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Characters thus ample and general were not easily discriminated and preferved, yet perhaps no poet ever kept his perfonages more diftinct from each other. I will not

fay with Pope, that every speech may be affigned to the proper fpeaker, because many fpeeches there are which have nothing characteristical; but, perhaps, though some 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 reafon 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 expectations 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 fame occasion: even where the agency is fupernatural, the dialogue is level with life. Other writers difguife the most natural paffions and most 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 fhewn human nature as it acts in real exigencies, but as it would be found in trials, to which it cannot be expofed.

This therefore is the praife of Shakspeare, that his drama is the mirror of life; that he who has mazed his imagination, in following the phantoms which other writers raife up before him, may here be cured of his de


lirious ecftafies, by reading human fentiments in human language; by fcenes from which a hermit may estimate the transactions of the world, and a confeffor predict the progrefs of the passions.

His adherence to general nature has exposed 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, a fenator of Rome, should play the buffoon; and Voltaire perhaps thinks decency violated when the Danish ufurper is represented as a drunkard. But Shakfpeare always makes nature predominate over accident; and if he preserves the effential character, is not very careful of distinctions fuperinduced 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 difpofitions; and wanting a buffoon, he went into the fenate-houfe for that which the fenate-houfe would certainly have afforded him. He was inclined to fhew 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, fatisfied 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, deserves 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 fate of fublunary

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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 same time, the reveller is hasting 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 casualties, the ancient poets, according to the laws which custom had prescribed, selected some the crimes of men, and fome their abfurdities; fome the momentous viciffitudes of life, and fome the lighter occurrences; fome the terrors of distress, and fome the gayeties of profperity. Thus rose 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.

Shakspeare has united the powers of exciting laughter and forrow not only in one mind, but in one compofition. Almost all his plays are divided between serious and ludicrous characters, and, in the fucceffive evolutions of the design, sometimes produce seriousness and forrow, and sometimes levity and laughter.

That this is a practice contrary to the rules of criticifm will be readily allowed: but there is always an appeal open from criticism 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 fhewing


how great machinations and flender designs may promote or obviate one another, and the high and the low co-operate in the general fyftem by unavoidable concatenation.

It is objected, that by this change of fcenes the pasfions are interrupted in their progreffion, and that the principal event, being not advanced by a due gradation of preparatory incidents, wants at last the power to move, which conftitutes the perfection of dramatic poetry. This reasoning is so fpecious, that it is received as true even by those who in daily experience feel it to be false. 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 easily transferred; and though it must be allowed that pleafing melancholy be fometimes interrupted by unwelcome levity, yet let it be confidered likewise, that melancholy is often not pleafing, and that the disturbance 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 distinguished the three kinds, by any very exact or definite ideas.

An action which ended happily to the principal perfons, however ferious or distressful 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.

History 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 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, Shakfpeare'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 depress, or to conduct the ftory, without vehemence or emotion, through tracts of eafy 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.

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 feasonable and useful; and the gravediggers themselves may be heard with applause.

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 such authority as might restrain

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