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be sufficient to show that the ascription of this honour to Steele is an injustice to his contemporaries. In the year that the Tatler was begun, Rowe brought out his edition of the best of our poets’; and a reissue was called for five years later. It is said by Johnson that Pope's edition drew the public attention to Shakespeare's works, which, though often mentioned, had been little read. Henceforward there was certainly an increase in the number of critical investigations, but if Shakespeare had been little read, how are we to explain the coffee-house discussions of which we seem to catch echoes in the periodical literature ? The allusions in the Spectator, or the essays in the Censor, must have been addressed to a public which knew him. (Dennis, who,“ read him over and over and still remained unsatiated,” tells how he was accused, by blind admirers of the poet, of lack of veneration, because he had ventured to criticise, and how he had appealed from a private discussion to the judgment of the public. “Above all I am pleased,” says the Guardian, “in observing that the Tragedies of Shakespeare, which in my youthful days have so frequently filled my eyes with tears, hold their rank still, and are the great support of our theatre." Theobald could say that “this author is grown so universal a book that there are very few studies or collections of books, though small, amongst which it does not hold a place”; and he could add that “there is scarce a poet that our English tongue boasts of who is more the subject of the Ladies' reading.” It would be difficult to explain away these statements. The critical interest in Shakespeare occasioned by Pope's edition may have increased the knowledge of him, but he had been regularly cited, long before Pope's day, as England's representative 1 In the Life of Pope.
Guardian, No. 37 (23rd April, 1713). The paper was written by John Hughes (1677-1720), who had assisted Rowe in his edition of Shakespeare (see Reed's Variorum edition, 1803, ii. p. 149).
3 Introduction to Shakespeare Restored.
genius. To argue that he had ever been out of favour we must rely on later statements, and they are presumably less trustworthy than those which are contemporary. Lyttelton remarked that a veneration for Shakespeare seems to be a part of the national religion, and the only part in which even men of sense are fanatics and Gibbon spoke of the “idolatry for the gigantic genius of Shakespeare, which is inculcated from our infancy the first duty of an Englishman." The present volume will show how the eighteenth century could almost lose itself in panegyric of Shakespeare. The evidence is so overwhelming that it is hard to understand how the century's respect for Shakespeare was ever doubted. When Tom Jones took Partridge to the gallery of Drury Lane, the play was Hamlet. The fashionable topics on which Mr. Thornhill's friends from town would talk, to the embarrassment of the Primroses and the Flamboroughs, were pictures, taste, Shakespeare, and the musical glasses." The greatest poet of the century played a leading part in erecting the statue in the Poets' Corner. And it was an eighteenth-century actor who instituted the Stratford celebrations.
During the entire century Shakespeare dominated the stage. He was more to the actor then, and more familiar to the theatre-goer, than he is now. It is true that from Betterton's days to Garrick's, and later, his plays were commonly acted from mangled versions. But these versions were of two distinct types. The one respected the rules of the classical drama, the other indulged the license of pantomime. The one was the labour of the pedant theorist, the other was rather the improvisation of the theatre manager. And if the former were truly representative of the taste of the century, as has sometimes been implied, it has to be explained how they were not so popular as the latter. 7* Our taste has
1 Dialogues of the Dead, xiv., Boileau and Pope. 2 Memoirs, ed. Birkbeck Hill, 1900, p. 105.
gone back a whole century,” says the strolling player in the Vicar of Wakefield, “Fletcher, Ben Jonson, and all the plays of Shakespeare are the only things that
The whole passage is a satire on Garrick 2 and a gibe at Drury Lane : “The public go only to be amused, and find themselves happy when they can enjoy a pantomime under the sanction of Jonson's or Shakespeare's name. But, whatever was done with Shakespeare's plays, they were the very life of the theatre. When we remember also the number of editions which were published, and the controversies to which they gave rise, as well as the fact that the two literary dictators were among his editors, we are prompted to ask, What century has felt the influence of Shakespeare more than the eighteenth ?
The century's interest in Shakespeare shows itself in four main phases. The first deals with his neglect of the so-called rules of the drama; the second determines what was the extent of his learning; the third considers the treatment of his text; and the fourth, more purely aesthetic, shows his value as a delineator of character. The following remarks take these questions in order; and a concluding section gives an account of the individual essays here reprinted. Though the phases are closely connected and overlap to some extent, the order in which they are here treated accords in the main with their chronological sequence.
I Dryden is the father of Shakespearian criticism. Though he disguised his veneration at times, he expressed his true faith when he wrote, deliberately, the fervent
1 Chap. xviii. That the passage is animated by pique and that amusing jealousy which Goldsmith showed on unexpected occasions is evident from the Present State of Polite Learning, Ch. xi.
Cf. Theophilus Cibber's attack on Garrick's adaptations in his Two Dissertations on the Theatres, 1756.
estimate in the Essay of Dramatic Poesy. Johnson saw
Rowe's own dramatic work is an interesting comment on the critical portions of his Account of Shakespeare. When he professes to have taken Shakespeare as his model, his discipleship is best seen in his versification,
1 See the Prologue to Jane Shore :
“In such an age, immortal Shakespeare wrote,
By no quaint rules, nor hampering critics taught;
which shows that his editorial work had taught him the trick of an occasional line contrary to the normal rules of blank verse. Notwithstanding a brave prologue, he was not able to shake himself free from the rules, which tightened their grip on English tragedy till they choked it. His regard for Shakespeare did not give him courage for the addition of a comic element or an underplot. He must obey the “hampering critics,” though his avowed model had ignored them. Accordingly, in his more deliberate prose criticism we find, amid his veneration of Shakespeare, his regard for the rules of the classical drama. The faults of Shakespeare, we read, were not so much his own as those of his time, for 'tragi-comedy was the common mistake of that age, and there was as yet no definite knowledge of how a play should be constructed.
The burden of Rowe's criticism is that “strength and natúre made amends for art." The line might serve as the text of many of the early appreciations of Shakespeare. Though the critics all resented Rymer's treatment of the poet, some of them stood by his doctrines. They might appease this resentment by protesting against his manners or refuting his plea for a dramatic chorus ; but on the whole they recognised the claims of the classical models. The more the dramatic fervour failed, the more the professed critics counselled observance of the rules. In 1702 Farquhar had pleaded for the freedom of the English stage in his Discourse upon Comedy, but his arguments were unavailing. The duller men found it easier to support the rigid doctrines, which had been fully expounded by the French critics. (The seventh or supplementary volume of Rowe's edition of Shakespeare was introduced by Charles Gildon's Essay on the Art, Rise, and Progress of the Stage in Greece, Rome, and
Our humble author does his steps pursue,