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The aim of the Publisher of this Edition has been to present, in a handsome and convenient form, and at a moderate price, a complete and accurate version of the whole of SHAKESPEARE'S DRAMATIC WORKS. The Text has been carefully collated from the most approved versions. No new readings have been introduced; but the best authorities have been followed in those which have been selected. The Biographical Introduction contains the story of the Poet's life, and omits, it is believed, no fact of any importance that is known regarding him : the writer requests that it should be here stated, in justice to others, that the duty of editing the Text was not undertaken by him.
THERE is no name in the world of literature like the name of WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. Homer broke as a sudden dawn through the darkness of the earlier ages, and sang the grandest of heroic songs. Dante, when the gods of Homer were no more, towered up, proud and solitary, with his sad and golemn dreams, his fierce hate, and his majestic love. Milton opened the gates of death, of heaven, and of hell, and saw visions such as no man ever saw before or will see again. But Homer, Dante, and Milton do not live in our heart of hearts, do not twine round our affections, do not satisfy our souls as SHAKESPEARE does. Here and there we may find touches of more daring sublimity, passages more steeped in learning, lines more instinct with abstract thought; but the greatest and best interpreter of human nature, the poet of the widest sympathies, of the most delicate perceptions, of the profoundest knowledge of mankind, a greater sculptor than Phidias, a truer painter than Raphael, came into the world at the pleasant town of Stratford-upon-Avon in April, 1564.
He lived fifty-two years, he wrote thirty-seven
plays and some miscellaneous poems, he was buried in the town in which he was born, and his name has ever since filled the world. His works are now one of the luxuries of life. It would be difficult to conceive of ourselves as still unacquainted with Hamlet, and Macbeth, and Lear, and Othello. The realms of fancy would appear uninhabited if SHAKESPEARE'S creations were withdrawn from them. Men are prouder of the earth on which they live, and of themselves, because he was one of their fellow-men. Coleridge called him the “myriadminded;" and well he might, for there was no mood or phase of mind which he did not realize. The most absolute courage, the most perfect manliness were not less inherent in him than the most winning gentleness, the most exquisite tenderness. The exuberance of his art is only equalled by the profoundness of his pathos. As a moral teacher he takes precedence of all other uninspired writers. Vice never looks so odious, nor crime so execrable, as when placed under the burning light of his indignation : the simplest virtue, the humblest effort to do good, never shine so fair as when breathed upon by him.
The endless multiplication of editions of Shakespeare is the natural consequence of the effect he produces and the benefits he confers. These benefits were felt in his lifetime, and have been acknowledged at all times since with an ever-increasing enthusiasm. It is a mistake to suppose, as some writers have done, that Shakespeare was at any period little read or lightly estimated. No doubt, as education and habits of reading came to be more widely diffused the demand for his works increased; but among those who did read, in the latter half of the sixteenth century and downwards, Shakespeare was from the first and continuously felt to be a new power and a new delight. All his most distinguished contemporaries regarded him with love and admiration. His plays speedily attained the highest favour at Court; Queen Elizabeth and her successor James openly declared their preference for them. When Shakespeare died, Charles I. was Prince of Wales and Milton was a school-boy. One of the favourite amusements of the prince was to witness representations of the Shakesperian drama at Whitehall; and Milton, unfettered by that Puritanism which rejected as evil everything connected with the stage, dedicated to the great poet who had preceded him one of the noblest sonnets in our language. Dryden followed Milton, and Pope came after Dryden, and in the day and generation of both Shakespeare's star shone conspicuous, worshipped by none more than by the authors of the “Religio Laici” and the “Dunciad.”
In the year 1623, within seven years of Shakespeare's death, a complete edition of his plays was published, with a glowing dedication to his friends, the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery. A second edition, in folio like the first, was brought out in 1632, a third in 1664, and a fourth in 1685. Throughout the whole of the eighteenth century