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Τ Η Ε
P R E F A C E
THE FIRST EDITIO N.
NEW edition of SHAKSPEARE, and an edition of so singular a
form as the present, in which all his plays are comprehended in One Volume, will, perhaps, appear surprising to many readers; but, upon a little reflection, their surprize will, the editor doubts not, be converted into approbation.
Much as Shakspeare has been read of late years, and widely as the study and admiration of him have been extended, there is still a numerous class to whom he is very imperfectly known. Many of the middling and lower ranks of the inhabitants of this country are either not acquainted with him at all, excepting by name, or have only seen a few of his plays, which have accidentally fallen in their way.
It is to supply the wants of those persons that the present edition is principally undertaken; and it cannot fail of becoming to them a perpetual source of entertainment and instruction. That they will derive the highest entertainment from it, no one can deny; for it does not require any extraordinary degree of knowledge or education to enter into the general spirit of Shakspeare. The passions he describes are the passions which are felt by every human being; and his wit and humour are not local, or confined to the customs of a particular age, but are such as will give pleasure at all times, and to men of all ranks, from the highest to the lowest.
But the instruction that may be drawn from Shakspeare is equal to the entertainment which his writings afford. He is the greatest master of human nature and of human life that, perhaps, ever existed; so that we cannot peruse his works without having our understandings considerably enlarged. Besides this, he abounds in occasional maxinis and reflections, which are calculated to make a deep impression upon the mind. There is scarcely any circumstance in the common occurrences of the world, on which something may not be found peculiarly applicable in Shakspeare; and, at the same time, better expressed than in any other author. To promote, therefore, the knowledge of them, is to contribute to general improvement..
Nor is the utility of the present publication confined to persons of the rank already described. It will be found serviceable even to those whose situation in life hath enabled them to purchase all the expensive editions of our great dramatist. The book now offered to the public may commodiously be taken into a post-chaise, for amusement in a journey. Or if a company of gentlemen should happen, in conversation, to mention Shakspeare, or to dispute concerning any particular passage, a volume containing the whole of his plays may, with great convenience, be fetched by a servant out of a library or a closet. In short, any particular passage may at all times and with ease be recurred to. It is a compendium, not an abridgment, of the noblest of our poets, and a library in a single volume.
The editor hath endeavoured to give all the perfection to this work which the nature of it can admit. The account of his life, which is taken from Rowe, and his last will, in reality comprehend almost every thing that is known with regard to the personal history of Shakspeare. The anxious researches of his admirers have scarcely been able to collect any farther information concerning him.
The text, in the present edition, is given as it has been settled by the most approved commentators. It does not consist with the limits of the design, that the notes should be very numerous. They have not, however, been wholly neglected. The notes which are subjoined are such as were necessary for the purpose of explaining obsolete words, unusual phrases, old customs, or distant allusions. In short, it has been the editor's aim to omit nothing which may serve to render Shakspeare intelligible to every capacity, and to every class of readers.
Having this view, he cannot avoid expressing his hope, that an undertaking, the utility of which is so apparent, will be encouraged by the public; and his confidence of a favourable reception is increased by the consciousness that he is not doing an injury to any one.
The success of the present volume will not impede the sale of the larger editions of Shakspeare, which will still be equally fought for by those to whom the purchase of them may be convenient.
favourable reception which has been given to the Plays of SHAKSPEARE, when published in one volume, has induced the Publisher to print another edition in the same form. However, in order to remove an objection made by some to the bulk of the volume, and to accommodate those who are of that opinion, a second title page is printed to be prefixed to page 543, the First Part of Henry VI. In order to retain the favourable opinion which has been experienced for the former edition, the greatest attention has been paid to the paper, the type, and the printing of this; to the correction of the press, and to the revifal of the notes.
To these exertions, another has been added in order to give this edition a claim of preference. A copious Index to our favourite Author has been long wished for, frequently planned, sometimes attempted, but never satisfactorily executed. Mr. Pope gave an Index to characters, sentiments, speeches, and descriptions, all which are contained in thirty pages, and which has been adopted by the editors of some of the later editions which bear the name of Theobald. A Concordance was published in 1785: this did not answer the expectation of the public, as it contained little more than those speeches and
lines, which immediately occur to the recollection of those who are the least acquainted with the writings of Shakspeare.
When this design came first under consideration, a reference to every word was proposed: on this plan more than seven hundred thousand references would have been necessary; a work dreadful in the prospect: and if the page alone had been given, without any notice of play, act, scene, column, and line, the difficulty of finding any particular passage, or discovering the various applications of words by the author, would have remained nearly as great as a search for it in the rich mines of Shakspearean Literature.
In the present attempt a plan nearly novel has been adopted, by which, at an easy view, will be discovered the different meanings in which almost every word has been used by Shakspeare. This will be a means of preserving the early application of words, and tend much to transmi. co posterity the English language sacred from the inundation of new words grafted on it, from the commerce and intercourse which, during the last century, has been daily increasing (and may it long continue to increase) with all the nations of Europe, and particularly with the natives of the French continent.
In another view, every thing characteristic is collected under its proper head, by which is more immediately discovered the wonderful knowledge of Shakspeare, shewing him equally acquainted with things high and lov'· far distant and near at hand; present and long passed by; as well as with the characters which the paffions, actions, and views of men assume, and with the various properties of the material world. The Index forms a third volume, more bulky than either of the other volumes; and although it is particularly adapted to the present Edition, it is so constructed as to be made use of to any Edition, as the reference is given to the Play, Act, and Scene *, which answer in nearly all other Editions.
* Let it be remembered, that in some of the later editions of Shakspeare, the play of “ Timon of Athens” begins the fifth act, with what is here called the second scene of the fifth act; so that the reference to act and scene, after act 4, scene 3, will not answer to all editions,
How far the Compiler has in his selection answered the intentions of those who have wished for an Index to their favourite Author, must be submitted to their opinion who shall consult it. He only requests the candour of the public so far as shall lead them to consider what he has done, rather than censure him for what might have been added to a building, of which so substantial a foundation is now laid for the first time.
A Table of the Order of Time, in which the plays of Shakspeare are supposed to have been published, is now added, according to Mr. Malone's accurate investigations.
In this state Mr. Stockdale submits the present Edition of Shakspeare's Plays to the judgment of a discerning public, wishing their patronage and encouragement no further than his well-meant endeavours merit it. Deeply impressed with gratitude, it remains for him to return his most sincere thanks for the ROYAL., Noble, and liberal patronage with which he has been supported in it, and which he trusts every effort to illustrate our great Poet of Nature will receive, whilst the partiality of the nation shall wish to secure the language in purity, and whilst the inhabitants shall continue to admire the manners of their ancestors, and the characters of nature.