« AnteriorContinuar »
scholar; and has been assigned, as well as their preface, to Ben Jonson. In the latter of these, they pronounce all prior publications of his Plays (the poems of Venus and Adonis, and Tarquin and Lucrece, being the only works that he is known to have published himself) to be surreptitious; and these absolute, and taken from papers, that scarce received from their author a blot. From the number of years, however, during which he was in possession of the stage, his plays, owing to various causes, must have undergone considerable alteration. Retrenchments, it will be seen, had been made: and some idea may be formed of the enlargement from what is said in the title-page of the quarto edition of Hamlet, in 1611: which in terms states that play to have been then
enlarged to almost as much againe as it was.” It
therefore be reasonably concluded, from the circumstances under which the folio plays of Heminge and Condell issued from the press, that generally they were faithful copies of what was at that time
presented to the public; or, at most, received no other additions than such, as, by the aid of the author's papers, were supplied. That in a volume so large many important typographical errors should occur, was to be expected; and that many omissions were made of passages probably not in stage use, as not contributing to the main action, has been established by reference to those “ maimed and surreptitious quartos :" and from them many additional passages of great beauty have been recovered.
From no other than one of the above sources can a faithful editor be warranted in drawing: he can follow no other text: and so closely does Mr. Horne Tooke adhere to this, or even a stricter, principle, as to insist, that this folio is “ the only edition worth regarding;” and though he admits it has “ some palpable misprints,” he would have it reprinted literatim, “ not to risk the loss of Shakespeare's genuine text, which it assuredly contains.”-Divers. Of Purley, II. 52, 3.
This folio, then, is made the groundwork
of the proposed edition and present specimen, in which also will be admitted such additional matter as has occurred in the twenty quartos published by Mr. Steevens. Several others unquestionably exist; but inaccessible in private hands, or scarce less so in public repositories. Wherever the reading of the folio is departed from, the folio text is given in its place on the margin; but unless any thing turns upon the old spelling, in which case it is retained in the text, the modern spelling is throughout adopted: and the punctuation is altogether taken into the editor's hands. Wherever also such alterations as appear material are found in the folio 1632, they are noticed in the margin: but that work, which was not published till two years after Heminge, the survivor of the two first editors, was dead, and without the name of any editor, we hold in little estima. tion; it being full of arbitrary alterations, which we conceive Mr. Malone has, in most instances, demonstrated to be foreign to the style and character of our author's writings.
The publication, however, is so close to the time, and some persons have attached so much importance to it, that though we do not think it intrinsically of much more value than as serving, in several instances, to confirm the notions, generally adopted, of typographical errors in the first folio, we have yet pointed out most of its variations, either in the margin or notes.
Not to interpose any thing of length between the author and his reader, we have thought it proper to throw the notes that are grammatical, philological, critical, historical, or explanatory of usages, to the end of each play; and at the bottom of the pages of the text, to give such only as were immediately necessary to explain our author's meaning. As to the number of our notes, the mixed and various scenes of Shakespeare embrace so great a variety and vast extent of matter, and talent and intelligence are so very variously and unequally distributed, that to adjust exactly the “ too much or too little,” is utterly impracticable. But though
we write for those who are in want of aid, and think it better that some should conceive offence at being taught, than that any should be at a loss for information, we have made no comments but where we have felt doubt ourselves, or seen that others have; and we have suffered nothing like difficulty to pass without offering our conjecture at least, or acknowledging our inability to remove it. The number may indeed have swelled beyond our wish: and it is true, that not a few of them have been written, lest the reader, misled by great names, should adopt what we conceive to be manifest error. Having taken the arrangement of the scenes, &c. from the current edition of Mr. Reed, and had that edition in our eye throughout, we have adopted a large portion of its notes ; as we have also many of the observations and illustrations of subsequent writers.
The tragedy of Hamlet has been chosen as a specimen; not as being the most perfect of our author's dramas, but because, in many points of view, it offered more matter for