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ever the nature of parties to be in extremes; and nothing is fo probable, as that because Ben. Jonfon had much the most learning, it was faid, on the one hand, that Shakespear had none at all; and because Shakespear had much the most wit and fancy, it was retorted on the other, that Jonfon wanted both. Because Shakespear borrowed nothing, it was faid that Ben. Jonson borrowed every thing. Because Fonfon did not write extempore, he was reproached with being a year about every piece; and because Shakespear wrote with ease and rapidity, they cry'd, he never once made a blot. Nay the spirit of oppofition ran fo high, that whatever those of the one fide objected to the other, was taken at the rebound, and turned into praifes; as injudicioufly, as their antagonists before had made them objections.
POETS are always afraid of envy; but, fure, they have as much reason to be afraid of admiration. They are the Scylla and Charybdis of authors; those who escape one often fall by the other. Peffimum genus inimicorum laudantes, fays Tacitus: and Virgil defires to wear a charm against those who praise a poet without rule or reafon.
Si ultra placitum laudárit, baccare frontem
But however this contention might be carried on by the partizans
exprefsly vindicates him from the imputation of wanting art, not enduring that all his excellencies fhould be attributed to nature. It is remarkable too, that the praise he gives him in his Difcoveries feems to proceed from a personal kindness; he tells us that he lov'd the man, as well as honoured his memory; celebrates the honefty, openness, and frankness, of his temper; and only distinguishes, as he reasonably ought, between the real merit of the author, and the filly and derogatory applaufes of the players. Ben. Jonjon might, indeed, be fparing in his commendations (though certainly he is not so in this inftance) partly from his own nature, and partly from judgment. For men of judgment think they do any man more fervice in praising him justly, than lavishly. I fay, I would fain believe they were friends, though the violence and ill-breeding of their followers and flatterers were enough to give rife to the contrary report. I would hope, that it may be with parties, both in wit and ftate, as with thofe monfters defcribed by the poets; and that their heads at least may have something human, though their bodies and tails are wild beasts and serpents.
As I believe that what I have mentioned gave rife to the、 opinion of Shakespear's want of learning; fo what has continued it down to us may have been the many blunders and illiteracies of the first publishers of his works. In these editions their ignorance fhines almost in every page; nothing is more common than Actus tertia. Exit omnes. Enter three witches folus. Their French is as bad as their Latin, both in construction and spelling: their very Welsh is falfe. Nothing is more likely than that those palpable blunders of Hector's quoting Ariftotle, with others of that grofs kind, fprung from the fame root: it not being at all credible that thefe could be the crrours of any man who had the leaft tincture of a fchool, or the leaft converfation with fuch as had. Ben. Jonfon (whom they will not think partial to him) allows him at least to have had fome Latin; which is utter'y inconfiftent with mistakes like thefe. Nay the conftant blunders in proper names of perfons and places, are fuch as must have
proceeded from a mån, who had not fo much as read any history, in any language: fo could not be Shakespear's.
I SHALL now lay before the reader fome of those almost innumerable errours, which have rifen from one fource, the ignorance of the players, both as his actors, and as his editors. When the nature and kinds of thefe are enumerated and confidered, I dare to say that not Shakespear only, but Ariftotle or Cicero, had their works undergone the fame fate, might have appear'd to want sense as well as learning.
It is not certain, that any one of his plays was published by himself. During the time of his employment in the theatre, several of his pieces were printed feperately in quarto. What makes me think that most of these were not published by him, is the exceffive careleffness of the prefs: every page is fo fcandaloufly false spelled, and almost all the learned or unufual words fo intolerably mangled, that it's plain there either was no corrector to the press at all, or one totally illiterate. If any were supervised by himself, I fhould fancy the two parts of Henry the fourth, and Midfummer-Night's Dream, might have been fo: because I find no other printed with any exactnefs; and (contrary to the reft) there is very little variation in all the subsequent editions of them. There are extant two prefaces, to the first quarto edition of Troilus and Creffida in 1609, and to that of Othello; by which it appears, that the first was published without his knowledge or confent, and even before it was acted, fo late as seven or eight years before he died: and that the latter was not printed till after his death. The whole number of genuine plays which we have been able to find printed in his life-time, amounts but to eleven. And of fome of thefe, we meet with two or more editions by different printers, each of which has whole heaps of trash different from the other: which I fhould fancy was occafion'd by their being taken from different copies, belonging to different playhouses.
THE folio edition (in which all the plays we now receive as his, were firft collected) was published by two players, Heminges and Condell, in 1623, feven years after his decease. They declare, that all the other editions were ftolen and furreptitious, and affirm theirs to be purged from the errours of the former. This is true as to the literal errours, and no other; for in all refpects else it is far worse than the quartos:
FIRST, because the additions of trifling and bombast passages are in this edition far more numerous. For whatever had been added, fince thofe quartos, by the actors, or had stolen from their mouths into the written parts, were from thence conveyed into the printed text, and all stand charged upon the author. He himself complained of this usage in Hamlet, where he wishes that those who play the clowns would speak no more than is fet down for them. (A&. 3. Sc. 4.) But as a proof that he could not escape it, in the old editions of Romeo and Juliet there is no hint of a great number of the mean conceits and ribaldries now to be found there. In others, the low fcenes of mobs, plebeians, and clowns, are vastly shorter than at present: and I have seen one in particular (which feems to have belonged to the playhouse, by having the parts divided with lines, and the actors' names in the margin) where several of those very paffages were added in a written hand, which are fince to be found in the folio.
In the next place, a number of beautiful paffages which are extant in the first single editions, are omitted in this: as it feems, without any other reason, than their willingness to shorten fome fcenes: thefe men (as it was faid of Procruftes) either lopping, or stretching an author, to make him just fit for their stage.
THIS edition is faid to be printed from the original copies : I believe, they meant those which had lain ever fince the author's days in the playhouse, and had from time to time been cut, or added to, arbitrarily. It appears that this edition, as well as
the quartos, was printed (at least partly) from no better copies than the prompter's book, or piecemeal parts written out for the ufe of the actors: for in fome places their very 'names are through careleffness fet down inftead of the perfonæ dramatis: and in others the notes of direction to the property-men for their moveables, and to the players for their entries, are inferted into the text, through the ignorance of the transcribers.
THE plays not having been before fo much as diftinguished by acts and scenes, they are in this edition divided according as they play'd them; often where there is no pause in the action, or where they thought fit to make a breach in it, for the fake of mufick, mafques, or monsters.
SOMETIMES the scenes are tranfpofed and fhuffled backward and forward; a thing which could no otherwife happen, but by their being taken from feparate and piecemeal-written parts.
MANY verses are omitted entirely, and others tranfpofed; from whence invincible obfcurities have arisen, paft the guess of any commentator to clear up, but juft where the accidental glympse of an old edition enlightens us.
SOME characters were confounded and mix'd, or two put into óne, for want of a competent number of actors. Thus in the quarto edition of Midsummer-Night's Dream, A&. 5. Shakespear introduces a kind of master of the revels called Philostrate: all whofe part is given to another character (that of Egeus) in the fubfequent editions: fo alfo in Hamlet and King Lear. This too makes it probable that the prompter's books were what they called the original copies.
• Much ado about nothing. Act. 2. Enter Prince, Leonato, Claudio, and Jack Wilson, instead of Balthafar. And in A&t 4. Cowley, and Kemp, conftantly through a whole fcene.
Edit. Fol. of 1623, and 1632.