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Previous to the publication of the folio edition of Shakespeare's dramatic works in 1623 under the auspices of his fellow-actors Heminge and Condell, seventeen of his plays had appeared in quarto at various dates,-viz. King Richard the Second, King Richard the Third, Romeo and Juliet, Love's Labour's lost, The First Part of King Henry the Fourth, The Second Part of King Henry the Fourth, King Henry the Fifth, The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Much Ado about Nothing, Titus Andronicus, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Hamlet, King Lear, Troilus and Cressida, Pericles, and Othello. As I have elsewhere enumerated the different impressions of those quartos (see List of Editions, p. cxxxii. sqq.), and incidentally noticed their peculiarities (see Account of the Plays, p. cliii. sqq.), I need only observe here, that, though they found their way to the press without the consent either of the author or of the managers, it is certain that nearly all of them were printed, with more or less correctness and completeness, from transcripts of ms. copies belonging to the theatre.
The folio of 1623 includes, with the exception of Pericles, the plays which had previously appeared in quarto, and twenty others which till then had remained in manuscript. The title-page of the volume runs thus, -Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. Published according to the True Originall Copies : and in a prefatory address “To the Great Variety of Readers,” the editors announce
Usually supposed to have been written by Ben Jonson.— In Notes and Queries, Sec. Series, vol. iii. 8, Mr. Bolton Corney expresses his conviction that Edward Blount " was the real editor" of the folio of 1623: and on that
what they have done in the following terms: “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
subject he has recently favoured me with several communications, of which I regret that the limits of a note prevent me from giving more than the following portions. “For some years before I ventured to ascribe the editorship of the entire volume to Edward Blount, it had been my firm notion that the two paragraphs of which the address •To the Great Variety of Readers' consists could not have been written by the same person. The affectation of smartness, and the anxiety to vend, which disfigure the first paragraph, are utterly unlike the sober criticism and earnestness of feeling which form the substance of the second. What had Ben Jonson to do with the sale of the volume ? What had Heminge and Condell to do with it after the transfer of the copyright? The persons chiefly interested in the sale of it were W. Jaggard, Ed. Blount, J. Smethwick, and W. Aspley; and as Blount had taken up the pen, on various occasions, for more than twenty years,—sometimes writing in a scholar-like way, and sometimes fantastically,— to him I am inclined to ascribe the first paragraph of the address. To Heminge and Condell I assi the rest,-and I admire the spirit of it.” After enumerating various works edited by Blount, and among them the Ars Aulica of Lorenzo Ducci, 1607, which he dedicated to William Earl of Pembroke and Philip Earl of Montgomery as an expression of his “particular dutie,”—Mr. Corney asks, “ Can it be conceived that the other proprietors (of the folio Shakespeare, 1623] would not have urged him to edit the volume ? Could he decently refuse the office of editor ? He had, moreover, a threefold motive to accept it:-1. As a fulfilment of his particular dutie' to the noble brothers to whom the volume is dedicated ; 2. As one of the printers of the volume, and therefore in part responsible for its due execution; and 3. As one of the four publishers at whose charges the volume was printed.” Mr. Corney also thinks it "possible that Blount may have had some influence in procuring the commendatory verses prefixed to the volume. Of the four specimens which it contains, that by Holland was not written for the occasion ; that by I. M. is of uncertain authorship; and the others are by Ben Jonson and Leonard Digges. Now, Ben Jonson and Leonard Digges contributed verses to the Guzman de Alfarache of Matheo Aleman, of which Blount was the proprietor and editor, in the same year."
When Mr. Corney ascribes to Blount the editorship of the first folio, he, of course, does not mean that Blount had any concern in selecting the materials of which it consists, but that Blount undertook to see through the press the “copy” (a jumble of printed books and manuscripts) which Heminge and Condell had handed over to him :-and how was that task performed ? with a carelessness almost unexampled !
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 a 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.”2 But, as Malone long ago remarked, this statement concerning the imperfections of the quartos one and all, “is not strictly true of any but two of the whole number, The Merry Wives of Windsor and King Henry V.;"3 and “the quartos were in general the basis on which the folio editors built."4 It is demonstrable that Heminge and Condell printed Much ado about Nothing from the quarto of 1600, omitting some short portions and words here and there, and making some trivial changes, mostly for the worse :—that they printed Love's Labour's lost from the quarto of 1598, occasionally copying the old errors of the press; and though in a few instances they corrected the text, they more frequently corrupted it; spoilt the continuity of the dialogue in act iii. sc. 1. by omitting several lines, and allowed the preposterous repetitions in act iv. sc. 3. and act v. sc. 2.5 to stand as in the quarto :-that their text of A Midsummer Night's Dream was mainly taken from Roberts's quarto,—by much the inferior of the two quartos of 1600,-its blunders being sometimes followed; and though they amended a few passages, they introduced not a few bad
2 See p. cxliv.
that the quarto of Hamlet, 1603, which was unknown to Malone, does not form a third exception ; for it was entirely superseded by the quarto of 1604.
4 Preface to Shakespeare, 1790.
variations, to say nothing of their being chargeable with some small omissions : - that for The Merchant of Venice they used Heyes's quarto, 1600, retaining a good many of its misprints; and though in some places they improved the text, their deviations from the quarto are generally either objectionable readings or positive errors:—that in King Richard II. they chiefly adhered to the quarto of 1615, copying some of its mistakes; and though they made one or two short additions and some slight emendations, they occasionally corrupted the text, and greatly injured the tragedy by omitting sundry passages, one of which, in act i. sc. 3, extends to twenty-six lines : 6_that their text of The First Part of King Henry IV. is, on the whole, more faulty than that of the incorrect quarto of 1613, from which they printed the play :that their text of King Richard III.,—which materially differs from that of all the quartos, now and then for the better, but oftener perhaps for the worse,—was in some parts printed from the quarto of 1602, as several corresponding errors prove; and though it has many lines not contained in any of the quartos, it leaves out a very striking and characteristic portion of the 2d scene of act iv., and presents passages here and there which cannot be restored to sense without the assistance of the quartos :—that they formed their text of Troilus and Cressida on that of the quarto of 1609, from which some of their many blunders were derived; and though they made important additions in several passages, they omitted other passages, sometimes to the destruction of the sense:that in Hamlet, while they added considerably to the prosedialogue in act ï. sc. 2, inserted elsewhere lines and words which are wanting in the quartos of 1604, &c., and rectified
Boling. Nay, rather, every tedious stride I make
The man that mocks at it and sets it light." 7 “Buck. My lord,
K. Rich. How chance the prophet could not at that time
I am not in the giving vein to-day.”
various mistakes of those quartos; they,--not to mention minor mutilations of the text, some of them accidental, — omitted in the course of the play about a hundred and sixty verses (including nearly the whole of the 4th scene of act iv.), and left out a portion of the prose-dialogue in act v. sc. 2, besides allowing a multitude of errors to creep in passim :that their text of King Lear, though frequently correct where the quartos are incorrect, and containing various lines and words omitted in the quartos, is, on the other hand, not only often incorrect where the quartos are correct, but is mutilated to a surprising extent,—the omissions, if we take prose and verse together, amounting to about two hundred and seventy lines, among which is an admirable portion of the 6th scene of the iiid act, as well as the whole of the 3d scene of act iv. :-but, not to weary the reader, I refrain from further details, though something might be added concerning their text of The Second Part of King Henry IV., of Titus Andronicus, of Romeo and Juliet, and of Othello. In short, Heminge and Condell made up the folio of 1623, partly from those very quartos which they denounced as worthless, and partly from manuscript stage-copies, some of which had been depraved, in not a few places, by the alterations and “botchery of the players,”9 and awkwardly mutilated for the purpose of curtailing the pieces in representation.10—For the strange inconsistency of such a procedure with what the editors of 1623 professed to do, Mr. W. N. Lettsom has perhaps satisfactorily
False justicer, why hast thou let her scape ?” 9 Gifford, -note on Jonson's Works, v. 163,
10 With a boldness of assertion similar to that of Shakespeare's earliest editors,—Humphrey Moseley, in an address "To the Readers,” prefixed to the folio of Beaumont and Fletcher's Comedies and Tragedies, 1647, declares, “ now you have both all that was acted, and all that was not; even the perfect full originals, without the least mutilation:” which is certainly not true with respect to two of the plays, The Humorous Lieutenant and The Honest Man's Fortune, and is probably untrue with respect to many others. (See my ed. of Beaumont and Fletcher's Works.)