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IN adding another to the many editions of Shakspeare already published, it may be justly expected
that the promoters should shew on what peculiar grounds they rest their claims to preference. The mere multiplying of impressions, unaccompanied by some distinctive excellence, would be to confer no benefit on the Public, and be productive of little advantage to themselves. Aware of the justice of this position, the Proprietors of the present Edition are desirous of briefly stating what they conceive to be fair reasons why they should hope to at least divide the palm with their competitors.
As a chief object, they have laboured for CORRECTNESS. The Reader is assured, that the following pages have not been passed through the press in a hasty or slovenly manner. The utmost diligence has been used to prevent the occurrence of errors; and the best edition of Johnson, Steevens, and Reed, has been diligently consulted, even to the scrupulous revision of every point.
A principal feature, by which the present Edition is distinguished from all others yet published in a single volume, is the valuable illustrative matter with which it is enriched. All that could tend to elucidate the text, or illumine the obscurity which envelopes the great Bard and the Dramatic History of his time, has been collected from every authentic source, and the essence of many scarce and high-priced volumes, only to be found in the libraries of the opulent, presented for the first time to the General Reader. The Variorum Notes are placed at the end of the volume, to prevent the interruption and confusion arising from their accompanying the text, and those only preserved which tend to elucidate real difficulties. The Glossary we may affirm to be more copious than in any other edition.
There are fifty-one Embellishments, engraved by the best artists. Those which accompany the Prolegomena cannot fail to prove interesting, and the Illustrations to the Plays and Poems are from the designs of the most eminent masters. Some stress may also be laid on the fine Head of Shakspeare, and the very novel feature of the Eight Portraits of eminent by-gone Performers, who have been distinguished for personating his characters. But the main point, on which the real value of their labours must inevitably depend, is, the extreme cheapness of their volume, which presents the entire Works of our immortal Poet, adorned by the talents of the critic, the antiquary, and the engraver, at the very low price usually charged for a common and incorrect edition of his PLAYS ALONE, without either Poems, Hlustrative Matter, or Embellishments; and the Proprietors cannot but feel they have attained an object of no mean importance, in thus placing within the reach of the humblest Reader, the cheapest and most complete Edition of the Works of Shakspeare that has ever yet been published.
As several of our best Commentators have agreed in rejecting the plays of Titus Andronicus and Pericles, some apology may be expected for retaining them. Steevens's excuse for the same proceeding may be fairly quoted :-Some ancient prejudices in their favour may still exist; to which may be added, that they have usually accompanied all editions of repute.
Biographical Memoir of Shakspeare.
AFTER all the laborious research which has been expended on the subject of Shakspeare's biography, few particulars are known on those points which would be most gratifying to the curiosity of his rational admirers. We may trace his ancestors to the doomsday book, and his posterity till they dwindle into tongueless obscurity; but of his own habits and domestic character we know comparatively nothing. During his early days, his path in life was so humble, that all our inquiries necessarily terminate in disappointment; and of the more busy period of his existence, when he wrote for the stage, and was the public favourite, his remarkable humility of mind and manners induced him to avoid the eye of notoriety; and, unfortunately, there was no Boswell or Medwin to make memoranda of his conversations, or transmit to our times a fac-simile of the great dramatist in the familiar moments of relaxation and friendly intercourse. Such hiatuses in the life of Shakspeare cannot now be supplied; more than two hundred years have elapsed since his mortal remains were left to moulder beneath a tomb, over which Time has shaken the dust of his wings too often to allow of our recovering details, local and fugitive, however interesting. Rowe was the first, whose researches elicited anything like a satisfactory memoir of our great bard. Poets and critics have laboriously re-trodden his steps; the genius of Pope and the acumen of Johnson have been employed on the same subject, but the sun of their adoration had gone down before their intellectual telescopes were levelled to discover its perfections. Malone has done the most, and appears indeed to have exhausted the subject; but, from inadvertency or carelessness, he has overlooked many particulars which deserve preservation. Having turned over a variety of books, and consulted every accessible authority, we shall attempt to condense, under one head, such recollections of Shakspeare, as are at present scattered over many volumes, as well as the more obvious and familiar portions of his history. It appears a family, designated indifferently Sharper, Shakespeare, Shakspere, and Shakspeare, were well known in Warwickshire during the sixteenth century. Rowe says: "It seems by the register and other public writings of Stratford, that the poet's family were of good figure and fashion there, and are mentioned as gentlemen."
This account turns out to be very incorrect; for on reference to the authorities cited, we find that the Shakspeares, though their property was respectable, never rose above the rank of tradesmen or husbandmen. Nothing is known of the immediate ancestors of John Shakspeare, the poet's father, who was originally a glover, afterwards a butcher, and in the last place, a wool-stapler, in the town of Stratford. Being very industrious, his wealth gave him importance among his neighbours, and having served various offices in the borough with credit, he ultimately obtained its supreme municipal honours, being elected high-bailiff, at Michaelmas, 1568. His townsfolk no doubt considered this the summit of earthly felicity; but however reverend the corporation of Stratford in its own estimation, we cannot but smile at these erudite sages, out of nineteen of whom, as we find from their signatures, attached to a public document, 1564, only seven were able to write their names. While chief magistrate of the borough, and on his marriage with Mary Arden, he obtained a grant of arms from the Herald's College, and was allowed to impale his own achievement with that of the ancient family of the Ardens.
In the deed respecting John Shakspeare, his property is declared to be worth five hundred pounds, a sum by no means inconsiderable in those days; and, on the whole, we have sufficient evidence of his worldly prosperity. From some unexplained causes, however, his affairs began to alter for the worse about 1574, and after employing such expedients to relieve his growing necessities as in the end served only to aggravate them, he at length fell into such extreme poverty, that he was obliged to give security for a debt of five pounds; and a distress issuing for the seizure of his goods, it was returned: "Joh'es Shakspere nihil habet unde distr. potest levari." (John Shakspere has no effects on which a distraint can be levied.) During the last ten years his life we have no particular account of his circumstances; but, as in 1597 he describes himself as "of very small wealth and very few friends," we may justly suppose that he remained in great indigence. He seems, indeed, to have fallen into decay with his native town, the trade of which was almost ruined; as we may learn from the supplication of the burgesses, in 1590. The town had then "fallen into much decay, for want of such trade as heretofore they had by
clothing, and making of yarn, employing and maintaining a number of poor people by the same, which now live in great penury and misery, by reason they are not set at work as before they have been."
John Shakspeare died in 1601. His family consisted of eight children, Jane, Margaret, William, Gilbert, Lorie, Anne, Richard, and Edmund. Lorie and Margaret died when but a few months old. Of Gilbert nothing is known but the register of his baptism. Jane married one Hart, a hatter of Stratford, and died in 1646, leaving three sons. She is mentioned with much kindness in her illustrious brother's will; and the descendants of her children were to be found in Stratford within these few years. In 1794, a house of Shakspeare's, in Henley-street, belonged to Thomas Hart, a butcher, and the sixth in descent from Jone. Anne Shakspeare died an infant; Richard, according to the parish register, was buried in 1612. Edmund Shakspeare, actuated probably by his brother's reputation at the theatre, became an actor: he performed at the Globe, lived in St. Saviour's, Southwark, and was interred in the churchyard of that parish, on the 31st of December, 1607.
William Shakspeare was born April 23d, 1564, at Stratford-upon-Avon. The house, in which the poet first saw the light, was bought in 1597, from a family of the name of Underhill. It had been called the great house, not because it is really large, but on account of its having been at that time the best in the town. In its present dilapidated state, the ablest artists have exerted their skill, to preserve the outline of so remarkable a building for the gratification of posterity, and the most minute particulars concerning it have been collected with the utmost avidity.
The chamber, in which our unrivalled dramatist is said to have drawn his first breath, is pencilled over with names of innumerable visitors in every grade of life. Royalty has been proud to pay this simple tribute to exalted intellect; and genius has paused in its triumphis, to inscribe these hallowed walls with the brief sentences which record its love and veneration for the wonderful
This house, so venerable on account of its former inmate, is now divided, one part being a butcher's shop, and the other a public-house.
Of Shakspeare's infancy we know nothing, except that he narrowly escaped falling a victim to the plague, which at that time almost depopulated his native town. We next find him at the free grammar-school of Stratford, where we may suppose he acquired the “small Latin and less Greek,” for which Ben Jonson gives him credit. But even this imperfect species of education was soon interrupted, the poverty of his father presenting an insurmountable obstacle to his further progress. There can be little doubt, however, that his quick and apprehensive mind would profit materially even by this limited supply of instruction. In after life, he seems to have been acquainted with Italian and French, but these languages he probably acquired through his own unassisted industry. He now for a considerable period remained at home, and attended to his father's occupation, that
of a butcher; and Aubrey, an author in whom we should not put implicit confidence, relates that young Shakspeare killed a calf "in high style," and graced the slaughter with an oration. The same writer informs us, that growing disgusted with this employment, he commenced schoolmaster, but this, from his juvenility at the time mentioned, is highly improbable.
Shakspeare's eighteenth year was scarcely past, when, relinquishing his school, or his office, (for Malone makes him an attorney's clerk,) he ventured to contract that important engagement, on which the happiness or misery of life generally turns. He selected for his wife Anne Hathaway, the daughter of a reputable yeoman in the vicinity of Stratford. At her marriage, she was eight years older than her husband, and Shakspeare's domestic felicity does not appear to have been advanced by the connection. In the year following, 1583, his daughter Susanna was born; and in eighteen months afterwards, his wife bore him twins, a boy and a girl, baptized by the names of Hamnet and Judith. This was the whole of the poet's family from which we are perhaps justified in concluding as there are other circumstances to strengthen the opinion, that his connubial lot was not enviable; indeed, his wife's years were so ill-assorted to his own, that little congeniality of sentiment was to be expected. Hamnet, Shakspeare's only son, died at the early age of twelve years, a event long and deeply regretted: the daughters Susanna and Judith, were married, and had chil dren. Shakspeare's last lineal descendant wa Lady Barnard, buried, in 1670, at Abingdon in Berkshire. Some branches of the family still exist and are resident at Tewkesbury and Stratford they are in great indigence, and it reflects disgrac on the age, that a proposal for their benefit, recentl made, received hardly any attention. Surely, whe our nobility patronise the refuse of society, in th shape of pedestrians and pugilists, their generosit might be exercised in succouring those who claim kindred with him, who was the glory of his countr
and of human nature.
The marriage of our bard proved his want worldly prudence; nor was the next importan event of his life of a discreeter nature, yet it le to his London journey, and consequently was th first step towards his future distinction. speare (we quote from Dr. Drake,) was now t all appearances settled in the country; he wa carrying on his own and his father's business; b was married, and had a family around him; a situa tion in which the comforts of domestic privac might be predicted within his reach, but whic augured little of that splendid destiny, that univer sal fame, and unparalleled celebrity, which awai ed his future career." Mere trifles frequentl change the whole course of existence, and so happened in the present instance. Shakspeare companions were loose and dissolute, idle, and in moderately fond of pleasure, and some of the were in the frequent practice of deer-stealing. T embryo dramatist was often induced to join the in their predatory exploits, particularly in the intrusions on the property of sir Thomas Lucy, Charlecote, in the neighbourhood of Stratfor Detection followed; and Shakspeare, imagini himself treated with undue severity, aflixed in r venge a scurrilous ballad to the gate of Charl cote Park. The whole of this offensive producti has been recently discovered; we copy it as a c riosity, though it certainly does no credit to t head or heart of the author.
Complete Copy of the Verses on Sir Thomas Luc
A parliament member, a justice of peace,
He thinks bymself greate, yet an asse in hys state,
He's a haughty, proud, insolent knighte of the shire,
To the sessions he went, and did sorely complain
He said 'twas a ryot, his men had been beat,
So haughty was he when the fact was confess'd,
Though lucies a dozen he paints in his coat,
If a juvenile frolick he cannot forgive,
Sir Thomas, enraged at this aggravation of injury by insult, increased in harshness to the juvenile offender, who soon felt compelled to quit the home of his infancy, and the residence of his family. The time of his departure is doubtful; it was probably about 1585. This whole story, however, has lately fallen into disrepate, and his removal to London has been ascribed to natural inclination, or domestie infelicity; perhaps estrangement from his wife. This supposition is in a degree confirmed, by the negligent way in which she is noticed in his will; and the circumstance of his not living with her after 1584. It is singular too, that an entry appears in the Stratford register, which records the burial of a child named "Thomas Green, alias Shakspeare." The conclusion which may be drawn from this circumstance is evident. For the sake of the poet's memory, we trust that the deer-stealing story is fabulous; but it is certainly confirmed by several particulars in the Second Part of Henry IV. and, indeed, by the whole character of Justice Shallow.
The inhabitants of Shakspeare's native town were passionately fond of dramatic entertainments. Travelling companies of players appear to have visited Stratford on more than twenty occasions, between 1569, (when the poet was under six years of age,) and 1587. Burbage and Green, two celebrated actors, were his townsmen, and even from childhood his attention must have been attracted to the stage, by the powerful influence of novelty, and in all probability, by his personal acquaintance with some of the comedians. When, therefore, his views in life were unavoidably altered, it was natural that the theatre should present itself to his mind as his best asylum; and directing bis fugitive steps to the metropolis, he became a player, and in the end, a writer for the stage. The tale of Shakspeare's attending at the Globe, on his first arrival in London, to take the charge of gentlemen's horses, during the performance, is much doubted at present; but it seems likely that the first office he held in the theatre, was that of call-boy, or prompter's attendant. He did not long continue in that capacity, being soon admitted to perform minor parts in the popular plays of that period.
Shakspeare followed the profession of an actor apwards of seventeen years, and till within about thirteen years of his death; but we have good reason to suppose that six shillings and eight-pence a week was the highest reward of his dramatic efforts. Of his merit as a player, we have no positive data on which to found an estimate, and accordingly there is great difference of opinion among his critics. Tragedians and dramafists were not then so jealously watched as at present; diurnal reviewers were unknown, and an actor's fame depended entirely on the caprice of
judges, who were too frequently very incompetent to form a correct decision. From some satirical passages in the writings of his contemporaries, we may fairly suppose that he was not a favourite performer with the public. His instructions to the players in Hamlet, however, bespeak such mastery in their art, and are in themselves so excellent, that we are strongly inclined to believe, that his unpopularity must be attributed more to the bad taste of his auditors, than from the deficiency of his own powers. Acting, considered as a science, was then in its infancy; he that "strutted and bellowed" most, would be esteemed the best actor. Shakspeare's adherence to nature would be misunderstood, and his gentleness would be censured as
The only characters, which we know with certainty to have been personated by Shakspeare, are the Ghost in Hamlet, and Adam in As You Like It: his name appears in the list of players attached to Ben Jonson's Sejanus, and Every Man in his Humour; but it is sufficiently evident, that he never sustained any very important part; and, but for his genius as a poet, which neither indigence nor obscurity could repress, that name, which we now repeat with reverence and love, would have been lost in the darkness of oblivion. That Shakspeare was not more successful on the stage, might arise from the injustice and false taste of his audience; but this is hardly to be lamented, since, had he been eminent as an actor, he would probably have neglected composition. It may indeed be considered (says Dr. Drake) as a most fortunate circumstance for the lovers of dramatic poetry, that our author, in point of execution, did not attain to the loftiest summit of his profession. He would in that case, it is very probable, have either sat down content with the high reputation accruing to him from this source, or would have found little time for the labours of composition; and consequently, we should have been in a great degree, if not altogether, deprived of what now constitutes the noblest efforts of human genius."
Despised as an actor, Shakspeare aspired to distinction as an author; and notwithstanding his mighty capacity, he was for a long time content with altering and revising the productions of others. Of the dramas produced previous to 1600, there were some which abounded with felicitous ideas and effective situations; but the writers had used their materials with little skill, and the touch of a master was required, to reduce them to order and consistency. The noblest geniuses of the age did not refuse such employment. Decker, Rowley, Heywood, and Jonson, were often occupied in conferring value on such productions; and to this unthankful labour, the early efforts of our bard were modestly confined.
Dramatists were, generally speaking, abjectly poor; they were enthralled by managers, either for past favours, existing debts, or the well-founded apprehension of needing their assistance. What can be more affecting, than to find the illustrious Ben Jonson supplicating from Henslowe the advance of a sum so paltry as "five shillings?" The calling Shakspeare embraced was, in a majority of instances, anything rather than profitable: his mighty mind could scarcely have selected any sphere of action more barren of reward; but the camp, the senate, and the bar, were then almost exclusively filled by the young scions of nobility, and preferring to be first among his brother authors, however humble their prospects, he poured out all the wealth of his intellect on the stage, and laid the foundation of a renown, which is perpetually increasing, and is never likely to be equalled.
No portion of Shakspeare's history is more obscure than the period at which he first ventured to rely on the resources of his own mind, and produce