« PreviousContinue »
but on the other hand, those who are interested in watching the legitimate development of European commerce and navigation in Eastern Asia, as well as the numerous class who view the subject in a simply philanthropic light, will continue to cherish an earnest hope that well-considered measures may ere long be adopted, to bring the Corean people, under adequate safeguards for their protection against violence and oppression, into beneficial relations with the remainder of mankind. The undertaking is one in which all maritime nations have an identical interest, and one which should be jointly prosecuted to a successful end.
ART. II. - Shakespeare: The First Collected Edition of the
Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare. A Reproduction in Exact Fac-Simile of the Famous First Folio, 1623, by the newly-discovered Process of Photo-Lithography. Under
the superintendence of H. STAUNTON. London : 1866. MR. R. GLADSTONE, in his Essay on the Place of Homer in
Education,' notices the tradition of a certain Dorotheus, who spent the whole of his life in endeavouring to elucidate the meaning of a single word in Homer, and seems to suggest that the time thus occupied was not altogether wasted. Without going quite so far as this, most critics will probably agree in his general conclusion, that no exertion * spent upon any of the great classics of the world, and attended
with any amount of real result, is thrown away.' Unfortunately the greatest classic in the literatures of the world affords as much scope for this kind of labour as any of his reputed peers, not excepting the object of Mr. Gladstone's critical devotion. The oldest and most authoritative editions of Shakspeare are, it is well known, crowded with verbal errors, textual corruptions, and metrical obscurities. They include, indeed, almost every species of literary and typographical confusion which haste, ignorance, and carelessness in the multiplication and fortuitous printing of manuscript copies could produce. After a century and a half of critical labour, embracing three great schools of editors and commentators, the text of these dramas is only now partially purged from the obvious blots and stains that disfigure the earliest editions. And it is only within the last ten years that the results of this prolonged critical labour have been condensed, and exhibited in a thoroughly scientific shape, by the acute and learned editors of the Cambridge Shakspeare.
By means of this most useful and scholarlike edition, any cultivated and intelligent reader may form some estimate of the net result and general value of Shakspearian criticism. A comparison of the best modern readings with those of the Quartos and Folios will show in what numberless instances the text has been corrected, amended, and even restored. Those who have never made such a comparison would be surprised to find how many familiar phrases, and passages, some too regarded as peculiarly Shakspearian, are due to the happy conjectures of successive textual scholars. Rowe and Pope, the first critical editors, being themselves poets, are peculiarly felicitous in their suggested emendations. But even the more prosaic Theobald's single-minded and persistent devotion was surprisingly successful in the same direction. His labours were, however, still more fruitful in restoring neglected readings from the First Folio which neither of his predecessors had consulted with any care.
The first school of critics, indeed, brought native sagacity rather than minute or accurate learning to the task of clearing up the difficulties of Shakspeare's text. They satisfied themselves with correcting the more obvious misprints of the Folios, and endeavouring to relieve, by conjectural emendations, some of their corruptest passages.
The second school of editors represented by Capell, Stevens, and Malone, were diligent students of the Elizabethan literature, and found no difficulty therefore in explaining many words and phrases that had perplexed and baffled their predecessors. For elucidating the obscurities of the text, they relied more on illustration than on conjectured emendation. Many passages which the early editors, through ignorance of Elizabethan manners, usages, and allusions, had regarded as corrupt, were amply vindicated from the charge by the more exact and minute knowledge of the later. The third, and more recent school of editors and critics, represented by Knight and Collier, Dyce and Staunton, while combining the distinctive excellences of the previous schools, have specially developed what may be regarded as the most fruitful branch of Shakspearian criticism--that of apt and illuminating illustrations from contemporary literature. The researches of Knight, Dyce, and Staunton in particular have satisfactorily explained many phrases and allusions regarded by previous editors as hopelessly ambiguous and obscure, if not altogether unintelligible. While thus working in the right direction, the modern school has, however, exemplified afresh the conflict between authority and criticism which must always prevail with regard to an original text, at once so important and so defective as that of Shakspeare's dramas. Mr. Knight, in his admiration of the First Folio, yielded a somewhat exclusive deference to authority. Mr. Collier, again, partly no doubt from the accident of possessing the Perkin's Folio, went to the other extreme, becoming the champion of conjectural emendation in its most licentious forms. Mr. Dyce and Mr. Staunton hold the balance comparatively even, but in the hands of the Cambridge editors it again inclines more decisively towards the side of authority. On the whole, the result of recent criticism and research has been to strengthen the position of the First Folio, and check the recurrent tendency to get rid of textual difficulties by ingenious, but often rash and ignorant, conjecture.
This result is in all respects a satisfactory one. Conjectural emendation is at best a double-edged instrument, to be wielded in safety only on rare occasions and by the most skilful hands. The eager Shakspearian student is, however, continually tempted to cut the Gordian knot of a difficulty by its summary use. The temptation should be steadfastly resisted on pain, for the most part, of reading into the poet's lines a foreign and prosaic sense, instead of bringing fully out their real but latent meaning. In the majority of cases the practice of substituting his own language for the poet's simply depraves the text, and injures the finer sensibilities of the critic. Those who indulge in it too freely, however naturally gifted, soon lose that respect for the poet's words, and scrupulous care for his meaning, which is the foundation of all sound and illuminating criticism.
There is little danger of any excess in the other main department of critical labour, that of illustrating from appropriate sources the obscurer terms and allusions of Shakspeare's text. In this direction there is still ample scope, "room and verge • enough,' for the labours of Shakspearian students. The fact is in itself one of the most striking proofs of Shakspeare's marvellous universality. That anything should remain to be elucidated after the life-long devotion of so many learned and acute commentators is surprising enough. But Shakspeare's vision of life is so wide, his moral insight so profound, his knowledge and sympathies so vitalised and universal, and his command of language so absolute, that every part in the wide circle of contemporary learning and experience may throw some light on his pages. In particular, his birthright of pregnant speech is so imperial that he seems to appropriate by a kind of royal prerogative the more expressive elements of diction in every department of human attainment and activity. No section of life or thought is too humble for his regard; rone too lofty for his sympathetic appreciation. The day-spring of his serene and glorious intellect illuminates and vivifies the whole. The more prominent features of that great world are familiar to all cultivated English readers. The order and organisation of the several parts have been diligently studied and eloquently expounded by the critics. But there are still hidden nooks and obscure recesses which even the most curious and painstaking observers have failed to explore. On these, special investigation and persistent research may yet throw some light. Such researches are, moreover, within the reach of students who could hardly be considered Shakspearian scholars in the higher and technical sense of the term. The complete Shakspearian scholar ought to have a minute and exhaustive, but at the same time vital acquaintance with the whole Elizabethan period, its entire universe of knowledge and experience. This can only be gained by the thorough and prolonged study of its history and literature, including the most fugitive and evanescent productions, such as songs, ballads, and chap-books, squibs and letters, pamphlets and broadsides. Few even of the more devoted Shakspearian critics have reached this ideal standard. Many hands, however, make light work, and much may be done in the way of Shakspearian interpretation by the separate contributions of students who have been able to cultivate only a small portion of the wide field. The humblest labourer may add his mite to the constantly-accumulating stores of sterling commentary and illustration,
Many of the sources whence elucidations of Shakspeare's obscure passages may be drawn lie on the surface, and are well known. His writings abound, for example, with terms and phrases, similes, metaphors, and allusions derived from field sports, such as hunting and hawking; from games of chance and skill, such as cards and dice, bowls and tennis; from the military and self-defensive arts, such as archery and fencing; from fashionable pastimes, such as music and dancing; and from popular natural history—the whole folk-flora and folkfauna of the time. The more obvious, and many of the more obscure allusions connected with these branches of popular knowledge and practice, have been amply explained by successive editors. Some, however, have been overlooked, and in the present paper we purpose giving a few illustrations of these neglected allusions. We shall offer an explanation of some passages in Shakspeare, either given up by critics and commentators as hopelessly unintelligible, or only very imperfectly and erroneously explained. So far at least as we are acquainted with Shakspearian criticism, most of the explanations now proposed of obscure terms, phrases, and allusions are new,—have not been in any way anticipated by previous writers on the subject. Even a very partial acquaintance with the wide field of Shakspearian criticism suggests, however, the propriety of some hesitation and reserve in announcing novelties of interpretation. Every persistent student of Shakspeare must have found, again and again, that what he at first imagined to be discoveries had been anticipated by previous writers, illustrious or obscure. In general, however, the best modern editions represent in a condensed form, either in notes or glossary, the main results of previous criticism. If they leave a difficulty unnoticed, or give only a vague and conjectural explanation, it may be assumed with tolerable certainty that no better solution has yet been offered. In the same way the Variorum Edition gives the main results of Shakspearian criticism up to the date of its publication. In offering the following elucidations as novelties, it is meant therefore that they solve difficulties left unexplained by the Variorum Edition, by modern editors, by the ablest independent critics, such as Douce, Hunter, Walker, and White, and, so far as the writer is aware, by all previous commentators on Shakspeare.
We may begin with a few illustrations from popular field sports, which in Shakspeare's day meant very much hawking and hunting. These furnish the poet with almost inexhaustible materials of imagery and allusion. In particular, the sportive warfare in the fields and woods with the nobler kinds of chace and game, afforded the aptest phrases, similes, and metaphors for picturing vividly the sterner realities of martial conflict, 'the pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war.' Such references occur again and again, and many of them are even now only partially explained. In · Coriolanus, for example, in the wonderful scene between the servants in the house of Aufidius, such an allusion occurs. While the servants who had resisted the intruder are talking together in the hall about the sudden arrival and ceremonious entertainment of their master's great enemy, a third hastily approaches from the banquetingroom with the news that it has been just determined, at the suggestion of Coriolanus, to march against Rome.
. Sec. Serv. Why, then we shall have a stirring world again. This peace is nothing, but to rust iron, increase tailors, and breed balladmakers.
• First Serv. Let me have war, say I; it exceeds peace as far as day does night; it's spritely, waking, audible, and full of vent. Peace is a very apoplexy, lethargy, mulled, deaf, sleepy, insensible; a getter of more bastard children than war's a destroyer of men.'