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certainly a first draught, and in two parts ; and so much another play, that only one line of it is retain’d in the second : there is also a first draught of the Second and Third Parts of Henry VI. published in his life-time under the following title, -" The whole Contention betweene the two famous Houses, Lancaster and Yorke:” and to these plays, fix in number, may be added—the first impression of Romeo and Juliet, being a play of the same stamp: The date of all these quarto's, and that of their several re-impressions, may be seen in a table that follows the Introduction. Othello came out only one year before the folio; and is, in the main, the same play that we have there : and this too is the case of the first-mention'd thirteen; notwithstanding there are in many of them great variations, and particularly in Hamlet, King Lear, Richard III. and Romeo and Juliet.
As for the plays, which, we say, are either the poet's first draughts, or else imperfect and stolen copies, it will be thought; perhaps, they might as well have been left out of the account: but they are not wholly useless; some lacunæ, that are in all the other editions, have been judiciously fill'd up in modern impressions by the authority of these copies; and in some particular passages of them, where there happens to be a greater conformity than usual between them and the more perfect editions, there is here and there a various reading that does honour to the poet's judgment, and should upon that account be presum'd the true one ; in other respects, they have neither use nor merit, but are meerly curiosities.
Proceed we then to a description of the other fourteen. They all abound in faults, though not in equal degree; and those faults are so numerous,
and of so many different natures, that nothing but a perusal of the pieces themselves can give an adequate conception of them ; but amongit them are these that follow. Division of acts and scenes, they have none; Othello only excepted, which is divided into acts : entries of persons are extreamly imperfect in them, (sometimes more, sometimes fewer than the scene requires) and their Exits are very often omitted ; or, when mark’d, not always in the right place; and few scenical directions are to be met with throughout the whole: speeches are frequently confounded, and given to wrong persons, either whole, or in part; and sometimes, instead of the person fpeaking, you have the actor who presented him : and in two of the plays, (Love's Labour's Loft, and Troilus and Cressida,) the same matter, and in nearly the same words, is set down twice in some passages; which who sees not to be only a negligence of the poet, and that but one of them ought to have been printed ? But the reigning fault of all is in the measure : prose is very often printed as verse, and verse as profe; or, where rightly printed verse, that verse is not always right divided : and in all these pieces, the songs are in every particular ftill more corrupt than the other parts of them. These are the general and principal defects : to which if
add-transposition of words, sentences, lines, and even speeches; words omitted, and others added without reason; and a punctuation so deficient, and so often wrong, that it hardly deserves regard ; you have, upon the whole, a true but melancholy picture of the condition of these first printed plays : which bad as it is, is yet better than that of those which came after; or than that of the subsequent folio impression of fome of these which we are now speak
This folio impression was sent into the world seven years after the author's death, by two of his fellow-players; and contains, besides the last mention'd fourteen, the true and genuine copies of the other fix plays, and fixteen that were never publith'd before :8 the editors make great professions of fidelity, and some complaint of injury done to them and the author by fiolen and maim'd copies; giving withal an advantageous, if juft, idea of the copies which they have follow'd: but see the terms they make use of. “ It had bene a thing, we confeffe, worthie to have bene wished, that the author himselfe had liv'd to have set forth, and overseen his owne writings; but since it hath bin ordain'd otherwise, and he by death departed from that right, we pray you do not envie his friends, the office of their care, and paine, to have collected & publish'd them ; and fo to have publish'd them, as where (before) you were abus'd with diverse stolne, and furreptitious copies, maimed, and deformed by the frauds and ftealthes of injurious impostors, that expos’d them : even those, are now offer'd to your view cur'd, and perfect of their limbes; and all the rest, absolute in their numbers, as he conceived them. Who, as he was a happie imitator of nature, was a most gentle expreffer of it. His minde and hand went together : and what he thought, he uttered with that easinesse, that wee have scarse received from him a blot in his papers.”
8 There is yet extant in the books of the Stationers' Company, an entry bearing date Feb. 12, 1624, to Messrs. Jaggard and Blount, the proprietors of this first folio, which is thus worded : “ Mr. Wm. Shakespear's Comedy's History's & Tragedy's do many of the said Copy's as bee not 'enter'd to other men and this entry is follow'd by the titles of all those fixteen plays that were first printed in the folio: The other twenty plays (Othello, and King John, excepted; which the person who furnished this transcript, thinks he may bave overlook'd,) are enter'd too in these books, under their respective years ; but to whom the transcript fays not.
Who now does not feel himself inclin'd' to expect an accurate and good performance in the edition of these prefacers ? But alas, it is nothing less: for (if we except the six spurious ones, whofe places were then supply'd by true and genuine copies) the editions of plays preceding the folio, are the very basis of those we have there; which are either printed from those editions, or from the copies which they made use of; and this is principally evident in—" First and Second Henry IV. Love's Labour's Loft, Merchant of Venice, Midsummer Night's Dream, Much Ado about Nothing, Richard ļl. Titus Andronicus, and Troilus and Cressida ;" for in the others we see somewhat a greater latitude, as was observ'd a little above: but in these plays, there is an almost strict conformity between the two impressions : some additions are in the second, and fome omiffions; but the faults and errors of the quarto's are all preserv'd in the folio, and others added to them; and what difference there is, is generally for the worse on the side of the folio editors; which fhould give us but faint hopes of meeting with greater accuracy in the plays which they first publish'd ; and, accordingly, we find them fubject to all the imperfections that have been noted in the former : nor is their edition in general distinguish'd by any mark of preference above the earliest quarto's, but that some of their plays are divided into acts, and some others into acts and scenes; and that with due precision, and agreeable to the author's idea of the nature of such divifions. The order of printing these plays, the way in which they are class’d, and the titles giyen them, being matters of some curiosity, the Table that is before the first folio is here reprinted : and to it are added marks, put between crotchets, shewing the plays that are divided; a signifying-acts, a & facts and scenes.
TABLE of Plays in the folio.'
. [a & S.] The Two Gentlemen of
Verona.* [a & S.]
Windsor. [a & S.]
Measure for Measure. [a
&S:] The Comedy of Errours.*
• The plays, mark'd
with afterisks, are spoken of by name, in a book, call'd-Wit's Treasury, being the Second Part of Wit's Commonwealth, written by Francis Meres, at p. 282 : who, in the same paragraph, mentions another play as being Shakspeare's, under the title of Loves Labours Wonne; a title that seems well adapted to All's well that ends well, and under which it might be first acted. In the paragraph immediately preceding, he speaks of his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, and his Sonnets : this book was printed in 1598, by P. Short, for Cuthbert Burbie ; octavo, small. The same author, at p. 283, mentions too a Richard the Third, written by Doctor Leg, author of another play, called The Destruction of Jerusalem. And there is in the Musæum, a manuscript Latin play upon the same subject, written by one Henry Lacy in 1586 : which Latin play is but a weak performance; and yet feemeth to be the play spoken of by Sir John Harrington, (for the author was a Cambridge man, and of St. John's,) in this paffage of his Apologie of Poetrie, prefix'd to his translation of Ariosto's Orlando, edit. 1591, fol: a - and for tragedies, to omit other famous tragedies ; that, that was played at S. Johns in Cambridge of Richard the 3.