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That praises are without reason lavished on the dead, and · bation of prejudice or fashion ; it is proper to inquire, by ebat the honours due only to excellence are paid to anti. what peculiarities of excellence Shakspeare has gained and quity, is a complaint likely to be always continued by those, kept the favour of his countrymen. abo, being able to add nothing to truth, hope for eminence Nothing can please many, and please long, but just repre from the heresies of paradox; or those, who, being forced sentations of general nature. Particular manners can be by disappointment upon consolatory expedients, are willing known to few, and
therefore few only can judge how nearly tó hope from posterity what the present age refuses, and they are copied. The
irregular combinations of fanciful in fatter themselves that the regard which is yet denied by vention may delight awhile, by that novelty of which the envy, will be at least bestowed by time.
common satiety of life sends us all in quest; but the pleasure Antiquity, like every other quality that attracts the notice of sudden wonder are soon exhausted, and the mind can of mankind, has undoubtedly votaries that reverence it, not only repose on the stability of truth. from reason, but from prejudice. Some seem to admire in. Shakspeare is above all writers, at least above all modero discriminately Whiatever has been long preserved, without writers, the poet of nature; the poet that holds up to bis considering that time has sometimes co-operated with chance; readers a faithful mirror of manners and of life. His chat. all
perhaps are more willing to honour past than present ex- acters are not modified by the customs of particular places, cellence; and the mind contemplates genius through the unpractised by the rest of the world ; by the peculiarities of sbades of age, as the eye surveys the sun through artificial studies or professions, which can operate but upon small opacity. The great contention of criticism is to find the numbers ; or by the accidents of transient fashions or tem. faults of the moderns and the beauties of the ancients. porary opinions : they are the genuine progeny of common While an author is yet living, we estimate his powers by his humanity, such as the world will always supply, and obser. worst performance; and when be is dead, we rate them vation will always find. His persons act and speak by the by his best
influence of those general passions and principles by which To works, however, of which the excellence is not absolute al minds are agitated, and the whole system of life is con. and definite, but gradual and comparative; to works not tinued in motion. In the writings of other pocts a character raised upon principles demonstrative and scientific, but ap- is too often an individual; in those of Shakspeare it is com. pealing wholly to observation and experience, no other test monly a species. can be applied than length of duration and continuance of It is from this wide extension of design that so much in. esteem. What mankind have long possessed they have often struction is derived. It is this which fills the plays of Shak. examined and compared, and if they persist to value the speare with practical axioms and domestic wisdom. It was possession, it is because frequent comparisons have confirm. said of Euripides, that every verse was a precept ; and it ed opinion in its favour. As among the works of nature noi may be said of Shakspeare, that from his works may be cob man can properly, call a river deep, or a mountain high, lected a system of civil and economical prudence. Yet his without the knowledge of many mountains, and many riv. real power is not shown in the splendour of particular pas ers; so in the productions of genius, nothing can be styled sages, but by the progress of his fable, and the tenor of his excellent till it has been compared with other works of the dialogue; and he that tries to recommend him by select same kind. Demonstration immediately displays its power, quotations, will succeed like the pedant in Hierocles, who, and has nothing to hope or fear from the Aux of years; but when he offered his house to sale, carried a brick in his works tentative and experimental must be estimated by their pocket as a specimen. proportion to the general and collective ability of man, as it It will not easily be imagined how much Shakspeare ex. is discovered in a long succession of endeavours of the first cels in accommodating bis sentiments to real life, but by com building that was raised, it might be with certainty deter. paring him with other authors. It was observed of the mined that it was round or square; but whether it was spa. ancient schools of declamation, that the more diligently cious or lofty must have been referred to time. The Pytha- they were frequented, the more was the student disqualified gorean scale of numbers was at once discovered to be perfect ; for the world, because he found nothing there which he but the poems of Homer we yet know not to transcend the should ever meet in any other place. The same remarks common limits of human intelligence, but by remarking, may be applied to every stage but that of Shakspeare. The that nation after nation, and century after century, has been theatre, when it is under any other direction, is peopled by able to do little more than transpose his incidents, new such characters as were never seen, conversing in a language name his characters, and paraphrase his sentiments. which was never heard, upon topics which will never arise
The reverence due to writings that have long subsisted, ) in the commerce of me ind. But the dialogue of this au. arises therefore not from any credulous confidence in the thor is often so evidently determined by the incident which superior wisdom of past ages, or gloomy persuasion of the produces it, and is pursued with so much ease and simplicity, degeneracy of mankind, but is the consequence of acknow. that it seems scarcely to claim the merit of Action, but to ledged and indubitable positions, that what has been longest have been gleaned by diligent selection out of common con. known has been most considered, and what is most consider. versation and common occurrences, ed is best understood.
Upon every other stage the universal agent is love, by The poet, of whose works I have undertaken the revision, whose power all good and evil is distributed, and every acmay now begin to assume the dignity of an ancient, and claim tion quickened of retarded. To bring a lover, a lady, and a the privilege of established fame and prescriptive veneration. rival into the fable; to entangle them in contradictory obli. He has long outlived his century, the term commonly fix. gations, perplex them with oppositions of interest, and har. ed as the test of literary merit." Whatever advantages he ass them with violence of desires inconsistent with cach other might once derive from personal allusions, local customs, or to make them meet in rapture, and part in agony; to fill temporary opinions, have for many years been lost ; and every their mouths with hyperbolical joy and outrageous sorrow; Lopic of merriment or motive of sorrow, which the modes of to distress them as nothing human ever was distressed; tó artificial life afforded him, now ouly
obscure the scenes deliver them as nothing human ever was delivered ; is the which they once iluminated. The effects of favour and business of a modern dramatist. For this, probability is competition are at an end ; the tradition of his friendships violated, life is misrepresented, and language is depraved and his enmities bas perished; his works support no opinion But love is only one of many passions, and it has no great with arguments, nor supply any faction with invectives; they influence upon the sum of life, it has little operation in the can neither indulge vanity, nor gratify malignity; but arc dramas of a poet, who caught his ideas from the living world, read without any other reason than the desire of pleasure, and exhibited only what he saw before him. He knew, and are therefore praised only as pleasure is obtained; yet, that any other passion, as it was regular or exorbitant, was ibus unassisted by interest or passion, they have past through a cause of happiness or calamity. variations of taste and changes of manners, and, as they Characters thus ample and general were not casily discrim devolved from one generation to another, have received new inated and preserved, yet perhaps no poet over kept his honours at every transmission.
personages more distinct from each other. I will not say, But because human judgment, though it be gradually with Pope, that every speech may be assigned to the propes gaining upon certainty, never becomes infallible ; and appro speaker, because many speeches there are which have noe bation, though long continued, may yet be only the appro- thing characteristical; but, perhaps, though some may ba
equally adapted to cvery person, it will be difficult to find any that can be properly transferred from the
present possesEx vetus atove probus, centum qui perficit annos.” Hor. sor to another claimant. The choice is right wben there
STLEVENS, is reason for choice.
Other dramatists can only gain attention by hyperbolical nigh and the low co-operate in the general system by usz or aggravated characters, by fabulous and unexampled ex. voidable concatenation. cellence or depravity, as the writers of barbarous romances It is objected, that by this change of scenes the passione invigorated the reader by a giant and a dwarf; and he that are interrupted in their progression, and that the principal should form his expectation of human affairs from the play, event, being not advanced by a due gradation of preparatury or from the tale, would be equally deceived. Shakspeare incidents, wants at least the power to move, which constitutes nos no heroes; his scenes are occupied only by men, who act the perfection of dramatic poetry. This reasoning is so and epeak as the reader thinks that he should himself have specious, that it is received as true eren by those who in spoken or acted on the same occasion : even where the agency daily experience feel it to be false. The interchanges of is supernatural, the dialogue is level with life. Other writ- mingled scenes seldom fail to produce the intended vicissi. ers disguise the most natural passions and most frequent in. tudes of passion. Fiction cannot more so much, but that the cidens: ; so that he who contemplates them in the book will not attention may be easily transferred; and though it must be know them in the world : Shakspeare approximates the re- allowed that pleasing melancholy be sometimes interrupted mote, and familiarizes the wonderful; the event which he by unwelcome levity, yet let it be considered likewise, thar represents will not happen, but if it were possible, its effects | melancholy is often not pleasing, and that the disturbance cf would probably be such as he has assigned ; * and it may be one man may be the reliet of another; that different auditors taid, that he has not only shown human nature as it acts in have different habitudes; and that, upon the whole, all pleareal'exigencies, but as it would be found in triais, to which sure consists in variety, it cannot be exposed.
The players, who in their edition divided our author's This therefore is the praise of Shakspeare, that his drama works into comedies, histories, and tragedies, seem not to is the mirror of life; that he who has mazed his imagination, have distinguished the three kinds, by any very exact or . in following the phantoms which other writers raise up before definite ideas. him, may here be cured of his delirious ecstacies, by reading An action which ended happily to the principal persons, human sentiments in human language; by scenes from which nowever serious or distressful through its intermediate inci.
hermit may estimate the transactions of the world, and 2 dents, in their opinion constituted a comedy. This idea of a confessor predict the progress of the passions.
comedy continued long anongst us, and plays were written, His adherence to general nature has exposed him to the which, by changing the catastrophe, were tragediez to-day, censure of critics, who form their judgments upon narrow and comedies to-morrow. principles :
and er think his Romans not suifi. Trage was not in those times a poem of more general ciently Roman, and Voltaire censures his kings as not coin. dignity or eleration than comedy; it required only a calami. pletely royal. Dennis is offended, that Menenius, a senator tous conclusion, with which the common criticism of that age of Rome, should play the busfoon; and Voltaire perhaps was satisfied, whatever lighter pleasure it afforded in its thinks decency violated when the Danish usurper is repre progress. sented as a drunkard. But Shekspeare always makes nature History was a series of actions, with no other than chronopredominate over accident; and if he preserves the essentia) logical succession, independent on each other, and without character, is not very careful of distinctions superinduced and any tendency to introduce and regulate the conclusion. It adventitious. His story requires Romans or kings, but he is not always very nicely distinguished from tragedy. There thinks only on men. He knew that Rome, like every other is not mucii nearer approach to unity of action in the tragedy city, had men of all dispositions; and, wanting a buttoon, he of Antony and Cleopatra, than in the history of Richard the went into the senate house for that which the senate-house Second. But a history might be continued through many would certainly have afforded him. He was inclined to show plays; as it had no plan, it had no limits. an usurper and a murderer not only odious, but despicable, Through all these denominations of thc drama, Shakspeare's he therefore added drunkenness to his other qualities, know mode of composition is the same; an interchange of serious. ing that kings love wine like other men, and that wine exertsiness and merriment, by which the mind is softened at one its natural power upon kings. These are the petty cavils of ime, and es hilarated at another. But whatever be his purpetty minds; a poet overlooks the casual distinction of pose, whether to gladden or depress, or to conduct the story, country and condition, as a painter, satistied with the figure vithout vehemence or emotion, through tracts of casy and neglects the drapery:
familiar dialogue, he never fails to attain his purpose: as he The censure which he has incurred by mixing comic an commands us, we laugh or mourn, or sit silent with quiet tragic scenes, as it extends to all his works, deserves mor expectation, in tranquillity without indifference. consideration. Let the fact be first stated, and then ex When Shakspeare's plan is understood, most of the criti.
cisms of Rymer and Voltaire vanish away. The play of Shakspeare's plays are not in the rigorous and critic? sens Hamlet is opened, without impropriety, by two centinels; cither tragedies or comedics, but compositions of a distinct lago bellows at Brabantio's window, without injury to the kind; exhibiting the real state of sublunary nature, which scheme of the play, though in terins which a modern audience partakes of good and evil, joy and sorrow, mingled with end. Would not casily endure; the character of Polonius is season. less variety of proportion and innumerable modes of combinable and useful; and the Gravediggers themselves may be nation ; and expressing the course of the world, in which heard with applause, the loss of one is the gain of another; in which, at the same Shakspeare engaged in dramatic poetry with the world time, the reveller is hasting to his wine, and the moumeropen before him; the rules of the ancients were yet known burying his friend ; in which the malignity of one is some lo few; the public judgment was unformed; he had no times defcated by the frolic of another; and many mis example of such fame as might force him upon imitation, chicks and many benefits are done and hindered without uor critics of such authority as might restrain his extrava design,
gance: be therefore indulged his natural disposition, and his Out of this chaos of mingled purposes and casualties, disposition, as Ryıner bas remarked, led him to coniedy. In ancient pocts, according to the laws which custom had pre ftragedy he otten writes, with great appearance of toil and scribed, selected, some the crimes of men, and some their study, what is written at last with little felicity; but in his absurdíties; some, the momentous vicissitudes of life, and comic scenes, he seems to produce, without labour, what no come the lighter occurrences ; some the terrors of distress, labour can improve. In tragedy he is always struggling after and some the gaieties of prosperity. Thus rose the two some occasion to be comic, but in comedy he seems to repose, modes of imitation, known by the names of tragedy and for to luxuriate, as in a mode of thinking congenial to bio comedy; compositions intended to promote different ends by nature. In his tragic scenes there is always something contrary means, and considered as 80'little 'allied, that I do wanting, but his comedy often surpasses expectation or denot recollect among the Greeks or Romans a single writer bire. His comedy pleases by the thoughts and the language, who attempted both.
and his tragedy for the greater part by incident and action Shakspcare has united the powers of exciting laughter and His tragedy seems to be skill, his comedy to be instinct sorrow not only in one mind, but in one composition. Al The force of his comic scenes has suffered little diminution most all his plays are divided between serious and ludicrous from the changes made by a century and a half, in manners characters, and, in the successive evolutions of the design, or in words. As his petsonages act upon principles arising sometimes produce seriousness and sorrow, and sometimes from genuine passion, very little modifed by particular forms, levity and laughter.
their pleasures and vexations are communicable to all times That this is a practice contrary to the rules of criticism and to all places; they are natural, and therefore durable; will be readily allowed; but there is always an appeal open the adventitious peculiarities of personal
habits are only from criticism to nature. The end of writing is to instruct; superficial dies, bright and pleasing for a little while, yet soon the end of poetry is to instruct by pleasing. That the mingled fading to a dim tint, without any remains of former lustre; drama may convey all the instruction of tragedy or comedy but the discriminations of true passion are the colours of cannot be denied,
because it includes both in its alterations nature; they pervade the whole mass, and can only perish of exhibition, and approaches
nearer than either to the ap. with the body that exhibits them. The accidental composi. pearance of life, by showing how grcat machinations and tions of heterogeneous modes are dissolved by the chance Blender designs may promote or obviate
one another, and the that combined them: but the uniform simplicity of primitive
qualities neither admits increase, nor suffers decay. The
sand heaped by one food is scattered by another, but the Quærit quod nusquam est gentium, reperit tamen rock always continues in its place. The stream of time, Facit Wud verisimile quod mendacium est.
which is continually washing the dissoluble fabrics of other Plauti. Pseudolus, Act I. sc. iv., STSIYENS Docts, Dasses without injury by the adamant of Shalaware
If there be, what I believe there is, in every nation, a In narration he affects a disproportionate pomp of diction, style which never becomes obsolete, a certain mode of phra- and a wearisome train of circumlocution, and tells the in. seology so consonant and congenial to the analogy and prin cident imperfectly in many words, which might have been ciples of its respective language, as to remain settled and un. more plainly delivered in few. Narration in dramatic altered; this style is probably to be sought in the common poetry is naturally tedious, as it is unanimated and inactive, intercourse of life, among those who speak only to be under and obstructs the progress of the action; it should therefore stood, without ambition of elegance. The polite are always always be rapid, and enlivened by frequent interruption. catching modish innovations, and the learned depart from Shakspeare found it an incumbrance, and instead of lighten. the established forms of speech, in hope of finding or making ing it by brevity, endeavoured to recommend it by dignity better; those who wish for distinction forsake the vulgar, and splendour. when the vulgar is right; but there is a conversation above His declamations or set speeches are commonly cold and grossnes and below refinement, ere propriety resides, and for his power was the power of nature; when he en. ? #bere this poct seems to have gathered his comic dialogue. deuroured, like other tragic writers, to catch opportunities He is therefore more agreeable to the ears of the present age of amplification, and instead of inquiring what the occasion than any other author equally remote, and among his ottier demanded, to show how much his stores of knowledge could excellencies deserves to be studied as one of the original supply, he seldom escapes without the pity or resentment of masters of our language.
his reader, These observations are to be considered not as unexception, It is incident to him to be now and then entangled with an ably constant, but as containing general and predominant unwieldy sentiment, which he cannot well express, and will truth. Shakspeare's familiar dialogue is affirmed to be not reject; he struggles with it awhile, and if it continues smooth and clear, yet not wholly without ruggedness or stubbom, comprises it in wordis such as occur, and Icaves it difficulty; as a country may be eminently fruitful though it to be disentangled and evolved by those who have more has spots unfit for cultivation: his characters are praised as Icisure to bestow upon it. Datural, though their sentiments are sometimes forced, and Not that always where the language is intricate the their actions improbable; as the earth upon the whole is thought is subtle, or the image always great where the line spherical, though its surface is varied with protuberances is bulky; the equality of words to things is very often ne. and cavities.
glected, and trivial sentiments and vulgar ideas disappoint Shakspeare with his excellencies has likewise faults, and the attention, to which they are recommended by sonorous faults sufficient to obscure and overwhelm any other merit. epithets and swelling figures. I shall show them in the proportion in which they appear to But the admirers of this great poct have most reason to me, without envious malignity or superstitious veneration. complain when he approaches nearest to his highest excol. No question can be more innocently discussed than a dead lence, and seems fully resolved to sink them in dejection, poet's pretensions to renown: and little regard is due to that and mollify them with tender emotions by the fall of greata bigotry wbich sets candour higher than truth,
ness, the danger of innocence, or the crosses of love. What His first defect is that to which may be imputed most of be does best, he soon ceascs to do. He is not long soft and the evil in books or in men. He sacrifices virtue to conve- pathetic without some idle conceit, or contemptible equivo. nience, and is so much more careful to please than to in. cation. He no sooner begins to movc, than he counteracts struct, that he seems to write without any moral purpose. bimself : and terror and pity, as they are rising in the mind, From his writings indeed a system of social duty may be are checked and blasted by sudden frigidity. selected, for he that thinks reasonably must think morally; A quibble is, to Shakspeare, what luminous vapours are to but his precepts and axioms drop casually from him; he the traveller; he follows it at all adventures; it is sure to makes no just distribution of good or evil, nor is always caie. lead him out of his way, and sure to engulf him in the mire, ful to show in the virtuous a disapprobation of the wicked; It has some malignant power over his mind, and its fascina he carries his persons indifferently through right and wrong, tions are irresistible. Whatever be the dignity or profundity and at the close dismisses them without further care, and of his clisquisitions, whether he be enlarging knowledge, or leaves their examples to operate by chance. This fault the exalting a flection, whether he be amusing attention with barbarity of his age cannot. extenuate; for it is always a incidents, or enchanting it in suspense, let but a quibble writer's duty to make the world better, and justice is a vir. spring up before him, and he leaves his work unfinisbed. tue indlependent on time or place.
ve A quibble is the golden apple for which he will always The plots are often so loosely formed, that a very slight turn aside from his career, or stoop from his elevation. consideration may improve them, and so carelessly pursued, A quibble, poor and barten as it is, gave him such delight, that he seems not always fully to comprehend bis own de. that he was content to purchase it by the sacrifice of reason, sign. He omits opportunities of instructing or delighting, propriety, and truth. A quibble was to him the fatal Clcowhich the train of his story seems to force upon him, and patra for which he lost the world, and was content to lose it. apparently rejects those exhibitions which would be more It will be thought strange, that, in enumerating the aitecting, for the sake of those which are more easy,
defects of this writer, I have not yet mentioned his neglect It may be observed that in many of his plays the latter of the unities; his violation of those laws which have been fürt is evidently neglected. When he found himself near instituted and established by the joint authority of poets ilie end of his work, and in view of his reward, he shortened and of critics, the labour to snatch at the profit. He therefore remits his For his other deviations from the art of writing, I resign efforts where he should most vigorously exert them, and his him to critical justice, without making any other demand in (catastrophe is imyrobably produced or imperfectly repre. his favour, than tbat which must be indulged to all human sented.
excellence; tbat his virtues be rated with his failings; but He had no regard to distinction of time or place, but gives from the censure which this, irregularity may bring upon to one age or nation, without scruple, the customs, institu. him, I shall, with due reverence to that learning which I tions, and opinions of another, at the expense not only of must opposc, adventure to try how I can defend him. likelihood, but of possibility. These faults Pope has endea- His bistories, being neither tragedies nor comedies, are not voured, with more zeal than judgment, to transfer to his subject to any of their laws; nothing more is necessary to all imagined interpolators. We need not wonder to find Hector the praise which they expect, than that the changes of ac. quoting Aristotle, when we see the love of Theseus and tion be so prepared as to be understood, that the incidents be! Hippolyla combined with the Gothic mythology of fairies. various and affecting, and the characters consistent, natural, Shakspeare, indeed, was not the only violator of chronology; and distinct. No other unity is intended, and therefore none for in the same age, Sidney, who wanted not the advantages is to be sought. of Leaming boas imeshis hercadia con cunded the pastoral In his other work he has well enough presented the unity curity, with those of turbulence, violence, and adventure ed and regularly unravelled; he does not endeavour to hide
In his comic scenes, he is seldom very successful, when he his design only to discover it, for this is seldom the order of 1 engages his characters in reciprocations of smartness and real events, and Shakspeare is the poet of nature, but his
, a their pleasantry licenfious ; neither his gentlemen nor his | middle, and an end; one event is concatenated with another, .. Jadies have much delicacy, nor are sufficiently distinguished and the conclusion follows by, easy consequence. There are from his clowns by any appearance of refined manners. perhaps some incidents that might be sparcd, as in other Whether he represented the real conversation of his time is poets there is much talk that only fills up time upon the not easy to determine; the reign of Elizabeth is commonly stage; but the general system makes gradual advances, and supposed to bave been a time of stateliness, formality, and the end of the play is the end of expectation. reserve, yet perhaps the relaxations of that severity were To the unities
of time and place he has shown no regard; not very elegant. There must, however, have been always and perhaps a nearer view of the principles on which
they some modes of gaiety preferable to others, and a writer stand will diminish their value, and withdraw from them the ought to choose the best,
veneration which, from the time of Corneille, they have In tragedy bis performance seems constantly to be worse, as his labour is more The 'effusions of passion, which exi.
very generally received, by discovering that they have given
more trouble to the poet, than pleasure to the auditor. gence forces out, are for the most part striking and energetic; But whenever he solicite his invention, or strains his iacul arises from the supposed necessity of making the drama
unities of time and place síce, the offspring of his thrges, is tumour, mennness, tech.dible. The critics hold it impossible, that m action of mouthe Qumess, and ubaourity.
ve Sol" din kurtuli ta isidral of years can be possibly believed to pass in three horns; as
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that the spectator ne suppose himself to sit in the theatre, I waving over as. We are agitated in reading the history of while ambassadors go and return between distant, kings, while Henry the Fifth, yet no man takes his book for the field of amies are levied and towns besieged, while an exile wanders Agincourt. A dramatic exhibition is a book, recited with conand returns, or till he, whom they saw courting his mistress, comitants that increase or diminish its effect. Famíliar ca shall lament the untimely fall of his son. The mind revoltsmedy is often more powerful on the theatre than in the page 3 from evident falsehood, and fiction loses Its force when it de- | imperial tragedy is always less. The humour of Petruchio parts from the resemblance of reality.
may be heightened by stimace; but what voice or what gesFrom the narrow limitation of time necessarily arises the ture can hope to add dignity or force to the soliloquy of Cato? contraction of place. The spectator, who knows that he saw A play read, affects the mind like a play acted. It is there. the first act at Alexandria, cannot suppose that he sees the fore evident, that the action is not supposed to be real; and it next at Rome, at a distance to which not the dragons of Me follows that between the acts a longer or shorter time may be dea could, in so short a time, have transported him; he knows allowed to pass, and that no more account of space or duration with'certainty that he has not changed his place; and he knows is to be taken by the auditor of a drama, than by the reader that place cannot change itself;
that what was a house cannot of a Darratire, before whom may pass in an hour the life of a become a plain ; that what was Thebes can never be Persepolis. hero, or the revolutions of an empire.
Such is the triumphant language with which a critic exults Whether Shakspeare knew the unities, and rejected them over the misery of an irregular poet, and exults commonly by design, or deviated from them by happy ignorance, it is I without resistance or reply. It is time therefore to tell him, think, impossible to decide, and useless to inquire. We may by the authority of Shakspeare, that he assumes, as an uno reasonably suppose, that, when he rose to notice, he did not questionable principle, a position, which, while his breath is want the counsels and admonitions of scholars and critics, forming it into words, his understanding pronounces to be and that he at last deliberately persisted in a practice, which false, It is false, that any representation is mistaken for he might have begun by chance. As nothing is essential to reality: that any dramatic fable in its materiality was ever the fable but unity of action, and as the unities of time and credible; or, for a single moment, was ever credited.
place arise evidently from false assumptions, and, by circumThe objection arising from the impossibility of passing the scribing the extent of the drama, lessen its variety, I cannot first hour at Alexandria, and the next at Rome, supposes, that think it much to be lamented, that they were not known by whea the play opens the spectator really imagines himself at hiin, or not observed; nor, if such another poet could arise, Alexandria, and believes that his walk to the theatre has been should I very vehemently reproach him, that his first act a voyage to Egypt, and that he lives in the days of Antony passed at Venice, and his next in Cyprus. Such violations of and Cleopatra. Surely he that imagines this may imagine rules merely positive, become the comprehensive genius of more. He that can take the stage at one time for the palace Shakspeare, and such censures are suitable to the minute and of the Ptolemies, may take it in half an hour for the promon- slender criticism of Voltaire : tory of Actium. Delusion, if delusion be admitted, has no certain limitation; if the spectator can be once persuaded,
“Non usque adeo permiscuit imis
Longus summa dies, ut non, si voce Metelll that his old acquaintance are Alexander and Cæsar, that a room illuminated with candles is the plain of Pharsalia, or the
Serventur leges, malint a Cæsarc tolli. banks of Granicus, he is in a state of elevation above the reach Yet when I speak thus lightly of dramatic rules, I cannot of reason, or of truth, and from the heights of empyrean, but recollect how much wit and learning may be produced poetry may despise the circumscriptions of terrestrial nature. against mo: before such authorities I am afraid to stand, not There is no reason why a mind thus wandering in ecstacy that I think the present question one of those that are to should count the clock, or why an hour should not be a century, ve decided by mere authority, but because it is to be suspectin that calenture of the brains that can make the stage a field. ed, that these precepts have not been so easily received, bat
The truth is, that the spectators are always in their senses, for better reasons than I have yet been able to find. The reand know, from the first act to the last, that the stage is only sult of my inquiries, in which it would be ludicrous to boast a stage, and that the players are only players. They come to of impartiality, is that the unities of time and place are not eshear a certain number of lines recited with just gesture and sential to a just drama; and though they may sometimes conelegant modulation. The lines relate to some action, and an duce to pleasure, they are always to be sacrificed to the nobler action must be in some place; but the different actions that beauties of variety and instruction; and that a play, written complete a story may be in places very remote from each with nice observation of critical rules, is to be contemplated as other; and where is the absurdity of allowing that space to re- an elaborate curiosity, as the product of superfluous and ostenpresent first Athens, and then Sicily, which was always known tatious art, by which is shown, rather what is possible than to be neither Sicily nor Athens, but a modern theatre? what is necessary.
By supposition, as place is introduced, time may be extend- &: He that, without diminution of any other excellence, shall ed; the time required by the fable elapses for the most part preserve all the unities unbroken, deserves the like applauso between the acts; for, of so much of the action as is represent with the architect, who shall display all the orders of architec. ed, the real and poetical duration is the same. If, in the first ture in a citadel, without any deduction from its strength; act, preparations for war against Mithridates are represented but the principal beauty of a citadel is to exclude the enemy; to be made in Rome, the event of the war máy, without absur- and the greatest graces of a play are to copy nature and in dity, be represented, in the catastrophe, as happening in Pon. strict lifa tus; we know that there is neither war, nor preparation for Perhaps what I have here not dogmatically but deliberately war; we know that we are neither in Rome nor Pontus; that written, may recall the principles of the drama to a new exa neither Mithridates por Lucullus are before us. The drama amination. I am almost frighted at my own teinerity; and exhibits successive Imitations of successive actions, and why when I estimate the fame and the strength of those that mainmay not the second imitation represent an action that hap- tain the contrary opinion, am ready to sink down in reverential pened years after the first; If it be so connected with it, that silence; as Æneas withdrew from the defenco of Troy, when he nothing but time can be supposed to intervene? Time is, of saw Neptune shaking tho wall, and Juno heading the besiegers all modes of existence, most obsequious to the imagination; a Those whom my arguments cannot persuado to give their lapse of years is as easlly concelved as a passage of hours. In approbation to the judgment of Shakspearc, will easily, if they contemplation we easily contract the time of real actions, and consider tho condition of his life, make some allowance for his therefore willingly permit it to be contracted when we only ignorance. see their imitation.
Every man's performances, to be rightly estimated, mus: It will be asked, how the drama moves, if It is not credited. be compared to the state of the inge in which he lived, and It is credited, with all the credit due to a drama. It is cre- with his own particular opportunities; and though to a reader dited, whenever it moves, as a just picture of a real original; a book be not worse or better for the circumstances of tho as representing to the auditor what ho would himself feel, if author, yet as thero is always a silent reference of human works ho were to do or suffer what is there feigned to be suffered or to human abilities, and as the inqairy, how far man may exto be done. The reflection that strikes the heart is not, that tend his designs, or how he may rate his native force, is of far the evils before us are rcal evils, but that they are evils to greater dignity than in what rank we shall place any parwhich we ourselves may be exposed. If there be any fallacy, ticular performance, curiosity is always busy to discover tho It is not that we fancy tho players, but that we fancy ourselves instruments, as well as to survey the workmanship, to know unhappy for a moment; and that we rather lament the possi- how much is to be ascribed to original powers, and how much bility than suppose the presence of misery, as a mother weeps to casual and adventitious help. The palaces of Peru and over her babe, when she remembers that death may tak, it Mexico were certainly mean and incommodious habitations, from her. The delight of tragedy proceeds from our con. if compared to the houses of European monarchs; yet who sciousness of fiction; if we thought murders and treasons real, could forbear to view them with astonislıment, who rememe they would please no more
bered that they were built without the use of iron ? Imitations produce pain or pleasure, not because they are The English nation, in the time of Shakspeare, was yet mistaken for realities, but because they bring realities to mind. struggling to emerge from barbarity. The philology of Italy When the imagination is recreated by a painted landscape, had been transplanted hither in the reign of Henry the 2. e trees are not supposed capable to give us shade, or the Eighth; and the learned languages bud been successfully culjouniains coolness; but we consider how we should be pleas. tivated by Lilly, Linacre, and More; by Pole, Cheke, and Gar] w.2b such fountains playing besido us, and such wood | diner; and afterwards by Smith, Clerk. Haddon, and Aschon.
Greek was now taught to boys in the principal schools; and clouded by incrustations, debased by impurities, and minglea those who united elegance with learning, read, with great with a mass of meaner minerals. diligence, the Italian and Spanish poets. But literature was It has been much disputed, whether Shakspeare owed his yet confined to professed scholars, or to men and women of excellence to his own native force, or whether
he had the high rank. The public was gross and dark; and to be able common helps of scholastic education, the prccepts of carita to read and write, was an accomplishment still valued for ical science, and the examples of ancient authors. Its rarity.
There has always prevailed a tradition, that Shakspeare Nations, like
individuals, have their infancy. A people wanted learning, that he had no regular education, por much Dewly awakened to literary.curiosity, being yet upacquaint. skill in the dead languages. Jonson, his friend, affirms, that ed with the true state of things, knows not how to judge of he had small Latin, and less Greek; who, besides that he had that which is proposed as its resemblance, Whatever is re- no imaginable temptation to falsehood, wrote at a time when mote from common appearances is always welcome to vulgar, the character and acquisitions of Shakspeare were known to as to childish credulity, and of a country unenlightened by multitudes. His evidence ought, therefore, to decide the learning the whole people is the vulgar. The study of those controversy, unless some testimony of equal force could be who then aspired to the plebeian learning was laid out upon opposed. adventures, giants, dragons, and enchantments. The Death Some have imagined, that they have discovered deep e Arthur was the favourite volume,
learning in many imitations of old writers; but the examples The mind, which has feasted on the luxurious wonders of which I have known urged, were drawn from books trans. fiction, has no taste of the insipidity of truth. A play which lated in his time; or were such easy coincidences of thought, imitated only the common occurrences of the world, would, as will happen to all who consider the same subjects; or such upon the admirers of Palmerin and Guy of Warwick, have remarks on life or axioms of morality as ioat in conversation, made little impression ; he that wrote for such an audience and are transmitted through the world in proverbial was under the necessity of looking round for strange events sentences. and fabulous transactions, and that incredibility, by which I have found it remarked, that, in this important sentence, maturer knowledge is offended, was the chief recommendation Go before, I'll follow, we read a translation of, I præ, scquar. of writings, to unskilful curiosity.
I have been told, that when Caliban, after a pleasing dream, Our author's plots are generally borrowed from novels ; says, I cried to sleep again, the author imitates Anacreon, who and it is reasonable to suppose, that he chose the most popu- had, like every other man, the same wish on the same lar, such as were read by many, and related by more; for his occasion. audience could not have followed him through the intric- There are a few passages which may pass for imitations, acies of the drama, had they not held the thread of the story but so few, that tbe exception only confirms the rule; he in their hands.
obtained them from accidental quotations, or by oral com. The stories which we now find only in remoter authors, munication, and as he used what he had, would have used were in his time accessible and familiar. The fable of As more if he had obtained it, you like it, which is supposed to be copied from Chaucer's The Comedy of Errors is confessedly taken from the Men. Gamelyn, was a little pamphlet of those times ; and old Mr. achmi of Plautus ; from the only play of Plautus which was Cibber remembered the tale of Hamlet in plain English then in English. What can be more probable, than that he prose, which the critics have now to seek in Saxo Gram- who copied thai, would have copied more; but that those maticus.
which were not translated were inaccessible ? His English histories he took from English chronicles and Whether he knew the_modern languages is uncertain. English ballads; and as the ancient writers were made That his plays have some French scenes proves but little; he known to his countrymen by versions, they supplied him might easily procure them to be written, and probably, even with new subjects; he dilated some of Plutarch's lives into though he had known the language in the common degree, plays when they had been translated by North.
he could not have written it without assistance. In the story His plots, whether historical or fabulous, are always crowd. of Romeo and Juliet he is observed to have followed the Eng. ed with incidents, by which the attention of a rude people translation, where he deviates from the Italian; but was more easily caught than by sentiment or argumentation; this on the other part proves nothing against his knowledge of and such is the power of the marvellous, even over those the original. He was to copy, not what he knew himself, who despise it, that every man finds his mind more strongly but what was known to his audience. seized by the tragedies of Shakspeare than of any other It is most likely that he had learned Latin sufficiently to writer ; others please us by particular speeches, but he al. make him acquainted with construction, but that he never ways makes us anxious for the event, and has perhaps ex. advanced to an easy perusal of the Roman authors. Concern. celled all but Homer in securing the first purpose of a writer, ing his skill in modern languages, I can find no sufficient by exciting restless and unquenchable
curiosity, and compel ground of determination ; but as nó imitations of French or ling him that reads his work to read it through.
Italian authors have been discovered, though the Italian The shows and bustle with which his plays abound have poetry was then in high esteem, I am inclined to believe, the same original. As knowledge advances, pleasure passes that he read little more than English, and chose for his fables from the eye to the ear, but returns, as it declines, from the only such tales as he found translated ear to the eye. Those to whom our author's labours were That much knowledge is scattered over his works is very exhibited had more skill in pomps or processions than in justly observed by Pope, but it is often such knowledge as poetical language, and perhaps wanted some visible and books did not supply. He that will understand Shakspeare, discriminated events, as comments on the dialogue. He must not be content to study him in the closet, he must knew how he should most please ; and whether his practice look for his meaning sometimes among the sports of the field, is more agreeable to nature, or whether his example has and sometimes among the manufactures of the shop. prejudiced the nation, we still find that on our stage some- There is, however, proof enough that he was a very dili. thing must be done as well as said, and inactive declamation gent reader, nor was our language then so indigent of books, is very coldly beard, however musical or elegant, passionate but that he might very liberally indulge his curiosity without or sublime
excursion into foreign literature. Many of the Roman authors Voltaire expresses his wonder, that our author's extrava- were translated, and some of the Greek; the Reformation gancies are endured by a nation, which has seen the tragedy had filled the kingdom with theological learniog; most of of Cato. Let him be answered, that Addison speaks the the topics of human disquisition had found English writers; language of poets, and Shakspeare of men. We find in Cato and poetry had been cultivated, not only with diligence, but innumerable beauties which enamour us of its author, but success. This was a stock of knowledge sufficient for a we see pothing that acquaints us with human sentiments or mind so capable of appropriating and improving it. buman actions; we place it with the fairest and the noblest But the greater part of his excellence was the product of progeny which judgment propagates by conjunction with his own genius. He found the English stage in a state of learning; but Othello is the vigorous and vivacious offspring the utmost rudeness; no essays either in tragedy or comedy of observation, impregnated by genius. Cato affords a splen- had appeared, from which it could be discovered to what did exhibition of artificial and fictitious manners, and deliv. degree of delight either one or other might be carried ers just and noble sentiments, in diction casy, elevated, and Neither character nor dialogue were yet understood. Shakharmonious; but its hopes and fears communicate po vibra- speare may be truly said to have introduced them both tion to the heart; the composition refers us only to the amongst us, and in some of his happier scenes to bave carried writer; we pronounce the name of Cato, but we think on them both to the utmost height. Addison
By what gradations of improvement he proceeded, is not The work of a correct and regular writer is a garden ac- easily known; for the chronology of his works is yet unset curately formed and diligently planted, varied with shades tled Rowe is of opinion, that perhaps we are not to look for and scented with flowers: the composition
of Shakspeare is his beginning, like those of other writers, in his least perfect a forest, in which oaks extend their branches, and pines tow. works ; art had so little, and nature so large a share in what er in the air, interspersed sometimes with weeds and bram. he did that for ought
I know, says he, the performances of his bles, and sometimes giving shelter to myrtles and to roses ; youth, as they were the most vigorous, were the best. But the Iding the eye with awful pomp, and gratifying the mind power of nature is only the power of using to any certain with endless diversity. Other poets display cabinets of pre purpose the materials, which diligence
procures, or oppor. cious rarities, minutely finished, wrought into shape, and tunity supplies. Nature gives no man knowledge, and when polished into brightness. Shakspeare opens a mine which images are collected by study and experience, can only
ng gold and diamonds in wexhausible plenty, though assist in combining or applying them. Shakspeare, however