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THERE have hitherto been two chief hindrances to the reading of Shakespeare in schools of every class—the length of the Plays, and the occurrence in most of them of objectionable passages. In elementary schools, for example, and even in schools more advanced, Shakespeare has been known mainly by detached speeches. There has been little opportunity of making the pupils acquainted either with the story of the Plays, or with the characters delineated in them.
The present Work is intended to remove both of the hindrances referred to. The Plays have been abridged, so as to bring each of them within manageable limits. At the same time, all has been retained in each case that was needed to make the narrative complete. The principal passages, and favourite speeches-nearly every one of which will be found in this Work—will derive additional interest from being set each in its proper place, forming a part of the narrative of the Play to which it belongs. All such passages and expressions as render Shakespeare unsuitable for perusal in public classes have been carefully excluded.
Those Plays have been selected which seemed best adapted for educational purposes; but the selection embraces the very greatest works of Shakespeare :-of the Tragedies—Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, Julius Cæsar, and Coriolanus; of the Histories—King John, Richard II., Richard III., The First Part of King Henry IV., and King Henry VIII.; of the Comedies—The Merchant of Venice, and The Tempest.
Notes have been appended to each Play, to elucidate obscure passages, to explain historical allusions and peculiar or difficult grammatical constructions, and to make the Work available for that systematic study of English Classics which has now a recognized place in the curriculum of every well-organized school.
As the words which require explanation frequently occur in different Plays, and several times in the same Play, the Etymological Notes are given in a General Vocabulary at the end of each Book, which may also be used as a Verbal Index. Each word explained in the Vocabulary is marked by an asterisk (*) in the text. There is also a Grammatical Index to each Book, containing references to the peculiarities of construction and idiom explained in the Notes.
It is hoped that these Books may be useful in deepening and extending, through the common schools of the country, a knowledge of Shakespeare's works; and that many may be induced, by a perusal of these pages, to undertake a closer study of his language and wonderful modes of thought.
* The Twelve Plays selected have been arranged in Three Books, as follows. Each Book can be had separately :
KING RICHARD II.
The Plays included in the First Book are chiefly historical. They have been selected with a special view to Junior Classes.