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tragedy, nothing was so sure to surprize and case ad
miration, as the most strange, unexpected, and conse-
quently most unnatural, events and incidents; the
mošt exaggerated thoughts ;' the most verbose and
bombast expression; the most pompous rhymes, and
thundering versification. In comedy, nothing was so
sure to please, as mean buffoonrý, vile ribaldry, and
unmannerly jest of fools and clowns. Yet even in
these our author's wit buoys up, and is borne above
his subject: his genius in those low parts is like some
prince of a romance in the disguise of a shepherd or
peasant; a certain greatness and spirit now and then
break out, which manifest his higher extraction and
qualities.
It

may be added, that not only the common audience had no notion of the rules of writing, but few even of the better sort piqued themselves upon any great degree of knowledge or nicety that way; till Ben Jonson, getting possession of the stage, brought critical learning into vogue: and that this was not done without difficulty, may appear from those frequent lessons

(and indeed almost declamations) which he was forced to prefix to his first plays, and put into the mouth of his actors, the grex, chorus, &c. to remove the prejudices, and inform the judgment of his hearers. ''Till then, our authors. had no thoughts of writing on the model of the ancients: their tragedies were only histories in dialogue; and their comedies followed the thread of any novel as they found it, no less implicitly than if it had been true history,

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To judge therefore of Shakspere - by Aristotle's rules, is like trying a man by the laws of one country; who acted under those of another. He writ to the people ; and writ at first without patronage from the better sort; and therefore without aims of pleasing them; without assistance or advice from the learned, as without the advantage of education or acquaintance among them; without that knowledge of the best models, the ancients, to inspire him with an emulation of them ; in a word, without any views of reputation, and of what poets are pleased to call immortality; some or all of which have encouraged the vanity, or animated the ambition, of other writers,

Yet it must be observed, that when his performances had merited the protection of his prince, and when the encouragement of the court had succeeded to that of the town, the works of his riper years are manifestly raised above those of his former. The dates of his plays sufficiently evidence that his productions ima preved in proportion to the respect he had for his aué ditors. And I make no doubt this observation would be found true in every instance, were but editions exe tant from which we might learn the exact time when every piece was composed, and whether writ for the town, or the court.

Another cause (and no less strong than the former) may be deduced from our author's being a player, and forming himself first upon the judginents of that body of men whereof he was a member. They have ever had a standard to themselves, upon other principles

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than those of Aristotle. As they live by the majority, they know no rule but that of pleasing the present humour, and complying with the wit in fashion; a consideration which brings all their judgment to a short point. Players are just such judges of what is right, as tailors are of what is graceful. And in this view it will be but fair to allow, that most of our author's faults are less to be ascribed to his wrong judgment as a poet, than to his right judgment as a player.

By these men it was thought a praise to Shakspere, that he scarce ever blotted a line. This they industriously propagated, as appears from what we are told by Ben Jonson in his Discoveries, and from the preface of Heminge and Condell to the first folio edition. But in reality (however it has prevailed) there never was a more groundless report, or to the contrary of which there are more undeniable evidences: as, the comedy of The Merry Wives of Windsor, which he entirely new writ; The History of Henry the Sixth, which was first published under the title of The Contention of York and Lancaster; and that of Henry the Fifth, extremely improved; that of Hamlet, enlarged to almost as much again as at first; and many others. I believe the common opinion of his want of learning proceeded from no better ground. This too might be thought a praise by some; and to this his errors have as injudi. ciously been ascribed by others. For it is certain, were it true, it could concern but a small part of them; the most are such as are not properly defects, but superfætations and arise not from want of learning or

reading, reading, but from want of thinking or judging: or rather (to be more just to our author) from a compliance to those wants in others. As to a wrong choice of the subject, a wrong conduct of the incidents, false thoughts, forced expressions, &c. if these are not to be ascribed to the aforesaid accidental reasons, they must be charged upon the poet himself, and there is no help for it.

But I think the two disadvantages which I have mentioned (to be obliged to please the lowest of the people, and to keep the worst of company), if the consideration be extended as far as it reasonably may, will appear sufficient to mislead and depress the greatest genius upon earth. Nay, the more modesty with which such a one is endued, the more he is in danger of submitting and confornring to others, against his own better judgment. But as to his want of learning, it may

be

necessary to say something more: there is certainly a vast difference between learning and languages.

How far he was ignorant of the latter, I cannot determine; but it is plain he had much reading at least, if they will not call it learning. Nor is it any great matter, if a man has knowledge, whether he has it from one language or from another. Nothing is more evident than that he had a taste of natural philosophy, mechanicks, ancient and modern history, poetical learning, and mythology: we find him very knowing in the customs, rites, and manners of antiquity. In Coriolanus, and Julius Cæsar, not only the spirit, but manners of the Romans are exactly drawn; and still a nicer distinction is shewn between the manners of the Romans in the time of the former, and of the latter. His reading in the ancient historians is no less conspicuous, in many. references to particular passages : and the speeches copied from Plutarch in Coriolanus may, I think, as well be made an instance of his learning, as those copied from Cicero in Catiline, of Ben Jonson’s. The manners of other nations in general, the Egyptians, Venetians, French, &c. are drawn with equal propriety. Whatever object of nature, or branch of sciencë, 'he either speaks of or describes, it is always with competent, if not extensive knowledge : his descriptions are still exact; all his metaphors appropriated, and remarkably drawn from the true nature and inhea rent qualities of each subject. When he treats of ethick or politick, we may constantly observe a wonderful juśtness of distinction, as well as extent of comprehension. No one is inore a master of the poetical story, or has more frequent allusions to the various parts of it: Mr. Waller (who has been cele. brated for this last particular) has not shewn more learning this way than Shakspere. We have translations from Qvid published in his name, among those poems which pass for his, and for some of which we have undoubted authority (being published by himself, and dedicated to his noble patron the earl of Southampton): he appears also to have been conversant in Plautus, from whom he has taken the plot of one of his plays: he follows the Greek authors, and parti, cularly Dares Phrygius, in another (although I will

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