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good or evil, nor is always careful to easy to determine; the reign of Elizabeth shew in the virtuous a disapprobation of is commonly supposed to have been a time the wicked; he carries his persons indif- of stateliness, sorinality, and reserve; yet ferently through right and wrong, and at perhaps, the relaxations of that severity the close dismisses them without further were not very elegant. There must, howcare, and leaves their examples to ope- ever, have been always some modes of rate by chance. This fault the barbariiy gaiety preferable to others, and a writer of his age cannot extenuate; for it is al- ought to choose the best. ways a writer's duty to make the world In tragedy, his performance seems conbetier, and justice is a virtue independent stantly to be worse, as his labour is more. on time or place.

The effusions of passion, which exigence The plots are often so loosely formed, forces out, are for the most part striking that a very slight consideration may im- and energetic; but whenever he solicits prove them, and so carelessly pursued, that his invention or strains bis faculties, the he seems not always fully to comprehend offspring of his throes is tumour, meanhis own design. He omits opportunities of ness, tediousness, and obscurity. instructing or delighting, which the train In narration, he affects a disproportionof his story seems to force upon him, and ate pomp of diction, and a wearisome train apparently rejects those exhibitions which of circumlocution, and tells the incident would be more affecting, for the sake of imperfectly in many words, which might those which are more easy.

have been more plainly delivered in few. It may be observed that in many of his Narration in dramatic poetry is naturally plays the latter part is evidently neglected. tedious, as it is unanimated and inactive, When he found himself near the end of and obstructs the progress of the action; his work, and in view of his reward, he it should therefore always be rapid, and enshortened his labour to snatch the pro- livened by frequent interruption. Shakfit. He therefore remits his efforts where speare found it an incumbrance, and instead he should most vigorously exert them, and of lightening it by brevity, endeavoured to his catastrophe is improbably produced recommend it by dignity and splendour. or imperfectly represented.

His declamations, or set speeches, are He had no regard to distinction of time commooly cold and weak, for his power or place, but gives to one age or nation,' was the power of nature; when he endeawithout scruple, the customs, institutions, voured, like other tragic writers, to catch and opinions of another, at the expense opportunities of amplification, and, instead not only of likelihood, but of possibility. of inquiring what the occasion demanded, These faults Pope has endeavoured, with to shew how much his stores of knowledge more zeal than judgment, to transfer to his could supply, be seldom escapes without imagined interpolators. We need not won-' the pity or resentment of his reader. der to find Hector quoting Aristotle, when

It is incident to him to be now and then we see the loves of Theseus and Hippo- entangled with an unwieldy sentiment, lyta combined with the Gothic mythology which he cannot well express, and will of fairies. Shakspeare, indeed, was not not reject; he struggles with it awhile, the only violator of chronology; for in the and, if it contioues stubborn, comprises it same age, Sydney, who wanted not the in words such as occur, and leaves it to be advantages of learning, has, in his Arca- disentangled and evolved by those who dia, confounded the pastoral with the have more leisure to bestow upon it. feudal times, the days of innocence, quiet,

Not that always where the language is and security, with those of turbulence, intricate the thought is subtile, or the violence, and adventure.

image always great where the line is bulky; In his comic scenes he is seldom very the equality of words to things is very successful, when he engages his characters often neglected, and trivial sentiments and in reciprocations of smartness and contests vulgar ideas disappoint the attention, to of sarcasm; their jests are commonly gross, which they are recommended by sonorous and their pleasantry licentious; neither epithets and swelling figures. his gentlemen nor his ladies have much

But the admirers of this great poet have delicacy, nor are sufficiently distinguished most reason to complain when he apfrom his clowns by any appearance of re- proaches nearest to his highest excellence, fined manners. Whether he represented

and seems fully resolved to sink them in the real conversation of his time is not dejection, and mollify them with tender emotions by the fall of greatness, the dan- preserved the unity of aetion. He bas ger of innocence, or the crosses of love. not, indeed, an intrigue regularly perWhat he does best, be soon ceases to do. plexed and regularly unravelled; he does He is not long soft and pathetic without not endeavour to bide his design only to some idle conceit, or contemptible equivo- discover it; for this is seldom the order of cation. He no sooner begins to move, real events, and Shakspeare is the poet of than he counteracts himself; and terror nature: but his plan has commonly what and pity, as they are rising in the mind, Aristotle requires, a beginning, a middle, are checked and blasted by sudden frigi- and an end ; one event is concatenated dity.

with another, and the conclusion follows A quibble is to Shakspeare what lu- by easy consequence. There are perhaps minous vapours are to the traveller; he some incidents that might be spared, as in follows it at all adventures; it is sure to other poets there is much talk that only lead him out of his way, and sure to engulf fills up time upon the stage ; but the him in the mire. It has some malignant general system makes gradual advances, power over his mind, and its fascinations and the end of the play is the end of exe are irresistible. Whatever be the dignity pectation. or profundity of his disquisition, whether To the unities of time and place he has he be enlarging knowledge, or exhausting shewn no regard ; and perhaps a nearer affection, whether he be amusing attention view of the principles on which they with incident, or enchaining it with sus- stand, will diminish their value, and withpense; let but a quibble spring up before draw from them the veneration which, him, and he leaves his work unfinished. from the time of Corneille, they have very A quibble is the golden apple for which generally received, by discovering that they he will always turo aside from his career, have given more trouble to the poet, than or stoop from his elevation. A quibble, pleasure to the auditor. poor and barren as it is, gave him such de- The necessity of observing the unities sight, that he was content to purchase it, of time and place arises from the supposed by the sacrifice of reason, propriety, and necessity of making the drama credible. truth. A quibble was to him the fatal The critics hold it impossible, that an acCleopatra, for which he lost the world tion of months and years can be possibly and was content to lose it.

believed to pass in three hours; or that It will be thought strange, that, in enu- the spectator can suppose bimself to sit is merating the defects of this writer, I have the theatre, while ambassadors go and renot yet mentioned bis neglect of the uni- turn between distant kings, while armies ties; his violation of those laws which are levied and towns besieged, while an have been instituted and established by the exile wanders and returns, or till he wbom joint authority of poets and critics. they saw courting his mistress, should la

For his other deviations from the art of ment the untimely fall of his son. The writing, I resign bim to critical justice, mind revolts from evident falsehood, and without making any other demand in his fiction loses its force when it departs from favour, than that which must be indulged the resemblance of reality. to all human excellence; that his virtues From the narrow limitation of time 'nebe rated with his failings: but, from the cessarily arises the contraction of place, censure which this irregularity may bring The spectator, who knows that he saw the upon him, I shall, with due reverence to first act at Alexandria, cannot suppose that learning which I must oppose, adven- that he sees the next at Rome, at a disture to try how I can defend him.

tance to which not the dragons of Medea His histories, being neither tragedies could, in so short a time, have transpornor comedies, are not subject to any of ted him; he knows with certainty that he their laws; nothing more is necessary to has not changed bis place; and he knows all the praise which they expect, than that that place cannot change itself; that what the changes of action be so prepared as was a house cannot become a plain ; that to be understood, that the incidenis be va. what was Thebes can never be Persepolis. rious and affecting, and the characters con- Such is the triumphant language with sistent, natural, and distinct.

No other which a critic exults over the misery of an unity is intended, and therefore none is to irregular poet, and exults commonly withbe sought.

'out resistance or reply. It is time, thereIn his other works be bas well enough fore, to tell him, by the authority of


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Shakspeare, that he assumes, as an are represented to be made in Rome, the questionable principle, a position, which, event of the war may, without absurdity, while his breath is forming it into words, be represented, in the catastrophe, as haphis understanding pronounces to be false. pening in Pontus; we know that there is It is false, that any representation is mis- neither war, por preparation for war; taken for reality; that any dramatic fa- we know that we are neither in Rome ble, in its materiality, was ever credibie, nor Pontus; that neither Mithridates or, for a single moment, was ever cre. nor Lucullus are before us. The dra. dited.

ma exhibits successive imitations of sucThe objection arising from the impos- cessive actions; and why may not the sibility of passing the first hour at Alexan- second imitation represent an action that dria, and the next at Rome, supposes, happened years after the first, if it be that, when the play opens, the spectator so connected with it, that nothing but time really imagines himself at Alexandria: can be supposed to intervene ? Time is, apd believes that his walk to the theatre of all modes of existence, most obsequious has been a voyage to Egypt, and that he to the imagination; a lapse of years is as lives in the days of Antony and Cleopa- easily conceived as a passage of hours. tra. Surely he that imagines this may In contemplation we easily contract the imagine more. He that can take the stage time of real actions, and therefore willing. at one time for the palace of the Ptolemies, ly permit it to be contracted when we only may take it in half an hour for the pro- see their imitation. montory of Actium. Delusion, if delu- It will be asked, how the drama moves, sion be admitted, has no certain limita. if it is not credited ? It is credited with tion ; if the spectator can be once per- all credit due to a drama. It is credited, suaded, that his old acquaintance are whenever it moves, as a just picture of a Alexander and Cæsar, that a room illumi. real original; as representing to the aunated with candles is the plain of Pharsa. ditor what he would himself feel, if he lia, or the bank of Granicus, he is in a were to do or suffer what is there feigoed state of elevation above the reach of rea- to be suffered or to be done. The reson, or of truih, and from the heights of fection that strikes the heart is not, that empyrean poetry, may despise the circum- the evils before us are real evils, but that spections of terrestrial nature. There is they are evils to which we ourselves may no reason why a mind thus wandering in be exposed. If there be any fallacy, it is ecstasy should count the clock; or why an not that we fancy the players, but that we hour should not be a century in that ca- fancy ourselves unhappy for a moment; lenture of the brain that can make the but we rather lament the possibility, than stage a field.

suppose presence of misery, as a mo. The truth is, that the spectators are alther weeps over her babe, when she reways in their senses, and know, from the members that death may take it from her. first act to the last, that the stage is only The delight of tragedy proceeds from our a slage, and that the players are only consciousness of fiction; if we thought players. They came to hear a certain murders and treasons real, they would number of lines recited with just gesiure please no more. and elegant modulation. The lines re- Imitations produce pain or pleasure, not late to some action, and an action must because they are mistaken for realities, be in some place; but the different actions but because they bring realities to mind. that complete a story may be in places when the inagination is recreated by a very remote from each other; and where painted landscape, the trees are not supis the absurdity of allowing that space to posed capable to give us shade, or the represent first Athens, and then Sicily, fountains coolness; but we consider how which was always known to be neither Si- we should be pleased with such fountains cily nor Athens, but a modern theatre? playing beside us, and such woods waving

By supposition, as place is introduced, over us. We are agitated in reading the time may be extended; the time required history of Henry the Fifth, yet no man by the fable elapses for the most part be- takes his book for the field of Agincourt. tween the acts; for, of so much of the ac- A dramatic exhibition is a book recited tion as is represented, the real and poetical with concomitants that increase or diminish duration is the same. If, in the first act, its effect. Familiar comedy is often more preparations for war against Mithridates powerful on the theatre, than in the page



imperial tragedy is always less. The hu

are always to be sacrificed to the nobler mour of Petruchio may be heightened by beauties of variety and instruction; and grimace; but what voice or what gesture that play written with nice observation can hope to add dignity or force to the of critical rules, is to be contemplated as soliloquy of Cato?

an elaborate curiosity, as the product of A play read affects the mind like a play superfluous and ostentatious art, by which acted. It is therefore evident, that the is shewn, rather what is possible than what action is not supposed to be real; and it is necessary. follows, that between the acts a longer or He that, without diminution of any shorter time may be allowed to pass, and other excellence, shall preserve all the that no more account of space or duration unities unbroken, deserves the like apis to be taken by the auditor of a drama, plause with the architect, who shall disthan by the reader of a narrative, before play all the orders of architecture in a ciwhom may pass in an hour, the life of tadel, without any deduction from its a hero, or the revolutions of an empire. strength : but the principal beauty of a

Whether Shakspeare knew the unities, citadel is to exclude the enemy; and the and rejected them by design, or deviated greatest graces of a play are to copy nafrom them by happy ignorance, it is, I ture, and instruct life. think, impossible to decide, and useless Perhaps, what I have bere not dogmato inquire. We may reasonably suppose, tically but deliberately written, may recall that, when he rose to notice, he did not the principles of the drama to a new exawant the counsels and admonitions of mination. I am almost frighted at my scholars and critics, and that he at last de- own temerity; and when I estimate the liberately persisted in a practice, which he fame and the strength of those that mainmight have begun by chance. As no- tain the contrary opinion, am ready to sink thing is essential to the fable but unity of down in reverential silence; as Æneas action, and as the unities of time and place withdrew from the defence of Troy, when arise evidently from false assumptions, and he saw Neptune shaking the wall, and by circumscribing the extent of the drama, Juno heading the besiegers. lessen iis variety, I cannot think it much Those whom my arguments cannot per10 be lamented that they were not known suade to give their approbation to the by him, or not observed: nor, if such judgment of Shakspeare, will easily, if another poet could arise, should I very they consider the condition of his life, vehemently reproach him, that his first act make some allowance for his ignorance. passed at Venice, and his next at Cyprus. Every man's performances, to be rightly Such violations of rules, merely positive, estimated, must be compared with the state become the comprehensive genius of of the age in which he lived, and with his Shakspeare, and such censures are suit- own particular opportunities; and though able to the minute and slender criticism of to a reader a book be not worse or better Voltaire :

for the circumstances of the author, yet as

there is always a silent reference of huNon usque adeo permiscuit imis Longus summa dies, ut non, si voce Metelli

man works to human abilities, and as the Serventur leges, malint Cæsare tolli.

inquiry, how far man may extend his de

signs, or how high le may rate his native Yet when I speak thus slightly of dra- force, is of far greater dignity than in matic rules, I cannot but recollect how what rank we shall place any particular much wit and learning may be produced performance, curiosity is always busy to against me; before such authorities I am discover the instruments, as well as to surafraid to stand, not that I think the present vey the workmanship, to know how much question one of those that are to be deci. is to be ascribed to original powers, and ded by mere authority, but because it is to how much to casual and adveutitious help. be suspected, that these precepts have not The palaces of Peru or Mexico were cerbeen so easily received, but for better rea- tainly mean and incommodious habitations, sons than I have yet been able to find. The if compared to the houses of European result of my inquiries, in which it would monarchs ; yet who could forbear to view be ludicrous to boast of impartiality, is, them with astonishment, who remembered that the unities of time and place are not that they were built without the use of essential to a just drama; that though they iron? may sometimes conduce to pleasure, they The English nation, in the time of Shakspeare, was yet struggling to emerge membered the tale of Hamlet in plain from barbariiy. The philology of Italy English prose, which the critics have now had been transplanted hither in the reign to seek in Saxo Grammaticus. of Henry the Eighth; and the learned His English histories he took from Englanguages had been successfully cultivated lish chronicles and English ballads; and by Lilly, Linacre, and More ; by Pole, as the ancient writers were made known to Cheke, and Gardiner; and afterwards by his countrymen by versions, they supplied Smith, Clerk, Haddon, and Ascham. him with new subjects; he dilated some Greek was now taught to boys in the of Plutarch's lives into plays, when they principal schools; and those who united had been translated by North. elegance with learning, read, with great His plots, whether historical or fabulous, diligence, the Italian and Spanish poets, are always crowded with incidents, by But literature was yet confined to professed which the attention of a rude people was scholars, or to men and women of high more easily caught than by sentiment or rauk. The public was gross and dark : argumentation; and such is the power of and to be able to read and write, was an the marvellous, even over those who deaccomplishment still valued for its rarity. spise it, that every man finds his mind

Nations, like individuals, have their in- more strongly seized by the tragedies of fancy. A people, newly awakened to li- Shakspeare ihan of any other writer : terary curiosity, being yet unacquainted others please us by particular speeches; but with the true state of things, knows not he always makes us anxious for the event, how to judge of that which is proposed as and has, perhaps, excelled all but Homer, its resemblance. Whatever is remote from in securing the first purpose of a writer, by common appearance, is always welcome exciting restless and unquenchable curioto vulgar, as to childish credulity; and of sity, and compelling him that reads his a country unenlightened by learning, the work to read it through. whole people is the vulgar. The study of The shows and bustle, with which his those who then aspired to plebeian learning plays abound, have the same original. As was laid out upon adventures, giants, dra- knowledge advances, pleasure passes from gons, and enchantments. The Death of the eye to the ear, but returns, as it deArthur was the favourite voluine.

clines, from the ear to the


Those to The mind, which has feasted on the whom our author's labours were exhibited, luxurious wonders of fiction, has no taste had more skill in poinps or processions of the insipidity of truth. A play, which than in poetical language, and perhaps imitated nly the common occurrences of wanted some visible and discriminated the world, would, upon the admirers of events, as comments on the dialogue. He Palmerin and Guy of Warwick, have knew how he should most please: and made little impression; he that wrote for whether his practice is more agreeable to such an audience was under the necessity nature, or whether his example has preof looking round for strange events and judiced the nation, we still find, that on fabulous transactions; and that incredibi- our stage something must be done, as well lity, by which maturer knowledge is of- as said, and inactive declamation is very fended, was the chief recommendation of coldly heard, however musical or elegant, writings to unskilful curiosity.

passionate or sublime. Our author's plots are generally bor- Voltaire expresses his wonder, that our rowed from novels; and it is reasonable author's extravagancies are endured by a to suppose, that he chose the most popular, nation, which has seen the tragedy of Cato. such as were read by many, and related Let him be answered, that Addison speaks by more ; for his audience could not have the language of poets, and Shakspeare of followed him through the intricacies of men. We find in Cato innumerable beauthe drama, had they not held the thread of ties which enamour us of its author, but the story in their hands.

we see nothing that acquaints us with huThe stories, which we now find only in man sentiments or human actions; we remoter authors, were in his time accessible place it with the fairest and the noblest and familiar. The fable of As you like progeny which judgment propagates by It, which is supposed to be copied from conjunction with learning ; but Othello is Chaucer's Gamelyn, was a little pamphlet the vigorous and vivacious offspring of of those times; and old Mr. Cibber re- observation impregnated by genius. Cato

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