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equal writers. Shakspeare had undoubtedly a share Perhaps no author has ever, in two plays, afforded in them; but that the entire play was no work of so much delight. The great events are interesting, his, is an opinion which (as Benedict says) “ fire for the fate of kingdoms depend upon them; the cannot mell out of me; I will die in it at the stake." slighter occurrences are diverting, and except one Thus, as we are informed by Aulus Gellius, lib. iii. or Two, sufficiently probable ; the incidents are mul. cap. 3, some plays were absolutely ascribed to tiplied with wonderfui fertility of invention; and Plautus, which in truth had only been (retractata the characters diversified with the utmost nicety of at erpolita) retouched and polished by him. discernment, and the profoundest skill in the nature
In this comedy we find more intricacy of plot of man. than distinction of character; and our attention is The prince, who is the hero both of the comie less forcibly engaged, because we can guess in great and tragic part, is a young man of great abilities, ineasure how the denouement will be brought about. and violent passions, whose sentiments are right, Yet the subject appears to have been reluctantly though his actions are wrong; whose virtues are dismissed, even in this last and unnecessary scene; obscured by negligence, and whose understanding where the saine mistakes are continued, till the is dissipated by levity. In his idle hours he is ra. power of affording entertainment is entirely lost. ther loose than wicked; and when the occasion
STEEVENS. forces out his latent qualities, he is great without
effort, and brave without tumult. The trifler is MACBETH.—This play is deservediy celebrated roused into a hero, and the hero again reposes in for the propriety of its fiction, and solemnity, gran- the trifler. The character is great, original, and deur, and variety of its action; but it has no nice just. discriminations of character; the events are too Percy is a rugged soldier, choleric and quarrel. great to admit the .nfluence of particular disposi- some, and has only the soldier's virtues, generosity Sons, and the course of the action necessarily deter- and courage. mines the conduct of the agents.
But Falstaff! unimitated, unimitable Falstaff! The danger of ambition is well described; and I how shall I describe thee? thou compound of sense koow not whether it may not be said, in defence of and vice; of sense which may be adinired, but not some parts which now seem improbable, that in esteemed; of vice which may be despised, but Shakspeare's time it was necessary to waru credulity hardly detested. Falstaff is a character loaded with against vain and illusive predictions.
faults, and with those faults which naturally proThe passions are directed to their true end. Lady duce contempt. He is a thief and a glotton, a Macbeth is merely detested; and though the courage coward and a boaster; always ready to cheat the of Macbeth preserves some esteem, yet every reader weak, and prey upon the poor; to terrify the timo. rejoices at his fall.
JOHNSON. rous, and insult the defenceless. At once obsequious
and malignant, he satirises in their absence whom KING JOHN.- The tragedy of King John, he lives by flattering. He is familiar with the prince though not written with the utmost power of Shaks only as an agent of vice; but of this familiarity h speare, is varied with a very pleasiug interchange is so proud, as not only to be supercilious and of incidents and characters. The lady's grief is haughty with common men, but to think his interest very affecting; and the character of the Bastard of importance to the duke of Lancaster. Yet the contains that mixture of greatness and levity, whicb man thus corrupt, thus despicall makes himselt this author delighted to exhibit. Johnson. necessary to the prince that despises him, by the
most pleasing of all qualities, perpetual gaiety; byKING RICHARD II.—This play is one of those an unfailing power of exciting laughter, which is whicb. Shakspeare has apparently revised; but as the more freely indulged, as his wit is not of the success in works of invention is not always propor- splendid or ambitious kind, but consists in easy tionate to labour, it is not finished at last with the escapes and sallies of levity, which make sport, but happy force of some otber of his tragedies, nor can raise no envy. It must be observed, that he is be said much to affect the passions, or enlarge the stained with no enormous or sanguinary crimes, s understanding.
Jonsson, that his licentiousness is not so offensive but that i
may be borne for his mirth. KING HENRY IV.- fancy every reader, The moral to be drawn from this representation when he ends this play, cries out with Desdemona, is, that no man is more dangerous than he that, with “() most lame and impotent conclusion !” As this a will to corrupt, hath the power to please ; and that play was not, to our knowledge, divided into acts by neither wit nor honesty ought to think themselves the author, I could be content to conclude it with safe with such a companion, when they see Henry the death of Henry the Fourtb:
seduced by Falstaff.
JOHNSON. “ In that Jerusalem shall Harry die."
KING HENRY V.-This play bas many scene: These scenes, which now niake the fifth act of of high dignity, and many of easy merriment. The Henry the Fourth, might then be the first of Henry character of the king is well supported, except in the Fifth ; but the truth is, they do not unite very his courtship, where he has neither the vivacity al Lounmodiously to either play. When these plays Hal, nor the grandeur of Henry. The humour of were represented, I believe they ended as they are Pistol is very happily continued: his character ha: now ended in the books; but Shakspeare seems to perhaps been the model of all the bullies that hare have designed that the whole series of action, from yet appeared on the English stage. the beginning of richard the Second, to the end of The lines given to the chorus have many ad Henry the Fifth, should be considered by the reader mirers; but the truth is, that in them a little may as one work, upon one plan, only broken into parts be praised, and much must be forgiven; nor can it by the necessity of exhibition.
be easily discovered, why the intelligence giren by None of Shikspeare's plays are more read than the chorus is more necessary in this play, than in the fisst and Second Purte of Henry the Fourth, magv others where it is omitted. The great refect
of this play is, the emptiness and narrowness of the of nuinbers : Of these three plays I think the selast act, which a very little diligence might have cond the best. The truth is, that they have not easily avoided.
JOHNSON. sufficient variety of action, for the incidents are too
often of the same kind; yet many of tbe characters FIRST PART OF KING HENRY VI.-or are well discriminated. King Henry, and his queen, this play there is no cops earlier than that of the King Edward, the duke of Gloster, and the earl of folio in 1623, though the two succeeding parts are Warwick, are very strongly and distinctly painted. extant in two editions in quarto. That the second
JOHxson. and third parts were published without the first, way he admitted as no weak proof that the copies KING RICHARD III.—This is one of the most vere surreptitiously obtained, and that the printers celebrated of our author's performances; yet I know of that time gave the public those plays, not such not whether it has not happened to him as to others, is the author designed, but such as they could get to be praised most, when praise is not most deserved them. That this play was written before the two That this play has scenes noble in themselves, and others is indubitably collected from the series of very well contrived to strike in the exhibition, can. events; that it was written and played before Henry not be denied. But some parts are trifling, others the Fifth is apparent; because, in the epilogue there shocking, and some improbable. Johnson, is mention made of this play, and not of the other parts :
KING HENRY VIII.- The play of Henry VIII. * Henry the sixth in swaddling bands crown'd king, stage by the splendour of its pageantry. The
is one of those which still keeps possession of the Whose state so many had the managing, That they lost France, and made his England bleed : together in multitudes for a great part of the winter.
coronation, about forty years ago, drew the people Which oft our stage hath shewn.”
Yet pomp is not the only merit of this play. The France is lost in this play. The two following con- meek sorrows, and virtuous distress, of Katharine, tain, as the old title imports, the contention of the have furnished some scenes, which may be justly houses of York and Lancaster. The second and numbered among the greatest efforts of tragedy. third parts of Henry VI. were printed in 1600. But the genius of Shakspeare comes in and goes When Henry V. was written, we know not, but it out with Katharine. Every other part may be easily was printed likewise in 1600, and therefore before conceived and easily written. the publication of the first and second parts. The
The second scene of the fourth act is above any first part of Henry VI. had been often shewn on other of Shakspeare's tragedies, and perhaps above the stage, and would certainly have appeared in its any scene of any other poet; tender and pathetic, place, had the author been the publisher.
without gods, or furies, or poisons, or precipices; Jouxson.
without the help of romantic circumstances, with.
out improbable sallies of poetical lamentation, and THIRD PART OF KING HENRY VI.-The without any throes of tumultuous misery.
Johnson, three parts of King Henry VI. are suspected, by Mr. Theobald, of being supposititious, and are declared, by Dr. Warburton, to be certainly not Shak
TROILUS AND CRESSIDA. This play in peare's. Mr. Theobald's suspicion arises from some more correctly written than most of Shakspeare's obsolele words; but the phraseology is like the rest compositions, but it is not one of those in which of our author's style, and single words, of which either the extent of his views or elevation of his however I do not observe more than two, can con- fancy is fully displayed. As the story abounded clude little.
with materials, he has exerted little invention; but Dr. Warburton gives no reason, but I
he has diversified his characters with great variety, suppose
His him to judge upon deeper principles and more com- and preserved them with great exactness. prehensive views, and to draw his opinion from the vicious characters disgust, but cannot corrupt, for general effect and spirit of the composition, which both Cressida and Pandarus are detested and cou. he thinks inferior to the other historical plays.
temned. The comic characters seem to have been From mere inferiority nothing can be inferred; the favourites of the writer: they are of the superin the productions of wit there will be inequality: but they are copiously filled, and powerfully in.
ficial kind, and exhibit more of manners than nature; Sometimes judgment will err, and sometimes the matter itself will defeat the artist. Of every author's pressed. Shakspeare has in his story followed, for works one will be the best, and one will be the the greater part, the old book of Caxton, which Forst. The colours are not equally pleasing, nor
was then very popular ; but the character of Ther, the attitudes equally graceful, in all the pictures of sites, of which it makes no mention, is a proof that Titian or Reynolds.
this play was written after Chapman had published
JOHNSON Dissimilitude of style and heterogeneousness of his version of Homer, sentiment, may sufficiently shew that a work does not really belong to the reputed author. But in these TIMON OF ATHENS.- The play of Timon is plays no such marks of spuriousness are found. a domestic tragedy, and therefore strongly fastens The diction, the versification, and the figures are on the attention of the reader. In the plan there is Shakspeare's. These plays, considered without re- not much art, but the incidents are natural, and the gard to characters and incidents, merely as narra- characters various and exact, The catastrophe tives in verse, are more happily conceived, and more affords a very powerful warning against that osten. accurately finished, than those of King John, Ri- tatious liberality, which scatters bounty, but confers chard II., or the tragic scenes of King Henry IV. no benefits, and buys flattery, but not friendship. and V. If we take these plays from Shakspeare, In this tragedy, are many passages perplexed, 19 whom shall they be given ? What author of that obscure, and probaoly corrupt, which I have en. iyo harl the same easiness of expression and Nuency deavoured to rectify, or explain with due dilige si a;
but having only one copy, cannot promise niyselt Theobald declares it incontestable, I see no resson that my endeavours sball be much applauded. for believing
KING LEAR. The tragedy of Lear is deserv. CORIOLANUS.--The tragedy of Coriolanus is edly celebrated among the dramas of Shakspeare. one of the most amusing of our author's perform- There is perhaps no play which keeps the attention
The old man's merriment in Menenius; so strongly fixed; which so mucb agitates our pas the lofty lady's dignity in Volumnia; the bridal mo- sions, and interests our curiosity. The artful' indesty in Virgilia; the patrician and military haugh. volutions of distinct interests, the striking, oppotiness in Coriolanus; the plebeian maliguity and sitions of contrary characters, the sudden chaoges tribunitian insolence in Bruius and Sicinius, make of fortune, and the quick so ces sion of events, fill a very pleasing and interesting variety; and the the mind with a perpetual tumult of indignation, pity, various rrivolutions of the hero's fortune, fill the and hope. There is no scene which does not coamind with anxious curiosity. There is, perhaps, tribute to the aggravation of the distress or conduct too much bustle in the first act, and too little in the to the acuon, and scarce a line which does not conlast
Johnson. duce to the progress of the scene. So powerful is
the current of the poet's imagination, that the mind, JULIUS CÆSAR.-Of this tragedy many par- which once ventures within it, is hurried irresistibly ticular passages deserve regard, and the contention along. and reconcilement of Brutus and Cassius is univer- On the seeming improbability of Lear's conduct, sally celebrated; but I have never been strongly it may be observed, that he is represented according agitated in perusing it, and think it somewhat cold to histories at that time vulgarly received as true. and unaffecting, compared with some other of Shak-And, perhaps, if we turn our thoughts upon the speare's plays: his adherence to the real story, and barbarity and ignorance of the age to which the to the Roman manners, seems to have impeded the story is referred, it will appear not so unlikely as natural vigour of his genius.
while we estimate Lear's manners by our own.
Such preference of one daughter to another, or reANTONY AND CLEOPATRA.—This play signation of dominion on such conditions, would be keeps curiosity always busy, and the passions always yet credible, if told of a petty prince of Guinea or interested. The continual hurry of the action, the Madagascar. Shakspeare, indeed, by the mention variety of incidents, and the quick succession of of his earls and dukes, has given us the idea of one personage to another, call the mind forward times more civilized, and of life regulated by softer without intermission, from the first act to the last. manners; and the truth is, that though he so nicely But the power of delighting is derived principally racters of men, he commonly neglects and confounds
discriminates, and so minutely describes the chafrom the frequent changes of the scene; for, except the characters of ages, by mingling customs ancient the feminine arts, some of which are too low, which distinguish Cleopatra, no character is very strongly
and modern, English and foreign. discriminated. Upton, who did not easily miss what Adventurer very minutely criticised this play, re
My learned friend, Mr. Warton, who has in The ho desired to find, has discovered that the language of Antony is, with great skill and learning, inade marks, that the instances of cruelty are too savage pompous and superb, according to his real practice. and shocking, and that the intervention of Edmund But I think his diction not distinguishable from destroys the simplicity of the story. These obthat of others: the most tumid speech in the play that the cruelty of the daughters is an historical
jections may, I think, be answered, by repeating, is that which Cæsar makes to Octavia. The events, of which the principal are described drawn it into a series by dialogue and action. But
fact, to which the poet has added little, having only according to history, are produced without any art I am not able to apologise with equal plausibility of connection or care of disposition.--JOHNSON.
for the extrusion of Gloster's eyes, which seems an
act too horrid to be endured in dramatic exhibition, CYMBELINE.—This play has many just sen- and such as must always compel the mind to relieve timents, some natural dialogue, and sonie pleasing its distress by incredulity. Yet let it be rememscenes; but they are obtained at the expense of bered that our author well knew what would please much incongruity. To remark the folly of the fic- the audience for which he wrote. tion, the absurdity of the conduct, the confusion of The injury done by Edmund to the simplicity of the names, and manners of different times, and the the action is abundantly recompensed by the ad. impossibility of the events in any system of life, dition of variety, by the art with which he is made were to waste criticism on upresisting imbecility; to co-operate with the chief design, and the opporupon faul's, too evident for detection, too gross for tunity which he gives the poet of combining peraggravativn.
fidy with perfidy, and connecting the wicked son
with the wicked daughters, to impress this important TITUS ANDRONICUS.--All the editors and moral, that villany is never at a stop, that crimes critics agree with Mr. Theobald in supposing this lead to crimes, and at last terminate in ruin. play spurious. I see no reason for differing from But though this moral be incidentally enforced, them; for the colour of the style is wholly different Shakspeare has suffered the virtue of Cordelia to from that of the other plays; and there is an at perish in a just cause, contrary to the natural ideas tempt at regular versification and artificial closes, of justice, to the hope of the reader, and, what is pot always inelegant, yet seldom pleasing. The yet more strange, to the faith of chronicles. Yet barbarity of the spectacles, and the general mas- this conduct is justified by The Spectator, who sacre, which are here exhibited, can scarcely be blames Tate for giving Correlia success and harconceived tolerable to any audience; yet we are piness in his alteration, and declares, that in his told by Jonson, that they were not only borne, bu: opinion, the tragedy has lost half its beauty. Den praised. That Shakspeare wrote any part, though nis has remarked, whether justly or not, that, to secure thg favourable reception of Cato, che town lived out the time allotted him in the construction was puisoned with much false and abominable cri of the play; nor do I doubt the ability of Shakspeare licism and that endeavours had been used to dis- to have continued his existence, though some of his credit and decry poetical justice. A play in which sallies are perhaps out of the reach of Dryden ; the wicked prosper, and the virtuous miscarry, may whose genius was not very fertile of merriment doubtless be good, because it is a just representation nor ductile to humour, but acute, argumentative of the common events of human life: but since all comprehensive, and sublime. reasonable beings naturally love justice, I cannot The Nurse is one of the characters in which the easily be persuaded, that the observation of justice author delighted : he has, with great subtilty of makes a play worse; or that, if other excellencies distinction, drawn her, at once, loquacious and seare equal
, the audience will not always rise better cret, obsequious and insolent, trusty and dishonest pleased from the final triumph of persecuted virtue. His comic scenes are happily wrought, but his In the present case the public has decided. Cor- pathetic strains are always polluted with soine uudelia, from the time of Tate, has always retired with expected depravations. His persons, however victory and felicity. And, if my sensations could distressed, have a conceit left them in their misery, a add any thing to the general suffrage, I might re. miserable conceit.
Johnson. late, I was many years ago so shocked by Cordelia's death, that I know not whether I ever endured to HAMLET.-If the dramas of Shakspeare were read again the last scenes of the play, till I under- to be characterised, each by the particular exceltook to revise them as an editor. There is another lence which distinguishes it from the rest, we must controversy among the critics concerning this play, allow to the tragedy of Hamlet tho praise of variety. It is disputed whether the predominant image in The incidents are so numerous, that the argument Lear's disordered mind be the loss of his kingdom of the play would make a long tale. The scenes or the cruelty of his daughters. Mr. Murphy, a are interehangeably diversified with merriment and very judicious cätic, has evinced, by induction of solemnity: with merriment that includes judicious particular passages, ihat the cruelty of his daughters and instructive observations; and solemnity not is the primary source of his distress, and that the strained by poetical violence above the natural senloss of royalty affects him only as a secondary and timents of man. New characters appear from time subordinate evil. He observes, with great justness, to time in continual succession, exhibiting various that Lear would move our compassion but little, did forms of life, and particular modes of conversation. we not rather consider the injured father than the The pretended madness of Hamlet causes much degraded king. The story of this play, except the mirth, the mournful distraction of Ophelia fills the episode of Edmund, which is derived, i think, from heart with tenderness, and every personage proSidney, is taken originally from Geoffry of Mon- duces the effect intended, from the apparition that, mouth, whom Holicshed generally copied; but per- in the first act, chills the blood with horror, to the haps immediately from an old historical ballad. fop in the last, that exposes affectation to just conMy reason for believing that the play was posterior | tempt. to the ballad, rather than the ballad to the play, is, The conduct is, perhaps, not wholly secure against that the ballad has nothing of Shakspeare's noc objections. The action is, indeed, for the most turnal tempest, which is too striking to have been part, in continual progression; but there are some omitted, and that it follows the chronicle; it has the scenes which neither forward nor retard it. Of the rudiments of the play, but none of its amplifications; leigued madness of Hamlet there appears uo aucit first hinted Lear's madness, but did not array it quate cause, for he does nothing which he might in circumstances. The writer of the ballad added not have done with the reputation of sanity. Ile something to the history, which is a proof that he plays the madman most, when he treats Ophelia would have added more, if more had occurred to with so much rudeness, which seems to be useless his mind; and more must have occurred if he had and wanton cruelty. seen Shakspeare.
Jounson. ilainlet is, through the whole piece, rather an
instrument than an agent. After he has, by the ROMEO AND JULIET.—This play is one of stratagem of the play, convicted the king, he makeu the most pleasing of our author's performances. no attempt to punish him; and his death is at last 'Thc scenes are busy and various, the incidents nu- effected by an incident which Hamlet had no part inerous and important, the catastrophe irresistibly in producing. affecting, and the process of the action carried on l'he catastrophe is not very happily produced, with such probability, at least with such congruity the exchange of weapons is rather an expedierat o. to popular opinions, as tragedy requires.
necessity, than a stroke of art. A scheine might Here is one of the few attempts of Shakspeare to easily be formed, to kill Hamlet with the dagger, exhibit the conversation of genilemen, to represent and Laertes with the bowl. the airy sprightliness of juvenile elegance. Mr. The poet is accused of having shewn little regard Dryden mentions a tradition, which might easily to poetical justice, and may be charged with equal reach his time, of a declaration made by Shakspeare, neglect of poetical probability. The apparition left that he wus obliged to kill Mercutio in the third act, the regions of the dead to little purpose: the relest he should have been killed by him. Yet he thinks venge which he demands is not obtained, but by the him no such formidable person, but that he might hare death of him that was required to take it; and the lived through the play, and died in his bed, without gratification, which would arise from the destruction danger to the poet. Dryden well knew, had he been of an usurper and a murderer, is abated by the un. in quest of truth, in a pointed sentence, that more timely death of Ophelia, the young, the beautiful, regard is commonly had to the words than the the harmless, and the pious.
JOHNSON thought, and that it is very seldom to be rigorously understood. Mercutio's wit, gaiety and courage, OTHELLO.- The beauties of this play impress will always procure him friends that wish hin a themselves so strongly upon the attention of the longer life; but his death is not precipitated, he has reader, that they can draw no aid from critical il
lustration. The fiery opeaness of Othello, magna- Even the inferior characters of this play would aimous, artless, and credulous, boundless in his he very conspicuous in any other piece, not only for confidence, ardent in his affection, inflexible in his their justness, but their strength. Cassio is brave, resolution, and obdurate in his revenge; the cool benevolent, and honest, ruined ouly by his want of malignity of lago, silent in his resentment, subtle stubbornness to resist an insidious invitation. Roin his designs, and studious at once of his interest | derigo's suspicious credulity, and impatient suband his vengeance; the soft simplicity of Desde mission to the cheats which he sees practised upon mona, confident of merit, and conscious of inno- him, and which, by persuasion, he suffers to be recence, her artless perseverance in her suit, and her peated, exhibit a strong picture of a weak mind slowness to suspect that she can be suspected, are betrayed, by unlawful desires, to a false friend; and Buch proofs of Shakspeare's skill in human nature, the virtue of Emilia is such as we often find, worn as, I suppose, it is vain to seek in any modern loosely, but not cast off'; easy to commit small writer. The gradual progress which lago makes crimes, but quickened and alarmed at atrocious in the Moer's conviction, and the circumstances villanies. which he employs to inflame him, are so artfully The scenes, from the beginning to the end, are natural, that, though it will, perhaps, not be said busy, varied by happy interchanges, and regularly of him as he says of himself, that he is a man nol promoting the progression of the story; and the easily jealous, yet we cannot but pity bim, when at narrative in the end, though it tells but what is last we find him perplered in the extreme.
known already, yet is necessary to produce the death There is always danger, lest wickedness, con- of Othello. joined with abilities, should steal upon esteem, though Had the scene opened in Cyprus, and the preit misses of approbation; but the character of lago ceding incidents been occasionally related, there is so conducted, that he is, from the first scene to had been little wanting to a drama of the most exthe last, hated and despised.
act and scrupulous regularity JOHNSON