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his daughters is the primary source of his diftres and that the loss of royalty affects him oniy as a secondary and subordinate evil. He observes great juttness, that Lear would move our core passion but little; aid we not rather confider the ..jured father than the degraded king.
The story of this play, except the episode of E3mund, which is derived, I think, from 8
:, :s riken originally from Geoffry of Monmouto, who.n Iloling shed generally copied; but perhaps imrediately from an old historical ballad. My reason for believing that the play was posterior to the ballat, rather than the ballad to the play, is, that the ballad has nothing of Shakespeare's nocturnal tempeft, which is too striking to have been omitted, and that it foilows the chronicle ; it has the rudiments of the play, but none of its amplifications : it first hined Lear's madness, but did not array it in circumstances. The writer of the ballad added fomething to the history, which is a proof that he would have added more, if more had occurred to his mind, and more must have occurred if he had been Sbake fearly
ROMEO AND JULIET.
This play is one of the most pleasing of our author's performances. The fcenes are buty and various, the incidents numerous and important, the catastrophe irresistibly affecting, and the process of the action carried on with such probab.licy, at least with such congruity to popular opinions, as tragedy requires.
Here is one of the few attempts of Spate peste to exlibit the conversation of gentlernen, to represent
the airy sprightliness of juvenile elegance. Mr. Dryden mentions a tradition, which might easily reach his time, of a declaration made by Shakespeare, that he was obliged to kill Mercutio in the third act, left be mould have been killed by him. Yet he thinks him no such formidable person, but that he might have lived through the play, and died in his bed, without danger to a poet. Dryden well knew, had he been in quest of truth, that, in a pointed sentence, more regard is commonly had to the words than the thought, and that it is very seldom to be rigorously understood. Mercutio's wit, gaiety, and courage, will always procure him friends that with him a longer life; but his death is not precipitated, he has lived out the time allotted him in the construction of the play ; nor do I doubt the ability of Shakespeare to have continued his existence, though some of his fallies are perhaps out of the reach of Dryden ; whose genius was not very fertile of merriment, nor ductile to humour, but acute, argumentative, comprehensive, and sublime.
The Nurse is one of the characters in which the author delighted: he has, with great subtilty of distinction, drawn her at once loquacious and secret, obsequious and infolent, trusty and dishonest.
His cornick scenes are happily wrought, but his pathetick strains are always polluted with some unexpected depravations. His persons, however distressed, have a conceit left them in their misery, a miserable conceit.
HAMLET. If the dramas of Shakespeare were to be characterised, each by the particular excellence which diftin
guishes it from the rest, we must allow to the tra. gedy of Hamlet the praise of variety. The incidents are so numerous, that the argument of the pizy would make a long tale. The scenes are interchangeably diversified with merriment and folemnity; with merriment, that includes judicious and instructive observations; and folemnity, not strained by poetical violence above the natural fentinents of man. New characters appear from time to time in continual succession, exhibiting various forms of life and particular modes of conversation. The pretended madness of Hamlet causes much mirth, the mournful distraction of Opbelia fills the heart with tenderness, and every personage produces the effect intended, from the apparition that in the first act chills the blood with horror, to the fop in the last, that exposes affectation to just contempt.
The conduct is perhaps not wholly secure against objections. The action is indeed for the most part in continual progression, but there are some scenes which neither forward nor retard it. Of the feigned madness of Hamlet there appears no adequate cause, for he does nothing which he might not have done with the reputation of fanity. He plays the mad. man most, when he treats Ophelia with so much rudeness, which seems to be useless and wanton cruelty.
Hamlet is, through the whole piece, rather an instrument than an agent. After he has, by the Atratagern of the play, convicted the king, he makes no attempt to punith him; and his death is at last effected by an incident which Hamlet had no part in producing,
The catastrophe is not very happily produced ; the exchange of weapons is rather an expedient of necefsity, than a stroke of art.
A scheme might easily have been formed to kill Hamlet with the dagger, and Laertes with the bowl.
The poet is accused of having shewn little regard to poetical justice, and may be charged with equal neglect of poetical probability. The apparition left the regions of the dead to little purpose; the revenge which he demands is not obtained, but by the death of him that was required to take it; and the gratification, which would arise from the destruction of an usurper and a murderer, is abated by the untimely death of Ophelia, the young, the beautiful, the harmless, and the pious.
The beauties of this play impress themselves so strongly upon the attention of the reader, that they can draw no aid from critical illustration. The fiery openness of Othello, magnanimous, artless, and credulous, boundless in his confidence, ardent in his affection, infexible in his resolution, and obdurate in his revenge ; the cool malignity of Iago, silent in his resentment, subtle in his designs, and studious at once of his interest and his vengeance ; the soft fimplicity of Desdemona, confident of merit, and conscious of innocence, her artless perseverance in her suit, and her slowness to suspect that she can be suspected, are such proofs of Shakespeare's skill in human nature, as, I suppose, it is vain to seek in any modern writer. The gradual progress which Iago makes in the Moor's conviction, and the cir5
cumstances which he employs to infame him, a: fo artfully natural, that, though it will perhaps Dui be said of him as he says of himself, that he is a mus not ecfily jealous, yet we cannot but pity hiin, wie at last we find him perplexed in the extreme.
There is always danger, left wickedness, conjoined with abilities, should steal upon estcem, though it mifles of approbation; but the character of luze is fo conducted, that he is from the first scene to the Jaft hated and despised.
Even the inferior characters of this play would be very conspicuous in any other piece, not only for their jultness, but their strength. Caffio is brave, benevolent, and honest, ruined only by his want of stubbornness to resist an insidious invitation, Rocs rigo's suspicious credulity, and impatient submition to the cheats which he sees practised upon him, ar.d which by perfuation he suffers to be repeated, exhibit a strong picture of a weak mind betrayed by unlawful desires to a false friend; and the virtue of Emilia is such as we often find worn loosely, but not cast off, easy to commit small crimes, but quickened and alarmed at atrocious villanies.
The scenes from the beginning to the end are busy, varied by happy interchanges, and regularly promoting the progression of the story; and the narrative in the end, though it tells but what is known already, yet is necessary to produce the death of Orbello.
Had the scene opened in Cyprus, and the preceding incidents been occasionally related, there had been little wanting to a drama of the most exact and fcrupulous regularity.