« VorigeDoorgaan »
SIR THOMAS HANMER'S
WHAT the publick is here to expect is a true
and correct edition of Shakspeare's works, cleared from the corruptions with which they have hitherto abounded. One of the great admirers of this incomparable author hath made it the amufement of his leisure hours for many years paft to look over his writings with a careful eye, to note the obfcurities and abfurdities introduced into the text, and according to the best of his judgment to restore the genuine fenfe and purity of it. In this he proposed nothing to himself, but his private fatisfaction in making his own copy as perfect as he could: but, as the emendations multiplied upon his hands, other gentlemen, equally fond of the author, defired to see them, and fome were fo kind as to give their affiftance, by communicating their obfervations and conjectures upon difficult paffages which had occurred to them. Thus by degrees the work growing more confiderable than was at firft expected, they who had the opportunity of looking into it, too partial perhaps in their judgment, thought it worth being made publick; and he, who hath with difficulty yielded to their perfuafions, is far from defiring to reflect upon the late editors for the omiffions and defects which they left to be fupplied by others who should
follow them in the fame province. On the contrary, he thinks the world much obliged to them for the progrefs they made in weeding out fo great a number of blunders and mistakes as they have done; and probably he who hath carried on the work might never have thought of fuch an undertaking, if he had not found a confiderable part fo done to his hands.
From what caufes it proceeded that the works of this author, in the firft publication of them, were more injured and abused than perhaps any that ever paffed the prefs, hath been fufficiently explained in the preface to Mr. Pope's edition, which is here fubjoined, and there needs no more to be faid upon that fubject. This only the reader is defired to bear in mind, that as the corruptions are more numerous, and of a groffer kind than can be well conceived but by those who have looked nearly into them; fo in the correcting them this rule hath been moft ftrictly obferved, not to give a loose to fancy, or indulge a licentious fpirit of criticism, as if it were fit for any one to prefume to judge what Shakspeare ought to have written, inftead of endeavouring to discover truly and retrieve what he did write and fo great caution hath been used in this respect, that no alterations have been made, but what the fenfe neceffarily required, what the measure of the verse often helped to point out, and what the fimilitude of words in the falfe reading and in the true, generally fpeaking, appeared very well to justify.
Moft of thofe paffages are here thrown to the bottom of the page, and rejected as fpurious, which were ftigmatized as fuch in Mr. Pope's edition; and it were to be wifhed that more had then under
gone the fame sentence. The promoter of the
prefent edition hath ventured to discard but few more upon his own judgment, the most confiderable of which is that wretched piece of ribaldry in King Henry the Fifth, put into the mouths of the French princefs and an old gentlewoman, improper enough as it is all in French, and not intelligible to an English audience, and yet that perhaps is the best thing that can be faid of it. There can be no doubt but a great deal more of that low stuff, which difgraces the works of this great author, was foifted in by the players after his death, to please the vulgar audiences by which they fubfifted and though fome of the poor witticisms and conceits must be fuppofed to have fallen from his pen, yet as he hath put them generally into the mouths of low and ignorant people, fo it is to be remembered that he wrote for the ftage, rude and unpolished as it then was; and the vicious taste of the age must stand condemned for them, fince he hath left upon record a fignal proof how much he defpifed them. In his play of The Merchant of Venice, a clown is introduced quibbling in a miferable manner; upon which one, who bears the character of a man of sense, makes the following reflection: How every fool can play upon a word! I think the best grace of wit will shortly turn into filence, and difcourfe grow commendable in none but parrots. He could hardly have found stronger words to exprefs his indignation at thofe falfe pretences to wit then in vogue; and therefore though fuch trash is frequently interfperfed in his writings, it would be unjuft to caft it as an imputation upon his tafte and judgment and character as a writer.
There being many words in Shakspeare which are grown out of ufe and obfolete, and many borrowed from other languages which are not enough
naturalized or known among us, a gloffary is added at the end of the work, for the explanation of all thofe terms which have hitherto been fo many ftumbling-blocks to the generality of readers; and where there is any obfcurity in the text, not arifing from the words, but from a reference to fome antiquated cuftoms now forgotten, or other causes of that kind, a note is put at the bottom of the page, to clear up the difficulty.
With these feveral helps, if that rich vein of fense which runs through the works of this author can be retrieved in every part, and brought to appear in its true light, and if it may be hoped, without prefumption, that this is here effected; they who love and admire him will receive a new pleasure, and all probably will be more ready to join in doing him juftice, who does great honour to his country as a rare and perhaps a fingular genius; one who hath attained a high degree of perfection in those two great branches of poetry, tragedy and comedy, different as they are in their natures from each other; and who may be faid without partiality to have equalled, if not excelled, in both kinds, the beft writers of any age or country, who have thought it glory enough to distinguish themselves in either.
Since therefore other nations have taken care to dignify the works of their moft celebrated poets with the faireft impreffions beautified with the ornaments of fculpture, well may our Shakspeare be thought to deferve no lefs confideration: and as a fresh acknowledgment hath lately been paid to his merit, and a high regard to his name and memory, by erecting his ftatue at a publick expence; fo it is defired that this new edition of his VOL. I.
works, which hath coft fome attention and care, may be looked upon as another finall monument defigned and dedicated to his honour.
T hath been no unufual thing for writers, when diffatisfied with the patronage or judgment of their own times, to appeal to pofterity for a fair hearing. Some have even thought fit to apply to it in the first inftance; and to decline acquaintance with the publick, till envy and prejudice had quite fubfided. But, of all the trufters to futurity, commend me to the author of the following poems, who not only left it to time to do him juftice as it would, but to find him out as it could. For, what between too great attention to his profit as a player, and too little to his reputation as a poet, his works, left to the care of door-keepers and prompters, hardly escaped the common fate of those writings, how good foever, which are abandoned to their own fortune, and unprotected by party or cabal. At length, indeed, they struggled into light; but fo difguifed and travefted, that no claffick author, after having run ten fecular stages