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those causes always appear. For 't is observable that, both in a poetical fiction and an historical relation, those events are the most entertaining, the most surprising, and the most wonderful, in which Providence most plainly appears. And 'tis for this reason that the author of a just fable must please more than the writer of an historical relation. The good must never fail to prosper, and the bad must always be punished; otherwise the incidents, and particularly the catastrophe which is the grand incident, are liable to be imputed rather to chance than to almighty conduct and to sovereign justice. The want of this impartial distribution of justice makes the Coriolanus of Shakespeare to be without moral. 'Tis true, indeed, Coriolanus is killed by those foreign enemies with whom he had openly sided against his country, which seems to be an event worthy of Providence, and would look as if it were contrived by infinite wisdom, and executed by supreme justice, to make Coriolanus a dreadful example to all who lead on foreign enemies to the invasion of their native country, if there were not something in the fate of the other characters which gives occasion to doubt of it, and which suggests to the skeptical reader that this might happen by accident. For Aufidius, the principal murderer of Coriolanus, who in cold blood gets him assassinated by ruffians, instead of leaving him to the law of the country and the justice of the Volscian senate, and who commits so black a crime not by any erroneous zeal or a mistaken public spirit, but through jealousy, envy, and inveterate malice, this assassinator not only survives, and survives unpunished, but seems to be rewarded for so detestable an action by engrossing all those honors to himself which Coriolanus before had shared with him. . . .

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But indeed Shakespeare has been wanting in the exact distribution of poetical justice not only in his Coriolanus, but in most of his best tragedies, in which the guilty and the innocent perish promiscuously; as Duncan and Banquo in Macbeth, as likewise Lady Macduff and her children; Desdemona in Othello; Cordelia, Kent, and King Lear, in the tragedy that bears his name; Brutus and Portia in Julius Cæsar; and young Hamlet in the tragedy of Hamlet. For though it may be said in defense of the last, that Hamlet had a design to kill his uncle who then reigned, yet this is justified by no less than a call

from heaven, and raising up one from the dead to urge him to it. The good and the bad, then, perishing promiscuously in the best of Shakespeare's tragedies, there can be either none or very weak instruction in them; for such promiscuous events call the government of Providence into question, and by skeptics and libertines are resolved into chance. I humbly conceive, therefore, that this want of dramatical justice in the tragedy of Coriolanus gave occasion for a just alteration, and that I was obliged to sacrifice to that justice Aufidius and the tribunes, as well as Coriolanus.

Thus have we endeavored to show that, for want of the poetical art, Shakespeare lay under very great disadvantages. At the same time we must own to his honor that he has often performed wonders without it, in spite of the judgment of so great a man as Horace:

Natura fieret laudabile carmen, an arte,

Quæsitum est: ego nec studium sine divite vena,
Nec rude quid prosit video ingenium; alterius sic
Altera poscit opem res, et conjurat amice.1

But from this very judgment of Horace we may justly conclude that Shakespeare would have wonderfully surpassed himself, if art had been joined to nature. . .




[The pamphlet from which the following extract is taken is one of several connected with a prolonged quarrel involving Addison, Dennis, and others, which began in 1711. Addison's Cato was produced in April, 1713 (see the account given by Colley Cibber, page 271 below). It was characterized in particular by the unusual effort to carry out the old rule of "unity of place"; and Dennis seized upon the resulting improbabilities as an opportunity to vent his rage, both personal and critical, upon the dramatist. The passages here reproduced are also quoted, with comments, in Dr. Johnson's Life of Addison.]

. . UPON the departure of Portius, Sempronius makes but one soliloquy, and immediately in comes Syphax, and then the

1 "Inquiry has been made whether the praiseworthy poem is the product of nature or art; for my part, I do not see what advantage there is either in unpolished talent or in study without a rich natural vein, so the one demands the aid of the other, and enters into friendly conspiracy with it."

two politicians are at it immediately. They lay their heads together, with their snuff-boxes in their hands, as Mr. Bayes has it, and feague it away. But, in the midst of that wise scene, Syphax seems to give a seasonable caution to Sempronius:

But is it true, Sempronius, that your senate
Is called together? Gods! thou must be cautious;
Cato has piercing eyes.

There is a great deal of caution shown indeed, in meeting in a governor's own hall to carry on their plot against him. Whatever opinion they have of his eyes, I suppose they have none of his ears, or they would never have talked at this foolish

rate so near.

Gods! thou must be cautious!

Oh yes! very cautious; for if Cato should overhear you, and turn you off for politicians, Cæsar would never take you; no, Cæsar would never take you.

When Cato (Act II) turns the senators out of the hall, upon pretence of acquainting Juba with the result of their debates, he appears to me to do a thing which is neither reasonable nor civil. Juba might certainly have better been made acquainted with the result of that debate in some private apartment of the place. But the poet was driven upon this absurdity to make way for another; and that is, to give Juba an opportunity to demand Marcia of her father. But the quarrel and rage of Juba and Syphax, in the same act; the invectives of Syphax against the Romans and Cato; the advice that he gives Juba, in her father's hall, to bear away Marcia by force; and his brutal and clamorous rage upon his refusal, and at a time when Cato was scarcely out of sight, and perhaps not out of hearing, at least some of his guards or domestics must necessarily be supposed to be within hearing, — is a thing that is so far from being probable that it is hardly possible.

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Sempronius, in the second act, comes back once more in the same morning to the governor's hall, to carry on the conspiracy with Syphax against the governor, his country, and his family; which is so stupid that it is below the wisdom of the O's, the Mac's, and the Teague's; even Eustace Commins himself would never have gone to Justice Hall, to have

conspired against the government. If officers at Portsmouth should lay their heads together, in order to the carrying off J- G- 's niece or daughter, would they meet in JG's hall to carry on that conspiracy? There would be no necessity for their meeting there, at least till they came to the execution of their plot, because there would be other places to meet in. There would be no probability that they should meet there, because there would be places more private and more commodious. Now there ought to be nothing in a tragical action but what is necessary or probable.

But treason is not the only thing that is carried on in this hall. That, and love, and philosophy take their turns in it, without any manner of necessity or probability occasioned by the action, as duly and regularly, without interrupting one another, as if there were a triple league between them, and a mutual agreement that each should give place to and make way for the other, in a due and orderly succession.

We now come to the third act. Sempronius, in this act, comes into the governor's hall, with the leaders of the mutiny; but, as soon as Cato is gone, Sempronius, who but just before had acted like an unparalleled knave, discovers himself, like an egregious fool, to be an accomplice in the conspiracy.

Know, villains, when such paltry slaves presume
To mix in treason, if the plot succeeds,
They're thrown neglected by; but, if it fails,
They're sure to die like dogs, as you shall do.
Here, take these factious monsters, drag them forth
To sudden death.

'Tis true, indeed, the second leader says, there are none there but friends; but is that possible at such a juncture? Can a parcel of rogues attempt to assassinate the governor of a town of war, in his own house, in mid-day? and, after they are discovered and defeated, can there be none near them but friends? Is it not plain from these words of Sempronius,

Here, take these factious monsters, drag them forth
To sudden death,

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and from the entrance of the guards upon the word of command, that those guards were within earshot? Behold Sem

1 That is, Sir John Gibson, Lieutenant Governor of Portsmouth.

pronius then palpably discovered. How comes it to pass, then, that instead of being hanged up with the rest, he remains secure in the governor's hall, and there carries on his conspiracy against the government, the third time in the same day, with his old comrade Syphax, who enters at the same time that the guards are carrying away the leaders, big with the news of the defeat of Sempronius? — though where he had his intelligence so soon is difficult to imagine.

But now let us lay before the reader that part of the scenery of the fourth act which may show the absurdities which the author has run into through the indiscreet observance of the unity of place. I do not remember that Aristotle has said anything expressly concerning the unity of place. 'Tis true, implicitly he has said enough in the rules which he has laid down for the chorus. For, by making the chorus an essential part of tragedy, and by bringing it on the stage immediately after the opening of the scene, and retaining it till the very catastrophe, he has so determined and fixed the place of action that it was impossible for an author on the Grecian stage to break through that unity. I am of opinion that if a modern tragic poet can preserve the unity of place without destroying the probability of the incidents, 't is always best for him to do it; because, by the preserving of that unity, as we have taken notice above, he adds grace and clearness and comeliness to the representation. But since there are no express rules about it, and we are under no compulsion to keep it, since we have no chorus as the Grecian poet had, if it cannot be preserved without rendering the greater part of the incidents unreasonable and absurd, and perhaps sometimes monstrous, 't is certainly better to break it. . .

But now let us sum up all these absurdities together. Sempronius goes at noonday, in Juba's clothes and with Juba's guards, to Cato's palace, in order to pass for Juba, in a place where they were both so very well known; he meets Juba there, and resolves to murder him with his own guards. Upon the guards appearing a little bashful, he threatens them:


Hah! Dastards, do you tremble!

Or act like men, or, by yon azure heaven

But the guards still remaining restive, Sempronius himself attacks Juba, while each of the guards is representing Mr.

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