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quoting Aristotle, when we see the loves of Theseus and Hippolyta combined with the Gothick mycho . logy of fairies. Shakespeare, indeed, was not the only violator of chronology, for in the same age Sidney, who wanted not the advantages of learning, has, in his Arcadia, confounded the pastoral with the feudal times, the days of innocence, quiet and security, with those of turbulence, violence and 'ad
In his comick scenes he is seldom very successful, when he engages his characters in reciprocations of smartness and contest of sarcasm; their jefts are commonly gross, and their pleasantry licentious; neither his gentlemen nor his ladies have much delicacy, nor are fufficiently distinguished from his clowns by any appearance of refined manners.
Whether he represented the real conversation of his time is not eafy.to determine ; the reign of Elizabeth is commonly fupposed to have been a time of stateliness, formality and reserve, yet perhaps the relaxations of that feverity were not very elegant. There must, however, have been always some modes of gayety preferable to others, and a writer ought to chuse the best.
In tragedy his performance seems constantly to be worfe, as his labour is more. The effusions of pasfion which exigence forces out are for the most part ftriking and energetick; but whenever he solicits his invention, cr strains his faculties, the offspring of his throes is tumour, meanness, tediousness, and abfcurity.
In narration he affects a disproportionate pomp of diction and a wearisome train of circumlocution, and tells the incident imperfectly in many words, which might have been more plainly delivered in few. Narration in dramatick poetry is naturally tedious, as it is unanimated and inactive, and obstructs the progress of the action; it should therefore always be rapid, and enlivened by frequent interruption. Shakespeare found it an encumbrance, and instead of lightening it by brevity, endeavoured to recommend it by dignity and splendour.
His declamations or set speeches are commonly cold and weak, for his power was the power of nature; when he endeavoured, like other tragick writers, to catch opportunities of amplification, and instead of inquiring what the occasion demanded, to Show how much his stores of knowledge could fupply, he feldom escapes without the pity or resentment of his reader.
It is incident to him to be now and then entangled with an unwieldy sentiment, which he cannot well express, and will not reject; he struggles with it a while, and if it continues stubborn, comprises it in words such as occur, and leaves it to be disentangle and evolved by those who have more leisure to bestow
Not that always where the language is intricate the thought is subtle, or the image always great where the line is bulky; the equality of words to things is very often neglected, and trivial sentiments and
vulgar ideas disappoint the attention, to which they are recommended by fonorous epithets and swelling figures.
But the admirers of this great poet have never less reason to indulge their hopes of supreme excellence, than when he seems fully resolved to fink them in dejection, and mollify them with tender emotions by the fall of greatness, the danger of innocence, or the croffes of love. He is not long soft and pathetick without some idle conceit, or contemptible equivocation. He no sooner begins to move, than he counteracts himself; and terrour and pity, as they are rising in the mind, are checked and blafted by sudden frigidity.
A quibble is to Shakespeare, what luminous vapours are to the traveller ; he follows it at all adventures, it is sure to lead him out of his way, and sure to engulf him in the mire. It has some malignant power. over his mind, and its fascinations are irresistible. Whatever be the dignity or profundity of his dirquisition, whether he be enlarging knowledge or exalting affection, whether he be amusing attention with incidents, or enchaining it in suspense, let but a quibble spring up before him, and he leaves his work unfinished. A quibble is the golden apple for which he will always turn aside from his career, or stoop from his elevation. A quibble poor and barren as it is, gave him such delight, that he was content to purchase it, by the facrifice of reason, propriety and truth. A quibble was to him the fatal
Cleopatra for which he lost the world, and was con tent to lose it.
It will be thought strange, that, in enumerating the defects of this writer, I have not yet mentioned his neglect of the unities ; his violation of those laws which have been initituted and established by the joint authority of poets and of criticks.
For his other deviations from the art of writing, I relign him to critical justice, without making any prher demand in his favour, than that which must be indulged to all human excellences that his virtues be rated with his failings: But, from the censure which this irregularity may bring upon him, I shall, with due reverence to that learning which I must opposea adventure to try how I can defend him.
His hiftories, being neither tragedies nor comedies, are not subject to any of their laws; nothing more is necessary to all the praise which they expect, than that the changes of action be so prepared as to be understood, that the incidents be various and affecting, and the characters confiftent, natural and distinct. No other unity is intended, and therefore none is to be fought.
In his other works he has well enough preserved the unity of action. He has not, indeed, an intrigue regularly perplexed and regularly unravelled; he does not endeavour to hide his design only to discover it, for this is feldom the order of real events, and Shakes Speare is the poet of nature : But his plan has commonly what frisiotle řequires, a beginning, a middle, 3
and an end; one event is concatenated with another, and the conclufion follows by easy consequence. There are perhaps fome incidents that might be spared, as in other poets' there is much talk that only fills up time upon the stage ; but the general system makes gradual advances, and the end of the play is the end of expectation. : To the unities of time and place he has shewn no regard, and perhaps a nearer view of the principles on which they stand will diminish their value, and withdraw from them the veneration which, from the time of Corneille, they have very generally received by discovering that they have given more trouble to the poet, than pleasure to the auditor.
The necessity of observing the unities of time and place arises from the supposed necessity of making the
drama credible. The criticks hold it impossible, that (
an action of inonths or years can be possibly believed to pass in three hours; or that the spectator can suppose himself to sit in the theatre, while ambassadors go and return between distant kings, while armies are levied and towns besieged, while an exilé wanders and returns, or till he whom they saw courting his mistress, shall lament the untimely fall of his son. The mind revolts from evident falsehood, and fi&tion loses its force when it departs from the resemblance of reality. :-, From the narrow limitation of time necessarily ariles the contraction of place. The spectator, who knows that he saw the first act at Alexandria, cannot