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a presumptuous artist should undertake to remove a supposed defect in the Transfiguration of Raphael, or in the Belvidere Apollo, and in making the attempt should injure one of those invaluable productions of art and genius, I should consider his name as deserving never to be mentioned, or mentioned only with him who set fire to the Temple of Diana. But the works of the poet may be considered in a very different light from those of the painter and the statuary. Shakspeare, inimitable Shakspeare, will remain the subject of admiration as long as taste and literature shall exist, and his writings will be handed down to posterity in their native beauty, although the present attempt to add to his fame should prove entirely abortive. Here, then, is the great difference. If the endeavour to improve the picture or the statue should be unsuccessful, the beauty of the original would be destroyed, and the injury be irreparable. In such a case let the artist refrain from using the chisel or the pencil : but with the works of the poet no such danger occurs, and the critic need not be afraid of employing his pen; for the original will continue unimpaired, although his own labours should im
mediately be consigned to oblivion. That Shakspeare is the first of dramatic writers will be denied by few, and I doubt whether it will be denied by any who have really studied his works, and compared the beauties which they contain with the very finest productions either of our own or of former ages. It must, however, be acknowledged, by his warmest admirers, that some defects are to be found in the writings of our immortal bard. The language is not always faultless. Many words and expressions occur which are of so indecent a nature as to render it highly desirable that they should be erased. Of these the greater part were evidently introduced to gratify the bad taste of the age in which he lived, and the rest may perhaps be ascribed to his own unbridled fancy. But neither the vicious taste of the age, nor the most brilliant effusions of wit, can afford an excuse for profaneness or obscenity; and if these could be obliterated, the transcendant genius of the poet would undoubtedly shine with more unclouded lustre. To banish every thing of this nature from his writings is the object of the present undertaking. It is the wish of the editor to render the plays of Shakspeare unsullied by any scene, by any speech, or, if possible, by any word that can give pain to the most chaste, or offence to, the most religious of his readers. Of the latter kind the examples are by no means numerous, for the writings of our author are for the most part favourable to religion and morality. There are, however, in some of his plays allusions to Scripture, which are introduced so unnecessarily, and on such trifling occasions, and are expressed with so much
levity, as to call imperiously for their erasement. As an example of this kind I may quote a scene in the fifth act of Love's Labour Lost, respecting one of the most serious and awful passages in the New Testament. I flatter myself that every reader of the Family Shakspeare will be pleased at perceiving that what is so manifestly improper, is not permitted to be seen in it. The most Sacred Word in our language is omitted in a great number of instances, in which it appeared as a mere expletive; and it is changed into the word Heaven, in a still greater number, where the occasion of using it did not appear sufficiently serious to justify its employment.
Nec Deus intersit nisi dignus vindice nodus In the original folio of 1623 the same alteration from the old quartos is made in a great variety of places.
I wish it were in my power to say of indecency as I have said of profaneness, that the examples of it are not very numerous. Unfortunately the reverse is the case. Those persons whose acquaintance with Shakspeare depends on theatrical representations, in which great alterations are made in the plays, can have little idea of the frequent recurrence in the original text, of expressions, which, however they might be tolerated in the sixteenth century, are by no means admissible in the nineteenth. Of these expressions no example can in this place be given. I feel it however incumbent on me to observe, in behalf of my favourite author, that in comparison with most of the contemporary
poets, and with the dramatists of the seventeenth century, the plays of Shakspeare are remarkably decent; but it is not sufficient that his defects are trifling in comparison with writers who are highly defective. It certainly is my wish, and it has been my study, to exclude from this publication whatever is unfit to be read aloud by a gentleman to a company of ladies. I can hardly imagine a more pleasing occupation for a winter's evening in the country, than for a father to read one of Shakspeare's plays to his family circle. My object isto enable him to do so without incurring the danger of falling unawares among words and expressions which are of such a nature as to raise a blush on the cheek of modesty, or render it necessary for the reader to pause, and examine the sequel, before he proceeds further in the entertainment of the evening. But though many erasures have for this purpose been made in the writings of Shakspeare in the present edition, the reader may be assured that not a single line, nor even the half of a line, has in any one instance been added to the original text. I know the force of Shakspeare, and the weakness of my own pen, too well, to think of attempting the smallest interpolation,
In a few, but in very few instances, one or two words (at the most three) have been inserted to connect the sense of what follows the
that is expunged, with that which precedes it. The few words which are thus added, are connecting particles, words of little moment, and in no degree affecting the meaning of the author, or the story of the play. A word that is less objectionable is
sometimes substituted for a synonymous word that is improper.
In the following work I have copied the text of the last edition of the late Mr. Steevens. * I do not presume to enter into any critical disputes as to certain readings of Judean, or Indian ; May, or Way of Life; or any thing of that nature, respecting which mnany persons of superior abilities have entertained contrary opinions.
My great objects in this undertaking are to remove from the writings of Shakspeare some defects which diminish their value, and at the same time to present to the public an edition of his plays, which the parent, the guardian, and the instructor of youth may place without fear in the hands of the pupil; and from which the pupil may derive instruction as well as pleasure ; may improve his moral principles while he refines his taste; and without incurring the danger of being hurt with any indelicacy of expression, may learn in the fate of Macbeth, that even a kingdom is dearly purchased, if virtue be the price of the acquisition.
THOMAS BOWDLER. RAYDDINGS, April 30. 1818. S
* The Glossarial Notes (as they are termed) are not written by the present editor, but are taken from the edition of 1803.