Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

actors, or from the unreliable notes of short-hand writers, taken down at the performance.

If to the incompetency or neglect of printers, and the inaccurate manuscripts with which they were furnished, we add the fact that several of Shakespeare's dramas

vere not published until after his death, and that over the printing of those which had appeared previously he never exercised the slightest supervision, the very imperfect state in which they first appeared in print will be satisfactorily accounted for.

Shakespeare had been dead seven years when the first collected edition of his plays appeared, in 1623, under the sanction and superintendence of his old friends and fellow-actors, Heminge and Condell; and though in some respects this impression is a great improvement upon the surreptitious issues of single plays that preceded it, it is nevertheless disfigured by almost every species of error and imperfection to which a printed book is liable. Still, had the task of restoring and purifying the text of the great dramatist been earnestly undertaken at this period, while some of the original draughts of his works were probably in existence,—while many of his fellow-actors, besides hundreds who had witnessed the performance of his plays, were yet among the living,—while the many allusions to persons and events, the key to which is now irrecoverably lost, were familiar as household words ;-had Shakespeare found at this critical period a single appreciative interpreter, less than a tithe of the learning and talent that have since been so bountifully lavished upon his writings would have yielded a more than golden harvest, and we might now rejoice in the possession of a genuine text, for which five generations of able commentators have labored almost in vain.

But though Shakespeare had warm friends and admirers even during his life, and his death was sincerely mourned by the friends of learning as a public calamity, yet the profound homage now so universally felt for his unrivalled genius was not the birth of his own age, nor yet of the century that succeeded it. For nearly a hundred years after the death of Shakespeare, his name, though not wholly darkened, was deeply eclipsed; and this period of its obscuration lent brilliancy to the lesser lights that twinkled in the firmament of letters, and secured to them for a time a degree of the admiration which none but a star of the first magnitude can permanently retain. It was not until the beginning of the eighteenth century that the words of the great dramatist had thrilled that deep responsive chord in the hearts of men, which is at once the pledge and the earnest of undying fame.

Simultaneously with this tardy recognition of his greatness, seems to have been first awakened the consciousness that the text of his plays was egregiously corrupt. Rowe, in his edition of 1709, to which was prefixed the earliest biography of the poet, was incited to the task of restoring the genuine readings of Shakespeare. The Herculean nature of the labor he had undertaken was soon, however, apparent. Three generations of men had already lived and departed since Shakespeare wrote his dramas. Revolutions in church and state, in language and literature, in manners and modes of thought, had in the mean time severed the links which connect successive ages, and swept away every means of interpreting the accidents and conventionalisms which identified the poet with his contemporaries and his country. To any other dramatist whose writings had been so corrupted, such a loss would have been equivalent to total destruction. But Shakespeare had that in his nature which no age or country could monopolize. He could pay back all that he owed to his contemporaries, and yet have wherewith to make sure his immortality. His fame is

based upon the imperishable affections of humanity. A master of the passions, he also possessed the commanding wisdom and unerring insight that can never grow old. As the noblest interpreter of the purity and innocence of youthful love, which glowed unsullied in his own breast through manhood and age, he has secured the hearts of the men and women of every clime while time endures.

Rowe's attempts to purify the text of Shakespeare had the effect of directing the attention of his countrymen to the importance of the work, to which, from that day to the present, a continual series of able commentators have zealously devoted themselves. Among these it is sufficient to name Pope, Theobald, Hanmer, Warburton, Johnson, Steevens, Reed, Malone, Monck Mason, Collier, Dyce, and others of scarce inferior note.

The business of depreciating the value of emendatory criticism, of exaggerating the mistakes of commentators, and of ridiculing the personal altercations into which an intemperate zeal has too often degenerated, is a species of industry possessing peculiar attractions for minds of a certain class, and one which has seldom declined through lack of operatives. But after making due allowance for the blunders, the vanity, and the tediousness of commentators, no candid person who compares the editions of Shakespeare current in our own day, with the original quartos and folios of the seventeenth century, can fail to acknowledge that for one of our purest intellectual enjoyments we are greatly the debtors of the well-abused critics.

It is not, however, our purpose to discuss the merits of commentators. They all have claims upon the gratitude of Shakespeare's admirers. But we pass from them to notice the manuscript corrections, by an unknown hand, contained in a copy of the folio Shakespeare of 1632, first discovered among the rubbish of a second-hand bookseller by Mr. J. P. Collier, in 1849, and shortly after given to the world by that gentleman. Of the genuineness of this volume there can be no doubt; and we see as little reason to question the justness of Mr. Collier's assertion, that the corrections of every description so carefully made upon its margins-amounting in number to nearly 20,000—are in the hand-writing of a period but little subsequent to the publication of the original work. Who the individual was to whom we are indebted for this invaluable contribution, it is vain to conjecture; the character of his emendations, however, warrants the belief, not only that he was intimately connected with the stage, but that he was favored with sources of information in regard to the true text of Shakespeare's plays which have been enjoyed by none of his successors. The fact that his corrections in the folio of 1632 have anticipated more than three hundred of the conjectural emendations of modern critics, is, to use the words of Dr. Frese, a German translator of Shakespeare, “a conclusive argument in favor either of the corrector's perspicacity, or of the critical apparatus to which he had access; and in the proportion that this coincidence diminishes the bulk of what may be gained by the corrector's labors, in the same degree does it enhance the value of the remaining portion.”

Further testimony to the value of the corrector's labors, from sources entitled to deference, could be adduced. Suffice it here to say, that the unanimous voice of disinterested judges, both in Europe and America, concurs in the opinion, that no future edition of the poet's works can be perfect without their aid. Convinced, therefore, from the conclusions of able critics, and from our own examination, that Mr. Collier's text of Shakespeare, embodying the emendations of the folio of 1632, is far the most perfect extant, it has been made the basis of the present edition. For many of the most valuable of these emendations the reader will desire no authority; they carry conviction on their face, and that they are the genuine language of the poet livromes at one self-evident. If, however, there are a few which seem to deserve only a qualifical approbation, we hazard nothing in saying, that from the large majority it will be found utterly impossible to dissent.

The text of Collier being without notes, or any means of distinguishing the new readings, for the present work we have collated it with the best modern editions, principally with those of Verplanck and Singer, and denoted its variations from them by figures, which are placed before the word or passage referred to. The reading of former editions is inserted, under corresponding figures, in the “NoTES TO THE EMENDATIONS" at the close of the volume. The means are thus furnished not only of comparing this edition with previous ones, but of restoring the former reading whenever desirable. As the drama of “Pericles" is not contained in the folio of 1632, none of the proposed emendations can of course be applicable to it: the text, in this instance, is that of the most authentic impressions.

Our text of the Poems is from Collier's edition of 1844.

Collier's “History of the English Stage to the Time of Shakespeare," affording, as it does, a view of the poet's stand-point at the outset of his career, is of great value in forming an estimate of the creative and reformatory power of his genius. It contains, however, much irrelevant matter of inferior interest, and has accordingly been abridged for the present work. The Life of Shakespeare and the Introductions to the Plays inserted in this edition have also been abridged from the same source.

As something of interest to the reader, the preliminary matter belonging to the folio of 1632 - consisting of “The Dedication,” “Commendatory Verses," &c.— has been reproduced in the form and order there observed.

More than ordinary pains have been bestowed upon the foot-notes of this edition, in order to obviate the necessity of looking beyond the volume itself for any thing needful to its proper elucidation. While many difficult words and passages

hitherto neglected have been explained, many lengthy interpretations of commentators have also been condensed; and it is believed these notes, as now arranged, will afford all the essential aid that can be derived both from a glossary of antiquated words, and a commentary upon obscure or involved passages, obsolete customs, &c. The footnotes are referred to by letters of the alphabet, which, in the text, are placed before the word or passage to be explained.

J. L.J. New YORK, June, 1855.

OP

THE ENGLISH DRAMA AND STAGE

TO

THE TIME OF SHAKESPEARE.

In order to make the reader acquainted with the stand the terms, upon the boards of our public origin of the English stage, such as Shakespeare theatres. No blame for the omission can fairly be found it when he became connected with it, it is imputed to our predecessors, because the earliest necessary to mention that a miracle-play or mystery, specimens of this sort of mixed drama which re(as it has been termed in modern times), is the main to us have been brought to light within a comoldest form of dramatic composition in our language. paratively few years. The most important of these The stories of productions of this kind were derived is the “Kynge Johan" of Bishop Bale. We are from the Sacred Writings, from the pseudo-evan- not able to settle with precision the date when it gelium, or from the lives and legends of saints and was originally written, but it was evidently permartyrs.

formed, with additions and alterations, after ElizaMiracle-plays were common in London in the beth came to the throne. The purpose of the author year 1170; and as early as 1119 the miracle-play was to promote the Reformation, by applying to the of St. Katherine had been represented at Dunstable. circumstances of his own times the events of the

During about 300 years this species of theatrical reign of King John, when the kingdom was placed entertainment seems to have fourished, often under by the Pope under an interdict, and when, according the auspices of the clergy, who used it as the means to popular belief, the sovereign was poisoned by a of religious instruction ; but prior to the reign of draught administered to him by a monk. This Henry VI., a new kind of drama had become popu- drama resembles a moral play in the introduction of lar, which by writers of the time was denominated abstract impersonations, and an historical play in a moral, or moral play, and more recently a morality. the adaptation of a portion of our national annals, It acquired this name from the nature and purpose with real characters, to the purposes of the stage. of the representation, which usually conveyed a Though performed in the reign of Elizabeth, we lesson for the better conduct of human life, the may carry back the first composition and representacharacters employed not being scriplural, as in tion of " Kynge Johan” to the time of Edward VI. miracle-plays, but allegorical, or symbolical. Mira- The object of Bale's play was, as we have stated, cle-plays continued to be represented long after to advance the Reformation under Edward VI.; but moral plays were introduced, but from a remote date in the reign of his successor a drama of a similar abstract impersonations had by degrees, not now description, and of a directly opposite tendency, easily traced, found their way into miracle-plays : was written and acted. The anonymous author thus, perhaps, moral plays, consisting only of such calls his drama “ Respublica,” and he adds that it characters, grew out of them.

“made in the year of our Lord 1553, and the A very remarkable and interesting miracle-play, first year of the most prosperous reign of our most not founded upon the Sacred Writings, but upon a gracious Sovereign, Queen Mary the First." He popular legend, and all the characters of which, with was supposed to speak the prologue himself, in the one exception, purport to be real personages, has character of “a Poet;' and although every person recently been discovered in the library of Trinity he introduces is in fact called by some abstract name, College, Dublin, in a manuscript certainly as old as he avowedly brings forward the Queen herself as the later part of the reign of Edward IV.

Nemesis, the Goddess of redress and correction," It was not until the reign of Elizabeth that miracle- while her kingdom of England is intended by playz were generally abandoned, but in some distant Respublica," and its inhabitants represented by parts of the kingdom they were persevered with “People:" the Reformation in the Church is diseven till the time of James I. Miracle-plays, in tinguished as “Oppression;" and Policy, Authority, fact, gradually gave way to moral plays, which pre- and Honesty, are designated “Avarice," “ Insosented more variety of situation and character; and lence," and "Adulation." All this is distinctly moral plays in turn were superseded by a species of stated by the author on his title-page, while he also mixed drama, which was strictly neither moral play employs the impersonations of Misericordia, Veritas, nor historical play, but a combination of both in the Justitia, and Pax, (ugents not unfrequently resorted same representation.

to in the older miracle-plays) as the friends of Of this singular union of discordant materials, no “Nemesis," the Queen, and as the supporters of the person who has hitherto written upon the history of Roman Catholic religion in her dominions. our dramatic poetry has taken due notice; but it is The production was evidently written by a man of very necessary not to pass it over, inasmuch as it education ; but, although there are many attempts at may be said to have led ultimately to the introduction humor, and some at variely, both in character and of tragedy, comedy, and history, as we now under- situation, the whole must have been a very weari

was

66

[ocr errors]

some performance, adapted to please the court by its a lady of property, called Custance, betrothed to general tendency, but little calculated to accomplish Gawin Goodluck, a merchant, who is at sea when any other purpose entertained by the writer.

the comedy begins, but who returns before it conIn the midst of the performance of dramatic pro- cludes. The main incidents relate to the mode in ductions of a religious or political character, each which the hero, with the treacherous help of his as party supporting the views which most accorded sociate, endeavors to gain the affections of Cuswith the author's individual opinions, John Heywood, tance. He writes her a letter, which Meriygreek who was a zealous Roman Catholic, and who sub- reads without a due observance of the punctuation, sequently suffered for his creed under Edward VI. so that it entirely perverts the meaning of the writer: and Elizabeth, discovered a new species of enter- he visits her while she is surrounded by her female tainment, of a highly humorous, and not altogether domestics, but he is unceremoniously rejected: he of an uninstructive kind; which seems to have been resolves to carry her by force of arms, and makes very acceptable to the sovereign and nobility, and an assault upon her habitation; but with the assistance to have obtained for the author a distinguished of her maids, armed with mops and brooms, she character as a court dramatist, and ample rewards drives him from the attack. Then, her betrothed as a court dependant. These were properly called lover returns, who has been misinformed on the sub"interludes,' being short comic pieces, represented ject of her fidelity, but he is soon reconciled on an ordinarily in the interval between the feast and the explanation of the facts; and Ralph Roister Doister, banquet; and we may easily believe that they had finding that he has no chance of success, and that considerable influence in the settlement of the form he has only been cajoled and laughed at, makes up which our stage-performances ultimately assumed. his mind to be merry at the wedding of Goodluck Heywood does not appear to have begun writing and Custance. Were the dialogue modernized, the until after Henry VIII, had been some years on the comedy might be performed, even in our own day, throne. His “ John Tib and Sir John," his “ Four to the satisfaction of many of the usual attendants at Ps," his “Pardoner and Friar," and pieces of that our theatres. description, presented both variety of matter and The drama which we have been accustomed to novelty of construction, as well as considerable wit regard as our oldest tragedy, and which probably and drollery in the language. He was a very origi- has a just claim to the distinction, was acted on nal writer, and certainly merits more admiration than 18th January, 1562, and printed in 1565. It was any of his dramatic contemporaries.

originally called “Gorboduc;" but it was reprinted To the commencement of the reign of Elizabeth in 1571 under the title of “Forrex and Porrex,'' we may refer several theatrical productions which and a third time in 1590 as “Gorboduc." The first make approaches, more or less near, to comedy, three acts were written by Thomas Norton, and the tragedy, and history, and still retain many of the last two by Thomas Sackville, afterwards Earl of known features of moral plays. “Tom Tiler and Dorset, and it was performed “ by the gentlemen of his Wife" is a comedy in its incidents; but the the Inner Temple.” Although the form of the allegorical personages, Desire, Destiny, Strife, and Greek drama is observed in “ Gorboduc," and each Patience, connect it immediately with the earlier act concluded by a chorus, yet Sir Philip Sidney, species of stage-entertainment. “ The conflict of who admitted (in his “ Apology of Poetry'') that it Conscience," on the other hand, is a tragedy on the was “full of stately speeches and well-sounding fate of an historical personage; but Conscience, phrases,” could not avoid complaining that the Hypocrisy, Avarice, Horror, &c., are called in aid unities of time and place had been disregarded. of the purpose of the writer. Appius and Vir- Thus, in the very outset and origin of our stage, as ginia” is in most respects a history, founded upon regards what may be termed the regular drama, the facts ; but Rumor, Comfort, and Doctrine, are im- liberty, which allowed full exercise to the imaginaportantly concerned in the representation. These, tion of the audience, and which was afterwards and other productions of the same class, which it is happily carried to a greater excess, was distinctly not necessary to particularize, show the gradual asserted and maintained. It is also to be remarked, advances made towards a better, because a more that “Gorboduc" is the earliest known play in our natural, species of theatrical composition.

language in which blank-verse was employed; but What is justly to be considered the oldest known of the introduction of blank-verse upon our public comedy in our language is of a date not much pos- stage, we shall have occasion to speak hereafter. terior to the reign of Henry VIII., if, indeed, it It was an important change, which requires to be were not composed while he was on the throne. It separately considered. has the title of “Ralph Roister Doister,'' and it was We have now entered upon the reign of Elizawritten by Nicholas Vdall, who was master of Eton beth; and although, as already observed, moral school in 1540, and who died in 1557. It is on plays and even miracle-plays were still acted, we every account a very remarkable performance; and shall soon see what a variety of subjects, taken from as the scene is laid in London, it affords a curious ancient history, from mythology, fable, and romance, picture of metropolitan manners. The regularity were employed for the purposes of the drama. of its construction, even at that early date, may be Stephen Gosson, one of the earliest enemies of gathered from the fact, that in the single copy which theatrical performances, writing his “Plays confuted has descended to us it is divided into acts and in Five Actions" a little after the period of which

is one of common, every-day life; we are now speaking, but adverting to the drama as and none of the characters are such as people had it had existed some years before, tells us, that “the been accustomed to find in ordinary dramatic enter- Palace of Pleasure, the Golden Ass, the Æthiopian tainments. The piece takes its name from its hero, History, Amadis of France, and the Round Table," a young town.gallant, who is mightily enamored of as well as comedies in Latin, French, Italian, and himself, and who is encouraged in the good opinion Spanish, have been thoroughly ransacked to furnish he entertains of his own person and accomplish the play-houses in London." Hence, unquestion. ments by Matthew Merrygreek, a poor relation, who ably, many of the materials of what is termed our attends him in the double capacity of companion romantic drama were obtained. The accounts of and servant. Ralph Roister Doister is in love with the Master of the Revels between 1570 and 1580

scenes.

The story

« AnteriorContinua »