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to the original copies as closely as possible; and they have given us back many old readings which had been rejected by preceding editors. There has been some difference of opinion among editors of the modern school in regard to whether the preference should be given in certain cases to the First Folio or to some previous Quarto impression of the Play produced in the lifetime. of the author; and Steevens latterly, in opposition to Malone, who had originally been his coadjutor, set up the doctrine that the Second Folio was a safer guide than the First. This heresy, however, has probably now been abandoned by everybody.
But, besides the correction of what are believed to be errors of the Press in the old copies, the text of Shakespeare has been subjected to certain modifications in all the modern reprints :
1. The spelling has been reduced to the modern standard. The original spelling is certainly no part of the composition. There is no reason to believe that it is even Shakespeare's own spelling. In all probability it is merely that of the person who set up the types. Spenser may be suspected to have had some peculiar notions upon the subject of orthography; but, apparently, it was not a matter about which Shakespeare troubled himself. In departing from the original editions here, therefore, we lose nothing that is really his.
2. The actual form of the word in certain cases has been modernized. This deviation is not so clearly defensible upon principle, but the change is so slight, and the convenience and advantage so considerable, that it may fairly be held to be justifiable nevertheless on the ground of expediency. The case of most frequent occurrence is that of the word than, which with Shakespeare, as generally with his contemporaries and predecessors, is always then. "Greater then a king" would be intolerable to the modern ear. Then standing in this position is there
fore quietly converted by all the modern editors into our modern than. Another form which was unquestionably part of the regular phraseology and grammar of his day is what is sometimes described as the conjunction of a plural nominative with a singular verb, but is really only a peculiar mode of inflecting the verb, by which the plural is left undistinguished from the singular. Shakespeare and his contemporaries, although they more usually said, as we do, "words sometimes give offence," held themselves entitled to say also, if they chose, "words sometimes gives offence." But here again so much offence would be given by the antiquated phraseology to the modern ear, accustomed to such an apparent violation of concord only from the most illiterate lips, that the detrimental s has been always suppressed in the modern editions, except only in a few instances in which it happens to occur as an indispensable element of the rhyme-as when Macbeth, in his soliloquy before going in to murder the sleeping King (ii. 1) says,—
"Whiles I threat he lives:
Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives;" or, as when Romeo says to Friar Lawrence (ii. 3),
"Both our remedies
Within thy help and holy physic lies.”
A few contractions also, such as upon't, on's head, etc., which have now become too vulgarized for composition of any elevation, are usually neglected in constructing the modern text, and without any appreciable injury to its integrity.
3. In some few cases the editors have gone the length of changing even the word which Shakespeare may very possibly have written, or which may probably have stood in the manuscript put into the hands of the original printers, when it has been held to be palpably or incontrovertibly wrong. In Julius Cæsar, for instance (ii. 1), they have upon this principle changed "the first of
March" into "the ides of March" (149), and afterwards "fifteen days" into "fourteen days" (154). It is evident, however, that alterations of this kind ought to be very cautiously made.
VI. THE MECHANISM OF ENGLISH VERSE, AND THE PROSODY OF THE PLAYS OF SHAKESPEARE.
The mechanism of verse is a thing altogether distinct from the music of verse. The one is matter of rule, the other of taste and feeling. No rules can be given for the production of music, or of the musical, any more than for the production of poetry, or the poetical.
The law of the mechanical construction of verse is common to verse of every degree of musical quality,-to the roughest or harshest (provided it be verse at all), as well as to the smoothest and sweetest. Music is not an absolute necessity of verse. There are cases in which it is not even an excellence or desirable ingredient. Verse is sometimes the more effective for being unmusical. The mechanical law or form is universally indispensable. It is that which constitutes the verse. It may be regarded as the substance; musical character, as the accident or ornament.
In every language the principle of the law of verse undoubtedly lies deep in the nature of the language. In all modern European languages, at least, it is dependent upon the system of accentuation established in the language, and would probably be found to be modified in each case according to the peculiarities of the accentual system. In so far as regards these languages, verse may be defined to consist in a certain arrangement of accented and unaccented syllables.
The Plays of Shakespeare are all, with the exception only of occasional couplets, in unrhymed or what is called Blank verse. This form of verse was first exemplified in
English in a translation of the Fourth Book of the Æneid by the unfortunate Lord Surrey, who was executed in 1547; it was first employed in dramatic writing by Thomas Sackville (afterwards Lord Buckhurst and Earl of Dorset) in his Gorboduc (or Ferrex and Porrex), produced in 1561; and, although not much used in poetical compositions of any other kind, either translated or original, till Milton brought it into reputation by his Paradise Lost in the latter part of the following century, it had come to be the established or customary verse for both tragedy and comedy before Shakespeare began to write for the stage. Our only legitimate English Blank verse is that commonly called the Heroic, consisting normally in a succession of five feet of two syllables each, with the pressure of the voice, or accent, on the latter of the two, or, in other words, on the second, fourth, sixth, eighth, and tenth syllables of each line. After the tenth syllable, an unaccented syllable, or even two, may be added without any prosodical effect. The rhythm is completed with the tenth syllable, and what follows is only as it were a slight reverberation or echo.
But this general statement is subject to certain important modifications:
1. In any of the feet an accent on the first syllable may be substituted for one on the second, providing it be not done in two adjoining feet. This transference of the accent is more unusual in certain of the feet than in others-most of all in the fifth, next to that in the second; —but is not in any foot a violation of the law of the verse, or what is properly to be called a licence.
2. It is a universal law of English verse, that any syllable whatever, falling in the place of the accent either immediately before or immediately after a foot of which one of the syllables is truly accented, will be accounted to be accented for the purposes of the verse. The -my enemy, for instance, or the in- of intercept, is always so
accounted in heroic verse, in virtue of the true accent upon en- and upon -cept; but in dactylic or anapæstic verse, these syllables, although pronounced precisely in the same manner, are always held to be unaccented, the law of those kinds of verse not requiring another accent within the distance at which the -my stands removed from the en-, or the in- from the -cept. This, in so far as regards the heroic line, is equivalent to saying that every alternate foot may be without a really accented syllable in it at all. Or the line might be defined as consisting, not of five feet of two syllables each, with one of them accented, but of two and a half feet, each of four syllables, with at least one of the four accented; the half foot, which need not have an accent, occurring sometimes at the beginning of the line, sometimes in the middle, sometimes at the end. Practically, the effect is, that anywhere in the line we may have a sequence of three syllables (none of them being superfluous) without any accent; and that there is no word in the language (such as Horace was plagued with in Latin) quod versu dicere non est,— none, whether proper name or whatever else, which the verse does not readily admit.
3. It is by no means necessary (though it is commonly stated or assumed to be so) that the syllables alternating with the accented ones should be unaccented. Any or all of them may be accented also.
4. Further, in any of the places which may be occupied by an unaccented syllable it is scarcely an irregularity to introduce two or even more such unaccented syllables. The effect may be compared to the prolongation or dispersion of a note in music by what is called a shake. Of course, such a construction of verse is to be resorted to sparingly and only upon special grounds or occasions; employed habitually, or very frequently, it crowds and cumbers the rhythm, and gives it a quivering and feeble character. But it can nowhere be said to be illegitimate,