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Having premis'd thus much about the state and condition of these first copies, it may not be improper, nor will it be absolutely a digression, to add something concerning their authenticity: in doing which, it will be greatly for the reader's ease,
and our own, to confine ourselves to the quarto’s : which, it is hop'd, he will allow of; especially, as our intended vindication of them will also include in it to the eye of a good observer) that of the plays that appear’d first in the folio: which therefore omitting, we now turn ourselves to the quarto's.
We have seen the slur that is endeavour'd to be thrown upon them indiscriminately by the player editors, and we see it too wip'd off by their having themselves follow'd the copies that they condemn. A modern editor, who is not without his followers, is pleas’d to assert confidently in his preface, that they are printed from “piece-meal parts, and copies of prompters :” but his arguments for it are some of them without foundation, and the others not conclusive; and it is to be doubted, that the opinion is only thrown out to countenance an abuse that has been carry'd to much too great lengths by himself and another editor,—that of putting out of the text passages that they did not like. These censures then, and this opinion being set aside, is it criminal to try another conjecture, and see what can be made of it? It is known, that Shakspeare liv'd to no great age, being taken off in his fifty-third year; and yet his works are so numerous, that, when we take a survey of them, they seem the productions of a life of twice that length: for to the thirty-six plays in this collection, we must add seven, (one of which is in two parts,) perhaps written over again *; seven others that were publish'd some of them in his life-time, and all with his name; and another seven, that are upon good grounds imputed to him; making in all, fifty-eight plays; besides the part that he may reasonably be thought to have had in other men’s labours, being himself a player and a manager of theatres : what his prose productions were, we know not: but it can hardly be suppos'd, that he, who had so considerable a share in the confidence of the Earls of Essex and Southampton, could be a mute spectator only of controversies, in which they were so much interested; and his other poetical works, that are known, will fill a volume the size of these that we have here. When the
* Vide, this Introduction, p. 121.
number and bulk of these pieces, the shortness of his life, and the other busy employments of it are reflected upon duly, can it be a wonder that he should be so loose a transcriber of them ? or why should we refuse to give credit to what his companions tell us, of the state of those transcriptions, and of the facility with which they were pen’d? Let it then be granted, that these quarto’s are the poet's own copies, however they were come by; hastily written at first, and issuing from presses most of them as corrupt and licentious as can any where be produc'd, and not overseen by himself, nor by any of his friends : and there can be no stronger reason for subscribing to any opinion, than may be drawn in favour of this from the condition of all the other plays that were first printed in the folio; for, in method of publication, they have the greatest likeness possible to those which preceded them, and carry all the same marks of haste and negligence: yet the genuineness of the latter is attested by those who publish'd them, and no proof brought to invalidate their testimony. If it be still ask'd, what then becomes of the accusation brought against the quarto's by the player editors, the answer is not so far off as may perhaps be expected: it may be true that they were á stoln;" but stoln from the author's copies, by transcribers who found means to get at them*: and “maim’d” they must needs be, in respect of their many alterations after the first performance: and who knows, if the difference that is between them, in some of the plays that are common to them both, has not been studiously heighten'd by the player editors,—who had the means in their power, being masters of all the alterations,-to give at once a greater currency to their own lame edition, and support the charge which they bring against the quarto's? this, at least, is a probable opinion, and no bad way of accounting for those differences t.
* But see a note at p. 123, which seems to infer that they were fairly come by: which is, in truth, the editor's opinion, at least of some of them; though, in way of argument, and for the sake of clearness, he has here admitted the charge in that full extent in which they bring it.
† Some of these alterations are in the quarto's themselves ; (another proof this, of their being authentick,) as in Richard II. : where a large scene, that of the king's deposing, appears first in the copy of 1608, the third quarto impression, being wanting in It were easy to add abundance of other arguments in favour of these quarto’s ;-Such as, their exact affinity to almost all the publications of this sort that came out about that time; of which it will hardly be asserted by any reasoning man, that they are all clandestine copies, and publish'd without their authors' consent: next, the high improbability of supposing that none of these plays were of the poet's own setting-out: whose case is renderd singular by such a supposition; it being certain, that every other author of the time, without exception, who wrote any thing largely, publishảd some of his plays himself, and Ben Jonson all of them : nay, the very errors and faults of these quarto's, -of some of them at least, and those such as are brought against them by other arguers,-are, with the editor, proofs of their genuineness; for from what hand, but that of the author himself, could come those seemingly-strange repetitions which are spoken of at p. 122? those imperfect exits, and entries of persons who have no concern in the play at all, neither in the scene where they are made to enter, nor in any other part of it? yet such there are in several of these quarto’s; and such might well be expected in the hasty draughts of so negligent an author, wħo neither saw at once all he might want, nor, in some instances, gave himself sufficient time to consider the fitness of what he was then penning. These and other like arguments might, as is said before, be collected, and urg'd for the plays that were first publish'd in the quarto's; that is, for fourteen of them, for the other six are out of the question : but what has been enlarg’d upon above, of their being follow'd by the folio, and their apparent general likeness to all the other plays that are in that collection, is so very forcible as to be
the two former : and in one copy of 2 Henry IV. there is a scene too that is not in the other, though of the same year; it is the first of Act the third. And Hamlet has some still more considerable ; for the copy of 1605 has these words :-“ Newly imprinted and enlarged to almost as much againe as it was, according to the true and perfect Coppie:” now though no prior copy has yet been produc'd, it is certain there was such by the testimony of this title-page: and that the play was in being at least nine years before, is prov'd by a book of Doctor Lodge's printed in 1596 ; which play was perhaps an imperfect one; and not unlike that we have now of Romeo and Juliet, printed the year after; a fourth instance too of, what the note advances.
sufficient of itself to satisfy the unprejudic'd, that the plays of both impressions spring all from the same stock, and owe their numerous imperfections to one common origin and cause,—the too-great negligence and haste of their over-careless producer.
But to return to the thing immediately treated,—the state of the old editions. The quarto's went through many impressions, as may be seen in the Table: and, in each play, the last is generally taken from the impression next before it, and so onward to the first; the few that come not within this rule, are taken notice of in the Table : and this further is to be observ'd of them : that, generally speaking, the more distant they are from the original, the more they abound in faults ; 'till, in the end, the corruptions of the last copies become so excessive, as to make them of hardly any worth. The folio too had it's re-impressions, the dates and notices of which are likewise in the Table, and they tread the same round as did the quarto's: only that the third of them has seven plays more, (see their titles below *,) in which it is fol
* Locrine; The London Prodigal; Pericles, Prince of Tyre; The Puritan, or, the Widow of Watling Street; Sir John Oldcastle; Thomas Lord Cromwell; and The Yorkshire Tragedy: And the imputed ones, mention'd a little above, are these ; – The Arraignment of Paris ; Birth of Merlin ; Fair Em; Edward III.; Merry Devil of Edmonton; Mucedorus; and The Two Noble Kinsmen : but in The Merry Devil of Edmonton, Rowley is call’d his partner in the title-page; and Fletcher, in The Two Noble Kinsmen. What external proofs there are of their coming from Shakspeare, are gather'd all together, and put down in the Table; and further it not concerns us to engage: but let those who are inclin'd to dispute it, carry this along with them :--that London, in Shakspeare's time, had a multitude of playhouses; erected some in inn-yards, and such like places, and frequented by the lowest of the people ; such audiences might have been seen some years ago in Southwark and Bartholomew, and may be seen at this day in the country; to which it was also a custom for players to make excursion, at wake times and festivals: and for such places, and such occasions, might these pieces be compos’d in the author's early time; the worst of them suiting well enough to the parties they might be made for:—and this, or something nearly of sort, may have been the case too of some plays in his great collection, which shall be spoken of in their place.
low'd by the last; and that again by the first of the modern impressions, which come now to be spoken of.
If the stage be a mirror of the times, as undoubtedly it is, and we judge of the age's temper by what we see prevailing there, what must we think of the times that succeeded Shakspeare ? Jonson, favour’d by a court that delighted only in masques, had been gaining ground upon him even in his life-time; and his death put him in full possession of a post he had long aspir'd to, the empire of the drama : the props of this new king's throne, were Fletcher, Shirley, Middleton, Massinger, Broome, and others; and how unequal they all were, the monarch and his subjects too, to the poet they came after, let their works testify: yet they had the vogue on their side, during all those blessed times that preceded the civil war, and Shakspeare was held in disesteem. The war, and medley government that follow'd, swept all these things away: but they were restor'd with the king; and another stage took place, in which Shakspeare had little share. Dryden had then the lead, and maintain'd it for half a century: though his government was sometimes disputed by Lee, Tate, Shadwell
, Wytcherley, and others; weaken'd much by The Rehearsal; and quite overthrown in the end by Otway, and Rowe: what the cast of their plays was, is known to every one : but that Shakspeare, the true and genuine Shakspeare, was not much relish’d, is plain from the many alterations of him, that were brought upon the stage by some of those gentlemen, and by others within that period.
But, from what has been said, we are not to concludethat the poet had no admirers : for the contrary is true; and he had in all this interval no inconsiderable party amongst men of the greatest understanding, who both saw his merit, in despite of the darkness it was then wrapt up in, and spoke loudly in his praise; but the stream of the publick favour ran the other way. But this too coming about at the time we are speaking of, there was a demand for his works, and in a form that was more convenient than the folio's: in consequence of which, the gentleman last mentioned was set to work by the booksellers; and, in 1709, he put out an edition in six volumes octavo, which, unhappily, is the basis of all the other moderns : for this editor went no further than to the edition nearest to him in time, which was the folio of