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have different habitudes; and that, upon the whole, all pleasure confifts in variety.

The players, who in their edition divided our author'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 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.

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 series of actions, with no other than chronological fucceffion, independent on 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 history of Richard the Second. But a history 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 composition 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 easy and familiar dialogue, he never fails to attain his purpose ; as he commands us, we laugh or mourn, or fit filent with quiet expectation, in tranquillity without indifference.

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When Shakespeare's plan is understood, most of the criticisms of Rhymer 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 feasonable and useful; and the Grave-diggers themselves may be heard with applause.

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 restrain 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 laft with little felicity; but in his comick scenes, he seems to produce without


labour, what no labour can improve. In tragedy he is always struggling after fome occafion to be comick, but in comedy he seems to repofe, or to luxuriate, as in a mode of thinking congenial to his nature. In his tragick scenes 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.

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 arising 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 perfonal habits, are only fuperficial dies, bright and pleasing for a little while, yet foon fading to a dim tinct, without any remains of former luftre; but the discriminations of true paffion are the colours of nature; they pervade the whole mass, and can only perifh 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.


If there be, what I believe there is, in every nation, a stile 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 settled and unaltered; this ftile is probably to be fought in the common intercourse of life, among those who speak only to be understood, without ambition of elegance. The polite are always catching modifh innovations, and the learned depart from established forms of speech, in hope of finding or making better; those who wish for diftinction forfake the vulgar, when the vulgar is right; but there is a conversation above groffness and below refinement, where propriety refides, and where this poet seems to have gathered his comick dialogue. He is therefore more agreeable to the ears of the present age than any other author equally remote, and among his other excellencies deferves to be ftudied as one of the original masters of our language.

Thefe obfervations are to be confidered not as unexceptionably constant, but as containing general and predominant truth. Shakespeare'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 sentiments are sometimes forced, and their actions improbable; as the earth upon the whole is fpherical, though its furface is varied with protuberances and cavities.


Shakespeare with his excellencies has likewife faults, and faults fufficient to obfcure and overwhelm any other merit. I fhall fhew them in the proportion in which they appear to me, without envious malignity or fuperftitious veneration. No question can be more innocently difcuffed than a dead poet's pretensions to renown; and little regard is due to that bigotry which fets candor higher than truth.

His first 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 without any moral purpose. From his writings indeed a system of social duty may be selected, for he that thinks reasonably must think morally; but his precepts and axioms drop cafually from him; he makes no just distribution of good or evil, nor is always careful to fhew in the virtuous a disapprobation of the wicked, he carries his perfons indifferently through right and wrong, and at the clofe difmiffes them without further care, and leaves their examples to operate by chance. This fault the barbarity of his age cannot extenuate; for it is always a writer's duty to make the world better, and juftice is a virtue independent on time or place.

The plots are often fo loosely formed, that a very flight confideration may improve them, and fo carelefsly pursued, that he feems not always fully to comprehend his own defign. He omits opportunities of instructing or delighting, which the train of his story seems to force upon him, and apparently rejects


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