Published online by Cambridge University Press: 29 August 2010
Although the General Introduction must be left till the completion of the Work, it is necessary to say a few words here with regard to the various distinctive features of this edition, for the invention of which I am chiefly responsible. The guiding principle, which has been kept in view throughout, is the treatment of Shakespeare's work as that of a dramatist, whose plays were intended not to be read as poetical exercises, but to be represented by living men and women before a general audience. Mr. Irving having, in his Introduction, treated Shakespeare as a playwright, that is to say a practical writer of plays, it is not necessary for me to say any more on this point. I would simply point out that, in accordance with this principle, there will be found in this edition more explicit stage directions than there are in other modern editions of Shakespeare. But they are not so many as might be expected; because, after all, Shakespeare's text contains in itself the best stage directions, and because many points bearing upon gesture or by-play of the actor have been pointed out in the notes. Again, before adopting any emendation, the fact that the words have to be spoken and not read has always been borne in mind; and therefore no alteration of the text has been made without considering the requirements, not only of the sense and metre, but also of what may be called the dramatic rhythm; that is to say, the rhythm which the sentiment or passion of the words may require in order to be spoken with due dramatic effect.