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the first; of a Tragick difficult or bet
judge, but every one took the liberty to write according to the dictates of his own fancy. When one considers, that there is not one play before him of a reputation good enough to entitle it to an appearance on the present Stage, it cannot but be a matter of great wonder that he should advance dramatick Poetry so far as he did. The Fable is what is generally plac'd the first, among those that are reckon'd the constituent parts of a Tragick or Heroick Poem ; not, perhaps, as it is the most difficult or beautiful, but as it is the first properly to be thought of in the contrivance and course of the whole; and with the Fable ought to be consider'd, the fit Disposition, Order and Conduct of its several parts. As it is not in this province of the Drama that the strength and mastery of ShakeSpear lay, so I shall not undertake the tedious and illnatur'd trouble to point out the several faults he was guilty of in it. His Tales were seldom invented, but rather taken cither from true History, or Novels and Romances : And he commonly made use of 'em in that order, with those Incidents, and that extent of time in which he found 'em in the Authors from whence he borrow'd them. Almost all his historical Plays comprehend a great length of time, and very different and distinct places : And in his Antony and Cleopatra, the Scene travels over the greatest part of the Roman Empire. But in recompenee for his carelessness in this point, when he comes to another part of the Drama, The Manners of his Characters, in ałting or Speaking what is proper for them, and fit to be nown by the Poet, he may be generally justify'd, and in very many places greatly commended. For those Plays which he has taken from the English or Roman history, let any man compare 'em, and he will find the character as exact in the Poet as the Historian. He seems indeed so far from proposing to himself any one action for a Subject, that the Title very often tells you, 'tis
The Life of King John, King Richard, &c. What can be more agreeable to the idea our historians give of Henry the sixth, than the picture Shakespear has drawn of him! His Manners are every where exactly the same with the story ; one finds him ftill describ'd with simplicity, passive fanctity, want of courage, weakness of mind, and easy submiffion to the governance of an imperious Wife, or prevailing Faction : Tho’ at the same time the Poet does justice to his good qualities, and moves the pity of his audience for him, by shewing him pious, disinterested, a contemner of the things of this world, and wholly resign'd to the severest dispensations of God's providence, There is a short Scene in the second part of Henry VI. which I cannot but think admirable in its kind. Cardinal Beaufort, who had murder'd the Duke of Gloucester, is shewn in the last agonies on his death-bed, with the good King praying over him. There is so much terror in one, so much tenderness and moving piety in the other, as must touch any one who is capable either of fear or pity. In his Henry VIII, that Prince is drawn with that greatness of mind, and all those good qualities which are attributed to him in any account of his reign. If his faults are not shewn in an equal degree, and the shades in this picture do not bear a juft proportion to the lights, it is not that the Artist wanted either colours or skill in the disposition of 'em ; but the truth, I believe, might be, that he forbore doing it out of regard to Queen Elizabeth, since it could have been no very great respect to the memory of his Mistress, to have expos'd some certain parts of her father's life upon the stage. He has dealt much more freely with the Minister of that great King, and certainly nothing was ever more justly written, than the character of Cardinal Wolfey. He has shewn him insolent in his prosperity; and yet, by a wonderful address, he makes his fall and ruin the subject of
general general compassion. The whole man, with his vices and virtues, is finely and exactly describ'd in the second scene of the fourth act. The distresses likewise of Queen Catharine, in this Play, are very movingly touch'd ; and tho' the art of the Poet has screen'd King Henry from any gross imputation of injustice, yet one is inclin'd to wish, the Queen had met with a fortune more worthy of her birth and virtue. Nor are the Manners, proper to the persons reprefented, less justly observ’d, in those characters taken from the Roman History; and of this, the fierceness and impatience of Coriolanus, his courage and disdain of the common people, the virtue and philosophical temper of Brutus, and the irregular greatness of mind in M. Antony, are beautiful proofs. For the two last especially, you find 'em exactly as they are describ’d by Plutarch, from whom certainly ShakeSpear copy'd 'em. He has indeed follow'd his original pretty close, and taken in several little incidents that might have been spar'd in a Play. But, as I hinted before, his design seems most commonly rather to describe those great men in the several fortunes and accidents of their lives, than to take any single great action, and form his work simply upon that. However, there are some of his pieces, where the Fable is founded upon one action only. Such are more especially, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Othello. The design in Romeo and Juliet, is plainly the punishment of their two families, for the unreasonable feuds and animosities that had been so long kept up between 'em, and occasion'd the effusion of so much blood, In the management of this story, he has shewn something wonderfully tender and passionate in the lovepart, and very pitiful in the distress. Hamlet is founded on much the same Tale with the EleEtra of Sophocles. In each of 'em a young Prince is engaged to revenge the death of his father, their mothers are
equally guilty, are both concern'd in the murder of their husbands, and are afterwards married to the murderers. There is in the first part of the Greek Tragedy, something very moving in the grief of Electra ; but as Mr. Dacier has observ'd, there is something very unnatural and shocking in the Manners he has given that Princess and Orestes in the latter part. Orestes embrues his hands in the blood of his own mother; and that barbarous action is perform’d, tho' not immediately upon the stage, yet so near, that the au. dience hear Clytemnestra crying out to Ægysthus for help, and to her son for mercy : While Electra her daughter, and a Princess (both of them characters that ought to have appear'd with more decency) stands upon the stage and encourages her brother in the Parricide. What horror does this not raise ! Clytemnestra was a wicked woman, and had deserv'd to die ; nay, in the truth of the story, she was kill'd by her own fon; but to represent an action of this kind on the stage, is certainly an offence against those rules of manners proper to the persons, that ought to be observ'd there. On the contrary, let us only look a little on the conduct of Shakespear. Hamlet is represented with the same piety towards his father, and resolution to revenge his death, as Orestes; he has the same abhorrence for his mother's guilt, which, to provoke him the more, is heightend by incest : But 'tis with wonderful art and juftness of judgment, that the Poet restrains him from doing violence to his mother. To prevent any thing of that kind, he makes his father's Ghost forbid that part of his vengeance. .
But how foever thou pursust this Act,
I cannot leavith which we huruf upon the
This is to distinguish rightly between Horror and Terror. The latter is a proper passion of Tragedy, but the former ought always to be carefully avoided. And certainly no dramatick Writer ever succeeded better in raising Terror in the minds of an audience than ShakeSpear has done. The whole Tragedy of Macbeth, but more especially the scene where the King is murder'd, in the second act, as well as this Play, is a noble proof of that manly spirit with which he writ; and both shew how powerful he was, in giving the strongest motions to our souls that they are capable of. I cannot leave Hamlet, without taking notice of the advantage with which we have seen this Master-piece of Shakespear distinguish itself upon the stage, by Mr, Betterton's fine performance of that part. A man, who tho' he had no other good qualities, as he has a great many, must have made his way into the esteem of all men of letters, by this only excellency. No man is better acquainted with Shakespear's manner of expression, and indeed he has study'd him so well, and is so much a master of him, that whatever part of his he performs, he does it as if it had been written on purpose for him, and that the Author had exactly conceiv'd it as he plays it. I must own a particular obligation to him, for the most considerable part of the passages relating to this life, which I have here transmitted to the publick ; his veneration for the memory of Shakespear having engaged him to make a journey into Warwickshire, on purpose to gather up what remains he could, of a name for which he had so great a veneration.