Page images

constables would have answered the mere necessities of the action.” To this it has been answered,—“Make Dogberry in the slightest degree less self-satisfied, loquacious, full of the official stuff of which functionaries are still cut out, and the action breaks down before the rejection of Hero by her lover. For it is not the ingenious absurdity that prevents the detection of the plot against Hero; it is the absurdity which prevents the prompt disclosure of it after the detection. *

* * * The wise fellow, and the rich fellow, and the fellow that hath had losses, and one that hath two gowns, and everything handsome about him, nevertheless holds his prisoners fast; and when he comes to the prince, with “Marry, sir, they have committed false report; moreover, they have spoken' untruths; secondarily, they are slanders ; sixth and lastly, they have belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust things; and, to conclude, they are lying knaves,' though his method be not logical, his matter is allsufficient. nd so we agree with Ulrici, that it would be a palpable misunderstanding to ask what the noble constable Dogberry and his followers have to do with the play. Dogberry is as necessary as all the other personages ;—to a certain degree more necessary. The passionate lover, the calm and sagacious prince, the doting father, were the dupes of a treachery, not well compact, and carried through by dangerous instruments. They make no effort to detect what would not have been very difficult of detection: they are satisfied to quarrel and to lament. Accident discovers what intelligence could not penetrate; and the treacherous slander is manifest in all its blackness to the wise Dogberry:

'Flat burglary as ever was committed.' Here is the crowning irony of the philosophical poet. The players of the game of life see nothing, or see minute parts only: but the dullest by-stander has glimpses of something



[blocks in formation]



Having laboured for many years in producing a body of Commentary on Shakspere, that was, out of the necessity of its plan, compelled not to miss any point or slur over any difficulty, I am not the less fitted, I presume to think, for the preparation of an edition which is not intended to satisfy the verbal critic. I desire “The Stratford Shakspere” to be " The People's Shakspere."

By “ The People,” . using the term with reference to literature, I understand, chiefly, that vast aggregate of persons who have become readers of books during the last quarter of a century. For this great class, who are sometimes called “The Million,” books must be provided that will not only economise Money but economise Time. The greater number of this host of readers have little leisure to explore the by-places of criticism. They need help --for the proper understanding of a writer who, although the most universal of his time, or of any time, is often obscure, has allusions which are not obvious, and employs phrases and words that are in some degree obsolete. They need help—to unravel the difficulties of a Plot, to penetrate the subtlety of a Character, to see the principle upon which the artist has worked. They need help—to seize the all-comprehensive spirit of the greatest moral teacher of the world—of the deepest sympathiser with his fellow-men in every attribute of humanity and every condition of life. But they do not need any elaborate exhibition of the processes by which a Text has been formed, an obscurity explained, or a critical principle established. They ask for results.

What, then, is the Shakspere which such an intelligent and inquiring reader now desires; and which, if I thought he could get it elsewhere, I would not endeavour to supply by a new labour, of a different character from what I have already accomplished ? I think he desiresI. THE Text, founded upon the best Authorities, well printed in a large type. My intention is to print the text of each Play without Note or Reference; so that, without interruption, the reader may yield himself up to the spirit of the Poet, and afterwards

consider his difficulties. II. A COMMENTARY AND GLOSSARY, to accompany each Play, for after-reading or for instant reference. My intention is to arrange this portion of my work somewhat as follows:

1. VARIOUS READINGS, really important.


Words and Phrases.
Manners and Customs.
Scenery and Costume.
Characters of History.
Geographical and Historical References.
Facts of Science and Natural History.



The principle which has determined me to print the Text without note or reference, and subsequently to offer a Commentary upon each play, has been asserted by Dr. Johnson in his celebrated Preface :

“Notes are often necessary, but they are necessary evils. Let him that is yet unacquainted with the powers of Shakspere, and who desires to feel the highest pleasure that the drama can give, read every play from the first scene to the last, with utter negligence of all his commentators. When his fancy is once on the wing, let it not stoop at correction or explanation. When his attention is strongly engaged, let disdain alike to turn aside to th9 name of Theobald or of Pope. Let him read on through brightness and obscurity, through integrity and corruption ; let him preserve his comprehension of the dialogue and his interest in the fable. And when the pleasures of novelty have ceased, let him attempt exactness, and read the commentators.”

It is scarcely necessary to offer any explanation of the distinctive title here assumed. Washington Irving has truly said of Stratford-upon-Avon, "The mind refuses to dwell on anything that is not connected with Shakspere. This idea pervades the place.”

The Plays and Poems of Shakspere are especially suggestive of Stratford—its pastoral scenery, its simple manners. I believe that here the boy-poet received his first inspirations—that through his life, even to its end, his best works were produced in the quiet of his native fields.


[ocr errors][merged small]
« PreviousContinue »