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P R E F A C E.
Of the personal history of Shakespeare, and of the usages of theatres formerly in relation to dramatic productions,' so little is now known, that it is impossible to say why he made no provision for the publication of his transcendent works. Whether, having written them for the stage, he was satisfied with their success in that arena, or had forfeited the power of giving them a wider circulation, or was confident enough in their merits to believe they must survive all accidents, no one probably will ever determine. All we know upon the subject is, that, unlike his learned contemporary, Jonson, he published no collection of his “Plays” as “Works,” and that although some of them were printed during his life, and possibly with his sanction, there is no evidence to show that any one of them was ever corrected by his own hand. What is strange, too, of a writer so remarkable and of compositions so admired, not a poèm, a play, or fragment of either, in his manuscript, has come down to us. What is still more surprising, with the exception of five or six signatures, not a word in his handwriting is known to exist !
The first collective edition of his dramas did not appear till seven years after his death. This was the famous folio of 1623, in which his "fellows” Heminge and Condell brought together rather than edited the whole of the plays, Pericles excepted, which are by common consent ascribed to him.
In the singular prefatory address “To the Great Variety of Readers,” written, as Steevens supposed, mainly by Ben Jonson, the editors, so to call them, confess it had been a thing “worthie to have bene wished, that the Author himselfe had liv'd to have set forth, and overseen his owne writings;” though they claim credit for the care and pain they have bestowed in collecting and publishing them, so that—"where (before) you were abus'd with diverse stolne and surreptitious.copčes; maimed, and deformed by the frauds and stealthes injurious impostors, that spois a them : even those, are now offer'd to your view cur'd, ani perfect of their limebes, and all the rest, absolute in their numbers, as he conceived them, and profess fjirthier to have printed at least a portion of the volume from “papers” in which.they:“scárse received from him a blot.” By the “diverse stolne and surreptitiou copios”: they point evidently at the quartos ; but the depreciation of those editions i merely a clap-trap to enhance the value of their own folio. The facts, which are indis putable, that in many of the plays the folio text is a literal reprint of that in the quartos even to the errors of the press, and that some of the publishers of the latter were bough off and included among the proprietors of the folio, prove that, if not absolutely authentic the earlier copies had strong claims to accuracy and completeness. The seventeen o Shakespeare's plays which appeared in the quarto form prior to the publication of th folio 1623, are: King Richard II., King Richard III., Romeo and Juliet, Love's Labour' Lost, Henry IV. P. I., Henry IV. P. II., Henry V., The Merchant of Venice, A Mid summer Night's Dream, Much Ado about Nothing, Titus Andronicus, The Merry Wive of Windsor, Hamlet, King Lear, Troilus and Cressida, Pericles, and Othello. The foli contains the whole of the above pieces (excepting Pericles), which had previousl; appeared in print, and twenty plays besides, which, so far as we know, till that tim were only in manuscript.
1 It is well ascertained that the printing of a play was them :-"After my hearty commendations, Whereas com considered injurious to its stage success"; and although in plaint was heretofore presented to my dear brother and the sale of a piece to the theatre there may have been no predecessor by his Majesty's servants the players, that express contract to that effect between the vendor and
some of the Company of Printers and Stationers had vendee, the purchase apparently was understood to in- procured and printed divers of their books of Comedies, clude, with the special right of performing such piece, the Tragedies, Interludes, Histories and the like, which they literary interest in it also. Authors, however, were not had for the special service of his Majesty, and their own always faithful to this understanding: Thomas Heywood, use, bought and provided at very dear and high rates,” &c. in the address to the reader, prefixed to his Rape of Occasionally too, an author, from apprehension or in Lucrece, 1608, observes, “Though some have used a double consequence of a corrupt version of his piece getting abroad, sale of their labours, first to the stage, and after to the was induced to have it printed himself :-One only thing press, for my own part, I here proclaim myself ever faith- affects me ; to think, that scenes, invented merely to be ful in the first, and never guilty in the last.”
spoken, should be enforcively published to be read, and Sometimes plays were printed surreptitiously without that the least hurt I can receive is to do myself the wrong. the cognizance of either the authors or the company to But since others otherwise would do me more, the least which they belonged, and there is an admonition directed inconvenience is to be accepted; I have therefore myself to the Stationers' Company, in the office of the Lord set forth this comedie," &c.-MARSTON's Preface to the Chamberlain, dated June 10, 1637, against the printing of Malecontent, 1604, plays, to the prejudice of the companies who had bought
9 Malone observes that what Heminge and Condell state regarding the imperfection and mutilation of the quartos “is not strictly true of any but two of the whole number," and that in general the other quartos “are preferable to the exhibition of the same plays in the folio; for this plain reason, because, instead of printing these plays from a manuscript, the editors of the folio, to save labour, or from some other motive, printed the greater part of them from the very copies which they represented as maimed and imperfect, and frequently from a late, instead of the earliest edition."
3« It is demonstrable that Heminge and Condell printed Much Ado About Nothing from the quarto of 1600, omitting some short portions and words here and there, and making some trivial changes, mostly for the worse :—that they printed Love's Labour's Lost from the quarto of 1598, occasionally copying the old errors of the press; and though in a few instances they corrected the text, they more frequently corrupted it; spoilt the continuity of the dialoguo in Act III. Sc. 1, by omitting several lines, and allowed the preposterous repetitions in Act IV. Sc. 3, and Act V. Sc. 2, to stand as in the quarto :-that their text of A Midsummer Night's Dream was mainly taken from Roberts's quarto,-by much the inferior of the two quartos of 1600,-its blunders being sometimes followed ; and though they amended a few passages, they introduced not a few bad variations, to say nothing of their being chargeable with some small omissions :—that for The Merchant of Venice they used Heyes's quarto, 1600, retaining a good many of its misprints; and though in some places they improved the text, their deviations from the quarto are generally either objectionable readings, or positive errors :-that in King Richard II. they chiefly adhere to the quarto of 1615, copying some of its mistakes; and though they made one or two short additions, and some slight emendations, they occasionally corrupted the text, and greatly injured the tragedy by omitting sundry passages, one of which, in Act I. Sc. 3, extends to twenty-six lines : -that their text of The First Part of King Henry IV. is, on the whole, more faulty than that of the incorrect
quarto of 1613, from which they printed the play tha