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THIS edition of SHAKESPEARE's Plays, besides containing numerous pictorial embellishments

and illustrations, and a large selection of the best notes of former commentators, in full or abridged, presents a careful revision of the Poet's text by the American editor, with many original notes, and a new critical and historical introduction to each play.

The inquiry will naturally suggest itself to most readers at all conversant with Shakespearian criticism, “ What can be the use of any more editorial labour upon Shakespeare, and especially by an American editor ?" “After the immense labours of a long succession of critics, most of them learned, industrious, and acute,—some of them among the greatest literary names of the last or the present century,—what can be contributed now and here, either to the purity of the Poet's text, or the illustration of his thoughts ?” In short, it may be asked, “Why would not the wants of the American public be better supplied by a reprint of some one or other of the later and more perfect English editions, than by any attempt at a new one ?" These, or similar inquiries, would have occurred to no one sooner than to the present editor himself, had he found his own task undertaken by another. The reply can be best given by stating the manner in which he was led to engage in a labour which he would never have undertaken, voluntarily, from the first, though it has since proved to him one of those “ labours we delight in.”

The publication of this edition was originally undertaken by Mr. Hewet, by whom, or under whose direction, all its wood-engravings, and other embellishments of art, have been executed. His primary object was to embody, in an American edition, a large and choice selection of those pictorial decorations and illustrations, many of them exquisite in taste and spirit, and others equally valuable in the way of historical or antiquarian illustration, which have given such interest, popularity, and real value, to the later European editions of SHAKESPEARE, and espe. cially to those edited by Mr. Knight, and that more lately published by Mr. Tyas. The publisher was naturally desirous that these embellishments of art should accompany an edition which, in typographical accuracy and general literary character, would not be unworthy of its external decorations. With this view, he applied to the present editor to undertake the editorial care and responsibility of the literary department of this edition. Within the last few years, and since the publication of the editions of SHAKESPEARE containing, or founded on, the text and comments of Johnson, Stevens, and Malone, the labours of Mr. Knight, and his coadjutors, in his Pictorial and Library editions, as well as of Gifford, Dyce, Halliwell, and other English critics, had thrown new light on many passages and scenes of the great dramatist; and it happened that, just before this application of Mr. Hewet, a new edition of Shakespeare's Works, by John Payne Collier, was received in this country. That edition contained, together with much recently discovered antiquarian matter bearing on the disputed or dark points of Shakespearian controversy, a thorough revision of the Poet's text, the errors and variances of which have been so long the subject of contention among the commentators, and of perplexity to their readers. Mr. Collier's revision was founded upon a laborious and minutely accurate collation of all the old editions, and particularly of all the plays separately published in quarto during the author's lifetime, or within a few years after his death, some of which, from their extreme rarity, had never been collated by any former editor. It, therefore, appeared highly desirable, and at the same time not at all difficult, to combine many of the merits of the several best and latest English editions in an American edition,-compressing all the results of modern Shakespearian criticism into such a compass as would render them accessible and convenient to numerous readers, whose want of leisure, of inclination, or of means, might prevent them from consulting the voluminous labours of the European commentators. As the study of Shakespeare and his critics had for years been a favourite occupation with me, as that taste had gradually led me to collect much of the necessary editorial materials, and as the proposed edition was to be published irregularly, in numbers, and might be easily transferred at any time to another hand, should anything occur to interrupt my attention to it, I had no hesitation in undertaking the task.

My first intention was simply to adopt the revised text of Mr. Collier, with most of his critical and explanatory notes, various readings, etc., adding such a selection from the other commentators and critics, and especially from the curious and interesting comments and collections of Mr. Knight, as would, without much labour of transcription or abridgment, and with some few original additions, enable me to present to the reader all that was necessary or useful for the eluci. dation of the Poet's meaning, and the decision of the more interesting questions of verbal criticism as to his text, together with a satisfactory though brief view of critical opinions upon his several plays, including much of the higher and more philosophical criticism of the present century. But in the very first play which was prepared for the press—it happened to be Hamlet, and intended for a specimen number-I found that I could not satisfy myself without varying widely from my original plan. Mr. Collier's researches I found had brought together many new materials, of unquestionable value, for the correction and elucidation of the great Poet's text; but it frequently happened that I could not acquiesce in that editor's conclusions, and much preferred the decision of some one of his editorial predecessors on doubtful readings, or debated points of interpretation. But as he often presented new evidence on these questions, and especially on the contested readings, I was led to examine, weigh, and decide for myself, on many of these curious and interesting, though often minute difficulties. Thus, without any ambition of novelty, I was gradually led to adopt a revised text, not exactly corresponding with that of any preceding

edition. Each play, again, presented a new and, to me, most interesting subject of inquiry, as to the probable date of its authorship, the changes it had received from its author's hand, in different editions, and the indications thus afforded of the great Poet's mental and moral history, his variations of temper and disposition, and of tone of thought, and his progressive formation for himself of his own style and versification, and almost of his own language. Thus here, also, I was led much beyond my original expectation, and induced, after weighing the ample and curious evidence collected within the last few years, to express my own conclusions in brief introductory notices.

Again, as to the notes ;—though much of the necessary commentary could be extracted without any other labour than that of selection, either directly from the larger Variorum editions, in the language of the original authors, (as has been my plan in respect to the most important notes of distinguished critics) or as condensed in the foot-notes of Knight, of Collier, or the judicious abridged commentary of Mr. Singer, yet there was much additional matter, critical, antiquarian, or philological, scattered about in later publications, too valuable to be overlooked in any new annotated edition of SHAKESPEARE; besides, I was, much oftener than I had anticipated, tempted by the examples of so many learned and ingenious writers, or by the thoughts they suggested, to express my own opinion on the points under discussion, in my own language. Thus I was led on to a work of much more labour and duration than was originally intended. The results of that labour are presented in these volumes, and may be thus recapitulated :

I. The first and greatest, though humblest labour of the Shakespearian editor, arises from the various readings of the Poet's text, and the alterations, conjectures, and controversies of critics, in relation to them. These difficulties, as all students of Shakespeare are well aware, spring from the following causes: 1. Partly from the differences between the several editions of many of the plays, originally printed separately, in quarto pamphlets, during the author's life, or not long after his death, and the text of the complete collection of his “Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies,” published by his associates and first editors, Heminge and Condell, in 1623. 2. Partly from obvious errors of the press, or of the copyist of the manuscript used by the first printers, where it often happens that, while some error is manifest, the precise correction of it must be conjectural. 3. From the efforts of editors and annotators to amend, according to their own comprehension, or the taste of their age, what the Poet had written perhaps in another taste and spirit, perhaps hastily and carelessly. The critics of the last century have all vied with each other in attempts to substitute more intelligible language for phrases or words which they did not understand, some of which were obscure from allusion to incidents now forgotten, or modes of life now obsolete, and some because they were (as Milton calls them) “Delphic lines,”

- dark with excess of light,” from the bold and unaccustomed use of language in new senses, or the invention of new terms, compressing or suggesting a crowd of ideas in a single word, or a tran. sient or broken phrase.

The text of this edition has been very carefully, and it is hoped very accurately printed, taking for the copy the late edition of J. P. Collier,-first minutely read by myself, with such alterations of words, of punctuation, and of rhythmical regulation, as commended themselves to my judgment, as being preferable to the readings given by Mr. Collier. None of these variations, of any consequence, were made without full examination of the whole evidence, and frequent reference to the first folio edition, (1623) and to Stevens's excellent and accurate reprint of the text of the original quarto editions of the several plays first printed separately. In the choice among the varying readings, I have endeavoured to depart as little as might be from the older text, and

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