Thomas Hanmer’s edition of Shakespeare was printed in Oxford in 1745, and shows the move away from the Fell types to newer founts by Caslon. Hanmer is determined to improve the authenticity of the text of Shakespeare’s plays, but is he also determined to improve Shakespeare?
‘Most of these [false] passages are here thrown to the bottom of the page and rejected as spurious … and it were wished that more had then undergone the same sentence. The promotor of the present Edition hath ventured to discard but a few on his own judgment, the most considerable of which is that wretched piece of ribaldry in King Henry V. put in the mouths of the French princess and an old Gentlewoman, improper enough as it is all in French and not intelligible to an English audience, and yet that is perhaps the best thing that can be said of it. There can be no doubt but a great deal more of that low stuff which disgraces the works of this great Author, was foisted in by the Players after his death, to please the vulgar audiences by which they subsisted: and though some of the poor witticisms and conceits must be supposed to have fallen from his pen, yet as he hath put them generally into the mouths of low and ignorant people, so it is to be remember’d that he wrote for the Stage, rude and unpolished as it then was; and the vicious taste of the age must stand condemned for them, since he hath left upon record a signal of how much he despised them. In his Play of The Merchant of Venice a Clown is introduced quibbling in a most miserable manner, upon which one who bears the character of a man of sense makes the following reflection; How every fool can play upon a word! I think the best grace of wit will shortly turn into silence, and discourse grow commendable in none but parrots. He could hardly have found stronger words to express his indignation at those false pretence to wit that were then in vogue; and therefore though such trash is frequently interspersed in his writings, it would be unjust to cast it as an imputation upon his taste and judgment and character as a Writer.’
¶ Hanmer is referring to Henry V act 3 scene 4, where Princess Catherine learns English from her maid Alice, allowing some humorous mispronunciations of body parts and clothes as she points to each one, culminating in con for gown:
CATHERINE D’hand, de fingre, de nails, d’arma, d’elbow, de nick, de sin, de foot, de cown.
ALICE Excellent, madame!