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“As there are very few pages in Shakespear, upon which some Suspicions of Depravity do not reasonably arise; I have thought it my Duty, in the first place, by a diligent and laborious Collation to take in the Assistances of all the older Copies.

“In his Historical Plays, whenever our English Chronicles, and in his Tragedies when Greek or Roman Story, could give any Light; no Pains have been omitted to set Passages right by comparing my Author with his Originals; for as I have frequently observed, he was a close and accurate Copier where-ever his Fable was founded on History.

“Where-ever the Author’s Sense is clear and discoverable (tho’, perchance, low and trivial), I have not by any Innovation tamper’d with his Text, out of an Ostentation of endeavouring to make him speak better than the old Copies have done.”

“An Editor therefore should be well vers’d in the History and Manners of his Author’s Age, if he aims at doing him a Service in this Respect.”

–Theobald, from his Preface to the Works of Shakespeare

  • Introduction
  • Shakespeare Restored
  • “Lewis Theobald,” from the “Editors of Shakespeare” series by J. Parker Norris
  • Introduction to Theobald’s Preface by D. Nichol Smith (1903)
  • Preface to the Theobald 2nd Edition, 1740
  • Links to Theobald’s Edition of Shakespeare
  • Theobald’s Edition: An Evaluation in the Cambridge History of English Literature
  • Related Links


Lewis Theobald attacked Pope’s 1725 edition in Shakespeare Restored, a long, very detailed analysis of the errors in Pope’s edition–primarily in Hamlet, but most of the other plays are discussed also.  Pope retaliated in every way imaginable, the most famous being making Theobald (or “Tibbald” as he styled him) the hero of his Dunciad.  While Theobald prepared his own edition of the plays, at the invitation of Tonson, the publishers of Pope’s edition (and, indeed, the publisher of the earlier Rowe edition) he remained silent as Pope attacked him.  Once his edition was published, in 1733, it was revolutionary because it contained such detailed and authoritative notes.  The notes, unfortunately, also contained Theobald’s puiblic  counterattacks against Pope–unfortunate because his responses portrayed him (however unfairly) as small minded and vindictive, exactly how Pope wished him to be seen.  He further complicated his public relations problems by inexplicably basing his edition on Pope’s 1728 second edition rather than on the Folios and quartos, with which he was so familiar.  Pope’s second edition had incorporated almost all the criticisms of Shakespeare Restored (though Pope dishonestly denied this) and retained the thousands of adjustments and silent emendations made by Pope in his first edition.  Even the fair minded Dr. Johnson condemned Theobald as “contemptible” after these disastrous maneuvers, and so Theobald’s reputation among the literati remained until the latter nineteenth century.

His reputation among the reading public was much better, however.  His edition sold well (much better than Pope’s) and rewarded him, and his publisher, financially.  According to J. Parker Norris, “…Theobald’s editions were a great success in their day is shown by the large number of copies that were sold—there having been twelve thousand eight hundred and sixty sets disposed of, and Theobald received six hundred and fifty-two pounds ten shillings as his share of the profits. This was more than three times what Pope received, and eighteen times more than Rowe” (see his Shakespeariana article below).  Theobald’s edition was reprinted numerous times (details below) and he remains the editor most gifted in making inspired emendations to the present.  He was the first to approach the texts with, as the superscriptions to this section indicate, a scientific and historically relativistic attitude to the texts and language, and to Shakespeare’s age.  He took great pains to become an expert on Tudor and Stuart literature, and pioneered the resolution of textual problems by parallel passages.  He has re-emerged today from the cloud of Pope’s satire under which he languished as one of the great early editors of Shakespeare.

Shakespeare Restored (1726)

Pope’s edition of Shakespeare appeared in 1725.  The following year Theobald made a bold, many would say disastrous in light of Pope’s retaliation, attack on it in his:

Shakespeare restored, or, A specimen of the many errors, as well committed, as unamended, by Mr. Pope : in his late edition of this poet. Designed not only to correct the said edition, but to restore the true reading of Shakespeare in all the editions ever yet published.

Shakespeare restored appeared in 1726.  The inflammatory title certainly had its effect on Pope, none abated in the far more inflammatory text, much to the eventual detriment of Theobald.  Stung, Pope counter-attacked Theobald unrestrainedly, making him the hero of the Dunciad (the first version–Cibber took his place in the second version).  Not on the basis of a counter argument–the correctness of Theobald’s analysis could not be denied even by Pope, who adopted almost all of his suggestions in his 1728 second edition–but rather as savage satire.  Pope’s parody of Theobald was so effective, in fact, that until very modern times Theobald was synonymous for the pedantic bore, a view that eclipsed the genuine value of his scholarship.

Shakespeare restored is a remarkable volume.   I have been able to locate two facsimile editions on the Internet:  One from Google Book Search, and one from SCETI at the University of Pennsylvania.  The book is largely a very detailed commentary with very specific textual examples, on Hamlet as published in Pope’s 1725 edition.  In fact, 132 of the books 194 pages conduct this very detailed textual analysis.  The remaining 62 pages of fine print are dedicated to an analysis of Shakespeare’s other works, with the same sort of thoroughgoing explanations and critical comments.

Where Pope had been casual in his approach to Shakespeare, showing no preference for one text over another, and cutting whole passages without cause altogether, Theobald is careful, demanding authority for his editorial decisions.  “…Theobald was much more interested in endeavoring to relocate the text within its own historical moment, pledging fidelity to the integrity of the text and seeking to explain difficulties by appealing, wherever possible, to a greater textual and cultural historical context…For Theobald, to ‘Explain a thing…and write about it’–even at great length…is indeed of primary importance, since it is through explanation that readers are brought to accommodate their understanding to the text, rather than the text being compelled to accommodate itself to the reader’s capacity to understand” (Andrew Murphy, Shakespeare in Print, p. 70).

Pope, of course, held the upper hand, and for all time.  The poet will always triumph over the critic in the hearts of men, but critics, among themselves, will honor their more careful comrades because their work becomes foundational and saves future editors so much toil.  Toil is exactly what Pope had not expended on his edition of Shakespeare.  At least, not toil in the sense Theobald understood it, which is the same sense it has been understood in editorial circles ever since.  Theobald was the foundational textual critic for modern times.  His emendations are still maintained in many editions, and we see him, as late as the Cambridge Shakespeare, being honored in the book’s preface:

“Where the Folios are all obviously wrong, and the Quartos also fail us, we have introduced into the text several conjectural emendations especially we have often had recourse to Theobald’s ingenuity” (Clark & Glover, Preface to The works of William Shakespeare  Vol. I, p. xii, 1863).

The stretch from Lewis Theobald in 1727 to W. G. Clark in 1863 is long indeed in view of the talents applied in the interim to the text of Shakespeare.  Nevertheless, Theobald’s emendations were so thorough and so well founded that they stood the test of future editors.  That Theobald was a poor playwright goes without saying, and that he failed to show the kind of social subtlety or tact that could have earned him a place in intellectual history above where he is generally perceived–Pope’s curse lingers yet today–but that he was a textual genius of sorts can never be denied.

Lewis Theobald,” from the “Editors of Shakespeare” series by J. Parker Norris,
published in Shakespeariana, vol. II, 1885, pp. 334 – 341.

Lewis Theobald was the son of Peter Theobald, an attorney in Sittingbourne, Kent, England, where Lewis was born. He received his education at Isleworth, Middlesex, then read law and was called to the bar, but finally abandoned that profession for literature.

He was the author of a number of plays. The Persian Princess (1707) was his first production. Electra (1714), Œdipus, King of Thebes (from Sophocles, 1715), Plutus, or the World’s Idol (from Aristophanes, 1715), The Clouds (from Aristophanes, 1715), The Perfidious Brother (1716), Pan and Syrinx (an opera, 1717), King Richard the Second (altered from Shakespeare, 1719), and The Double Falsehood (1729) are his other plays. He also wrote some pantomimes and operas.

In the license issued to Theobald for the copyright of The Double Falsehood, it is stated that ” he had, at a considerable expence, purchased the Manuscript copy of an Original Play of William Shakespeare, called Double Falsehood, or the Distrest Lovers; and had, with great labour and pains, revised and adapted the same for the Stage.”  In the preface to this play Theobald says : ” One of the MS. copies was above sixty years standing in the handwriting of Mr. Downes the famous old Prompter, and was early in the possession of Mr. Betterton, who designed to have ushered it into the world.”

Theobald seems to have believed that the greater part of this play was written by Shakespeare, and he merely claimed to have revised and adapted it for the stage. His arguments to prove Shakespeare’s authorship are entirely unsatisfactory, and their fallacy was conclusively shown by Dr. Farmer. The latter believed that it was by Shirley. Gifford’s edition of that author, edited by Dyce, 1833. does not include it, however. Pope insinuated that it was all, or nearly all, the work of Theobald. The latter defended himself, and argued that it was Shakespeare’s, but no editor has ever included it in the poet’s works.

In 1725 Pope’s edition of Shakespeare appeared, and afforded an opportunity to Theobald to show to the world how poor an editor Pope was. The following year he issued a quarto volume entitled:

Shakespeare restored : or a Specimen of the Many Errors, as well Committed, as Unamended, by Mr. Pope In his Late Edition of this Poet. Designed Not only to correct the said Edition, but to restore the True Reading of Shakespeare in all the Editions ever yet publish’d. By Mr. Theobald.

—Laniatum Corpore toto
Deiphobum vidi &c lacerum crudelitur Ora,
Ora manusque ambas,—

London: Printed for R. Francklin under Tom’s, J. Woodman and D. Lyon under Will’s, Covent Garden, and C. Davis in Hatton-Garden. M. DCC. XXVI.

In the Introduction Theobald says that the reason that he chose Hamlet was not because there were more errors in that play in Pope’s edition than in others, but because it was “the best known, and one of the most favourite Plays of our Author.” He then proceeds to examine the play as printed by Pope, and in a series of ninety-seven notes on a like number of passages, he exposes “many errors, as well committed, as unamended, by Mr. Pope”—to use the words of the title-page of the work.

Truly it was a serious arraignment, and its effect upon the nervous, irritable Pope must have been terrible. In an appendix of sixty-two closely printed quarto pages of small type Theobald discussed one hundred and seven other passages in the other plays, and pointed out numerous mistakes made by Pope. And in this appendix is first given the famous emendation made by Theobald on the passage in Henry V: II, iii, 17: “for his nose was as sharp as a pen, and a’ babbled of green fields.” The First and Second Folios give the passage thus: ” for his Nose was as sharpe as a pen, and a Table of greene fields.” The Third and Fourth Folios are substantially the same, and the Quartos omitted all after “pen.” Pope followed them in this, and added a note in which he stated that Greenfield was the name of the property man attached to the theatre, and “a table of Greenfield’s” was merely intended for a marginal direction, in the actors’ copy, to have a table brought on the stage, as the scene was in a tavern! Theobald restored the words to the text and made the happy emendation which retains its place in all modern texts, and which cannot fail to have been what Shakespeare wrote. Theobald tells us, however, that he had “an Edition of Shakespeare by Me with some Marginal Conjectures of a Gentleman sometime deceas’d, and he was of the Mind to Correct this Passage thus; ‘ for his Nose was a sharp as a Pen, and a’ talked of greene Fields.’ The suggestion of “talked” for “table” evidently put Theobald on the track of the right word, and led him to choose “babbled,” which so truthfully describes what is often very common in the dying.

In 1726 Theobald also published some papers in Mist’s Weekly Journal. In one of these he shows how proud he was of his Shakespeare Restored by saying of it that “to expose any error in it was impracticable.” In another issue of that journal he remarked “that whatever care might for the future be taken, either by Mr. Pope, or any other assistants, he would still give above five hundred emendations that shall escape them all.”

In Mist’s Journal also Theobald attacked Pope’s translations. Pope was preparing his revenge, however, and this took shape in making Theobald the hero in his Dunciad. In that poem “piddling Tibbald,” as Pope called him, was mercilessly satirized. (Theobald’s name was pronounced Tibbald, and so it is spelled throughout the Dunciad.) In the 1743 edition of that work Theobald’s name was taken out, an Cibber’s substituted.

In the earlier editions, however, the Goddess of Dullness is represented as being at a loss for a successor to Elkanah Settle, who was the poet to the city of London, and whose business it was to compose lyrics on the Lord Mayor, as well as verses to be used in the city pageants. The Goddess sees Theobald sitting in his library,

Where yet unpawn’d much learned lumber lay.

Theobald addresses the Goddess :

Great Tamer of all human art!
First in my care, and nearest at my heart,
DULLNESS ! whose good old cause I yet defend,
With whom my Muse began, with whom shall end!

There is much more in the same strain, and Theobald’s contributions to Mist’s Journal (which was published weekly, and in each number of which, for some time, there was a paper by him containing emendations or corrections of Shakespeare’s text) are thus alluded to

Here studious I unlucky Moderns save,
Nor sleeps one error in its father’s grave,
Old puns restore, lost blunders nicely seek,
And crucify poor Shakespeare once a week.

The Goddess informs him that Settle is deposed, and Theobald appointed king in his stead.

But Theobald, undeterred by the satire of his witty antagonist, pursued the even tenor of his way, and continued his study of the text of Shakespeare.

About the middle of the year 1728 he issued proposals for a work to be entitled Emendations and Remarks on Shakespeare, but this was never published. He had formed the acquaintance of the Rev. Styan Thirlby and the Rev. William Warburton (afterward Bishop), and corresponded with them both. His letters to and from the latter were very voluminous, and are almost wholly occupied with discussions of Shakespeare’s text.

In the latter part of 1730 Theobald became a candidate for the position of Poet Laureate, and was recommended for that post by Sir Robert Walpole, but he was unsuccessful.

September 18th, 1744, Theobald died, aged about fifty-two. The exact date of his birth is not known.

It was in November, 1731, that Theobald entered into an agreement the publishers to edit an edition of Shakespeare, and in March, 1733, it appeared in seven volumes, small octavo. The title-page is reads as follows:

Works of Shakespeare : In Seven Volumes. Collated with the Oldest Copies, and corrected ; with Notes, Explanatory, and Critical : By Mr. Theobald. I Decus, i, nostrum : melioribus utere Fatis.—Virg. London : Printed for A. Bettesworth and C. Hitch, J. Tonson, F. Clay, W. Feales, and R. Wellington. MDCCXXXIII.

Prefixed [this and the next two paragraphs reconstructed– illustration is a screen capture from vol. I, not included in the Shakespeariana article. –tg] to the first volume is a copy of the Chandos portrait of Shakespeare, drawn by B. Arlaud and engraved by G. Duchange. It substantially unlike the original painting. The face is turned the other way, and only a slight drooping moustache and goatee are given instead the full beard of the original; the whole expression of the face is changed, and the dress is utterly unlike also. The portrait is in an oval and underneath is the inscription, “Mr. William Shakespeare.”

The volumes are fairly well printed in quite a large type, on ribbed paper. They are dedicated to John, Earl of Orrery, and the dedication is dated January l0th, 1733. A preface of sixty-eight pages follows, and in the preparation of this Theobald was much indebted Warburton…

The preface is well written, and comprises a series of short essays on Shakespeare’s general character; his character as a writer; as a lover of music; on Milton as an imitator of Shakespeare; the poet’s knowledge of nature; on a comparison of Addison and Shakespeare ; on the poet’s learning ; Ben Jonson and Shakespeare compared ; an elaborate defense of textual criticism, and other kindred matters.

Theobald evidently understood very well the causes of most of the corruptions of Shakespeare’s text in the old editions, and he explains how it was that the plays having been sold by the poet to the players for a certain sum, that

Thereupon it was suppos’d they had no further Right to print them without the Consent of the Players. As it was the Interest of the Companies to keep their Plays unpublish’d, when any one succeeded, there was a Contest betwixt the Curiosity of the Town, who demanded to see it in Print, and the Policy of the Stagers, who wish’d to secrete it within their own Walls. Hence, many Pieces were taken down in short-hand, and imperfectly copied by Ear from a Representation : Others were printed from piece-meal Parts surreptitiously obtain’d from the Theatres, uncorrect, and without the Poet’s knowledge. To some of these Causes we owe the train of Blemishes, that deform those Pieces which stole singly into the World in our Author’s Life-time.

There are still other Reasons which may be suppos’d to have affected the whole Set. When the Players took upon them to publish his Works entire, every Theatre was ransacked to supply the Copy, and Parts collected which had gone thro’ as many Changes as performers, either from Mutilations or Additions made to them.

Further on he gives the rules which he has followed in the preparation of his text, and after stating that he has made “a diligent and laborious Collation to take in the Assistances of all the older Copies,” and that he has compared the passages that are founded on history or fable with the originals from which Shakespeare drew, he proceeds:

Where-ever the Author’s Sense is clear and discoverable (tho’, perchance, low and trivial), I have not by any Innovation tamper’d with his Text; out of an Ostentation of endeavouring to make him speak better than the old copies have done.

Where, thro’ all the former Editions, a Passage has labour’d under flat Nonsense and invincible Darkness, if, by the Addition or Alteration of a Letter or two, I have restored to Him both Sense and Sentiment, such Corrections, I am persuaded, will need no Indulgence.

And whenever I have taken a greater Latitude and Liberty in amending, I have constantly endeavoured to support my Corrections and Conjectures by parallel Passages and Authorities from himself, the surest Means of expounding any Author whatsoever.

The notes are numerous, and are printed at the bottom of the pages containing the passages they refer to. The emendations are fully explained in some notes, and the punctuation adopted by Theobald in the text is pointed out in others. Pope is often referred to as “the last Editor,” and sometimes as the “poetical Editor.” Theobald’s indebtedness to Warburton is frequently acknowledged in the notes and fully in the preface.

Many of his emendations are very brilliant, and a large number of them retain their place in the text of the present day. Perhaps his most celebrated emendation is the one in Henry V: II, iii, 17, ” a’ babbled of green fields,” above referred to.

His collations of the old editions show great diligence, and although he omitted to give quite a number of true readings from the First Folio, he did not at all merit what Capell said of him: “His work is only made a little better [than Pope’s] by his having a few more materials ; of which he was not a better collator than the other, nor did he excel him in the use of them.” The Cambridge Editors quote this remark of Capell and add : “The result of the collations we have made leads us to a very different conclusion.”

Certainly Theobald’s edition of Shakespeare was by far the best that had then appeared, and he proved himself to have had many of, if not all, the qualities of a good editor.

Theobald used Pope’s edition to print his text from.

A second edition of Theobald’s Shakespeare appeared in 1740, in eight volumes duodecimo. The portrait is by Vander Gucht, and each play has an illustration drawn by Gravelot, and engraved by Vander Gucht. The notes are abridged, some literal errors corrected, the punctuation in many places changed, and some changes made in the text.

Pope’s abuse of Theobald survived its author and he is often very unfairly judged. Dr. Johnson is especially severe upon him:

Pope was succeeded by Theobald, a man of narrow comprehension and small acquisitions, with no native and intrinsick splendour of genius, with little of the artificial light of learning, but zealous for minute accuracy, and not negligent in pursuing it. * * * Theobald, thus weak and ignorant, thus mean and faithless, thus petulant and ostentatious, by the good luck of having Pope for his enemy, has escaped, and escaped alone, with reputation, from this undertaking. So willingly does the world support those who solicite favour, against those who command reverence ; and so easily is he praised whom no man can envy.

This is very unfair, and not at all true. That Theobald’s editions were a great success in their day is shown by the large number of copies that were sold—there having been twelve thousand eight hundred and sixty sets disposed of, and Theobald received six hundred and fifty-two pounds ten shillings as his share of the profits. This was more than three times what Pope received, and eighteen times more than Rowe.

Other editions of Theobald’s Shakespeare were published in 1752 (8 vols., 12mo.), 1757 (8 vols., 8vo.), 1762 (8 vols., 12mo.), 1767 (8 vols., 12mo.), 1772 (12 vols., 12mo.), 1773 (8 vols., 12mo.), and 1777 (?) (12 vols., 12mo.).

None of Theobald’s editions included Shakespeare’s Poems.

Introduction to Theobald’s Preface by D. Nichol Smith (1903)
from Eighteenth Century Essays on Shakespeare, J. MacLehose and Sons, 1903. [Smith clearly is no lover of Theobald.  Smith makes several references to Nichols, John.  Illustrations of the literary history of the eighteenth century. : Consisting of authentic memoirs and original letters of eminent persons; and intended as a sequel to the Literary anecdotes, vol. II.  1817, and by great good fortune that volume has been digitized by Google Book Search, so that I have been able to supply hyperlinks to the referenced passages. We can therefore follow the correspondence of Theobald and Warburton in reference to Theobald’s edition and the eventual estrangement of the two.  Smith also makes reference to Churton Collins’ article “The Porson of Shakespearian Criticism,” which is also available from Google Book Search and which I have linked from the appropriate note in Smith’s essay.  I have omitted references to other parts of Smith’s volume, and one of his obscure footnotes.  –tg]

THEOBALD’S edition of Shakespeare (7 vols. 8vo) appeared in 1733. The Preface was condensed in the second edition in 1740. It is here given in its later form.

Theobald had long been interested in Shakespeare. In 1715 he had written the Cave of Poverty, a poem “in imitation of Shakespeare,” and in 1720 he had brought out an adaptation of Richard II. But it was not till 1726—though the Dedication bears the date of March 18, 1725—that he produced his first direct contribution to Shakespearian scholarship,—Shakespeare restored: or, a Specimen of the Many Errors, as well Committed, as Unamended, by Mr. Pope in his Late Edition of this Poet. Designed Not only to correct the said Edition, but to restore the True Reading of Shakespeare in all the Editions ever yet publish’d.

We learn from a letter by Theobald dated 15th April, 1729, that he had been in correspondence with Pope fully two years before the publication of this volume. (See Nichols, Illustrations of the Literary History of the Eighteenth Century, ii., p. 221). Pope, however, had not encouraged his advances. In the same letter Theobald states that he had no design of commenting on Shakespeare till he saw “how incorrect an edition Mr. Pope had given the publick.” This remark was prompted by a note in the Dunciad of 1729, where it was stated that ” during the space of two years, while Mr. Pope was preparing his Edition of Shakespear, and published advertisements, requesting all lovers of the author to contribute to a more perfect one, this Restorer (who had then some correspondence with him, and was solliciting favours by letters) did wholly conceal his design, ’till after its publication.” But if Theobald had not thought of issuing comments on Shakespeare’s plays till Pope’s edition appeared, he must have known them well already, for Shakespeare Restored is not a hasty piece of work.

Despite the aggressiveness of the title, Theobald protests his regard for Pope in such passages as these :

“It was no small Satisfaction therefore to me, when I first heard Mr. Pope had taken upon him the Publication of Shakespeare. I very reasonably expected, from his known Talents and Abilities, from his uncommon Sagacity and Discernment, and from his unwearied Diligence and Care of informing himself by an happy and extensive Conversation, we should have had our Author come out as perfect, as the want of Manuscripts and original Copies could give us a Possibility of hoping. I may dare to say, a great Number of Shakespeare’s Admirers, and of Mr. Pope’s too, (both which I sincerely declare myself,) concurred in this Expectation : For there is a certain curiosa felicitas, as was said of an eminent Roman Poet, in that Gentleman’s Way of working, which, we presum’d, would have laid itself out largely in such a Province ; and that he would not have sate down contented with performing, as he calls it himself, the dull Duty of an Editor only.”

“I have so great an Esteem for Mr. Pope, and so high an Opinion of his Genius and Excellencies, that I beg to be excused from the least Intention of derogating from his Merits, in this Attempt to restore the true Reading of Shakespeare. Tho’ I confess a Veneration, almost rising to Idolatry, for the writings of this inimitable Poet, I would be very loth even to do him Justice at the Expence of that other Gentleman’s Character.”

Whether or not these declarations were sincere, they would hardly have stayed the resentment of a less sensitive man than Pope when passage after passage was pointed out where errors were “as well committed as unamended.” Theobald even hazarded the roguish suggestion that the bookseller had played his editor false by not sending him all the sheets to revise ; and he certainly showed that the readings of Rowe’s edition had occasionally been adopted without the professed collation of the older copies. The volume could raise no doubt of Theobald’s own diligence. The chief part of it is devoted to an examination of the text of Hamlet, but there is a long appendix dealing with readings in other plays, and in it occurs the famous emendation of the line in Henry V. describing Falstaff’s death,—”for his nose was as sharp as a pen, and a’ babled of green fields.'” It should be noted that the credit of this reading is not entirely Theobald’s. He admits that in an edition “with some marginal conjectures of a Gentleman sometime deceased” he found the emendation “and a talked of green fields.” Theobald’s share thus amounts to the doubtful improvement of substituting babbled fortalked.

Though this volume has undoubted merits, it is not difficult to understand why the name of Theobald came to convey to the eighteenth century the idea of painful pedantry, and why one so eminently just as Johnson should have dubbed him “a man of heavy diligence, with very slender powers.” While his knowledge is indisputable, he has little or no delicacy of taste ; his style is dull and lumbering; and the mere fact that he dedicated his Shakespeare Restored to John Rich, the Covent Garden manager who specialised in pantomime and played the part of harlequin, may at least cast some doubt on his discretion. But he successfully attacked Pope where he was weakest and where as an editor he should have been strongest. “From this time,” in the words of Johnson, “Pope became an enemy to editors, collators, commentators, and verbal critics; and hoped to persuade the world that he had miscarried in this undertaking only by having a mind too great for such minute employment.”

Not content with the errors pointed out in Shakespeare Restored—a quarto volume of two hundred pages— Theobald continued his criticisms of Pope’s edition in Mist’s Journal and the Daily Journal, until he was ripe for the Dunciad. Pope enthroned him as the hero of the poem, and so he remained till he was replaced by Colley Cibber in 1741, when the alteration necessitated several omissions. In the earlier editions Theobald soliloquised thus:

Here studious I unlucky Moderns save,
Nor sleeps one error in its father’s grave,
Old puns restore, lost blunders nicely seek,
And crucify poor Shakespear once a week.
For thee I dim these eyes, and stuff this head,
With all such reading as was never read;
For the supplying, in the worst of days,
Notes to dull books, and prologues to dull plays;
For thee explain a thing ’till all men doubt it,
And write about it, Goddess, and about it.

Theobald is introduced also in the Art of Sinking in Poetry among the classes of authors described as swallows and eels: the former ” are eternally skimming and fluttering up and down, but all their agility is employed to catch flies,” the latter “wrap themselves up in their own mud, but are mighty nimble and pert.” About the same time, however, Pope brought out the second edition (1728) of his Shakespeare, and in it he incorporated some of Theobald’s conjectures, though his recognition of their merit was grudging and even dishonestly inadequate. (See the preface to the various readings at the end of the eighth volume, 1728.) Yet one’s sympathies with Theobald are prejudiced by his ascription to Shakespeare of the Double Falshood, or the Distrest Lovers, a play which was acted in 1727 and printed in the following year. Theobald professed to have revised it and adapted it to the stage. The question of authorship has not been settled, but if Theobald is relieved from the imputation of forgery, he must at least stand convicted of ignorance of the Shakespearian manner. Pope at once recognised that the play was not Shakespeare’s, and added a contemptuous reference to it in the second edition of his Preface. It was the opinion of Farmer that the groundwork of the play was by Shirley…

Theobald now sought to revenge himself on Pope, and, in his own words, he “purposed to reply only in Shakespeare” (Nichols, id. ii., p. 248). His first plan was to publish a volume of Remarks on Shakespeare. On 15th April, 1729, he says the volume “will now shortly appear in the world” (id., p. 222), but on 6th November he writes to Warburton, “I know you will not be displeased, if I should tell you in your ear, perhaps I may venture to join the Text to my Remarks” (id., p. 254). By the following March he had definitely determined upon giving an edition of Shakespeare, as appears from another letter to Warburton: “As it is necessary I should now inform the publick that I mean to attempt to give them an edition of that Poet’s [i.e. Shakespeare’s] text, together with my corrections, I have concluded to give this notice, not only by advertisements, but by an occasional pamphlet, which, in order to retaliate some of our Editor’s kindnesses to me, I mean to call, An Essay upon Mr. Popes Judgment, extracted from his own Works; and humbly addressed to him” (id. ii., p. 551). Of this he forwards Warburton an extract. The pamphlet does not appear to have been published. The Miscellany on Taste which he brought out anonymously in 1732 contains a section entitled ‘Of Mr. Pope’s Taste of Shakespeare,’ but this is merely a reprint of the letter of 15th (or 16th) April, which had already been printed in the Daily Journal. A considerable time elapsed before arrangements for publication were completed, the interval being marked by a temporary estrangement from Warburton and an unsuccessful candidature for the laureateship. Articles with Tonson were signed in November, 1731 (id. ii., pp. 13, 618), and at the same time the correspondence with Warburton was renewed. The edition did not appear till 1733. The Preface had been begun about the end of 1731.

From March, 1729, with the short break in 1730, Theobald had been in steady correspondence with Warburton, and most of his letters, with a few of those of Warburton, have been preserved by Nichols (see id. ii., pp. 189, 607). But it would have been more fortunate for Theobald’s reputation had they perished. The cruel contempt and bitterness of Warburton’s references to him after their final estrangement may be offensive, but the correspondence shows that they were not without some justification. Theobald submits his conjectures anxiously to the judgment of Warburton, and again and again Warburton saves him from himself. In one of the letters Theobald rightly condemns Pope’s proposed insertion of “Francis Drake” in the incomplete line at the end of the first scene of Henry VI., Part I.; but not content with this flawless piece of destructive criticism he argues for inserting the words “and Cassiopeia.” The probability is that if Warburton had not condemned the proposal it would have appeared in Theobald’s edition. “With a just deference to your most convincing reasons,” says Theobald, ” I shall with great cheerfulness banish it as a bad and unsupported conjecture” (id. ii., p. 477); and this remark is typical of the whole correspondence. A considerable share of the merit of Theobald’s edition— though the share is mostly negative—belongs to Warburton, for Theobald had not taste enough to keep him right when he stepped beyond collation of the older editions or explanation by parallel passages. Indeed, the letters to Warburton, besides helping to explain his reputation in the eighteenth century, would in themselves be sufficient to justify his place in the Dunciad.

Warburton had undoubtedly given Theobald ungrudging assistance and was plainly interested in the success of the edition. But as he had gauged Theobald’s ability, he had some fears for the Preface. So at least we gather from a letter which Theobald wrote to him on 18th November, 1731 :

“I am extremely obliged for the tender concern you have for my reputation in what I am to prefix to my Edition: and this part, as it will come last in play, I shall certainly be so kind to myself to communicate in due time to your perusal. The whole affair of Prolegomena I have determined to soften into Preface. I am so very cool as to my sentiments of my Adversary’s usage, that I think the publick should not be too largely troubled with them. Blockheadry is the chief hinge of his satire upon me ; and if my Edition do not wipe out that, I ought to be content to let the charge be fixed ; if it do, the reputation gained will be a greater triumph than resentment. But, dear Sir, will you, at your leisure hours, think over for me upon the contents, topics, orders, etc., of this branch of my labour r You have a comprehensive memory, and a happiness of digesting the matter joined to it, which my head is often too much embarrassed to perform ; let that be the excuse for my inability. But how unreasonable is it to expct this labour, when it is the only part in which I shall not be able to be just to my friends : for, to confess assistance in a Preface will, I am afraid, make me appear too naked. Rymer’s extravagant rancour against our Author, under the umbrage of criticism, may, I presume, find a place here” (id. ii., pp. 621, 622).

This confession of weakness is valuable in the light of Warburton’s Preface to his own edition of 1747. His statement of the assistance he rendered Theobald is rude and cruel, but it is easier to impugn his taste than his truthfulness. Theobald did not merely ask for assistance in the Preface; he received it too. Warburton expressed himself on this matter, with his customary force and with a pleasing attention to detail, in a letter to the Rev. Thomas Birch on 24th November, 1737. “You will see in Theobald’s heap of disjointed stuff,” he says, ” which he calls a Preface to Shakespeare, an observation upon those poems [i.e. Le Allegro and Il Penseroso] which I made to him, and which he did not understand, and so has made it a good deal obscure by contracting my note; for you must understand that almost all that Preface (except what relates to Shakespeare’s Life, and the foolish Greek conjectures at the end) was made up of notes I sent him on particular passages, and which he has there stitched together without head or tail” (Nichols, ii., p. 81). The Preface is indeed a poor piece of patch-work. Examination of the footnotes throughout the edition corroborates Warburton’s concluding statement. Some of the annotations which have his name attached to them are repeated almost verbatim (e.g. the note in Love’s Labour’s Lost on the use of music), while the comparison of Addison and Shakespeare is taken from a letter written by Warburton to Concanen in 1726-7 (id. ii., pp. 195, etc.). The inequality of the essay— the fitful succession of limp and acute observations—can be explained only by ill-matched collaboration.

Warburton has himself indicated the extent of Theobald’s debt to him. In his own copy of Theobald’s Shakespeare he marked the passages which he had contributed to the Preface, as well as the notes “which Theobald deprived him of and made his own,” and the volume is now in the Capell collection in Trinity College, Cambridge. Mr. Churton Collins, in his attempt to prove Theobald the greatest of Shakespearean editors, has said that “if in this copy, which we have not had the opportunity of inspecting, Warburton has laid claim to more than Theobald has assigned to him, we believe him to be guilty of dishonesty even more detestable than that of which the proofs are, as we have shown, indisputable.”1 An inspection of the Cambridge volume is not necessary to show that a passage in the Preface has been conveyed from one of Warburton’s letters published by Nichols and by Malone. Any defence of Theobald by an absolute refusal to believe Warburton’s word can be of no value unless some proof be adduced that War- burton was here untruthful, and it is peculiarly inept when Theobald’s own page proclaims the theft. We know that Theobald asked Warburton for assistance in the Preface, and gave warning that such assistance would not be acknowledged. Warburton could have had no evil motive in marking those passages in his private copy ; and there is surely a strong presumption in favour of a man who deliberately goes over seven volumes, carefully indicating the material which he considered his own. It happens that one of the passages contains an unfriendly allusion to Pope. If Warburton meant to be “dishonest” —and there could be no purpose in being dishonest before he was Theobald’s enemy—why did he not disclaim this allusion some years later ? The simple explanation is that he marked the passages for his own amusement while he was still on friendly terms with Theobald. They are thirteen in number, and they vary in length from a few lines to two pages. Four of them are undoubtedly his, and there is nothing to disprove that the other nine are his also.

Theobald quotes also from his own correspondence. On 17th March, 1729-30, he had written to Warburton a long letter dealing with Shakespeare’s knowledge of languages and including a specimen of his proposed pamphlet against Pope. “Your most necessary caution against inconsistency, with regard to my opinion, of Shakespeare’s knowledge in languages,” he there says characteristically, “shall not fail to have all its weight with me. And therefore the passages that I occasionally quote from the Classics shall not be brought as proofs that he imitated those originals, but to shew how happily he has expressed himself upon the same topics” (Nichols, ii., pp. 564, etc.). This part of the letter is included verbatim three years afterwards in the Preface. So also is the other passage in the same letter replying to Pope on the subject of Shakespeare’s anachronisms. Theobald borrows even from his own published writings. Certain passages are reproduced from the Introduction to Shakespeare Restored.

If Theobald could hardly acknowledge, as he said, the assistance he received in writing the Preface, he at least admitted his editorial debt to Warburton and others punctiliously and handsomely. After referring to Dr. Thirlby of Jesus College, Cambridge, and Hawley Bishop, he thus writes of his chief helper:

“To these, I must add the indefatigable Zeal and Industry of my most ingenious and ever-respected Friend, the Reverend Mr. Williiam Warburton of Newark upon Trent. This Gentleman, from the Motives of his frank and communicative Disposition, voluntarily took a con-siderable Part of my Trouble off my Hands; not only read over the whole Author for me, with the exactest Care; but enter’d into a long and laborious Epistolary Correspondence ; to which I owe no small Part of my best Criticisms upon my Author.

“The Number of Passages amended, and admirably Explained, which I have taken care to distinguish with his Name, will shew a Fineness of Spirit and Extent of Reading, beyond all the Commendations I can give them : Nor, indeed, would I any farther be thought to commend a Friend, than, in so doing, to give a Testimony of my own Gratitude.”

So the preface read in 1733. But by the end of 1734 Warburton had quarrelled with Theobald, and by 1740, after a passing friendship with Sir Thomas Hanmer, had become definitely attached to the party of Pope. This is probably the reason why, in the Preface to the second edition, Theobald does not repeat the detailed statement of the assistance he had received. He wisely omits also the long and irrelevant passage of Greek conjectures, given with no other apparent reason than to parade his learning. And several passages either claimed by Warburton (e.g. that referring to Milton’s poems) or known to be his (e.g. the comparison of Addison and Shakespeare) are also cancelled.

The merits of the text of Theobald’s edition are undeniable; but the text is not to be taken as the sole measure of his ability. By his diligence in collation he restored many of the original readings. His knowledge of Elizabethan literature was turned to good account in the explanation and illustration of the text. He claims to have read above eight hundred old English plays “to ascertain the obsolete and uncommon phrases.” But when we have spoken of his diligence, we have spoken of all for which, as an editor, he was remarkable. Pope had good reason to say of him, though he gave the criticism a wider application, that

Pains, reading, study are their just pretence,
And all they want is spirit, taste, and sense.

The inner history of his Preface would prove of itself that Theobald well deserved the notoriety which he enjoyed in the eighteenth century.

Smith’s Notes:

1 Essay on “The Porson of Shakspearian Criticism,” Essays and Studies, 1895, p. 270.  [Return to text]

Preface to the Theobald 2nd Edition, 1740.

[The Preface to the 1733 first edition is somewhat longer than that to the second edition of 1740 (reproduced below).  The Preface to the first edition contains material often judged wholly irrelevant, including a comparison of Shakespeare and Addison, an encomium and note of thanks to Warburton, with whom Theobald had quarreled by this time, a comparison of Theobald’s Shakespeare with Bentley’s Milton, and  passages in Greek on classical authors placed there, in Smith’s words, “with no other apparent reason than to parade his learning.”  A reprint of the 1733 Preface, clearly legible, was made as a supplements to the 1888 editions of Shakespeariana.  Another HTML version can be found at Project Gutenberg.  The Preface to the second edition is reproduced from D. Nichol Smith, ed., Eighteenth Century Essays on Shakespeare, J. MacLehose and Sons, 1903.  The Preface to the first edition can be found at Project Gutenberg.  In addition to Smith’s book, the Preface to the second edition can also be found in Warner, Beverley E., Famous introductions to Shakespeare’s plays by the notable editors of the eighteenth century, Dodd, Mead and company, 1906.  I have added paragraph numbers in square brackets before each new paragraph.  The notes are my own.]

[1]  THE Attempt to write upon SHAKESPEARE is like going into a large, a spacious, and a splendid Dome thro’ the Conveyance of a narrow and obscure Entry. A Glare of Light suddenly breaks upon you beyond what the Avenue at first promis’d : and a thousand Beauties of Genius and Character, like so many gaudy Apartments pouring at once upon the Eye, diffuse and throw themselves out to the Mind. The Prospect is too wide to come within the Compass of a single View : ’tis a gay Confusion of pleasing Objects, too various to be enjoyed but in a general Admiration ; and they must be separated, and ey’d distinctly, in order to give the proper Entertainment.

[2]  And as in great Piles of Building, some Parts are often finish’d up to hit the Taste of the Connoisseur; others more negligently put together, to strike the Fancy of a common and unlearned Beholder : Some Parts are made stupendously magnificent and grand, to surprize with the vast Design and Execution of the Architect; others are contracted, to amuse you with his Neatness and Elegance in little. So, in Shakespeare, we may find Traits that will stand the Test of the severest Judgment ; and Strokes as carelessly hit off, to the Level of the more ordinary Capacities: Some Descriptions rais’d to that Pitch of Grandeur, as to astonish you with the Compass and Elevation of his Thought; and others copying Nature within so narrow, so confined a Circle, as if the Author’s Talent lay only at drawing in Miniature.

[3]  In how many points of Light must we be obliged to gaze at this great Poet! In how many Branches of Excellence to consider and admire him ! Whether we view him on the Side of Art or Nature, he ought equally to engage our Attention : Whether we respect the Force and Greatness of his Genius, the Extent of his Knowledge and Reading, the Power and Address with which he throws out and applies either Nature or Learning, there is ample scope both for our Wonder and Pleasure. If his Diction and the cloathing of his Thoughts attract us, how much more must we be charm’d with the Richness and Variety of his Images and Ideas! If his Images and Ideas steal into our Souls, and strike upon our Fancy, how much are they improv’d in Price, when we come to reflect with what Propriety and Justness they are apply’d to Character ! If we look into his Characters, and how they are furnish’d and proportion’d to the Employment he cuts out for them, how are we taken up with the Mastery of his Portraits ! What Draughts of Nature ! What Variety of Originals, and how differing each from the other ! How are they dress’d from the Stores of his own luxurious Imagination ; without being the Apes of Mode, or borrowing from any foreign Wardrobe ! Each of them are the standards of Fashion for themselves : like Gentlemen that are above the Direction of their Tailors, and can adorn themselves without the aid of Imitation. If other Poets draw more than one Fool or Coxcomb, there is the same Resemblance in them as in that Painter’s Draughts, who was happy only at forming a Rose : you find them all younger Brothers of the same Family, and all of them have a Pretence to give the same Crest : But Shakespeare’s Clowns and Fops come all of a different House; they are no farther allied to one another than as Man to Man, Members of the same Species : but as different in Features and Lineaments of Character, as we are from one another in Face or Complexion. But I am unawares lanching into his Character as a Writer, before I have said what I intended of him as a private Member of the Republick.

[4]  Mr. Rowe1 has very justly observ’d, that People are fond of discovering any little personal Story of the Great Men of Antiquity ; and that the common Accidents of their Lives naturally become the Subject of our critical Enquiries : That however trifling such a Curiosity at the first View may appear, yet, as for what relates to Men of Letters, the Knowledge of an Author may, perhaps, sometimes conduce to the better understanding his Works : And, indeed, this Author’s Works, from the bad Treatment he has met with from Copyists and Editors, have so long wanted a Comment, that one would zealously embrace every Method of Information that could contribute to recover them from the injuries with which they have so long lain o’erwhelm’d.

[5]  ‘Tis certain that if we have first admir’d the Man in his Writings, his Case is so circumstanc’d that we must naturally admire the Writings in the Man : That if we go back to take a View of his Education, and the Employment in Life which Fortune had cut out for him, we shall retain the stronger Ideas of his extensive Genius.

[6]  His Father, we are told, was a considerable Dealer in Wool; but having no fewer than ten Children, of whom our Shakespeare was the eldest, the best education he could afford him was no better than to qualify him for his own Business and Employment. I cannot affirm with any Certainty how long his Father liv’d ; but I take him to be the same Mr. John Shakespeare who was living in the Year 1599, and who then, in Honour of his Son, took out an Extract of his Family Arms from the Herald’s Office; by which it appears, that he had been Officer and Bailiff of Stratford upon Avon in Warwickshire; and that he enjoy’d some hereditary Lands and Tenements, the Reward of his Great Grandfather’s faithful and approved Service to King Henry VII.

[7]  Be this as it will, our Shakespeare, it seems, was bred for some Time at a Free-School; the very Free-School, I presume, founded at Stratford: where, we are told, he acquired what Latin he was master of: but that his Father being oblig’d, thro’ Narrowness of Circumstance, to withdraw him too soon from thence, he was thereby unhappily prevented from making any Proficiency in the Dead Languages : A Point that will deserve some little Discussion in the Sequel of this Dissertation.2

[8]  How long he continued in his Father’s Way of Business, either as an Assistant to him, or on his own proper Account, no Notices are left to inform us: nor have I been able to learn precisely at what Period of Life he quitted his native Stratford, and began his Acquaintance with London and the Stage.

[9]  In order to settle in the World after a Family-manner, he thought fit, Mr. Rowe acquaints us, to marry while he was yet very young. It is certain he did so : for by the Monument in Stratford Church, erected to the Memory of his Daughter Susanna, the Wife of John Hall, Gentleman, it appears that she died on the 2d Day of July, in the Year 1649, aged 66. So that she was born in 1583, when her Father could not be full 19 Years old ; who was himself born in the Year 1564. Nor was she his eldest Child, for he had another Daughter, Judith, who was born before her, and who was married to one Mr. Thomas Quiney. So that Shakespeare must have entred into Wedlock by that Time he was turn’d of seventeen Years.3

[10]  Whether the Force of Inclination merely, or some concurring Circumstances of Convenience in the Match, prompted him to marry so early, is not easy to be determin’d at this Distance : but ’tis probable, a View of Interest might partly sway his Conduct on this Point: for he married the Daughter of one Hathaway, a substantial Yeoman in his Neighbourhood, and she had the Start of him in Age no less than eight Years. She surviv’d him, notwithstanding, seven Seasons, and dy’d that very Year in which the Players publish’d the first Edition of his Works in Folio, Anno Dom. 1623, at the Age of 67 Years, as we likewise learn from her Monument in Stratford Church.

[11]  How long he continued in this kind of Settlement, upon his own Native Spot, is not more easily to be determin’d. But if the Tradition be true of that Extravagance which forc’d him both to quit his Country and Way of Living ; to wit, his being engag’d, with a Knot of young Deer-stealers, to rob the Park of Sir Thomas Lucy of Cherlecot near Stratford : the Enterprize favours so much of Youth and Levity, we may reasonably suppose it was before he could write full Man.  Besides, considering he has left us six and thirty Plays, at least, avow’d to be genuine ; and considering too, that he had retir’d from the Stage, to spend the latter Part of his Days at his own Native Stratford; the Interval of Time, necessarily required for the finishing so many Dramatic Pieces, obliges us to suppose he threw himself very early upon the Playhouse. And as he could, probably, contract no Acquaintance with the Drama, while he was driving on the Affair of Wool at home ; some Time must be lost, even after he had commenc’d Player, before he could attain Knowledge enough in the Science to qualify himself for turning Author.

[12]  It has been observ’d by Mr. Rowe, that amongst other Extravagancies which our Author has given to his Sir John Falstaffe, in the Merry Wives of Windsor, he has made him a Deer-stealer ; and that he might at the same Time remember his Warwickshire Prosecutor, under the Name of Justice Shallow, he has given him very near the same Coat of Arms, which Dugdale, in his Antiquities of that County, describes for a Family there. There are two Coats, I observe, in Dugdale, where three Silver Fishes are borne in the Name of Lucy ; and another Coat, to the Monument of Thomas Lucy, Son of Sir William Lucy, in which are quarter’d in four several Divisions twelve little Fishes, three in each Division, probably Luces. This very Coat, indeed, seems alluded to in Shallow’s giving the dozen White Luces, and in Slender saying he may quarter.4 When I consider the exceeding Candour and Good-nature of our Author (which inclin’d all the gentler Part of the World to love him; as the Power of his Wit obliged the Men of the most delicate Knowledge and polite Learning to admire him); and that he should throw this humorous Piece of Satire at his Prosecutor, at least twenty Years after the Provocation given ; I am confidently persuaded it must be owing to an unforgiving Rancour on the Prosecutor’s Side : and if This was the Case, it were Pity but the Disgrace of such an Inveteracy should remain as a lasting Reproach, and Shallow stand as a Mark of Ridicule to stigmatize his Malice.

[13]  It is said, our Author spent some Years before his Death, in Ease, Retirement, and the Conversation of his Friends, at his Native Stratford. I could never pick up any certain Intelligence, when he relinquish’d the Stage. I know, it has been mistakenly thought by some, that Spenser’s Thalia, in his Tears of the Muses, where she laments the Loss of her Willy in the Comic Scene, has been apply’d to our Author’s quitting the Stage. But Spenser himself, ’tis well known, quitted the Stage of Life in the Year 1598 ; and, five Years after this, we find Shakespeare’s Name among the Actors in Ben Jonson’s Sejanus, which first made its Appearance in the Year 1603.5 Nor, surely, could he then have any Thoughts of retiring, since, that very Year, a Licence under the Privy-Seal was granted by K. James I. to him and Fletcher, Burbage, Phillippes, Hemings, Condel, &c. authorizing them to exercise the Art of playing Comedies, Tragedies, &c. as well at their usual House call’d the Globe on the other Side of the Water, as in any Parts of the Kingdom, during his Majesty’s Pleasure (A Copy of which Licence is preserv’d in Rymer’s Foedera).6 Again, ’tis certain that Shakespeare did not exhibit his Macbeth till after the Union was brought about, and till after King James I. had begun to touch for the Evil : for ’tis plain, he has inserted Compliments, on both those Accounts, upon his Royal Master in that Tragedy.7 Nor, indeed, could the Number of the Dramatic Pieces he produced admit of his retiring near so early as that Period. So that what Spenser there says, if it relate at all to Shakespeare, must hint at some occasional Recess he made for a time upon a Disgust taken : or the Willy, there mention’d, must relate to some other favourite Poet. I believe, we may safely determine that he had not quitted in the Year 1610. For in his Tempest, our Author makes mention of the Bermuda Islands, which were unknown to the English, till, in 1609, Sir John Summers made a Voyage to North-America, and discover’d them : and afterwards invited some of his Countrymen to settle a Plantation there. That he became the private Gentleman, at least three Years before his Decease, is pretty obvious from another Circumstance : I mean, from that remarkable and well-known Story, which Mr. Rowe has given us of our Author’s Intimacy with Mr. John Combe, an old Gentleman noted thereabouts for his Wealth and Usury : and upon whom Shakespeare made the following facetious Epitaph :

Ten in the hundred lies here ingrav’d, ‘
Tis a hundred to ten his Soul is not sav’d ;
If any Man ask who lies in this Tomb,
Oh ! oh ! quoth the Devil, ’tis my John-a-Combe. 8

[14]  This sarcastical Piece of Wit was, at the Gentleman’s own Request, thrown out extemporally in his Company. And this Mr. John Combe I take to be the same, who, by Dugdale in his Antiquities of Warwickshire, is said to have dy’d in the Year 1614, and for whom, at the upper end of the Quire of the Guild of the Holy Cross at Stratford, a fair Monument is erected, having a Statue thereon cut in Alabaster, and in a Gown, with this Epitaph. “Here lyeth interr’d the Body of John Combe, Esq ; who dy’d the 10th of July, 1614, who bequeathed several Annual Charities to the Parish ofStratford, and 100l. to be lent to fifteen poor Tradesmen from three years to three years, changing the Parties every third Year, at the Rate of fifty Shillings per Annum, the Increase to be distributed to the Almes-poor there.”—The Donation has all the Air of a rich and sagacious Usurer.

[15]  Shakespeare himself did not survive Mr. Combe long, for he dy’d in the Year 1616, the 53d of his Age. He lies buried on the North Side of the Chancel in the great Church at Stratford; where a Monument, decent enough for the Time, is erected to him, and plac’d against the Wall. He is represented under an Arch in a sitting posture, a Cushion spread before him, with a Pen in his Right Hand, and his Left rested on a Scrowl of Paper.9 The Latin Distich, which is placed under the Cushion, has been given us by Mr. Pope, or his Graver, in this Manner.

INGENIO Pylium, Genio Socratem, Arte Maronem,
Terra tegit, Populus moeret, Olympus habet.

[16]  I confess, I don’t conceive the Difference betwixt Ingenio and Genio in the first Verse. They seem to me intirely synonymous Terms; nor was the Pylian sage Nestor celebrated for his Ingenuity, but for an Experience and Judgment owing to his long Age. Dugdale, in his Antiquities ofWarwickshire, has copied this Distich with a Distinction which Mr. Rowe has follow’d, and which certainly restores us the true Meaning of this Epitaph.

JUDICIO Pylium, Genio Socratem, &c. 10

[17]  In 1614, the greater Part of the Town of Stratford was consumed by Fire ; but our Shakespeare’s House, among some others, escap’d the Flames. This House was first built by Sir Hugh Clapton, a younger Brother of an ancient Family in that Neighbourhood, who took their Name from the Manor of Clopton. Sir Hugh was Sheriff of London in the Reign of Richard III. and Lord Mayor in the Reign of King Henry VII. To this Gentleman the Town of Stratford is indebted for the fine Stone-bridge, consisting of fourteen Arches, which at an extraordinary Expence he built over theAvon, together with a Cause-way running at the West-end thereof; as also for rebuilding the Chapel adjoining to his House, and the Cross-Isle in the Church there.11 It is remarkable of him, that, tho’ he liv’d and dy’d a Bachelor, among the other extensive Charities which he left both to the City ofLondon and Town of Stratford, he bequeath’d considerable Legacies for the Marriage of poor Maidens of good Name and Fame both in London and at Stratford. Notwithstanding which large Donations in his Life, and Bequests at his Death, as he had purchased the Manor of Clopton, and all the Estate of the Family, so he left the same again to his elder Brother’s Son with a very great Addition (a Proof how well Beneficence and Œconomy may walk hand in hand in wise Families) : Good Part of which Estate is yet in the Possession of Edward Clopton, Esq. and Sir Hugh Clopton, Knt. lineally descended from the elder Brother of the first Sir Hugh : Who particularly bequeathed to his Nephew, by his Will, his House, by the Name of his Great-House in Stratford.

[18]  The Estate had now been sold out of the Clopton Family for above a Century, at the time when Shakespeare became the Purchaser : who, having repair’d and modell’d it to his own Mind, chang’d the Name to New-place12 ; which the Mansion-house, since erected upon the same Spot, at this day retains. The House and Lands, which attended it, continued in Shakespeare’s Descendants to the Time of the Restoration : when they were repurchased by the Clopton Family, and the Mansion now belongs to Sir Hugh Clopton, Knt. To the Favour of this worthy Gentleman I owe the Knowledge of one Particular, in Honour of our Poet’s once Dwelling-house, of which, I presume, Mr. ROWE never was appriz’d. When the Civil War raged in England, and K. Charles the First’s Queen was driven by the Necessity of Affairs to make a Recess in Warwickshire, she kept her Court for three Weeks in New-place. We may reasonably suppose it then the best private House in the Town; and her Majesty preferr’d it to the College, which was in the Possession of the Combe Family, who did not so strongly favour the King’s Party.

[19]  How much our Author employ’d himself in Poetry, after his Retirement from the Stage, does not so evidently appear : Very few posthumous Sketches of his Pen have been recover’d to ascertain that Point. We have been told, indeed, in Print, but not till very lately, That two large Chests full of this Great Man’s loose Papers and Manuscripts, in the Hands of an ignorant Baker of Warwick (who married one of the Descendants from our Shakespeare), were carelessly scatter’d and thrown about, as Garret-Lumber and Litter, to the particular Knowledge of the late Sir William Bishop13, till they were all consumed in the general Fire and Destruction of that Town. I cannot help being a little apt to distrust the Authority of this Tradition; because as his Wife surviv’d him seven Years, and as his Favourite Daughter Susanna surviv’d her twenty-six Years, ’tis very improbable they should suffer such a Treasure to be remov’d, and translated into a remoter Branch of the Family, without a Scrutiny first made into the Value of it. This, I say, inclines me to distrust the Authority of the Relation : but, notwithstanding such an apparent Improbability, if we really lost such a Treasure, by whatever Fatality or Caprice of Fortune they came into such ignorant and neglectful Hands, I agree with the Relater, the Misfortune is wholly irreparable.

[20]  To these Particulars, which regard his Person and private Life, some few more are to be glean’d from Mr. ROWE’S Account of his Life and Writings : Let us now take a short View of him in his publick Capacity, as a Writer : and, from thence, the Transition will be easy to the State in which his Writings have been handed down to us.

[21]  No Age, perhaps, can produce an Author more various from himself than Shakespeare has been universally acknowledged to be. The Diversity in Stile, and other Parts of Composition, so obvious in him, is as variously to be accounted for. His Education, we find, was at best but begun: and he started early into a Science from the Force of Genius, unequally assisted by acquir’d Improvements. His Fire, Spirit, and Exuberance of Imagination gave an impetuosity to his Pen : His Ideas flow’d from him in a Stream rapid, but not turbulent; copious, but not ever over-bearing its Shores. The Ease and Sweetness of his Temper might not a little contribute to his Facility in Writing : as his Employment, as a Player, gave him an Advantage and Habit of fancying himself the very Character he meant to delineate. He used the Helps of his Function in forming himself to create and express that Sublime which other Actors can only copy, and throw out, in Action and graceful Attitude. But Nullum sine Venia placuit Ingenium, says Seneca14. The Genius that gives us the greatest Pleasure, sometimes stands in Need of our Indulgence. Whenever this happens with regard toShakespeare I would willingly impute it to a Vice of his Times. We see Complaisance enough, in our Days, paid to a bad Taste. So that his Clinches, false Wit, and descending beneath himself, may have proceeded from a Deference paid to the then reigning Barbarism.

[22]  I have not thought it out of my Province, whenever Occasion offer’d, to take notice of some of our Poet’s grand Touches of Nature : Some that do not appear superficially such ; but in which he seems the most deeply instructed ; and to which, no doubt, he has so much ow’d that happy Preservation of his Characters, for which he is justly celebrated. Great Genius’s, like his, naturally unambitious, are satisfy’d to conceal their Art in these Points. ‘Tis the Foible of your worser Poets to make a Parade and Ostentation of that little Science they have; and to throw it out in the most ambitious Colours. And whenever a Writer of this Class shall attempt to copy these artful Concealments of our Author, and shall either think them easy, or practised by a Writer for his Ease, he will soon be convinced of his Mistake by the Difficulty of reaching the Imitation of them.

Speret idem, sudet multum, frustraque laboret,
Ausus idem :—— 15

[23]  Indeed, to point out, and exclaim upon, all the Beauties of Shakespeare, as they come singly in Review, would be as insipid, as endless ; as tedious, as unnecessary : But the Explanation of those Beauties that are less obvious to common Readers, and whose Illustration depends on the Rules of just Criticism, and an exact knowledge of human Life, should deservedly have a Share in a general Critic upon the Author. But, to pass over at once to another Subject:——

[24]  It has been allow’d on all hands, how far our Author was indebted to Nature ; it is not so well agreed, how much he ow’d to Languages and acquired Learning. The Decisions on this Subject were certainly set on Foot by the Hint from Ben Jonson, that he had small Latin and less Greek : And from this Tradition, as it were, Mr. Rowe has thought fit peremptorily to declare, that, “It is without Controversy, he had no Knowledge of the Writings of the ancient Poets, for that in his Works we find no Traces of any thing which looks like an imitation of the Ancients. For the Delicacy of his Taste (continues He), and the natural Bent of his own great Genius (equal, if not superior, to some of the Best of theirs), would certainly have led him to read and study them with so much Pleasure, that some of their fine Images would naturally have insinuated themselves into, and been mix’d with his own Writings : and so his not copying at least something from them, may be an Argument of his never having read them.”16 I shall leave it to the Determination of my Learned Readers, from the numerous Passages, which I have occasionally quoted in my Notes, in which our Poet seems closely to have imitated the Classics, whether Mr. Rowe’s Assertion be so absolutely to be depended on. The Result of the Controversy must certainly, either way, terminate to our Author’s Honour : how happily he could imitate them, if that Point be allowed ; or how gloriously he could think like them, without owing any thing to Imitation.

[25]  Tho’ I should be very unwilling to allow Shakespeare so poor a Scholar as Many have labour’d to represent him, yet I shall be very cautious of declaring too positively on the other side of the Question : that is, with regard to my Opinion of his Knowledge in the dead languages. And therefore the Passages, that I occasionally quote from the Classics, shall not be urged as Proofs that he knowingly imitated those Originals ; but brought to shew how happily he has express’d himself upon the same Topicks. A very learned Critick of our own Nation has declar’d, that a Sameness of Thought and Sameness of Expression too, in Two Writers of a different Age, can hardly happen, without a violent Suspicion or the latter copying from his Predecessor. I shall not therefore run any great Risque of a Censure, tho’ I should venture to hint, that the Resemblances in Thought and Expression of our Author and an Ancient (which we should allow to be Imitation in the One whose learning was not question’d) may sometimes take its Rise from Strength of Memory, and those Impressions which he owed to the School. And if we may allow a Possibility of This, considering that, when he quitted the School he gave into his Father’s Profession and way of Living, and had, ’tis likely, but a slender Library of Classical Learning; and considering what a Number of Translations, Romances, and Legends, started about his Time, and a little before (most of which, ’tis very evident, he read) ; I think, it may easily be reconciled why he rather schemed his Plots and Characters from these more latter Informations, than went back to those Fountains, for which he might entertain a sincere Veneration, but to which he could not have so ready a Recourse.

[26]  In touching on another Part of his Learning, as it related to the Knowledge of History and Books, I shall advance something that, at first sight, will very much wear the Appearance of a Paradox. For I shall find it no hard Matter to prove, that, from the grossest Blunders in History, we are not to infer his real Ignorance of it : Nor from a greater Use of Latin Words, than ever any other English Author used, must we infer his intimate Acquaintance with that Language.

[27]  A Reader of Taste may easily observe, that tho’ Shakespeare, almost in every Scene of his historical Plays, commits the grossest Offences against Chronology, History, and Ancient Politicks ; yet This was not thro’ Ignorance, as is generally supposed, but thro’ the too powerful Blaze of his Imagination ; which, when once raised, made all acquired Knowledge vanish and disappear before it. But this Licence in him, as I have said, must not be imputed to Ignorance : since as often we may find him, when Occasion serves, reasoning up to the Truth of History ; and throwing out Sentiments as justly adapted to the Circumstances of his Subject, as to the Dignity of his Characters, or Dictates of Nature in general.

[28]  Then to come to his Knowledge of the Latin Tongue, ’tis certain there is a surprising Effusion of Latin Words made English, far more than in any one English Author I have seen ; but we must be cautious to imagine this was of his own doing. For the English Tongue, in this Age, began extremely to suffer by an inundation of Latin : And this, to be sure, was occasion’d by the Pedantry of those two Monarchs, Elizabeth and James, Both great Latinists. For it is not to be wonder’d at, if both the Court and Schools, equal Flatterers of Power, should adapt themselves to the Royal Taste.17

[29]  But now I am touching on the Question (which has been so frequently agitated, yet so entirely undecided) of his Learning and Acquaintance with the Languages ; an additional Word or two naturally falls in here upon the Genius of our Author, as compared with that of Jonson his Contemporary. They are confessedly the greatest Writers our Nation could ever boast of in the Drama. The first, we say, owed all to his prodigious natural Genius ; and the other a great deal to his Art and Learning. This, if attended to, will explain a very remarkable Appearance in their Writings. Besides those wonderful Masterpieces of Art and Genius, which each has given us, They are the Authors of other Works very unworthy of them : But with this Difference, that in Jonson’s bad Pieces we don’t discover one single Trace of the Author of the Fox18 and Alchemist : but in the wild extravagant Notes of Shakespeare, you every now and then encounter Strains that recognize the divine Composer. This Difference may be thus accounted for. Jonson, as we said before, owing all his Excellence to his Art, by which he sometimes strain’d himself to an uncommon Pitch, when at other times he unbent and play’d with his Subject, having nothing then to support him, it is no wonder he wrote so far beneath himself. But Shakespeare, indebted more largely to Nature than the Other to acquired Talents, in his most negligent Hours could never so totally divest himself of his Genius, but that it would frequently break out with astonishing Force and Splendor.

[30]  As I have never propos’d to dilate farther on the Character of my Author than was necessary to explain the Nature and Use of this Edition, I shall proceed to consider him as a Genius in Possession of an everlasting Name. And how great that Merit must be, which could gain it against all the Disadvantages of the horrid Condition in which he had hitherto appear’d! Had Homer, or any other admir’d Author, first started into Publick so maim’d and deform’d, we cannot determine whether they had not sunk for ever under the Ignominy of such an ill Appearance. The mangled Condition ofShakespeare has been acknowledg’d by Mr. Rowe, who publish’d him indeed, but neither corrected his Text, nor collated the old Copies. This Gentleman had Abilities, and a sufficient Knowledge of his Author, had but his Industry been equal to his Talents. The same mangled Condition has been acknowledg’d too by Mr. Pope, who publish’d him likewise, pretended to have collated the old Copies, and yet seldom has corrected the Text but to its Injury. I congratulate with the Manes of our Poet, that this Gentleman has been sparing in indulging his private Sense, as he phrases it; for He who tampers with an Author whom he does not understand, must do it at the Expence of his Subject. I have made it evident throughout my Remarks, that he has frequently inflicted a Wound where he intended a Cure. He has acted with regard to our Author, as an Editor, whom LIPSIUSmentions, did with regard to MARTIAL ; Inventus est nescio quis Popa, qui nan vitia ejus, sed ipsum excidit. He has attack’d him like an unhandy Slaughterman ; and not lopp’d off the Errors, but the Poet.19

[31]  When this is found to be Fact, how absurd must appear the Praises of such an Editor! It seems a moot Point, whether Mr. Pope has done most Injury to Shakespeare as his Editor and Encomiast, or Mr. Rymer done him Service as his Rival and Censurer. They have Both shewn themselves in an equal Impuissance of suspecting, or amending, the corrupted Passages : and tho’ it be neither Prudence to censure, or commend, what one does not understand ; yet if a man must do one when he plays the Critick, the latter is the more ridiculous Office : And by That Shakespeare suffers most. For the natural Veneration which we have for him, makes us apt to swallow whatever is given us as his, and set off with Encomiums ; and hence we quit all suspicions of Depravity : On the contrary, the Censure of so divine an Author sets us upon his Defence; and this produces an exact Scrutiny and Examination, which ends in finding out and discriminating the true from the spurious.

[32]  It is not with any secret Pleasure that I so frequently animadvert on Mr. Pope as a Critick ; but there are Provocations which a Man can never quite forget. His Libels have been thrown out with so much Inveteracy, that, not to dispute whether they should come from a Christian, they leave it a Question whether they could come from a Man. I should be loth to doubt, as Quintus Serenus did in a like Case,

Sive homo, seu similis turpissima bestia nobis,
Vulnera dente dedit. 20

The Indignation, perhaps, for being represented a Blockhead, may be as strong in us as it is in the Ladies for a Reflexion on their Beauties. It is certain, I am indebted to Him for some flagrant Civilities ; and I shall willingly devote a Part of my Life to the honest Endeavour of quitting Scores : with this Exception however, that I will not return those Civilities in his peculiar Strain, but confine myself, at least, to the Limits of common Decency. I shall ever think it better to want Wit, than to want Humanity : and impartial Posterity may, perhaps, be of my Opinion.

[33]  But, to return to my Subject; which now calls upon me to inquire into those Causes, to which the Depravations of my Author originally may be assign’d. We are to consider him as a Writer, of whom no authentic Manuscript was left extant; as a Writer, whose Pieces were dispersedly perform’d on the several Stages then in Being. And it was the Custom of those Days for the Poets to take a Price of the Players for the Pieces They from time to time furnish’d ; and thereupon it was suppos’d, they had no farther Right to print them without the Consent of the Players. As it was the Interest of the Companies to keep their Plays unpublish’d, when any one succeeded, there was a Contest betwixt the Curiosity of the Town, who demanded to see it in Print, and the Policy of the Stagers, who wish’d to secrete it within their own Walls. Hence, many Pieces were taken down in Short-hand, and imperfectly copied by Ear, from a Representation : Others were printed from piece-meal Parts surreptitiously obtain’d from the Theatres, uncorrect, and without the Poet’s Knowledge. To some of these Causes we owe the Train of Blemishes that deform those Pieces which stole singly into the World in our Author’s Lifetime.

[34]  There are still other Reasons which may be suppos’d to have affected the whole Set. When the Players took upon them to publish his Works intire, every Theatre was ransack’d to supply the Copy ; and Parts collected, which had gone thro’ as many Changes as Performers, either from Mutilations or Additions made to them. Hence we derive many Chasms and Incoherences in the Sense and Matter. Scenes were frequently transposed, and shuffled out of their true Place, to humour the Caprice, or suppos’d Convenience, of some particular Actor. Hence much Confusion and Impropriety has attended and embarrass’d the Business and Fable. To these obvious Causes of Corruption it must be added, That our Author has lain under the Disadvantage of having his Errors propagated and multiplied by Time : because, for near a Century, his Works were publish’d from the faulty Copies, without the Assistance of any intelligent Editor : which has been the Case likewise of many a Classic Writer.

[35]  The Nature of any Distemper once found has generally been the immediate Step to a Cure. Shakespeare’s Case has in a great Measure resembled That of a corrupt Classic; and, consequently, the Method of Cure was likewise to bear a Resemblance. By what Means, and with what Success, this Cure has been effected on ancient Writers, is too well known, and needs no formal Illustration. The Reputation, consequent on Tasks of that Nature, invited me to attempt the Method here; with this view, the Hopes of restoring to the Publick their greatest Poet in his original Purity : after having so long lain in a Condition that was a Disgrace to common Sense. To this end I have ventur’d on a Labour, that is the first Assay of the kind on any modern Author whatsoever. For the late Edition of Milton by the Learned Dr. Bently is, in the main, a Performance of another Species. It is plain, it was the Intention of that Great Man rather to correct and pare off the Excrescencies of the Paradise Lost, in the Manner that Tucca and Varius21 were employ’d to criticize the Æneis of Virgil, than to restore corrupted Passages. Hence, therefore, may be seen either the Iniquity or Ignorance of his Censurers, who, from some Expressions, would make us believe, the Doctor every where gives us his Corrections as the original Text of the Author; whereas the chief Turn of his Criticism is plainly to shew the World, that if Milton did not write as He would have him, he ought to have wrote so.22

[36]  I thought proper to premise this Observation to the Readers, as it will shew that the Critic on Shakespeare is of a quite different Kind. His genuine Text is for the most part religiously adher’d to, and the numerous Faults and Blemishes, purely his own, are left as they were found. Nothing is alter’d, but what by the clearest Reasoning can be proved a Corruption of the true Text; and the Alteration, a real Restoration of the genuine Reading. Nay, so strictly have I strove to give the true Reading, tho’ sometimes not to the Advantage of my Author, that I have been ridiculously ridicul’d for it by Those, who either were iniquitously for turning every thing to my Disadvantage, or else were totally ignorant of the true Duty of an Editor.

[37]  The Science of Criticism, as far as it effects an Editor, seems to be reduced to these three Classes; the Emendation of corrupt Passages ; the Explanation of obscure and difficult ones; and an Inquiry into the Beauties and Defects of Composition. This Work is principally confin’d to the two former Parts : tho’ there are some Specimens interspers’d of the latter Kind, as several of the Emendations were best supported, and several of the Difficulties best explain’d, by taking notice of the Beauties and Defects of the Composition peculiar to this Immortal Poet. But This was but occasional, and for the sake only of perfecting the two other Parts, which were the proper Objects of the Editor’s Labour. The third lies open for every willing Undertaker : and I shall be pleas’d to see it the Employment of a masterly Pen.23

[38]  It must necessarily happen, as I have formerly observ’d, that where the Assistance of Manuscripts is wanting to set an Author’s Meaning right, and rescue him from those Errors which have been transmitted down thro’ a series of incorrect Editions, and a long Intervention of Time, many Passages must be desperate, and past a Cure; and their true Sense irretrievable either to Care or the Sagacity of Conjecture. But is there any Reason therefore to say, That because All cannot be retriev’d, All ought to be left desperate ? We should shew very little Honesty, or Wisdom, to play the Tyrants with an Author’s Text ; to raze, alter, innovate, and overturn, at all Adventures, and to the utter Detriment of his Sense and Meaning : But to be so very reserved and cautious, as to interpose no Relief or Conjecture, where it manifestly labours and cries out for Assistance, seems, on the other hand, an indolent Absurdity.

[39]  As there are very few pages in Shakespear, upon which some Suspicions of Depravity do not reasonably arise; I have thought it my Duty, in the first place, by a diligent and laborious Collation to take in the Assistances of all the older Copies.

[40]  In his Historical Plays, whenever our English Chronicles, and in his Tragedies when Greek or Roman Story, could give any Light; no Pains have been omitted to set Passages right by comparing my Author with his Originals ; for as I have frequently observed, he was a close and accurate Copier where-ever his Fable was founded on History.

[41]  Where-ever the Author’s Sense is clear and discoverable (tho’, perchance, low and trivial), I have not by any Innovation tamper’d with his Text, out of an Ostentation of endeavouring to make him speak better than the old Copies have done.

[42]  Where, thro’ all the former Editions, a Passage has labour’d under flat Nonsense and invincible Darkness, if, by the Addition or Alteration of a Letter or two, or a Transposition in the Pointing, I have restored to Him both Sense and Sentiment ; such Corrections, I am persuaded, will need no Indulgence.

[43]  And whenever I have taken a greater Latitude and Liberty in amending, I have constantly endeavour’d to support my Corrections and Conjectures by parallel Passages and Authorities from himself, the surest Means of expounding any Author whatsoever. Cette voïe d’interpreter un Autheur par lui-même est plus sure que tous les Commentaires, says a very learned French Critick.24

[44]  As to my Notes (from which the common and learned Readers of our Author, I hope, will derive some Satisfaction), I have endeavour’d to give them a Variety in some Proportion to their Number. Where-ever I have ventur’d at an Emendation, a Note is constantly subjoin’d to justify and assert the Reason of it. Where I only offer a Conjecture, and do not disturb the Text, I fairly set forth my Grounds for such Conjecture, and submit it to Judgment. Some Remarks are spent in explaining Passages, where the Wit or Satire depends on an obscure Point of History : Others, where Allusions are to Divinity, Philosophy, or other Branches of Science. Some are added to shew where there is a Suspicion of our Author having borrow’d from the Ancients : Others, to shew where he is rallying his Contemporaries ; or where He himself is rallied by them. And some are necessarily thrown in, to explain an obscure and obsolete TermPhrase, or Idea. I once intended to have added a complete and copious Glossary ; but as I have been importun’d, and am prepar’d, to give a correct Edition of our Author’s POEMS (in which many Terms occur that are not to be met with in hisPlays), I thought a Glossary to all Shakespeare’s Works more proper to attend that Volume.25

[45]  In reforming an infinite Number of Passages in the Pointing, where the Sense was before quite lost, I have frequently subjoin’d Notes to shew the deprav’d and to prove the reform’d, Pointing : a Part of Labour in this Work which I could very willingly have spar’d myself. May it not be objected, why then have you burden’d us with these Notes? The Answer is obvious, and, if I mistake not, very material. Without such Notes, these Passages in subsequent Editions would be liable, thro’ the Ignorance of Printers and Correctors, to fall into the old Confusion : Whereas, a Note on every one hinders all possible Return to Depravity, and for ever secures them in a State of Purity and Integrity not to be lost or forfeited.

[46]  Again, as some Notes have been necessary to point out the Detection of the corrupted Text, and establish the Restoration of the genuine Readings ; some others have been as necessary for the Explanation of Passages obscure and difficult. To understand the Necessity and Use of this Part of my Task, some Particulars of my Author’s Character are previously to be explain’d. There are Obscurities in him, which are common to him with all Poets of the same Species ; there are Others, the Issue of the Times he liv’d in ; and there are others, again, peculiar to himself. The Nature of Comic Poetry being entirely satirical, it busies itself more in exposing what we call Caprice and Humour, than Vices cognizable to the Laws. The English, from the Happiness of a free Constitution, and a Turn of Mind peculiarly speculative and inquisitive, are observ’d to produce more Humouristsand a greater Variety of original Characters, than any other People whatsoever : And These owing their immediate Birth to the peculiar Genius of each Age, an infinite Number of Things alluded to, glanced at, and expos’d, must needs become obscure, as the Characters themselves are antiquated and disused. An Editor therefore should be well vers’d in the History and Manners of his Author’s Age, if he aims at doing him a Service in this Respect.

[47]  Besides, Wit lying mostly in the Assemblage of Ideas, and in the putting Those together with Quickness and Variety, wherein can be found any Resemblance, or Congruity, to make up pleasant Pictures, and agreeable Visions in the Fancy ; the Writer, who aims at Wit, must of course range far and wide for Materials. Now, the Age in which Shakespeare liv’d, having, above all others, a wonderful Affection to appear Learned, They declined vulgar Images, such as are immediately fetch’d from Nature, and rang’d thro’ the Circle of the Sciences to fetch their Ideas from thence. But as the Resemblances of such Ideas to the Subject must necessarily lie very much out of the common Way, and every Piece of Wit appear a Riddle to the Vulgar ; This, that should have taught them the forced, quaint, unnatural Tract they were in (and induce them to follow a more natural One), was the very Thing that kept them attach’d to it. The ostentatious Affectation of abstruse Learning, peculiar to that Time, the Love that Men naturally have to every Thing that looks like Mystery, fixed them down to this Habit of Obscurity. Thus became the Poetry of DONNE (tho’ the wittiest Man of that Age) nothing but a continued Heap of Riddles. And our Shakespeare, with all his easy Nature about him, for want of the Knowledge of the true Rules of Art, falls frequently into this vicious Manner.

[48]  The third Species of Obscurities which deform our Author, as the Effects of his own Genius and Character, are Those that proceed from his peculiar Manner of Thinking, and as peculiar a Manner of cloathing those Thoughts. With regard to his Thinking, it is certain that he had a general Knowledge of all the Sciences : But his Acquaintance was rather That of a Traveller, than a Native. Nothing in Philosophy was unknown to him ; but every Thing in it had the Grace and Force of Novelty. And as Novelty is one main Source of Admiration, we are not to wonder that He has perpetual Allusions to the most recondite Parts of the Sciences : and This was done not so much out of Affectation, as the Effect of Admiration begot by Novelty. Then, as to his Style and Diction, we may much more justly apply to SHAKESPEARE what a celebrated Writer has said of MILTON ; Our Language sunk under him, and was unequal to that Greatness of Soul which furnish’d him with such glorious Conceptions.26 He therefore frequently uses old Words, to give his Diction an Air of Solemnity ; as he coins others, to express the Novelty and Variety of his Ideas.

[49]  Upon every distinct Species of these Obscurities I have thought it my Province to employ a Note, for the Service of my Author, and the Entertainment of my Readers. A few transient Remarks too I have not scrupled to intermix, upon the Poet’s Negligences and Omissions in point of Art; but I have done it always in such a Manner as will testify my Deference and Veneration for the immortal Author. Some Censurers of Shakespeare, and particularly Mr. Rymer, have taught me to distinguish betwixt the Railer and Critick. The Outrage of his Quotations is so remarkably violent, so push’d beyond all bounds of Decency and Sober Reasoning, that it quite carries over the Mark at which it was levell’d. Extravagant Abuse throws off the Edge of the intended Disparagement, and turns the Madman’s Weapon into his own Bosom. In short, as to Rymer, This is my Opinion of him from his Criticisms on the Tragedies of the Last Age. He writes with great Vivacity, and appears to have been a Scholar : but, as for his Knowledge of the Art of Poetry, I can’t perceive it was any deeper than his Acquaintance with Bossu and Dacier,27 from whom he has transcrib’d many of his best Reflexions. The late Mr. Gildon was one attached to Rymer by a similar way of Thinking and Studies. They were both of that Species of Criticks, who are desirous of displaying their Powers rather in finding Faults, than in consulting the Improvement of the World : the hypercritical Part of the Science of Criticism.28

[50]  I had not mentioned the modest Liberty I have here and there taken of animadverting on my Author, but that I was willing to obviate in time the splenetick Exaggerations of my Adversaries on this Head. From past Experiments I have reason to be conscious in what Light this Attempt may be placed: and that what I call a modest Liberty, will, by a little of their Dexterity, be inverted into downright Impudence. From a hundred mean and dishonest Artifices employ’d to discredit this Edition, and to cry down its Editor, I have all the Grounds in nature to beware of Attacks. But tho’ the Malice of Wit, join’d to the Smoothness of Versification, may furnish some Ridicule ; Fact, I hope, will be able to stand its Ground against Banter and Gaiety.

[51]  It has been my Fate, it seems, as I thought it my Duty, to discover some Anachronisms in our Author ; which might have slept in Obscurity but for this Restorer, as Mr. Pope is pleas’d affectionately to stile me : as, for Instance, where Aristotle is mentioned by Hector in Troilus and Cressida: and GalenCato, and Alexander the Great, in Coriolanus. These, in Mr. Pope’s Opinion, are Blunders, which the Illiteracy of the first Publishers of his Works has father’d upon the Poet’s Memory : it not being at all credible, that These could be the Errors of any Man who had the least Tincture of a School, or the least Conversation with Such as had. But I have sufficiently proved, in the course of my Notes, that such Anachronisms were the Effect of Poetic Licence, rather than of Ignorance in our Poet. And if I may be permitted to ask a modest Question by the way, Why may not I restore an Anachronism really made by our Author, as well as Mr. Pope take the Privilege to fix others upon him, which he never had it in his Head to make ; as I may venture to affirm he had not, in the Instance of Sir Francis Drake, to which I have spoke in the proper Place?29

[52]  But who shall dare make any Words about this Freedom of Mr. Pope’s towards Shakespeare, if it can be prov’d, that, in his Fits of Criticism, he makes no more Ceremony with good Homer himself? To try, then, a Criticism of his own advancing ; In the 8th Book of the Odyssey, whereDemodocus sings the Episode of the Loves of Mars and Venus ; and that, upon their being taken in the Net by Vulcan,

——The God of Arms
Must pay the Penalty for lawless Charms;

Mr. Pope is so kind gravely to inform us, “That Homer in This, as in many other Places, seems to allude to the Laws of Athens, where Death was the Punishment of Adultery.” But how is this significant Observation made out? Why, who can possibly object any Thing to the contrary? Does notPausanias relate that Draco the Lawgiver to the Athenians granted Impunity to any Person that took Revenge upon an Adulterer ? And was it not also the Institution of Solon, that if Any One took an Adulterer in the Fact, he might use him as he pleas’d? These Things are very true : and to see what a good Memory, and sound Judgment in Conjunction can atchieve! Tho’ Homer‘s Date is not determin’d down to a single Year, yet ’tis pretty generally agreed that he liv’d above 300 Years before Draco and Solon : And That, it seems, has made him seem to allude to the very Laws which these Two Legislators propounded about 300 Years after. If this Inference be not something like an Anachronism or Prolepsis, I’ll look once more into my Lexicons for the true Meaning of the Words. It appears to me that somebody besides Mars and Venus has been caught in a Net by this Episode : and I could call in other Instances to confirm what treacherous Tackle this Net-work is, if not cautiously handled.

[53]  How just, notwithstanding, I have been in detecting the Anachronisms of my Author, and in defending him for the Use of them, our late Editor seems to think, they should rather have slept in Obscurity : and the having discovered them is sneer’d at, as a sort of wrong-headed Sagacity.

[54]  The numerous Corrections which I have made of the Poet’s Text in my Shakespeare Restor’d,30 and which the Publick have been so kind to think well of, are, in the Appendix of Mr. Pope‘s last Edition, slightingly call’d Various Readings, Guesses, &c. He confesses to have inserted as many of them as he judg’d of any the least Advantage to the Poet ; but says, that the whole amounted to about 25 Words : and pretends to have annexed a compleat List of the rest, which were not worth his embracing. Whoever has read my Book, will at one Glance see, how in both these Points Veracity is strain’d, so an Injury might but be done. Malus, etsi obesse non potest, tamen cogitat.31

[55]  Another Expedient, to make my Work appear of a trifling Nature, has been an Attempt to depreciate Literal Criticism. To this end, and to pay a servile Compliment to Mr. Pope, an Anonymous Writer has, like a Scotch Pedlar in Wit, unbraced his Pack on the Subject. But, that his Virulence might not seem to be levelled singly at me, he has done me the Honour to join Dr. Bentley in the Libel. I was in hopes, we should have been both abused with Smartness of Satire at least, tho’ not with Solidity of Argument; that it might have been worth some Reply in Defence of the Science attacked. But I may fairly say of this Author, as Falstaffe does of Poins; —Hang him, Baboon! his Wit is as thick as Tewksbury Mustardthere is no more Conceit in him, than is in a MALLET.32 If it be not Prophanation to set the Opinion of the divine Longinus against such a Scribler, he tells us expressly, ” That to make a Judgment upon Words (and Writings) is the most consummate Fruit of much Experience.” ἡ γὰρ τῶν λόγων κρίσις πολλῆς ἐστὶ πείρας τελευταῖον ἐπιγέννημα. Whenever Words are depraved, the Sense of course must be corrupted ; and thence the Reader’s betray’d into a false Meaning.

[56]  If the Latin and Greek Languages have receiv’d the greatest Advantages imaginable from the Labours of the Editors and Criticks of the two last Ages ; by whose Aid and Assistance the Grammarians have been enabled to write infinitely better in that Art than even the preceding Grammarians, who wrote when those Tongues flourish’d as living Languages : I should account it a peculiar Happiness, that, by the faint Assay I have made in this Work, a Path might be chalk’d out, for abler Hands, by which to derive the same Advantages to our own Tongue : a Tongue, which, tho’ it wants none of the fundamental Qualities of an universal Language, yet, as a noble Writer says, lisps and stammers as in its Cradle ; and has produced little more towards its polishing than Complaints of its Barbarity.

[57]  Having now run thro’ all those Points which I intended should make any Part of this Dissertation, and having in my former Edition made publick Acknowledgments of the Assistances lent me, I shall conclude with a brief Account of the Methods taken in This.

[58]  It was thought proper, in order to reduce the Bulk and Price of the Impression, that the Notes, where-ever they would admit of it, might be abridg’d : for which Reason I have curtail’d a great Quantity of Such, in which Explanations were too prolix, or Authorities in Support of an Emendation too numerous : and Many I have entirely expung’d, which were judg’d rather Verbose and Declamatory (and, so, Notes merely of Ostentation), than necessary or instructive.

[59]  The few literal Errors which had escap’d Notice, for want of Revisals, in the former Edition, are here reform’d : and the Pointing of innumerable Passages is regulated, with all the Accuracy I am capable of.

[60]  I shall decline making any farther Declaration of the Pains I have taken upon my Author, because it was my Duty, as his Editor, to publish him with my best Care and Judgment: and because I am sensible, all such Declarations are construed to be laying a sort of a Debt on the Publick. As the former Edition has been received with much Indulgence, I ought to make my Acknowledgments to the Town for their favourable Opinion of it : and I shall always be proud to think That Encouragement the best Payment I can hope to receive from my poor Studies.


1.  Nicholas Rowe, first formal editor of Shakespeare responsible for the 1709 edition of his works and most famous for his seminal biography prefaced to that edition Some Acount of the Life &c. of Mr. William Shakespear.  Pope reprinted Rowe’s Acount after his own Preface (1725), but edited it.  Most versions of it reprinted through the eighteenth century were of Pope’s edited version, not the original Rowe. Theobald does not reprint the Rowe biography in his edition.

2.  Theobald, though extremely thorough, was not intimately aware of the curriculum at the King’s New School in Stratford where, in all prbability, Shakespeare attended.  For a very thorough analysis of Shakespeare’s education, see T. W. Baldwin, William Shakespeare’s Small Latine & Lesse Greeke, digitized with navigation and notes by the University of Illinois Press. [Return to text]

3.  Theobald has the chronology wrong.  On November 28, 1582 the Bishop of Worcester issued the marriage bond for “William Shagspere” and “Ann Hathwey of Stratford.”  Susannah, their first-born was baptized May 26, 1583.  Two years later, twins were born to them, Hamnet and Judith, named after Hamnet and Judith Sadler, apparently lifetime friends to Shakespeare.  Hamnet Sadler was remembered in Shakespeare’s will.  The twins were baptized February 2, 1584-5.   Just 11 1/2 years later Hamnet Shakespeare, the poet’s only son, died and was buried: August 11, 1596 at Stratford died in August.  Susannah married Dr. John Hall, a “moderate” Puritan doctor, in 1607.  Judeth did indeed marry Thomas Quiney, a Stratford vintner, just two months prior to the poet’s death in April of 1616.  See the Shakespeare Genealogy for details. [Return to text]

4.  Here is the version of the deer poaching story from Rowe:

“He had, by a Misfortune common enough to young Fellows, fallen into ill Company; and amongst them, some that made a frequent practice of Deer-stealing, engag’d him with them more than once in robbing a Park that belong’d to Sir Thomas Lucy of Cherlecot, near Stratford. For this he was prosecuted by that Gentleman, as he thought, somewhat too severely; and in order to revenge that ill Usage, he made a Ballad upon him. And tho’ this, probably the first Essay of his Poetry, be lost, yet it is said to have been so very bitter, that it redoubled the Prosecution against him to that degree, that he was oblig’d to leave his Business and Family in Warwickshire, for some time, and shelter himself in London.”  (see Rowe’s Some Acount of the Life…, Section [2]).

An independent source of the story, which was apparently current in Warwickshire and thereabouts during the latter seventeenth century, was Richard Davies (d. 1708).  Davies was a clergyman who in 1695 became the rector of Sapperton in Gloucestershire near Stratford.  He was a friend, or at least associate, of another Gloucestershire clergyman named William Fulman, whose personal manuscripts Davies possessed.  Fulman had jotted a few sentences on Shakespeare’s life, and Davies added some information.  Here is the information with Fulman’s notations in Roman type and Davies’ in italics (following Halliwell-Phillipps, see below):

“William Shakespeare was born at Stratford upon Avon in Warwickshire about 1563-4. Much given to all unluckinesse in stealing venison & rabbits, particularly from Sr   Lucy, who had him oft whipt & sometimes imprisoned, & at last made him fly his native country to his great advancement; but his reveng was so great that he is his Justice Clodpate and calls him a great man & that in allusion to his name bore three lowses rampant for his arms.

“From an actor of playes he became a composer. He dyed Apr. 23, 1616, Ætat. 53, probably at Stratford, for there he is buryed, and hath a monument on which he lays a heavy curse upon any one who shal remoove his bones. He dyed a papist.

Of this passage Halliwell-Phillipps says in his Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare (vol. II, p.71, 1887 7th edition):

“Notes on Shakespeare, those in Roman type having been made be fore the year 1688 by the Rev. William Fulman, and those in Italics being additions by the Rev. Richard Davies made previously to 1708. From the originals preserved at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. There is no evidence in the manuscript itself that the interesting additions were made by Davies, but the fact is established by the identity of the handwriting with thai in one of his autographical letters preserved in the same collection.”

Halliwell-Phillipps, nothing if not thorough, includes a facsimile in the Oulines, vol. I, p. 68, which I reproduce here:


See Halliwell-Phillipps’ analysis in the surrounding passages for more details of the understanding of this story in the late nineteenth century.  This passage also seems to be the primary source for the idea that Shakespeare was a Catholic.

Sir Thomas Lucy (1532 – 1600) was the owner of Charlecote estate near Stratford.  He was a Puritan and a zealous preserver of game.  The reference to Justice Clodpate has always been taken as a reference to Justice Shallow who appears in Henry IV Part 1 and The Merry Wives of Windsor.  The identification of Lucy with Shallow seems to be confirmed in The Merry Wives I, i:


Robert Shallow: Sir Hugh, persuade me not; I will make a Star-
chamber matter of it: if he were twenty Sir John
Falstaffs, he shall not abuse Robert Shallow, esquire.

Slender: In the county of Gloucester, justice of peace and

Robert Shallow: Ay, cousin Slender, and ‘Custalourum.

Slender: Ay, and ‘Rato-lorum’ too; and a gentleman born,
master parson; who writes himself ‘Armigero,’ in any
bill, warrant, quittance, or obligation, ‘Armigero.’

Robert Shallow: Ay, that I do; and have done any time these three
hundred years.

Slender: All his successors gone before him hath done’t; and
all his ancestors that come after him may: they may
give the dozen white luces in their coat.

Robert Shallow: It is an old coat.

Sir Hugh Evans: The dozen white louses do become an old coat well;
it agrees well, passant; it is a familiar beast to
man, and signifies love.

Robert Shallow: The luce is the fresh fish; the salt fish is an old coat.

Slender: I may quarter, coz.

Robert Shallow: You may, by marrying.

Sir Hugh Evans: It is marring indeed, if he quarter it.

Robert Shallow: Not a whit.

Sir Hugh Evans: Yes, py’r lady; if he has a quarter of your coat,
there is but three skirts for yourself, in my
simple conjectures: but that is all one. If Sir
John Falstaff have committed disparagements unto
you, I am of the church, and will be glad to do my
benevolence to make atonements and compremises
between you.

Robert Shallow: The council shall bear it; it is a riot.

(Globe Edition text).  Dugdale’s Antiquities of Warwickshire (1656) shows three white luces (pikes) in each quarter, totaling twelve.

5.  This is, in fact, the last mention of Shakespeare as an actor, and some biographers have assumed he left off acting about this time.  According to Ackroyd (Shakespeare, p.422) “He [Shakespeare] is listed among the players for Ben Jonson’s Sejanus in 1603, but is not mentioned as playing in the production of the same dramatist’s Volpone in 1605.”

Spenser is Edmund Spenser (1552 – 1599) author of the Faerie QueeneAstrophelAmoretti and EpithalamionA View of the Present State of Ireland, and other great works. Theobald gives the date of Spenser’s death as 1598.  Before the reform of the calendar, the new year began in March.  Spenser died on 13 January 1598 (Old Style).  New Style this day is regarded as being in 1599.  The Tears of the Muses is available online from Renascence Editions, University of Oregon.  The Thalia section begins after line 174.  The passage on “pleasant Willy” is at line 208:

And he the man, whom Nature selfe had made
To mock her selfe, and Truth to imitate,
With kindly counter vnder Mimick shade,
Our pleasant Willy, ah is dead of late:
With whom all ioy and iolly meriment
Is also deaded, and in dolour drent.

According to Schoenbaum (Shakespeare’s Lives, p. 91-92), both Pope and Theobald reject the identification of Shakespeare with pleasant Willy.

6.  Thomas Rymer (1643 – 1713), historiographer royal from 1692; author of Short View of Tragedy: Its Original Excellency and Corruption (1693); and The Tragedies of the Last Age Consider’d and Examined by the Practice of the Ancients and by the Common Sense of all Ages (1678), which are “…uncompromising assaults on Fletcher and Shakespeaere…” (Craik, p. 291).  Foedera appeared in sixteen volumes from 1704 to 1716.

A transcription of the text of the “license” issued to Shakespeare & Co. on May 17, 1603 and referred to in this passage can be found in Halliwell-Phillipps, The Life of William Shakespeare, 1848, p. 203, which I here reproduce:

By the King. Right trusty and welbeloved counsellor, we greete you well and will and commaund you, that under our privie seale in your custody for the time being, you cause our letters to be derected to the keeper of our greate seale of England, commaunding him under our said greate seale, he cause our letters to be made patents in forme following. James, by the grace of God, King of England, Scotland, Fraunce and Irland, defendor of the faith, &c., to all justices, maiors, sheriffs, constables, headboroughes, and other our officers and loving subjects, greeting; Know ye, that we of our speciall grace, certaine knowledge, and meere motion, have licenced and authorized, and by these presentes doe licence and authorize, these our servants, Lawrence Fletcher, William Shakespeare, Richard Burbage, Augustine Phillippes, John Hemmings, Henrie Condell, William Sly, Robert Armyn, Richard Cowlye, and the rest of their associats, freely to use and exercise the arte and faculty of playing comedies, tragedies, histories, enterludes, moralls, pastoralls, stage plaies, and such other like, as thei have already studied, or hereafter shall use or studie, as well for the recreation of our loving subjects, as for our solace and pleasure, when we shall thinke good to see them, during our pleasure; and the said comedies, tragedies, histories, enterludes, moralls, pastoralls, stage plaies, and such like, to shew and exercise publiquely to their best commoditie, when the infection of the plague shall decrease, as well within theire now usuall howse called the Globe, within our county of Surrey, as also within anie towne halls, or moat halls, or other convenient places within the liberties and freedome of any other citie, universitie, towne or borough whatsoever within our said realmes and dominions. Willing and commaunding you, and every of you, as you tender our pleasure, not only to permit and suffer them heerin, without any your letts, hinderances, or molestations, during our said pleasure, but also to be ayding or assisting to them yf any wrong be to them offered; and to allowe them such former courtesies, as hathe bene given to men of their place and qualitie, and also what further favour you shall shew to these our servants for our sake we shall take kindly at your hands, and these our letters shall be your sufficient warrant and discharge in this behalfe. Given under our signet at our manner of Greenewiche the seavententh day of May in the first yeere of our raigne of England, France, and Ireland, and of Scotland the six and thirtieth.

It is fortunate the document was printed in Foedera, and, of course, could be consulted among the Privy Seal papers, because in the paragraph after this one in Halliwell-Phillipps Life reference is made to one of the forgeries of the infamous John Payne Collier, at the time unknown as a forger.  He, along with Halliwell-Phillipps, Alexander Dyce and Charles Knight were founders of the Shakespeare Association which, in the 1850s, foundered on the proofs of Colliers infamous deeds.  Halliwell-Phillipps, Knight and Dyce are remembered fondly for their many contributions.  Not so Collier, though other than Halliwell-Phillipps, was probably the single most original contributor to authentic Shakespeare facts during the nineteenth century.

7.  “touch for the Evil”:  for many centuries through the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance persisting to the reign of George I (e.g., the infant Samuel Johnson was touched by Queen Anne) it was believed that the royal touch of a king of England or France could cure diseases, specifically scrofula, a name for many sorts of skin diseases, but in particular a tubercular infection of the lymph nodes in the neck, and therefore also known as the “King’s Evil.”

Macbeth, IV, iii, 159-163:

Ay, sir; there are a crew of wretched souls
That stay his cure: their malady convinces
The great assay of art; but at his touch–
Such sanctity hath heaven given his hand–
They presently amend.

8.  John Combe (1560 – 1614) was the wealthiest man in Stratford and apparently Shakespeare’s friend and a friend of the family. He left Shakespeare 5£ in his will, acted on behalf of his parents in a suit against John Lambert, and in 1602 sold property to Shakespeare.  The anecdote appears in Rowe (section 13 of the Acount), Aubrey’s Brief Lives before that (1688, vol. II, p. 226), and has been traced back to as early as 1608.  Combe also left in his will 1000£ to the poor and 60£ for a tomb in Stratford’s Trinity Church, on which Theobald comments.

9.  Shakespeare’s monument was erected some time before 1623, because it is mentioned by Leonard Digges in his encomium prefaced to the First Folio “TO THE MEMORIE of the deceased Authour Maister W. S H A K E S P E A R E.”:

Shake-speare, at length thy pious fellowes give
The world thy Workes : thy Workes, by which, out-live
Thy Tombe, thy name must when that stone is rent,
And Time dissolves thy
 Stratford Moniment,

According to B. C. A. Windle (Shakespeare Country, 1899, p. 35):

“When erected, the bust was coloured to resemble life, the eyes a light hazel and the beard and hair auburn. The bust was repaired and beautified in 1748 by Mr John Ward out of the proceeds of a performance of Othello. In 1793, Malone succeeded in persuading the then vicar to have the bust painted white…This coat of white paint was scraped off in 1861 and the monument recoloured as far as possible in its original tints, nor is there any reason to think that they are otherwise than a faithful representation of those which were laid on by the brush of Gerard Johnson.”

With respect to Malone’s act, a visitor to the Stratford monument, said to be General Richard Fitzpatrick in Dodd’s The Epigrammatists (1875, p. 464) wrote in the visitor’s album the following lines:

Stranger, to whom this monument is shown,
Invoke the poet’s curse upon Malone!
Whose meddling zeal his barbarous taste displays,
And smears his tombstone, as he marr’d his plays.

Dodd, an admirer of Malone as all thoughtful men have been since his time, cannot resist editorializing:

“The bust of Shakespeare in Stratford Church was coloured to resemble a living countenance. Malone, thinking this absurd and tasteless, caused it to be covered with a coat of white paint. This may have been unjustifiable, but General Fitzpatrick would have been nearer the truth if he had written the last line of the epigram:

And smears his tomb, though he restor’d his plays.”


The inscription under the likeness, from Halliwell-Phillipps, The life of William Shakespeare. Including many particulars respecting the poet and his family never before published, 1848, p.289 is shown close-up below:


SIEH in the penultimate line is an engraver’s error for SITH.  Cundall (Annals of the Life and Work of William Shakespeare, 1886, p. 80) translates the Latin epigram as:

“A Nestor in wisdom, a Socrates in genius, a Virgil in poetic art;
Earth covers him, the people mourn for him, he is with the gods.”

Nestor was referred to in the Iliad as “Pylian Nestor,” thus the “Pylium.”  Virgil’s name is Publius Vergilius Maro, thus “Maronem.”

A color photo of the funerary likeness, can be seen on The Holloway Pages Shakespeare Page.

[Return to text]

10.  Paragraphs 15 and 16 illustrate D. Nichol Smith’s points that Theobald cannot resist a) showing up Pope and b) needlessly parading his knowledge, even in this edited down version of the Preface.

11.  Sir Hugh Clopton (c. 1440 – 1496) was Lord Mayor 1491/92.  The Clopton family moved from the Great House (later Shakespeare’s New Place) to Clopton Manor, located just outside of Stratford, early in the sixteenth century. Without the owners’ knowledge Clopton Manor served as a rendezvous for the Gunpowder plotters in 1605.  In 1733 Theobald knew the then living descendant of the Clopton estate, also named Sir Hugh Clopton.

12.  Theobald implies that Shakespeare named the house “New Place.”  This is not so.  It is named as such in a 1590 survey, as noted by M. C. Bellew (Shakespeare’s Home at New Place, Stratford-upon-Avon) in 1863.  Even prior to this Schoenbaum (William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life, p. 236) notes that neighbors were sued in 1563 by the then owner, William Bott, for “removing twelve pieces of sawed timber from ‘le barn yard’ near ‘le Newe Place garden’…”.

13.  Sir William Bishop (1626 – 1700) a native of the Stratford area is alleged to be the source for the apocryphal story–that Theobald here doubts–that Shakespeare’s personal papers were destroyed in a fire in Warwick.  A general fire did occur in Warwick in 1694.  The story was first printed by John Roberts in An Answer to Mr. Pope’s Preface to Shakespeare (1729):

“How much it is to be lamented, that Two large Chests full of this GREAT MAN’S loose Papers and Manuscripts, in the Hands of an ignorant Baker of WARWICK, (who married one of the Descendants from Shakespear) were carelesly scatter’d and thrown about, as Garret Lumber and Litter, to the particular Knowledge of the late Sir William Bishop, till they were all consum’d in the generall Fire and Destruction of that Town?”

14.  Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4BC – 65AD) was a stoic philosopher and tutor to Nero.  He wrote tragedies in imitation of Greek tragedy.  Their wooden nature made them “closet” or “declamatory” dramas, rather than dramas to be acted.  His drama, and writings in general had enormous influence on European Renaissance education.  Shakespeare would have been intimately familiar with them.  An English translation of his plays appeared in 1581 titled Seneca His Tenne Tragedies translated into Englysh (See Ward, English Dramatic Literature, 1899, p. 194).  The influence of Senecan tragedy, philosophy and rhetoric on Shakespeare cannot be underestimated.

15.  From Horace’s Ars Poetica (ll. 241-242) in this context:

Ex noto fictum carmen sequar, ut sibi quiuis
speret idem, sudet multum frustraque laboret
ausus idem; tantum series iuncturaque pollet,
tantum de medio sumptis accedit honoris. (240-243)

Meaning, according to Lyne (Words and the Poet):

I will aim at a poem created out of the familiar, such that anyone might hope to emulate it, but sweat much and toil in vain if he ventured to: such is the power of connection and combination, such the dignity that can accrue, to words taken from the common stock.

Pithily, it is rendered: “anybody may hope for the same success, may sweat much and yet toil in vain.”  It is a common early 18th century tag, used by Dryden, Congreve, Shaftsbury, Sheridan, etc.

16. Nicholas Rowe, Some Acount of the Life &c. of Mr. William Shakespear, sec. [2], prefaced to the 1709 edition of Rowe’s Shakespeare.

17.  Theobald, unlike Pope, shows himself cognizant of the dynamic nature of English as it evolved, and even here assigns a sophisticated cause to its development through the court and schools as they sought to imitate the fashion initiated by Elizabeth or James, themselves under the influence of the Latinism of Renaissance humanism.  This alone made Theobald a far better editor than Pope, who regularized many of Shakespeare’s lines in his 1725 edition to make them amenable to eighteenth century tastes.   See Pope’s Preface to the 1725 edition.  I quote here is section [18]:

“As I believe that what I have mentioned gave rise to the opinion of Shakespear’s want of learning ; so what has continued it down to us may have been the many blunders and illiteracies of the first Publishers of his works. In these Editions their ignorance shines almost in every page; nothing is more common than Actus tertiaExit OmnesEnter three Witches solus. Their French is as bad as their Latin, both in construction and spelling: Their very Welsh is false. Nothing is more likely than that those palpable blunders of Hector’s quoting Aristotle, with others of that gross kind, sprung from the same root : It not being at all credible that these could be the errors of any man who had the least tincture of a School, or the least conversation with such as had Ben Johnson (whom they will not think partial to him) allows him at least to have had some Latin ; which is utterly inconsistent with mistakes like these. Nay the constant blunders in proper names of persons and places, are such as must have proceeded from a man who had not so much as read any history, in any language : so could not be Shakespear’s.”

Pope goes on to heap scorn on the heads of Shakespeare’s player companions in their roles as editors.

18.  Fox = Volpone (1605).

19.  Theobald continues his unrelenting attack on Pope, who pilloried Theobald as the hero of the Dunciad in retaliation for Theobald’s Shakespeare Restored.  Pope’s attack would be the one to last and take root, leading even such a fair and erudite analyst as Dr. Johnson to condemn Theobald.

Lipsius is Justus Lipsius (Joest Lips, 1547 – 1606), was a neo-stoic philosopher and Senecan scholar who worked on the Epigrams of Martial (Marcus Valerius Martialis, b. c.40 – d. c. 103).  Martial’s twelve books of Epigrams were published in Rome between AD 86 – 103.

Below is an illustration from the 1728 edition of the Dunciad.  The owl sits upon six volumes, representing the triumphs of dullness in its battle against wit.  The volumes, starting from the bottom, are by Cibber, The Duchess of Newcastle, John Dennis, Ogilby, Theobald, and Sir Richard Blackmore.  The pile represents an altar to Dulness.  The owl (Athena’s symbol, goddess of wisdom) sits atop the altar pretending to be wit in order to be worshipped.  For a thoroughgoing analysis see Elias F. Mengel, Jr., “The Dunciad Illustrations,” Eighteenth-Century Studies, Vol. 7, No. 2. (Winter, 1973-1974), pp. 161-178.  For those with access to JSTOR, the article can be found at the following stable URL:


20.  Quintus Sammonicus Serenus, fluorished in the second century, and was the author of De medicina praecepta.  In this quote Serenus Sammonicus is copying Ennius,  but referring to the bite of apes.

Hominis aut simiae morsu
sive homo seu similis turpissima bestia nobis
vulnera dente dedit, virus simul intulit atrum,
Vettonicam ex duro prodest absumere Baccho.
Nec non et cortex raphani decocta medetur,
si trita admorsis fuerit circumlita membris. (Liber Medicinalis)

21.  Plotius Tucca and Varius Rufus Virgil’s literary executors.  Virgil (Publius Virgilius Maro) died in 19BC and directed that the Aeneid be destroyed.  The emperor Augustus, however, Virgil’s friend and patron, ordered Tucca and Varius to see it published.

22.  Theobald refers in this paragraph to Dr. Richard Bentley (1662 – 1742) and his 1732 edition of Paradise Lost.  Bentley justified his numerous emendations, corrections and amplifications of the text by appealing to two fictional (though he presents them as real in his Preface–and may himself believed in them) assistants to the blind Milton, an amanuensis and an editor, responsible for the “errors.”  Dr. Johnson, in his Life of Milton, says of him:

“…Bentley, perhaps better skilled in grammar than in poetry, has often found, though he sometimes made them, and which he imputed to; the obtrusions of an reviser, whom the author’s blindness obliged him to employ; a supposition rash and groundless, if he thought it true ; and vile and pernicious, if, as is said, he in private allowed it to be false.”

See J. H. Monk’s The Life of Richard Bentley, D. D.,1833,  vol. II, p. 311 for more on Milton, Bentley and Johnson.

23.  Both an echo and slap at Pope, under whose parody Theobald constantly laboured and smarted.  Pope, in his own Preface wrote: “For of all English Poets Shakespear must be confessed to be the fairest and fullest subject for Criticism, and to afford the most numerous as well as most conspicuous instances, both of Beauties and Faults of all sorts” (Section [1]).

24.  This method of interpretation is surer than all commentaries.

25.  This projected volume with Glossary was never published.

26.  The reference is to Addison in The Spectator, No. 297 for Saturday, February 9, 1712, p. 178 in The Spectator, Vol. IV, ed. Austin Dobson, 1898:

“If, in the last Place, we consider the Language of this great poet we must allow what I have hinted in a former Paper, that it is often too much laboured, and sometimes obscured by old Words, Transpositions, and Foreign Idioms. Seneca’s Objection to the Stile of a great Author, Riget ejus oratío, nihil in ea placidum nihil lene, is what many Criticks make to Milton; As I cannot wholly refute it, so I have already apologized for it in another Paper ; to which I may further add, that Milton’s Sentiments and Ideas were so wonderfully sublime, that it would have been impossible for him to have represented them in their full Strength and Beauty, without having Recourse to these Foreign Assistances, Our Language sunk under him, and was unequal to that Greatness of Soul, which furnished him with such glorious Conception.

27.  René Le Bossu (1631 – 1680) and André Dacier (1651 – 1722).  See “Influence of French Criticism: Chapelain, Le Bossu and Dacier” in XVI. The Essay and the Beginning of Modern English Prose, The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden:

“Dryden speaks of Le Bossu as “the best of modern critics,” and the greater part of his Discourse concerning the Original and Progress of Satire (1693) is little more than an adaptation of Dacier’s Essai sur la Satire. A translation of this treatise, which consists of only a few pages, was printed in an appendix to one of Le Bossu’s, Du poème épique, in 1695. “I presume your Ladyship has read Bossu,” says Brisk to lady Froth, in Congreve’s Double-Dealer (1693).”

28.  Thomas Rymer (1643 – 1713), historiographer royal from 1692; author of Short View of Tragedy: Its Original Excellency and Corruption (1693); and The Tragedies of the Last Age Consider’d and Examined by the Practice of the Ancients and by the Common Sense of all Ages (1678), which are “…uncompromising assaults on Fletcher and Shakespeaere…” (Craik, p. 291).  Foedera appeared in sixteen volumes from 1704 to 1716.

Charles Gildon (1665 – 1724) a notorious early 18th century hack responsible for the “seventh volume” of Rowe’s edition of Shakespeare containing Shakespeare’s Sonnets and poetry based on the 1640 Benson edition.  See my “Rowe’s Seventh Volume: Charles Gildon and the Corruption of the Poetry.”

29.  The 18th century critics seem obsessed with anachronisms in Shakespeare.  Theobald, though he takes the modern view here, is inconsistent.  He refers to Pope’s own anachronism in Henry VI Part 1.  On Pope’s insertion of Sir Francis Drake see Theobald’s letters to Warburton dated Jan. 17, 1729-30, and Jan. 29, 1729-30, in John Nichols, Illustrations of the Literary History of the Eighteenth Century, vol. II.

30.  Pope’s edition of Shakespeare appeared in 1725.  The following year Theobald made a bold attack on it in his:

Shakespeare restored, or, A specimen of the many errors, as well committed, as unamended, by Mr. Pope : in his late edition of this poet. Designed not only to correct the said edition, but to restore the true reading of Shakespeare in all the editions ever yet published.

Shakespeare restored is a remarkable volume.   I have been able to locate two facsimile editions on the Internet:  One from Google Book Search, and one from SCETI at the University of Pennsylvania.  The book is largely a very detailed commentary with very specific textual examples, on Hamlet as published in Pope’s 1725 edition.  In fact, 132 of the books 194 pages conduct this very detailed textual analysis.  The remaining 62 pages of fine print are dedicated to an analysis of Shakespeare’s other works, with the same sort of thoroughgoing explanations and critical comments.

31.  From the Sententiae of Publilius Syrus (fl 1st century BC).  See PVBLILII SYRI SENTENTIAE, line 347.

32.  Theobald refers here to David Mallet (or Malloch) (c. 1705 – 1765), who wrote Of Verbal Criticism: an epistle to Mr. Pope in 1733 (see The Works of David Mallet, vol. I, 1759) to court favor with Pope by pillorying Bentley and Theobald (Tibbalt, as Pope has it), another reason Theobald takes pains to differentiate his approach from that of Bentley.  Of Mallet’s poem Dr. Johnson says:

“His poem on ‘Verbal Criticism’ (April, 1733) was written to pay court to Pope, on a subject which he either did not understand or willingly misrepresented; and is little more than an improvement, or rather expansion, of a fragment which Pope printed in a Miscellany long before he engrafted it into a regular poem. There is in this piece more pertness than wit, and more confidence than knowledge. The versification is tolerable, nor can criticism allow it a higher praise” (Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets, vol. III, 1854, p. 364)

The preceding reference to Falstaff and Poins is to Henry IV, Part 2, II,iv,227-229.

Links to Theobald’s Edition of Shakespeare

In 1726 Alexander Pope was severely criticized by Lewis Theobald in his book Shakespeare restored, or, A specimen of the many errors, as well committed, as unamended, by Mr. Pope : in his late edition of this poet. Designed not only to correct the said edition, but to restore the true reading of Shakespeare in all the editions ever yet published. The book concentrates on the deficiencies exhibited by Pope in his edition of Hamlet, but in a long appendix goes on to comment, though not as exhaustively, on most of the other plays.  I have been able to locate two facsimile editions of this work on the Internet:  One from Google Book Search, and one from SCETI at the University of Pennsylvania.

Theobald followed Shakespeare restored with his own edition of the plays (heavily indebted to an epistolary collaboration with Warburton), published in 1733.  Theobald’s was a revolutionary edition.  His genius was for collation, comparison, the analysis of parallel passages, the application of historical precedent, an understanding of the linguistic variation and development of English, and for making inspired guesses.  Many of Theobald’s emendations persist to this day.  I have provided links below to the volumes that could be found on Google Book Search from the first edition of 1733, courtesy of Dr. Hardy Cook who persisted in finding them when I had failed, and to the 1767 sixth edition.  The chief difference is the Preface, which was shortened for the second edition of 1740 and left in that state for subsequent editions.  The longer Preface is available in the 1733 edition. Interestingly, for all Theobald’s criticism of Pope, his own edition is based on Pope’s 1728 second edition–itself containing most of the corrections pointed out by Theobald in Shakespeare restored.  I have also linked to a complete set of 8 volumes of the 1767 reissue (known as Theobald 6 in Murphy (Shakespeare in Print). Other editions of Theobald’s Shakespeare were published in 1740 (2nd edition) 1752 (8 vols., 12mo.), 1757 (8 vols., 8vo.), 1762 (8 vols., 12mo.), 1767 (8 vols., 12mo.–the volumes linked below), 1772 (12 vols., 12mo.), 1773 (8 vols., 12mo.), and 1777 (?) (12 vols., 12mo.)).  It was a very profitable endeavor for the Tonsons (the publishers–in fact, the most reprinted of all their Shakespeare editions [Murphy, p. 76]) and Theobald himself, though he died in 1744.

Thanks to the admirable persistence of Dr. Hardy Cook, the following links to the 1733 first edition of Theobald’s Works of Shakespeare: In Seven Volumes are complete:

The Works of Shakespeare: In Seven Volumes.  Collated with the Oldest Copies, and Corrected; with Notes, Explanatory, and Critical: by Mr. Theobald.  Printed for A. Bettesworth,…MDCCXXXIII.

  • Volume I
    • To the Right Honourable Earl of Orrery
    • The Preface
    • An Epitaph on the admirable Dramatick Poet, W. Shakespeare (Milton)
    • In Remembrance of Master William Shakespeare (Davenant)
    • On the Effigies of Shakespeare, prefix’d to his printed Works (Jonson)
    • To the Memory of my Beloved, the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare (Jonson)
    • The Names of the Subscribers
    • The Tempest
    • A Midsummer-Night’s Dream
    • The Two Gentlemen of Verona
    • The Merry Wives of Windsor
    • Measure for Measure
    • Much Ado About Nothing
  • Volume the Second
    • The Merchant of Venice
    • Love’s Labour’s lost
    • As You Like It
    • The Taming of the Shrew
    • All’s Well That Ends Well
    • Twelfth-Night: or, What You Will
  • Volume the Third (Volume the Third from the 1740 2nd edition)
  • Volume the Fourth
    • The Life of K. Henry Vth
    • The First Part of K. Henry VIth
    • The Second Part of K. Henry VIth
    • The Third Part of K. Henry VIth with the Death of the Duke of York
    • The Life and Death of Richard III
  • Volume the Fifth
  • Volume the Sixth
    • Coriolanus
    • Julius Caesar
    • Antony, and Cleopatra.
    • Cymbeline
  • Volume the Seventh

The following links are to the 1767 edition (Theobald 6) from Google Book Search.  I have provided links into the volumes to individual plays.  Beginning with the second edition (1740) Theobald revised his famous Preface.  Note, also, that Theobald, following Pope, did not include the apocryphal plays first printed in the 1664 reprinting of the Third Folio, repeated in the Fourth Folio (1685) and even included by Rowe in his 1709 edition.

  • Volume I
    • Prefatory material including Milton’s Epitaph; poems by Davenant, and Ben Jonson;
    • Theobald’s long Preface; Shakespeare’s will;
    • The Tempest;
    • A Midsummer-Night’s Dream;
    • The Two Gentlemen of Verona;
    • The Merry Wives of Windsor;
    • Measure for Measure.
  • Volume II
    • Much Ado about Nothing;
    • The Merchant of Venice;
    • Love’s Labour’s Lost;
    • As You Like It;
    • The Taming of the Shrew.
  • Volume III
    • All’s Well That Ends Well;
    • Twelfth Night: or, What You Will;
    • The Comedy of Errors;
    • The Winter’s Tale;
    • The Life and Death of King John.
  • Volume IV
    • The Life and Death of Richard the Second;
    • The First Part of Henry IV. With the Life and Death of Henry, Sirnam’d Hot-Spur;
    • The Second Part of Henry IV. Containing His Death and the Coronation of Henry V.;
    • The Life of King Henry V.;
    • The First Part of King Henry VI.
  • Volume V
    • The Second Part of King Henry VI.;
    • The Third Part of King Henry VI. with the Death of the Duke of York.;
    • The Life and Death of Richard III;
    • The Life of King Henry VIII.
  • Volume VI
    • The Life and Death of King Lear;
    • Timon of Athens;
    • Titus Andronicus;
    • The Tragedy of Macbeth;
    • C. Marcius Coriolanus.
  • Volume VII
    • Julius Cæsar;
    • Antony and Cleopatra;
    • Cymbeline. A Tragedy.;
    • Troilus and Cressida.
  • Volume VIII
    • Romeo and Juliet;
    • Hamlet, Prince of Denmark;
    • Othello, The Moor of Venice.

Evaluations of Theobald’s Text

From the Cambridge History of English Literature, Vol. V, p. 301-302 (Ward & Waller, 1910):

“…Those who are aware of the unprecedented provocation which he received and of the superiority of which he must have been conscious find no difficulty in acquitting him; but the majority who read only Theobald’s notes must perforce join with Johnson in condemning his ‘contemptible ostentation.’ Every correction adopted by Pope from Shakespeare Restored in his second edition is carefully noted, although Theobald himself appropriated many of Pope’s conjectures without acknowledgment. Every correction of Theobald’s own, if but a comma, is accompanied by shouts of exultation and volleys of impotent sarcasm. But he overreached himself. Though smarting under the “flagrant civilities” which he received from Pope, he paid him the unintentional compliment of taking his text as the basis of his own. [Ironically, Theobald based his edition on Pope’s 1728 second edition.–tg]  Had he been as anxious to adhere faithfully to his authorities as he was eager to dilate on the faithlessness of Pope, he would hardly have fallen into the error of following the edition which he himself classed as ‘of no authority.’ It has sometimes been stated that Theobald based his text on the first folio. But the very numerous instances in which he has perpetuated Pope’s arbitrary alterations in his own text show that this was not the case. Yet the multitude of readings which he restored both from the quartos and from the first folio largely neutralised the effect of this error. It is in dealing with real corruption that Theobald is seen at his best, and remains without a rival. His acuteness in the detection of errors is no less admirable than is the ingenuity shown in their correction. His thorough knowledge of Shakespearean phraseology, his sound training in “corrupt classics,” and also his fine poetic taste, were qualifications which contributed to his success. The importance of Theobald’s conjectures may be gathered from the words of the editors of The Cambridge Shakespeare: ‘Where the folios are all obviously wrong, and the quartos also fail us, we have introduced into the text several conjectural emendations; especily we have often had recourse to Theobald’s ingenuity.’  It is not surprising that the gift of conjecture revealed in these brilliant restorations led Theobald to make many unnecessary changes in the text.”