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bable, as that because Ben Johnson had much the more learning, it was said on the one hand that Shaker Spear had none at all; and because Shakespear had much the most wit and fancy, it was retorted on the other, that Johnson wanted both. Because Shakespear bor-N rowed nothing, it was said that Ben Johnson borrowed every thing. Because Johnson did not write extempore, he was reproached with being a year about every piece; and because Shakespear wrote with ease and rapidity, they cry’d, he never once made a blot, Nay the spirit of opposition ran so high, that whatever those of the one side objected to the other, was taken at the rebound, and turned into Praises ; as injudicioully, as their antagonists before had made them Objections.
Poets are always afraid of Envy; but sure they have as much reason to be afraid of Admiration. They are the Scylla and Charybdis of Authors; those who escape one, often fall by the other. Pessimum genus inimicorum Laudantes, says Tacitus : and Virgil desires to wear a charm against those who praise a Poet with out rule or reason.
Si ultra placitum laudárit, baccare frontem Cingito, ne Vati noceat. But however this contention might be carried on by the Partizans on either side, I cannot help thinking these two great Poets were good friends, and lived on amicable terms and in offices of society with each other. It is an acknowledged fact, that Ben Johnson was introduced upon the Stage, and his first works encouraged, by Shakespear. And after his death, that Author writes To the memory of his beloved Mr. William Shakespear, which shows as if the friendship had continued thro’ life. I cannot for my own part find any thing Invidious or Sparing in those verses, but wonder Mr. Dryden was of that opinion. He exalts b 3
him not only above all his Contemporaries, but above Chaucer and Spenser, whom he will not allow to be great enough to be rank'd with him ; and challenges the names of Sophocles, Euripides, and Æschylus, nay all Greece and Rome at once, to equal him; and (which is very particular) exprefly vindicates him from the imputation of wanting Art, not enduring that all his excellencies shou'd be attributed to Nature. It is remarkable too, that the praise he gives him in his Discoveries seems to proceed from a personal kindness ; he tells us that he loy'd the man, as well as honoured his memory ; celebrates the honesty, openness, and frankness of his temper; and only distinguishes, as he reasonably ought, between the real merit of the Author,' and the filly and derogatory applauses of the Players. Ben Johnson might indeed be sparing in his Commendations (tho certainly he is not so in this instance) partly from his own nature, and partly from judgment. For men of judgment think they do any man more service in praising him justly, than lavishly. I say, I would fạin believe they were Friends, tho? the violence and ill-breeding of their Followers and Flatterers were enough to give rise to the contrary report. I would hope that it may be with Parties, both in Wit and State, as with those Monsters described by the Poets, and that their Heads at least may have something human, tho? their bodies and Fails are wild beasts and serpents.
As I believe that what I have mentioned gave rise to the opinion of Shakespear's want of learning ; so 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 shines in almost every page ; nothing is more common than Atus tertia. Exit omnes. Enter three Witches solus. Their French is as bad as their Latin, both in construction and spelling: Their very. Wilh is false.
Nothing Nothing is more likely than that those palpable' blunders of Hector's quoting Aristotle, with others of that grofs kind, sprung from the fame root : it not being at all credible that these could be the errors of any man who had the least tincture of a School, or the least conversation with such as had. Ben Johnson (whom they will not think partial to him) allows him at least to have had fome Latin ; which is utterly inconsistent with mistakes like these. Nay the constant blunders in proper names of persons and places, are such as must have proceeded from a man, who had not so much as read any history, in any language: so could not be Shakespear's.
I shall now lay before the reader some of those almost innumerable Errors, which have risen from one source, the ignorance of the Players, both as his actors, and as his Editors. When the nature and kinds of these are enumerated and considered, I dare to say that not Shakespear only, but Aristotle or Cicero, had their works undergone the same fate, might have appear'd to want sense 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 separately in Quarto. What makes me think that most of these were not publish'd by him, is the excelsive carelessness of the press: every page is so scandalously false spelled, and almost all the learned or unusual words so intolerably mangled, that it's plain there either was no Corrector to the press at all, or one totally illiterate. If any were supervised by himself, I should fancy the two parts of Henry the 4th, and MidsummerNight's Dream might have been fo: because I find no other printed with any exactness; and (contrary to the rest) there is very little variation in all the subsequent editions of them. There are extant two Prefaces, to the first quarto edition of Troilus and Cressida in 1609, b4
and to that of Othello ; by which it appears, that the first was published without his knowledge or consent, and even before it was acted, so late as seven 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 trash different from the other : which I should fancy was occasion'd by their being taken from different copies, belonging to different Play-houses.
The folio edition (in which all the plays we now receive as his, were first collected ) was published by two Players, Heminges and Condell, in 1623, seven years after his decease. They declare, that all the other editions were stolen and surreptitious, 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 Quarto's,
First, because the additions of trilling and bombast passages are in this edition far more numerous. For whatever had been added, since those Quarto's, by the actors, or had stolen from their mouths into the written parts, were from thence conveyed into the printed text, and all stand charged upon the Author. He himself complained of this usage in Hamlet, where he wishes that those who play the Clowns wou'd speak no more than is set down for them. (A&t. 3. Sc. 4.) 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 scenes of Mobs, Plebeians and Clowns, are vastly shorter than at present: And I have seen one in particular (which seems to have belonged to the play-house, by having the parts divided with lines, and the Actors names in the
margin) where several of those very passages were added in a written hand, which are since to be found in the folio.
In the next place, a number of beautiful passages which are extant in the first single editions, are omitted in this : as it seems without any other reason, than their willingness to shorten fome scenes : These men ( as it was said of Procruftes ) either lopping, or stretching an Author, to make him just fit for their Stage.
This edition is said to be printed from the Original Copies ; I believe they meant those which had lain ever since the Author's days in the play-house, and had from time to time been cut, or added to, arbitrarily. It appears that this edition, as well as the Quarto's, was printed (at least partly) from no better copies than the Prompter's Book, or Piecemeal Parts written out for the use of the actors: For in fome places their very (a) names are thro' carelessness set down instead of the Persona Dramatis: And in others the notes of direction to the Property-men for their Moveables, and to the Players for their Entries, are inserted into the Text, thro' the ignorance of the Transcribers.
The Plays not having been before so much as distinguish'd by Aets and Scenes, they are in this edition divided according as they play'd them ; often where there is no pause in the action, or where they thought fit to make a breach in it, for the fake of Musick, Masques, or Monsters.
Sometimes the scenes are transposed and shuffled backward and forward; a thing which could no otherwise happen, but by their being taken from separate and piece-meal-written parts.
(a) Much ado about nothing. Ad 2. Enter Prince Leonato, Claudio, and Jack Wilson, instead of Balthasar. And in A&t. 4. Cowley, and Kemp, conflantly thro' a whole Scene.
Edit. Fol. of 1623, and 1632.