This volume is designed to satisfy a need which during the past two generations has been variously and often expressed. The ambition of the editor has been to provide an accurate and complete text, with adequate critical and supplementary matter, of all those plays which can, without entire absurdity, be included in the 'doubtfully Shakespearian' class. A similar work - to comprise the first thirteen dramas in this book, in addition to The Arraignment of Paris, The Death of Stucley, and The Siege of Antwerp - appears, indeed, on the list of suggested publications of the New Shakspere Society (Transactions, 1874, p. 4), but it did not get beyond the stage of projection.
Since the days of Malone, only three of the works before us - Arden of Fever-sham, The Two Noble Kinsmen, and Sir Thomas More - have appeared in English-speaking countries in what can at all justly be termed independently edited texts. Tolerable versions of four others have been published by Germans in editions now practically unprocurable. As regards the other seven plays, no real attempt at purification of the text or collation of the early editions has been made, if made at all, for more than two centuries, and in the case of Sir John Oldcastle, it has remained for this book to give the very first reprint of what is most unmistakably the only reliable and uncorrupted version. Thus considerable and important passages appear here for the first time since 1600.
In the preparation of the body of the text, the main object has been to give a faithful reproduction of the most authoritative edition of each play; that is, of the earliest, except in the rare instances where a later edition is demonstrably truer to the author's manuscript. Supplementary passages are printed, within brackets, from the earliest edition which contains them. Where a variant or an emendation has appeared inevitable, it has been adopted, but the reading of the editio princeps has invariably been given in the footnotes. Great pains have been taken - it is hoped with a fair measure of success - to register in the footnotes all variants in accessible sixteenth and seventeenth-century editions which are not purely orthographic, and all such later emendations and conjectures as possess any degree of usefulness or probability.