« AnteriorContinuar »
Cressida, and in the Two Noble Kinsmen, if that Play be his, as there goes a Tradition it was (and indeed it has little resemblance of Fletcher, and more of our Author than some of those which have been received as genuine).
I am inclined to think, this opinion proceeded originally from the zeal of the Partizans of our Author and Ben Johnson , 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 so probable, as that because Ben Johnson had much the more learning, it was said on the one hand that Shakespear 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 borrowed 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 cryed, 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 injudiciously 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 without rule or
-Si ultra placitum laudarit, baccare frontem
Cingito, ne Vati noceat thing 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 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) expressly vindicates him from the imputation of wanting Art, not enduring that all his excellencies should be attributed to Nature. It is remarkable too, that the praise he gives him in his Discoveries seems to proceed from a personal kindness;
undeci 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 Authory and the silly 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 fain 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 humane, tho" their Bodies and Tails 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 almost in every page; nothing is more common than Actus tertia, Exit Omnes, Enter three Witches solus. 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 gross kind, sprung from the same root 4, 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 some 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 t; so could not be Shakespear's.
I shall now lay before the reader some of those almost innumerable Errors which have risen from one squrce, 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 appeard 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 excessive carelessness of the press : every page is so scandalously false spelled, and almost all the learned and unusual words so intolerably mangled, that it's plain there either was no Correcter 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 Midsummer-Night's Dream might have been so : 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 publish'd 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 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 occasion'd 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 first collected) was published by two Players, Heming and Condell, in 1623, seven years after his decease. They declare that all the other editions were stolen and
rreptitious, 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 trifling 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 would speak no more than is set down for them (Act 3, Sc. 4.). But as a proof that he could not
(?Z?, 17) escape it, in the old editions of Romeo and Juliet there is no rend 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 Playhouse, 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 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 playhouse, 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 Piece-meal Parts written out for the use of the actors ), For in some places their very e names are thro" carelessness set down instead of the Personæ Dramatis 1. 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 Acts and Scenes, they are in this edition divided according as they play'd them , often when 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 shuffled backward and forward ;, a thing which could no otherwise happen, but by their being taken from separate and piecemeal-written parts.
Many verses are omitted intirely, and others transposed ;, from whence invincible obscurities have arisen, past the guess
any Commentator to clear up, but just where the accidental glympse of an old edition enlightens us.
Some Characters were confounded and mix'à, or two put into one, for want of a competent number of actors. Thus in the Quarto edition of Midsummer-Night's Dream, Act 5, Shakespear introduces a kind of Master of the
1 Much ado about nothing, Act 2. Enter Prince, Leonato, Claudio, and Jack Wilson, instead of Balthasar. And in Act 4. Cowley, and Kemp, constantly thro' a whole Scene. Edit. Fol. of 1623, and 1632.
2 Such as,
-My Queen is murder'd ! Ring the little Bell-