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NOTICE OF THE ORIGINAL EDITIONS OF THE PLAYS.
E propose here to give a very brief account of the Original Copies, upon which the Text of every edition of our
author must be founded. “Mr. William Shakspeare's Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies, published according to the True Originall Copies,” is the title of this first collection of our poet's plays. This volume is “printed by Isaac Laggard and Ed. Blount;" but the Dedication bears the signatures of “ John Heminge, Henry Condell.” That Blount and Jaggard had become the proprietors of this edition we learn from an entry in the Stationers' registers, under date November 8, 1623; in which they claim “Mr. William Shakespeere's Comedyes, Histories, and Tragedyes, soe many of the said copies as are not formerly entered to other men.”
Most of the plays “formerly entered to other men” had been previously published-some in several editions-at dates extending from 1597 to 1622. These are what are commonly spoken of as the quarto editions.
John Heminge and Henry Condell were amongst the “principal actors” of the plays of Shakspere, according to a list prefixed to their edition. In 1608 they were shareholders with Shakspere in the Blackfriars Theatre. In his will, in 1616, they are honourably recognized in the following bequest :-“To my fellows, John Hemynge, Richard Burbage, and Henry Condell, twenty-six shillings eight-pence apiece, to buy them rings.” In 1619, after the death of Shakspere and Burbage, they were at the head of their remaining “fellows."
This first folio edition is dedicated to the Earl of Pembroke and the Earl of Montgomery. The two friends and fellows of Shakspere, in an Address “to the great variety of readers,” use very remarkable words :-“It had been a thing, we confess, worthy to have been wished, that the author himself had lived to have set forth and overseen his own writings. But since it hath been ordained otherwise, and he, by death, departed from that right, we pray you do not envy his friends the office of their care and pain to have collected and published them; and so to have published them, as where, before, you were abused with divers stolen and surreptitious copies, maimed and deformed by the frauds and stealths of injurious impostors that exposed them,-even those are now offered to your view cured, and perfect of their limbs; and all the rest, absolute in their numbers, as he conceived them; who, as he was happy imitator of Nature, was a most gentle expresser of it. His mind and hand went together; and what he thought, he uttered with that easiness that we have scarce received from him a blot in his papers.”
That the editors of Shakspere were held to perform an acceptable service to the world by this publication, we may judge from some of the verses prefixed to the edition. Ben Jonson's celebrated poem, “To the Memory of my beloved the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare: and what he hath left us,” follows the preface, and it concludes with these lines :
“ Shine forth, thou star of poets, and with rage,
Or influence, chide, or cheer, the drooping stage ;
And despairs day, but for thy volume's light.”
“ Shake-speare, at length thy pious fellows give
Fresh to all ages.”
Henry VI., Part I.
Timon of Athens.
Antony and Cleopatra.
Measure for Measure.
In addition to the eighteen plays thus recited, which were first printed in the folio, there were four other plays there first printed in a perfect shape. Of the fourteen Comedies, nine first appeared in that edition. Between the quarto editions of the four Comedies,-Love's Labour's Lost, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado about Nothing, and the folio of 1623, the variations are exceedingly few; and these have probably, for the most part, been created by the printer. The Merry Wives of Windsor — of the quarto edition of which, in 1602 and in 1619, we shall give a more particular account in our notice of that play—is a very incomplete sketch of the Comedy which first appeared in a perfect shape in the edition of 1623.
The second edition of 1632 was held up as an authority by Steevens, because, in some degree, it appeared to fall in with his rutions of versification. We doubt if it had an editor properly so called; for the most obvious typographical errors are repeated without change. The printer, probably, of this edition occasionally pieced out what he considered an imperfect line, and altered a word here and there that had grown obsolete during the changes in our language since Shakspere first wrote. But, beyond this, we have no help in the second edition ; and none whatever in the subsequent ones. For eighteen plays, therefore, the folio of 1623 must be received as the only accredited copy-standing in the same relation to the text as the one manuscript of an ancient author. For four other plays it must be received as the only accredited complete copy.
The folio of 1623 contains thirty-six plays : of these, thirteen were published in the author's lifetime, with such internal evidences of authenticity, and under such circumstances, as warrant us in receiving them as authentic copies. These copies are, therefore, entitled to a very high respect in the settlement of the author's text.
But they do not demand an exclusive respect; for the evidence, in several instances, is most decided, that the author's posthumous copies in manuscript were distinguished from the printed copies by verbal alterations, by additions, by omissions not arbitrarily made, by a more correct metrical arrangement.
To refer these differences to alterations made by the players, has been a favourite theory with some of Shakspere's editors; but it is manifestly an absurd
We see, in numerous cases, the minute but most effective touches of the skilful artist; and a careful examination of this matter in the plays where the alterations are most numerous, is quite sufficient to satisfy us of the jealous care with which Shakspere watched over the more important of these productions, so as to leave with his “fellows” more complete and accurate copies than had been preserved by the press. The order in which the Comedies are presented in the folio of 1623 is as follows : The Tempest.
Midsummer Night's Dream.
The Merchant of Venice.
The Taming of the Shrew.
All's Well that Ends Well.
Twelfth Night, or What You Will.
As You Like It.
The Winter's Tale.
We subjoin a Chronological Table of Shakspere's Plays, which we have constructed with some care, showing the positive facts which determine dates previous to which they were produced.
CHRONOLOGICAL TABLE OF SHAKSPERE'S PLAYS.
Printed 1600. Mentioned by Meres
Held to be mentioned by Meres as “Love's Labour's Won
Mentioned by Meres
Mentioned by Meres
Acted at Whitehall
Supposed to have been acted at Henslowe's Theatre, 1593. Entered at Stationers' Hall.. 1607
1613 Out of the thirty-seven Plays of Shakspere the dates of thirty-one are thus to some extent fixed in epochs. These dates are, of course, to be modified by other circumstances. There are only six plays remaining, whose dates are not thus limited by publication, by the notice of contemporaries, or by the record of their performances; and these certainly belong to the poet's latter period. They are:Macbeth. Timon of Athens.
Antony and Cleopatra.
1598 1598 1598