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much ease and fimplicity, that it seems scarcely to claim the merit of fiction, but to have been gleaned by diligent felection out of common conversation, and common occurrences.
Upon every other ftage the universal agent is love, by whofe power all good and evil is diftributed, 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 oppofitions of intereft, and harrafs them with violence of defires inconfiftent with each other; to make them meet in rapture, and part in agony; to fill their mouths with hyperbolical joy and outrageous forrow; to distress them as nothing human ever was diftreffed; to deliver them as nothing human ever was delivered, is the bufinefs of a modern dramatift. For this, probability is violated, life is misrepresented, and language is depraved. But love is only one of many paffions, and as it has no great influence upon the fum 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 faw before him. He knew, that any other paffion, as it was regular or exorbitant, was a caufe of happiness or calamity.
Characters thus ample and general were not eafily discriminated and preferved, yet perhaps no poet ever kept his perfonages more diftinct from each other. I will not fay with Pope, that every fpeech may be affigned to the proper fpeaker, because many speeches there are which have nothing characteristical; but, perhaps, though fome may be equally adapted to every perfon, it will be difficult to find any that can be properly transferred from the prefent poffeffor to another claimant. The choice is right, when there is reason for choice.
Other dramatifts 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 fcenes are occupied only by men, who act and fpeak as the reader thinks that he fhould himself have fpoken or acted on the fame occafion: even where the agency is fuper-natural, the dialogue is level with life. Other writers disguise the most natural paffions and moft frequent incidents; fo 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 poffible, its effects would probably be fuch as he has affigned; and it may be faid, that he has not only fhown 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 ecftafies, by reading human fentiments in human language; by fcenes from which a hermit may estimate the tranfactions of the world, and a confeffor predict the progrefs of the paffions.
7" Quærit quod nufquam eft gentium, reperit tamen, "Facit illud verifimile quod mendacium est.”
Plauti. Pfeudolus, A& I. fc. iv. STEEVENS.
His adherence to general nature has expofed him to the cenfure of criticks, who form their judgments upon narrower principles. Dennis and Rymer think his Romans not fufficiently Roman; and Voltaire cenfures his kings as not completely royal. Dennis is offended, that Menenius à fenator of Rome, fhould play the buffoon; and Voltaire perhaps thinks decency violated when the Danish ufurper is reprefented as a drunkard. But Shakfpeare 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 fenatehouse for that which the fenate-house would certainly have afforded him. He was inclined to fhow an ufurper 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 cafual diftinction of country and condition, as a painter, satisfied 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.
Shakspeare's plays are not in the rigorous and critical fenfe either tragedies or comedies, but compofitions of a diftinct 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 course of the world, in which the lofs of one is the 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 mifchiefs 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 custom had prefcribed, selected fome the crimes of men, and fome their abfurdities: fome the momentous viciffitudes of life, and fome the lighter occurrences; fome the terrors of diftress, 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.8
* 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 paffage in Dryden's Effay on Dramatick Poefy: "Tragedies and Comedies were not writ then as they are now, promifcuously, by the fame person; but he who found his genius bending to the one, never attempted the other way. This is fo plain, that I need not instance to you that Aristophanes, Plautus, Terence, never any of them writ a tragedy; Æfchylus, Euripides, Sophocles, and Seneca, never meddled with comedy: the fock and buskin were not worn by the fame poet." And yet, to fhow 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 fubject are the following remarks of Mr. Twining in his excellent commentary on the
Shakspeare has united the powers of exciting laughter and forrow 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 infinuation that they had any idea of our barbarous tragi-comedy. But, after all, it cannot be diffembled, that, if they had not the name, they had the thing, or fomething very nearly approaching to it. If that be tragi-comedy, which is partly ferious and partly comical, I do not know why we should fcruple to fay, that the Alceftis of Euripides is, to all intents and purposes, a tragi-comedy. I have not the leaft doubt, that it had upon an Athenian audience the proper effect of tragicomedy; that is, that in fome 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 furely is a more unfkilful poet, who writes one without knowing it.
"The learned reader will understand me to allude particularly to the scene, in which the domeftick describes the behaviour of Hercules; and to the fpeech of Hercules himself, which follows. Nothing can well be of a more comick caft than the fervant's complaint. He defcribes the hero as the most greedy and ill-mannered guest he had ever attended, under his master's hofpitable roof; calling about him, eating, drinking, and finging, in a room by himself, while the mafter and all the family were in the height of funereal lamentation. He was not contented with fuch refreshments as had been fet before him :
ότι σωφρόνως ἐδέξατο · Τα προστυχοντα ξενια
* Αλλ' ἐι τι μη φερομεν, ΩΤΡΥΝΕΝ φερειν.
Then he drinks
· ̔Εως ἐθερμην ̓ ἀυτον ἀμφιβασα φλοξ
---crowns himfelf with myrtle, and fings, ΑΜΟΥΣ' ΥΛΑΚΤΩΝ-and all this, alone. Cette defcription,' fays Fontenelle, eft fi burlesque, qu'on diroit d'un crocheteur qui eft de confrairie.' A cenfure fomewhat juftified by Euripides himself, who makes the fervant take Hercules for a thief:
· πανεργον ΚΛΩΠΑ και ΛΗΙΣΤΗΝ τινα.
"The fpeech of Hercules, 2000p8vтos év μely, as the fcholiast observes (v. 776,) philofophizing in his cups, is ftill more