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In this attempt to illustrate the ENGLISH OF SHAKESPEARE, I would be understood to have had a twofold purpose, in conformity with the title of the volume, which would naturally be taken to promise something of exposition in regard both to the language or style of Shakespeare and to the English Language generally.
My first business I have considered to be the correct exhibition and explanation of the noble work of our great dramatist with which the volume professes to be specially occupied. I will begin, therefore, by stating what I have done, or endeavoured to do, for the Play of JULIUS CÆSAR.
I have given what I believe to be a more nearly authentic Text than has yet appeared. Julius Cæsar is, probably, of all Shakespeare's Plays, the one of which the text has come down to us in the least unsatisfactory state. From whatever cause it has happened, the passages in this Play as to the true reading of which there can be much reasonable doubt are, comparatively, very few. Even when anything is wrong in the original edition, the manner in which it is to be set to rights is for the most part both pretty obvious and nearly certain. There are perhaps scarcely so many as half-a-dozen lines of any importance which must be given up as hopelessly incurable or even doubtful. It is, I should think, of all the Plays, by much the easiest to edit; both the settlement of the text and its explanation are, I conceive, simpler than would be the case in any other; and it is for that reason partly that I have selected it for the present attempt.
The alterations which I have found it necessary to make upon the commonly received text do not amount to very many; and the considerations by which I have been guided are in every instance fully stated in the Commentary. The only conjectural innovations which I have ventured upon of my own are, the change of “What night is this?" into “What a night is this!" in the speech numbered 117; the insertion of “not” after “Has he,” in that numbered 402; and the transposition of the two names Lucilius and Lucius in that numbered 521. The first and second of these three corrections are of little moment, though both, I think, clearly required; the third I hold to be both of absolute certainty and necessity, and also of considerable importance, affecting as it does the whole course of the Fourth Act of the Play, restoring propriety and consistency to the conduct of the action and the parts sustained by the various personages, and vindicating a reading of the First Folio in a subsequent speech (571) which, curiously enough, had never been previously noticed by anybody, but has been silently ignored and departed from even by those of the modern editors who have professed to adhere the most scrupulously to that original text.
For the rest, the present text differs in nothing material from that which is found in all the modern editions, unless it be that I have restored from the First Folio one or two antiquated forms,--such as 'em for them, and moe in several places for more,-which have been usually suppressed, although 'em remains familiar enough in our colloquial speech, or at any rate is still perfectly intelligible and unambiguous, and moe is sometimes the only form that will suit the exigencies of the verse.
A merely mechanical innovation in the typographical exhibition of the text will at once catch the eye. The present is, I suppose, the first edition of a Play, in any language, with the speeches numbered. Possibly it may be the first time that any one has thought of counting the speeches in a Play.* In that case, the result arrived at, that there are about eight hundred separate utterances, or divisions of the dialogue, long and short, in the drama here examined, may be received as one of some little curiosity and interest. At any rate, such a method as I have adopted seems to afford the only available means for distinct and expeditious reference. It has a double advantage over the mere pagination ; first, inasmuch as a speech is usually much shorter than a page, and, secondly, inasmuch as the division into speeches is the same for all editions. The only other plan that has been, or that, apparently, can be taken, is to make shift with the ordinary division into Acts and Scenes. This is what has been commonly done in the various verbal indexes to Shakespeare. But to be told simply
* Since the first publication of the present work, however, Mr J. A. Ellis has obligingly forwarded to me copies of editions of Shakespeare's Tempest and Macbeth, in what is called the Phonetic spelling, brought out under his care at London in 1849, in which the speeches in each Scene are separately numbered for the purpose of reference in the notes, mostly explanatory, but sometimes critical or conjectural, appended at the foot of the page. But, besides that there is no general summation, the text of Shakespeare is not fully given in these editions, so that even the process of adding up the speeches in the several scenes would not give us the entire number in the Play. The plan of one continuous enumeration throughout would seem to be simpler and more convenient for all purposes.
that a word or phrase which we are in search of occurs in a certain Scene of one of Shakespeare's Plays is in most cases only a degree better than being told that it may be found somewhere within the compass of the Play. We
may be often half an hour in finding it. The Scenes in Shakespeare (the notation of which, by the bye, is for the most part the work of his modern editors) continually run out to dimensions which make this kind of reference a mere tantalizing and tormenting mockery. In any liberally printed library edition, such as those of Mr Knight or Mr Collier, with a very small proportion of the space taken up by foot-notes, it is not unusual to find
that the Scene to which we have been directed extends over twenty or thirty pages. Even in the present edition of Julius Cæsar, compactly printed as it is, several of the Scenes cover seven or eight pages. In the entire Play, filling about sixty pages, there are only eighteen Scenes, so that the average throughout is considerably above three pages for each. Even Jennens's more scientific division gives us only twenty-six Scenes for this Play, making an average of above two of our pages for each; and that of Hanmer, which Warburton follows, and which is the most minute that has been proposed, gives us only thirty-seven, each therefore extending over a space of not much less than two of our pages on an average.
This is the utmost amount of definiteness attainable by the system of reference to Scenes. The enumeration of the speeches reduces the average space which a reference includes to about the thirteenth part of a page. As thère are about eight hundred speeches in the Play, and only eighteen Scenes (according to the common division), it follows that the one method of reference must be on the whole between forty and fifty times more precise, and consequently more serviceable, than the other.