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AUTHOR OF THE ESSAY
WRITINGS AND GENIUS OF SHAKSFEARE;
THE BRITISH POET
IS COMPLETELY VINDICATED
MISREPRESENTATIONS AND CENSURES
THIS WORK IS INSCRIBED
SINCERE AND RESPECTFUL FRIENDSHIP,
Rhyddings, May 1. 1818.
a presumptuous artist should undertake to remove a supposed defect in the Transfiguration of Raphael, or in the Belvidere Apollo, and in making the attempt should injure one of those invaluable productions of art and genius, I should consider his name as deserving never to be mentioned, or mentioned only with him who set fire to the Temple of Diana. But the works of the poet may be considered in a very different light from those of the painter and the statuary. Shakspeare, inimitable Shakspeare, will remain the subject of admiration as long as taste and literature shall exist, and his writings will be handed down to posterity in their native beauty, although the present attempt to add to his fame should prove entirely abortive. Here, then, is the great difference. If the endeavour to improve the picture or the statue should be unsuccessful, the beauty of the original would be destroyed, and the injury be irreparable. In such a case let the artist refrain from using the chisel or the pencil : but with the works of the poet no such danger occurs, and the critic need not be afraid of employing his pen; for the original will continue unimpaired, although his own labours should im
mediately be consigned to oblivion. That Shakspeare is the first of dramatic writers will be denied by few, and I doubt whether it will be denied by any who have really studied his works, and compared the beauties which they contain with the very finest productions either of our own or of former ages. It must, however, be acknowledged, by his warmest admirers, that some defects are to be found in the writings of our immortal bard. The language is not always faultless. Many words and expressions occur which are of so indecent a nature as to render it highly desirable that they should be erased. Of these the greater part were evidently introduced to gratify the bad taste of the age in which he lived, and the rest may perhaps be ascribed to his own unbridled fancy. But neither the vicious taste of the age, nor the most brilliant effusions of wit, can afford an excuse for profaneness or obscenity; and if these could be obliterated, the transcendant genius of the poet would undoubtedly shine with more unclouded lustre. To banish every thing of this nature from his writings is the object of the present undertaking. It is the wish of the editor to render the plays of Shakspeare unsullied by any scene, by any speech, or, if possible, by any word that can give pain to the most chaste, or offence to, the most religious of his readers. Of the latter kind the examples are by no means numerous, for the writings of our author are for the most part favourable to religion and morality. There are, however, in some of his plays allusions to Scripture, which are introduced so unnecessarily, and on such trifling occasions, and are expressed with so much
levity, as to call imperiously for their erasement. As an example of this kind I may quote a scene in the fifth act of Love's Labour Lost, respecting one of the most serious and awful passages in the New Testament. I flatter myself that every reader of the Family Shakspeare will be pleased at perceiving that what is so manifestly improper, is not permitted to be seen in it. The most Sacred Word in our language is omitted in a great number of instances, in which it appeared as a mere expletive; and it is changed into the word Heaven, in a still greater number, where the occasion of using it did not appear sufficiently serious to justify its employment.
Nec Deus intersit nisi dignus vindice nodus In the original folio of 1623 the same alteration from the old quartos is made in a great variety of places.
I wish it were in my power to say of indecency as I have said of profaneness, that the examples of it are not very numerous. Unfortunately the reverse is the case. Those persons whose acquaintance with Shakspeare depends on theatrical representations, in which great alterations are made in the plays, can have little idea of the frequent recurrence in the original text, of expressions, which, however they might be tolerated in the sixteenth century, are by no means admissible in the nineteenth. Of these expressions no example can in this place be given. I feel it however incumbent on me to observe, in behalf of my favourite author, that in comparison with most of the contemporary