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It is not to be understood that the Editor approves of all the changes in the text of the plays contained in the ensuing volume ; but while he is doubtful regarding some, and opposed to others, it is his deliberate opinion, that the great majority of them assert a well-founded claim to a place in every future reprint of Shakespeare's Dramatic Works.
The value and importance of not a few of these early emendations have been admitted on all hands; and the present volume has been published, to satisfy an almost universal wish, that they should be placed beyond the reach of destruction, and that all who desire it should be able to obtain a copy of the productions of our great dramatist, comprising the manuscript corrections recently discovered by the Editor, in one of the folios of “Mr. William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies," printed in the year 1632. .
The size and type chosen for the purpose may be said fairly and substantially to represent the original: the number of double-columned pages is very nearly the same in each, and in both the letter-press is unencumbered by notes, the latter being less necessary, on account of the additional elucidation so many difficult passages and words have received. While, however, a general similarity has been preserved, care has been taken to rectify the admitted mistakes of the early impression, and to introduce such alterations of a corrupt and imperfect text, as were warranted by better authorities. Thus, while the new readings of the old corrector of the folio, 1632, considerably exceeding a thousand, are duly inserted in the places to which they belong, the old readings which, during the last century and a half, have recommended themselves for adoption, and have been derived from a comparison of ancient printed editions, have also been incorporated.
Those who are curious to ascertain in what particulars the text now offered differs from that founded upon known authorities, published in the latter end of the sixteenth, and in the beginning of the seventeenth centuries, may readily do so by consulting the edition in eight volumes octavo printed in 1844, under the superintendence of the present Editor. It
may be the more necessary to mention this circumstance, because various alterations
(most of them, indeed, of a minor character) have been introduced in the following sheets, which did not seem to require distinct and separate mention among the “Notes and Emendations” recently published.
In order still farther to make the volume in the hands of the reader as nearly as possible resemble that from which it is principally derived, all the preliminary matter belonging to the folio, 1632, has been prefixed, precisely in the form and sequence there observed. At the conclusion, however, a material difference will be remarked, in the addition of the play of “ Pericles,” which unquestionably proceeded from Shakespeare's pen, and which, in modern times, has always formed part of every complete reprint of his productions: although it was not inserted in the folio, 1632, it ought, on no account, to be excluded; but, of course, none of the proposed emendations can be applicable to it, and our text is that of the most authentic impressions. The present edition, therefore, contains every drama that can properly be imputed to Shakespeare, with the manuscript emendations of the folio, 1632, and with the remainder of the text regulated by the various copies which came from the press during the lifetime of the Poet, or within a comparatively few years after his decease.
As an interesting illustration, a characteristic fac-simile of a portion of a page of the corrected folio, 1632, is appended. The head of the Poet, which forms our frontispiece, is a faithful copy of the engraving by Martin Droeshout, which occupies the centre of the title-page of the folios, of 1623, and 1632, and upon which Ben Jonson wrote the memorable lines inserted on p. xv. It may be proper to add merely, that this contemporaneous testimony to the fidelity of the resemblance, in the two folios we have specified occupies a separate leaf facing the title-page.
To the most Noble and Incomparable Pair of Brethren. William Earl of Pembroke, &c. Lord Chamberlain to the King's most Excellent Majesty.
And Philip Earl of Montgomery, &c. Gentleman of his Majesty's Bedchamber.
Both Knights of the most Noble Order of the Garter, and our singular good Lords. Right Honourable,
Whilst we study to be thankful in our particular for the many favours we have received from
your Lordships, we are fallen upon the ill fortune, to mingle two the most diverse things that can be, fear, and rashness; rashness in the enterprise, and fear of the success. For, when we value the places your Highnesses sustain, we cannot but know their dignity greater, than to descend to the reading of these trifles : and, while we name them trifles, we have deprived ourselves of the defence of our Dedication. But since your Lordships have been pleased to think these trifles something, heretofore; and have prosecuted both them, and their Author living, with so much favour, we hope, (that they outliving him, and he not having the fate, common with some, to be executor to his own writings) you will use the like indulgence toward them, you have done unto their parent. There is a great difference, whether any book choose his patrons, or find them : this hath done both. For, so much
your Lordships' likings of the several parts, when they were acted, as before they were published, the volume asked to be yours. We have but collected them, and done an office to the dead, to procure his orphans, guardians ; without ambition either of self-profit, or fame : only to keep the memory of so worthy a friend, and fellow alive, as was our SHAKESPEARE, by humble offer of his plays, to your most noble patronage. Wherein, as we have justly observed, no man to come near your Lordships but with a kind of religious address, it hath been the height of our care, who are the presenters, to make the present worthy of your Highnesses by the perfection. But, there we must also crave our abilities to be considered, my Lords. We cannot go beyond our own powers. Country hands reach forth milk, cream, fruits, or what they have; and many nations, (we have heard) that had not gums and incense, obtained their requests with a leavened cake. It was no fault to approach their gods, by what means they could; and the most, though meanest, of things are made more precious, when they are dedicated to temples. In that name therefore, we most humbly consecrate to your Highnesses these remains of your servant SHAKESPEARE ; that what delight is in them, may be ever your Lordships', the reputation his, and the faults ours, if any be committed, by a pair so careful to shew their gratitude both to the living, and the dead, as is
Your Lordships' most bounden,
TO THE GREAT VARIETY OF READERS.
From the most able, to him that can but spell: there you are numbered. We had rather you were weighed. Especially, when the fate of all books depends upon your capacities; and not of your heads alone, but of your purses. Well, it is now public, and you will stand for your privileges we know: to read, and censure. Do so, but buy it first. That doth best commend a book, the stationer says. Then, how odd soever your brains be, or your wisdoms, make your licence the same, and spare not. Judge your sixpen'orth, your shilling's worth, your five shillings' worth at a time, or higher, so you rise to the just rates, and welcome. But, whatever you do, buy. Censure will not drive a trade, or make the jack go. And though you be a magistrate of wit, and sit on the stage at Blackfriars, or the Cock-pit, to arraign plays daily, know, these plays have had their trial already, and stood out all appeals; and do now come forth quitted rather by a decree of court, than any purchased letters of commendation.
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 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. But it is not our province, who only gather his works, and give them you, to praise him. It is yours that read him. And there we hope, to your divers capacities, you will find enough, both to draw, and hold you; for his wit can no more lie hid, than it could be lost. Read him, therefore; and again, and again : and if then you do not like him, surely you are in some manifest danger, not to understand him. And so we leave you to other of his friends, who, if you need, can be your guides: if you need them not, you can lead yourselves, and others. And such readers we wish him.