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Of the personal history of Shakespeare, and of the usages of theatres formerly in relation to dramatic productions," so little is now known, that it is impossible to say why he made no provision for the publication of his transcendent works. Whether, having written them for the stage, he was satisfied with their success in that arena, or had forfeited the power of giving them a wider circulation, or was confident enough in their merits to believe they must survive all accidents, no one probably will ever determine. All we know upon the subject is, that, unlike his learned contemporary, Jonson, he published no collection of his “Plays” as “Works,” and that although some of them were printed during his life, and possibly with his sanction, there is no evidence to show that any one of them was ever corrected by his own hand. What is strange, too, of a writer so remarkable and of compositions so admired, not a poem, a play, or fragment of either, in his manuscript, has come down to us. What is still more surprising, with the exception of five or six signatures, not a word in his handwriting is known to exist !
The first collective edition of his dramas did not appear till seven years after his death. This was the famous folio of 1623, in which his “fellows” Heminge and Condell brought together rather than edited the whole of the plays, Pericles excepted, which are by common consent ascribed to him.
In the singular prefatory address "To the Great Variety of Readers,” written, as Steevens supposed, mainly by Ben Jonson, the editors, so to call them, confess it had been a thing “worthie to have bene wished, that the Author himselfe had liv'd to have set forth, and overseen his owne writings;” though they claim credit for the care and pain they have bestowed in collecting and publishing them, so that—"where (before) you were abus'd with
1 It is well ascertained that the printing of a play was | them :-"After my hearty commendations, Whereas comconsidered injurious to its stage success"; and although in plaint was heretofore presented to my dear brother and the sale of a piece to the theatre there may have been no | predecessor by his Majesty's servants the players, that express contract to that effect between the vendor and some of the Company of Printers and Stationers had Feodee, the purchase apparently was understood to in procured and printed divers of their books of Comedies, elude, with the special right of performing such piece, the Tragedies, Interludes, Histories and the like, which they literary interest in it also. Authors, however, were not had for the special service of his Majesty, and their own always faithful to this understanding. Thomas Heywood, use, bought and provided at very dear and high rates," &c. in the address to the reader, prefixed to his Rape of Occasionally too, an author, from apprehension or in Lucruce, 1608, observes, “Though some have used a double consequence of a corrupt version of his piece getting abroad, sale of their labours, first to the stage, and after to the was induced to have it printed himself :-“One only thing prese, for my own part, I here proclaim myself ever faith affects me ; to think, that scenes, invented merely to be ful in the first, and never guilty in the last.”
spoken, should be enforcively published to be read, and Sometimes plays were printed surreptitiously without that the least hurt I can receive is to do myself the wrong. the cognizance of either the authors or the company to But since others otherwise would do me more, the least which they belonged, and there is an admonition directed inconvenience is to be accepted; I have therefore myself to the Stationers' Company, in the office of the Lord set forth this comedie," &c.-MARSTON's Preface to the Chamberlain, dated June 10, 1637, against the printing of Malecontent, 1604. Jays, to the prejudice of the companies who had bought
diverse stolne and surreptitious copies, maimed, and deformed by the frauds and stealthes 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," and profess further to have printed at least a portion of the volume from “papers” in which they “scarse received from him a blot.” By the “diverse stolne and surreptitious copies” they point evidently at the quartos; but the depreciation of those editions is merely a clap-trap to enhance the value of their own folio. The facts, which are indisputable, that in many of the plays the folio text is a literal reprint of that in the quartos, even to the errors of the press, and that some of the publishers of the latter were bought off and included among the proprietors of the folio, prove that, if not absolutely authentic, the earlier copies had strong claims to accuracy and completeness. The seventeen of Shakespeare's plays which appeared in the quarto form prior to the publication of the folio 1623, are: King Richard II., King Richard III., Romeo and Juliet, Love's Labour's Lost, Henry IV. P. I., Henry IV. P. II., Henry V., 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. The folio contains the whole of the above pieces (excepting Pericles), which had previously appeared in print, and twenty plays besides, which, so far as we know, till that time were only in manuscript.
2 Malone observes that what Heminge and Condell state / quarto of 1613, from which they printed the play :-that regarding the imperfection and mutilation of the quartos their text of King Richard III., which materially differs “is not strictly true of any but two of the whole number," from that of all the quartos,-now and then for the better, and that in general the other quartos “are preferable to but oftener perhaps for the worse,—was in some parts the exhibition of the same plays in the folio: for this plain | printed from the quarto of 1602, as several corresponding
errors prove, and though it has many lines not contained in manuscript, the editors of the folio, to save labour, or from any of the quartos, it leaves out a very striking and characsome other motive, printed the greater part of them from teristic portion of the 2d scene of Act IV., and presents the very copies which they represented as maimed and im passages here and there which cannot be restored to sense perfect, and frequently from a late, instead of the earliest without the assistance of the quartos :---that they formed edition."
their text of Troilus and Cressida on that of the quarto of 3" It is demonstrable that Heminge and Condell printed 1609, from which some of their many blunders were Much Ado About Nothing from the quarto of 1600, omitting derived ; and though they made important additions in some short portions and words here and there, and making several passages, they omitted other passages, sometimes some trivial changes, mostly for the worse :—that they to the destruction of the sense :--that in Hamlet, while printed Love's Labour's Lost from the quarto of 1598, they added considerably to the prose-dialogue in Act II. occasionally copying the old errors of the press : and
, inserted elsewhere li es and words which are want. though in a few instances they corrected the text, they ing in the quartos of 1604, &c., and rectified various mismore frequently corrupted it; spoilt the continuity of the takes of those quartos ; they,—not to mention minor dialogue in Act III. Sc. 1, by omitting several lines, and mutilations of the text, some of them accidental,allowed the preposterous repetitions in Act IV. Sc. 3, omitted in the course of the play about a hundred and and Act V. Sc. 2, to stand as in the quarto :-that their sixty verses (including nearly the whole of the 4th scene text of A Midsummer Night's Dream was mainly taken of Act IV.), and left out a portion of the prose-dialogue from Roberts's quarto,-by much the inferior of the two in Act V. Sc. 2, besides allowing a multitude of errors to quartos of 1600,-its blunders being sometimes followed ; creep in passim : -- that their text of king Lear, though and though they amended a few passages, they introduced frequently correct where the quartos are incorrect, and not a few bad variations, to say nothing of their being containing various lines and words omitted in the quartos, chargeable with some small omissions :-that for The is, on the other hand, not only often incorrect where the Merchant of Venice they used Heyes's quarto, 1600, re quartos are correct, but is mutilated to a surprising extent, taining a good many of its misprints; and though in some -the omissions, if we take prose and verse together, places they improved the text, their deviations from the amounting to about two hundred and seventy lines, among quarto are generally either objectionable readings, or posi which is an admirable portion of the 6th scene of Act III. tive errors :--that in King Richard II. they chiefly adhere * * * In short, Heminge and Condell made up the folio of to the quarto of 1615, copying some of its mistakes; and 1623 partly from those very quartos which they denounced though they made one or two short additions, and some as worthless, and partly from manuscript stage-copies, slight emendations, they occasionally corrupted the text, some of which had been depraved, in not a few places, by and greatly injured the tragedy by omitting sundry pas the alterations and botchery of the players,' and sages, one of which, in Act I. Sc. 3, extends to twenty-six awkwardly mutilated for the purpose of curtailing the lines :---that their text of The First Part of King Henry IV. pieces in representation."-DYCE. is, on the whole, more faulty than that of the incorrect !