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The present work is so far from being a reprint of the edition which appeared in 1857, that it exhibits a text altered and amended from beginning to end. Throughout the former edition, influenced, perhaps unconsciously, by the example of Malone and of some later editors (whom the over-boldness of Pope, Theobald, Hanmer, &c. had rendered over-cautious), I was content to allow readings of a much more than doubtful character to retain their places in the text, provided I made mention in the notes how a considerable portion of them had been corrected by critical conjecture. Of the impropriety of such a plan—as tending only to perpetuate error—I am now fully convinced; nor assuredly has my conviction on that head been at all shaken by the recently-published volumes of the Cambridge Shakespeare, in which (whatever its merits in other respects) the editors adhere passim to the corruptions of the old copies with a pertinacity akin to that of Mr. Knight, before his superstitious devotion to the first folio had lost something of its fervour. In short, I now believe that an exact reprint of the old text with its multifarious errors forms a more valuable contribution to literature
1 Vols. i. ii.
? In consequence, I apprehend, of my Remarks, &c., 1844. VOL. 1.
than a semi-corrected text, which, purged here and there of the grossest blunders, continues still, almost in every page, to offend against sense and metre.—If the most eminent classical scholars, in editing the dramas of antiquity, have not scrupled frequently to employ conjecture for the restoration of the text, I cannot understand why an editor of Shakespearewhose plays have come down to us no less disfigured by corruption than the masterpieces of the Athenian stageshould hesitate to adopt the happiest of the emendations proposed from time to time, during more than a century and a half,3 by men of great sagacity and learning ;---always assuming that the deviations from the early editions are duly recorded. In several instances, when ancient Greek manuscripts have been unexpectedly discovered—among others, the Ravenna manuscript of Aristophanes—they have borne a striking testimony to the value of conjectural criticism; and I make no doubt that, were the original manuscripts of Shakespeare's works miraculously to turn up, we should have proof that his commentators and critics, from Rowe downwards, had retrieved the genuine readings in a vast number of passages, which the ignorance and presumption of the actors, the somnolency of the transcribers, and the carelessness of the player-editors had conspired to ruin.
With reference to the present edition, I would fain hope that, in ceasing to be a timid editor, I have not become a rash one; and that, in dealing with the corruptions of the early copies, I shall be thought to have properly distinguished between emendations which may be regarded as legitimate, and such extravagant alterations as would almost lead to the conclusion that nature bestows the gift of common sense but
3 Rowe published his first edition in 1709. At what date Mr. Collier's Ms. Corrector “flourished” is still a mystery.
very sparingly. Indeed, I have passed over in silence an immense mass of so-called “ corrections” of the latter description,-not a few of which belong to a very recent period. Here, however, it 'may not be amiss to subjoin some specimens of the newest attempts at the improvement of Shakespeare's text.—To illustrate the words “ Time and the hour,” -in a line of Macbeth, act i. sc. 3,
“ Time and the hour runs (or run] through the roughest day,”Steevens and Malone adduced from old English writers phraseology almost parallel ; and, several years ago, I showed that the expression “il tempo e l'ora” occurred in the earlier Italian poets :4 it might have been presumed therefore that not the slightest suspicion would henceforth attach to the line. But no: Mr. Samuel Bailey declares that it “is not merely tautological, but marked by real incongruity of thought;" and he proposes to read
“ Time's sandy hour runs through the roughest day.”
Further on in the same tragedy, act i. sc. 7,
“ Was the hope drunk
you dress'd yourself? hath it slept since ?
What beast was't, then,
the same writer detects “four spurious words materially weakening or perverting the sense;" and he gets rid of them by reading
4 See note ad l. in the present edition.
5 On the Received Text of Shakespeare's Dramatic Writings, and its Improvement, pp. 89, 90. (The “sandy hour” of “the glass” is an expression which occurs in The First Part of King Henry VI. act iv. sc. 2.)