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Whether the selection of plays here presented is in all respects the best that could be made, there may well be different opinions. The Editor has taken such as, after much use, he judged fittest, on the whole, for a first year's course of study. The Poet's steepest plays, such as Macbeth, King Lear, and Antony and Cleopatra, are purposely reserved for presentation in another series, as being better adapted for a second year's course. It will hardly be questioned that these plays, and also some of the series here presented, have enough to occupy all the intellectual forces that the ripest students in our academies and seminaries can bring to the study.
The plays, in all cases, are given entire, save the bare omission of such lines and expressions as the Editor has always deemed it necessary to omit in class. The omissions, he believes, do not in any case reach so far as to impair in the least either the delineation of character or the dramatic action. On the other hand, he has not meant to retain any matter not fairly pronounceable in any class, however composed. His own opinion clearly is, that if Shakespeare cannot be used as a text-book without overstepping the just bounds of modest and decorous speech, then such use were better not attempted. For purity and rectitude of manners are worth more than any intellectual benefit to be derived from the poetry and wisdom even of a Shakespeare. Sometimes, where an unpronounceable word occurs in a passage otherwise unobjectionable, another word has been substituted, and the substitution uniformly enclosed in brackets; it being a fixed principle with the Editor to abstain religiously from making any unmarked changes in the Poet's text. In Julius Cæsar, for instance, he has not found occasion to cut out or change any thing whatsoever; there being, as he thinks, not a single word in that play unfit to cross the chariest lips. And in several others of the plays the omissions are very slight indeed, sometimes not extending to more than a dozen lines in a whole play.
Having said thus much, it seems but due to add, that the Editor holds Shakespeare's workmanship to be everywhere free from the least blame of moral infection or taint: he knows of no passage that can be hurtful to any fair mind, if taken in its proper connection with the whole. But of course everybody knows that there may be many things right and proper in themselves, which, however, ought not to be spoken, and which it is very desirable not to have before the eye, in the sacred intercourse of teacher and pupils.
From the foregoing remarks, there is just one exception, which
should, perhaps, be noted here. In Hamlet, some of the stanzas which poor Ophelia sings when divided from herself and her fair judgment," and which are quite unpronounceable in class, are notwithstanding retained, though specially marked for omission in the reading; because, as the Editor thinks, they cannot be cut away without overthrowing the whole delineation, and putting out the very eyes of the character. The Editor, of course, never uses them in his teaching, but freely calls attention to them, as the most tenderly pathetic passage in Shakespeare, and as illustrating better than any other the angelic delicacy and humanheartedness of the man.
No pains have been spared, either in preparing the copy or in correcting the proofs, to set forth a pure and accurate text of the Poet. On this point, the Editor gladly acknowledges his obligations to Mr. Richard Grant White, whose careful and scholarly labours have been of important service to him. And he makes bold to think that Mr. White has fairly beaten nearly all the English editors in this respect. In many cases of various readings, there are, and probably always will be, considerable differences of opinion as to which is the best. In this matter, the Editor can but claim to have used his best judgment, such as it is after more than thirty years' study of the Poet. In a good many instances, he has noted various readings in the margin; as thinking that even young students in Shakespeare ought not to be left altogether ignorant as to the history and condition of the Poet's text, and the varieties of reading met with in the old copies.
In the matter of annotation, it is not easy to hit just the right medium between too much and too little. Here, again, the Editor has been mainly guided by the results of his own experience in teaching; aiming to give so many and such notes as he has found needful or conducive to a full and clear understanding of the Poet's thought. Besides the need of economizing space, he has wished to avoid distracting or diverting the student's attention overmuch from the special object-matter of the Poet's scenes.
And here he feels moved to protest against Shakespeare's being used, as some apparently would use him, too much as a mere occasion for carrying on general exercises in grammar and philology. These, to be sure, are essential parts of a right English schooling; but they can be learnt just as well from other books, books which it is no sin not to love, and no loss to forget after leaving school, which it is no matter about having a life-long taste for, or growing to a perpetual delectation in. And in studying Shakespeare the pupil's mind should be put as closely and directly
as possible in intelligent sympathy with the Poet's own mental de liverances; every thing else being made strictly subordinate to this. In other words, the purpose should ever be kept foremost to teach or to learn Shakespeare, and not to use him as a means of teaching or learning something else. With him, pre-eminently, language is the medium, not the object of thought, insomuch that he seems to have used it almost unconsciously. It is true his language, especially with new beginners, must needs be itself made more or less an object of study; but this should be done so far only as is necessary in order to its proper efficacy as a medium of communion with his men and women, and with the transpirations of character and the workings of human nature as presented in them.
Shakespeare, be it remembered, is not one of those books which are of no further use after being studied in school, or which are as scaffoldage, to be thrown aside as soon as the roof is on; and it is better he should not be used as a text-book at all, than that such use should be so conducted as to breed a dislike of him; and some care may well be taken against pushing the grammatical and linguistic part of the study so far as to obstruct the proper virtue of his pages, and lest the effect be rather to quench than kindle the faculties and susceptibilities for that which is most living and operative in him, or for what may be called the Shakespeare of Shakespeare.
It is what young people learn to take pleasure in, what they build up happy thoughts and associations about, and what steals smoothly and silently into the heart, and there becomes a vital treasure of delight, that mainly determines their characters. In comparison with this, mere intellectual acquirements and furnishings, and even ethical arguments and convictions, are of insig nificant value. "The forms of young imagination" have more force than any thing else to keep the heart pure. Το preoccupy the mind with right tastes and noble loves, and with a stock of grand and pure conceptions, and thus to foreclose, as far as may be, the invitations of what is false and flashy and sensational, the intellectual fashions and frivolities and diseases of the day, is the first principle of all wise and wholesome training both in schooi and at home. For this process and to this end, except the Bible, we have nothing better than the dramas of Shakespeare. And the best fruit of studying him is to come by letting the efficacies of his genius insinuate themselves quietly into "the eye and prospect of the soul," and by binding his creations home upon the thoughts and affections as a fund of inexhaustible sweetness and
refreshment. And there is probably more danger that teachers will hinder this process by overworking some subsidiary matter, than that the process will fail to take care of itself, provided the pupils be set and held in free and natural communication with the Poet; all exercises in grammar and philology being used simply to aid, and not to disturb, the clear apprehension of what he delivers.
Such are the thoughts which have been uppermost in the Editor's mind, and have mainly shaped his course, in preparing the notes. How far the execution accords with his design and makes it good, is not for him to judge. In his teaching, especially with younger classes, he of course often goes much more into the details of verbal and syntactical exegesis than is shown in the anno tation. But it is presumed that every one who may undertake to teach Shakespeare will be sufficiently booked in the logic of grammar, the laws of language, and the construction and analysis of sentences, to carry on the work out of his own head, and as he finds it needful or profitable to do so. Textual explanation is another matter indeed, and may need to be prosecuted somewhat further; for the Poet's style is intensely idiomatic, generally charged with metaphoric audacity, often over-crammed with meaning, and sometimes very obscure; yet even here it is thought that much had better be left to the occasions and resources of individual teachers. For, after all, nothing but a pretty thorough steeping of the teacher's mind in the Shakespearian idiom can bring him fairly through this part of his work. If he be not himself at home with Shakespeare, he can hardly expect to make others so.
As to the method or methods of teaching in Shakespeare, here again much should and indeed must be left to individual judgment and adaptation. This is a thing not capable of being stereotyped and passed on from hand to hand. The method that works very well in one man's hands may not work at all in another's. Thus much, however, may be not unfitly spoken, that the Editor does not believe at all in turning the school-room into a play-house or any thing of that sort: in his recitations, which, however, are not properly recitations, he has and will have nothing theatrical or declamatory or oratorical, no showing off, nor any thing done for effect. His work and method in class aim at a mixed and varied exercise in reading, language, character, versification, and art. Especially he makes much of reading, both for the utility and the accomplishment of it: this, in fact, is the staple or ground-work of all his instructions; and in ordering this he drives, or endeavours to drive, right at the simple truth of the matter, and at a sincere
and natural expression of it. In other words, all his efforts in this behalf are meant to converge at the point of bringing the pupils first to understand the Poet's lines fairly, and then so to pronounce them that an intelligent listener may understand them; taking for granted that, if this point be secured, the proper moral, intellectual, and æsthetic effect of them will follow of its own accord; and he more silent and unobserved its coming is, the better.
He therefore neither practises nor encourages any straining or forcing of the process: any using of the whip or the spur he regards as out of place: however lively and intense the exertion of the student's faculties may be, he aims to have it spontaneous, genial, and free; the result of inward kindling, not of external pressure. Thus the process, throughout, on the part of the pupils, is meant to be a quiet, gentle, yet earnest communing with the Poet's forms and with the spirit of them, so that their grace and efficacy may pass secretly and insensibly into the mind; because the less the pupils are at the time conscious of getting from him, the more they will really get. And the Editor is right well persuaded, withal, that exercises in Shakespeare may be and ought to be so conducted, that the students shall be fresher and stronger at the close of them than at the beginning.
To induce just and clear perceptions of the Poet's characters, to bring pupils to discriminate and taste their distinctive lines of mental, moral, and practical physiognomy; to make them enter into their idioms of thought and manner, their springs, modes, and vitalities of action,— this is a higher and riper and slower process. There must needs be a certain measure of preparation for it, and this, of course, cannot be extemporized. Yet, this part of the exercise left out, the study can be little but a dry training in the letter of the Poet's workmanship, without the life and substance of it. Besides, it is this personal acquaintance and convivation with the Poet's men and women that makes, more than any thing else, the perennial verdure and charm of his scenes. No one who once gets to be thus inward and at home with his delineations can ever weary of them or outgrow the interest of them; for, so taken, age cannot wither them, nor custom stale their infinite variety."
Which naturally raises the question, at what age should the study of Shakespeare be undertaken? And the answer is, not till the student is, at least in some fair degree, capable of this part of the exercise. But young people are, or may be made, apprehensive and receptive of characteristic traits as delivered in forms of art, earlier than most of us are apt to suppose. Featurely expres