« السابقةمتابعة »
knew that any other Paffion, as it was regular or excrbitant, was a Cause of Happiness or Calamity.
Characters thus ample and general were not eafily difcriminated and preferved, yet perhaps no Poet ever kept his Perfonages more diftinct from each other. I will not fay with Pope, that every Speech may be affigned to the proper Speaker, because many Speeches there are which have nothing characteriftical; but, perhaps, though fome may be equally adapted to every Perfon, it will be difficult to find any that can be properly transferred from the prefent Poffeffor to another Claimant. The Choice is right, when there is Reafon for Choice.
Other Dramatifts can only gain Attention by hyperbolical or aggravated Characters, by fabulous and unexampled Excellence or Depravity, as the Writers of barbarous Romances invigorated the Reader by a Giant and a Dwarf; and he that should form his Expectations of human Affairs from the Play, or from the Tale, would be equally deceived. ShakeSpeare has no Heroes; his Scenes are occupied only by Men, who act and fpeak as the Reader thinks that he should himfelf have fpoken or acted on the fame Occafion: Even where the Agency is fupernatural, the Dialogue is level with Life. Other Writers difguise the most natural Paffions and moft frequent Incidents; fo that he who contemplates them in the Book will not know them in the World: Shakespeare approximates the Remote, and familiarizes the Wonderful; the Event which he reprefents will not happen, but if it were poffible, its Effect would be probably fuch as he has affigned; and it may be faid, that he has not only fhewn human Nature as it acts in real Exigencies, but as it will be found in Trials, to which it cannot be exposed.
This therefore is the Praise of Shakespeare, that his Drama is the Mirrour of Life; that he who has
mazed his Imagination, in following the Phantoms which other Writers raise up before them, may here be cured of his delirious Extafies, by reading human Sentiments in human Language; by Scenes from which a Hermit may eftimate the Tranfactions of the World, and a Confeffor predict the Progrefs of the Paffions.
His Adherence to general Nature has expofed him to the Cenfure of Criticks, who form their Judgments upon narrower Principles. Dennis and Rhymer think his Romans not fufficiently Roman; and Voltaire cenfures his Kings as not completely royal. Dennis is offended, that Menenius, a Senator of Rome, fhould play the Buffoon; and Voltaire perhaps thinks Decency violated, when the Danish Ufurper is reprefented as a Drunkard. But Shakespeare always makes Nature predominate over Accident; and if he preferves the effential Character, is not very careful of Diftinctions fuperinduced and adventitious. His Story requires Romans or Kings, but he thinks only on Men. He knew that Rome, like every other City, had Men of all Difpofitions; and wanting a Buffoon, he went into the Senate-houfe for that which the Senate-house would certainly have afforded him. He was inclined to fhew an Ufurper and a Murderer not only odious, but defpicable; he therefore added. Drunkenness to his other Qualities, knowing that Kings love Wine like other Men, and that Wine exerts its natural Power upon Kings. These are the petty Cavils of petty Minds; a Poet overlooks the cafual Diftinction of Country and Condition, as a Painter, fatisfied with the Figure, neglects the Drapery.
The Cenfure which he has incurred by mixing comick and tragick Scenes, as it extends to all his Works, deferves more Confideration. Let the Fact be firft ftated, and then examined.
Shakespeare's Plays are not in the rigorous or critical Senfe either Tragedies or Comedies, but Compofitions of a diftinct Kind; exhibiting the real State of fublunary Nature, which partakes of Good and Evil, Joy and Sorrow, mingled with endless Variety of Proportion and innumerable Modes of Combina tion and expreffing the Course of the World, in which the Lofs of one is the Gain of another; in which, at the fame Time, the Reveller is hafting to his Wine, and the Mourner burying his Friend; in which the Malignity of one is fometimes defeated by the Frolick of another; and many Mischiefs and many Benefits are done and hindered without Defign.
Out of this Chaos of mingled Purposes and Cafualties the ancient Poets, according to the Laws which Custom had prescribed, felected fome the Crimes of Men, and fome their Abfurdities; fome the momentous Viciffitudes of Life, and fome the lighter Occurrences; fome the Terrours of Distress, and some the Gayeties of Profperity. Thus rofe the two Modes of Imitation known by the Names of Tragedy and Comedy, Compofitions intended to promote different Ends by contrary Means, and confidered as fo little allied, that I do not recollect among the Greeks or Romans a fingle Writer who attempted both.
Shakespeare has united the Powers of exciting Laughter and Sorrow, not only in one Mind, but in one Compofition. Almost all his Plays are divided between ferious and ludricous Characters; and, in the fucceffive Evolutions of the Defign, fometimes produce Seriousness and Sorrow, and fometimes Levity and Laughter.
That this is a Practice contrary to the Rules of Criticism will be readily allowed; but there is always an Appeal open from Criticifm to Nature. The End of Writing is to inftruct; the End of Poetry is to instruct by pleasing. That the mingled Drama
may convey all the Inftruction of Tragedy or Comedy cannot be denied; because it includes both in its Alterations of Exhibition, and approaches nearer than either to the Appearance of Life,_ by fhewing how great Machinations and flender Defigns may promote or obviate one another, and the high and the low co-operate in the general Syftem by unavoidable Concatenation.
It is objected, that by this Change of Scenes the Paffions are interrupted in their Progreffion; and that the principal Event, being not advanced by a duc Gradation of preparatory Incidents, wants at laft the Power to move, which conftitutes the Perfection of dramatick Poetry. This Reafoning is fo fpecious, that it is received as true even by those who in daily Experience feel it to be falfe. The Interchanges of mingled Scenes feldom fail to produce the intended Viciffitudes of Paffion. Fiction cannot move fo much, but that the Attention may be easily tranfferred; and though it must be allowed that pleafing Melancholy be fometimes interrupted by unwelcome Levity; yet let it be confidered likewife, that Melancholy is often not pleafing, and that the Disturbance of one Man may be the Relief of another; that different Auditors have different Habitudes; and that, upon the Whole, all Pleasure confifts in Variety.
The Players, who in their Edition divided our Authour's Works into Comedies, Hiftories, and Tragedies, feem not to have diftinguished the three Kinds by any very exact or definitive Ideas.
An Action which ended happily to the principal Perfons, however ferious or diftrefsful through its intermediate Incidents, in their Opinion conftituted a Comedy. This Idea of a Comedy continued long amongst us, and Plays were written, which, by changing the Catastrophe, were Tragedies to-day, and Comedies to-morrow,
Tragedy was not in thofe Times a Poem of more general Dignity or Elevation than Comedy; it required only a calamitous Conclufion, with which the common Criticism of that Age was fatisfied, whatever lighter Pleasure it afforded in its Progrefs.
Hiftory was a Species of Actions, with no other than chronological Succeffion, independent of each other, and without any Tendency to introduce or regulate the Conclufion. It is not always very nicely diftinguished from Tragedy. There is not much nearer Approach to Unity of Action in the Tragedy of Anthony and Cleopatra, than in the Hiftory of Richard the fecond. But a Hiftory might be continued through many Plays; as it had no Plan, it had no Limits.
Through all these Denominations of the Drama, Shakespeare's Mode of Compofition is the fame; an Interchange of Seriousness and Merriment, by which the Mind is foftened at one Time, and exhilarated at another. But whatever be his Purpofe, whether to gladden or deprefs, or to conduct the Story, without Vehemence of Emotion, through Tracts of eafy and familiar Dialogue, he never fails to attain his Purpose; as he commands us, we laugh or mourn, or fit filent with quiet Expectation, in Tranquility without Indifference.
When Shakespeare's Plan is understood, most of the Criticisms of Rhymer and Voltaire vanish away. The Play of Hamlet is opened without Impropriety, by two Sentinels; Iago bellows at Brabantio's Window, without Injury to the Scheme of the Play, though in Terms which a modern Audience would not eafily endure; the Character for Polonius is feafonable and useful; and the Grave-diggers themfelves may be heard with Applaufe.
Shakespeare engaged in dramatick Poetry with the World open before him; the Rules of the Ancients were yet known to few; the publick Judgment was unformed 3