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his daughters is the primary source of his distress, and that the loss of royalty affects him only as a secondary and subordinate evil. He observes with great juitness, that Lear would move our compassion but little, did we not rather consider the injured father than the degraded king.
The story of this piay, except the episode of Edinund, which is derived, I think, from Sidney, is taken originally from Geoffry of Monmouth, whom I loling fhed generally copied; but perhaps immediately from an old historical ballad. My reason for believing that the play was posterior to the ballad, rather than the ballad to the play, is, that the ballad has nothing of Shakespeare's nocturnal tempest, which is too striking to have been omitted, and that it follows the chronicle; it has the rudiments of the play, but none of its amplifications : it first hinted Lear's madness, but did not array it in circumstances. The writer of the ballad added something to the history, which is a proof that he would have added more, if more had occurred to his mind, and inore must have occurred if he had seen Shakespeare,
ROMEO AND JULIET.
This play is one of the most pleasing of our au. thor's performances. The scenes are busy and various, the incidents numerous and important, the cataitrophe irreliltibly affecting, and the process of the action carried on with such probability, at least with such congruity to popular opinions, as tragedy requires.
Here is one of the few attempts of Shakespeare to exhibit the conversation of gentlemen, to represent
the airy sprightliness of juvenile elegance. Mr. Dryden mentions a tradition, which might easily reach his time, of a declaration made by Shakespeare, that he was obliged to kill Mercutio in the third aft,
best be mould have been killed by him. Yet he thinks · him no such formidable person, but that he might have
lived through the play, and died in his bed, without danger to a poet. Dryden well knew, had he been in quest of truth, that, in a pointed sentence, more regard is commonly had to the words than the thought, and that it is very seldom to be rigorously understood. Mercutio’s wit, gaiety, and courage, will always procure him friends that wish him a longer life; but his death is not precipitated, he has lived out the time allotted him in the construction of the play ; nor do I doubt the ability of Shakespeare to have continued his existence, though some of his fallies are perhaps out of the reach of Dryden; whose genius was not very fertile of merriment, nor ductile to humour, but acute, argumentative, comprehensive, and sublime.
The Nurse is one of the characters in which the author delighted: he has, with great subtilty of distinction, drawn her at once loquacious and secret, obsequious and infolent, trusty and dishonest.
His comick scenes are happily wrought, but his pathetick strains are always polluted with some unexpected depravations. His persons, however distresed, bave a conceit left them in their misery, a miserable conceit.
HAMLET. . If the dramas of Shakespeare were to be characterised, each by the particular excellence which distin
gumes it from the rest, we must allow to the tra. gedy of Hanlet the praise of variety. The incidents are lo numerous, that the argument of the play would make a long tale. The scenes are interchangeably diversified with merriment and folemnity; with merriment, that includes judicious and instructive observations; and folemnity, not strained by poetical violence above the natural sentiments of man. New characters appear from time to time in continual succession, exhibiting various foruis of life and particular modes of conversacion. The pretended madness of Hamlet causes much mirth, the mournful distraction of Ophelia fills the heart with tenderness, and every personage produces the effect intended, from the apparition that in the first act chills the blood with horror, to the fop in the last, that exposes affectation to just contempt.
The conduct is perhaps not wholly secure against objeétions. The action is indeed for the most part in continual progression, but there are some scenes which neither forward nor retard it. Of the feigned madness of Ilomlet there appears no adequate cause, for he does nothing which he might not have done with the reputation of sanity. He plays the made man mort, when he treats Ophelia with so much rudeness, which seems to be useless and wanton cruelty.
Han'et is, through the whole piece, rather an instrument than an agent. After he has, by the stratage:n of the play, convicted the king, he makes no attempt to punith him; and his death is at last effected by an incident which Hamlet had no part in producing,
The catastrophe is not very happily produced ; the exchange of weapons is rather an expedient of neceffity, than a stroke of art. A scheme might easily have been formed to kill Hamlet with the dagger, and Laertes with the bowl.
The poet is accused of having shewn little regard to poetical justice, and may be charged with equal neglect of poetical probability. The apparition left the regions of the dead to little purpose; the revenge which he demands is not obtained, but by the death of him that was required to take it; and the gratificacion, which would arise from the destruction of an usurper and a murderer, is abated by the untimely death of Ophelia, the young, the beautiful, the harmless, and the pious.
OTHELLO. The beauties of this play impress themselves so strongly upon the attention of the reader, that they can draw no aid from critical illustration. The fiery openness of Othello, magnanimous, artless, and credulous, boundless in his confidence, ardent in his affection, inflexible in his resolution, and ob. durate in his revenge ; the cool malignity of lago, silent in his resentment, subtle in his designs, and studious at once of his interest and his vengeance; the soft fimplicity of Desdemona, confident of merit, and conscious of innocence, her artless perseverance in her fuit, and her flowness to fuspect that she can be suspected, are such proofs of Shakespeare's skill in human nature, as, I suppose, it is vain to seek in any modern writer. The gradual progress which Jago makes in the Moor's conviction, and the cir
cumstances which he employs to infiame kim, 256 so artfully natural, that, though it will perhaps Dut be said of him as he says of himself, that he is a mun not easily jealous, yet we cannot but pity him, we at last we find him perplexed in the extreint.
There is always danger, left wickedness, conjoice! with abilities, should steal upon estcem, though it misses of approbation; but the character of 1.558 is so conducted, that he is from the first scene to ti.c Jaft hated and despised.
Even the inferior characters of this play would be very conspicuous in any other piece, not only fx their justness, but their strength. Callio is brave, benevolent, and honest, ruined only by his want of stubbornness to resist an insidious invitation, Kids rigo's suspicious credulity, and impatient submitoa to the cheats which he sees practised upon him, and which by perfualion he suffers to be repeated, exhibit a strong picture of a weak mind betraved to unlawful desires to a false friend; and the virtue of Æmilia is such as we often find worn loosely, but not cait off, easy to commit small crimes, but quickened and alarmed at atrocious villanies.
The scenes from the beginning to the end are busy, varied by happy interchanges, and regularly promoting the progression of the story ; and the narrative in the end, though it cells but what is known already, yet is necessary to produce the death of Orbello.
Had the scene opened in Cyprus, and the preceding incidents been occasionally related, there had been little wanting to a drama of the most exact and fcrupulous regularity.