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tural and pleasing, but the grave scenes, if a few passages be excepted, have more labour than elegance. The plot is rather intricate than artful. The time of the action is indefinite: some time, we know not how much, must have elapsed between the recess of the duke and the imprisonment of Claudio; for he must have learned the story of Mariana in his disguise, or he delegated his power to a man already known to be corrupted. The unities of action and place are sufficiently preserved. JOHNSON.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.-This play may be justly said to contain two of the most sprightly characters that Shakspeare ever drew. The wit, the hamourist, the gentleman, and the soldier, are combined in Benedick. It is to be lamented, indeed, that the first and most splendid of these distinctions, is disgraced by unnecessary profaneness; for the goodness of his heart is hardly sufficient to atone for the license of his tongue. The too sarcastic levity, which flashes out in the conversation of Beatrice, may be excused on account of the steadiness and friendship so apparent in her behaviour, when she urges her lover to risque his life by a challenge to Claudio. In the conduct of the fable, however, there is an imperfection similar to that which Dr. Johnson has pointed out in The Merry Wives of Windsor,-the second contrivance is less ingenious than the first :-or, to speak more plainly, the same incident is become stale by repetition. I wish some other method had been found to entrap Beatrice, than that very one which before had been successfully practised on Benedick. Much Ado About Nothing, (as I understand from one of Mr. Vertue's MSS.) formerly passed under the title of Benedick and Beatrix. Heming the player received, on the 20th of May, 1613, the sum of forty pounds, and twenty pounds more as his majesty's gratuity, for exhibiting six plays at Hampton Court, among which was this comedy.
MIDSUMMER-NIGHT'S DREAM.-Wild and fantastical as this play is, all the parts in their various modes are well written, and give the kind of pleasure which the author designed. Fairies in his time were much in fashion; common tradition had made them familiar, and Spencer's poem had JOHNSON. made them great.
LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST.-In this play, which all the editors have concurred to censure, and some have rejected as anworthy of our poet, it must be confessed that there are many passages mean, childish, and vulgar: and some which ought not to have been exhibited, as we are told they were, to a maiden queen. But there are scattered through the whole many sparks of genius; nor is there any play that has more evident marks of the hand of Shakspeare. JOHNSON.
MERCHANT OF VENICE.-Of the Merchant of Venice the style is even and easy, with few peculiarities of diction, or anomalies of construction. The comic part raises laughter, and the serious fixes expectation. The probability of either one or the other story cannot be maintained. The #union of two actions in one event is in this drama eminently happy. Dryden was much pleased with his own address in connecting the two plots of his Spanish Friar, which yet, I believe, the critic will find excelled by this play. JOHNSON.
AS YOU LIKE IT. Of this play the fable is wild and pleasing. I know not how the ladies will approve the facility with which both Rosalind and Celia give away their hearts. To Celia much may be forgiven, for the heroism of her friendship. The
character of Jaques is natural and well preserved. The comic dialogue is very sprightly, with less mixture of low buffoonery than in some other plays; and the graver part is elegant and harmonious. By hastening to the end of this work, Shakspeare suppressed the dialogue between the usurper and the hermit, and lost an opportunity of exhibiting a moral lesson, in which he might have found matter worthy of his highest powers. JOHNSON.
ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL.-This play has many delightful scenes, though not sufficiently probable; and some happy characters, though not new, nor produced by any deep knowledge of human nature. Parolles is a boaster and a coward, such as has always been the sport of the stage, but perhaps never raised more laughter or contempt than in the hands of Shakspeare.
I cannot reconcile my heart to Bertram; a man noble without generosity, and young without truth; who marries Helen as a coward, and leaves her as a profligate when she is dead by his unkindness, sneaks home to a second marriage, is accused by a woman whom he has wronged, defends himself by falsehood, and dismissed to happiness.
The story of Bertram and Diana had been told before of Mariana and Angelo, and, to confess the truth, scarcely merited to be heard a second time. JOHNSON.
TAMING OF THE SHREW.-Of this play the two plots are so well united, that they can hardly be called two, without injury to the art with which they are interwoven. The attention is entertained with all the variety of a double plot, yet is not distracted by unconnected incidents.
The part between Katharine and Petruchio is eminently sprightly and diverting. At the marriage of Bianca, the arrival of the real father, perhaps, produces more perplexity than pleasure. The whole play is very popular and diverting. JOHNSON.
WINTER'S TALE.-This play, as Dr. Warburton justly observes, is, with all its absurdities, very entertaining. The character of Autolycus is naturally conceived, and strongly represented.
COMEDY OF ERRORS.-On a careful revision of the foregoing scenes, I do not hesitate to pronounce them the composition of two very unequal writers. Shakspeare had undoubtedly a share in them; but that the entire play was no work of his, is an opinion which (as Benedict says) "fire cannot melt out of me; I will die in it at the stake." Thus, as we are informed by Aulus Gellius, lib. iii. cap. 3, some plays were absolutely ascribed to Plautus, which in truth had only been (retractatæ et expolita) retouched and polished by him.
In this comedy we find more intricacy of plot than distinction of character; and our attention is less forcibly engaged, because we can guess in great measure how the denouement will be brought about. Yet the subject appears to have been reluctantly dismissed, even in this last and unnecessary scene; where the same mistakes are continued, till the power of affording entertainment is entirely lost. STEEVENS.
MACBETH.-This play is deservedly celebrated for the propriety of its fiction, and solemnity, grandeur, and variety of its action; but it has no nice discriminations of character; the events are too great to admit the influence of particular dispositions, and the course of the action necessarily determines the conduct of the agents.
The danger of ambition is well described; and I know not whether it may not be said, in defence of
some parts which now seem improbable, that in ous, and insult the defenceless. At once obsequi Shakspeare's time it was necessary to warn credu-ous and malignant, he satirises in their absencs lity against vain and illusive predictions.
The passions are directed to their true end. Lady Macbeth is merely detested; and though the courage of Macbeth preserves some esteem, yet every reader rejoices at his fall. JOHNSON.
those whom he lives by flattering. He is familjar with the prince only as an agent of vice; bat af this familiarity he is so proud, as not only to be st percilious and haughty with common men, bat to think his interest of importance to the duke of Lancaster. Yet the man thus corrupt, thus despicable, makes himself necessary to the prince that despises
KING JOHN.-The tragedy of King John, though not written with the utmost power of Shak-him, by the most pleasing of all qualities, perpetual speare, is varied with a very pleasing interchange of incidents and characters. The lady's grief is very affecting; and the character of the Bastard contains that mixture of greatness and levity, which this author delighted to exhibit. JOHNSON.
KING RICHARD II.-This play is one of those which Shakspeare has apparently revised; but as success in works of invention is not always proportionate to labour, it is not finished at last with the happy force of some other of his tragedies, nor can be said much to affect the passions, or enlarge the understanding. JOHNSON.
KING HENRY IV.-I fancy every reader, when he ends this play, cries out with Desdemona, "O most lame and impotent conclusion!" As this play was not, to our knowledge, divided into acts by the author, I could be content to conclude it with the death of Henry the Fourth:
"In that Jerusalem shall Harry die."
These scenes, which now make the fifth act of Henry the Fourth, might then be the first of Henry the Fifth; but the truth is, they do not unite very commodiously to either play. When these plays were represented, I believe they ended as they are now ended in the books; but Shakspeare seems to have designed that the whole series of action, from the beginning of Richard the Second, to the end of Henry the Fifth, should be considered by the reader as one work, upon one plan, only broken into parts by the necessity of exhibition.
None of Shakspeare's plays are more read than the First and Second Parts of Henry the Fourth. Perhaps no author has ever, in two plays, afforded so much delight. The great events are interesting, for the fate of kingdoms depend upon them; the slighter occurrences are diverting, and except one or two, sufficiently probable; the incidents are multiplied with wonderful fertility of invention; and the characters diversified with the utmost nicety of discernment, and the profoundest skill in the nature of man.
The prince, who is the hero both of the comic and tragic part, is a young man of great abilities, and violent passions, whose sentiments are right, though his actions are wrong; whose virtues are obscured by negligence, and whose understanding is dissipated by levity. In his idle hours he is rather loose than wicked; and when the occasion forces out his latent qualities, he is great without effort, and brave without tumult. The trifler is roused into a hero, and the hero again reposes in the trifler. The character is great, original, and just.
Percy is a rugged soldier, choleric and quarrelsome, and has only the soldier's virtues, generosity and courage.
But Falstaff! unimitated, unimitable Falstaff! how shall I describe thee? thou compound of sense and vice; of sense which may be admired, but not esteemed; of vice which may be despised, but hardly detested. Falstaff is a character loaded with faults, and with those faults which naturally produce contempt. He is a thief and a glutton, a coward and a boaster; always ready to cheat the weak, and prey upon the poor; to terrify the timor
gaiety; by an unfailing power of exciting laughter. which is the more freely indulged, as his wit is at of the splendid or ambitious kiud, but consists in easy scapes and sallies of levity, which make sport. but raise no envy. It must be observed, that he is stained with no enormous or sanguinary crimes, s that his licentiousness is not so offensive but that it may be borne for his mirth.
The moral to be drawn from this representation is, that no man is more dangerous than he that, with a will to corrupt, hath the power to please: ad that neither wit nor honesty ought to think them selves safe with such a companion, when they set Henry seduced by Falstaff. JOHNSON
KING HENRY V.-This play has many scenes of high dignity, and many of easy merriment. The character of the king is well supported, except in his courtship, where he has neither the vivacity of Hal, nor the grandeur of Henry. The humour of Pistol is very happily continued: his character bas perhaps been the model of all the bullies that have yet appeared on the English stage.
The lines given to the chorus have many st mirers; but the truth is, that in them a little may be praised, and much must be forgiven; nor can it be easily discovered, why the intelligence given by the chorus is more necessary in this play, than in many others where it is omitted. The great defect of this play is, the emptiness and narrowness of the last act, which a very little diligence might baw easily avoided. JOHNSON.
FIRST PART of king HENRY VL-O this play there is no copy earlier than that of the folio in 1623, though the two succeeding parts extant in two editions in quarto. That the second and third parts were published without the first. may be admitted as no weak proof that the copars were surreptitiously obtained, and that the printers of that time gave the public those plays, not such as the author designed, but such as they could get them. That this play was written before the tw others is indubitably collected from the series events; that it was written and played before Henry the Fifth is apparent; because, in the epilogue them is mention made of this play, and not of the other parts:
"Henry the sixth in swaddling bands crown'd king,
That they lost France, and made his England bleed:
France is lost in this play. The two following con tain, as the old title imports, the contention of the houses of York and Lancaster. The second and third parts of Henry VI. were printed in 1600 When Henry V. was written, we know not, but i was printed likewise in 1600, and therefore befort the publication of the first and second parts. The first part of Henry VI. had been often shewn the stage, and would certainly have appeared in place, had the author been the publisher.
THIRD PART OF KING HENRY VI.-The three parts of King Henry VI. are suspected, by Mr. Theobald, of being supposititions, and r declared, by Dr. Warburton, to be certainly
Shakspeare's. Mr. Theobald's suspicion arises from some obsolete words; but the phraseology is like the rest of our author's style, and single words, of which however I do not observe more than two, can conclude little.
Dr. Warburton gives no reason, but I suppose him to judge upon deeper principles and more comprehensive views, and to draw his opinion from the general effect and spirit of the composition, which he thinks inferior to the other historical plays. From mere inferiority nothing can be inferred; in the productions of wit there will be inequality. Sometimes judgment will err, and sometimes the matter itself will defeat the artist. Of every author's * works one will be the best, and one will be the worst. The colours are not equally pleasing, nor the attitudes equally graceful, in all the pictures of Titian or Reynolds.
Dissimilitude of style and heterogeneousness of sentiment, may sufficiently shew that a work does not really belong to the reputed author. But in these plays no such marks of spuriousness are found. The diction, the versification, and the figures are Shakspeare's. These plays, considered without regard to characters and incidents, merely as narratives in verse, are more happily conceived, and more accurately finished, than those of King John, Richard II. or the tragic scenes of King Henry IV. and V. If we take these plays from Shakspeare, to whom shall they be given? What author of that age had the same easiness of expression and fluency of numbers? Of these three plays I think the second the best. The truth is, that they have not sufficient variety of action, for the incidents are too often of the same kind; yet many of the characters are well discriminated. King Henry, and his queen, king Edward, the duke of Gloster, and the earl of Warwick, are very strongly and distinctly painted. JOHNSON.
KING RICHARD III.-This is one of the most celebrated of our author's performances; yet I know not whether it has not happened to him as to others, to be praised most, when praise is not most deserved. That this play has scenes noble in themselves, and very well contrived to strike in the exhibition, cannot be denied. But some parts are trifling, others shocking, and some improbable. JOHNSON.
KING HENRY VIII.-The play of Henry the Eighth is one of those which still keeps possession of the stage by the splendour of its pageantry. The coronation, about forty years ago, drew the people together in multitudes for a great part of the winter. Yet pomp is not the only merit of this play. The meek sorrows, and virtuous distress, of Katharine, have furnished some scenes, which may be justly numbered among the greatest efforts of tragedy. But the genius of Shakspeare comes in and goes out with Katharine. Every other part may be easily conceived and easily written.
The second scene of the fourth act is above any other of Shakspeare's tragedies, and perhaps above any scene of any other poet; tender and pathetic, without gods, or furies, or poisons, or precipices; without the help of romantic circumstances, without improbable sallies of poetical lamentation, and without any throes of tumultuous misery.
TROILUS AND CRESSIDA.-This play is more correctly written than most of Shakspeare's compositions, but it is not one of those in which either the extent of his views or elevation of his fancy is fully displayed. As the story abounded with materials, he has exerted little invention; but he has diversified his characters with great variety, and preserved them with great exactness. His
vicious characters disgust, but cannot corrupt, for both Cressida and Pandarus are detested and contemned. The comic characters seem to have been the favourites of the writer: they are of the superficial kind, and exhibit more of manners than nature; but they are copiously filled, and powerfully impressed. Shakspeare has in his story followed, for the greater part, the old book of Caxton, which was then very popular; but the character of Thersites, of which it makes no mention, is a proof that this play was written after Chapman had published his version of Homer. JOHNSON.
TIMON OF ATHENS.-The play of Timon is a domestic tragedy, and therefore strongly fastens on the attention of the reader. In the plan there is not much art, but the incidents are natural, and the characters various and exact. The catastrophe affords a very powerful warning against that ostentatious liberality, which scatters bounty, but confers no benefits, and buys flattery, but not friendship. In this tragedy, are many passages perplexed, obscure, and probably corrupt, which I have endeavoured to rectify, or explain with due diligence; but having only one copy, cannot promise myself that my endeavours shall be much applauded. JOHNSON.
CORIOLANUS.-The tragedy of Coriolanus is one of the most amusing of our author's performances. The old man's merriment in Menenius; the lofty lady's dignity in Volumnia; the bridal modesty in Virgilia; the patrician and military haughtiness in Coriolanus; the plebeian malignity and tribunitian insolence in Brutus and Sicinius, make a very pleasing and interesting variety; and the various revolutions of the hero's fortune, fill the mind with anxious curiosity. There is, perhaps, too much bustle in the first act, and too little in the last. JOHNSON.
JULIUS CAESAR.-Of this tragedy many particular passages deserve regard, and the contention and reconcilement of Brutus and Cassius is universally celebrated; but I have never been strongly agitated in perusing it, and think it somewhat cold and unaffecting, compared with some other of Shakspeare's plays: his adherence to the real story, and to the Roman manners, seems to have impeded the natural vigour of his genius. JOHNSON.
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA.-This play keeps curiosity always busy, and the passions always interested. The continual hurry of the action, the variety of incidents, and the quick succession of one personage to another, call the mind forward without intermission, from the first act to the last. But the power of delighting is derived principally from the frequent changes of the scene; for, except the feminine arts, some of which are too low, which distinguish Cleopatra, no character is very strongly discriminated. Upton, who did not easily miss what he desired to find, has discovered that the language of Antony is, with great skill, and learning, made pompous and superb, according to his real practice. But I think his diction not distinguishable from that of others: the most tumid speech in the play is that which Cæsar makes to Octavia.
The events, of which the principal are described according to history, are produced without any art of connection or care of disposition.-JOHNSON.
CYMBELINE.-This play has many just sentiments, some natural dialogue, and some pleasing scenes; but they are obtained at the expense of much incongruity. To remark the folly of the fiction, the absurdity of the conduct, the confusion
of the names, and manners of different times, and the impossibility of the events in any system of life, were to waste criticism on unresisting imbecility; upon faults, too evident for detection, too gross for aggravation. JOHNSON.
TITUS ANDRONICUS.-All the editors and critics agree with Mr. Theobald in supposing this play spurious. I see no reason for differing from them; for the colour of the style is wholly different from that of the other plays; and there is an attempt at regular versification and artificial closes, not always inelegant, yet seldom pleasing. The barbarity of the spectacles, and the general massacre, which are here exhibited, can scarcely be conceived tolerable to any audience; yet we are told by Jonson, that they were not only borne, but praised. That Shakspeare wrote any part, though Theobald declares it incontestable, I see no reason for believing. JOHNSON.
portant moral, that villany is never at a stop, the crimes lead to crimes, and at last terminate in res But though this moral be incidentally enforced Shakspeare has suffered the virtue of Cordelia to perish in a just cause, contrary to the natural ideas of justice, to the hope of the reader, and what is yet more strange, to the faith of chronicles. Yet this conduct is justified by The Spectator, whe blames Tate for giving Cordelia success and bappiness in his alteration, and declares, that in his opinion, the tragedy has lost half its beauty. Dennis has remarked, whether justly or not, that, u secure the favourable reception of Cate, the m was poisoned with much false and abominable cristi cism, and that endeavours had been used to decredit and decry poetical justice. A play in which the wicked prosper, and the virtuous miscarry, may doubtless be good, because it is a just representation of the common events of human life: ba since all reasonable beings naturally love jastre. I cannot easily be persuaded, that the observation of KING LEAR.—The tragedy of Lear is deserv- justice makes a play worse; or that, if other exce edly celebrated among the dramas of Shakspeare.lencies are equal, the audience will not always rise There is perhaps no play which keeps the attention so strongly fixed; which so much agitates our passions, and interests our curiosity. The artful involutions of distinct interests, the striking oppositions of contrary characters, the sudden changes of fortune, and the quick succession of events, fill the mind with a perpetual tumult of indignation, pity, and hope. There is no scene which does not contribute to the aggravation of the distress or conduct to the action, and scarce a line which does not conduce to the progress of the scene. So powerful is the current of the poet's imagination, that the mind, which once ventures within it, is hurried irresistibly along.
better pleased from the final triumph of persecated virtue. In the present case the public has decet. Cordelia, from the time of Tate, has always retired with victory and felicity. And, if my sensations could add anything to the general suffrage, I might relate, I was many years ago so shocked by Cordelia's death, that I know not whether I ever edured to read again the last scenes of the play, all I undertook to revise them as an editor. There is another controversy among the critics concerning this play. It is disputed whether the predominan image in Lear's disordered mind be the loss of bis kingdom or the cruelty of his daughters. Mr. Murphy, a very judicious critic, has evinced, by On the seeming improbability of Lear's conduct, induction of particular passages, that the cruelty it may be observed, that he is represented accord- of his daughters is the primary source of his dis ing to histories at that time vulgarly received as tress, and that the loss of royalty affects him only true. And, perhaps, if we turn our thoughts upon as a secondary and subordinate evil. He observes. the barbarity and ignorance of the age to which the with great justness, that Lear would move or story is referred, it will appear not so unlikely as compassion but little, did we not rather consider while we estimate Lear's manners by our own. the injured father than the degraded king. The Such preference of one daughter to another, or re-story of this play, except the episode of Edmund, signation of dominion on such conditions, would which is derived, I think, from Sidney, is taken be yet credible, if told of a petty prince of Guinea originally from Geoffry of Monmouth, whom Hol or Madagascar. Shakspeare, indeed, by the men- shed generally copied; but perhaps immediate tion of his earls and dukes, has given us the idea from an old historical ballad. My reason for be of times more civilized, and of life regulated by lieving that the play was posterior to the baltad, softer manners; and the truth is, that though he so rather than the ballad to the play, is, that the ba nicely discriminates, and so minutely describes the lad has nothing of Shakspeare's nocturnal tempest characters of men, he commonly neglects and con- which is too striking to have been omitted, and founds the characters of ages, by mingling customs that it follows the chronicle; it has the rudiments ancient and modern, English and foreign. of the play, but none of its amplifications; it first hinted Lear's madness, but did not array it in cit cumstances. The writer of the ballad added some thing to the history, which is a proof that he would have added more, if more had occurred to his mind; and more must have occurred if he had seen Shakspeare. JOHNSON.
My learned friend, Mr. Warton, who has in The Adventurer very minutely criticised this play, remarks, that the instances of cruelty are too savage and shocking, and that the intervention of Edmund destroys the simplicity of the story. These objections may, I think, be answered, by repeating, that the cruelty of the daughters is an historical fact, to which the poet has added little, having only drawn it into a series by dialogue and action. But I am not able to apologise with equal plausibility for the extrusion of Gloster's eyes, which seems an act too horrid to be endured in dramatic exhibition, and such as must always compel the mind to relieve its distress by incredulity. Yet let it be remembered that our author well knew what would please the audience for which he wrote. The injury done by Edmund to the simplicity of the action is abundantly recompensed by the addition of variety, by the art with which he is made to co-operate with the chief design, and the opportunity which he gives the poet of combining perfidy with perfidy, and connecting the wicked son with the wicked danghters, to impress this im
ROMEO AND JULIET.-This play is one of the most pleasing of our author's performances. The scenes are busy and various, the incidents nnmerous and important, the catastrophe irresistably affecting, and the process of the action carried on with such probability, at least with such congruity to popular opinions, as tragedy requires.
Here is one of the few attempts of Shakspeare to exhibit the conversation of gentlemen, to represent the airy sprightliness of juvenile elegance. Mr. Dryden mentions a tradition, which might easily reach his time, of a declaration made by Shakspeare, that he was obliged to kill Mercutio is the third act, lest he should have been killed by kim. Yet he thinks him no such formidable person, best that he might have lived through the play, and died
in his bed, without danger to the poet. Dryden well knew, had he been in quest of truth, in a pointed sentence, that more regard is commonly had to the words than the thought, and that it is very seldom to be rigorously understood. Mercutio's wit, gaiety and courage, will always procure him friends that wish him a longer life; but his death is not precipitated, he has lived out the time allotted him in the construction of the play; nor do I doubt the ability of Shakspeare to have continued his existence, though some of his sallies are perhaps out of the reach of Dryden; whose genius was not very fertile of merriment, nor ductile to humour, but acute, argumentative, comprehensive, and sublime.
The Nurse is one of the characters in which the author delighted: he has, with great subtilty of distinction, drawn her, at once, loquacious and secret, obsequious and insolent, trusty and dishonest. His comic scenes are happily wrought, but his pathetic strains are always polluted with some unexpected depravations. His persons, however distressed, have a conceit left them in their misery, a miserable conceit. JOHNSON.
HAMLET.-If the dramas of Shakspeare were to be characterised, each by the particular excellence which distinguishes it from the rest, we must allow to the tragedy of Hamlet the praise of variety. The incidents are so numerous, that the argument of the play would make a long tale. The scenes are interchangeably diversified with merriment and solemnity: with merriment that includes judicious and instructive observations; and solemnity not strained by poetical violence above the natural sentiments of man. New characters appear from time to time in continual succession, exhibiting various forms of life, and particular modes of conversation. The pretended madness of Hamlet causes much mirth, the mournful distraction of Ophelia fills the heart with tenderness, and every personage produces the effect intended, from the apparition that, in the first act, chills the blood with horror, to the fop in the last, that exposes affectation to just contempt.
The conduct is, perhaps, not wholly secure against objections. The action is, indeed, for the most part, in continual progression; but there are some scenes which neither forward nor retard it. Of the feigned madness of Hamlet there appears no adequate cause, for he does nothing which he might not have done with the reputation of sanity. He plays the madman most, when he treats Ophelia with so much rudeness, which seems to be useless and wanton cruelty.
Hamlet is, through the whole piece, rather an instrument than an agent. After he has, by the stratagem of the play, convicted the king, he makes no attempt to punish him; and his death is at last effected by an incident which Hamlet had no part in producing.
The catastrophe not very happily produced; the exchange of weapons is rather an expedient of necessity, than a stroke of art. A scheme might
easily be formed, to kill Hamlet with the dagger, and Laertes with the bowl.
The poet is accused of having shewn little regard to poetical justice, and may be charged with equal neglect of poetical probability. The apparition left the regions of the dead to little purpose: the revenge which he demands is not obtained, but by the death of him that was required to take it; and the gratification, which would arise from the destruction of an usurper and a murderer, is abated by the untimely death of Ophelia, the young, the beautiful, the harmless, and the pious.-JOHNSON.
OTHELLO. The beauties of this play impress themselves so strongly upon the attention of the reader, that they can draw no aid from critical illustration. The fiery openness of Othello, magnanimous, artless, and credulous, boundless in his confidence, ardent in his affection, inflexible in his resolution, and obdurate in his revenge; the cool malignity of Iago, silent in his resentment, subtle in his designs, and studious at once of his interest and his vengeance; the soft simplicity of Desdemona, confident of merit, and conscious of innocence, her artless perseverance in her suit, and her slowness to suspect that she can be suspected, are such proofs of Shakspeare's skill in human nature, I suppose, it is vain to seek in any modern writer. The gradual progress which lago makes in the Moor's conviction, and the circumstances which he employs to inflame him, are so artfully natural, that, though it will, perhaps, not be said of him as he says of himself, that he is a man not easily jealous, yet we cannot but pity him, when at last we find him perplexed in the extreme.
There is always danger, lest wickedness, conjoined with abilities, should steal upon esteem, though it misses of approbation; but the character of lago is so conducted, that he is from the first scene to the last, hated and despised.
Even the inferior characters of this play would be very conspicuous in any other piece, not only for their just ess, but their strength. Cassio is brave, benevolent, and honest, ruined only by his want of stubbornness to resist an insidious invitation. Roderigo's suspicious credulity, and impatient submission to the cheats which he sees practised upon him, and which, by persuasion, he suffers to be repeated, exhibit a strong picture of a weak mind betrayed, by unlawful desires, to a false friend; and the virtue of Emilia is such as we often find, worn loosely, but not cast off; easy to commit small crimes, but quickened and alarmed at atrocious villanies.
The scenes, from the beginning to the end, are busy, varied by happy interchanges, and regularly promoting the progression of the story; and the narrative in the end, though it tells but what is known already, yet is necessary to produce the death of Othello.
Had the scene opened in Cyprus, and the preceding incidents been occasionally related, there had been little wanting to a drama of the most exact and scrupulous regularity. JOHNSON.