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THE present collection of SHAKSPEARE'S PLAYS differs in arrangement from any that has hitherto been published. The Tragedies, Comedies, and Historical Plays, are divided; and in each division, the consecutive order of the pieces has reference to the country in which the action is laid, or to the epoch at which it is supposed to have taken place. Such as are founded on Grecian or Roman occurrences, are distinctly separated from those which commemorate the events of British history; and in each class a proper chronological priority is as much as possible maintained. Thus the merry knights of Christendom are not associated with the sober demagogues of Rome; nor the belles and beaux of Venice confounded with the "worn and withered" phantoms of a Scottish heath.
The text has been critically and laboriously collated with the standard edition of 1803, and an uniform and judicious method of punctuation, so necessary to the intelligibility of the old English writers, has been adopted throughout.
Large or numerous notes being inconsistent with the design of the work, such only are subjoined, as were necessary for explaining obsolete words, unusual passages, old customs, and obscure allusions.
A literary and bistorical Notice is prefixed to each Play, containing a succinct criticism upon its merits or defects, tracing the origin of its plot, investigating the fidelity of its characters, and assigning as nearly as possible the date of its production.
In the preparation of these, and of the biographical portraiture of Shakspeare, the remarks of Rowe, Pope, Theobald, Warburton, Hanmer, Johnson, Steevens, Malone, Reed, Percy, Tollett, Warton, Hazlett, and others, have been carefully examined, and contrasted with each other.
The Editor feels that little praise can accompany the termination of his undertaking, if novelty of matter be the only criterion of merit; but he thought it more becoming to condense and re-mould the accumulated comments of so many distinguished writers, than to revive speculations which have become too stale to be interesting, or to search for new proofs of that which has long been an article of belief.
It was formerly urged, as a recommendation of polite studies, that they were always companionable, and never cumbersome. "Delectant domi, non impediunt foris," says Tully. "At home they are delightful, and abroad they are not troublesome." In the same manner, this edition may conveniently accompany the traveller by a stage-coach, the tourist in his chaise or gig, and the pedestrian in his solitary ramble.
To comprise the multiplied and diffusive materials of many large, laboured, and costly publications, in one commodious volume, has not been unattended with difficulty; but the type is sufficiently large for the common purposes of study, whilst the beautiful "meadow of margin" by which it is surrounded, secures its handsome appearance when clothed in a proper binding, and placed upon the shelves of a library.
Ancient Building in Henley Street, Stratford-on-Avon,
THE BIRTH PLACE OF SHAKSPEARE;
With a Representation of the Jubilee Procession,
September 6, 1769.