Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

I am inclined to think this opinion proceeded originally from the zeal of the partizans of our author and Ben Jonfon; as they endeavoured to exalt the one at the expence of the other. It is ever the nature of parties to be in extremes; and nothing is fo probable, as that because Ben Jonfon had much the more learning, it was faid on the one hand that Shakspeare had none at all; and because Shakspeare had much the most wit and fancy, it was retorted on the other, that Jonfon wanted both. Because Shakspeare borrowed nothing, it was faid that Ben Jonfon borrowed every thing. Because Jonfon did not write extempore, he was reproached with being a year about every piece; and because Shakspeare wrote with eafe and rapidity, they cried, he never once made a blot. Nay, the fpirit of oppofition ran fo high, that whatever thofe of the one fide objected to the other, was taken at the rebound, and turned into praises; as injudiciously, as their antagonists before had made them objections.

Poets are always afraid of envy; but fure they have as much reafon to be afraid of admiration. They are the Scylla and Charybdis of authors; those who escape one, often fall by the other. Pefsimum genus inimicorum laudantes, fays Tacitus; and Virgil defires to wear a charm against those who praife a poet without rule or reason :

[ocr errors]

fi ultra placitum laudârit, baccare frontem Cingite, ne vati noceat

[ocr errors]

But however this contention might be carried on by the partizans on either fide, I cannot help thinking these two great poets were good friends, and lived on amicable terms, and in offices of fociety

VOL. I.

N

with each other. It is an acknowledged fact, that Ben Jonson was introduced upon the ftage, and his first works encouraged, by Shakspeare. And after his death, that author writes, To the memory of his beloved William Shakspeare, which shows as if the friendship had continued through life. I cannot for my own part find any thing invidious or Sparing in thofe verfes, but wonder Mr. Dryden was of that opinion. He exalts him not only above all his contemporaries, but above Chaucer and Spenfer, whom he will not allow to be great enough to be ranked with him; and challenges the names of Sophocles, Euripides, and Æfchylus, nay, all Greece and Rome at once, to equal him: and (which is very particular) expressly vindicates him from the imputation of wanting art, not enduring that all his excellencies fhould be attributed to nature. It is remarkable too, that the praise he gives him in his Difcoveries feems to proceed from a perfonal kindness; he tells us, that he loved the man, as well as honoured his memory; celebrates the honefty, openness, and franknefs of his temper; and only diftinguishes, as he reasonably ought, between the real merit of the author, and the filly and derogatory applaufes of the players. Ben Jonfon might indeed be fparing in his commendations (though certainly he is not fo in this inftance) partly from his own nature, and partly from judgment. For men of judgment think they do any man more service in praifing him juftly, than lavishly. I say, I would fain believe they were friends, though the violence and ill-breeding of their followers and flatterers were enough to give rife to the contrary report. I hope that it may be with parties, both in wit and ftate, as with those monfters described by the poets; and that their heads at least may have

fomething human, though their bodies and tails are wild beafts and ferpents.

As I believe that what I have mentioned gave rife to the opinion of Shakspeare's want of learning; fo what has continued it down to us may have been the many blunders and illiteracies of the first publishers of his works. In these editions their ignorance fhines in almost every page; nothing is more common than Actus tertia. Exit omnes. Enter three Witches folus.4 Their French is as bad as their Latin, both in conftruction and spelling: their very Welsh is falfe. Nothing is more likely than that those palpable blunders of Hector's quoting Ariftotle, with others of that grofs kind, fprung from the fame root it not being at all credible that these could be the errors of any man who had the leaft tincture of a school, or the least conversation with fuch as had. Ben Jonfon (whom they will not think partial to him) allows him at least to have had fome Latin; which is utterly inconfiftent with mistakes like these. Nay, the conftant blunders in proper names of perfons and places, are fuch as muft have proceeded from a man, who had not fo much as read any history in any language: fo could not be Shakspeare's.

I fhall now lay before the reader fome of thofe almost innumerable errors, which have rifen from one fource, the ignorance of the players, both as his actors, and as his editors. When the nature and kinds of these are enumerated and confidered, I dare to say that not Shakspeare only, but Ariftotle

Enter three Witches folus.] This blunder appears to be of Mr. Pope's own invention. It is not to be found in any one of the four folio copies of Macbeth, and there is no quarto edition of it extant. STEEVENS.

or Cicero, had their works undergone the fame fate, might have appeared to want fenfe as well as learning.

It is not certain that any one of his plays was published by himself. During the time of his employment in the theatre, several of his pieces were printed feparately in quarto. What makes me think that moft of thefe were not publifhed by him, is the exceffive carelessnefs of the prefs: every page is fo fcandaloufly false spelled, and almost all the learned and unufual words fo intolerably mangled, that it is plain there either was no corrector to the prefs at all, or one totally illiterate. If any were supervised by himself, I fhould fancy The Two Parts of Henry the Fourth, and Midfummer-Night's Dream, might have been fo: because I find no other printed with any exactnefs; and (contrary to the reft) there is very little variation in all the fubfequent editions of them. There are extant two prefaces to the firft quarto edition of Troilus and Crefsida in 1609, and to that of Othello; by which it appears, that the firft was published without his knowledge or confent, and even before it was acted, fo late as feven or eight years before he died: and that the latter was not printed till after his death. The whole number of genuine plays, which we have been able to find printed in his life-time, amounts but to eleven. And of fome of these, we meet with two or more editions by different printers, each of which has whole heaps of trafh different from the other: which I fhould fancy was occafioned by their being taken from different copies belonging to different playhouses.

The folio edition (in which all the plays we now receive as his were firft collected) was published by two players, Heminge and Condell, in 1623,

feven years after his decease. after his decease. They declare, that all the other editions were ftolen and furreptitious, and affirm theirs to be purged from the errors of the former. This is true as to the literal errors, and no other; for in all respects else it is far worse than the quartos.

First, because the additions of trifling and bombaft paffages are in this edition far more numerous. For whatever had been added, fince thofe quartos, by the actors, or had ftolen from their mouths into the written parts, were from thence conveyed into the printed text, and all ftand charged upon the author. He himself complained of this ufage in Hamlet, where he wishes that those who play the clowns would speak no more than is fet down for them. (Act III. fc. ii.) But as a proof that he could not escape it, in the old editions of Romeo and Juliet there is no hint of a great number of the mean conceits and ribaldries now to be found there. In others, the low fcenes of mobs, plebeians, and clowns, are vaftly shorter than at prefent: and I have seen one in particular (which feems to have belonged to the play-house, by having the parts divided with lines, and the actors names in the margin) where several of thofe very paffages were added in a written hand, which are fince to be found in the folio.

In the next place, a number of beautiful paffages, which are extant in the firft fingle editions, are omitted in this as it feems, without any other reason, than their willingness to shorten fome scenes: these men (as it was faid of Procruftes) either lopping, or ftretching an author, to make him just fit for their stage.

This edition is faid to be printed from the original copies; I believe they meant thofe which had

« ПредишнаНапред »