Preface to the First Edition of The Works of William Shakespeare, 1857, Alexander Dyce

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

[1] PREVIOUS to the publication of the folio edition of Shakespeare’s dramatic works in 1623 under the auspices of his fellow-actors Heminge and Condemn, seventeen of his plays had appeared in quarto at various dates,—viz. King Richard the Second, King Richard the Third, Romeo and Juliet, Love’s Labour’s lost, The First Part of King Henry the Fourth, The Second Part of King Henry the Fourth, King Henry the Fifty, The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer-Night’s Dream, Much Ado about Nothing, Titus Andronicus, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Hamlet, King Lear, Troilus and Cressida, Pericles, and Othello. As I have elsewhere enumerated the different impressions of those quartos (see List of Editions, p. cxxxii. sqq.), and incidentally noticed their peculiarities (see Account of the Plays, p. sqq.), I need only observe here, that, though they found their way to the press without the consent either of the author or of the managers, it is certain that nearly all of them were printed, with more or less correctness and completeness, from transcripts of MS. copies belonging to the theatre.

[2] The folio of 1623 includes, with the exception of Pericles, the plays which had previously appeared in quarto, and twenty others which till then had remained in manuscript. The title-page of the volume runs thus,—Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. Published according to the True Originall Copies: and in a prefatory address “To the Great Variety of Readers,”1 the editors announce what they have done in the following terms : “It had been a thing, we confess, worthy to have been wished, that the author himself had lived to have set forth and overseen his own writings. But, since it hath been ordained otherwise, and he by death departed from that right, we pray you do not envy his friends the office of their care and pain, to have collected and published them;and so to have published them as where (before) you were abused with divers stolen and surreptitious copies, maimed and deformed by the frauds and stealth of injurious impostors that exposed them, even those are now offered to your view cured and perfect of their limbs, and all the rest absolute in their numbers as he conceived them; who, as he was a happy imitator of nature, was a most gentle expresser of it: his mind and hand went together; and what he thought, he uttered with that easiness, that we have scarce received from him a blot in his papers.”2  But, as Malone long ago remarked, this statement concerning the imperfections of the quartos one and all, “is not strictly true of any but two of the whole number, The Merry Wives of Windsor and King Henry V. ;”3 and “the quartos were in general the basis on which the folio editors built.”4 It is demonstrable that Heminge and Condell printed Much ado about Nothing from the quarto of 1600, omitting some short portions and words here and there, and making some trivial changes, mostly for the worse:—that they printed Love’s Labour’s lost from the quarto of 1598, occasionally copying the old errors of the press; and though in a few instances they corrected the text, they more frequently corrupted it; spoilt the continuity of the dialogue in act iii. sc. 1. by omitting several lines, and allowed the preposterous repetitions in act iv. sc. 3. and act v. sc. 2.5 to stand as in the quarto:—that their text of A Midsummer-Night’s Dream was mainly taken from Roberts’s quarto,—by much the inferior of the two quartos of 1600,—its blunders being sometimes followed; and though they amended a few passages, they introduced not a few bad  variations, to say nothing of their being chargeable with some small omissions: —that for The Merchant of Venice they used Heyes’s quarto, 1600, retaining a good many of its misprints; and though in some places they improved the text, their deviations from the quarto are generally either objectionable readings or positive errors:—that in King Richard II they chiefly adhered to the quarto of 1615, copying some of its mistakes; and though they made one or two short additions and some slight emendations, they occasionally corrupted the text, and greatly injured the tragedy by omitting sundry passages, one of which, in act i. sc. 3, extends to twenty-six lines:6—that their text ofThe First Part of King Henry IV. is, on the whole, more faulty than that of the incorrect quarto of 1613, from which they printed the play:—that their text of King Richard III.,—which materially differs from that of all the quartos, now and then for the better, but oftener perhaps for the worse,—was in some parts printed from the quarto of 1602, as several corresponding errors prove; and though it has many lines not contained in any of the quartos, it leaves out a very striking and characteristic portion of the 2d scene of act iv.,7 and presents passages here and there which cannot be restored to sense without the assistance of the quartos:—that they formed their text of Troilus and Cressida on that of the quarto of 1609, from which some of their many blunders were derived; and though they made important additions in several passages, they omitted other passages, sometimes to the destruction of the sense:—that in Hamlet, while they added considerably to the prose-dialogue in act ii. sc. 2, inserted elsewhere lines and words which are wanting in the quartos of 1604, &c., and rectified various mistakes of those quartos; they,—not to mention minor mutilations of the text, some of them accidental,—omitted in the course of the play about a hundred and sixty verses (including nearly the whole of the 4th scene of act iv.), and left out a portion of the prose-dialogue in act v. sc. 2, besides allowing a multitude of errors to creep in passim:—that their text of King Lear, though frequently correct where the quartos are incorrect, and containing various lines and words omitted in the quartos, is, on the other hand, not only often incorrect where the quartos are correct, but is mutilated to a surprising extent,—the omissions, if we take prose and verse together, amounting to about two hundred and seventy lines, among which is an admirable portion of the 6th scene of the iiid act,8 as well as the whole of the 3d scene of act iv.:—but, not to weary the reader, I refrain from further details, though something might be added concerning their text of The Second Part of King Henry IV., of Titus Andronicus, of Romeo and Juliet, and of Othello. In short, Heminge and Condell made up the folio of 1623, partly from those very quartos which they denounced as worthless, and partly from manuscript stage-copies, some of which had been depraved, in not a few places, by the alterations and “botchery of the players,”9 and awkwardly mutilated for the purpose of curtailing the pieces in representation.10—For the strange inconsistency of such a procedure with what the editors of 1623 professed to do, Mr. W. N. Lettsom has perhaps satisfactorily accounted when he suggests, “that, in their eyes, autographs, transcripts to the third and fourth generation, and printed books, were all much on a level, if they were only used and sanctioned by their company.”11—As to the original manuscripts of Shakespeare’s plays, it is altogether improbable that any of them (especially when we recollect that the Globe Theatre was burned down in 1613) should have existed in 1623:—we know, on the testimony of Sir Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels, that the original manuscript of The Winter’s Tale,—one of our poet’s latest compositions,—was “missing” in August 1623.12

[3]  The editor of the second folio, which appeared in 1632, was alike ignorant of Shakespeare’s phraseology and versification: hence he vitiated the text in numerous instances by capriciously altering what he did not understand, and by interpolating words in lines where he thought the metre halted.  All he did in the way of real correction was to set right some of the more obvious mistakes of the first folio, while he left others as he found them, and not unfrequently substituted new errors for the old.—Since whatever changes he made were merely arbitrary,—for he certainly never consulted manuscript copies of the plays,—the second folio cannot be considered as an independent authority.

[4]  After what has been said, it is almost unnecessary to add that the text of this edition is eclectic. Mr. Collier justly remarks of Hamlet, that “any editor who should content himself with reprinting the folio, without large additions from the quartos, would present but an imperfect notion of the drama as it came from the hand of the poet. The text of ‘Hamlet’ is, in fact, only to be obtained from a comparison of the editions in quarto and folio:”13 and the remark is applicable to nearly all the other plays which were first printed in quarto; for even when the quartos do not supply absolute deficiencies, and though in various passages they may be themselves defective or corrupt, they frequently enable us to restore the language of Shakespeare where it has suffered from the tampering of the players.l4

[5] Of the modern editions of Shakespeare, from Rowe’s to the most recent, I need make no mention here. But on the Emendations of Mr. Collier’s Ms. Corrector, which are still the subject of acrimonious dispute, I feel myself compelled to give an opinion: and, waving the question, for how much of that immense farrago the Corrector is really answerable, I am bound to say, that, with all his ignorance and rashness,—the far greater proportion of his novae lectiones being either grossly erroneous or merely impertinent,—he yet deserves our thanks for having successfully removed some corruptions, and must be allowed the honour of having anticipated several happy conjectures of Theobald and others.—Mr. Collier complains of the reception which the Emendations have met with in certain quarters:15 but, even granting that they have not always been fairly criticised, he has himself, in a measure, to blame. He went far to create a prejudice against, if not to provoke a spirit of opposition to, the Corrector’s labours en masse, when, in the commentary with which he encumbered them, he advocated hundreds of the most unnecessary changes ever devised by perverse ingenuity; and when, moreover, from his limited knowledge of what conjecture had attempted on the poet’s text during the eighteenth century, he paraded as novelties a number of alterations already to be found in the editions of Pope, of Hanmer, and elsewhere.—It would seem that Mr. Collier’s judgment, nay, his recollection of the phraseology of our old writers, was at times affected by his blind admiration of the Corrector. E. g. In The Two Gentlemen of Verona, act iv. sc. 2, the first folio has,

” Her eyes are grey as glass,” &c.;

on which line Theobald aptly cites from Chaucer, “hire eyen grey as glas.”  But the second folio, by a misprint, has,

“Her eyes are grey as grass,” &c.

The Corrector,—who used the second folio,—not perceiving that the error lay in the word “grass,” altered the unoffending epithet ” grey” to ” green,”—

“Her eyes are green as grass,” &c;

and such,” says Mr. Collier, “we have good reasons to suppose was the true reading;” though a little before he admits that the first folio “may be right.”  In The Second Part of King Henry the Fourth, act iv. sc. 1, the old copies have,

“and your tongue divine
To a loud trumpet and a point of war.”

The Corrector substitutes,

“and your tongue divine
To a loud trumpet and report of war ;”

which Mr. Collier declares “ought to be printed in future,” for “here ‘point of war’ can have no meaning:” yet Mr. Collier formerly edited an early drama which contains the following Passage;

” Matrevers, thou
Sound proudly here a perfect point of war
In honour of thy sovereign’s safe return.”
Peele’s Edward I.,—Dodsley’s Old Plays, vol. xi. 13, ed. Collier.

But enough of the Ms. Corrector’s Emendations, with their particles of golden ore and their abundant dross.

[6]  When, at the desire of Mr. Moxon, I undertook this edition of Shakespeare,—with a reluctance arising from the conviction that, even if it proved not wholly unacceptable to others, it must fail to satisfy myself,—the arrangement was, that I should merely revise the text, without adding notes of any kind. But it soon became evident that, though notes explanatory of words, manners, customs, &c. might not be essentially necessary (for with such matters the reader is often as conversant as the editor), yet notes regarding the formation of the text were indispensable. Hence it is, that an edition originally meant to be entirely free from annotation comprises a considerable quantity of notes:—in disjoining which from the text, and placing them at the end of each play respectively, I have consulted the taste of those who have little relish for the minutia of verbal criticism.

[7]  It was also originally understood between the publisher and myself, that I should not be required to supply the memoir of Shakespeare intended to accompany the present edition: circumstances, however, which it is needless to explain, eventually imposed on me that ungrateful task. Owing to the scantiness of materials for his history, and to our ignorance of what we most wish to know concerning him, a Life of Shakespeare, in spite of its subject, is generally among the least readable efforts of the biographer: and I cannot but feel that, if my own memoir of the poet has any claim to another character, it is solely on account of its comparative shortness.

[8]  I have to return my best thanks to Mr. W. N. Lettsom for the extracts from the late Sidney Walker’s unpublished papers on Shakespeare, as well as for his own critical remarks, with which from time to time he furnished me; to Mr. John Forster, for much kind and judicious advice on various points of difficulty; and to Mr. Singer, for his prompt assistance whenever I had occasion to request it: nor ought I to conclude without acknowledging my obligations to Mr. Robson, from whose press the present edition comes forth, not only for the care he has bestowed in revising the sheets with an eye to verbal correctness, but for innumerable suggestions during the whole progress of the work.


December 1857 .

[Dyce’s Notes]

1.  Usually supposed to have been written by Ben Jonson.—In Notes and Queries, Sec. Series, vol. iii. 8, Mr. Bolton Corney expresses his conviction that Edward Blount “was the real editor” of the folio of 1623: and on that subject he has recently favoured me with several communications, of which I regret that the limits of a note prevent me from giving more than the following portions. “For some years before I ventured to ascribe the editorship of the entire volume to Edward Blount, it had been my firm notion that the two paragraphs of which the address ‘To the Great Variety of Readers’ consists could not have been written by the same person. The affectation of smartness, and the anxiety to vend, which disfigure the first paragraph, are utterly unlike the sober criticism and earnestness of feeling which form the substance of the second. What had Ben Jonson to do with the sale of the volume? What had Heminge and Condell to do with it after the transfer of the copyright? The persons chiefly interested in the sale of it were W. Jaggard, Ed. Blount, J. Smethwick, and W. Aspley; and as Blount had taken up the pen, on various occasions, for more than twenty years,—sometimes writing in a scholar-like way, and sometimes fantastically,—to him I am inclined to ascribe the first paragraph of the address. To Heminge and Condell I assign the rest,—and I admire the spirit of it.”  After enumerating various works edited by Blount, and among them the Ars Auliea of Lorenzo Ducci, 1607, which he dedicated to William Earl of Pembroke and Philip Earl of Montgomery as an expression of his “particular dutie,”—Mr. Corney asks, “Can it be conceived that the other proprietors [of the folio Shakespeare, 1623] would not have urged him to edit the volume? Could he decently refuse the office of editor? He had, moreover, a threefold motive to accept it:—1. As a fulfilment of his ‘particular dutie’ to the noble brothers to whom the volume is dedicated; 2. As one of the printers of the volume, and therefore in part responsible for its due execution; and 3. As one of the four publishers at whose charges the volume was printed.”  Mr. Corney also thinks it “possible that Blount may have had some influence in procuring the commendatory verses prefixed to the volume. Of the four specimens which it contains, that by Holland was not written for the occasion; that by I. M. is of uncertain authorship; and the others are by Ben Jonson and Leonard Digges.  Now, Ben Jonson and Leonard Digges contributed verses to the Guzman de Alfarache of Matheo Aleman, of which Blount was the proprietor and editor, in the same year.”

When Mr. Corney ascribes to Blount the editorship of the first folio, he, of course, does not mean that Blount had any concern in selecting the materials of which it consists, but that Blount undertook to see through the press the “copy” (a jumble of printed books and manuscripts) which Hemming and Condell had handed over to him :—and how was that task performed? with a carelessness almost unexampled!

2.  See p. cxliv.

3.  I need hardly observe that the quarto of Hamlet, 1603, which was unknown to Malone, does not form a third exception; for it was entirely superseded by the quarto of 1604.

4.  Preface to Shakespeare,1790.

5.  See notes (65) and (112), vol. pp. 167, 174.

6.  “Boling. Nay, rather, every tedious stride I make…The man that mocks at it and sets it light.”

7.  “Buck. My lord,…K. Rich. How chance the prophet could not at that time…I am not in the giving vein to-day.”

8.  “Edg. The foul fiend bites my back…False justicer, why hast thou let her scape?”

9.  Gifford,-note on Jonson’s Works, v. 163.

10.  With a boldness of assertion similar to that of Shakespeare’s earliest editors,—Humphrey Moseley, in an address “To the Readers,” prefixed to the folio of Beaumont and Fletcher’s Comedies and Tragedies, 1647, declares, “now you have both all that was acted, and all that was not; even the perfect full originals, without the least mutilation:” which is certainly not true with respect to two of the plays, The Humorous Lieutenant and The Honest Man’s Fortune, and is probably untrue with respect to many others. (See my ed. of Beaumont and Fletcher’s Works.)

11.  Preface to Walker’s Shakespeare’s Versification, &c., p. xvii.

12.  See p. clxix.

13.  Introd. to Hamlet.

14.  That Horne Tooke knew little or nothing of the quartos is manifest: if he had ever examined them even with ordinary attention, it is impossible that a man of his acuteness could have written about the folio in these extravagant terms:  “The first Folio, in my opinion, is the only edition worth regarding. And it is much to be wished, that an edition of Shakespeare were given literatim according to the first Folio: which is now become so scarce and dear, that few persons can obtain it.  For, by the presumptuous license of the dwarfish commentators, who are for ever cutting him down to their own size, we risque the loss of Shakespeare’s genuine text; which that Folio assuredly contains; notwithstanding some few slight errors of the press, which might be noted, without altering.”  &c., vol. ii. 54, ed. 1829. Nor is Mr. Knight’s encomium on the folio less extravagant:  “Perhaps,” he says, “all things considered, there never was a book so correctly printed as the first folio of Shakspere” (see vol. iv. p. 647 of the present edition): yet throughout his editions Mr. Knight has very great obligations to the quartos. The latest champion of the folio, and one determined to go all lengths in its defence, is Mr. Keightly; who (Notes and Queries, Sec. Series, vol. iv. 263) “does not despair” of seeing some future editor print, with the folio, in As you like it, act ii. se. 3,

“From SEVENTY years till now almost fourscore
Here lived I, but now live here no more.
At seventeen years many their fortunes seek;
But at fourscore it is too late a week,” &c.

(Poor Rowe! when he altered “From seventy years” to “From seventeen years,” he fancied that he had made an emendation which was fully confirmed by the third line of the passage.)

Mr. Hunter gives the true character of the folio: “Perhaps in the whole annals of English typography there is no record of any book of any extent and any reputation having been dismissed from the press with less care and attention than the first folio.”  Preface to New Illust. of Shakespeare, p. iv.

15.  In his Preface to Seven Lectures on Shakespeare and Milton by Coleridge, &c., Mr. Collier writes at great length about those who have assailed the Emendations,—about their animosity to the Corrector and to himself; and, p. lxvi., speaking of what he conceives to be unfair dealing on the part of Mr. Singer, he says, “I dislike using hard words: all who are acquainted with me know that it has never been my practice; but if I acquit Mr. Singer of intentional misrepresentation, the assertio falsi, how is he to answer the accusation of suppressio veri?  Of this minor offence proofs present themselves to me,” &c. Further on, after attempting to support the Corrector’s foolish alteration in King Henry the Eighth, act i. sc. 2,

“I am sorry that the Duke of Buckingham
Is one in your displeasure,”—

Mr. Collier notices certain mistakes in early books which have arisen from “the inability of some people to sound the letter r,” and then observes, p. lxxxv., that “the most remarkable proof to the same effect occurs in Webster’s ‘Appius and Virginia‘ (Edit. Dyce, ii. 160), where this passage is met with as it is printed in the old copy :

‘Let not Virginia wate her contemplation
So high, to call this visit an intrusion.’

It is clear that ‘wate’ must be wrong, and the editor suggests waie (i.e. weigh) as the fit emendation; when he did not see that it is only a blunder of w for r, because the person who delivered the line could not pronounce the letter r: read rate for ‘wate,’ and the whole difficulty vanishes.”  Now, in my edition of Webster the passage stands verbatim thus,

“Let not Virginia rate her contemplation
So high, to call this visit an intrusion:”

and with the following note,

“rate] So the editor of 1816. The old copy, ‘wate.’ Qy. if a misprint for ‘waie,’ i.e. weigh.”

Yet Mr. Collier,—who charges Mr. Singer with want of candour,—most carefully conceals the fact that “rate” is the reading in my text of Webster.