A Life of William Shakespeare

By Joseph Quincy Adams | Go to book overview

PREFACE

THE, materials for a life of Shakespeare have been gradually assembled by the industry of hundreds of scholars, extending through more than two centuries; and probably little new matter of importance remains to be discovered, except through a happy, and at present quite unforeseen, accident. The arduous labors of Professor and Mrs. Wallace in the manuscript archives of England, during the course of which they examined over a million documents, recently yielded some fresh information; yet the small number of their "finds" assures us that nearly all that we are likely to know of the personal affairs of the great dramatist has already been made public. This stagnation in discovery is perhaps responsible for the tendency, especially marked in the last decade, for writers to deal in fanciful speculation, evolving from slight evidence, or none worthy of the name, bizarre and often elaborately detailed hypotheses regarding Shakespeare's relations with his contemporaries. But the results of such ingenuity are likely to be as perilous as they are unsubstantial, and for the most part must be ignored by the biographer. On the other hand, some valuable information is now being derived from a study, largely bibliographical, of the origin of the Shakespearean texts, and of their transmission to us through the medium of the playhouse and the press. True, much remains to be done in this field of endeavor before absolutely final conclusions are established, yet the main facts -- which alone are needed for a general biography -- are already clear.

The labor of assembling the material for a life of the

-vii-

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