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Kberties Shakespeare hath taken with the unities in other plays, he knew too well to attempt an imposition of this kind. He hath, therefore, introduced the chorus at the end of the third act; by which means he hath in fact divided the drama into two parts; each part having different dramatis perfona. Dr. Johnson questions whether Shakespeare knew the unities and rejected them by design, or deviated from them by happy ignorance. It is impossible perhaps to determine this point; but we think it pretty clear, that, whether he learned the rules of the drama from the writings of the ancients or not, he was better versed in them than any of his successors that did. What should hinder Shakespeare from drinking knowledge at the fountainhead as well as the ancients ? Must all knowledge be called ignorance, that is not obtained at second-hand, by means of books? It is proper for those, who cannot go alone, to be led by others; but Shakespeare was the fondling of Nature, and needed not the leading-itrings of Aristotle. It does not follow, however, that the practice of the one, and the precepts of the other, are incompatible. It is by no means necessary that Nature's strong and vigorous offspring should be confined to that ftrict regularity of diet and regimen which is requisite to support the weak and puny nurslings of art. They both, however, pursue the same objects, and attain them nearly by the same means. Hence, though it should be true, that Shakespeare was
-above the critic's law, And but from Nature's fountains scorn'd to draw, He might not deviate effentially from the general law of the Stam gyrite, although he did not servilely adopt his particular rules. Indeed the point is almost universally given up with regard to the unity of place; the preservation of which gives rise to more improbabilities than the breach of it. But to return to that of action. There is no doubt but Shakespeare hath taken many exceptionable liberties in this respect, for want of a due attention to the mechanical part of composition. And this he hath done in common with the first dramatic poets among the ana cients *. Nor is he, in this particular, to be justified by any thing his Editor hath advanced : for the unity of action must not only be so far observed as to preserve the unity of character, but also fo far as to preserve an apparent unity of design in the fable.
As to the unity of time, Dr. Johnson is also strangely mistaken, with regard to its effentiality in the drama. read (says he) affects the mind like a play acted. It is therefore evident that the action is not supposed to be real, and it
A play 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 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 tho revolutions of an empire. Here again our Editor feems to betray a want of acquaintance with the conduct and effects of the drama.lt is very certain that a longer or fhorter time may be allowed to pass between the acts, provided the union of character be preserved, and nothing intervene between the two parts of the action but the lapse of time, there is yet a wide difference between the auditor of a drama and the reader of a narrative. Few things can be represented in the fame time they are related; so that it would be impoisible to Teo present the whole life of an hero, or the revolutions of an empire, in the same time as the history of them might be read. It is indeed impoflible for the action represented to seem to be longer than the actual time of representation ; for, as we before oblerved, it is the senses, and not the imagination, that is immediately employed on the representation.
See Aristotle's Poetics, Chap. VI.
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Dr. Johnson indeed lays, that.'iime is, of all modes of ex iftence, molt obsequious to the imagination ; a lapse of years is as easily conceived as a paffage of hours. In contemplation we easily contract the time of real actions, and therefore willingly permit it to be contracted when we only see their imitation.'
In this argument, however, as in alınost all his other reafoning on the subject, the conclufion hath little to do with the premifcs. During the actual representation of an action, we are mot contemplating, but observing ; and it is impossible for us either to shorten or to prolong the time of such representation : but when it ceales, as at the end of an act, or even in shifting the scene, the attention of the fenfes being taken off, the imagination is at liberty to act during the interval ; which, however Hort, is fufficient for the purpose. And hence we see that the frequent shifting of the scenes, though it may break in upon the sestrictions of action and place, it affords an opportunity of preferving that of time, together with the first and grand rule of probability. It is pleafant enough to see how the French critirs, who affcct to abkde by the strictest observance of the unsties, perplex themselves to excuse Corneille for the multiplicity :of incidents in the Cid; the hero of which fights two duels, marches against the cnemy, rcturns, is brought to a solemn trial ; fights again, and finds means to reconcile himself to bis mistress, who'c facher he had flain ; and all this in the space of
four and i wenty hours. Now, it is certain, that all these ac- tions, if properly disposed in sueccflion, and judiciously divided, might be so represented as never to break in upon dramatic proläbi.ity.
- The French, indeed, in support of the unity of place, maintain that the stage never should be empty during the act; in consequence of their observance of this rule, however, they are guilty of much greater absurdities than would arise from thifting the scene. It is mentioned, as an inftance of confummate feill in Corneille, that he hath provided, in one of his plays, for keeping the stage full, while one of the characters goes to the field to fight, and returns conqueror. Now had this supposed combat passed during the interval between the acts, or even during the shifting of the scene, it had not tranfgrefied the bounds of dramatic probability, because it then had passed during the interlude of the imagination ; but the audience would not fail of perceiving the improbability of a combat's being fought while they had been listening to some twenty or thirty lines, spoken by the persons of the stage. The unity of time, is, indeed, so far ellential to the drama, that the successive actions represented must be confined to the time of actual representation ; although the intervals between them may be as long as the poet pleases, consistent with the prefervation of the unity of character, and that of the design of the fable.
In respect to the unity of place; it appears more than probable, that the pretended necefity of it originally arose from the imperfect state of the ancient theatres, as it is plain that the French poets have absurdly involved themselves in the most ridiculous perplexities by adopting it to an unnecessary degree. There can be no doubt, however, that it is fo far essential to the drama, as it is necessary to preserve the unity of action : for as the interval of time inay in some cases be so great as to vary the perfonality, or destroy the unity of character, fo the transition of place may be so great as to destroy the unity of the action. We should not be more vehement, indeed, than Dr. Johnson, in reproaching a poet who fhould make his first act pass in Venice, and his next in Cyprus, provided they were both so nearly related as when Shakespeare wrote his Othello; but we should no great opinion of the dramatic conduct of a picce, the first scene of which should be laid in England, and the last in China. In
any other respect, however, it is certain that the unity of place is unnecessary to the modern drama, as the attention of the spectator is always diverted from the action of the piece, and the imagination is at liberty during the change of the scene. -It appears, on the whole, that the unities are effential to the drama, though not in that degree as hath been assorted by the critics ; so that the result of Dr. Johnson's enquiries concerning them, is as erroneous as his supposition of the necessity on which they were founded.
Having disinissed this subject, our Editor proceeds to give us his sentiments, concerning Shakespeare as a writer, in general,
The The scholarship of this great genit puted among the critics. Dr. J had some little learning, though kis editors are willing to allow h be, that he had learned Latin fuffic with construction, but that he ne of the Roman authors. Concerni ges, I can find no fufficient groun imitations of French or Italiana though the Italian poetry was the ed to believe, that be read little for his sables only such tales as he
• That much knowledge is sca juftly observed by Pope, but it is did not supply. He that will und be content to study him in the clo ing sometimes among the sports among the manufactures of the sho
• There is however proof enous reader, nor was our language the that he might very liberally indulge fion into foreign literature. Many translated, and some of the Greck the kingdom with theological lear human disquisition had found Eng been cultivated, not only with dilig a stock of knowledge sufficient for a ating and improving it.
But the greater part of his exce own genius. He found the Englid most rudeness; no essays either in peared, from which it could be disc light either cne or other might be nor dialogue were yet understood. said to have introduced them both of his happier scenes to have carrie height.
By what gradation of improve casily known; for the chronology Rowe is of opinion, that “ perhaps beginning, like those of other writers art had so little, and nature so large for ought I know, says he, the per they were the most vigorous, were of nature is only the power of using materials which diligence procures Nature gives no man knowledge, an pri by study and experience, can only assist in combining or applying them. Shakespeare, however favoured by nature, could impait only what he had learned ; and as 'he must increase his ideas, like other mortals, by gradual acquifition, he, like eum, grew wiser as he grew older, could display life better, as, I knew it more, and instruct with more efficacy, as he was l'u'elf more amply instructed.
- There is a vigilance of observation and accuracy of distinction which books and precepts cannot confer ; from this almost :ll original and native excellence proceeds. Shakespeare must have looked upon mankind with perfpicacity, in the highest dea free curious and attentive. Other writers borrow their characters from preceding writers, and diversify them only by the accidental appendages of present manners; the dress is a little vatied, but the body is the fåme. Our authour had both matter and form to provide; for except the characters of Chaucer, to whom I think he is not much indebted, there were no writers in English, and perhaps not many other modern languages, which thewed life in its native colours.'
On the other hand, Dr. Johnson observes, “It must be at leaft confessed, that as we owe every thing to him, he owes something to ús; that, if much of his praife is paid by percepLion and judgment, much is likewise given by custom and venesation. We fix our eyes upon his graces, and turn them from his deformities, and endure in him what we should in another Toath or despise. If we endured without praising, respect for he father of our drama might excuse us ; but I have seen in the look of some modern critick, a collection of anomalies, which hew that he has corrupted language by every mode of depraition, but which his admirer has accumulated as a monument honour.
He has scenes of undoubted and perpetual excellence, but haps not one play, which, if it were now exhibited as the :k of a contemporary writer, would be heard to the conclu'. I am indeed far from thinking, that his works were ught to his own ideas of perfection ; when they were such Ould fatisf the audience, they satisfied the writer. It is
though more Itudious of fame than ShakeLive the standard of their own age; to add
will always be sufficient for present praise, mselves exalted into fame, are willing to s, and to spare the labour of contending
however, that can be paid to
ventators seem to agree, thim to think so light
in this respect,