Page images

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1871, by

In the office of the Libraten Congress, at Washington.









It is now nearly fifty years since the last so-called Variorum Edition of Shakespeare, edited by Boswell, (the son of Johnson's biographer,) was published in twenty-one octavo volumes; and whatever may be the defects of the notes therein collected, and however much they may seem to justify the contempt heaped upon 'Shakespearian commentators,' or be sneered at as 'necessary evils,' that edition remains to this day the storehouse whence succeeding editors of Shakespeare have drawn copious supplies of illustration and criticism. It is indispensable to a thorough study of Shakespeare-as necessary to Shakespeare as Orelli to Horace, or Dissen to Pindar. Not that an acquaintance with this mass of commentary is essential to the enjoyment of Shakespeare's plays, or that there may not be even a very full appreciation of their marvellous beauties as they appear in the unaided text. A man may be a good Christian without any knowledge of the commentaries on the Bible, and yet no one questions their value.

Nevertheless, valuable as the Variorum of 1821 is, it is very far from supplying the needs of Shakespeare students at the present day. It is in fact merely rudimentary. In the fifty years that have elapsed since its publication, Shakespearian criticism has made great progress, greater in fact than during any other preceding half-century; and, although in the list of recent editors are found no such worldrenowned names as Pope and Johnson, yet Shakespeare has never had critics who brought to their task greater learning, keener critical sagacity and more reverential love than have been shown by his more modern editors. The student of Shakespeare is no longer offended by the patronizing tone in which it was the wont to refer to our author'

our poet,' obscure passages are no longer termed 'nonsense'


[ocr errors]

A *

which must be reformed,' and the cry of ‘bad grammar' is hushed. The art of writing notes by exclaiming at the 'asinine tastelessness of preceding critics, so wittily described by Dr. Johnson, is happily becoming one of the lost arts, and scathing invective over matters which might seem to exercise the wit without engaging the passions,' has disappeared before a single desire to make clear what is obscure.

The valuable notes, however, of such editors as Knight, Singer, Collier, Ulrici, Delius, Dyce, Hudson, Staunton, White, Clarke, Keightley, and Halliwell, are to be found only in as many different volumes ; and to gather the comments of these critics on doubtful

passages involves no small amount of labour and much delay.

pour and much delay. To abridge the labour and to save the time by collecting these comments after the manner of a Variorum and presenting them, on the same page, in a condensed form, in connection with the difficulties which they explain, is the purpose and plan of the present edition.

A review of the critical labours of preceding editors,

• Many for many virtues excellent,
• None but for some, and yet all different,'

belongs more properly to the general Preface of all the Plays rather than to the Preface of a single Play, even if such a review be not, under any circumstances, impertinent in an edition like the present, where every editor speaks for himself.

The appearance, in 1863, of the so-called Cambridge Edition created an era in Shakespearian literature, and put all students of Shakespeare's text in debt to the learned and laborious editors: Messrs. Glover, Clark, and Wright.

In the Cambridge Edition, at the foot of every page, is given a thorough and minute collation of the Quartos and Folios and a majority of the variæ lectiones of many modern editors, together with many conjectural emendations, proposed, but not adopted into any text—the result on the part of the editors of very extensive reading. It is hardly possible to over-estimate the critical and textual value of such an edition.

The respect, however, wherein the plan of the Cambridge Edition is

« PreviousContinue »