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Batary opinions, have for many years been lost; | so much instruction is derived. It is this and every topic of merriment or motive of which fills the plays of Shakspeare with pracserror, which the modes of artificial life af- tical axioms and domestic wisdom. It was forded him, now only obscure the scenes which said of Euripides, that every verse was a prethey once illuminated. The effects of favour cept; and it may be said of Shakspeare, that and competition are at end; the tradition of from his works may be collected a system of his friendsbips and his epmities has perished; civil and economical prudence. Yet bis real his works support no opinion with arguments, power is not shown in the splendour of partinor supply any faction with invectives; they cular passages, but by the progress of his fable, can neither indulge vanity, nor gratify ma- and the tenor of his dialogue; and he that tries lignity ; but are read without any other reason to recommend him by select quotations, will than the desire of pleasure, and are therefore succeed like the pedant in Hierocles, who, praised only as pleasure is obtained; yet, thus when he offered his house to sale, carried a unassisted by interest or passion, they have brick in his pocket as a specimen. passed through variations of taste and changes It will not easily be imagined how much of manners, and, as they devolved from one Shakspeare excels in accommodaling his sengeneration to another, have received new timents to real life, but by comparing him with bonours at every transmission.
other authors. It was observed of the ancient But because human judgment, though it be schools of declamation, that the more diligently gradually gaining upon certainty, never be they were frequented, the more was the student comes infallible ; and approbation, though long disqualified for the world, because he found continued, may yet be only the approbation of nothing there which he should ever meet in prejudice or fashion; it is proper to inquire, by any other place. The same remark may be what peculiarities of excellence Shakspeare bas applied to every stage but that of Shakspeare. gained and kept the favour of his countrymen. The theatre, when it is under any other di
Nothing can please many, and please long, rection, is peopled by such characters as were but just representations of general palure. Par- never seen, conversing in a language which was ticular manners can be known lo few, and there- never heard, upon topics which will never fore few only can judge how nearly they are arise in the commerce of mankind. But the copied. The irregular combinations of fancisul dialogue of this author is often so evidently deinvention may delight awhile, by that novelty termined by the incident which produces it, of which the common saliety of life sends us all and is pursued with so much ease and simpliin quest; but the pleasures of sudden wonder city, that it seems scarcely to claim the merit are soon exhausted, and the mind can only re- of fiction, but to have been gleaned by diligent pose on the stability of truth.
selection out of common conversation, and Shakspeare is above all writers, at least common occurrences. above all modern writers, the poet of nature; Upon every other stage the universal ageni the poet that holds up lo bis readers a faithful is love, by whose power all good and evil is mirror of manners and of life. His characters distributed, and every action quickened or reare not modified by the customs of particular tarded. To bring a lover, a lady, and a rival places, unpractised by the rest of the world; by into the fable; to entangle them in contradictory the peculiarities of studies or professions, which obligations, perplex them with oppositions of can operate but upon small numbers; or by the interest, and harass them with violence of deaccidents of transient fashions or temporary sires inconsistent with each other; 10 make opinions : they are the genuine progeny of them meet in rapture, and part in agony ; lo common humanity, such as the world will al-fill their mouths with hyperbolical joy and ways supply, and observation will always find outrageous sorrow; to distress them as nothing His persons act and speak by the influence of human ever was distressed; 10 deliver them as those general passions and principles by which nothing human ever was delivered, is the busiall minds are agitated, and the whole system of ness of a modern dramatist. For this, prolife is continued in molion. In the writings of bability is violated, life is misrepresented, and other poels a character is too often an indivi- language is depraved. But love is only one of dual ; in those of Shakspeare it is commonly a many passions, and as it has no great influence species.
upon the sum of life, it has lillle operation in It is from this wide extension of design that the dramas of a poet, who caught bis ideas from the living world, and exbibited only what and Rymer think his Romans not suficiently be saw before him. He knew, that any other Roman, and Voltaire censures his kings as not passion, as it was regular or exorbitant, was a completely royal. Dennis is offended, that cause of happiness or calamily.
Menenius, a senator of Rome, should play the Characters thus ample and general were not buffoon; and Voltaire perhaps thinks decency easily discriminated and preserved, yel perhaps violated when the Danish usurper is represented no poet ever kept bis personages more distinct as a drunkard. But Shakspeare always makes from each other. I will not say with Pope, nature predominale over accident; and is be that every speech may be assigned to the proper preserves the essential character, is not very speaker, because many speeches there are which careful of distinctions superinduced and adven. have nothing characteristical; but, perbaps, tilious. His story requires Romans or kings, though some may be equally adapted to every but he thinks only on men.
He knew that person, it will be difficult to find any that can Rome, like every other city, had men of all be properly transferred from the present pos- dispositions; and wanting a buľoon, he went sessors to another claimant. The choice is into the senale-house for that which the senaleright, when there is reason for choice.
house would certainly have afforded him. He Other dramatists can only gain attention by was inclined to show an usurper and a murhyperbolical or aggravated characters, by fabu- derer not only odious, but despicable; he therelous and unexampled excellence or depravily, fore added drunkenness to bis other qualities, as the writers of barbarous romances invigoraled knowing that kings love wine like other men, the reader by a giant and a dwarf; and he and that wine exerts its natural power upon that should form bis expectalion of human affairs kings. These are the petty cavils of pelty from the play, or from the tale, would be minds; a poet overlooks the casual distinction equally deceived. Shakspeare has no beroes; of country and conditions, as a painter, satisfied bis scenes are occupied only by men, who act with the figure, neglects the drapery. and speak as the reader thinks that he should The censure which he has incurred by mixing himself bave spoken or acted on the same occa - comic and Iragic scenes, as it extends to all sion; even where the agency is supernatural, his works, deserves more consideration. Let the dialogue is level with life. Other writers the fact be first stated, and then examined. disguise the most natural passions and most Shakspeare's plays are not in the rigorous and frequent incidents; so that he who contem- critical sense either tragedies or comedies, but piates them in the book will not know them in compositions of a distinct kind; exhibiting the the world : Shakspeare approximates the remote, real state of sublunary nature, which partakes and familiarizes the wonderful; the event which of good and evil, joy and sorrow, mingled with be represents will not happen, but if it were endless variety of proportion and innumerable possible, its effects would probably be such as modes of combination; and expressing the be has assigned ;* and it may be said, that he has course of the world, in which the loss of one is Dol only shown human nature as it acts in real the gain of another; in which, at the same exigencies, but as it would be found in trials, to time, the reveler is hasting to his wine, and thewbich it cannot be exposed.
mourner burying his friend; in which the This therefore is the praise of Shakspeare, malignity of one is sometimes defeated by the that his drama is the mirror of life; that he who frolic of another: and many mischiefs and many has mazed his imagination, in following the benefits are done and hindered without design. pbanloos which other writers raise up before Out of this chaos of mingled purposes and birn, may here be cured of his delirious ecsta- casualities, the ancient poets, according to the sies; by reading human sentiments in human laws which cuslom bad prescribed, selected language; by scenes from which a bermit may some the crimes of men, and some their absurestimate the transactions of the world, and a dities; some the momentous vicissitudes of life, eunlessor predict ibe progress of the passions. and some the lighter occurrences; some the
His adherence to general nature has exposed terrors of distress, and some the gaieties of him to the censure of critics, who form their prosperity. Thus rose the two modes of imitajudgments upon parrower principles. Dennis tion, known by the names of tragedy and
comedy, compositions intended to promote **Quærit quod nusquam est gentium, reperit tamen, different ends by contrary means, and considerFacit illud verisimile quod mendacium est. Planti, Pseudolus, Act I. sc. iv. STEEVENS.
ed as so little allied, that I do not recollect
among the Greeks or Romans a single writer Tragedy was not in those times a poem of who attempted both.
more general dignity or elevation than comedy; Söakspeare has united the powers of exciting it required only a calamitous conclusion, with aughter and sorrow not only in one mind, but which the common criticism of that age was in one composition. Almost all his plays are salisfied, whatever lighter pleasure it afforded divided between serious and ludicrous charac- in its progress. ters, and in the successive evolutions of the History was a series of actions, with no olber design, sometimes produce seriousness and than chronological succession, independent on sorrow, and sometimes levity and laughter. each other, and without any tendency to in
That this is a practice contrary to the rules troduce and regulate the conclusion. It is not of criticism will be readily allowed; but there always very nicely distinguished from tragedy. is always an appeal open from criticism to There is not much nearer approach to unity of nature. The end of writing is to instruct; the action in the tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra, end of poetry is to instruct by pleasing. That than in the bistory of Richard the Second. But the mingled drama may convey all the instruc- a bistory might be continued through many tion of tragedy or comedy cannot be denied, plays; as it had no plan, it bad no limits. because it includes both in its alternations of Through all these denominalions of the draexhibition, and approaches nearer than either ma, Shakspeare's mode of composition is the to the appearance of life, by showing how great same; an interchange of seriousness and mermachinations and slender designs may promote riment, by which the mind is softened at one or obviate one another, and the bigh and the time, and exhilarated at another. But whatlow co-operate in the general system by upvoid- ever be his purpose, whether to gladden or able concatenation.
depress, or to conduct the story, without veheIt is objected, that by this change of scenes mence or emotion, through tracts of easy and the passions are interrupted in their progression, familiar dialogue, he never fails to altain his and that the principal event, being not advanced purpose ; as he commands us, we laugh or by a due gradation of preparatory incidents, mouro, or sit silent with quiet expectation, in wants at last the power to move, which con- tranquillity without indifference. stilutes the perfection of dramatic poetry. This When Shakspeare's plan is understood, most reasoning is so specious, that it is received as of the criticisms of Rymer and Voltaire vanish true even by those who in daily experience feel away. The play of Hamlet is opened, without it to be false. The interchanges of mingled impropriety, by two sentinels; lago bellows at scenes seldom fail to produce the intended Brabantio's window, without injury to the vicissitudes of passion. Fiction cannot move scheme of the play, though in terms which a so much, but that the attention may be easily modern audience would not easily endure ; the transferred ; and though it must be allowed that character of Polonius is seasonable and useful, pleasing melancholy be sometimes interrupted and the Grave-diggers themselves may be heard by unwelcome levity, yet let it be considered with applause. likewise, that melancholy is often not pleasing, Shakspeare engaged in dramatic poetry with and that the disturbance of one man may be the the world open before him; the rules of the relief of another; that different auditors have ancients were yet known to few; the public different habitudes; and that, upon the whole, judgment was unformed; he had no example of all pleasure consists in variety.
such fame as might force him upon imitation, The players, who in their edition divided our nor critics of such authority as might restrain author's works into comedies, histories, and tra- his extravagance : be therefore indulged bis gedies, seem not to have distinguished the natural disposition, and his disposition, as three kinds, by any very exact or definite ideas. Rymer has remarked, led him to comedy. lo
An action wbich ended happily to the prin- tragedy he often wriles with great appearance cipal persons, however serious or distressful of toil and study, what is written at least with through its intermediate incidents, in their opi- little felicity; but in his comic scenes, be nion constituted a comedy. This idea of a seems to produce without labour, what no labour comedy continued long amongst us, and plays can improre. In tragedy he is always struge were written, which, by changing the catas-gling after some occasion to be comic, but in trophe, were tragedies 1o-day, and comedies comedy he seems to repose, or to lusoriate, as lo-morrow.
in a mode of thinking congenial lo his nature.
In bis tragic scenes there is always something general and predominant truth. Shakspeare's Fanling, but bis comedy often surpasses espec- familiar dialogue is affirmed to be smooth and tation or desire. His comedy pleases by the clear, yet not wholly without ruggedness or thoughts and the language, and bis tragedy for difficulty : as a country may be eminently fruilthe greater part by incident and action. His tra- ful, though it has spots unfit for cultivation: his gedy seems to be skill, his comedy to be instinct. characters are praised as natural, though their
The force of bis comic scenes has suffered sentiments are somelimes forced, and their little diminution from the changes made by a actions improbablc; as the earth upon the century and a ball, in manners or in words. whole is spherical, though its surface is varied As his personages act upon principles arising with protuberances and cavities. from genuine passion, very little modified by Shakspeare with his excellencies bas likewise particular forms, their pleasures and vexations faults, and faults sufficient to obscure and are communicable to all times and to all places ; overwhelm any other merit. I shall show them they are natural, and therefore durable : the in the proportion in wbich they appear to me, adventitious peculiarities of personal habits, are without envious malignily or superstitious veneonly superficial dies, bright and pleasing for a ration. No question can be more innocently little while, yet soon fading to a dim linct, discussed than a dead poet's pretensions to witbout any remains of former lustre; but the renown; and little regard is due to that bigotry discriminalions of true passion are the colours which sets candour higher than truth. of nature; they pervade the whole mass, and His first defect is that to which may be en only perish with the body that exbibits impuled most of the evil in books or in men. them. The accidental compositions of helero- He sacrifices virtue to convenience, and is so geneous modes are dissolved by the chance wbich much more careful to please than to instruct, combined them ; but the uniform simplicity of that he seems to write without any moral purprimitive qualities neither admils increase, nor pose. From his writings indeed a system of suflers decay. The sand heaped by one food social duty may be selected, for he that thinks is scattered by another, but the rock always reasonably must think morally; but his precontinues in its place. The stream of time, cepts and axioms drop casually from him; he which is continually washing the dissoluble makes no just distribution of good or evil, nor fabrics of other poels, passes without injury is always careful to show in the virtuous a disby the adamant of Sbakspeare.
approbation of the wicked; he carries his persons If there be, what I believe there is, in every indifferently through right and wrong, and at nation, a style which never becomes obsolete, the close dismisses them without further care, a certain mode of phraseology so consonant and leaves their examples to operate by chance. and congenial to the analogy and principles of this fault the barbarily of his age cannot its respective language, as to remain settled and extenuate; for it is always a writer's duty to thaltered ; this style is probably to be sought make the world belter, and justice is a virtue in the common intercourse of life, among those independent on time or place. who speak.only to be understood, without am- The plols are often so loosely formed, that bition of elegance. The polite are always a very slight consideration may improve them, catching modish innovations, and the learned and so carelessly pursued, that he seems not depart from established forms of speech, in always fully to comprehend his own design. hope of finding or making belter ; those who He omils opportunities of instructing or delight wish for distinction forsake the vulgar, whening, which the train of his story seems to force tbe vulgar is right : but there is a conversation upon him, and apparently rejects those exhibi. above grossness and below refinement, where lions which would be more affecting, for the propriety resides, and where this poet seems sake of those which are more easy. to have gathered his comic dialogue. He is It may be observed, that in many of his plays Iberefore more agreeable to the ears of the pre- the latter parl is evidently neglected. When be sent age than any other author equally remote, found himself near the end of his work, and in and among his other excellencies deserves to view of his reward, he shortened the labour, be studied as one of the original masters of our to snatch the profit. He therefore remits his language.
efforts where he should most vigorously exert These observations are to be considered not them, and bis catastrophe is improbably pro35 unexceptionably constant, but as containing duced or imperfectly represented.
He had no regard to distinction of lime or other tragic writers, lo calch opportunities of place, but gives to one age or nation, without amplificalion, and instead of inquiring what the scruple, the customs, institutions, and opi- occasion demanded, to show how much his nions of another, at the expense not only of stores of knowledge could supply, he seldom eslikelihood, but of possibility. These faults capes without the pity or resentment of his Pope has endeavoured, with more zeal than reader. judgment, lo transfer to his imagined interpo
It is incident to him to be now and then enlators. We need not to wonder to find Heclor tangled with an unwieldy sentiment, which he quoling Aristotle, when we see the loves of cannot well express, and will not reject; he Theseus and Hyppolyta combined with the struggles with it a while, and if it continues Gothic mythology of fairies. Shakspeare, in- stubborn, comprises it in words such as occur, deed, was not the only violator of chronology, and leaves it to be disentangled and evolved for in the same age Sidney, who wanted not the by those who have more leisure to bestow upon it. advantages of learning, bas, in his Arcadia, Not that always where the language is intriconfounded the pastoral with the feudal limes, cate, the thought is subtle, or the image always the days of innocence, quiet, and security, with great where the line is bulky ; the equality of those of turbulence, violence, and adventure. words to things is very often neglected, and
In his comic scenes, he is seldom very trivial sentiments and vulgar ideas disappoint successful, when he engages his characters in the attention, to which they are recommended reciprocations of smartness and contests of sar- by sonorous epithets and swelling figures. casm; their jests are commonly gross, and But the admirers of this great poet have most their pleasantry licentious; neither his gentlemen reason to complain when he approaches nearest nor his ladies have much delicacy, nor are to his highest exceļlence, and seems fully resuficiently distinguished from his clowns by any solved to sink them in dejection and mollify them appearance of refined manners. Whether be with tender emotions by the fall of greatness, represented the real conversation of his time the danger of innocence, or the crosses of love. is not easy to determine; the reign of Elizabeth What he does best, he soon ceases to do." He is commonly supposed to have been a time of is not long soft and pathetic without some idle stateliness, formality, and reserve, yet perhaps conceit, or contemptible equivocation. He no the relaxations of that severity were not very sooner begins to move, than he counteracts elegant. There must, however, have been himself; and terror and pily, as they are rising always some modes of gaiety preferable to in the mind, are checked and blasted by sudden others, and a writer ought to choose the best. frigidity.
In tragedy his performance seems constantly A quibble is to Shakspeare, what luminous to be worse, as his labour is more. The effu- | vapours are to the traveller; he follows it at all sions of passion, which exigence forces out, are adventures ; it is sure to lead him out of his for the most part striking and energetic; but way, and sure to engulf him in the mire. It whenever he solicits his invention, or strains has some malignant power over his mind, and his faculties, the offspring of his throes is tu- its fascinations are irresistible. Whatever be mour, meanness, tediousness, and obscurily. the dignity or profundity of his disquisitions,
lo narration he affects a disproportionate whether he be enlarging knowledge, or exalting pomp of diction, and a wearisome train of cir- affection, whether he be amusing attention with cumlocution, and tells the incident imperfectly incidents, or enchanting it in suspense, let but in many words, which might have been more a quibble spring up before him, and he leaves plainly delivered in few. Narration in dramatic his work unfinished. A quibble is the golden poetry is naturally tedious, as it is unanimated apple for which he will always turn aside from and inactive, and obstructs the progress of the his career or sloop from bis elevation. A quibaction; it should therefore always be rapid, and ble, poor and barren as it is, gave him such enlivened by frequent interruption. Shakspeare found it an incumbrance, and instead of lighten- * “But the admirers of this great poet have ing it by brevity, endeavoured to recommend it never less reason to indulge their hopes of supreme by dignity and splendor.
excellence, than when he seems fully resolved to His declamations or set speeches are com- sink them in dejection, and mollify them with monly cold and weak, for his power was the of innocence, or the crosses of love. He is not
tender emotions by the fall of greatness, the danger power of nature; when he endeavoured, like long soft and pathetic, &c." Orig. Edit. 1766.