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son, there is a good deal true in it: but I believe it may be as well expressed by what Horace says of the first Romans, who wrote tragedy upon the Greek models, (or indeed translated them) in his epistle to Augustus:
naturâ sublimis & acer:
“ Sed turpem putat in chartis metuitque lituram.” As I have not proposed to myself to enter into a large and complete criticism upon Shakspeare's works, so I will only take the liberty, with all due submission to the judgment of others, to observe some of those things I have been pleased with in looking him over.
His plays are properly to be distinguished only into comedies and tragedies. Those which are called histories, and even some of his comedies are really tragedies, with a run or mixture of comedy amongst them.* That way of tragi-comedy was the com
Late Collection of Poems, and does not seem to have known that Shakspeare also wrote 154 Sonnets, and a poem entitled A Lover's Complaint Malone.
are really tragedies, with a run or mixture of comedy amongst them.] Heywood, our author's contemporary, has stated the best defence that can be made for his intermixing lighter with the more serious scenes of his dramas: It
may likewise be objected, why amongst sad and grave histories I have here and there inserted fabulous jests and tales savouring of lightness. I answer, I have therein imitated our historical, and comical poets, that write to the stage, who, lest the auditory should be dulled with serious courses, which are merely weighty and material, in every act present some Zany, with his mimick action to breed in the less capable mirth and laughter; for they that write to all, must strive to please all. And as such fa. shion themselves to a multitude diversely addicted, so I to an universality of readers diversely disposed.” Pref. to History of Women, 1624. Malone.
The criticks who renounce tragi-comedy as barbarous, I fear, speak more from notions which they have formed in their clo. sets, than any well-built theory deduced from experience of what pleases or displeases, which ought to be the foundation of all the rules.
Even supposing there is no affectation in this refinement, and that those criticks have really tried and purified their minds till there is no dross remaining, still this can never be the case of a popular audience, to which a dramatick representation is referred.
Dryden in one of his prefaces condemns his own conduct in The Spanish Friar; but, says he, I did not write it to please my. self, it was given to the publick. Here is an involuntary confes. sion that tragi-comedy is more pleasing to the audience; I would ask then, upon what ground it is condemned? VOL. I.
mon mistake of that age, and is indeed become so agreeable to the English taste, that though the severer criticks among us cannot bear it, yet the generality of our audiences seem to be better pleased with it than with an exact tragedy. The Merry Ilives of Windsor, The Comedy of Errors, and The Taming of a Shrew, are all pure comedy; the rest, however they are called, have something of both kinds. It is not very easy to determine which way of writing he was most excellent in. There is certainly a great deal of entertainment in his comical humours; and though they did not then strike at all ranks of people, as the satire of the present age has taken the liberty to do, yet there is a pleasing and a well-distinguished variety in those characters which he thought fit to meddle with. Falstaff is allowed by every body to be a master-piece; the character is always well sustained, though drawn out into the length of three plays; and even the account of his death, given by his old landlady Mrs. Quickly, in the first Act of Henry the Fifth, though it be estremely natural, is yet as diverting as any part of his life. If there be any fault in the draught he has made of this lewd old fellow, it is, that though he has made him a thief, lying, cowardly, vain-glorious, and in short every way vicious, yet he has given him so much wit as to make him almost too agreeable ; and I do not know whether some people have not, in remembrance of the diversion he had formerly afforded them, been sorry to see his friend Hal use him so scurvily, when he comes to the crown in the end of The Second Part of Henry the Fourth. Amongst other extravagancies, in The Merry Wives of Windsor
This ideal excellence of uniformity rests upon a supposition that we are either more refined, or a higher order of beings than we really are: there is no provision made for what may be called the animal part of our minds.
Though we should acknowledge this passion for variety and contrarieties to be the vice of our nature, it is still a propensity which we all feel, and which he who undertakes to divert us must find provision for.
We are obliged, it is true, in our pursuit after science, or ex. cellence in any art, to keep our minds steadily fixed for a long continuance; it is a task we impose on ourselves: but I do not wish to task myself in my amusements.
If the great object of the theatre is amusement, a dramatick work must possess every means to produce that effect ; if it gives instruction, by the by, so much its merit is the greater; but that is not its principal object. The ground on which it stands, and which gives it a claim to the protection and encouragement of civilised society, is not because it forces moral precepts, or gives instruction of any kind; but from the general advantage that it produces, by habituating the mind to find its amusement in intellectual pleasures; weaning it from sensuality, and by degrees filing off, smoothing, and polishing, its rugged corners.
Sir J. Reynolds.
lie has made him a deer-stealer, that he might at the same time remember his Warwickshire prosecutor, under the name of Justice Shallow; he has given him very near the same coat of arins which Dugdale, in his Antiquities of that county, describes for a family there,* and makes the Welsh parson descant very pleasantly upon them. That whole play is admirable; the humours are various and well opposed; the main design, which is to cure Ford of his unreasonable jealousy, is extremely well conducted. In Twelfth Night there is something singularly ridiculous and pleasant in the fantastical steward Malvolio. The parasite and the vain-glorious in Parolles, in An’s Well that Ends Well, is as good as any thing of that kind in Plautus or Terence. Petruchio, in The Taming of the Shrew, is an uncommon piece of humour. The conversation of Benedick and Beatrice, in Much Ado about Nothing, and of Rosalind, in As you Like it, have much wit and sprightliness all along: His clowns, without which character there was hardly any play writ in that time, are all very entertaining: and, I believe, Thersites in Troilus and Cressida, and Apemantus in T'imon, will be allowed to be master-pieces of illnature, and satirical snarling. To these I might add, that incomparable character of Shylock the Jew, in The Merchant of Venice; but though we have seen that play received and acted as a comedy,t and the part of the Jew performed by an excellent co. median, yet I cannot but think it was designed tragically by the author. There appears in it such a deadly spirit of revenge, such a savage fierceness and fellness, and such a bloodly designation of cruelty and mischief, as cannot agree either with the style or characters of comedy. The play itself, take it altogether, seems to me to be one of the most finished of any of Shakspeare's, The tale, indeed, in that part relating to the caskets, and the extravagant and unusual kind of bond given by Antonio, is too
the same coat of arms which Dugdale, in his Antiquities of that county, describes for a family there,] There are two coats, I observe, in Dugdale, where three silver fishes are borne in the name of Lucy; and another coat to the monument of Thomas Lucy, son of Sir William Lucy, in which are quartered in four several divisions, twelve little fishes, three in each division, probably luces. This very coat, indeed, seems alluded to in Shallow's giving the dozen white luces; and in Slender's saying he may quarter. Theobald.
+ but though we have seen that play received and acted as a coo medy,] In 1701 Lord Lansdown produced his alteration of The Merchant of Venice, at the theatre in Lincoln's-Inn-Fields, under the title of The Jew of Venice, and expressly calls it a comedy. Shylock was performed by Mr. Dogget. Reed.
And such was the bad taste of our ancestors that this piece continued to be a stock-play from 1701 to Feb. 14, 1741, when The Merchant of Venice was exhibited for the first time at the theatre in Drury-Lane, and Mr. Macklin made his first appearance in the character of Shylock. Malone.
much removed from the rules of probability; but taking the fact for granted, we must allow it to be very beautifully written. There is something in the friendship of Antonio to Bassanio very great, generous, and tender. The whole fourth act (supposing, as I said, the fact to be probable) is extremely fine. But there are two passages that deserve a particular notice. The first is, what Portia savs in praise of mercy, and the other on the pow. er of musick. The meiancholy of Jaques, in As you Like it, is as singular and odd as it is diverting. And if, what Horace says,
“ Difficile est proprie communia dicere,” it will be a hard task for any one to go beyond him in the de. scription of the several degrees and ages of man's life, though the thought be old, and common enough.
All the world 's a stage,
“Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans every thing." Ilis images are indeed every where so lively, that the thing he would represent stands full before you, and you possess every part of it. I will venture to point out one more, which is, 1 think, as strong and as uncommon as any thing I ever saw; it is an image of patience. Speaking of a maid in love, he says,
- She never told her love,
" And sate like Patience on a monument,
“Smiling at Grief.” What an image is here given! and what a task would it have been for the greatest masters of Greece and Rome to have ex. pressed the passions designed by this sketch of statuary! the style of his comedy is, in general, natural to the characters, and easy in itself; and the wit most commonly sprightly and pleasing, except in those places where he runs into doggrel rhymes, as in The Comedy of Errors, and some other plays. As for his jingling sometimes, and playing upon words, it was the common vice of the age he lived in: and if we find it in the pulpit, made use of as an ornament to the sermons of some of the gravest divines of those times, perhaps it may not be thought too light for the stage.
But certainly the greatness of this author's genius does no where so much appear, as where he gives his imagination an entire loose, and raises his fancy to a flight above mankind, and the limits of the visible world. Such are his attempts in The Tempest, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth, and Hamlet. Of these, The Tempest, however it comes to be placed the first by the publishers of his works, can never have been the first written by him: it seems to be as perfect in its kind, as almost any thing we have of his. One may observe, that the unities are kept here, with an exactness uncommon to the liberties of his writing; though that was what, I suppose, he valued himself least upon, since his excellencies were all of another kind. I am very sen. sible that he does, in this play, depart too much from that likeness to truth which ought to be observed in these sort of writings; yet he does it so very finely, that one is easily drawn in to have more faith for his sake, than reason does well allow of. His magick has something in it very solemn, and very poetical: and that extravagant character of Caliban is mighty well sus. tained, shews a wonderful invention in the author, who could strike out such a particular wild image, and is certainly one of the finest and most uncommon grotesques that ever was seen. The observation, which, I have been informed, three very great men concurred in making* upon this part, was extremely just; that Shakspeare had not only found out a new character in his Calia ban, but had also devised and adapted a new manner of language for that character.
It is the same magick that raises the Fairies in A Midsummer Night's Dream, the Witches in Macbeth, and the Ghost in Hum..
- which, I have been informed, three very great men concur. red in making - ] Lord Falkland, Lord C. J. Vaughan, and Mr. Selden. Rowe.
Dryden was of the same opinion." His person (says he, speuk. ing of Caliban,) is monstrous, as he is the product of unnatural lust, and his language is as hobgoblin as his person: in all thingo he is distinguished from other mortals.” Preface to Troilus ar Cressida. Malane.