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THE Doubtful Plays of Shakspeare are printed with this edition of his undoubted works, because the mere fact of their having been repeatedly printed as his productions entitles them to popular perpetuation, and because there is fair presumption that, in greater or less proportion, several of them, at least, actually passed through his hands.
It is now a century and a half since they were all published together as his compositions, and four of them had been separately printed with his name in his lifetime; and for a still longer period various opinions have been entertained about them.
The decision of critics, however, on a point so long agitated, should not satisfy the curious and intelligent reader of Shakspeare. He will wish to see with his own eyes, and to decide by the power of his own understanding; and to him these performances, in their present form, will not be unacceptable. Indeed, considering them merely as productions of writers contemporary with our author, they may be perused with advantage; since, like most of the dramatic compositions of that time, they may serve to explain his phraseology, and illustrate his allusions.
The text employed is that of Johnson, Steevens, and Reid, whose notes have been revised, and in some few instances augmented, by the present Editor. With respect to the poems, up to the appearance of the text here adopted,—that of Malone,-no attempt was made to separate the genuine poetical compositions of Shakspeare from the spurious performances with which they had been so long intermixed, or to compare them with the earliest editions. Shortly after his death, a very incorrect impression of his poems was issued, which in every subsequent edition had been implicitly followed. In Malone's edition they were faithfully printed from the original copies, except his Venus and Adonis, which the Editor, unable to procure the first impression, printed from a copy of that poem published in 1600, which he carefully collated for his work,