Imagens das páginas

as his eye caught sight of its external form and his ear caught the sound of the voice. Books offered Shakespeare the same opportunity of realising human life and experience. A hurried perusal of an Italian story of a Jew in Venice conveyed to him the mental picture of Shylock with all his racial temperament in energetic action, and all the background of Venetian scenery and society accurately defined. A few hours spent over "Plutarch's Lives" brought into being in Shakespeare's brain the true aspects of Roman character and Roman aspiration. Whencesoever the external impression came, whether from the world of books or the world of living men, the same mental power was at work, the same visualising instinct which made the thing he either saw or read of a living and lasting reality.


In point of language and metre marked differences are observable between Shakespeare's early and late work. These differences reflect with precision stages of the growth in force of his intellect and imagination. Metre gradually acquires a flexibility which enables it to respond with increasing effect and sureness to human feeling. As Shakespeare's mental strength developed his verse steadily emancipated itself from the hampering restraints of fixed rules of prosody and gained a lawless pliancy which few have ventured to imitate and none have imitated with success. In the blank verse of the early plays a pause is strictly observed at the close of

each line and rhyming couplets are frequent. Gradually the poet defies such artificial restrictions; the constraint of rhyme is well-nigh abandoned altogether; recourse is more frequently made to prose; the pause is varied indefinitely; long speeches are met with in the "Winter's Tale" and "Tempest," in which the pause is set in every place in the lines except the end; extra syllables, in addition to the legitimate ten, are introduced at the close of lines, and at times in the middle; the last word of the line is often a weak, unemphatic, and unaccentable conjunction or preposition.

Similarly Shakespeare's language becomes growingly irregular with the progress of his work. His style develops new obscurities which are the fruit of the quickening pace of his mental processes and the advancing fertility of his imagination. Second thoughts, second fancies, crave expression before the first are completely expounded. The fulness of his ripened mind contrived to load his words with a weight of meaning almost greater than they could conveniently bear. In plays like "Pericles," or "Cymbeline," or "The Tempest," the reader is often left to supply elisions of phrase, which offer embarrassing testimony to the lightning rapidity of their author's thought. Shakespeare has been described as the least grammatical of writers, and the comment is not without justification. For many of the irregularities which puzzle the uninstructed reader, ignorance of the syntactical principles which governed Elizabethan English may be held responsible. But other irregularities owe their presence to complexities inherent in Shake

speare's perfected genius. Few writers at their maturity offer greater difficulties to the student, who seeks to interpret literary speech accurately or to paraphrase it exactly. Very close application, very constant study, is essential to a full apprehension of Shakespeare's latest compositions. But no literature repays study and application equally well.


The text of Shakespeare has engaged the close attention of many hundred students of high acquirements in many countries, and has proved a fascinating study.1 Shakespeare's autograph manuscripts are not known to be in existence, and the relation which the printed text bears to his original writing is a question not easy to answer decisively. He did not prepare his dramatic work for the press. Plays in Shakespeare's day were intended to be spoken and not to be read. Shakespeare, like all contemporary dramatists, wrote for the stage and not for the study. His personal disposition may fairly be credited with exceptional modesty, and it is clear that he attached, like Goethe, one of his greatest successors in the world of literature, - small importance to the fate of his written word.

Every student has to bear in mind that Shakespeare is not known to have superintended the publication of any of his plays. His dramas became, as soon as he had

1 For an account of the formation of Shakespeare's text the student is referred to the present writer's introduction to the fac-simile reproduction of the Shakespeare First Folio, published by the Oxford University Press, 1902.

written them, the property of playhouse managers, who usually deemed their value diminished by publication, at any rate until they had exhausted their popularity in the theatre. Yet Elizabethan publishers, who were governed little by respect for the rights or feelings of others, often obtained from the playhouses, by fair means or foul, transcripts of plays and then issued them in print, without a careful inquiry as to the authenticity of the "copy" or efficient typographical revision.

During Shakespeare's lifetime there were printed and published by contemporary publishers of habitual irresponsibility sixteen separate plays, beside the two narrative poems, "Venus and Adonis" and "Lucrece," and the "Sonnets," three works which stood on a footing somewhat different from that occupied by the plays and may possibly have been given to the world under Shakespeare's personal care. Another single play, "Othello, was published in the common way six years after his death in 1622. All these pieces came to light in quarto form.

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It was not until seven years after his death that his complete achievement issued from the printing press in the great First Folio Edition of 1623. That volume first gave permanent record to the full range of Shakespeare's work. It excluded one play, " Pericles," which had been printed (in quarto) during the author's lifetime, but no less than twenty dramas, of which the greater number rank among the literary masterpieces of the world, nine of his fourteen comedies, five of his ten histories, and six of his twelve tragedies, were for the

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first time presented to the reading public, were rescued from urgent peril of oblivion, by the promoters of the First Folio.

The responsibility for this first attempt to give the world a complete edition of Shakespeare's plays mainly lay with the publishers. John Heminge and Henry Condell, the managers of the company of actors to which Shakespeare had belonged in life, lent to the enterprise all the support in their power, and furnished all the "copy" that the playhouse archives afforded. But in 1623 more than thirty years had elapsed since Shakespeare had delivered his first manuscripts to the theatre, and in the case of the delivery of his latest work no less than twelve years had elapsed. During these long intervals misadventures had befallen the company's archives, and it was impossible to count on that storehouse for the supply of all the "copy" that was in request. Happily the promoters of the First Folio had at command transcripts of plays which had fallen into private hands, while the printed quartos offered them the more or less adequate text of sixteen pieces. But the authenticity of the "copy" which (from whatever source) reached the printers of the First Folio varied greatly. At times it had suffered unauthorised interpolation at times it had suffered unauthorised abbreviation. Some of it was illegible. Yet, in spite of all typographical and critical defects, the First Folio is the sole source of our knowledge of the greater part of the Shakespearean text. The carelessness and ignorance of the printers, alike of many of the quartos and of the First Folio

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