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His adherence to general nature has exposed him to the cenfure of criticks, who form their judgments upon narrower principles. Dennis and Rymer think his Romans not fufficiently Roman; and Voltaire cenfures his kings as not completely royal. Dennis is offended, that Menenius a fenator of Rome, fhould play the buffoon; and Voltaire perhaps thinks decency violated when the Danish ufurper is reprefented as a drunkard. But Shakfpeare always makes nature predominate over accident; and if he preferves the effential character, is not very careful of distinctions fuperinduced and adventitious. His ftory requires Romans or kings, but he thinks only on men. He knew that Rome, like every other city, had men of all difpofitions; and wanting a buffoon, he went into the fenatehoufe for that which the fenate-houfe would certainly have afforded him. He was inclined to fhow an ufurper and a murderer not only odious, but defpicable; he therefore added drunkennefs to his other qualities, knowing that kings love wine like other men, and that wine exerts its natural power upon kings. Thefe are the petty cavils of petty minds; a poet overlooks the cafual diftinction of country and condition, as a painter, fatisfied with the figure, neglects the drapery.
The cenfure which he has incurred by mixing comick and tragick fcenes, as it extends to all his works, deferves more confideration. Let the fact be first stated, and then examined.
Shakspeare's plays are not in the rigorous and critical fenfe either tragedies or comedies, but compofitions of a diftinct kind; exhibiting the real state of sublunary nature, which partakes of good and evil, joy and forrow, mingled with endless variety of proportion and innumerable modes of
combination; and expreffing the courfe of the world, in which the lofs of one is the gain of another; in which, at the fame time, the reveller is hafting to his wine, and the mourner burying his friend; in which the malignity of one is fometimes defeated by the frolick of another; and many mifchiefs and many benefits are done and hindered without defign.
Out of this chaos of mingled purposes and cafualties, the ancient poets, according to the laws which custom had prefcribed, felected fome the crimes of men, and fome their abfurdities: fome the momentous viciffitudes of life, and fome the lighter occurrences; fome the terrors of diftrefs, and fome the gayeties of profperity. Thus rose the two modes of imitation, known by the names of tragedy and comedy, compofitions intended to promote different ends by contrary means, and confidered as fo little allied, that I do not recollect among the Greeks or Romans a fingle writer who attempted both.8
* From this remark it appears, that Dr. Johnson was unacquainted with the Cyclops of Euripides.
It may, however, be observed, that Dr. Johnfon, perhaps, was misled by the following paffage in Dryden's Effay on Dramatick Poefy: "Tragedies and Comedies were not writ then as they are now, promifcuously, by the fame person; but he who found his genius bending, to the one, never attempted the other way. This is so plain, that I need not inftance to you that Aristophanes, Plautus, Terence, never any of them writ a tragedy; Æfchylus, Euripides, Sophocles, and Seneca, never meddled with comedy: the fock and buikin were not worn by the fame poet." And yet, to fhow the uncertain state of Dryden's memory, in his Dedication to his Juvenal he has expended at least a page in defcribing the Cyclops of Euripides.
So intimately connected with this fubject are the following remarks of Mr. Twining in his excellent commentary on the
Shakspeare has united the powers of exciting laughter and forrow not only in one mind, but in
Poetick of Aristotle, that they ought not to be withheld from our readers.
"The prejudiced admirers of the ancients are very angry at the leaft infinuation that they had any idea of our barbarous tragi-comedy. But, after all, it cannot be diffembled, that, if they had not the name, they had the thing, or fomething very nearly approaching to it. If that be tragi-comedy, which is partly ferious and partly comical, I do not know why we should fcruple to fay, that the Alceftis of Euripides is, to all intents and purposes, a tragi-comedy. I have not the leaft doubt, that it had upon an Athenian audience the proper effect of tragicomedy; that is, that in fome places it made them cry, and in others, laugh. And the beft thing we have to hope, for the credit of Euripides, is, that he intended to produce this effect. For though he may be an unskilful poet, who purposes to write a tragi-comedy, he furely is a more unfkilful poet, who writes one without knowing it.
"The learned reader will understand me to allude particularly to the scene, in which the domeftick defcribes the behaviour of Hercules; and to the speech of Hercules himself, which follows. Nothing can well be of a more comick caft than the fervant's complaint. He defcribes the hero as the most greedy and ill-mannered guest he had ever attended, under his master's hofpitable roof; calling about him, eating, drinking, and finging, in a room by himself, while the mafter and all the family were in the height of funereal lamentation. He was not contented with fuch refreshments as had been fet before him:
ότι σωφρόνως ἐδέξατο
• Τα προστυχοντα ξενια
• Αλλ' ἐι τι μη φεροιμεν, ΩΤΡΥΝΕΝ φερειν.
Then he drinks
· Ἕως ἐθερμην ̓ ἀυτον ἀμφιβασα φλοξ
-crowns himself with myrtle, and fings, AMOTE' TAAKTON— and all this, alone. Cette defcription,' fays Fontenelle, eft fi burlesque, qu'on diroit d'un crocheteur qui eft de confrairie.' A cenfure fomewhat juftified by Euripides himfelf, who makes the fervant take Hercules for a thief:
-πανέργον ΚΛΩΠΑ και ΛΗΙΣΤΗ͂Ν τινα.
"The fpeech of Hercules, cooperros év μely, as the fcholiaft obferves (v. 776,) philofophizing in his cups,' is ftill more
one compofition. Almoft all his plays are divided between serious and ludicrous characters, and, in
curious. It is, indeed, full of the hoove, and completely juftifies the attendant's description. Nothing can be more jolly. It is in the true spirit of a modern drinking fong; recommending it to the fervant to uncloud his brow, enjoy the present hour, think nothing of the morrow, and drown his cares in love and wine:
τι σεμνον και πεφροντικό· βλεπεις ; • Ου χρη σκυθρωπον, κ. τ. αλ.
· ΔΕΥΡ ̓ ΕΛΘ ̓, όπως αν και σοφώτερος γενη.
· Τα θνητα πραγματ ̓ ὀιδας ἣν ἐχει φύσιν ;
Βροτοις ἅπασι κατθανειν ὀφείλεται,
• Κ' εκ ἐστι θνητων ὅστις ἑξεπιλαται
Την άυριον μέλλεσαν ἐι βιωσεται.
- H. T. λ.'
Ευφραινε σαυτον· ΠΙΝΕ!———τον καθ ήμεραν • Βιον λογιζε σιν, τα δ' άλλα, της τύχης. Τιμα δὲ καὶ την πλείστον ἡδιστὴν θεών · ΚΥΠΡΙΝ βροτοισιν V. 783-812. "If any man can read this, without fuppofing it to have fet the audience in a roar, I certainly cannot demonftrate that he is mistaken. I can only fay, that I think he must be a very grave man himself, and must forget that the Athenians were not a very grave people. The zeal of Pere Brumoy in defending this tragedy, betrays him into a little indifcretion. He fays,
tout cela à fait penfer à quelques critiques modernes que cette piece etoit une tragi-comedie; chimere inconnu aux anciens. Cette piece eft du gout des autres tragedies antiques.' Indeed they, who call this play a tragi-comedy, give it rather a favourable name; for, in the scenes alluded to, it is, in fact, of a lower fpecies than our tragi-comedy: it is rather burlesque tragedy; what Demetrius calls τραγώδια παίζεσα. Much of the comick caft prevails in other scenes; though mixed with thofe genuine ftrokes of fimple and univerfal nature, which abound in this poet, and which I fhould be forry to exchange for that monotonous and unaffecting level of tragick dignity, which never falls, and never rises.
"I will only mention one more inftance of this tragi-comick mixture, and that from Sophocles. The dialogue between Mi
the fucceffive evolutions of the defign, fometimes produce ferioufnefs and forrow, and fometimes levity and laughter.
nerva and Ulyffes, in the first scene of the Ajax, from v. 74 to 88, is perfectly ludicrous. The cowardice of Ulyffes is almost as comick as the cowardice of Falstaff. In spite of the prefence of Minerva, and her previous affurance that she would effectually guard him from all danger by rendering him invifible, when the calls Ajax out, Ulyffes, in the utmost trepidation, exclaims* Τι δρας, Αθανα; μηδαμώς σφ' έξω καλει.
What are you about, Minerva ?-by no means call him out.' Minerva anfwers
· Ου σιγ' άνεξη, μηδε δειλίαν αφεις ;
• Will you not be filent, and lay afide your fears?" But Ulyffes cannot conquer his fears:
. ΜΗ, ΠΡΟΣ ΘΕΩΝ-ἀλλ ̓ ἐνδον ἀρκείτω μενων. Don't call him out, for heaven's fake :-let him ftay within.' And in this tone the converfation continues; till, upon Minerva's repeating her promife that Ajax fhould not fee him, he confents to stay; but in a line of most comical reluctance, and with an afide, that is in the true fpirit of Sancho Pança :
Μενοιμ ̓ ἀν' ΗΘΕΛΟΝ Δ' ΑΝ ΕΚΤΟΣ ΩΝ ΤΥΧΕΙΝ.
I'll ftay-(afide) but I wish I was not here.'
J'avoue, fays Brumoy, que ce trait n'eft pas à la louange d'Ulyffe, ni de Sophocle.'
"No unprejudiced perfon, I think, can read this fcene without being convinced, not only, that it must actually have produced, but that it must have been intended to produce, the effect of comedy.
"It appears indeed to me, that we may plainly trace in the Greek tragedy, with all its improvements, and all its beauties, pretty ftrong marks of its popular and tragi-comick origin. For Tpaywda, we are told, was, originally, the only dramatick appellation; and when, afterwards, the ludicrous was feparated from the ferious, and diftinguished by its appropriated name of Comedy, the feparation feems to have been imperfectly made, and Tragedy, diftinctively fo called, ftill feems to have retained a tincture of its original merriment. Nor will this appear ftrange, if we confider the popular nature of the Greek spectacles. The people, it is probable, would ftill require, even in the midft of their tragick emotion, a little dash of their old fatyrick fun, and poets were obliged to comply, in fome degree, with their tafte." Twining's Notes, pp. 202, 203, 204, 205, 206.