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A MIDSOMMER NIGHTS DREAME
THE MERRY Wives OF WINDSOR
Much ADOE ABOUT NOTHING
R E A D E R.
HE plays of SHAKESPEARE have been so often republished, with every seeming advantage
which the joint labours of men of the first abilities could procure for them, that one would hardly imagine they could stand in need of any thing beyond the illustration of some few dark passages. Modes of expression must remain in obscurity, or be retrieved from time to time, as chance may throw the books of that age into the hands of critics who shall make a proper use of them. Many have been of opinion that his language will continue obscure to all those who are unacquainted with the provincial expressions which they suppose him to have used; but for
my own part, I cannot believe but that those which are now local may once have been universal, and must have been the language of those persons before whom his plays were represented. However, it is certain that the instances of obscurity from this source are very few.
Some have been of opinion that even a particular fyntax prevailed in the time of SHAKESPEARE; but, as I do not recollect that any proofs were ever brought in support of that sentiment, I own I am of the contrary opinion.
In his time indeed a different arrangement of fyllables had been introduced in imitation of the Latin, as we find in Ascham; and the verb was very frequently kept back in the sentence ; but in SHAKESPEARE no marks of it are discernible: and though the rules of syntax were more strictly observed by the writers of that
age than they have been since, He of all the number is perhaps the most ungrammatical. To make his meaning intelligible to his audience seems to have been his only care, and with the case of conversation he has adopted its incorrectness.
The past editors, eminently qualified as they were by genius and learning for this undertaking, wanted industry; to cover which they published catalogues, transcribed at random, of a greater number of old copies than ever they can be supposed to have had in their poffeffion; when, at the same time, they never examined the few which we know they had, with any great degree of accuracy. The last Editor alone has dealt fairly with the world in this particular ; he professes to have made use of no more than he had really seen, and has annexed a list of such to every play, together with a complete one of those fupposed to be in being, at the conclusion of his work,