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THE text of the present volume is the result of an independent examination of the early Quarto and the First Folio editions of Shakespeare's works. The version used as basis has been chosen after a separate investigation of the state of the case for each play; and the grounds for the choice have been indicated in the special introductions. In the consideration of the emendations of previous editors, much use has been made of the collations in the monumental works of Messrs. Clark and Wright and of Dr. H. H. Furness, as well as of more recent editions of single plays and of the poems. The text will be found to be, in its adherence to the readings of the early editions, slightly more conservative than those in current use. This is especially the case in the matter of stage directions, entrances, exits, and the like; in the treatment of which it has been rendered possible, for the first time in an edition for general reading, to make the important distinction between directions that are contemporary and those that are due to modern editors. In cases where the directions are modern they are enclosed in [brackets]; where they are substantially those of editions not later than 1623 they are unbracketed, or are set aside by a single bracket only, or, when occurring within a line, are enclosed in (parentheses). Further, in the dialogue itself, when the text of a play is based on, say, that of the First Folio, and passages absent from the Folio are supplied from a Quarto, such passages are also bracketed. This is intended to meet the objection justly made to most current texts that, in the case of such a play as Hamlet, it is usually printed in a composite form, longer than it was in any of the versions in which it was played or published in Shakespeare's own time, and containing, along with all additions, passages meant to be dropped when the others were added.
The punctuation of the early editions is so hopelessly erratic as to be often useless for any but antiquarian purposes; and the current punctuation is modified from the quite unauthoritative practice of the editors of the eighteenth century. I have ventured to re-punctuate frankly throughout according to modern usage, gaining, it is hoped, a considerable advantage in clearness without any additional sacrifice of authority. The use of the apostrophe has raised some difficult and interesting points, the consideration of which has resulted in a decision of some importance in the matter of metre. In spite of the comparative carelessness of the printing of the First Folio, it has been found that there is clearly discernible a somewhat remarkable consistency in the insertion or omission of the e of ed endings. To the practice of the early editions in this regard, therefore, the same respect has been shown as in the case of the text in general; i. e., the original has been departed from only when it seemed fair to believe that there was a mistake of the copyist or printer. The result is that the ed is printed, and was apparently sounded, much more frequently than we are accustomed to see and hear it. In many cases where no new syllable is added to the line, this preservation of the full ending points to a different elision from that usually made, threat'ned, for example, instead of threaten'd. This often leads to a distinct gain in sonority, and sometimes to a marked change in rhythm. The practice of the early editions is exceptional in the case of monosyllables in ied, being on the whole against the use of the apostrophe; so in such cases I have preserved the e
even when not syllabic, representing, for example, the Folio dyde by died rather than by the somewhat misleading di'd. The method employed in modern editions in this whole matter neither preserves the clues afforded by the originals, nor clearly indicates the pronunciation intended by the editors.
In order to make easy the use of the present volume in connection with such standard works of reference as Bartlett's Concordance, the line-numbering of the Globe edition has been adhered to, with these differences, that the lines are numbered in fives instead of in tens, and the numbering is carried through the prose as well as the verse.
The special introductions are intended to summarize the ascertained facts on such questions as date, authenticity, and sources; and to indicate in connection with the last of these the main features of Shakespeare's treatment of his material in each play.
Scholarly opinion on the dates of the dramas has now reached such a degree of harmony as to suggest the arranging of the plays in chronological order, according to the approximate date of composition. The Folio division into Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies has, however, been preserved; the chronological order being adopted in the case of the Comedies and Tragedies, while for obvious reasons the Histories have been retained in their historical sequence.
The mass of detail to be dealt with in such an undertaking as the constituting of an independent text of Shakespeare is so great that many slips, inconsistencies, and faults of judgement are bound to have occurred. To any one who may draw my attention to these I shall be grateful. Meantime, I wish to express my warmest thanks for assistance and advice received from many friends, and more especially from my colleagues on the faculties of Harvard and Columbia Universities.
NEW YORK, May 31, 1906.
W. A. N.
PREFATORY NOTE TO THE SECOND EDITION
THE most important change in the present edition is in the inclusion of the introductory matter preface, dedication, commendatory verses, and the like from the First Folio of 1623. The importance of these documents to the student of Shakespeare, both from their intrinsic interest and from their historical relation to the first collected edition of his works, is sufficient excuse for reproducing them here. The other changes consist of some dozen corrections of typographical and other mistakes, for drawing my attention to which I am indebted to my friends Professors Gummere, Wendell, Schelling, and Armes, Dr. H. M. Ayres, Mr. H. W. L. Dana, and Mr. H. B. Hinckley, and to members of the staff of the Riverside Press. Further suggestions towards the accuracy of the volume will be thankfully received.
CAMBRIDGE, MASS., October 20, 1908.
W. A. N.
PREFATORY NOTE TO THE THIRD EDITION
In this third edition a number of further corrections have been made, mainly of details in the text. For bringing the necessity of these changes to my notice, I am under obligation to Professors A. H. Thorndike of Columbia, O. F. Emerson of Western Reserve, and J. Q. Adams of Cornell, and to several of my students, especially Dr. R. G. Martin and Mr. F. C. Walker of Harvard. W. A. N.
CAMBRIDGE, MASS., December 17, 1910.