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Professor Emeritus of English Literature
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Published March igog







The object of this book is to give an outline of the
attitude of the English and American literary world
towards the plays of William Shakespeare from the
seventeenth century to the present time. The verdict
of the world of playgoers, that some of the plays when
well acted were far better worth seeing than those of
any other dramatist, has been the same for all genera-
tions. But the estimate of the plays by professional
writers, as reflected in literary criticism, has varied, or
rather the views on which the estimate was based have
varied, greatly. For a long time it was a matter of faith
with most of them that Shakespeare was ' irregular,'
because his construction and method differed widely
from that of the dramatists of Greece. Admitting that
he was a unique genius, as shown in many passages of
force and beauty, it was thought that the plays would
be much better if they were less original and more imi-
tative of the ancient models, and the poet had always
kept to a certain dignity of diction and situation, and
in particular had observed the formal rules which were
supposed to be deduced from the plays of the ancient
dramatists and were known as the three unities. Eng-
lish common sense continually rebelled against the con-
tention that an English poet lacked taste and culture
because he did not imitate the methods or style of
the poets of another race, and the position was finally
abandoned in the latter part of the eighteenth century.
Coleridge barely alludes to it, and Lamb and Hazlitt of
the early nineteenth century ignore it completely.


The critics of the eighteenth century were largely-
occupied with endeavors to establish a standard text by
emendation and conjecture. Quite generally they looked
at the plays from the standpoint of the theatre, ignor-
ing the idea that the tragedies were commentaries on
human nature and possessed an absolute quality like
truth or beauty. Dr. Johnson is typical of this class,
if he is not too extreme an instance of common sense
to be typical of that excellent quality. Though these
critics rebelled rather timidly against slavish obedience
to the authority of ' the ancients,' the idea that the
author was an untutored, natural genius, who would
have been much improved by a university training, was
not fully eradicated. The true nature of art was not
philosophically grasped, and the profound relation of
the plays to life was but dimly hinted at. The idea that
the characters could be discussed exactly as if they were
real, that they differed from historic characters in pos-
sessing more interesting personalities, in being placed
in more complicated and trying situations, and, there-
fore, exemplifying more fully the passions of men, did
not occur to the critics till very late in the eighteenth
century. Nor was it discovered till towards the close
of the eighteenth century that Shakespeare's female
characters bear almost as close a relation to feminine
nature as his heroes do to manly nature. In fact, both
of these views may be said to belong to the romantic
school of the nineteenth century.

In the beginning of the nineteenth century the critics
of the so-called romantic school, who viewed life and
literature from the standpoint of the emotions, widened
the scope of criticism and justified the preeminence
of the poet by more refined considerations. Coleridge
was the leading figure of this school, in which, though
enthusiasm tended to rhapsodical generalizations, the


conception of literature and art became more spiritual.
The importation of notions from the German aesthetic
school gave a new philosophic basis and added elements
to criticism, which, if sometimes tending to mystic in-
definiteness, were at least part of a system of thought.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century the suc-
cess of the scientific method applied to the material and
animate world affected the tone of critical thought, and,
indeed, of all reasoning. Great attention was paid to
details of material form, and some remarkable dis-
coveries resulted from exact analysis of the verse of
different plays. At the same time there was a dispo-
sition to minimize the elements of wonder and rever-
ence, and to reduce all critical considerations to rational
grounds. This corrected some of the extravagancies of
the romanticists, but in some instances overdid itself
by sinking the aesthetic quality of the play and concen-
trating attention on matters that could be counted and
generalized mathematically, or by accumulating a mass
of historic details of slight significance and regarding
the accumulation as an end. This is quite evident in
the writings of Messrs. Furnival, Fleay, and Simpson.
The influence of the scientific method is also apparent
in a tendency towards minute subdivisions such as are
properly made in botany and geology, and further in
a disposition to treat the poet and his plays as ordinary
phenomena, natural products to be accounted for by
favorable circumstances, a view which leads to erro-
neous conceptions as surely as does the other extreme,
that poetry is the result of a direct inspiration from
some source outside the inspired individual. Many
critics who may be regarded as natural-born roman-
ticists, or perhaps influenced by the later-day aesthetes,
combatted the scientific critics vigorously.

In the end, however, the scientific method was lim-


ited to careful scrutiny of facts and rational deduction
therefrom, tempered by a consciousness that the ma-
terial criticised was great poetry, a product of the
imagination as well as of the reason, and dependent
on a faculty which, if not abnormal in its nature, is so
excessive in the favored individual as to be abnormal
in energy, and, therefore, creative. In Professors Brad-
ley and Lounsbury we have critics to whom poetry is a
wonderful and beautiful thing, but who sift evidence
and form no conclusions not legitimately based on
evidence. They might be called rational romanticists,
combining learning and culture. They have a sub-
limated common sense and a comprehension of the
function of great art which to the mathematicians is

Of course men of any type may exist in any period.
A romantic individualist like Mr. Swinburne may be
contemporary with the most rigorous scientist like
Mr. Fleay, a man of ponderous common sense like
Dr. Gervinus may succeed a romanticist like Schlegel.
Hallam closely follows Coleridge, instead of preceding
him by a generation. Nevertheless, there is a develop-
ment of thought in Shakespearean criticism. Consider-
ing the effort that has been expended on it, it would
be discouraging were there not signs of more catholic
views and increasing breadth of grasp.

This book considers only the principal critics. The
first volume of Knight's Cabinet Edition contains a
brief review of the critical writings on Shakespeare
down to 1850, but is principally taken up with an
account of various editions. It is out of print. The
copious extracts in Dr. Furness'^ Variorum Edition
apply to individual plays. Professor Lounsbury's vol-
umes give a minute history of Shakespearean criticism
for the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.


None but professionals can read all the originals. This
book, growing- out of college lectures, is intended for
the ordinary reader.

Acknowledgments are due to Messrs. Macmillan and
Company of London and the editor of the A tlantic for
permission to print extracts from their publications.
I wish, too, to thank the librarians of Yale, Harvard,
and the Boston Public Library for lending me valuable

C. F. Johnson.

Hartford, September, 1908.


I. The Departments of Shakespearean Criti-
cism 1

II. Criticism of Shakespeare by his Contempo-
raries AND UP to the Restoration .... 23

III. From the Restoration to 1710 45

IV. The Early Eighteenth-Century Editors : Rowe,

Pope, Theobald, Hanmer, Warburton ... 78

V. The Later Eighteenth-Century Editors : John-
son, Capell, Steevens, Malone 113

VI. The Late Eighteenth-Century Essayists : Mrs.

Montagu, Richardson, Farmer, Morgann . . 143

VII. The Early Nineteenth Century : Coleridge,

Lamb, Hazlitt 164

VIII. Foreign Criticism of Shakespeare : Schlegel,
Ulrici, Gervinus, Freytag, Voltaire, Ana-
tole France, Taine 209

IX. The Middle of the Nineteenth Century : Mrs.

Jameson, Richard Grant White 242

X. The Later Nineteenth Century : Swinburne,

Dowden, Tolstoy 262

XI. The Close of the Nineteenth Century : Wen-
dell, Fleay, Lee, Carlyle, Emerson, Lowell,
Miles, Corbin, Stoll 289

XII. Criticism of the Twentieth Century : Bradley,

Baker, Lewis, Raleigh 321




Literary criticism has been one branch of the writer's
profession since the days of Aristotle. Shakespeare is
so preeminently an important and interesting figure in
our literary history that the criticism of his plays forms
a large library. Some of it is unintelligent, but it can-
not be said that any part of it is unimportant, because
the gradual development of reasonable views on the
subject is parallel to the gradual growth of liberalism
in religion and politics. The history of Shakespearean
criticism is an epitome of the history of the general
mind of Christendom since the seventeenth century.
There is to be seen in both the same progress from
conservatism and reverence for authority to reliance
on reasoned principles based on an examination of the
thing itself regardless of the codified law, and also the
same perception that codified law is not necessarily
erroneous because it is ancient, but, unless misinter-
preted, is an expression of truth, with the reservation
that it is truth as it appeared to the general mind in a
certain stage of its development. We have learned to
respect both Samuel Johnson and Samuel Coleridge.
Shakespearean criticism has its historical value and
slow line of development as much as free institutions.
It may well be, too, that it is still in the same partially
developed condition.


Shakespearean literature concerns itself with several
distinct kinds of subject-matter.


As the plays of Shakespeare were printed long before
large publishing establishments had brought the art of
proof-reading to its present state of exactness, and were
particularly unfortunate in not coming under the eye
of a corrector of any intelligence, the first editions, the
large folio of 1623 and the earlier quartos, are full
of errors. Some of the plays in the folio were much
better printed than others, perhaps because the copy
was better; but in all the proof was very imperfectly
corrected, if corrected at all. It seems as if it were a
matter of indifference to the compositors whether the
words they set up were intelligible or not. In questions
of punctuation their rule apparently was: when in doubt
use a question mark. In consequence, the first thing to
do when Shakespeare's works were edited in 1709 was
to correct the most obvious mistakes, many of which
were so plainly typographical as to call for no ingenu-
ity. But others present all degrees of difficulty.

The main authority for the text is the large folio
volume of 1623, of which some hundred copies are
known to exist. It was brought out, seven years after
Shakespeare's death, by two of his partners, who, al-
though they did not understand the duties of publishers
very well, may be supposed to have desired to produce as
good a book as possible, and in particular to have in-
cluded all the plays of their late associate which could
1 justly be called his composition. This First Folio, then, is
the basis of the Shakespearean text ; for the Second Folio,
the Third Folio, and the Fourth Folio are merely reprints
issued with no systematic effort at improvement. But
before the printing of the folio many of the plays had


been printed soon after their production in pamphlet
form, apparently against the wishes of the promoters
of the theatre,* for the editors speak of them as 'stolen
and surreptitious copies.' Many of these have survived,
varying greatly in quality, and these very editors used
seven of them as printer's copy, although they stigma-
tized them all as stolen. In some cases the quarto is
fuller than the same play in the folio. In others the
folio is the better ; and for eighteen it is the sole au-
thority, no quarto having come down to us for Macbeth^
The Tempest^ Winter's Tale^ As You Like It, Cym-
heline, Julius Ccesar, Timon of Athens, and several
others. Of some of the plays several quartos were
issued; six or seven of Richard III a,ud four of Rich-
ard II. In some cases, when the dates are far apart,
the quartos show the play in different stages of devel-
opment, and are then, as in the case of Hamlet, of great
value in showing how the author amplified his work.
In some instances different copies of the same edition
of a quarto differ, as if the presswork had been stopped
and changes made in the form. As the early quartos,

* There seems to have been a brisk demand for * playbooks ' in
the seventeenth century. Prynne, author of Histriomastix, 1633,
says that forty thousand of them were issued in the two years
before his writing. This is within the bounds of possibility. They
were used in the theatre as prompt-books, as is evident from the
fact that in some of them the names of the actors are written
before the entrances of the character. In the folio the name of
Kemp, the famous comedian who took the part, appears a number
of times in the place of Dogberry in the margin, showing that
Much Ado About Nothing was set up from the very copy used by
the prompter. But doubtless the greater number were bought for
individual reading. After the printing of the folio many Sliake-
spearean quartos were issued down to the eighteenth century.
These are known as ' players' quartos,' and are not of the slightest
value in settling disputed readings, and of little as bibliographic


even if surreptitious, are authentic, it is evident that
they are valuable in settling disputed readings, and
that the labor of collating or comparing them line by-
line with the folio was a task requiring infinite pa-
tience and industry. It was begun in the eighteenth
century, and carried out in the course of one hundred
and fifty years by English and German scholars, to
whom the thanks of posterity are due.

Dr. Johnson advised the student to read the plays
through before consulting any notes. It is true that all
or very nearly all of the famous passages are correctly
printed and need no textual commentary, and it is true
also that we gather the suggested meaning of poetry
without a logical comprehension of the words and
phrases. But the young student who reads the first
three acts of Winter s Tale,, or any part of Cymhe-
line^ or many passages of other plays where the style
is involved and condensed, or the allusions dark to him,
certainly needs illustrative notes and a text in which
the principal errors are corrected and the punctuation
modernisied. Suppose him to come across^the following
speech of the Duke of Buckingham in the first scene of
the first act of Henry VIII: —

Why the devilj
Upon this French going out, took he upon him,
Without the privity of the King, to appoint
Who should attend him ? He makes up the file
Of all the gentry ; for the most part such
To whom as great a charge as little honour
He meant to lay upon : and his own letter,
The honourable board of council out.
Must fetch him in he papers .

He readily understands that the * French going out '
is the embassy to France when Henry met Francis on
the Field of the Cloth of Gold; possibly he may see that


the next to the last line is parenthetical and means, the
council not being in session, or being disregarded ; but
if he can interpret the last line without a note telling
him that ' him ' is equivalent to * him whom,' also that
* papers ' is a verb, meaning ' puts on the list,' he is
one of a thousand.

The errors which have been corrected come under
several heads : —

(a) In some cases speeches are plainly attributed to
the wrong person, in the folio and quartos both, as, for
example, in the speech of the ghost in Hamlet: —

Thus was I, . . .

Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin, . . .
No reckoning made, but sent to my account
With all my imperfections on my head ;
0, horrible ! 0, horrible ! most horrible !
If thou hast nature in thee, bear it not.

It seems unlikely that the ghost, who has but a few min-
utes left, should interrupt himself to comment on his
murder, and natural that his son should interject the
line beginning, ' O, horrible ! ' and not confine the ex-
pression of his feeling to dumb show. It is very easy
for the printer to omit the speaker 's name. The speech
is usually taken by the actor of Hamlet, and it would
seem rightly. But there are other cases where the trans-
ference of speeches is not warranted, though the se-
quence of ideas would be more manifest if it were

(6) As a matter of course many words and phrases
used in 1600 have since become obsolete. Some of these
are explained as allusions to social customs, to folklore
of the day, or to sports, as archery, hawking, or bowls.
The vocabulary of slang is very ephemeral. No one
ever uses wrongly a slang expression of his time, but it
is sometimes very difficult to appreciate the force of ob-


solete slang, and the same may be said of fashionable
jargon and the current style of wit. This is especially
evident in Loves Labour 's Lost^ and is one of the sub-
jects that need illuminating notes. All these questions
have been pretty well threshed out, and this book will
be concerned with them only incidentally. The reader
soon learns from the context that, with Shakespeare,
sad means serious, but not melancholy ; conceit, mental
conception, not egotistic self-esteem ; favor, counte-
nance, not good-will ; complexion, natural composition,
not hue of skin ; owe, own, not be indebted ; and the
significance of many other words which are not obsolete
but have changed their shade of meaning. But he learns
it more readily from having it pointed out to him.

(c) Closely allied to the above is the question of
grammatical construction. Shakespeare knew nothing
of our modern rules, and would have disregarded them
cheerfully in favor of current usage had they been
drilled into him. His usage was of course the good
usage of his day, for he was very sensitive to the signi-
fication of words as well as to English syntax, though he
wrenched both in the latter part of his life when vigor-
ous expression was in question. That he uses * who '
when we should say ' whom,' and writes ' none ' with
the plural or singular verb according to the shade of
meaning, is not a matter of great importance either
way. As a rule his style is very idiomatic, and there-
fore offensive to purists.

{d) In places where the original sources fail to con-
vey an intelligible meaning, conjecture has been re-
sorted to, sometimes with happy effect and sometimes
with inconceivable ineptitude. For example, in Twelfth
Night the Duke says of music : —

That strain again : — it had a dying fall :
O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet sound


That breathes upon a bank of violets
Stealing and giving odour.

Though music is a ' sound,' it is difficult to see how it
could confer or convey smell. Pope changed 'sound' to
' south,' which makes the passage one of those appro-
priate images disclosing the essence of the thing de-
scribed, a creation of a poet. The damp south wind in
spring passing over beds of flowers does steal and give
odor. Nevertheless, the emendation is not universally
or even generally accepted.

Another famous and universally accepted change is
less satisfactory. In Henry V, ii, iii, Dame Quickly,
describing the death of Sir John Falstaff, says, ' His
nose was as sharp as a pen and a table of green fields.'
Theobald, an excellent critic of the eighteenth century,
the man who incurred the enmity of Pope, who called
him ' poor piddling Tibbalds ' in the Dunciad because
he had pointed out some of the shortcomings of Pope's
edition, emended this passage to read : ' For his nose
was as sharp as a pen and he babbled of green fields.'
Whoever has witnessed the deathbed of an old man of
the Falstaff type knows that the delightful old repro-
bate never weakened to a commonplace pathos in the
stupor that precedes dissolution. ' His nose was as sharp
as a pen' is precisely the realism of a woman like
Quickly, to whose mind details like the ' dish of prawns'
and the ' parcel-gilt goblet ' are always present, and
Mr. Collier's suggestion : ' His nose was as sharp as a
pen on a table of green frieze ' seems nearer the true
reading. But the former is universally accepted.

In some cases, like ' that runaway's eyes may wink *
in Romeo and Juliet^ it is impossible to hit on a satis-
factory reading, though we should like exceedingly to
know who ' runaway ' was. The conjecture * rumour's


eyes ' is not altogether satisfactory, and the question is
insoluble. In other cases the true word or the meaning
of the word is of little consequence, as in The Tempest^
when Caliban, in an excess of loyalty to his new master,
Stefan o, says, ' I '11 bring thee to clustering filberds, and
sometimes I '11 get thee young scammels from the rock.'

What are scammels ? Sea birds or oysters? It is of
no consequence that we cannot tell. They were some-
thing good to eat, — excellent beyond question, — and
the freckled whelp knew where they most did congre-

There are some hundred and eighty cases where con-
jecture is at a loss. These are known as * cruxes.' Many
of the ingenious minds of the nineteenth century com-
mented on these and endeavored to suggest a mean-
ing. When a line has apparently dropped out in the
printing, it is hopeless to attempt to replace it, so much
of the force of Shakespeare's verse depends on the indi-
vidual choice and collocation of the words. For instance,
in the first act and first scene of Hamlet, Horatio is
describing the portents that appeared

In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell.

He says : —

The graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets ;
As stars with trains of fire and dews of blood,
Disasters in the sun ; and the moist star
Upon whose influence Neptune's Empire stands
Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse.

In the above 'stars' and 'disasters' are plainly subjects
with no verb. Perhaps a line was omitted by the com-
positor. If so, it has dropped into oblivion. It has been
suggested that ' disasters in the sun ' might be changed


to ' disastrous, dimmed the sun,' but that will not do,
for comets do not dim the sun, and, besides, we cannot
give up the great phrase ' disasters in the sun.' Here,
then, is a place when Heminge and Condell failed in
their promise to give us the plays ' cured and perfect of
their limbs, and all the rest absolute in their numbers
as he conceived them,' and modern ingenuity cannot
touch it. We must submit to one of the great historical
misfortunes. Fortunately few of the insoluble cruxes
occur in passages as beautiful as the above. In some
cruxes a meaning is dimly shadowed but cannot be for-
mulated. The various suggestions and conjectures as to
the force of the words and as to the true reading in these
cases are brought together with great patience and fidel-
ity by Dr. Furness in the notes on the plays contained

Online LibraryCharles Frederick JohnsonShakespeare and his criticis → online text (page 1 of 30)