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Tuis play is one of the most pleasing of our Author's performances. The scenes are busy and various, the incidents numerous and important, the catastrophe irresistibly affecting, and the process of the action carried on with such probability, at least with such congruity to popular opinions, as tragedy requires.
Here is one of the few attempts of Shakspeare to exhibit the conversation of gentlemen, to represent the airy sprightliness of juvenile elegance. Dryden mentions a tradition, which might easily reach his time, of a declaration made by Shakspeare, that he was obliged to kill Mercutio in the third Act, lest he should have been killed by him. Yet he thinks him no such formidable person, but that he might have lived through the play and died in his bed, without danger to the Poet. Dryden well knew, had he been in quest of truth, in a pointed sentence, that more regard is commonly had to the words than the thought, and that it is very seldom to be rigorously understood. Mercutio's wit, gayety, and courage, will always procure him friends that wish him a longer life; but his death is not precipitated; he has lived out the time allotted him in the construction of the play; nor do I doubt the ability of Shakspeare to have continued his existence, though some of his sallies are, perhaps, out of the reach of Dryden ; whose genius was not very fertile of merriment, nor ductile to humor, but acute, argumentative, comprehensive, and sublime.
The nurse is one of the characters in which the Author delighted. He has, with great subtilty of distinction, drawn her at once loquacious and secret, obsequious and insolent, trusty and dishonest.
His comic scenes are happily wrought; but his pathetic strains are always polluted with some unexpected depravations.* His persons, however distressed, have a conceit left them in their misery, a miserable conceit.
* A. W. Schlegel has answered this remark at length, in a detailed criticism upon this tragedy, published in the Horen, a journal conducted by Schiller in 1794–1795, and made accessible to the English reader in Oifier's Literary Miscellany, Part I. In bis Lectures on Dramatic Literature (vol. ii. p. 135, Eng. translation) will be found some further sensible remarks upon the “ conceits" here stigmatized. It should be remembered that playing on words was a very favorite species of wit combat with our ancestors. “With children, as well as nations of the most simple manners, a great inclination to playing on words is often displayed (they cannot therefore be both puerile and unnatural; if the first charge is founded, the second cannot be so]. In Homer we find several examples; the Books of Moses, the oldest written memorial of the primitive world, are, it is well known, full of them. On the other hand, poets of a very cultivated taste, or orators like Cicero, have delighted in them. Whoever, in Richard the Second, is disgusted with the affecting play of words of the aying John of Gaunt, on his own name, let him reinember that the same thing occurs in the Ajax of Sophocles."
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to the comments tors, was duted in 1608 ; but it the were earlier in pressions. The following passage by Thomas Nashe,
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the fubit, dent's!, revenge." But it is supposed that this also may refer to an elder performance.