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among the Greeks or Romans a single writer Tragedy was not in those times a poem of she attempted both.
more general dignity or elevation than comedy; Shakspeare has united the powers of exciting it required only a calamitous conclusion, with aughter and sorrow not only in one mind, but which the common criticism of that age was in one composition. Almost all his plays are satisfied, whatever lighter pleasure it afforded divided belween serious and ludicrous charac- in ils progress. ters, and in the successive evolutions of the History was a series of actions, with no olher design, sometimes produce seriousness and than chronological succession, independent on sorrow, and sometimes levity and laughter. each other, and without any lendency to in
That this is a practice contrary to the rules troduce and regulate the conclusion. It is not of crilicism will be readily allowed; but there always very nicely distinguished from tragedy. is always an appeal open from criticism to There is not much nearer approach to unity of nature. The end of writing is to instruct; the action in the tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra, end of poetry is to instruct by pleasing. That than in the bistory of Richard the Second. But the mingled drama may convey all the instruc- a history might be continued through many tion of tragedy or comedy cannot be depied, plays; as it had no plan, it had no limits. because it includes both in its alternations of Through all these denominations of the draexhibition, and approaches nearer than eilher ma, Shakspeare's mode of composition is the to the appearance of life, by showing how great same; an interchange of seriousness and mermachinations and slender designs may promote riment, by which the mind is softened at one or obviate one another, and the bigh and the time, and exhilarated at another. But whatlow co-operate in the general system by upvoid- ever be his purpose, whether to gladden or able concatenation.
depress, or to conduct the story, without veheIt is objected, that by this change of scenes mence or emotion, through tracts of easy and the passions are interrupted in their progression, familiar dialogue, he never fails to attain his and that the principal event, being not advanced purpose ; as he commands us, we laugh or by a due gradation of preparatory incidents, mourn, or sit silent with quiet expectation, in wants at last the power to move, which con- tranquillity without indifference. stitutes the perfection of dramatic poetry. This When Shakspeare's plan is understood, most reasoning is so specious, that it is received as of the criticisms of Rymer and Voltaire vanish true even by those who in daily experience feel away. The play of Hamlet is opened, without it to be false. The interchanges of mingled impropriely, by two sentinels; lago bellows at scenes seldom fail to produce the intended Brabantio's window, without injury to the vicissitudes of passion. Fiction cannot move scheme of the play, though in terms which a so much, but that the attention may be easily modern audience would not easily endure; the transferred ; and though it must be allowed that character of Polonius is seasonable and useful, pleasing melancholy be sometimes interrupted and the Grave-diggers themselves may be heard by unwelcome levity, yet let it be considered with applause. likewise, that melancholy is often not pleasing, Shakspeare engaged in dramatic poetry with and that the disturbance of one man may be the the world open before bim; the rules of the relief of another; that different auditors have ancients were yet known to few; the public different habitudes; and that, upon the whole, judgment was unformed; he had no example of all pleasure consists in variety.
such fame as might force him upon imitation, The players, who in their edition divided our nor critics of such authority as might restrain author's works into comedies, histories, and tra- his extravagance : be therefore indulged bis gedies, seem not to have distinguished the natural disposition, and his disposition, as three kinds, by any very exact or definite ideas. Rymer has remarked, led bim to comedy. lo
An action which ended bappily to the prin- tragedy he often writes with great appearance cipal persons, however serious or distressful of toil and study, what is written at least with through its intermediate incidents, in their opi- little felicity; but in his comic scenes, be nion constituted a comedy. This idea of a seems to produce without labour, what no labour comedy continued long amongst us, and plays can improve. In tragedy he is always struge were written, which, by changing the catas-gling after some occasion to be comic, but in trophe, were tragedies 10-day, and comedies comedy he seems to repose, or lo luxuriate, as to-morrow.
in a mode of thinking congenial lo his nature. In his tragic scenes there is always something general and predominant truth. Shakspeare's wanting, but his comedy often surpasses espec- familiar dialogue is affirmed to be smooth and tation or desire. His comedy pleases by the clear, yet not wholly without ruggedness or thoughts and the language, and bis -tragedy for difficulty : as a country may be eminently fruilthe greater part by incident and action. Histra- ful, though it has spots unfit for cultivation : his gedy seems to be skill, his comedy to be instinct. characters are praised as nalural, though their
The force of bis comic scenes has suffered sentiments are sometimes forced, and their little diminution from the changes made by a actions improbable; as the earth upon the century and a ball, in manners or in words. whole is spherical, though its surface is varied As his personages act upon principles arising with protuberances and cavilies. from genuine passion, very little modified by Shakspeare with his excellencies has likewise particular forms, their pleasures and vexations faults, and faulls sufficient to obscure and are communicable to all times and to all places; overwhelm any other merit. I shall show them they are natural, and therefore durable : the in the proportion in which they appear to me, adventitious peculiarities of personal habits, are without envious malignity or superstitious veneonly superficial dies, bright and pleasing for a ration. No question can be more innocently little while, yet soon fading to a dim tinct, discussed than a dead poet's pretensions to without any remains of former lustre; but the renown; and little regard is due to that bigotry discriminations of true passion are the colours which sets candour higher than truth. of nature; they pervade the whole mass, and His first defect is that to which may be can only perish with the body that exhibits impuled most of the evil in books or in men. them. The accidental compositions of helero- He sacrifices virtue to convenience, and is so geneous modes are dissolved by the chance which much more careful to please than to instruct, combined them; but the uniform simplicity of that he seems to write without any moral purprimitive qualities neither admits increase, nor pose. From his writings indeed a system of sullers decay. The sand heaped by one flood social duty may be selected, for he that thinks is scattered by another, but the rock always reasonably must think morally; but his precontinues in its place. The stream of time, cepts and axioms drop casually from him; he which is continually washing the dissoluble makes no just distribution of good or evil, por fabrics of other poels, passes without injury is always careful to show in the virtuous a disby the adamant of Sbakspeare.
approbation of the wicked; he carries his persons If there be, what I believe there is, in every indifferently through right and wrong, and at nation, a style which never becomes obsolete, the close dismisses them without further care, a certain mode of phraseology so consonant and leaves their examples to operate by chance. and congenial to the analogy and principles of This fault the barbarity of his age cannot its respective language, as to remain settled and extenuate; for it is always a writer's duty to unaltered; this style is probably to be sought make the world belter, and justice is a virtue in the common intercourse of life, among those independent on time or place. who speak.only lo be understood, without am- The plots are often so loosely formed, that bition of elegance. The polite are always a very slight consideration may improve them, catching modish innovations, and the learned and so carelessly pursued, that he seems not depart from established forms of speech, in always fully to comprehend his own design. hape of finding or making better ; those who He omits opportunilies of instructing or delight wish for distinction forsake the vulgar, when ing, which the train of his story seems to force tbe vulgar is right : but there is a conversation upon him, and apparently rejects those exhibiabove grossness and below refinement, where lions which would be more affecting, for the propriety resides, and where this poet seems sake of those which are more easy. to have gathered his comic dialogue. He is It may be observed, that in many of his plays therefore more agreeable to the ears of the pre-lhe latter part is evidently neglected. When be sent age than any other author equally remote, found himself near the end of his work, and in and among his other excellencies deserves to view of his reward, he shortened the labour, be studied as one of the original masters of our lo snatch the profil. He therefore remits his
efforts where he should most vigorously exert These observations are to be considered not them, and his catastrophe is improbably prounexceptionably constant, but as containing duced or imperfectly represented.
He had no regard to distinction of lime or other tragic writers, lo calch opportunities of place, but gives to one age or nation, without amplification, and instead of inquiring what the scruple, the customs, institutions, and opi- occasion demanded, lo show how much his nions of another, at the expense not only of stores of knowledge could supply, he seldom eslikelihood, but of possibility. These faults capes witbout the pity or resentment of his Pope has endeavoured, with more zeal than reader. judgment, lo transfer to his imagined interpo- It is incident to him to be now and then enlators. We need not to wonder to find Heclor tangled with an unwieldy sentiment, which he quoting Aristotle, when we see the loves of cannot well express, and will not reject ; he Theseus and Hyppolyta combined with the struggles with it a while, and if it continues Gothic mythology of fairies. Shakspeare, in- stubborn, comprises it in words such as occur, deed, was not the only violator of chronology, and leaves it to be disentangled and evolved for in the same age Sidney, who wanted not the by those who have more leisure to bestow upon it. advantages of learning, bas, in his Arcadia, Not that always where the language is intriconfounded the pastoral with the feudal times, cate, the thought is subtle, or the image always the days of innocence, quiet, and security, with great where the line is bulky ; the equality of those of turbulence, violence, and adventure. words to things is very often neglected, and
In his comic scenes, he is seldom very trivial sentiments and vulgar ideas disappoint successful, when he engages his characters in the attention, to which they are recommended reciprocations of smartness and contests of sar- by sonorous epithets and swelling figures. casm; their jests are commonly gross, and But the admirers of this great poel have most their pleasantry licentious; neither bis gentlemen reason to complain when he approaches nearest nor his ladies have much delicacy, nor are to his highest exceļlence, and seems fully resuficiently distinguished from his clowns by any solved to sink them in dejection and mollify them appearance of refined manners. Whether be with tender emotions by the fall of greatness, represented the real conversation of his time the danger of innocence, or the crosses of love. is not easy to determine; the reign of Elizabeth What he does best, he soon ceases to do. He is commonly supposed to have been a time of is not long soft and pathetic without some idle stateliness, formality, and reserve, yet perhaps conceit, or contemplible equivocation. He no the relaxalions of that severity were not very sooner begins to move, than he counteracts elegant. There must, however, have been himself; and terror and pily, as they are rising always some modes of gaiely preferable to in the mind, are checked and blasted by sudden others, and a writer ought to choose the best. frigidity.
In tragedy his performance seems constantly A quibble is to Shakspeare, what luminous to be worse, as his labour is more. The effu- vapours are to the traveller; he follows it at all sions of passion, which exigence forces out, are adventures; it is sure to lead him out of his for the most part striking and energetic; but way, and sure to engulf him in the mire. It whenever he solicits bis invention, or strains has some malignant power over his mind, and bis faculties, the offspring of bis throes is tu- its fascinations are irresistible. Whatever be mour, meanness, tediousness, and obscurily. the dignity or profundity of his disquisitions,
In narration he affects a disproportionate whether he be enlarging knowledge, or exalting pomp of diction, and a wearisome train of cir- affection, whether he be amusing allention with cumlocution, and tells the incident imperfectly incidents, or enchanting it in suspense, let but in many words, which might have been more a quibble spring up before him, and he leaves plainly delivered in few. Narration in dramatic his work unfinished. A quibble is tbe golden poetry is naturally tedious, as it is unanimated apple for which he will always turn aside from and inactive, and obstructs the progress of the his career or sloop from bis elevation. A quibaction; it should therefore always be rapid, and ble, poor and barren as it is, gave him such enlivened by frequent interruption. Shakspeare found it an incumbrance, and instead of lighten- * “But the admirers of this great poet have ing it by brevity, endeavoured to recommend it never less reason to indulge their hopes of supreme by dignity and splendor.
excellence, than when he seems fully resolved to His declamations or set speeches are com
sink them in dejection, and mollify them with
tender emotions by the fall of greatness, the danger monly cold and weak, for his power was the of innocence, or the crosses of love. He is not power of nature; when be endeavoured, like long soft and pathetic, &c." Orig. Edit. 1765.
delight, that he was content to purchase it by sity of making the drama credible. The crillcs the sacrifice of reason, propriety, and truth. hold it impossible, that an action of months or A quibble was to him the fatal Cleopatra for years can be possibly believed to pass in three which he lost the world, and was content to lose bours; or that the spectator can suppose himit
self to sit in the theatre, while ambassadors go It will be thought strange, that, in enume- and return between distant kings, while armies rating the defects of this writer, I have not yet are levied and towns besieged, while an exile mentioned his neglect of the unities, his viola- wanders and returns, or till he whom they saw tion of those laws which bave been instituted courting his mistress, shall lament the untimely and established by the joint authority of poets fall of his son. The mind revolts from evident and of critics.
falsehood, and fiction loses its force when it For his other deviations from the art of writ- departs from the resemblance of reality. ing / resign him to critical justice, without From the narrow limitation of time necessamaking any other demand in his favour, than rily arises the contraction of place. The specthat which must be indulged to all human ex- lator, who knows that he saw the first act at cellence; that bis virtues be rated with his fail- Alexandria, cannot suppose that he sees the ings; but, from the censure wbich this irre- dext at Rome, at a distance to which not the gularity may bring upon him, I shall, with due dragons of Medea could, in so short a time, bave reverence to that learning which I must oppose, transported him; be knows with certainly that adventure to try bow I can defend him. he has not changed his place, and he knows
His histories, being neilber tragedies nor that place cannot change itself; that what was comedies, are not subject to any of their laws; a house cannot become a plain ; that what was nothing more is necessary to all the praise which Thebes can never be Persepolis. they expect, than that the changes of action be Such is the triumphant language with which so prepared as to be understood, that the inci- a critic exults over the misery of an irregular dents be various and affecting, and the charac- poet, and exults commonly without resistance lers consistent, natural, and distinct. No other or reply. It is time therefore to tell him, by unily is intended, and therefore none is to be the authority of Shakspeare, that he assumes, sought.
as an unquestionable principle, a position, In his other works he bas well enough pre- which, while his breath is forming it into served the unity of action. He has not, indeed, words, his understanding pronounces to be an intrigue regularly perplexed and regularly false. It is false, that any representation is unravelled; he does not endeavour to hide his mistaken for reality; that any dramatic fable in design only to discover it, for this is seldom lhe ils materialily was ever credible, or, for a single order of real events, and Shakspeare is the poet moment, was ever credited. of nature : but his plan has commonly whal The objection arising from the impossibility Aristotle requires, a beginning, a middle, and of passing the first hour at Alexandria, and the an end; one event is concatenated with another, next at Rome, supposes, that when the play and the conclusion follows by easy consequence. opens, the spectator really imagines himself at There are perhaps some incidents that might Alexandria, and believes that his walk to the be spared, and in other poels there is much theatre has been a voyage to Egypt, and that talk that only fills up lime upon the stage ; but he lives in the days of Antony and Cleopatra. the general syslem makes .gradual advances, Surely he that imagines this may imagine more. and the end of tbe play is the end of expecta- He that can take the stage at one time for the
palace of the Ptolemies, may take it in half an To the unities of time and place he has shown hour for the promontory of Actium. Delusion, 10 regard : and perbaps a nearer view of the if delusion be admitted, has no certain limilaprinciples on which they stand will diminish lion; if the spectator can be once persuaded, their value, and withdraw from them the vene- that his old acquaintances are Alexander and ration which, from the time of Corneille, they Cæsar, that a room illuminated with candles is bave very generally received, by discovering that the plain of Pharsalia, or the banks of Granicus, they have given more trouble to the poet, he is in a stale of elevation above the reach of than pleasure to the auditor.
reason, or of truth, and from the heights of emThe necessity of observing the unities of pyrean poetry, may despise the circumscriptions liene and place arises from the supposed neces- of terrestrial nature. There is no reason why a mind thus wandering in ecstasy should count possibility than suppose the presence of misery, the clock, or wby an hour should not be a cen- as a molber weeps over her babe, wben she retury in that calenture of the brains that can make members that death may take it from ber. the stage a field.
The delight of tragedy proceeds from our con The truth is, that the spectators are always in sciousness of fiction; if we thought murders their senses, and know, from the first act to the and treasons real, they would please us no last, that the stage is only a stage, and the more. players are only players. They come to hear Imitations produce pain or pleasure, not a certain number of lines recited with just gesture because they are mistaken for realities, but beand elegant modulation. The lines relate to cause they bring realities to mind. When the some action, and an action must be in some imagination is recreated by a painted landscape, place; but the different actions that complete a lhe trees are not supposed capable to give us story may be in places very remote from each shade, or the fountains coolness; but we conother : and where is the absurdity of allowing sider, how we should be pleased with such that space to represent first Athens, and then fountains playing beside us, and such woods Sicily, which was always known to be neither waving over us. We are agitated in reading Sicily nor Athens, but a modern theatre ? the history of Henry the Fish, yet no man takes
By supposition, as place is introduced, time bis book for the field of Agincourt. A dramatic may be extended; the time required by the exhibition is a book recited with concomitants fable elapses for the most part between the acts; that increase or diminish its effect. Familiar for, of so much of the action as is represented, comedy is often more powerful on the theatre, the real and poelical duration is the same. If, than in the page ; imperial tragedy is always in the first act, preparations for war against less. The humour of Petruchio may be heighlMithridates are represented to be made in ened by grimace; but what voice or what gesture Rome, the event of the war may, without ab- can bope to add dignity or force to the soliloquy surdity, be represented, in the catastrophe, as of Cato? bappening in Pontus; we know that there is A play read affects the mind like a play neither war, nor preparation for war; we know acted. It is therefore evident, that the action that we are neither in Rome nor Pontus: that is not supposed to be real; and it follows, that neither Mithridates nor Lucullus are before us. between the acts a longer or shorter time may The drama exhibits successive imitations of suc- be allowed 10 pass, and that no more account cessive actions, and why may not the second of space or duration is to be taken by the auditor imitation represent an action that happened of a drama, than by the reader of a narrative, years after the first; if it be so connected with before whom may pass in an hour the life of a it, that nothing but time can be supposed to in- bero, or the revolutions of an empire. tervene? T'ime is, of all modes of existence, Whether Shakspeare knew the unities, and most obsequious to the imagination ; a lapse of rejected them by design, or deviated from them years is as easily conceived as a passage of by bappy ignorance, it is, I think, impossible to hours. In contemplation we easily contract the decide, and useless to inquire. We may reasontime of real actions, and therefore willingly ably suppose, that when he rose to notice, he permit it to be contracted when we only see did not want the counsels and admonitions of their imitation.
scholars and critics, and that be at last delibeIt will be asked, bow the drama moves, if it rately persisted in a practice, which he might is not credited. It is credited with all the credit have begun by chance. As nothing is essential due to a drama. It is credited, whenever it to the fable, but unity of action, and as the moves, as a just picture of a real original ; unities of time and place arise evidently from as representing to the auditor what he would false assumplions, and, by circumscribing the himself feel, if he were to do or suffer what is extent of the drama, lessen its variety, I cannot there seigned to be suffered or to be done. The think it much to be lamented, that they were reflection that strikes the heart is not, that the not known by him, or not observed : por, evils before us are real evils, but that they are such another poet could arise, should I very evils to wbich we ourselves may be exposed. vehemently reproach him, that his first de If there be any fallacy, it is not that we fancy passed at Venice, and his next in Cyprus. the players, but that we fancy ourselves un- Such violations of rules merely positive, become bappy for a moment; but we rather lament the the comprehensive genius of Shakspeare, and