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mate the transactions of the world, and a confeffor predict the progrefs of the paffions.
His adherence to general nature has expofed him to the cenfure of criticks, who form their judgments upon narrower principles. Dennis and Rhymer think his Romans not fufficiently Roman; and Voltaire cenfures his kings as not completely royal. Dennis is offended, that Menenius, a fenator of Rome, fhould play the buffoon; and Voltaire perhaps thinks decency violated when the Danifb Ufurper is reprefented as a drunkard. But Shakespeare always makes nature predominate over accident; and if he preferves the effential character, is not very careful of diftinctions fuperinduced and adventitious. His ftory requires Romans or kings, but he thinks only on men. He knew that Rome, like every other city, had men of all difpofitions; and wanting a buffoon, he went into the fenate-houfe for that which the fenate-house would certainly have afforded him. He was inclined to fhew an ufurper and a murderer not only odious but defpicable, he therefore added drunkenness to his other qualities, knowing that kings love wine like other men, and that wine exerts its natural power upon kings. These are the petty cavils of petty minds; a poet overlooks the cafual diftinction of country and condition, as a painter, fatisfied with the figure, neglects the drapery.
The cenfure which he has incurred by mixing comick and tragick scenes, as it extends to all his works, deferves more confideration. Let the fact be first stated, and then examined.
Shakespeare's plays are not in the rigorous or critical fenfe either tragedies or comedies, but compofitions of a diftinét kind; exhibiting the real ftate of fublunary nature, which partakes of good and evil, joy and forrow, mingled with endless variety of proportion and innumerable modes of combination; and expreffing the courfe of the world, in which the lofs of one is the A 4
gain of another; in which, at the fame time, the reveller is hafting to his wine, and the mourner burying his friend; in which the malignity of one is fometimes defeated by the frolick of another; and many mischiefs and many benefits are done and hindered without defign.
Out of this chaos of mingled purposes and cafualties the ancient poets, according to the laws which cuftom had prescribed, selected fome the crimes of men, and fome their abfurdities; fome the momentous viciffitudes of life, and fome the lighter occurrences; fome the terrours of diftrefs, and fome the gayeties of profperity. 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 fo little allied, that I do not recollect among the Greeks or Romans a fingle writer who attempted both.
Shakespeare has united the powers of exciting laughter and forrow not only in one mind but in one compofition. Almoft all his plays are divided between serious and ludicrous characters, and, in the fucceffive evolutions of the defign, fometimes produce ferioufnefs and forrow, and fometimes levity and laughter.
That this is a practice contrary to the rules of criticifm will be readily allowed; but there is always an appeal open from criticism to nature. The end of writing is to inftruct; the end of poetry is to inftruct by pleafing. That the mingled drama may convey all the inftruction of tragedy or comedy cannot be denied, because it includes both in its alterations of exhibition, and approaches nearer than either to the appearance of life, by fhewing how great machinations and flender defigns 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 paffions are interrupted in their progreffion, and that the
principal event, being not advanced by a due gradation. of preparatory incidents, wants at laft the power to move, which conftitutes the perfection of dramatick poetry. This reafoning is fo fpecious, that it is received as true even by those who in daily experience feel it to be false. The interchanges of mingled fcenes. feldom fail to produce the intended viciffitudes of pasfion. Fiction cannot move fo much, but that the attention may be eafily transferred; and though it must be allowed that pleafing melancholy be fometimes interrupted by unwelcome levity, yet let it be confidered. likewife, that melancholy is often not pleafing, 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 confifts in variety.
The players, who in their edition divided our authour's works into comedies, hiftories, and tragedies, feem not to have diftinguished the three kinds,. by any very exact or definite ideas.
An action which ended happily to the principal perfons, however ferious or diftrefsful through its intermediate incidents, in their opinion conftituted a 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
Tragedy was was not in those times a poem of more general dignity or elevation than comedy; it required only a calamitous conclufion, with which the common criticism of that age was fatisfied, whatever lighter pleafure it afforded in its progrefs.
Hiftory was a series of actions, with no other than chronological fucceffion, independent of each other, and without any tendency to introduce or regulate the conclufion. 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 hiftory of Richard the Second. But a hiftory might be continued through many plays; as it had no plan, it had no limits.
Through all these denominations of the drama Shakespeare's mode of compofition is the fame; an interchange of seriousness and merriment, by which the mind is foftened at one time, and exhilarated at another. But whatever be his purpose, whether to gladden or deprefs, or to conduct the ftory, without vehemence or emotion, through tracts of eafy and familiar dialogue, he never fails to attain his purpofe; as he commands us, we laugh or mourn, or fit filent with quiet expectation, in tranquillity without indifference.
When Shakespeare's plan is understood, most of the criticifms of Rhymer and Voltaire vanish away. The play of Hamlet is opened, without impropriety, by two fentinels; Iago bellows at Brabantio's window, without injury to the scheme of the play, though in terms which a modern audience would not eafily endure; the character of Polonius is seasonable and useful; and the Grave-diggers themselves may be heard with applaufe.
Shakespeare 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 fuch fame as might force him upon imitation, nor criticks of fuch authority as might reftrain his extravagance: He therefore indulged his natural difpofition, and his difpofition, as Rhymer has remarked, led him to comedy. In tragedy he often writes with great appearance of toil and study, what is written at last with little felicity; but in his comick fcenes, he feems to produce without labour, what no labour can improve. In tragedy he is always ftruggling after fome occafion to be comick, but in comedy he feems to repofe, or to luxuriate, as in a mode of thinking congenial to his nature. In his tragick fcenes there.
is always fomething wanting, but his comedy often furpaffes expectation or defire. His comedy pleafes by the thoughts and the language, and his tragedy for the greater part by incident and action. His tragedy feems to be skill, his comedy to be inftinct.
The force of his comick fcenes has fuffered little diminution from the changes made by a century and a half, in manners or in words. As his perfonages act upon principles arifing from genuine paffion, 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 fuperficial dies, bright and pleafing for a little while, yet foon fading to a dim tinct, without any remains of former luftre; but the difcriminations of true paffion are the colours of nature; they pervade the whole mafs, and can only perish with the body that exhibits them. The accidental compofitions, of heterogeneous modes are diffolved by the chance which combined them; but the uniform fimplicity of primitive qualities neither admits. increase, nor fuffers decay. The fand heaped by one flood is fcattered by another, but the rock always continues in its place. The stream of time, which is continually washing the diffoluble fabricks of other poets, paffes without injury by the adamant of Shakespeare. 154 If there be, what I believe there is, in every nation, a ftile which never becomes obfolete, a certain mode of phrafeology fo confonant and congenial to the analogy and principles of its refpective language as to remain fettled and unaltered, this ftile is probably to be fought in the common intercourfe of life, among thofe who fpeak only to be understood, without ambition of elegance. The polite are always catching modifh innovations, and the learned depart from eftablished forms, of fpeech, in hope of finding or making better; thofe who wish for diftinction forfake the vulgar, when the