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This concurrence of opinion leads us to hope that our Edition will be found to supply a real want, while, at the same time, the novelty of its plan will exempt us from all suspicion of a design to supersede, or even compete with, the many able and learned Editors who have preceded us in the same field.
We will first proceed to explain the principles upon which we have prepared our text.
A. With respect to the Readings. The basis of all texts of Shakespeare must be that of the earliest Edition of the collected plays, the Folio of 1623, which, for more easy reference, we have designated F* This we have mainly adopted, unless there exists an earlier edition in quarto, as is the case in more than one half of the thirty-six plays. When the first Folio is corrupt, we have allowed some authority to the emendations of F, above subsequent conjecture, and secondarily to F, and F.; but a reference to our notes will show that the authority even of F, in correcting is very small. Where we have Quartos of authority, their variations from F, have been generally accepted, except where they are manifest errors, and where the text of the entire passage seems to be of an inferior recension to that of the Folio. To show that the later Folios only corrected the first by conjecture, we may instance two lines in Midsummer Night's Dream:
Give me your neaf, Mounsieur Mustard Seed. Neif,' which is spelt ‘neafe' in Qq F,, becomes 'newfe' in F, 'newse' and 'news' in F,F.
And finds his trusty Thisby's mantle slain. F, omits trusty.' F, makes up the line by inserting ‘gentle.'
Where the Folios are all obviously wrong, and the Quartos also fail us, we have introduced into the text several conjectural emendations; especially we have often had recourse to Theobald's ingenuity. But it must be confessed that a study of errors detracts very much from the apparent certainty of
conjectures, the causelessness of the blunders warning us off the hope of restoring, by general principles or by discovery of causes
For example: in the Midsummer Night's Dream, I. 1,
Or else it stood upon the choice of merit, the reading of the Folios, is certainly wrong; but if we compare the true reading preserved in the Quartos, 'the choice of friends,' we can perceive no way to account for the change of 'friends' to 'merit,' by which we might have retraced the error from 'merit’to friends.' Nothing like the ductus literarum,' or attraction of the eye to a neighbouring word, can be alleged here.
Hence though we have admitted conjectures sometimes, we have not done so as often as perhaps will be expected. For, in the first place, we admit none because we think it better rhythm or grammar or sense, unless we feel sure that the reading of the Folio is altogether impossible. In the second place, the conjecture must appear to us to be the only probable one. If the defect can be made good in more ways than one equally plausible, or, at least, equally possible, we have registered but not adopted these improvements, and the reader is intended to make his own selection out of the notes.
For example, in the Merry Wives of Windsor, II. 3. 81, we have assumed Mr Dyce's conjecture*, ‘Cried I aim ?' to be the only satisfactory reading of a passage decidedly wrong; but in the same play, iv. 1, 63, • 'Oman, art thou lunaties?' as the error may equally possibly be evaded by reading ‘lunacies' with Rowe, and ‘lunatics' with Capell, we have retained the errort.
The well-known canon of criticism, that of two readings ceteris paribus' the more difficult is to be preferred, is not always to be applied in comparing the readings of the Folios. For very frequently an anomaly which would have been plausible on account of its apparent archaism proves to be more archaic than Shakespeare, if the earlier Quartos give the FFF
* Anticipated by Douce. W. A. W.] + I have ventured to decide in favour of Capell's reading. [W. A. W.]
language of Shakespeare with more correctness. Ex. Midsummer Night's Dream, III. 2: -Scorn and derision never come in tears' Qq; ‘comes' Ff; and in the same play, iv. 1 : 0 how
' mine eyes do loath'Q,, altered to 'doth loath' in Q. F,, and restored, evidently by a grammatical reviser, to do loath' in
Again, I. 1: 'what all but he do know,' Qq, is altered to 'doth know' in Ff.
This last error points to a very common anomaly in grammar; one which seems almost to have become a rule, or, at any rate, a license in Shakespeare's own time, that a verb shall
agree in number with the nominative intervening between the true governing noun and the verb.
In general, we do not alter any passage merely because the grammar is faulty, unless we are convinced that the fault of grammar was due to the printer altogether, and not to Shakespeare. We look upon it as no part of our task to improve the poet's grammar or correct his oversights: even errors, such as those referred to in note (VII) to the Two Gentlemen of Verona, and notes (I) and (x) to the Merry Wives of Windsor, because we thought them to be Shakespeare's own blunders, have been allowed to stand. But many phrases that are called bad grammar by us, and rightly so called, were sanctioned by usage among the contemporaries of Shakespeare, especially, no doubt, by the usage of conversation, even among educated persons. And as a learned correspondent (Dr B. Nicholson) remarks, this would naturally be the style of English which Shakespeare would purposely use in dramatic dialogue.
As examples of the anomalies of grammar sanctioned by Elizabethan usage we may mention :
Singular verbs, with plural nouns, especially when the verb precedes its nominative: Hath all his ventures failed ? What, not one hit ?
Merchant of Venice, III. 2. VOL. I.
She should this Angelo have married.
Measure for Measure, III. 1. 208
Omission of prepositions :
which now you censure him. Ibid. 11. 1. 15.
But, in general, our practice has been not to alter the text, in order to make the grammar conform to the fixed rules of modern English. A wide latitude of speech was allowed in Shakespeare's age both as to spelling and grammar.
C. Orthography. It was not without much consideration that we determined to adopt the spelling of the nineteenth century. If we had any evidence as to Shakespeare's own spelling, we should have been strongly inclined to adopt it, but to attempt to reproduce it, by operating by rule upon the texts that have come down to us, would be subjecting Shakespeare's English to arbitrary laws, of which it never yet was conscious. This argues no want of education on the part of Shakespeare; for if Lord Bacon himself had rules for spelling, they were but few, as we may easily perceive by inspection of his works published under his own eye. But if
we have not Shakespeare's own spelling to guide us, what other spelling shall we adopt ? Every student of Shakespeare has now an easy opportunity of acquainting himself with the text of F,, by means of Mr Booth's excellent reprint, and we are certain that not one of them will consider the spelling of that volume intrinsically better than that of our day. Rather more like Shakespeare's it certainly is, but we doubt whether much is gained by such approximation, as long as it is short of perfect attainment. Moreover, in many of the Plays there is a competing claim to guide our spelling, put forward by an array of Quartos, of earlier date than F, To desert F, for these, where they exist, would be but an occasional, and at best an uncertain means of attaining the lost spelling of Shakespeare, while the spelling of our volume would become even more inconsistent than that of F, itself. Add to this; there are places, though, as has been seen, not many, where we have had to leave the reading of F,
, altogether. How then shall we spell the correction which we substitute ?
Corrections of metre are avoided even more carefully than those of grammar. For the rules of prosody have undergone perhaps greater change than those of grammar. There is no doubt that a system of versification has taken root among us very different from that which was in use in the earlier days of our poetry. The influence of classical prosody has worked in a manner that could hardly have been expected. Quantity in the sense in which the Greeks and Romans understood it, is altogether foreign to our speech; and our poets, willing to imitate the verse regulated by laws of quantity, have partially adopted those laws, substituting for long syllables those that bear a stress of accent or emphasis.
In Greek and Latin accent was essentially distinct from quantity, and verse was regulated entirely by the latter. In the modern imitation of classical metres, for want of apprecia