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SHAKSPEARE DURING THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.
The period during which the French taste predominated was nevertheless the very period during which the fame of Shakspeare and the interest in his works again made considerable progress. Periods that are poor in production, periods of reflection and criticism, not only give rise to the imitation of foreign writers, but generally also induces the nation to take a more lively interest in its own literature of the past. Addison's and Steele's favourable criticisms of Shakspeare, which they published in their celebrated paper, The Spectator,' notwithstanding their preference for the French classical style, startled the admirers of the real classics, and hence it was perhaps they who more especially contributed to spread the interest in Shakspeare's works in circles of learned culture.
It was about this time that Nicholas Rowe published his edition of Shakspeare. Rowe was himself a popular writer of tragedies, whose inaccuracies were indeed censured, but who in fact possessed more appreciation for genuine poetry than poetic talent (as his preference for Shakspeare proves); however, his writings were nevertheless favourably received on account of the elegance of his diction and the flowing gracefulness of his verse. His already-mentioned edition of Shakspeare is the first critical and correctly printed edition, and owing to its intrinsic merits and its more convenient form was well fitted to supplant the four folior, the only editions until then published. Rowe had also collected data and traditions concerning the life of Shakspeare, and arranged a biography of the poet, which is prefixed to his works. Rowe, it is true, fully acknowledges the validity of the Aristotelian rules, and in regard to æsthetics he throughout favours the taste prevailing in his day, but remarks that .it would be hard to judge him (Shakspeare) by a law which he knew nothing of,' and excuses him for not having observed these rules on account of his having "lived in a state of almost universal licence and ignorance. Rowe's edition is still very defective, for it is based upon the text of the last folio of 1685, and the latter, although, comparatively speaking, correctly printed, had by no means wholly avoided the carelessness, the slovenliness, and incorrectness of the print of the three earlier editions. Again, although Rowe maintains, in the dedication to the Duke of Somerset, that he had compared the various old editions with one another, and thus, as far as he was able, restored the correct readings, still he had evidently not done this, and thinking that the question consisted merely about misprints, has only corrected corrupted passages as he thought fit. However, these corrections are often very happy, and were suggested by fine poetical tact. The traditions he collected in regard to Shakspeare's life are not only most valuable to us, but likewise brought the person of the poet nearer to the people of Rowe's own day. The public troubled themselves as little about his æsthetic judgment as about his critical procedure, but were glad to possess a better, more convenient and cheaper edition of Shakspeare, and thanked him by making a great demand for his work.
The appearance of this edition, in spite of its imperfection, marks a second period in the history of the Shakspearian drama. The taste of the age and the principles of æsthetic criticism, it is true, long remained devoted to the French classic style, but the large number of new editions which each in its way endeavoured, so to say, to conciliate the spirit of the age with Shakspeare's works, sufficiently proves that a change in the mind and the taste of the nation was preparing; this change in the course of time gradually became distinctly apparent, and led the drama from the French classic style back to that of Shakspeare. It was in this spirit of conciliation that Pope—who perceived the insufficiency of Rowe's edition - formed the ambitious resolve to win for himself an everlasting name as an art-critic and literary-historian, and at the same time to honour the immortal poet, by publishing an undying edition of his works. This edition, after pompous advertisements, appeared in 1725, in six quarto volumes, and was republished in various forms in 1728, 1766, and in 1768. The edition proved to be anything but undying, inasmuch as it was very soon supplanted by that issued by Lewis Theobald. For Pope-as he himself afterwards gives us to understand—had, in his poetic geniality, made but a very hasty and imperfect comparison of the two folios with the then existing old quartos; in many instances he made arbitrary innovations in Shakspeare's plays to suit his own taste, and on the other hand left much unaltered that required critical restoration, as L. Theobald * has irrefutably proved.
Still, an edition of Shakspeare by Pope was an event, for he then stood in the zenith of his poetical celebrity, and was considered the first English poet of the day, nay, Voltaire even declared him to be the greatest of all living poets. His name, united with Shakspeare's, threw a lustre upon the latter which made him appear in a better light to that circle of scholars, critics, and men of genius who favoured the classic style. It was Pope, as already observed, who, in conjunction with Lord Burlington, Dr. Mead, and Martin, collected, by public subscription, the money for the monument which was erected to Shakspeare in Westminster Abbey, in 1741. In short, it may be said that Pope essentially contributed to the general honour and esteem which in our own day is paid to Shakspeare's name wherever the English language is spoken-we may add, wherever also the German tongue is known. This probably weighs more in Pope's favour than his light verses and his equally light thoughts.
And yet Shakspeare's genius was still far from being properly understood and appreciated. Pope, in his . Essay on Criticism,' speaks in ready praise of Dryden, Denham, Waller and others, but has not one word in commendation of Shakspeare. This alone clearly characterises the standpoint of his æsthetic judgment. In the preface to his edition he does indeed speak in the highest praise of Shakspeare's plays, but the refrain is ever he is not
* Shakspeare Restored, or a Specimen of the many Errors as well Committed as Unamended, by Mr. Pope, etc., London, 1726.
correct, not classic, he has almost as many defects as beauties; his dramas want plan, or, at least, are extremely defective and irregular in construction; he keeps the tragic and the comic as little apart as he does the different epochs and nations in which the scenes of his plays are laid; the unity of action, of place and of time is violated in every scene, etc. These defects Pope, it is true, attributes partly to the bad taste of Shakspeare's age, to the defective state of the stage, and to his not having known the rules of criticism, partly also to the editors of Shakspeare's works. However, in these excuses we have but the reflex of Pope's own conceit and that of his age,
which still cherished the belief that it was far superior to the days of Shakspeare. This also explains the boldness of Pope's corrections of Shakspeare, a boldness in which the next editors, if possible, even surpassed him.
Lewis Theobald's edition appeared in 1733 (in seven volumes), and was subsequently re-published several times ; he, it is true, took much trouble in comparing the earlier prints both of the folios and of the various quartos. But, on the one hand, he did not examine all the quartos, and formed too high an estimate of the trustworthiness of the first folio, and, on the other, although expressly boasting of his great reading, he did not possess either sufficient historical or literary knowledge to be quite competent for his task. Lastly, like Pope, he did not sufficiently respect the words of the poet whose works he was editing. And as, moreover, he was not endowed with any very great amount of acumen and poetical taste, it happened but too often that he altered passages which he did not understand, or, for some reason considered corrupt, and without further hesitation admitted his corrections into the text. More crazy still in this respect were the proceedings of Sir Thomas Hanmer and Pope's friend and admirer, Bishop Warburton. The former, whose splendid edition was printed at the Oxford University Press (in six quarto volumes), and appeared first in 1744 and again in 1770–71, based his text upon that of Theobald's, occasionally improved it, but corrupted it still more by making numerous corrections which he adopted wherever a passage seemed obscure or defective, or by interpolating a number of patch-words in crder to make the versification quite correct; this he has done to such an extent that, when looking at his version, we can no longer imagine that we have Shakspeare before us, but a modern teller-of-syllables, à la Pope or Dryden. And again Warburton, whose edition appeared in 1747 in eight volumes, and is founded on Pope's text-although unsparing in his attack upon Theobald and Hanmer, and although free from the mania of making Shakspeare's versification pure and correct-proceeded in other points in a manner much worse than Hanmer. For he was as full of self-conceit and self-confidence as he was wanting in poetical mind and critical judgment, and hence unhesitatingly erased and altered whatever did not accord with his own æsthetic feeling. *
The same arrogance is reflected in the often exceedingly free and recklessly mutilated versions of Shakspeare's works, which not merely continued to be brought on the stage, but were even printed together with new editions of the original. Thus, for instance, “The Merchant of Venice' was brought out at the theatre of Lincoln's Inn Fields, in a version made by Lord Lansdowne, furnished with music and other inappropriate ornamentation, enriched with a musical masque, Peleus and Thetis, and with a banqueting scene, in which the Jew, who is dining at a separate table, gives a toast to his beloved Money; the character of Shylock is degraded into the clown of the play; in short, the whole is so distorted that it is inconceivable, not only how it could have found acceptance in this shape, but that it should have maintained an existence on the stage throughout several decades. Gildon mangled • Measure for Measure' in a similar manner, and furnished it with musical entertainments ;' this was printed in 1700. And not much later there appeared the following adaptations—Richard III.' by Cibber (1700), «The Merry Wives of Windsor,' by Dennis (1702), "A Midsummer Night's Dream' by Leveridge
* This has been proved by the excellent American critic, Richard Grant White, by numerous examples in his Shakspeare's Scholar, being His!orical and Critical Sturlas af his Teat.oto. London, 1854, p. 10 ff.