perfons of the rank already defcribed. It will be found ferviceable even to those whose fituation in life hath enabled them to purchase all the expenfive editions of our great dramatift. The book now offered to the public may commodiously be taken into a post-chaise, for amusement in a journey. Or if a company of gentlemen should happen, in converfation, to mention Shakspeare, or to difpute concerning any particular paffage, a volume containing the whole of his plays may, with great convenience, be fetched by a fervant out of a library or a closet. In fhort, any particular paffage may at all times and with ease be recurred to. It is a compendium, not an abridgment, of the nobleft of our poets, and a library in a fingle volume.
The editor hath endeavoured to give all the perfection to this work which the nature of it can admit. The account of his life, which is taken from Rowe, and his last will, in reality comprehend almost every thing that is known with regard to the perfonal hiftory of Shakspeare. The anxious researches of his admirers have scarcely been able to collect any farther information concerning him.
The text, in the prefent edition, is given as it has been fettled by the moft approved commentators. It does not confift with the limits of the defign, that the notes should be very numerous. They have not, however, been wholly neglected. The notes which are fubjoined are fuch as were neceffary for the purpose of explaining obfolete words, unusual phrafes, old customs, or diftant allufions. In fhort, it has been the editor's aim to omit nothing which may ferve to render Shakspeare intelligible to every capacity, and to every clafs of readers.
Having this view, he cannot avoid expreffing his hope, that an undertaking, the utility of which is fo apparent, will be encouraged by the public; and his confidence of a favourable reception is increased by the consciousness that he is not doing an injury to any one. The fuccefs of the present volume will not impede the fale of the larger editions of Shakspeare, which will ftill be equally fought for by thofe to whom the purchase of them may be convenient.
PRESENT EDITI O N.
HE very favourable reception which has been given to the Plays of SHAKSPEARE, when published in one volume, has induced the Publisher to print another edition in the fame form. However, in order to remove an objection made by fome to the bulk of the volume, and to accommodate those who are of that opinion, a fecond title page is printed to be prefixed to page 543, the First Part of Henry VI. In order to retain the favourable opinion which has been experienced, for the former edition, the greatest attention has been paid to the paper, the type, and the printing of this; to the correction of the prefs, and to the revifal of the notes.
To thefe exertions, another has been added in order to give this edition a claim of preference. A copious Index to our favourite Author has been long wifhed for, frequently planned, fometimes attempted, but never fatisfactorily executed. Mr. POPE gave an Index to characters, fentiments, fpeeches, and defcriptions, all which are contained in thirty pages, and which has been adopted by the editors of fome of the later editions which bear the name of Theobald. A Concordance was published in 1785: this did not answer the expectation of the public, as it contained little more than those speeches and
lines, which immediately occur to the recollection of those who are the least acquainted with the writings of Shakspeare.
When this defign came firft under confideration, a reference to every word was propofed: on this plan more than feven hundred thousand references would have been neceffary; a work dreadful in the profpect: and if the page alone had been given, without any notice of play, act, scene, column, and line, the difficulty of finding any particular paffage, or discovering the various applications of words by the author, would have remained nearly as great as a fearch for it in the rich mines of Shakspearean Literature.
In the present attempt a plan nearly novel has been adopted, by which, at an eafy view, will be difcovered the different meanings in which almoft every word has been used by Shakspeare. This will be a means of preferving the early application of words, and tend much to tranfm.. o pofterity the English language facred from the inundation of new words grafted on it, from the commerce and intercourse which, during the laft century, has been daily increafing (and may it long continue to increase) with all the nations of Europe, and particularly with the natives of the French continent.
In another view, every thing characteristic is collected under its proper head, by which is more immediately discovered the wonderful knowledge of Shakspeare, fhewing him equally acquainted with things high and lov far diftant and near at hand; present and long paffed by; as well as with the characters which the paffions, actions, and views of men affume, and with the various properties of the material world. The Index forms a third volume, more bulky than either of the other volumes; and although it is particularly adapted to the prefent Edition, it is fo conftructed as to be made ufe of to any Edition, as the reference is given to the Play, Act, and Scene*, which anfwer in nearly all other Editions.
Let it be remembered, that in fome of the later editions of Shakspeare, the play of "Timon of Athens" begins the fifth act, with what is here called the second scene of the fifth act; so that the reference to act and feene, after act 4, fcene 3, will not answer to all editions.
How far the Compiler has in his felection answered the intentions of those who have wished for an Index to their favourite Author, muft be fubmitted to their opinion who shall confult it. He only requests the candour of the public fo far as fhall lead them to confider what he has done, rather than cenfure him for what might have been added to a building, of which so substantial a foundation is now laid for the first time.
A Table of the Order of Time, in which the plays of Shakspeare are supposed to have been published, is now added, according to Mr. Malone's accurate investigations.
In this ftate Mr. Stockdale fubmits the prefent Edition of Shakfpeare's Plays to the judgment of a difcerning public, wishing their patronage and encouragement no further than his well-meant endeavours merit it. Deeply impreffed with gratitude, it remains for him to return His most fincere thanks for the ROYAL, NOBI, and liberal patronage with which he has been fupported in it, and which he trufts every effort to illuftrate our great Poet of Nature will receive, whilft the partiality of the nation fhall wish to fecure the language in purity, and whilst the inhabitants fhall continue to admire the manners of their ancestors, and the characters of nature.
Sept. 29, 1790.