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This book is not intended for the student or the scholar-although, it is hoped, to expert eyes
the marks of acquaintance with the best authorities may be everywhere visible—but for those who would like to be readers of Shakspeare but are deterred by the difficulties of approach. In the English-speaking lands there are multitudes who read the dramatist with intelligence and delight; but, in this century of universal reading, the numbers enjoying this means of culture might be vastly increased ; and the purpose of this book is to serve as a Murray or Baedeker for those to whom this is to a large extent an unvisited land—to let them know how to get there and what there is to see.
Apart from the mere pleasure of reading, which grows with repetition, I have cultivated an intimacy with these writings chiefly for the
purpose of fertilising my own mind by the periodical discharge on it of the whole volume of Shakspeare's language and ideas; and I write in order to facilitate for other intellectual workers the same beneficent inundation.
But I have also to avow another purpose. Of the poet Burns it was remarked by Rabbi Duncan, the saint and sage, that he is too great a fact to be ignored, and that, therefore, religious teachers should make the most and the best of him. Of Shakspeare the same may be said : he is so great an asset of the English-speaking world that none possessed of intellectual tastes and aspirations can pass him by ; and I should like to show to Christian people how, in spite of not a little which cannot but be repulsive to pure minds, they may reckon these productions of genius, as a whole, among the objects of which it is written, “All things are yours”.
When I think of the great scholars who are devoting their days and nights to the interpretation of Shakspeare, I am half ashamed to bring into any kind of competition with their work that which is confessedly a product of leisure-time. But these messieurs will accept the plea, that the readers whom I am seeking
are those whom they have missed. I am not offering to take any regular class in the schoolnot even the lowest-but I am trying to capture those who, having left the school or even playing truant from it, may be lured, in forgetfulness of text-books and examination-papers, not to study a classic but to read a book. The graver and more exacting is our ordinary occupation, the more do we require a relaxation, to help the mind to recover its tone ; Shakspeare has been mine; and my services are offered humbly to those approaching him in the same holiday-spirit. Yet I sometimes flatter myself that long practice, in another field, in making crooked things straight and rough places plain may have bred a certain facility in the art of divining the purpose of a play and tracking the continuity of thought from play to play or from one group of plays to another.
In the quotations I have followed the text of Dyce, checked by that of Gollancz.
To my friends, Miss Jane T. Stoddart, of London, and Mr. William Murison, M.A., of the Aberdeen Grammar School, I am deeply indebted not only for reading the proofs but for not a few valuable suggestions. ABERDEEN, September, 1913.