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THE story on which this play is formed, is of great antiqui. ty. It is found in a book, once very popular, entitled Gesta Romanorum, which is supposed by Mr. Tyrwhitt, the learned editor of The Canterbury Tales of Chaucer, 1775, to have been written five hundred years ago.
Pericles was entered on the Stationers' books, May 2, 1608, by Edward Blount, one of the printers of the first folio edition of Shakspeare's plays ; but it did not appear in print till the following year, and then it was published not by Blount, but by Henry Gosson ; who had probably anticipated the other, by getting a hasty transcript from a playhouse copy. There is, I believe, no play of our author's, perhaps I might say in the English language, so incorrect as this. The most corrupt of Shakspeare's other dramas, compared with Pericles, is purity itself. The metre is seldom attended to ; verse is frequently printed as prose, and the grossest errors abound in almost ev. ery page. I mention these circumstances, only as an apology to the reader for baving taken somewhat more licence with this drama than would have been justifiable, if the copies of it now extant had been less disfigured by the negligence and ignorance of the printer or transcriber. The numerous corruptions that are found in the original edition in 1609, which have been carefully preserved and augmented in all the subse. quent impressions, probably arose from its having been frequently exhibited on the stage. In the four quarto editions it is called the much admired play of PERICLES, PRINCE OF TYRE ; and it is mentioned by many ancient writers as a very popular performance.
MALONE. This play is so uncommonly corrupted by the printers, &c. that it does not so much seem to want illustration as emenda. tion : and the errata are so numerous and gross, that one is tempted to suspect almost every line where there is the least deviation in the language from what is either usual or proper. Many of the corruptions appear to have arisen from an illiterate transcriber having written the speeches by ear from an inaccurate reciter ; who between them both have rendered the text (in the verbs particularly) very ungrammatical.
More of the phraseology used in the genuine dramas of
Shakspeare prevails in Pericles, than in any of the other six doubted plays.
To a former edition of this play were subjoined two disserta. tions ; one written by Mr. Steevens, the other by me. In the latter I urged such arguments as then appeared to me to have weight, to prove that it was the entire work of Shakspeare, and one of his earliest compositions. Mr. Steevens on the other hand maintained, that it was originally the production of some elder playwright, and afterwards improved by our poet, whose hand was acknowledged to be visible in many scenes throughout the play. On a review of the various arguments which each of us produced in favour of his own hypothesis, I am now convinced that the theory of Mr. Steevens was right, and have no difficulty in acknowledging my own to be er
This play was entered on the Stationers' books, together with Antony and Cleopatra, in the year 1608, by Edward Blount, a bookseller of eminence, and one of the publishers of the first folio edition of Shakspeare's works. It was printed with his name in the title-page, in his life-time ; but this circumstance proves nothing ; because by the knavery of booksellers other pieces were also ascribed to him in his life-time, of which he indubitably wrote not a line. Nor is it necessary to urge in support of its genuineness, that at a subsequent period it was ascribed to him by several dramatic writers. I wish not to rely on any circumstance of that kind ; because in all questions of this nature, internal evidence is the best that can be produced, and to every person intimately acquainted with our poet's writings, must in the present case be decisive. The congenial sentiments, the numerous expressions bearing a striking similitude to passages in his undisputed plays, some of the incidents, the situation of many of the persons, and in various places the colour of the style, all these combine to set the seal of Shakspeare on the play before us, and furnish us with internal and irresistible proofs, that a considerable portion of this piece, as it now appears, was written by him. The greater part of the three last acts may, I think, on this ground be safely ascribed to him ; and his hand may be traced occasionally in the other two divisions.
To alter, new-model, and improve the unsuccessful dramas of preceding writers, was, I believe, much more common in the time of Shakspeare than is generally supposed. This piece