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Here a disregard of the contractions, and the printing of these lines thus,
“Beguiled, divorced, wronged, spited, slain,”
“Despised, distressed, hated, martyred, killed," — would either destroy the rhythm or put the reader at fault in that regard until he had examined them. And in Love's Labour's Lost, Act IV. Sc. 2, how out of character it would be for the pedant Holofernes to speak in our modern clipped way of Dull's exhibition of his " undress'd, unpolish'd, uneducated, unprun'd, untrain’d, or rather, unletter'd, or ratherest, unconfirm’d fashion," instead of “his undressed, unpolished, uneducated, unpruned, untrained, or rather, unlettered, or ratherest, unconfirmed fashion”
”! The passage is prose; but it is worthy of special remark that the old copy makes these distinctions no less carefully in prose than in verse, and that the folio is most carefully printed in this respect. So in Troilus and Cressida, Act II. Sc. 3, where Thersites says, according to the old copy, “If I could have remembered a guilt counterfeit thou would'st not have slipt out of my contemplation,” we may be sure that it is not by mere accident that we do not find . remembred, or remember'd, wouldest,' and slipped. Yet the indications of the old copies in this instance, as in almost all of like character in prose passages, have hitherto been disregarded. And what is worse than a uniform disregard, they have been observed in some instances and disregarded in others, even in the same passage. Thus in Julius Cæsar, Act I. Sc. 2, the first part of one of Casca's speeches is printed thus in the folio: “ Marry, before he fell downe, when he perceiv'd the VOL. I.
common Heard was glad he refus'd the Crowne, he pluckt me open his doublet, and offer'd them his Throat to cut.” Here the contraction of perceived' is observed in the Variorum of 1821, and by Mr. Collier, but the others are disregarded, which is more confusing than the disregard of all in other editions.
The contraction of ed when it follows a vowel, as in sued' and died,' has, I believe, been hitherto disregarded. But it was not disregarded in Shakespeare's time, or even by the careless printers of dramatic poetry in his day. And with good reason, as will be seen by the following examples :
" But he's a tried and a valiant soldier.”
Julius Cæsar, Act IV. Sc. 1.
“ by which account Our business valued some twelve months hence."
1 Henry the Fourth, Act III. Sc. 2. “ Lord Bassianus lies embrued here."
Titus Andronicus, Act II. Sc. 4.
In these passages, unless tried,' valued,' and 'embrued' have their full participial pronunciation, the first as a dissyllable, the last two as trisyllables, the verse becomes prose. The particularity with which this contraction was observed is shown in a passage in Othello, where learned, which to this day we pronounce, when it is a participial adjective, as a dissyllable, even colloquially, was contracted by Shakespeare, for the nonce, into a monosyllable : —
“ And knows all qualities with a learn'd spirit.” This, I believe, is the only instance of Shakespeare's use of this word as a monosyllable; and yet, although
the folio misprints “qualities" "quantities” in the same line, the contraction is marked, with a carefulness which has not been imitated by modern editors.
Quite as important as the contraction of syllables is the elision of final and initial letters, by which two words are compressed into one ; and yet this has been almost as generally disregarded as the other. When Shakespeare wrote in one line of Macbeth,
" Boil thou first i th' charmed pot ;”. and in another,
" In the cauldron boil and bubble ; in a prose passage, “ fold it, write upon't, read it, afterwards seal it; in Lear, in two contiguous lines,
“O Regan, wilt thou take her by the hand ? Why not by th’ hand, sir ? How have I offended ?” and in Hamlet,
“ Sith not th' exterior nor the inward man,” he meant something by these distinctions. Yet they are almost, if not quite, universally ignored by editors. No one of these cases is in itself of much importance ; but the sum of all the cases of similar neglect in these plays is of great importance. Perfect accuracy in this respect is attainable only, if attainable at all, by the minutest attention on the part of the editor. It will not do to adopt a printing office rule in this matter; for Shakespeare used contractions and elisions more and more freely as he grew older; and thus they are one of our guides in determining the dates at which his plays were written.
The question has been seriously mooted whether the peculiar and irregular grammatical forms of the old text should be preserved. But it seems to me that there is no good ground of doubt upon this subject. I can see no reason for printing Shakespeare's text, either in this respect or in any other, as if it were written yesterday. The variations of that text from our present syntactical standard are minute and comparatively few; but such as they are, they are characteristic of the time when these plays were produced. The very incongruities of the old text in this respect are a trait of the period, indicating generally a transition stage in certain syntactical forms. Thus we have in the Lord's Prayer, and in many other passages of our English Bible, “Our Father which art in heaven," but elsewhere, for instance, “ Hannah said unto Eli, I am the woman who stood by thee here, praying unto the Lord.” And here the latter pronoun was consciously introduced; for Coverdale and the Genevan Bible both have “ the woman that,” &c. Now, the attempt to secure conformity to the prevailing syntax by reading, “ Our Father who art,” or uniformity, by reading, “I am the woman which stood,” would be unjustifiable. Such peculiarities are subject to the same rule which applies to the individual irregularities of a writer, which are as much a trait of his mental character as any other peculiarity of style, and are therefore to be carefully preserved. An editor's function is to think, not for, but with, his author. Therefore such passages as the following have not been regulated according to a modern, or even a uniform, standard in this edition : -“ Is crown'd so soon, and broke his solemn oath ; " " His scandal of retire ; " " is set him down to sleep ; ” “those powers ... have arriv'd our coast ;” “ the wind who woos,” “my armed knees who bowed ; ” “ Earth hath swallowed all my hopes but she;" “ All debts are cleared between you and I;" “ That fair for which love groaned for;” “In what enormity is Marcus poor in?” “Shall's (shall us] to the Capitol ?” “What he is, more suits you to conceive than I to speak of.” Such syntactical irregularities as these are too thickly strewn through the literature of the Elizabethan period to be slips of the pen, or printer's errors.
The evils which may result from one editor's trusting to another in matters of authority are great ; because, however careful, we are all liable to error. Examples might be pointed out in the work of even the most competent editors. Therefore all readings and quotations in this edition, with exceedingly rare exceptions, have been given not at second hand, - as I have found is too frequently the case, — but from the originals ; the excepted cases being passages in two of the earlier quartos and two or three extremely rare books, copies of which have not yet floated over to us, in which recourse has been had to the next best authority, the careful reprints of these volumes under the eyes of the most eminent Elizabethan. scholars of England, compared with such collations as those of Capell and Mr. Dyce. The copy of the folio of 1623 which I have constantly used is that in the Astor Library, which is the well-known copy formerly in the collection of the Duke of Buckingham at Stowe. But I have also, whenever it seemed desirable, had the privilege of examining the admirable copy of the first folio, now in the noble Shakespearian library of Mr. Thomas P. Barton of New York, which entire collection, indeed, has at all times been open to me for consultation