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THE text here presented, adapted for use in mixed classes, has been carefully collated with that of six or seven of the latest and best editions. Where there was any disagreement those readings have been adopted which seemed most reasonable and were supported by the best authority.
Professor Meiklejohn's exhaustive notes form the substance of those here used; and his plan, as set forth in the "General Notice" annexed, has been carried out in these volumes. But as these plays are intended rather for pupils in school and college than for ripe Shakespearian scholars, we have not hesitated to prune his notes of whatever was thought to be too learned for our purpose, or on other grounds was deemed irrelevant to it. The notes of other English editors have been freely incorporated.
"AN attempt has been made in these new editions to interpret Shakespeare by the aid of Shakespeare himself. The Method of Comparison has been constantly employed; and the language used by him in one place has been compared with the language used in other places in similar circumstances, as well as with older English and with newer English. The text has been as carefully and as thoroughly annotated as the text of any Greek or Latin classic.
"The first purpose in this elaborate annotation is, of course, the full working out of Shakespeare's meaning. The Editor has in all circumstances taken as much pains with this as if he had been making out the difficult and obscure terms of a will in which he himself was personally interested; and he submits that this thorough excavation of the meaning of a really profound thinker is one of the very best kinds of training that a boy or girl can receive at school. This is to read the very mind of Shakespeare, and to weave his thoughts into the fibre of one's own mental constitution. And always new rewards come to the careful reader-in the shape of new meanings, recognition of thoughts he had before missed,
of relations between the characters that had hitherto escaped him. For reading Shakespeare is just like examining Nature; there are no hollownesses, there is no scamped work, for Shakespeare is as patiently exact and as first-hand as Nature herself.
"Besides this thorough working-out of Shakespeare's meaning, advantage has been taken of the opportunity to teach his English to make each play an introduction to the ENGLISH OF SHAKESPEARE. For this purpose copious collections of similar phrases have been gathered from other plays; his idioms have been dwelt upon; his peculiar use of words; his style and his rhythm. Some teachers may consider that too many instances are given; but, in teaching, as in everything else, the old French saying is true: Assez n'y a, s'il trop n'y a. The teacher need not require each pupil to give him all the instances collected. If each gives one or two, it will probably be enough; and, among them all, it is certain that one or two will stick in the memory. It is probable that, for those pupils who do not study either Greek or Latin, this close examination of every word and phrase in the text of Shakespeare will be the best substitute that can be found for the study of the ancient classics.
"It were much to be hoped that Shakespeare should become more and more of a study, and that every boy and girl should have a thorough knowledge of at least one play of Shakespeare before leaving school. It would be one of the best lessons in human life, without the chance of a polluting or degrading experience. It would