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the feudal times, the days of innocence, quiet, and security, with those of turbulence, violence, and adventure.
In his comic scenes, he is seldom very successful, when he engages his characters in reciprocations of smartness and contests of sarcasm; their jests are commonly grošs, and their pleasantry licentious ; neither his gentlemen nor his ladies have inuch delicacy, nor are sufficiently distinguished from his clowns by any appearance of refined manners. Whether he represented the real conversation of his time is not easy to determine; the reign of Elizabeth is commonly sup. posed to have been a time of stateliness, formality, and reserve ; yet perhaps the relaxations of that severity were not very elegant. There must, however, : have been always some modes of gaiety preferable to .. others, and a writer ought to choose the best.
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 energetick; but whenever he solicits his invention, or strains his faculties, the offspring 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 dramatick 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. Shakspere found it an incumbrance, and instead of lightening it by brevity, endeavoured to recommend it by dignity and splendour. . :- His declamations, or set speeches, are commonly
cold and weak, for his power was the power of - nature; when he endeavoured, like other tragick writers, to catch opportunities of amplification, and, instead of inquiring what the occasion demanded, to shew how much his stores of knowledge could supply, he seldom escapes without the pity or resentment of his reader, ... ;
It is incident to him to be now and then entangled with an unwieldy sentiment, which he cannot well express, and will not reject; he struggles with it a... while, and, if it continues stubborn, comprises it in words such as occyr, and leaves it to be disentangled and evolved by those who have more leisure to bestow ... upon it.
...! Not that always where the language is intricate the thought is subtle, or the image always great where the line is bulky; the quality of words to things is very often neglected, and trivial sentiments and vulgar ideas disappoint the attention; to which they are recom. mended by sonorous epithets and swelling figures.
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 in dejection, and mollify them with tender emo
tions 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 pathetick without somé idlé conceit, or contemptible equivocation. He no sooner begins to move, than he counteracts him. self; and terror and pity, as they are rising in the mind, are checked and blasted by sudden frigidity.
A quibble is to Shakspëre, what luminous vapours are to the traveller; he follows iť át all adventures; it is sure to lead him out of his way, and sure to enculf hiin in the mire. It has some malignant power óvér his mind, and its fascinations are irresistible. Whatever be the dignity or profundity of his disquisition, whether he be enlarging knowledge, or exalting affećtion, whether he be amusing attention with incidents, or enchaining it in suspense, lét but a quibble
spring up before him, and he leaves his work un• finished. A quibble is the golden äpple for which he
will always turn aside from his căréer, 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. Å quibble was to him the fatal Cleopatra for whichi 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 been instituted and establisired by the joint authority of poets and criticks. :
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 failings : 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.
His histories, being neither tragedies nor comedies, are not subject to any of their laws; nothing more is necessary to all the praise which they expect, than that the changes of action be so prepared as to be understood, that the incidents be various and affecting, and the characters consistent, natural, and distinct. No other unity is intended, and therefore none is to be . sought.
In his other works he has well enough preserved the unity of action. He has not, indeed, an intrigue regularly perplexed and regularly unravelled; he does not endeavour to hide his design only to discover it; for this is seldom the order of real events, and Shakspere is the poet of naturę: but his plan has commonly what Aristotle requires; a beginning, a middle, and an end; one event is concatenated with another, and the conclusion follows by easy consequence. There are perhaps some incidents that might be spared, as in other poets there is much talk that only fills up time upon the stage ; but the general systein makes gradual advances, and the end of the play is the end of expectation.
To the unities of time and place he has shewii no regard; and perhaps a'nearer view of the principles on which they stand will diminish their valuie, and withdraw froin 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 observing the unities of time and place arises from the supposed necessity of inaking the drama credible. The criticks 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 anıbassadors go and return between distant kings, while iírmies 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 Rome, 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; that what was Thebes can never be Persepolis.