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poet should intend this man to be cholerick, and that man to be patient; yet when they are confounded in the writing, you cannot distinguish them from one another : for the man who was called patient and tame, is only so before he speaks; but let his clack be set a-going, and he shall tongue it as impetuously, and as loudly, as the arrantest hero of the play. By this means the characters are only distinct in name; but in reality all the men and women in the play are the same person. No man should pretend to write, who cannot temper his fancy with his judgment; nothing is more dangerous to a raw horseman than a hot-mouthed jade without a curb.
It is necessary therefore for a poet, who would concern an audience by describing of a passion, first to prepare it, and not to rush upon it all at once. Ovid has judiciously shewn the difference of these two ways in the speeches of Ajax and Ulysses. Ajax from the very beginning breaks out into his exclamations, and is swearing by his maker ; --Agimus, proh Jupiter, inquit. Ulysses, on the contrary, prepares his audience with all the submissiveness he can practise, and all the calmness of a reasonable man; he found his judges in a tranquillity of spirit, and therefore set out leisurely and softly with them, till he had warmed them by degrees, and then he began to mend his pace, and to draw them along with his own impetuousness; yet so managing his breath, that it might not fail him at his need, and reserving his utmost proofs of ability even to the last. The
success, you see, was answerable ; for the croud only applauded the speech of Ajax,-vulgique secutum ultima murmur erat; but the judges awarded the prize for which they contended, to Ulysses :
Mota manus procerum est ; et quid facundia posset,
Tum patuit, fortisque viri tulit arma disertus.
The next necessary rule is, to put nothing into the discourse, which may hinder your moving of the passions. Too many accidents, as I have said, incumber the poet as much as the arms of Saul did David ; for the variety of passions which they produce are ever crossing and justling each other out of the way. He who treats of joy and grief together, is in a fair way of causing neither of those effects. There is yet another obstacle to be removed, which is pointed wit, and sentences affected out of season ; these are nothing of kin to the violence of passion : no man is at leisure to make sentences and similes, when his soul is in an agony. I the rather name this fault, that it may serve to mind me of my former errours ; neither will I spare myself, but give an example of this kind from my INDIAN EMPEROR. Montezuma, pursued by his enemies, and seeking sanctuary, stands parlying without the fort, and describing his danger to Cydaria, in a simile of six lines :
As on the sands the frighted traveller
Sees the high seas come rolling from afar, &c. My Indian potentate was well skilled in the sea for an inland prince, and well improved since the first act, when he sent his son to discover it.
The image had not been amiss from another man at another time; sed nunc non erat his locus : he destroyed the concernment which the audience might otherwise have had for him ; for they could not think the danger near, when he had the leisure to invent a simile.
If Shakspeare be allowed, as I think he must, to have made his characters distinct, it will easily be inferred that he understood the nature of the passions ; because it has been proved already, that confused passions make undistinguishable characters. Yet I cannot deny that he has his failings ; but they are not so much in the passions themselves, as in his manner of expression : he often obscures his meaning by his words, and sometimes makes it unintelligible. I will not say of so great a poet, that he distinguished not the blown puffy style, from true sublimity; but I may venture to maintain, that the fury of his fancy often transported him beyond the bounds of judgment, either in coining of new words and phrases, or racking words which were in use into the violence of a catachresis. It is not that I would explode the use of metaphors from passion, for Longinus thinks them necessary to raise it; but to use them at every word, to say nothing without a metaphor, a simile, an image, or description, is, I doubt, to smell a little too strongly of the buskin. I must be forced to give an example of expressing passion figuratively; but that I may do it with respect to Shakspeare, it shall not be taken from
any thing of his : it is an exclamation against Fortune, quoted in his HAMLET, but written by some other poet ::
“ Out, out, thou strumpet, Fortune! All you gods “ In general synod, take away her power ; “ Break all the spokes and fellies from her wheel, “ And bowl the round nave down the hill of heaven, “ As low as to the fiends."
3 I once thought, with our author, (as I have elsewhere observed,) that these lines were extracted from some more ancient play, of which it appeared to me probable that Christopher Marlowe was the writer ; but whatever may have been Shakspeare's view in introducing them in Hamlet, I am now decidedly of opinion that they were written by himself, not in any former unsuccessful piece, but expressly for that tragedy. .
Dr. Warburton had a fancy, that the commendation bestowed on the play from which these lines are supposed to be taken, was given in order “ to upbraid the false taste of the audience at that time, which could not suffer them to do justice to the simplicity and sublime of this production.” And his notion was, that the play in ques. tion " was Shakspeare's own, and this was the occasion of writing it. He was desirous, as soon as he had found his strength, of restoring the chastness and regularity of the ancient stage, and therefore composed this tragedy on the model of the Greek drama, as may be seen by his throwing so much into action. But his attempt proved fruitless; and the raw unnatural taste, then prevalent, forced him back again into his old Gothick manner. For which, he took this revenge upon his audience.”—This fancy Dr. Warburton has endeavoured to support in a dissertation, so little satisfactory, that I doubt whether in
And immediately after, speaking of Hecuba, when Priam was killed before her eyes :
“ But who, ah woe! had seen the mabled queen “ Run bare-foot up and down, threat’ning the flame “ With bisson rheum ; a clout about that head,
fifty years it ever made one convert to his opinion. To prove that Shakspeare himself considered the first of the passages quoted by Dryden, as bombast, he maintains, that “ Shakspeare has used the very same thought clothed in the same expression, in one of his best plays, and given it to a principal character, where he aims at the sublime.” Thus the Egyptian Queen, in ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, (according to him,) rails at Fortune in the same manner :
“ No, let me speak, and let me rail so high,
“ Provoked at my offence.” But Mr. Steevens has observed, that it is by no means proved in this dissertation, “ that Shakspeare has employed the same thoughts clothed in the same expressions in his best plays. If he bids the false housewife, Fortune, break her wheel, he does not desire her to break all its spokes, nay even its periphery; and make use of the nave afterwards for such an immeasurable cast! Though, if what Dr. War. burton has said should be found in any instance to be exactly true, what can we infer from thence, but that Shakspeare was sometimes wrong in spite of conviction ; and in the hurry of writing committed those very faults which his judgment could correct in others ?”
The poet, in the speeches spoken by the Player in HAMLET, (act ii. sc. 2.) Mr. Steevens thinks “ might have meant to exhibit a just resemblance of some of the plays of his own age, in which the faults were too glaring to permit a few splendid passages to atone for them."