At one time I thought that my first chapter would be about the words of Shakespeare’s plays as they have survived in early printed books and as modern editors present them to us. All our study and enjoyment must start from this evidence and any opinions we form have to be brought back to the same source for assessment. But I decided later to place discussion of Shakespeare’s text at the half-way mark because, until a reader has developed a sense of the plays in performance, a text cannot be read as it should be: only a few difficulties will be identified, and the positive clues to Shakespeare’s image of life will pass unregarded. A literary reading can place barriers in the way of understanding which are difficult to eradicate later. Once a play begins to have a lively enactment in our imaginations, we return to the text with new and sharpened curiosity.
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