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THE AUTHOR'S PREFACE.
In this attempt to illustrate the English OF SHAKESPEARE, I would be understood to have had a twofold purpose, in conformity with the title of the volume, which would naturally be taken to promise something of exposition in regard both to the language or style of Shakespeare and to the English language generally.
My first business I have considered to be the correct exhibition and explanation of the noble work of our great dramatist with which the volume professes to be specially occupied. I will begin, therefore, by stating what I have done, or endeavored to do, for the Play of Julius CÆSAR.
I have given what I believe to be a more nearly authentic text than has yet appeared. Julius Cæsar is, probably, of all Shakespeare's Plays, the one of which the text has come down to us in the least unsatisfactory state. From whatever cause it has happened, the passages in this Play as to the true reading of which there can be much reasonable doubt are, comparatively, very few. Even when anything is wrong in the original edition, the manner in which it is to be set to rights is for the most part both pretty obvious and nearly certain. There are, perhaps, scarcely so many as half a dozen lines of any importance which must be given up as hopelessly incurable or even doubtful. It is, I should think, of all the Plays, by much the easiest to edit; both the settlement of the text and its explanation are, I conceive, simpler than would be the case in any other; and it is for that reason partly that I have selected it for the present attempt.
The alterations which I have found it necessary to make upon the commonly received text do not amount to very many; and the considerations by which I have been guided are in every instance fully stated in the Commentary. The only conjectural innovations which I have ventured
of are, the change of " What night is this?” into “ What a night is this !” in the speech numbered 117; the insertion of " not” after “Has he,” in that numbered 401 ; and the transposition of the two names Lucilius and Lucius in that numbered 520. The first and second of these three corrections are of little moment, though both, I think, clearly required; the third I hold to be both of absolute certainty and necessity, and also of considerable importance, affecting as it does the whole course of the Fourth Act of the Play, restoring propriety and consistency to the conduct of the action and the parts sustained by the various personages, and vindicating a reading of the First Folio in a subsequent speech (570), which, curiously enough, had never been previously noticed by anybody, but has been silently ignored and departed from even by those of the modern editors who have professed to adhere the most scrupulously to that original text.
For the rest, the present text differs in nothing material from that which is found in all the modern editions, unless it be that I have restored from the First Folio one or two antiquated forms, 'em for them, and moe in several places for more, which have been usually suppressed, although 'em remains familiar enough in our colloquial speech, or at any rate is still perfectly intelligible and unambiguous, and moe is sometimes the only form that will suit the exigencies of the verse.
As for the present Commentary on the Play of Julius Cæsar, it will be perceived that it does not at all aspire to what is commonly distinguished as the higher criticism. It does not seek to examine or to expound this Shakespearian drama æsthetically, but only philologically, or with respect to the language. The only kind of criticism which it professes is what is called verbal criticism. Its whole aim, in so far as it relates to the particular work to which it is attached, is, as far as may be done, first to ascertain or determine the text, secondly to explain it; to inquire, in other words, what Shakespeare really wrote, and how what he has written is to be read and construed.
Wherever either the earliest text or that which is commonly received has been deviated from to the extent of a word or a syllable, the alteration has been distinctly indicated. In this way a complete representation is given, in so far at least as regards the language, both of the text of the editio princeps and of the textus receptus. I have not sought to register with the same exactness the various readings of the other texts, ancient and modern ; but I believe, nevertheless, that all will be found to be noted that are of any interest either in the Second Folio or among the conjectures of the long array of editors and commentators extending from Rowe to our own day.
Then, with regard to the explanation of the text: I confess that here my fear is rather that I shall be thought to have done too much than too little. But I have been desirous to omit nothing that any
reader might require for the full understanding of the Play, in so far as I was able to supply it. I have even retained the common school-boy explanations of the few points of Roman antiquities to which allusions occur, such as the arrangements of the Calendar, the usages of the Lupercalia, etc. The expression, however, is what I have chiefly dwelt upon. The labors of scores of expositors, embodied in hundreds of volumes, attest the existence in the writings of Shakespeare of numerous words, phraseologies, and passages the import of which is, to say the least, not obvious to ordinary readers of the present day. This comes partly froin certain characteristics of his style, which would probably have made him occasionally a difficult author in any circumstances; but much more from the two facts, of the corrupted or at least doubtful state of the text in many places, and the changes that our national speech has undergone since his age. The English of the sixteenth century is in various respects a different language from that of the nineteenth. The words and constructions are not throughout the same, and when they are they have not always the same meaning. Much of Shakespeare's vocabulary has ceased to fall from either our lips or our pens; much of the meaning which he attached to so much of it as still survives has dropped out of our minds. What is most misleading of all, many words and forms have acquired senses for us which they had not for him. All such cases that the Play presents I have made it my object to notice. Wherever there seemed to be any risk of the true meaning being mistaken, I have, in as few words as possible, stated what I conceived it to be. Where it was not clear to myself, I have frankly confessed my inability to explain it satisfactorily.
In so far as the Commentary relates to the particular Play which it goes over, and professes to elucidate, it is intended to be as complete as I could make it, in the sense of not leaving any passage unremarked upon which seemed to be difficult or obscure. But, of course, it puts forward no pretensions to a similar completeness, or thoroughness, in respect
It is far from embracing the whole subject of the English of Shakespeare, or making any attempt to do so. It is merely an introduction to that subject. In the Prolegomena, nevertheless, I have sought to lay a foundation for the full and systematic treatment of an important department of it, in the exposition which is given of some principles of our prosody, and some peculiarities of Shakespeare's versification, which his editors have not in general sufficiently attended to. Such investigations are, I conceive, full of promise of new light in regard to the history both of the Plays and of the mind of their author.
Still less can the Commentary pretend to any