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quoting Aristotle, when we see the loves of Thefeus and Hippolyta combined with the Gothick mythology of fairies. Shakspeare, indeed, was not the only violator of chronology, for in the fame age Sidney, who wanted not the advantages of learning, has, in his Arcadia, confounded the paftoral with the feudal times, the days of innocence, quiet, and fecurity, with thofe of turbulence, violence, and adventure.2
In his comick scenes he is feldom very fuccessful, when he engages his characters in reciprocations of smartness and contests of farcafm; their jefts are commonly grofs, and their pleafantry licentious; neither his gentlemen nor his ladies have much delicacy, nor are fufficiently diftinguifhed from his clowns by any appearance of refined manners. Whether he reprefented the real conversation of
As a further extenuation of Shakspeare's error, it may be urged that he found the Gothick mythology of Fairies already incorporated with Greek and Roman ftory, by our early tranflators. Phaer and Golding, who firft gave us Virgil and Ovid in an English dress, introduce Fairies almoft as often as Nymphs are mentioned in these claffick authors. Thus, Homer, in his 24th Iliad:
“ Ἐν Σιπύλω, ὅθι φασὶ θεάων ἔμμεναι εὐνᾷς “ NUMPAΩN, αἵτ ̓ ἀμφ' Αχελώϊον ἐρρωσαντο.” But Chapman translates
"In Sypilusin that place where 'tis faid
"The goddeffe Fairies use to dance about the funeral bed "Of Achelous:
Neither are our ancient verfifiers lefs culpable on the score of anachronisms. Under their hands the balifta becomes a cannon, and other modern inftruments are perpetually substituted for such as were the produce of the remoteft ages.
It may be added, that in Arthur Hall's verfion of the fourth Iliad, Juno fays to Jupiter:
the time will come that Totnam French shal turn.” And in the tenth Book we hear of " The Baftile," wooll," and "The Byble." STEEVENS.
his time is not eafy to determine; the reign of Elizabeth is commonly fuppofed to have been a time of stateliness, formality, and reserve, yet perhaps the relaxations of that feverity were not very elegant. There muft, however, have been always fome modes of gaiety preferable to others, and a writer ought to choose the best.
In tragedy his performance feems conftantly to be worse, as his labour is more. The effufions of paffion, which exigence forces out, are for the most part ftriking and energetick; but whenever he folicits his invention, or ftrains his faculties, the offfpring of his throes is tumour, meannefs, tedioufnefs, and obfcurity.
In narration he affects a difproportionate pomp of diction, and a wearifome 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 obftructs the progress of the action; it fhould therefore always be rapid, and enlivened by frequent interruption. Shakspeare found it an incumbrance, and instead of lightening it by brevity, endeavoured to recommend it by dignity and fplendour.
His declamations or fet fpeeches 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 inftead of inquiring what the occafion demanded, to show how much his ftores of knowledge could fupply, he feldom efcapes without the pity or refentment of his reader.
It is incident to him to be now and then entangled with an unwieldy fentiment, which he can
not well exprefs, and will not reject; he ftruggles with it a while, and if it continues ftubborn, comprises it in words fuch as occur, and leaves it to be disentangled and evolved by those who have more leifure to bestow upon it.
Not that always where the language is intricate, the thought is fubtle, or the image always great where the line is bulky; the equality of words to things is very often neglected, and trivial fentiments and vulgar ideas difappoint the attention, to which they are recommended by fonorous epithets and fwelling figures.
But the admirers of this great poet have most reafon to complain when he approaches nearest to his highest excellence, and feems fully refolved to fink them in dejection, and mollify them with tender emotions by the fall of greatnefs, the danger of innocence, or the croffes of love. What he does beft, he foon ceafes to do. He is not long foft and pathetick without fome idle conceit, or contemptible equivocation. He no fooner begins to move, than he counteracts himself; and terror and pity, as they are rifing in the mind, are checked and blafted by fudden frigidity.
A quibble is to Shakspeare, what luminous vapours are to the traveller; he follows it at all adventures; it is fure to lead him out of his way, and fure to engulf him in the mire. It has fome malignant power over his mind, and its fafcinations are irrefiftible. Whatever be the dignity or profundity of his difquifitions, whether he be enlarging knowledge, or exalting affection, whether he be amufing attention with incidents, or enchaining it in fufpenfe, let but a quibble spring up before him, and he leaves his work unfinished. A quibble is the golden apple for which he will always turn afide from his ca
reer, or stoop from his elevation. A quibble, poor and barren as it is, gave him fuch delight, that he was content to purchase it by the facrifice of reafon, propriety, and truth. A quibble was to him the fatal Cleopatra for which he loft the world, and was content to lose it.
It will be thought ftrange, that, in enumerating the defects of this writer, I have not yet mentioned his neglect of the unities; his violation of thofe laws which have been inftituted and established by the joint authority of poets and of criticks.
For his other deviations from the art of writing, I refign him to critical juftice, 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 cenfure which this irregularity may bring upon him, I fhall, with due reverence to that learning which I muft oppofe, adventure to try how I can defend him.
His hiftories, being neither tragedies nor comedies, are not subject to any of their laws; nothing more is neceffary to all the praise which they expect, than that the changes of action be fo prepared as to be understood, that the incidents be various and affecting, and the characters confiftent, natural, and diftinct. No other unity is intended, and therefore none is to be fought.
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 defign only to discover it, for this is feldom the order of real events, and Shakspeare is the poet of nature: but his plan has commonly what Ariftotle requires, a beginning, a middle, and an end; one event is
concatenated with another, and the conclufion follows by eafy confequence. There are perhaps fome incidents that might be fpared, as in other poets there is much talk that only fills up time upon the ftage; but the general system makes gradual advances, and the end of the play is the end of expectation.
To the unities of time and place3 he has shown no regard; and perhaps a nearer view of the principles on which they ftand will diminish their value, and withdraw from them the veneration which, from the time of Corneille, they have very generally received, by difcovering that they have given more trouble to the poet, than pleasure to the auditor.
The neceffity of obferving the unities of time and place arifes from the fuppofed neceffity of making the drama credible. The criticks hold it impoffible, that an action of months or years can be poffibly believed to pafs in three hours; or that the fpectator can fuppofe himself to fit in the theatre, while ambaffadors go and return between diftant kings, while armies are levied and towns befieged, while an exile wanders and returns, or till he whom they faw courting his mistress, fhall lament the untimely fall of his fon. The mind revolts from evident falfehood, and fiction lofes its
3unities of time and place-] Mr. Twining, among his judicious remarks on the poetick of Ariftotle, obferves, that "with respect to the ftrict unities of time and place, no fuch rules were impofed on the Greek poets by the criticks, or by themselves; nor are impofed on any poet, either by the nature, or the end, of the dramatick imitation itself."
Ariftotle does not exprefs a fingle precept concerning unity of place. This fupposed restraint originated from the hypercriticifm of his French commentators. STEEVENS.