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A COMPANION WOLUME TO THE NATIONAL EDITION OF THE
BY CHARLES KNIGHT.
“Assuredly that criticism of Shakspere will alone be genial which is reverential.”
TO MATTHEW DAVENPORT HILL, ESQ., Q.C., WITH THE AFFECTIONATE REGARD WHICH BELONGS TO A FRIENDSHIP UNCHANGED AMIDST THE CHANGEs of THIRTY YEARs,
THIS VOLUME IS DEDICATED BY
CHARLES KNIGHT. June, 1849.
A DW ERTIS E MENT.
THE present Volume, entitled “Studies of Shakspere, forming the Second Wolume of ‘Studies and Illustrations,’ consists of a republication, with additions and corrections, of the critical Notices that are scattered through my editions of Shakspere, known as ‘the Pictorial’ and ‘the Library.’ There are very few readers who have not access to some edition of the works of “the greatest in our literature—the greatest in all literature.” But there are a vast number who have no aids in the proper appreciation of Shakspere's excellence, dependent as such a judgment is upon an adequate comprehension of his principles of art. In developing those principles I have felt it necessary, on the one hand, to combat some opinions of former editors which were addressed to an age nearly without poetry; which looked upon the age of Shakspere as equally remarkable for the rudeness as for the vigour of its literature; and which considered Shakspere himself under the vulgar aspect of the miraculous, a genius perfectly untaught and unregulated. On the other hand, I have as sedulously brought forward and enforced the doctrines of that more recent school of aesthetics which holds that “the Englishman who, without reverence, a proud and affectionate reverence, can utter the name of William Shakspere, stands disqualified for the office of critic.” These Essays, therefore, are not to be received as the opinions of an individual, but as an embodiment of the genial spirit of the new school of Shaksperean criticism, as far as a humble disciple may interpret that spirit. But even to those who are familiar with critical editions of Shakspere, and with the great mass of critical writings upon Shakspere, the present volume will have the value of a comprehensive arrangement. It will exhibit the rude beginnings of the Drama previous to Shakspere's appearance; it will trace the growth of his powers, as far as can be gathered from positive and circumstantial evidence, in his earliest works; it will carry forward the same analysis through the second period of his meridian splendour; it will show, in like manner, the glory of his mature day, and the sober lustre of his evening. In each of these periods the characters and productions of his dramatic contemporaries will be examined. The reader will proceed step by step in a systematic knowledge of the Shaksperean Art, and view it in connection with the circumstances which attended it in each successive stage of its advancement.