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That this is a practice contrary to the rules of criticifm will be readily allowed; but there is always an appeal open from criticifm 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 alternations of exhibition, and approaches nearer than either to the appearance of life, by fhowing how great machinations and flender defigns may promote or obviate one another, and the high and the low co-operate in the general system 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 constitutes 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 falfe. The interchanges of mingled fcenes feldom fail to produce the intended viciffitudes of paffion. 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 difturbance of one man may be the relief of another; that different auditors have different habitudes; and that, upon the whole, all pleafure confifts in variety.

The players, who in their edition divided our author's works into comedies, hiftories, and tragedies, feem not to have diftinguifhed the three kinds, by any very exact or definite ideas.

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An action which ended happily to the principal perfons, however ferious or diftressful 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-morrow.9

Tragedy 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 pleasure it afforded in its progress.

Hiftory was a feries of actions, with no other than chronological fucceffion, independent on each other, and without any tendency to introduce and regulate the conclufion. It is not always very nicely distinguished 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, Shakspeare'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

9 Thus, fays Downes the Prompter, p. 22: "The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet was made fome time after [1662] into a tragicomedy, by Mr. James Howard, he preferving Romeo and Juliet. alive; fo that when the tragedy was revived again, 'twas play'd alternately, tragical one day, and tragi-comical another, for feveral days together." STEEVENS.

purpofe; 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; Iago 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 feafonable and useful; and the Gravediggers themfelves may be heard with applause.

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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 fuch fame as might force him upon imitation, nor criticks of fuch authority as might restrain his extravagance : he therefore indulged his natural difpofition, and his difpofition, as Rymer 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 scenes, 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 repose, 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 pleases 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.'

In the rank and order of geniufes it muft, I think, be allowed, that the writer of good tragedy is superior. And there

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 pleafures and vexations are communicable to all times and to all places; they are natural, and therefore durable; the adventitious peculiarities of perfonal 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; and the difcrimination 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 that combined them; but the uniform fimplicity of primitive qualities neither admits increafe, nor. fuffers decay. The fand heaped by one flood is fcattered 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 obfolete, a certain mode of phrafeology fo confonant and congenial to the analogy and principles of its respective language, as to remain fettled and unaltered: this ftyle is probably to be fought in the common intercourfe of life, among those who speak only to be understood, without ambition of elegance.

fore, I think the opinion, which I am forry to perceive gains ground, that Shakspeare's chief and predominant talent lay in comedy, tends to leffen the unrivalled excellence of our divine bard. J. WARTON.

See Vol. XIX. p. 529, for Philips's remark on this subject.


The polite are always catching modifh innovations, and the learned depart from established forms of fpeech, in hope of finding or making better; those who with for diftinction forfake the vulgar, when the vulgar is right; but there is a converfation above groffness and below refinement, where propriety refides, and where this poet feems to have gathered his comick dialogue. He is therefore more agreeable to the ears of the prefent age than any other author equally remote, and among his other excellencies deferves to be ftudied as one of the original mafters of our language.

Thefe obfervations are to be confidered not as unexceptionably conftant, but as containing general and predominant truth. Shakspeare's familiar dialogue is affirmed to be fmooth and clear, yet not wholly without ruggedness or difficulty; as a country may be eminently fruitful, though it has Spots unfit for cultivation: his characters are praised as natural, though their fentiments are fometimes forced, and their actions improbable; as the earth upon the whole is fpherical, though its furface is varied with protuberances and cavities.

Shakspeare with his excellencies has likewife faults, and faults fufficient to obfcure and overwhelm any other merit. I fhall show them in the proportion in which they appear to me, without envious malignity or fuperftitious veneration. queftion can be more innocently difcuffed than a dead poet's pretenfions to renown; and little regard is due to that bigotry which fets candour higher than truth.


His firft defect is that to which may be imputed most of the evil in books or in men. He facrifices virtue to convenience, and is fo much more careful to please than to inftruct, that he feems to write

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