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foft and pathetick without fome idle conceit, or contemptible equivocation. He no fooner begins to move, than he counteracts himself; and terror and pity, as they are rifing in the mind, are checked and blafted by fudden frigidity.

A quibble is to Shakspeare, what luminous vapours are to the traveller; he follows it at all adventures; it is fure to lead him out of his way, and fure to engulf him in the mire. It has foine malignant power over his mind, and its fafcinations are irrefiftible. Whatever be the dignity or profundity of his difquifition, whether he be enlarging knowledge or exalting affection, whether he be amusing attention with incidents, or enchaining it in suspense, let but a quibble fpring up before him, and he leaves his work unfinished. A quibble is the golden apple for which he will always turn afide from his career, or ftoop from his elevation. A quibble, poor and barren as it is, gave him fuch delight, that he was content to purchase it by the facrifice of reafon, propriety and truth. A quibble was to him the fatal Cleopatra for which he loft the world, and was content to lose it.

It will be thought ftrange, that, in enumerating the defects of this writer, I have not yet mentioned his neglect of the unities; his violation of those laws which have been instituted and established by the joint authority of poets and of criticks.

For his other deviations from the art of writing, I refign him to critical justice, without making any other demand in his favour, than that which must be indulged to all human excellence; that his virtues be rated with his failings but, from the cenfure which this irregularity may bring upon him, I shall, with due reverence to that learning which I must oppose, adventure to try how I can defend him.


His hiftories, being neither tragedies nor comedies, are not subject to any of their laws; nothing more is neceffary to all the praise which they expect, than that the changes of action be fo prepared as to be understood, that the incidents be various and affecting, and the characters confiftent, natural, and distinct. No other unity is intended, and therefore none is to be fought.

In his other works he has well enough preferved the unity of action. He has not, indeed, an intrigue regularly perplexed and regularly unravelled; he does not endeavour to hide his design only to discover it, for this is feldom the order of real events, and Shakspeare is the poet of nature: but his plan has commonly what Aristotle requires, a beginning, a middle, and an end; one event is concatenated with another, and the conclufion follows by eafy consequence. There are perhaps fome incidents that might be fpared, as in other poets there is much talk that only fills up time upon the ftage; but the general system makes gradual advances, and the end of the play is the end of expectation.

To the unities of time and place he has fhewn no regard; and perhaps a nearer view of the principles on which they stand will diminish their value, and withdraw from them the veneration which, from the time of Corneille, they have very generally received, by discovering that they have given more trouble to the poet, than pleafure to the auditor.

The neceffity of observing the unities of time and place arifes from the fuppofed neceffity of making the drama credible. The criticks hold it impoffible, that an action of months or years can be poffibly believed to pass in three hours; or that the spectator can fuppofe himself to fit in the theatre, while ambaffadors go and return between distant kings, while armies are levied and towns befieged,

while an exile wanders and returns, or till he whom they faw courting his miftrefs, fhall lament the untimely fall of his fon, The mind revolts from evident falfehood, and fiction lofes its force when it departs from the refem- . blance of reality.

From the narrow limitation of time necessarily arises the contraction of place. The spectator, who knows that he faw the first act at Alexandria, cannot fuppofe that he fees the next at Rome, at a distance to which not the dragons of Medea could, in fo fhort a time, have transported him; he knows with certainty that he has not changed his place; and he knows that place cannot change itself; that what was a houfe cannot become a plain: that what was Thebes can never be Perfepolis.

Such is the triumphant language with which a critick exults over the mifery of an irregular poet, and exults commonly without refiftance or reply. It is time therefore to tell him, by the authority of Shakspeare, that he affumes, as an unquestionable principle, a position, which, while his breath is forming it into words, his understanding pronounces to be falfe. It is falfe, that any reprefentation is mistaken for reality; that any dramatick fable in its materiality was ever credible, or, for a fingle moment, was ever credited.

The objection arifing from the impoffibility of paffing the first hour at Alexandria, and the next at Rome, fupposes, that when the play opens, the spectator really imagines himself at Alexandria, and believes that his walk to the theatre has been a voyage to Egypt, and that he lives in the days of Antony and Cleopatra. Surely he that imagines this may imagine more. He that can take the stage at one time for the palace of the Ptolemies, may take it in half an hour for the promontory of Actium. Delusion, if delusion be admitted, has no certain limita

tion; if the fpectator can be once perfuaded, that his old acquaintance are Alexander and Cæfar, that a room illuminated with candles is the plain of Pharfalia, or the bank of Granicus, he is in a state of elevation above the reach of reason, or of truth, and from the heights of empyrean poetry, may despise the circumfcriptions of terrestrial nature. There is no reason why a mind thus wandering in ecafy should count the clock, or why an hour should not be a century in that calenture of the brains that can make the stage a field.

The truth is, that the spectators are always in their senses, and know, from the first act to the laft, that the stage is only a stage, and that the players are only players. They come to hear a certain number of lines recited with just gefture and elegant modulation. The lines relate to fome action, and an action must be in some place; but the different actions that complete a story may be in places very remote from each other; and where is the abfurdity of allowing that space to represent first Athens, and then Sicily, which was always known to be neither Sicily nor Athens, but a modern theatre.

By fuppofition, as place is introduced, time may be extended; the time required by the fable elapfes for the most part between the acts; for, of fo much of the action as is represented, the real and poetical duration is the fame. If, in the first act, preparations for war again't Mithridates are represented to be made in Rome, the event of the war may, without abfurdity, be represented, in the catastrophe, as happening in Pontus; we know that there is neither war, nor preparation for war; we know that we are neither in Rome nor Pontus; that neither Mithridates nor Lucullus are before us. The drama exhibits fucceffive imitations of fuccessive actions, and why may not the second imitation represent an action that happened

happened years after the firft; if it be fo connected with it, that nothing but time can be fuppofed to intervene ? Time is, of all modes of existence, moft obfequious to the imagination; a lapfe of years is as eafily conceived as a paffage of hours. In contemplation we easily contract the time of real actions, and therefore willingly permit it to be contracted when we only fee their imitation.

It will be asked, how the drama moves, if it is not credited. It is credited with all the credit due to a drama. It is credited, whenever it moves, as a just picture of a real original; as reprefenting to the auditor what he would himself feel, if he were to do or fuffer what is there feigned to be fuffered or to be done. The reflection that strikes the heart is not, that the evils before us are real evils, but that they are evils to which we ourselves may be exposed. If there be any fallacy, it is not that we fancy the players, but that we fancy ourselves unhappy for a moment; but we rather lament the poffibility than suppose the presence of mifery, as a mother weeps over her babe, when the remembers that death may take it from her. The delight of tragedy proceeds from our consciousness of fiction; if we thought murders and treasons real, they would please

no more.

Imitations produce pain or pleasure, not because they are mistaken for realities, but because they bring realities to mind. When the imagination is recreated by a painted landscape, the trees are not fuppofed capable to give us fhade, or the fountains coolness; but we confider, how we should be pleased with such fountains playing befide us, and fuch woods waving over us. We are agitated in reading the history of Henry the Fifth, yet no man takes his book for the field of Agincourt. A dramatick exhibition is a book recited with concomitants that increase or diminifh its effect. Familiar comedy is often more powerful


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