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please than to instruct, that he seems to write without any moral purpose. From his writings, indeed, a sys: tem of social duty may be selected, for he that thinks reasonably must think morally, but his precepts and ax= ioms drop casually from him; he makes no just distris bution of good and evil, nor is always careful to shew in the virtuous a disapprobation of the wicked; he car: ries his persons indifferently through right and wrong, and, at the close, dismisses them without further care, and leaves their examples to operate by chance. This fault the barbarity of his age cannot extenuate ; for it is always a writer's duty to make the world better, and justice is a virtue independent on time and place.
“ The plots are often so loosely formed, that a very slight consideration may improve them; and so carelessly pursued, that he seems not always fully to comprehend his own design. He omits opportunities of instructing or delighting, which the train of his story seems to force upon him; and apparently rejects those exhibitions which would be more affecting, for the sake of those which are more easy. It may be observed, in many of his plays, that the latter part is evidently nege lected. When he found himself near the end of his work, and in view of his reward, he shortened the la bour, to snatch the profit. He therefore remits bis efforts, where he should most vigorously exert them; and his catastrophe is improbably produced, or imperfectly represented.
“ He had no regard to distinction of time or place, but gives to one age or nation, without scruple, the customs, institutions, and opinions of another, at the ex
pense not only of likelihood, but of possibility. Shake speare, indeed, was not the only violator of chronology; for, in the same age, Sidney, who wanted not the advantages of learning, bas, in his Arcadia, confounded the pastoral with the feudal times; the days of innocence, quiet, and security, with those of turbulence, yiolence, and adventure. ::" In his comic scenes he is seldom very successfal, when be engages his characters in reciprocations of smartness, and contests of sarcasms; these jests are commonly gross, and their pleasantry licentious; nei. ther his gentlemen nor his ladies have much delicacy, nor are sufficiently distinguished from his clowns, by any appearance of refined manners.
• " In tragedy his performance seems constantly to be worse, as his labour is more. The effusions of passion which exigence forces out, are for the most part striking and energetic; but whenever he solicits his invention, or strains his faculties, the effect of his throes is tumour, meanness, tediousness, and obscurity. ** 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 dramatic 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 its incumbrance, and instead of lightening it by brevity, endeavoured to recommend it by dignity and splendour.
." But the admirers of this great poet have most reason to complain when he approaches nearest to his highest excellence, and seems fully resolved to sink them into dejection, and mollify them with tender emotions by the fall of greatness, the danger of innocence, or the crosses of love. What he does best, he soon ceases to do. He is not long soft and pathetic without some idle conceit or contemptible equivocation. He no sooner begins to move, than he counteracts himself; and terror and pity, as they are rising in the mind, are checked * and blasted 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 engulph 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 disquisition;. whether he be enlarging knowledge, or exalting affection; whether he be amusing attention with incidents or enchanting 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 așide 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 sacrifice of reason, propriety, and truth. A quibble was to him the fatal Cleopatra, for which he lost the world, and was content 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 a
been instituted and established by the joint authority of poets and critics.
“ For his other deviations from the art of writing, I resign him to critical justice, without making any other demand in his favour, than that which must be indulged to all human excellence, that his virtues be rated with his feelings; but from the censure which this irregularity may bring upon him, I shall, with due reverence to that learning which I must oppose, adventure to try how I can defend him.
“ 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 preserving the unities of time and place arises from the supposed necessity of making the drama credible. The critics hold it impossible that an action of months 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 from distant kings; while armies are levied, and towns besieged; while an exile 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 fiction loses its force when it departs from the resemblance of reality.
“ From the narrow limitation of time necessarily arises the contraction of place. The spectator, who knows that he saw the first act at Alexandria, cannot suppose that he sees the next at Roine, at a distance to which not the dragons of Medea could in so short a time have transported him, he knows with certainty that he has not changed his place, and he knows that place cannot change itself: that what was a house cannot become a plain ; and that what was Thebes can never be Perse. polis.
“ Such is the triumphant language with which a critic exults over the misery of an irregular poet, and exults commonly without resistance or reply. It is time, therefore, to tell him, by the authority of Shakespeare, that he assumes, as an unquestionable principle, a position, which, while his breath is forming into words, his understanding pronounces to be false. It is false, that any representation is taken for reality ; that any dramatic fable, in its materiality, was ever credible, or for a single moment was ever credited.
“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 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 the moment; but we rather lament the possibility, than suppose the presence of misery, as a mother weeps over her babe when she remem