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Of thirty-six plays which Shakspeare has left us, and which compose the collection that was afterwards set out in folio ; thirteen only were publish'd in his life-time, that have much resemblance to those in the folio; these thirteen are—“Hamlet, First and Second Henry IV. King Lear, Love's Labour's Lost, Merchant of Venice, Midsummer-Night's Dream, Much Ado about Nothing, Richard II. and III. Romeo and Juliet, Titus Andronicus, and Troilus and Cressida.” Some others, that came out in the same period, bear indeed the titles of—“ Henry V. King John, Merry Wives of Windsor, and Taming of the Shrew*; but are no other than either first draughts, or mutilated and perhaps surreptitious impressions of those plays, but whether of the two is not easy to determine: King John is 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, six 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
* This is meant of the first quarto edition of The Taming of the Shrew; for the second was printed from the folio. But the play in this first edition appears certainly to have been a spurious one, from Mr. Pope's account of it, who seems to have been the only editor whom it was ever seen by: great pains has been taken to trace who he had it of, (for it was not in his collection) but without success.
[Mr. Capell afterwards procured a sight of this desideratum, a circumstance which he has quaintly recorded in a note annexed to the MS. catalogue of his Shaksperiana: “ —lent by Mr. Malone, an Irish gentleman, living in Queen Ann Street East.”
be thought, perhaps, they might as well have been left out of the account: but they are not wholly useless; some lacuna, 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 merely 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 amongst 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 extremely 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 speaking, you have the actor who presented him: and in two of the plays, (Love's Labour's Lost, 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 prose; or, where rightly printed verse, that verse is not always right divided : and in all these pieces, the songs are in every particular still more corrupt than the other parts of them. These are the general and principal defects: to which, if you 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: whích, bad as it is, is yet better than that of those which came after; or than that of the subsequent folio impression of some of these which we are now speaking of
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 six plays, and sixteen that were never publish'd before * : the editors make great professions of fidelity, and some complaint of injury done to them and the author by stolen and maim'd copies; giving withal an advantageous, if just, idea of the copies which they have follow'd: but see the terms they make use of." It had bene a thing, we confesse, 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 so to have publish'd them, as where (before) you were abus'd with 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. Who, as he was a happie imitator of nature, was a most gentle expresser 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.” 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, whose places were then supply'd by true and genuine copies) the editions of plays preceding the folio, are the very basis of
* 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 so 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 sixteen 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 have overlook’d,) are enter'd too in these books, under their respective years; but to whom the transcript says not.
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 Lost, Merchant of Venice, Midsummer-Night's Dream, Much Ado about Nothing, Richard II. 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 some omissions ; 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 should give us but faint hopes of meeting with greater accuracy in the plays which they first publish'd; and, accordingly, we find them subject 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 divisions. The order of printing these plays, the way in which they are class'd, and the titles given 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 & s-acts and scenes.
TABLE of Plays in the Folio t.
COMEDIES. The Tempest. [a & s.]
Midsommer Nights Dreame.* The Two Gentlemen of Verona.* [a & s.)
The Merchant of Venice.* [a.] The Merry Wives of Windsor. As you like it. [a & s.) [a & s.]
The Taming of the Shrew. Measure for Measure. [a & s.] All is well, that Ends well. [a.] The Comedy of Errours.* [a.] Twelfe-Night, or what you will. Much adoo about Nothing. [a.] [a & s.) Loves Labour lost.*
The Winters Tale. [a & s.]
+ The plays, mark'd with asterisks, are spoken of by name, in a book, call’d-Wit's Treasury, being the Second Part of Wit's
HISTORIES. The Life and Death of King | The First part of King Henry John. * [a & s.]
the Sixt. The Life & Death of Richard The Second part of King Hen. the second.* [a & s.]
the Sixt. The First part of King Henry The Third part of King Henry the fourth. [a & s.]
the Sixt. The Second Part of K. Henry The Life & Death of Richard the fourth.* [a & s.]
the Third.* [a & s.] The Life of King Henry the The Life of King Henry the Fift.
Eight. [a & s.]
TRAGEDIES. [Troylus and Cressida) from | The Tragedy of Macbeth. [a. the second folio; omitted in
& s.] the first.
The Tragedy of Hamlet. The Tragedy of Coriolanus. [a.] King Lear. [a & s.) Titus Andronicus.* [a.] Othello, the Moore of Venice. Romeo and Juliet.*
(a & s.] Timon of Athens.
Antony and Cleopater. The Life and death of Julius Cymbeline King of Britaine. Cæsar. [a.]
[a & 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 seemeth to be the play spoken of by Sir John Harrington, (for the author was a Cambridge man, and of St. John's,) in this passage of his Apologie of Poetrie, prefix’d to his translation of Ariosto's Orlando, edit. 1591, fol.: “ —and for tragedies, to omit other famous tragedies; that, that was played at S. Johns in Cambridge of Richard the 3. would move (I thinke) Phalaris the tyraunt, and terrifie all tyrānous minded men, frö following their foolish ambitious humors, seeing how his ambition made him kill his brother, his nephews, his wife, beside infinit others ; and last of all after a short and troublesome raigne, to end his miserable life, and to have his body harried after his death."