صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

knew that any other Passion, as it was regular or excrbitant, was a Caufe of Happiness or Calamity.

Characters thus ample and general were not eafily discriminated and preserved, yet perhaps no Poet ever kept his Personages more distinct from each other. 'I will not say with Pope, that every Speech may be affigned to the proper Speaker, because many Speeches there are which have nothing characteristical ; but, perhaps, though some may be equally adapted to every person, 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 Reason for Choice.

Other Dramatists 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 speak as the Reader thinks that he should himself have spoken or acted on the fame Occasion: Even where the Agency is supernatural, the Dialogue is level with Life. Other Writers disguise the most natural Passions and most frequent Incidents ; so 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 represents will not happen, but if it were possible, its Effect would be probably such as he has assigned; and it may be faid, that he has not only shewn 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 nazed his Imagination, in following the Phantoms which other Writers raise up before them, may here be cured of his delirious Extasies, by reading human Sentiments in human Language ; by Scenes from which a Hermit may estimate the Transactions of the World, and a Confeffor predict the Progress of the Paffions.

mazed

His Adherence to general Nature has exposed him to the Censure of Criticks, who form their Judgments upon narrower Principles. Dennis and Rhymer think his Romans not sufficiently Roman; and Voltaire censures his Kings as not completely royal. Dennis is offended, that Menenius, a Senator of Rome, should play the Buffoon; and Voltaire perhaps thinks Decency violated, when the Danish Usurper is represented as a Drunkard. But Shakespeare always makes Nature predominate over Accident ; and if he preserves the effential Character, is not very careful of Distinctions superinduced 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-house for that which the Senate-house would certainly have afforded him. He was inclined to shew an Usurper and a Murderer not only odious, but despicable ; 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 Casual Distinction of Country and Condition, as a Painter, fatisfied with the Figure, neglects the Drapery.

The Censure which he has incurred by mixing comick and tragick Scenes, as it extends to all his Works, deserves more Consideration, Let the Fact be firft stated, and then examined.

H 3

Shake

Shake peare's Plays are not in the rigorous or critical Sense either Tragedies or Comedies, but Com-' positions of a distinct Kind; exhibiting the real State of sublunary Nature, which partakes of Good and Evil, Joy and Sorrow, mingled with endless Variety of Proportion and innumerable Modes of Combination : and expressing the Course of the World, in which the Loss of one is the Gain of another ; in which, at the same 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 mirgled Purposes and Casualties the ancient Poets, according to the Laws which Custom had prescribed, selected some the Crimes of Men, and some their Absurdities ; some the momen. tous Vicillitudes of Life, and some the lighter Occurrences; some the Terrours of Distress, and some the Gayeties of Prosperity. Thus rose the two Modes of Imitation known by the Names of Tragedy and Comedy, Compositions intended to promote different Ends by contrary Means, and considered as so little allied, that I do not recollect among the Greeks or Romans a single Writer who attempted both.

Shakespeare has united the Powers of exciting Laughter and Sorrow, not only in one Mind, but in one Composition. Almost all his Plays are divided between serious and ludricous Characters; and, in the successive Evolutions of the Design, sometimes produce Seriousness and Sorrow, and sometimes 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 Criticism to Nature. The End of Writing is to instruct; the End of Poetry is to instruct by pleasing. That the mingled Drama

may

may convey all the Instruction 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 shewing how great Machinations and slender Designs may promote or obviate one another, and the high and the low co-operate in the general System by ụnavoidable Concatenation.

It is objected, that by this Change of Scenes the Passions are interrupted in their Progression; and that the principal Event, being not advanced by a duc Gradation of preparatory Incidents, wants at laft the Power to move, which constitutes the Perfection of dramatick Poetry. This Reasoning is so specious, that it is received as true even by those who in daily Experience feel it to be false. The Interchanges of mingled Scenes seldom fail to produce the intended Vicillitudes of Passion. Fiction cannot move fo much, but that the Attention may be easily transferred ; and though it must be allowed that pleasing Melancholy be sometimes interrupted by unwelcome Levity; yet let it be conîdered likewise, that Melan

choly is often not pleasing, 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 conlists in Variety.

The Players, who in their Edition divided our Authour's Works into Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies, seem not to have distinguished the three Kinds by any very exact or definitive Ideas.

An Action which ended happily to the principal Persons, however serious or distressful through its intermediate Incidents, in their Opinion constituted 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,

H4

Tragedy Tragedy was not in those 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 satisfied, whatever lighter Pleasure it afforded in its Progress.

History was a Species of Actions, with no other than chronological Succession, independent of each other, and without any Tendency to introduce or regulate the Conclusion. It is not always very nicely distinguished from Tragedy. There is not much nearer Approach to Unity of Action in the Tragedy of Anthony and Cleopatra, 'than in the History of Richard the second. But a History 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 Composition is the same ; an Interchange of Seriousness and Merriment, by which the Mind is softened at one Time, and exhilarated at another. But whatever be his Purpose, whether to gladden or depress, or to conduct the Story, without Vehemence of Emotion, through Tracts of easy 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 Poltaire 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 easily endure; the Character for Polonius is seasonable and useful; and the Grave-diggers themselves may be heard with Applause.

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;

« السابقةمتابعة »