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This is but a short Sketch of the main Part of Shakespeare's particular Excellencies; the others will be taken Notice of in the Progress of my Remarks.
Remarks. And if I am so happy as to point out some Beauties not yet dil: covered, or at least not put in the Light they ought to be, I hope I shall deserve my Reader’s Thanks, who will thereby, I imagine, receive chat Pleasure which I have always done upon any new Discovery of this fort, whether made by my own Labour, or by the Penetration of others: And as to those Things which charm by a certain secret Force, and strike us we know not how, or why ; I believe it will not be disagreeable, if I shew to every one the Reason why they are pleas’d, and by that Consideration they will be capacitated to discover still more and more Charms in the Works of this great Poet, and thereby increase their Pleasure without End.
I do not pretend, in Publishing these Remarks of mine, to arrogate any Superiority of Genius; but I think every one should contritribute to the Improvement of some Branch or other of Literature in this country of ours, and thus furnish out his Share towards the Bettering of the Minds of his Countrymen, by affording fome Honest Amusements, which can entertain a Man, and help to refine his Taste, and improve his Understanding, and no Ways at the Expence of his Honesty and Virtue. In the Course of these Remarks, I lhall make use of the Edition of this
Poet, given us by Mr. Thèobalds, because he is generally thought to have understood our Author best, and certainly deserves the Applause of all his Countrymen for the great Pains he has been at to give us the best Edition of this Poet, which has yet appear’d. I would not have Mr. Pope offended at what I say, for I look upon him as the greatest Genius in Poetry that has ever appear’d. in England : But the Province of an Editor and a Commentator is quite foreign to that of a Poet. The former endeavours to give us an Author as he is; the latter, by the Correctness and Excellency of his own Genius, is often rempted to give us an Author as he thinks he ought to be.
BEFORE I proceed to the particular Parts of this Tragedy, I must premise, that the great Admirers of our Poet cannot be offended, if I point out some of his Imperfections, fince they will find that they are very few in Proportion to his Beauties. Amongst the former, we may reckon some Anachronisms, and also the inordinate Length of Time supposed to be employ'd in several of his Pieces ; add to all this, that the Plots of his Plays in general, are charged with some little Absurdity or other. But then, how easily may we forgive this, when we reflect upon his many Excellencies! The Tragedy that is now coming under our Examination, is one of the best of his Pieces, and strikes us with a certain Awe and Seriousness of Mind, far beyond those Plays whose Whole Plot turns upon
vehement and uncontroulable Love, such as are most of our modern Tragedies. These certainly have nor the great Effect that others have, which turn either upon Ambition, the Love of one's Country, or Parernal or Filial Tenderness. Accordingly we find, that few among the Ancients, and hardly any of our Author's Plays, are built upon the Passion of Love in a direct Manner; by which I mean, that they have not the mutual Artachment of a Lover and his Mistress for their chief Basis. Love will always make a great Figure in Tragedy, if only its chief Branches be made use of; as for instance, Jealousy (as in Othello) or the beautiful Distress of Man and Wife (as in Romeo and Juliet) but never when the whole Play is founded upon two Lovers desiring to possess each other. And one of the Reasons for this seems to be, that this last Species of that Passion is more commonly met with than the former, and so consequently strikes us less. Add to this, that there may á Sufpicion arise, that the Passion of Love in' a direct Manner may be more sensual than in those Branches which I have mention'd; which Suspicion is sufficient to take from its Dignity, and lessen our Veneration for it. Of all Shakespeare's Tragedies, none can surpafs this, as co the noble Passions which it naturally raises in us. That the Reader may see what our Poet had to work upon, I shall insert the Plan of it as abridged from Saxo-Grammaticus's Danish History by Mr. Theobalds.
« The Historian calls our Poéts Hero Amis « lethus, his Father Horwendillus, his Un“ cle Fengo, and his Mother Gerutha. The
old King in fingle Combat, flew Collerus, King of Norway, Fengo makes away
with “ his Brother Horwendillus, and marries his 6 Widow Gerutha. Amlethus, to avoid be.
ing suspected by his Uncle of Designs, 66 assumes a Form of urter Madness. A fine “ Woman is planted upon him, to try if he “ would yield to the Impressions of Love. « Fengo contrives, that Amlethus, in order to “ found him, should be closetted by his Mo16 ther.
A Man is conceal'd in the Rushes to “ overhear their Discourse; whom Amlethus « discovers and kills. When the Queen is “ frighted at this Behaviour of his; he tasks “ her about her criminal Course of Life, and « incestuous Conversation with her former “ Husband's Murtherer ; confesses his Mad. “ ness is but counterfeited, to protect him“ self, and secure his Revenge for his Father ; « to which he injoins the Queen's Silence. “ Fengo fends Amlethus to Britain : Two of “ the King's Servants attend him with Letters “ to the British King, strictly pressing the “ Death of Amlethus, who, in the Night “ Time, coming at their Commission, over“ reads it, forms a new One, and turns the « Destruction designed towards himself on the « Bearers of the Letters. Amlethus return“ ing Home, by a Wile surprizes and kills his “ Uncle." I shall have Occasion to remark
in the Sequel, that in one Particular he has follow'd the Plan so closely as to produce an Absurdity in his Plot. And I must premise also this, that in my Examination of the whole Conduct of the Play, the Reader must not be surprised, if I censure any part of it, although it be entirely in Conformity to the Plan the Author has cholen ; because it is easy to conceive, that a Poet's Judgment is particularly shewn in chusing the proper Circumstances, and rejecting the improper Ones · of the Ground-work which he raises his Play upon. In general we are to take Notice, that as History ran very low in his Days, most of his Plays are founded upon some old wretchcd Chronicler, or some empty Italian Novelist, but the more base and mean were his Materials, so much more ought we to admire His Skill, Who has been able to work
his Pieces to such Sublimity from such low Originals. Had he had the Advantages of many of his Successors, ought not we to believe, that he would have made the greatest Use of them? I shall not insist upon the Merit of those who first break through the thick Mist of Barbarism in Poetry, which was so strong about the Time our Poet writ, because this must be easily sensible to every Reader who has the least Tincture of Letters; but thus much we must observe, that before his Time there were very few (if any) Dramatick Performances of any Tragick Writer, which deserve to be remembred; so much were all