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HEN Mr. Charles Kemble, after his retirement from the stage, entered on a course of Public Read
ings of Shakspere, it was my privilege to join in his discussions, to attend his rehearsals, to assist in the curtailment of the plays, and in all matters relating to his readings, to be in free consultation with him. I had lent him a copy of Hanmer's quarto, in order that he might mark the scenes and passages that were to be omitted; and, happily, his marks were extended to the accentuation of words, and an occasional syllabic stress; to which my experience of his reading has enabled me to add emphatic marks, which Mr. Kemble had not thought it necessary to insert in a book prepared for his own use, or
"As things acquainted, and familiar to us." In the curtailment of the plays Mr. Kemble
carefully prepared all that he would desire to read; but as, in every case, a play was to be compressed into the compass of a single reading, he found it necessary to omit much more than his judgment or his feeling approved. In printing this edition these passages, as well as many others of importancewhether chorus orinduction, prologue, epilogue, or song-have been retained ; and therefore, in addition to its use as a Handbook for Public Reading, it will be found suitable for Shakspere clubs and reading societies, and for private families.
The idea of carrying out a project entertained by Mr. Kemble, may date from the receipt of a letter from him, that was written after many years' use of the books, which he had returned to me.
“Will you lend me again your Hanmer's Shakspere? I have some idea of printing the Plays, as I read them, at the request of numerous friends, who think that they would be acceptable to families, so curtailed.”
A glance at the plan of this version will at once commend it to the reader, by the absence of foot-notes and the critical value of Mr. Kemble's emphatic marks, which cannot fail to suggest those refinements of diction and of feeling that marked his delivery of the Poet's words : and it will be seen that where compression was necessary, the occasional adoption of an equivalent word has helped to avoid disturbance of the rhythm.
The voice of Mr. Kemble was of a singularly youthful quality, by which he was distinguished at the age of sixty. By careful training it served him well in the expression of tragick emotion, and the assumption of age; and when the reality of years came upon him, he could, at will, call back the tones of youth and the buoyant accents of Benedick or of Mercutio ; could command the compass of his voice to range from Hamlet to Polonius, from Faulconbridge to the Lady Constance, from Shylock to Portia, from Orlando to Rosalind and Jaques; could turn them to shape, and reproduce to the mind's eye the varieties of form and manner that distinguish Marc Antony, Falstaff, and Dogberry, Juliet, Imogen, and Dame Quickly.
For Mr. Kemble's first reading, by the gracious command of Her Majesty, at Buckingham Palace, on the evening of April 24, 1844, the play of “Cymbeline,” which was selected by His Royal Highness the Prince Consort, presented unusual difficulties, not alone in the necessity to comprise the reading within a given time; and this play, which commences the present series, will be received as an extreme case of judicious abridgment, without the omission of any detail, necessary to the development of the fable.
After another private reading of “Cymbeline," before the Queen Adelaide, Mr. Kemble's Public Readings began at Willis's Rooms, under the management of Mr. Mitchell, on May 13 of the same year; where his renderings of “Hamlet,” “King John,” “As You Like It," "King Henry IV. part 1," "Julius Cæsar," "The Merchant of Venice," "Macbeth," "Romeo and Juliet,” and “King
“ Richard III.,” followed upon that of “Cymbeline;" and were, on many occasions, attended by the Queen Adelaide, accompanied by a large party of her own visitors.
From these good beginnings the readings of Shakspere made their way, in due course, to the various public rooms and literary institutions of London, and of the chief provincial towns; and Mr. Kemble may be said to have so set an example that has been generally followed, and to have created a demand which this publication is designed to supply.
R. J. L.