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The publication, however, is so close to the time, and some persons have attached so much importance to it, that though we do not think it intrinsically of much more value than as serving, in several instances, to confirm the notions, generally adopted, of typographical errors in the first folio, we have yet pointed out most of its variations, either in the margin or notes.
Not to interpose any thing of length between the author and his reader, we have thought it proper to throw the notes that are grammatical, philological, critical, historical, or explanatory of usages, to the end of each play; and at the bottom of the pages of the text, to give such only as were immediately necessary to explain our author's meaning. As to the number of our notes, the mixed and various scenes of Shakespeare embrace so great a variety and vast extent of matter, and talent and intelligence are so very variously and unequally distributed, that to adjust exactly the “ too much or too little,” is utterly impracticable. But though
we write for those who are in want of aid, and think it better that some should conceive offence at being taught, than that any should be at a loss for information, we have
made no comments but where we have felt
doubt ourselves, or seen that others have; and we have suffered nothing like difficulty to pass without offering our conjecture at least, or acknowledging our inability to remove it. The number may indeed have swelled beyond our wish : and it is true, that not a few of them have been written, lest the reader, misled by great names, should adopt what we conceive to be manifest error. Having taken the arrangement of the scenes, &c. from the current edition of Mr. Reed, and had that edition in our eye throughout, we have adopted a large portion of its notes ; as we have also many of the observations and illustrations of subsequent writers.
The tragedy of HAMLET has been chosen as a specimen; not as being the most perfect of our author's dramas, but because, in many points of view, it offered more matter for
discussion, than any other of his plays. At the same time, it has always excited a great degree of interest; and, as it ever has been, is now highly popular with the British public: and As You LIKE IT, a comedy of the highest general interest,ʻis, as we conceive, the most elegant of our author's compositions of this class.
This is all that it has been thought necessary to state with respect to the principle of the work. Of the work itself, we have only to say, that the materials for the whole have been long collected; and that more than the half of that whole has been worked up with as much care as the parts now presented to the public, without the least regard to what the play was, or distinction as to the degree of its merit or popularity. As to the order , in which the plays are to be printed, as well as in the division of acts and scenes, it is our purpose, consulting the convenience and habits of our readers, to follow the current edition, that of Johnson and Steevens, by Reed; as is done in the present specimen.
Licentious and conjectural emendation has not been confined merely to our author's text. His name has, without any sufficient warrant, and against the use and evidence of his own age, and a century and a half afterwards, been barbarously corrupted. As he published it, it was uniformly Shakespeare; and in his Sonnets, printed seven or eight years before his death, it is given with a hyphen, Shake-speare, not only in the title, but in the running line at the head of every leaf throughout the book. It is so also published in the address of one of the copies of commendatory verses, prefixed to the folios. As he published it, all his contemporaries printed it: and such printing, with a pronunciation correspondent with the spelling, descended to the middle of the last century. It is only then upon his subscriptions to his will and a mortgage deed, fac-similes of which are given in Reed's edition, that the modern alteration of his name to Shakspeare is founded. But as in one out of these four signatures the last syllable of his
name is abbreviated, and in two others spelt by abbreviation differently from what is on all hands admitted to be the proper spelling of his name, it is not easy to conceive why his having, solely in these instances, spelt the first syllable also differently, should be taken as a decisive proof that his name was not there also abbreviated, and was other than he had himself in print given it, and the whole : world besides had for many generations supposed it to be, and had so printed and pronounced it. For these reasons, and others to be another day set forth more in detail, we have continued the old reading of his time, and call our author Shakespeare.
* The letters 0. C. or old copies, in the margin, always signify the quartos and folios of 1623; and generally, but not necessarily, • that of 1632.
The additions from the quartos are put