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The text of the present volume is the result of an independent examination of the early Quarto and the First Folio editions of Shakespeare's works. The version used as a basis has been chosen after a separate investigation of the state of the case for each play; and the grounds for the choice have been indicated in the special introductions. In the consideration of the emendations of previous editors, much use has been made of the collations in the monumental works of Messrs. Clark and Wright and of Dr. H. H. Furness, as well as of more recent editions of single plays and of the poems. The text will be found to be, in its adherence to the readings of the early editions, slightly more conservative than those in current use. This is especially the case in the matter of stage directions, entrances, exits, and the like ; in the treatment of which it has been rendered possible, for the first time in an edition for general reading, to make the important distinction between directions that are contemporary and those that are due to modern editors. In cases where the directions are modern they are enclosed in [brackets] ; where they are substantially those of editions not later than 1623 they are unbracketed, or are set aside by a single bracket only, or, when occurring within a line, are enclosed in (parentheses). Further, in the dialogue itself, when the text of a play is based on, say, that of the First Folio, and passages absent from the Folio are supplied from a Quarto, such passages are also bracketed. This is intended to meet the objection justly made to most current texts that, in the case of such a play as Hamlet, it is usually printed in a composite form, longer than it was in any of the versions in which it was played or published in Shakespeare's own time, and containing, along with all additions, passages meant to be dropped when the others were added.
The punctuation of the early editions is so hopelessly erratic as to be often useless for any but antiquarian purposes ; and the current punctuation is modified from the quite unauthoritative practice of the editors of the eighteenth century. I have ventured to re-punctuate frankly throughout according to modern usage, gaining, it is hoped, a considerable advantage in clearness without any additional sacrifice of authority. The use of the apostrophe has raised some difficult and interesting points, the consideration of which has resulted in a decision of some importance in the matter of metre. In spite of the comparative carelessness of the printing of the First Folio, it has been fonnd that there is clearly discernible a somewhat remarkable consistency in the insertion or omission of the e of ed endings. To the practice of the early editions in this regard, therefore, the same respect has been shown as in the case of the text in general; i. e., the original bas been departed from only when it seemed fair to believe that there was a mistake of the copyist or printer. The result is that the ed is printed, and was apparently sounded, much more frequently than we are accustomed to see and hear it. In many cases where no new syllable is added to the line, this preservation of the full ending points to a different elision from that usually made, threatned, for example, instead of threaten'd. This often leads to a distinct gain in sonority, and sometimes to a marked change in rhythm. The practice of the early editions is exceptional in the case of monosyllables in ied, being on the whole against the use of the apostrophe ; so in such cases I have preserved the e
even when not syllabic, representing, for example, the Folio dyde by died rather than by the somewhat misleading di’d. The method employed in modern editions in this whole matter neither preserves the clues afforded by the originals, por clearly indicates the pronunciation intended by the editors.
In order to make easy the use of the present volume in connection with such standard works of reference as Bartlett's Concordance, the line-numbering of the Globe edition has been adhered to, with these differences, that the lines are numbered in fives instead of in tens, and the numbering is carried through the prose as well as the verse.
The special introductions are intended to summarize the ascertained facts on such questions as date, authenticity, and sources ; and to indicate in connection with the last of these the main features of Shakespeare's treatment of his material in each play.
Scholarly opinion on the dates of the dramas has now reached such a degree of harmony as to suggest the arranging of the plays in chronological order, according to the approximate date of composition. The Folio division into Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies has, however, been preserved ; the chronological order being adopted in the case of the Comedies and Tragedies, while for obvious reasons the Histories bave been retained in their historical sequence.
The mass of detail to be dealt with in such an undertaking as the constituting of an independent text of Shakespeare is so great that many slips, inconsistencies, and faults of judgement are bound to have occurred. To any one who may draw my attention to these I shall be grateful. Meantime, I wish to express my warmest thanks for assistance and advice received from many friends, and more especially from my colleagues on the faculties of Harvard and Columbia Universities.
W, A. N. NEW YORK, May 31, 1906.
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1 The name of Shakespeare was of wide and frequent occurrence in the midlands of England in the sixteenth and preceding centuries; and this fact, along with the scarcity of exact documentary evidence, makes even the immediate ancestry of the dramatist a matter of less than absolute certainty. But it is much more than probable that he was the son of one John Shakespeare, a dealer in agricultural produce, who at the time of William's birth was a person of increasing importance in the town of Stratford-on-Avon in Warwickshire. John Shakespeare's wife was Mary Arden, the youngest daughter of Robert Arden, a substantial farmer and landowner of Wilmcote, near Stratford. Their first son and third child, William, was baptized on April 26, 1564, the exact date of his birth being unrecorded. The history of his childhood is purely a matter of inference. He would naturally enter, as Rowe says he did, the grammar school of his native town, since he was entitled to free education there; and from what is known of the usual curricula of such schools at that period it is to be supposed that his studies were chiefly in Latin grammar and literature. Four years after the poet's birth, John Shakespeare had reached the most honorable municipal office, that of High Bailiff; but after 1572 there are signs that his fortunes had begun to decline. He absented himself from the meetings of the town council, and was deprived of office; and the nature of his financial transactions indicates that he was sinking deeply into debt. He may have withdrawn his son from school to aid him in business; for Aubrey, who died in 1697, says of the poet, “I have been told beretofore by some of the neighbours that when he was a boy he exercised his father's trade," which, according to this antiquary, was that of a butcher. Aubrey adds the two often-quoted statements: “When he kill'd a calf, he would doe it in a high style and make a speech. There was at that time another butcher's son in this towne, that was held not at all inferior to him for a naturall witt, his acquaintance, and coetanean, but dyed young."
The only additional information we have regarding Shakespeare's early years in Stratford pertains to his marriage, which took place when he was in his nineteenth year. No record of the actual ceremony has been found, but the date is approximately fixed by a document in the registry of the diocese of Worcester, dated November 28, 1582, in which two Stratford farmers gave bonds to free the bishop of responsibility in case of the subsequent discovery of any impediment rendering invalid the prospective marriage of William Shakespeare to Anne Hathaway. This Anne Hathaway is usually identified with Agnes, daughter of Richard Hathaway, a farmer of Shottery, in the parish of Stratford; and from the inscription on her tombstone it appears that she was eight years older than her husband. On May 26, 1583, the Stratford Registers record the baptism of " Susanna, daughter to William Shakspere;" and in February, 1584, the baptisms of “Hamnet and Judeth sonne and daughter to William Shakspere.” These few facts comprise all that is certainly known about Shakespeare's life before his removal to London; but mention must be made of one famous tradition. It is thus recorded by Rowe in 1709: “He had, by a misfortune common enough to young fellows, fallen into ill