« AnteriorContinuar »
guishes, as he reasonably ought, between the real merit of the author, and the filly and derogatory applauses of the players. Ben Jonson might indeed be iparing in his commendations (though 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 fain believe they were friends, though the violence and ill-breeding of their followers and flatterers were enough to give rise to the contrary report. I 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, though their bodies and tails are wild beasts and ferpents. · As I believe that what I have mentioned gave rise to the opinion of Shakespeare'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 AElus tertia. Exit omnes. Enter three Witches folus. Their French is as bad as their Latin, both in construction and spelling : their very Welsh is false. Nothing is more likely than that those palpable blunders of Hector's quoting Aristotle, with others of that grofs kind, sprung from the same root : it not being at all credible that these could be the errors of any inan who had the least tincture of a school, or the least conversation with such as had. Ben Jonson (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 : lo could not be Shakespeare'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 Shakespeare only, but Aristotle or Cicero, had their works undergone the same fate, might have appeared 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 published by him, is the excessive carelessness of the press: every page is so scandalously false spelled, and almost all the learned or unusual words so intolerably mangled, that it is 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 Fourth, and Midsummer-Night'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, and to that of Othello ; by which it appears, that the first was published without his knowledge or consent, or 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 some 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 occasioned by their being taken from different copies belonging to different play-houses.
The The folio edition in which all the plays wé row 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 quartos.
First, because the additions of trilling and bombast passages are in this edition far more numerous. For whatever had been added, since those quartos, 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 would speak no more than is set down for them. (Act 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 prefent : 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 some scenes : these men (as it was said of Procrustes) either lopping, or Itretching an author, to make him just fit for their itage.
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. ft appears that this edition, as well as the quartos, was printed (at least partly) from no better copies than the prompter's book, or piece-meal parts writren out for the use of the actors : for in some places their very "names are through carelessness fet down instead of the Perfona Dreimatis ; and in others the notes of direction to the property-men for their inoveables, and to the players for their entries, are inserted into the text through the ignorance of the transcribers.
The plays not having been before so much as dis tinguished by Axts and Scenes, they are in this edition divided according as they played them; often where there is no pause in the action, or where they thought fit to make a breach in it, for the sake of musick, masques, or monsters.
Sometimes the scenes are transposed and shufiled backward and forward; a thing which could no otherwise happen, but by their being taken from feparate and piece-meal written parts.
Many verses are omitted entirely, and others transposed; from whence invincible obicurities have arisen, past the guess of any commentator to clear up; buc just where the accidental glimpse of an old edition enlightens us.
Some characters were confounded and mixed, or two put into one, for, want of a competent number of actors. Thus in the quarto edition of MidfiimmerNight's Dream, Act v. Shakespeare introduces a kind of master of the revels called Pbilosirate; all whose part is given to another character (that of Egeus) in the subsequent editions : to also in Hamlet and King Lear. This too makes it probable that the prompter's books were what they called the original copies.
"Much Ado about Nothing, Actii. Enter Prince Leoncia, Claudio, and Jack Wilson, instead of Balthc/e. And in A&t iv. Cowley and kemp constantly through a whole scene.
Euit. ful of 1623, and 1632. VOL. I. '
From liberties of this kind, many speeches also were put into the mouths of wrong persons, where the author now seems chargeable with making them speak out of character: or sometimes perhaps for no better reason, than that a governing player, to have the mouthing of some favourite speech himself, would snatch it from the unworthy lips of an underling.
Prose from verse they did not know, and they accordingly printed one for the other throughout the volume.
Having been forced to say so much of the players, I think I ought in justice to remark, that the judge ment, as well as condition, of that class of people was then far inferior to what it is in our days. As then the best play-houses were inns and taverns (the Globe, the Hope, the Red Bull, the Fortune, &c.) so the top of the profession were then mere players, not gentlemen of the stage: they were led into the buttery by the steward, not placed at the lord's table, or lady's toilette : and consequently were entirely de. prived of those advantages they now enjoy in the familiar conversation of our nobility, and an intimacy (not to say dearness) with people of the first condition. :
From what has been said, there can be no question but had Shakespeare published his works himself (espe. cially in his latter time, and after his retreat from the stage) we should not only be certain which are genuine, but should find in those that are, the errors lessened by some thousands. If I may judge from all the distinguishing marks of his stile, and his manner of thinking and writing, I make no doubt to declare that those wretched plays Pericles, Locrine, Sir John Oldcastle, Yorkshire Tragedy, Lord Cromwell, The Puritan, and London Prodigal, cannot be admitted as his. And I should conjecture of some of the others (particularly Love's Labour's Loft, The Winter's Tale, and Titus nnicus) that only some characters, single scenes,