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much ease and simplicity, that it seems scarcely to claim the merit of fiction, but to have been gleaned by diligent selection out of common conversation, and common occurrences.
Upon every other stage the universal agent is love, by whose power all good and evil is distri buted, and every action quickened or retarded. To bring a lover, a lady, and a rival into the fable; to entangle them in contradictory obligations, perplex them with oppositions of interest, and harass them with violence of desires inconsistent with each other; to make them meet in rapture, and part in agony; to fill their mouths with hyperbolical joy and outrageous sorrow; to distress them as nothing human ever was distressed; to deliver them as nothing human ever was delivered, is the business of a modern dramatist. For this, probability is violated, life is misrepresented, and language is depraved. But love is only one of many passions, and as it has no great influence upon the sum of life, it has little operation in the dramas of a poet, who caught his ideas from the living world, and exhibited only what he saw before him. He knew, that any other passion, as it was regular or exorbitant, was a cause of happiness or calamity.
Characters thus ample and general were not easily discriminated and preserved, yet perhaps no poet ever kept his personages more distinct from each other. I will not say with Pope, that every speech may be assigned to the proper speaker, because many speeches there are which have nothing characteristical; but, perhaps, though some may be equally adapted to every person, it will be difficult to find any that can be properly transferred from the present possessor to another claimant. The choice is right, when there is reason for choice.
Other dramatists can only gain attention by hyperbolical or aggravated characters, by fabulous and unexampled excellence or depravity, as the writers of barbarous romances invigorated the reader by a giant and a dwarf; and he that should form his expectation of human affairs from the play, or from the tale, would be equally deceived. Shakspeare has no heroes; his scenes are occupied only by men, who act and speak as the reader thinks that he should himself have spoken or acted on the same occasion: even where the agency is super-natural, the dialogue is level with life. Other writers disguise the most natural passions and most frequent incidents; so that he who contemplates them in the book will not know them in the world: Shakspeare approximates the remote, and familiarizes the wonderful; the event which he represents will not happen, but if it were possible, its effects would probably be such as he has assigned; and it may be said, that he has not only shown human nature as it acts in real exigencies, but as it would be found in trials, to which it cannot be exposed.
This therefore is the praise of Shakspeare, that his drama is the mirror of life; that he who has mazed his imagination, in following the phantoms which other writers raise up before him, may here be cured of his delirious ecstasies, by reading human sentiments in human language; by scenes from which a hermit may estimate the transactions of the world, and a confessor predict the progress of the passions.
7 "Quærit quod nusquam est gentium, reperit tamen, "Facit illud verisimile quod mendacium est."
Plauti Pseudolus, Act I. sc. iv. STEEVENS.
His adherence to general nature has exposed him to the censure of criticks, who form their judgments upon narrower principles. Dennis and Rymer think his Romans not sufficiently Roman; and Voltaire censures his kings as not completely royal Dennis is offended, that Menenius, a senator of Rome, should play the buffoon; and Voltaire perhaps thinks decency violated when the Danish usurper is represented as a drunkard. But Shakspeare always makes nature predominate over accident; and if he preserves the essential character, is not very careful of distinctions superinduced and adventitious. His story requires Romans or kings, but he thinks only on men. He knew that Rome, like every other city, had men of all dispositions; and wanting a buffoon, he went into the senatehouse for that which the senate-house would certainly have afforded him. He was inclined to show an usurper and a murderer not only odious, but despicable; 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 casual distinction of country and condition, as a painter, satisfied with the figure, neglects the drapery.
'The censure which he has incurred by mixing comick and tragick scenes, as it extends to all his works, deserves more consideration. Let the fact be first stated, and then examined.
Shakspeare's plays are not in the rigorous and critical sense either tragedies or comedies, but compositions of a distinct kind; exhibiting the real state of sublunary nature, which partakes of good and evil, joy and sorrow, mingled with endless variety of proportion and innumerable modes of
combination; and expressing the course of the world, in which the loss of one is the gain of another; in which, at the same time, the reveller is hasting to his wine, and the mourner burying his 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; some the terrors of distress, and some the gayeties of prosperity. Thus rose the two modes of imitation, known by the names of tragedy and comedy, compositions intended to promote different ends by contrary means, and considered as so little allied, that I do not recollect among the Greeks or Romans a single writer who attempted both.o
• From this remark it appears, that Dr. Johnson was unacquainted with the Cyclops of Euripides.
It may, however, be observed, that Dr. Johnson, perhaps, was misled by the following passage in Dryden's Essay on Dramatick Poesy: "Tragedies and Comedies were not writ then as they are now, promiscuously, by the same person; but he who found his genius bending to the one, never attempted the other way. This is so plain, that I need not instance to you that Aristophanes, Plautus, Terence, never any of them writ a tragedy; Eschylus, Euripides, Sophocles, and Seneca, never meddled with comedy: the sock and buskin were not worn by the same poet." And yet, to show the uncertain state of Dryden's memory, in his Dedication to his Juvenal he has expended at least a page in describing the Cyclops of Euripides.
So intimately connected with this subject are the following remarks of Mr. Twining in his excellent commentary on the
Shakspeare has united the powers of exciting laughter and sorrow not only in one mind, but in
Poetick of Aristotle, that they ought not to be withheld from our readers.
"The prejudiced admirers of the ancients are very angry at the least insinuation that they had any idea of our barbarous tragi-comedy. But, after all, it cannot be dissembled, that, if they had not the name, they had the thing, or something very nearly approaching to it. If that be tragi-comedy, which is partly serious and partly comical, I do not know why we should scruple to say, that the Alcestis of Euripides is, to all intents and purposes, a tragi-comedy. I have not the least doubt, that it had upon an Athenian audience the proper effect of tragicomedy; that is, that in some places it made them cry, and in others, laugh. And the best thing we have to hope, for the credit of Euripides, is, that he intended to produce this effect. For though he may be an unskilful poet, who purposes to write a tragi-comedy, he surely is a more unskilful poet, who writes one without knowing it.
"The learned reader will understand me to allude particularly to the scene, in which the domestick describes the behaviour of Hercules; and to the speech of Hercules himself, which follows. Nothing can well be of a more comick cast than the servant's complaint. He describes the hero as the most greedy and illmannered guest he had ever attended, under his master's hospitable roof; calling about him, eating, drinking, and singing, in a room by himself, while the master and all the family were in the height of funereal lamentation. He was not contented with such refreshments as had been set before him:
ότι σωφρόνως ἐδέξατο
· Τα προστυχοντά ξενια
· Αλλ' ἐι τι μη φεροιμεν, ΩΤΡΥΝΕΝ φερειν. Then he drinks
Ἕως ἐθερμην ̓ ἀυτον ἀμφιβασα φλοξ
-crowns himself with myrtle, and sings, AMOTE' TAAKTONand all this, alone. Cette description,' says Fontenelle, est si burlesque, qu'on diroit d'un crocheteur qui est de confrairie." A censure somewhat justified by Euripides himself, who makes the servant take Hercules for a thief:
-πανέργον ΚΛΩΠΑ και ΛΗΙΣΤΗΝ τινα.
"The speech of Hercules, piλoropavтos Ev μely, as the scholiast observes (v. 776,) philosophizing in his cups,' is still more