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friend ; in which the malignity of one is sometimes defeated by the frolick of another; and many mischiefs and many benefits are done and hindered without design.
Out of this chaos of mingled purposes and casualties, the ancient poets, according to the laws which custom had prescribed, selected, some the crimes of men, and some their absurdities; some the momentous vicissitudes of life, and some the lighter occurrences; fome the terrors of distress, and some the gayeties of prosperity. Thus rofe the two modes of imitation, known by the names of tragedy and comedy, compofitions intended to promote different ends by contrary means,
and confidered as so little allied, that I do not recollect among the Greeks or Romans a single writer who attempted both."
Shakspeare has united the powers of exciting laughter and sorrow not only in one mind, but in one composition. Almost all his plays are divided between serious and ludicrous characters, and, in the successive evolutions of the design, sometimes produce seriousness and forrow, and sometimes levity and laughter.
That this is a practice contrary to the rules of criticism will be readily allowed; but there is always an appeal open from criticism to nature. The end of writing is to instruct; the end of poetry is to instruct by pleasing. That the mingled drama may convey all the instruction of tragedy or comedy cannot be denied, because it includes
From this remark it appears that Dr. Johnson was upacquaiated with the Cyclops of Euripides. STEEVENS.
both in its alternations of exhibition, and approaches nearer
than either to the appearance of life, by showing how gréat machinations and flender designs may promote or obviate one another, and the high and the low co-operate in the general fyftem by unavoidable concatenation.
It is objected, that by this change of scenes the pafsions are interrupted in their progression, and that the principal event, being not advanced by a due gradation of preparatory incidents, wants at last the power to move, which constitutes the
perfection of dramatick poetry. This reasoning is so fpecious, that it is received as true even by those who in daily experience feel it to be false. The interchanges of mingled scenes seldom fail to produce the intended viciffitudes of passion. Fiction cannot move so much, but that the attention may be časily transferred; and though it must be allowed that pleafing melancholy be sometimes interrupted by unwelcome levity, yet let it be confidered likewise, that melancholy is often not pleasing, and that the disturbance of one man may be the relief of another; that different auditors have different habitudes; and that upon the whole, all pleasure consists in variety.
The players, who in their edition divided our author's works into comedies, histories, and tragedies, seem not to have distinguished the three kinds, by any very exact or definite ideas.
An action which ended happily to the principal persons, however serious or distressful through its intermediate incidents, in their opinion constituted à comedy. This idea of a comedy continued long
amongst us, and plays were written, which, by changing the catastrophe, were tragedies to-day, and comedies to-morrow.
Tragedy was not in those times a poem of more general dignity or elevation than comedy; it required only a calamitous conclusion, with which the commori criticism of that age was fatisfied, whatever lighter pleasure it afforded in its progress.
History was a series of actions, with no other than chronological succession, independent on each other, and without any tendency to introduce or regulate the conclusion.
It is not always very nicely diftinguished from tragedy. There is not much nearer approach to unity of action in the tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra, than in the history of Richard the Second. Buť a history might be continued through many plays; as it had no plan, it had no limits.
Through all these denominations of the drama, Shakspeare's mode of composition is the same; an interchange of seriouliress and merriment, by which the mind is softened at one time, and exhiFarated at another. But whatever be his' purpose, whether to gladden or depress, or to conduct the ftory, without vehemence or emotion, through tracts of easy and familiar dialogue, he never
6 Thus fays Downes the Prompter, p. 22: “The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet was made fome time after ( 1662) into a tragi-comedy, by Mr. James Howard, he preserving Romeo and Juliet alive; so that when the iragedy was revived again, 'twas play'd alternately, tragical one day, and tragi-comical another, for feveral days together." STEEVENS.
fails to attain his purpose; as he commands us, we laugh or mourn, or fit filent with quiet expectation, in tranquillity without indifference.
When Shakspeare's plan is understood, most of the criticisms of Rymer and Voltaire vanish away. The play of Hamlet is opened; without impropriety, by two centinels; lago bellows at Brabantio's window, without injury to the scheme of the play, though in terms which a modern audience would not easily endure; the character of Polonius is seasonable and useful; and the Gravediggers themselves
be heard with applause. Shakspeare engaged in dramatick poetry with the world open before him; the rules of the ancients were yet known to few; the publick judgment was unformed; he had no example of such fame as might force him upon imitation, nor criticks of such authority as might restrain his extravagance : he therefore indulged his natural disposition, and his disposition, as Rymer has remarked, led him to comedy. In tragedy he often writes with great appears ance of toil and study, what is written at last with little felicity; but in his comick scenes, he seems to. produce without labour, what no labour can im prove. In tragedy he is always fruggling after fome occasion to be comick, but in comedy he seems to repose, or to luxuriate, as in a mode of thinking congenial to his nature. In his tragick scenes there is always something wanting, but his comedy often surpasses expectation or desire. . His comedy pleases by the thoughts and the language, and his tragedy for the greater part by incident and action. His tragedy seems to be fill, his comedy to be inftin&t.
As his per
The force of his comick scenes has suffered little diminution from the changes made by a century and a half, in manners or in words. fönages act upon principles arising from genuine passion, very little modified by particular forms, their pleasures and vexations are communicable to all times and to all places; they are natural, and therefore durable; the adventitious peculiarities of personal habits, are only superficial dies, bright and pleasing for a little while, yet foon faded to a dim tinet, without any remains of former lustre; but the discriminations of true passion are the colours of nature; they pervade the whole mass, and can only perish with the body that exhibits them., The accidental compositions of heterogeneous modes are dissolved by the chance which combined them; but the uniform fimplicity of primitive qualities neither admits increase, nor suffers decay. The fand heaped upon one food is scattered by another, but the rock always continues in its place. The ftream of time, which is continually washing the diffoluble fabricks of other poets, paffes without injury by the adamant of Shakspeare.
If there be, what I believe there is, in every nation, a style which never becomes obsolete, a certain mode of phraseology fo consonant and congenial to the analogy and principles of its respective language, as to remain fettled and unaltered; this style is probably to be sought in the common intercourse of life, among those who fpeak only to be understood, without ambition of elegance. The polite are always catching modish. innovations, and the learned depart from established forms of fpeech, in hope of finding or making Vol. I.