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proceeded from a mån, who had not so much as read any history, in any language: fo could not be Shakespear’s.
I shall now lay before the reader some of those almost innumerable errours, 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 seperately 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'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 fourth, 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 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 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 çopies, belonging to different playhouses.
The fulio 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 errours of the former. This is true as to the literal errours, and no other; for in all respects else it is far worse than the quartos:
First, because the additions of trifling and bombast passages are in this edition far more numerous. For whatever had been added, fince 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. (Ac. 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 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 firit 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 quartos, 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 some places their very names are through carelessness fet down instead of the perfonæ 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, through the ignorance of the transcribers.
The plays not having been before so much as distinguished by acts 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 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 entirely, and others transposed ; from whence invincible obscurities have arisen, past the guess of any commentator to clear up, but just where the accidental glympse of an old edition enlightens us.
Some characters were confounded and mix'd, or two put into óne, 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 revels called Philostrate : all whose part is given to another character (that of Egeus) in the subsequent editions: so also in Hainlet and King Lear. This too niakes it probable that the prompter's books were what they called the original copies.
• Much ado about nothing. A1.2. Enter Prince, Leonato, Claudio, and Jack Wilson, instead of Balthasar. And in At 4. Cowley, and Kemp, constantly through a whole scene.
Edit. Fol. of 1623, and 1632.
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 judgment, as well as condition, of that class of people was then far inferiour to what it is in our days. As then the best playhouses were inns and taverns (the globe, the hope, the red bull, the fortune, &c.) so the top of the profeslion 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 deprived 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 Shakespear published his works himself (especially 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 errours lessened by some thousands. If I may judge from all the distinguishing marks of his style, and his manner of thinking and writing, I make no doubt to declare that those wretched plays, Pericles, Locrine, Sir John Oldcaftle, 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 Lost, The Winter's tale, and Titus Andronicus) that only some characters, single scenes, or, perhaps, a few particular passages, were of his hand. It is very probable,
what occafioned fome plays to be supposed Shakespear's was only this; that they were pieces produced by unknown authors, or fitted for the theatre while it was under his administration : and no owner claiming them, they were adjudged to him, as they give strays, to the lord of the manor: a mistake, which one may also observe) it was not for the interest of the house to remove. Yet the players themselves, Heminges and Condell, afterwards did Shakespear the justice to reject those eight plays in their edition ; though they were then printed in his name, in every body's hands, and acted with some applaufe; (as we learn from what Ben. Jonson says of Pericles in his ode on the New Inn.) That Titus Andronicus is one of this class I am the rather induced to believe, by finding the same author openly express his contempt of it in the indučtion to Bartholomew-Fair, in the year 1614, when Shakespear was yet living. And there is no better authority for these latter fort, than for the former, which were equally published in his life-time.
If we give into this opinion, how many low and vicious parts and passages might no longer reflect upon this great genius, but appear unworthily charged upon him?' And even in those which are really his, how many faults may have been unjustly lay'd to his account from arbitrary additions, expunctions, transpositions of scenes and lines, confusion of characters and persons, wrong application of speeches, corruptions of innumerable passages by the ignorance, and wrong corrections of them again by the impertinence, of his first editors ? From one or other of these considerations, I am verily persuaded, that the greatest and the groffest part of what are thought his errours would vanish, and leave hischaracter in a light very different from that disadvantageous one, in which it now appears to us.
I will conclude by saying of Shakespear, that with all his faults, and with all the irregularity of his drama, one may look upon his works, in comparison of those that are more finished and regular, as upon an ancient majestick piece of Gothick