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be in some place; but the different actions that complete a story may be in places very remote from cach other; and where is the absurdity of allowing that space to represent first Athens, and then Sicily, which was always known to be neither Sicily nor Athens, but a modern theatre.
By fuppofition, as place is introduced, time may be extended; the time required by the fable elapses for the most part between the acts; for, of so much of the action as is represented, the real and poetical duration is the same. If, in the first act, preparations for war against Mithridates are represented to be made in Rome, the event of the war may, without absurdity, be represented, in the catastrophe, as happening in Pontus; we know that there is neither war, nor preparation for war; we know that we are neither in Rome nor Pontus; that neither Mithridates nor Lucullus are before us. The drama exhibits succesfive imitations of successive actions, and why may not the second imitation represent an action that happened years after the first; it it be so connected with it, that nothing but time can be supposed to intervene. Time is, of all modes of existence, most oba fequious to the imagination; a lapse of years is as\ easily conceived as a passage of hours. In contemplation we eafily contract the time of real actions, and therefore willingly permit it to bo contracted when we only see their imitation,
It will be asked, how the drama moves, if it is not credited. It is credited with all the credit due to a drama. It is credited, whenever it moves, as a just [B 4]
picture of a real original; as representing to the auditor what he would himself feel, if he were to do or suffer what is there feigned to be suffered or to be done. The reflection that strikes the heart is not, that the evils before us are real evils, but that they are evils to which we ourselves may be exposed. If there be any fallacy, it is not that we fancy the players, but that we fancy ourselves unhappy for a mo. ment; but we rather lament the possibility than sup. pose the presence of misery, as a mother weeps over her babe, when she remembers that death may take it from her. The delight of tragedy proceeds from our consciousness of fiction ; if we thought murders and treasons real, they would please no more.
Imitations produce pain or pleasure, not because they are mistaken for realities, but because they bring realities to mind. - When the imagination is recreated by a painted landscape, the trees are not supposed capable to give us shade, or the fountains coolness; but we consider, how we should be pleased with such fountains playing beside us, and such woods waving over us. We are agitated in reading the history of Henry the Fifth, yet no man takes his book for the field of Agincourt. A dramatick exhibition is a book recited with concomitants that increase or diminish its effect. Familiar comedy is often more powerful on the theatre, than in the page; imperial tragedy is always less. The humour of Petruchio may be heightened by grimace; but what voice or what gesture can hope to add dignity or force to the Soliloquy of Cato?
A play A play read, affects the mind like a play acted. It is therefore evident, that the action is not sup. posed to be real; and it follows, that between the acts a longer or shorter time may be allowed to pass, and that no more account of space or duration is to be taken by the auditor of a drama, than by the reader of a narrative, before whom 'may pass in an hour the life of a hero, or the revolutions of an empire.
Whether Shakespeare knew the unities, and rom jected them by defign, or deviated from them by happy ignorance, it is, I think, impossible to decide, and useless to enquire. We may reasonably fuppose, that, when he rose to notice, he did not want the counsels and admonitions of scholars and criticks, and that he at last deliberately perfifted in a practice, which he might have begun by chance. As nothing is essential to the fable, but unity of action, and as the unities of time and place arise evidently from false assumptions, and, by circumscribing the extent of the drama, leflen its variety, I cannot think it much to be lamented, that they were not known by him, or not observed: nor, if such another poet could arise, ihogld I very vehemently reproach him, that his first aet passed at Venice, and his next in Cyprus. Such violations of rules merely positive, become the comprehensive genius of Shakespeare, and such censures are suitable to the minute and slender criticism of Voltaire :
Non usque adeo permiscuit imis
Yet when I speak thus slightly of dramatick rules, I cannot but recollect how much wit and learning may be produced against me; before such authorities I am afraid to stand, not that I think the present question one of those that are to be decided by mere authority, but because it is to be suspected, that these precepts have not been so easily received, but for better reasons than I have yet been able to find. The result of my enquiries, in which it would be ludicrous to boast of impartiality, is, that the unities of time and place are not essential to a just drama, that though they may sometimes conduce to pleasure, they are always to be sacrificed to the nobler beauties of variety and instruction; and that a play, written with nice observation of critical rules, is to be conteinplated as an elaborate curiofity, as the product of fuperfluous and oftentatious art, by which is thewn, rather what is possible, than what is necessary.
He that, without diminution of any other excel. lence, shall preserve all the unities unbroken, deserves the like applause with the architect, who shall difplay all the orders of architecture in a citadel, without any deduction from its strength; but the principal beauty of a citadel is to exclude the enemy; and the greatest graces of a play are to copy nature, and instruct life.
Perhaps, what I have here not dogmatically but deliberately written, may recal the principles of the , drama to a new examination. I am almost frighted · at my own temerity; and when I estimate the fame - and the strength of those that maintain the contrary
opinion, opinion, am ready to fink down in reverential filence; as Æneas withdrew from the defence of Troy, when he saw Neptune shaking the wall, and Juno heading the besiegers.
Those whom my arguments cannot persuade to give their approbation to the judgment of Shakespeare, will easily, if they confider the condition of his life, make some allowance for his ignorance.
Every man's performances, to be rightly estimated, must be compared with the state of the age in which he lived, and with his own particular opportunities; and though to a reader a book be not worse or better for the circumstances of the author, yet as there is always a filent reference of human works to human abilities, and as the enquiry, how far man may extend his defigns, or how high he may rate his native force, is of far greater dignity than in what rank we shall place any particular performance, curiosity is always busy to discover the instruments, as well as to survey the workmanship, to know how much is to be ascribed to original powers, and how much to casual and adventitious help. The palaces of Peru or Mexico were certainly mean and incommodious habitations, if compared to the houses of European monarchs ; yet who could forbear to view them with astonishment, who remembered that they were built without she use of iron ? :
The English nation, in the time of Shakespeare, was yet struggling to emerge from barbarity. The philology of Italy had been transplanted hither in the