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OF THE ABBREVIATED REFERENCE TO THE CONTEXT, APPENDED TO
EACH EXTRACT OR QUOTATION.
A.C. Antony and Cleopatra.
Second. H. VI. Pt. 1. Henry Sixth, Part
First. H. VI. PT. II. Henry Sixth, Part
K. L. King Lear.
The Act is expressed by Roman numerals; the Scene by Arabio figures.
EXAMPLE: A. C. iv. 7, signifies, Antony and Cleopatra, Act the Fourth, Scene the Seventh.
The matchless genius of Shakespeare has furnished occupation for authors, from the very age in which he wrote, down to the present day; so that, independent of the innumerable editions of his plays, from the original authentic copies, to the modern mutilations represented under his name upon the stage, we have more than two hundred works of which Shakespeare and his writings are the subject.
Such being the case, it may be thought necessary, for one who ventures to add to the number, to offer some apology to the public for so doing. That tendered for the present compilation is founded on the belief, that among all these works, there does not exist one which effectively occupies the ground here taken, and very few which even attempt to connect Shakespeare's felicitous expressions -exhibiting, as they do, a matchless insight into human naturewith the various casualties, motives, and objects of ordinary life. Such a task, if performed with judgment and faithfulness, could hardly fail to prove both pleasing and useful. In support of the opinion that this task yet remained to be accomplished, it will be necessary to submit a few observations concerning the works which profess to have the same object, upon the comparative merits of which with the SHAKESPEARIAN DICTIONARY, its pretensions to public favour must be founded.
Ayscough's “Index to Shakespeare," is a work of great labour, and, as a verbal compilation, is doubtless of utility; but it is a dictionary of the poet's words, rather than of his expressions, giving only so much of the context as was necessary to elucidate the peculiar sense wherein each word is to be understood, and connecting this with remarkable speeches only by means of references. From almost any arrangement of the words of such an author, occasional scintillations will necessarily flash out; but in
this case, the pleasing effect, which thus occurs, is destroyed when we arrive at the next word in the catalogue. We may learn to number the occasions wherein each word recurs throughout the author's writings, but what have the imagination or the feelings to do with such a calculation? We may, indeed, retain the consciousness we bring with us of treading on hallowed ground, but feel not the inspiring influence of the divinity.
Certain smaller compilations, put forth under the captivating title of “Beauties of Shakespeare," contain only the more remarkable speeches, and, for the most part, are confined to such as are clothed in verse ; omitting altogether the thousands of expressions strewed profusely throughout the prose speeches and colloquies, wherein are to be found all those most surprising flashes of description, alternating from the grotesque to the sublime, which peculiarly distinguish the Bard of Avon from all other writers, either ancient or modern.
In this class of compilations must be included a work, published about ten years since, “by the author of the Peerage and Baronetage Chart,” and called "A Dictionary of Quotations from Shakespeare ;" but the same objection that attends the “ Beauties,” must be made against the “ Dictionary.” The quotations are given exclusively from the measured poetry of the author, while the prose speeches and colloquies are wholly neglected. Fearful of being suspected of speaking unfairly, concerning a work which comes, perhaps, the nearest in collision with the present, a specimen is here introduced, whence the reader may form some opinion of the editorial discrimination which has been exhibited. Unver the head of Drunkenness, the description of Danish regal ceremonies is introduced from Hamlet:
“ Give me the cups;
Under the same head we find inserted the pledge of returning
“Give me a bowl of wine ;