Tales from Shakspeare (1831)
TALES FROM SHAKSPEARE.
DESIGNED FOR THE
USE OF YOUNG PERSONS.
By CHARLES LAMB.
ENGRAVINGS, FROM DESIGNS BY HARVEY.
PRINTED FOR BALDWIN AND CRADOCK.
PRINTED BY C. WHITTINGHAM.
The following Tales are meant to be submitted to the young reader as an introduction to the study of Shakspeare, for which purpose his words are used whenever it seemed possible to bring them in; and in whatever has been added to give them the regular form of a connected story, diligent care has been taken to select such words as might least interrupt the effect of the beautiful English tongue in which he wrote: therefore words introduced into our language since his time have been as far as possible avoided.
In those Tales which have been taken from the Tragedies, as my young readers will perceive when they come to see the source from which these stories are derived, Shakspeare's own words, with little alteration, recur very frequently in the narrative as well as in the dialogue; but in those made from the Comedies I found myself scarcely ever able to turn his words into the narrative form; therefore I fear in them I have made use of dialogue too frequently for young people not used to the dramatic form of writing. But this fault, if it be as I fear a fault, has been caused by my earnest wish to give as much of Shakspeare's own words as possible: and if the "He said," and "She said," the question and the reply, should sometimes seem tedious to their young ears, they must pardon it, because it was the only way I knew of, in which I could give them a few hints and little foretastes of the great pleasure which awaits them in their elder years, when they come to the rich treasures from which these small and valueless coins are extracted; pretending to no other merit than as faint and imperfect stamps of Shakspeare's matchless image. Faint and imperfect images they must be called, because the beauty of his language is too frequently destroyed by the necessity of changing many of his excellent Avords into words far less expressive of his true sense, to make it read something like prose; and even in some few places, where his blank verse is given unaltered, as hoping from its simple plainness to cheat the young readers into the belief that they are reading prose, yet still his language being transplanted from its own natural soil and wild poetic garden, it must want much of its native beauty.
I have wished to make these Tales easy reading for very young children. To the utmost of my ability I have constantly kept this in my mind; but the subjects of most of them made this a very difficult task. It was no easy matter to give the histories of men and women in terms familiar to the apprehension of a very young mind. For young ladies too it has been my intention chiefly to write, because boys are generally permitted the use of their fathers' libraries at a much earlier age than girls are, they frequently having the best scenes of Shakspeare by heart, before their sisters are permitted to look into this manly book; and, therefore, instead of recommending these Tales to the perusal of young gentlemen who can read them so much better in the originals, I must rather beg their kind assistance in explaining to their sisters such parts as are hardest for them to understand: and when they have helped them to get over the difficulties, then perhaps they will read to them (carefully selecting what is proper for a young sister's ear) some passage which has pleased them in one of these stories, in the very words of the scene from which it is taken; and I trust they will find that the beautiful extracts, the select passages, they may choose to give their sisters in this way, will be much better relished and understood from their having some notion of the general story from one of these imperfect abridgments:—which if they be fortunately so done as to prove delightful to any of you, my young readers, I hope will have no worse effect upon you, than to make you wish yourselves a little older, that you may be allowed to read the Plays at full length (such a wish will be neither peevish nor irrational). When time and leave of judicious friends shall put them into your hands, you will discover in such of them as are here abridged (not to mention almost as many more (which are left untouched) many surprising events and turns of fortune, which for their infinite variety could not be contained in this little book, besides a world of sprightly and cheerful characters, both men and women, the humour of which I was fearful of losing if I attempted to reduce the length of them.
What these tales have been to you in childhood, that and much more it is my wish that the true Plays of Shakspeare may prove to you in older years—enrichers of the fancy, strengtheners of virtue, a withdrawing from all selfish and mercenary thoughts, a lesson of all sweet and honourable thoughts and actions, to teach you courtesy, benignity, generosity, humanity: for of examples, teaching these virtues, his pages are full.
|A Midsummer Night's Dream||17|
|The Winter's Tale||33|
|Much Ado about Nothing||49|
|As You Like It||67|
|The Two Gentlemen of Verona||89|
|The Merchant of Venice||107|
|All's Well that Ends Well||179|
|The Taming of the Shrew||197|
|The Comedy of Errors||213|
|Measure for Measure||233|
|Twelfth Night; or What you Will||253|
|Timon of Athens||271|
|Romeo and Juliet||289|
|Hamlet, Prince of Denmark||313|
|Pericles, Prince of Tyre||353|