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Tradesmen and Mechanicks: And even their Hiftorical Plays ftrictly follow the common Old Stories or Vulgar Traditions of that kind of people. In Tragedy, nothing was fo fure to Surprize and cause Admiration, as the most strange, unexpected, and confequently moft unnatural, Events and Incidents; the moft exaggerated Thoughts; the moft verbofe and bombaft Expreffion; the most pompous Rhymes, and thundering Verfification. In Comedy, nothing was fo fure to Pleafe, as mean buffoonry, vile ribaldry, and unmannerly jefts of fools and clowns. Yet even in thefe, our Author's Wit buoys up, and is borne above his fubject: his Genius in thofe low parts is like fome Prince of a Romance in the difguife of a Shepherd or Peafant; a certain Greatnefs and Spirit now and then break out, which manifeft his higher extraction and qualities.

It may be added, that not only the common Audience had no notion of the rules of writing, but few even of the better fort piqu'd themselves upon any great degree of knowledge or nicety that way; 'till Ben Johnson getting poffeffion of the Stage, brought critical learning into vogue: And that this was not done without difficulty, may appear from thofe frequent leffons (and indeed almost Declamations) which he was forced to prefix to his first plays, and put into the mouth of his actors, the Grex, Chorus, &c. to remove the prejudices, and inform the judgment of his hearers. Till then, our Authors had no thoughts of writing on the model of the Ancients: their Tragedies were only Hiftories in Dialogue; and their Comedies followed the thread of any Novel as they found it, no lefs implicitly than if it had been true History.

To judge therefore of Shakespeare by Ariftotle's rules, is like trying a man by the laws of one country, who acted under thofe of another. He writ to the People; and writ at firft without patronage from the better fort, and therefore without aims of pleafing them without affiftance or advice from the Learned, as without the advantage of education or acquaintance among them without that knowledge of the best mo

dels,

dels, the Ancients, to infpire him with an emulation of them; in a word, without any views of Reputation, and of what Poets are pleas'd to call Immortality: Some or all of which have encouraged the vanity, or animated the ambition of other writers.

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Yet it must be obferv'd, that when his performances had merited the protection of his Prince, and when the encouragement of the Court had fucceeded to, that of the Town; the works of his riper years are manifeftly raised above thofe of his former. The dates of his plays fufficiently evidence that his productions improved, in proportion to the refpect he had for his auditors. And I make no doubt this obfervation would be found true in every inftance, were but Editions extant from which we might learn the exact time when every piece was compofed, and whether writ for the Town, or the Court.

Another Caufe (and no lefs ftrong than the former) may be deduced from our Author's being a Player, and forming himself firft upon the judgments of that body of men whereof he was a member. They have ever had a Standard to themselves, upon other principles than thofe of Ariftotle. As they live by the Majority, they know no rule but that of pleafing the prefent humour, and complying with the wit in fafhion; a confideration which brings all their judgment to a fhort point. Players are just fuch judges of what is right, as Taylors are of what is graceful. And in this view it will be but fair to allow, that most of our Author's faults are lefs to be afcribed to his wrong judgment as a Poet, than to his right judgment as a Player.

By these Men it was thought a praife to Shakespeare, that he scarce ever blotted a line. This they induftrioufly propagated, as appears from what we are told by Ben Fahnfon in his Discoveries, and from the preface of Heminges and Condell to the firft folio Edition. But in reality (however it has prevailed) there never was a more groundlefs report, or to the contrary of which there are more undeniable evidences. As, the comedy of the Merry Wives of Windfor, which he entirely new writ; the Hiftory of Henry the 6th, which was firft published

published under the title of the Contention of York and Lancaster; and that of Henry the 5th, extremely improved; that of Hamlet enlarged to almoft as much again as at firft, and many others. I believe the common opinion of his want of Learning proceeded from no better ground. This too might be thought a praise by fome, and to this his Errors have as injudiciously been ascribed by others. For 'tis certain, were it true, it could concern but a small part of them; the most are fuch as are not properly Defects, but Superfœtations: and arife not from want of learning or reading, but from want of thinking or judging: or rather (to be more just to our Author) from a compliance to those wants in others. As to a wrong choice of the fubject, a wrong conduct of the incidents, falfe thoughts, forced expreffions, &c. if these are not to be afcribed to the forefaid accidental reafons, they must be charged upon the Poet himfelf, and there is no help for it. But I think the two Difadvantages which I have mention'd (to be obliged to please the lowest of people, and to keep the worst of company) if the confideration be extended as far as it reafonably may, will appear fufficient to mislead and deprefs the greatest Genius upon earth. Nay the more modefty with which fuch a one is endued, the more he is in danger of fubmitting and conforming to others, againft his own better judgment.

But as to his Want of Learning, it may be neceffary to fay fomething more: There is certainly a vast difference between Learning and Languages. How far he was ignorant of the latter, I cannot determine; but 'tis plain he had much Reading at leaft, if they will not call it Learning. Nor is it any great matter, if a man has Knowledge, whether he has it from one language or from another. Nothing is more evident than that he had a taste of natural Philofophy, Mechanicks, ancient and modern History, Poetical learning and Mythology: We find him very knowing in the customs, rites, and manners of Antiquity. In Coriolanus and Julius Cæfar, not only the Spirit, but Manners, of the Romans, are exactly drawn ; and still a nicer diftinction is fhewn, between the manners of the Romans in the time of the former,

former, and of the latter. His reading in the ancient Hiftorians is no lefs confpicuous, in many references to particular paffages; and the fpeeches copy'd from Plutarch in Coriolanus may, I think, as well be made an instance of his learning, as thofe copy'd from Cicero in Catiline, of Ben Johnson's. The manners of other nations in general, the Egyptians, Venetians, French, &c. are drawn with equal propriety. Whatever object of nature, or branch of fcience, he either fpeaks of or defcribes; it is always with competent, if not extensive knowledge; his defcriptions are ftill exact; all his metaphors appropriated, and remarkably drawn from the true nature and inherent qualities of each fubject. When he treats of Ethic or Politic, we may constantly obferve a wonderful juftness of distinction, as well as extent of comprehenfion. No one is more a master of the Poetical story, or has more frequent allufions to the various parts of it: Mr. Waller (who has been celebrated for this last particular) has not fhewn more learning this way than Shakespeare. We have Tranflations from Ovid published in his name, among thofe Poems which pass for his, and for fome of which we have undoubted authority, (being published by him felf, and dedicated to his noble Patron the Earl of Southampton:) He appears alfo to have been converfant in Plautus, from whom he has taken the plot of one of his plays: he follows the Greek Authors, and particularly Dares Phrygius, in another, (although I will not pretend to fay in what language he read them.) The modern Italian writers of Novels he was manifeftly acquainted with; and we may conclude him to be no less converfant with the Ancients of his own country, from the ufe he has made of Chaucer in Troilus and Creffida, and in the Two Noble Kinfmen, if that Play be his, as there goes a Tradition it was, (and indeed it has little resemblance of Fletcher, and more of our Author than fome of those which have been received as genuine.)

I am inclined to think, this opinion proceeded originally from the zeal of the Partizans of our Author and Ben Johnson; as they endeavoured to exalt the

one

one at the expence of the other. It is ever the nature of Parties to be in extremes; and nothing is fo probable, as that because Ben Johnson had much the more learning, it was faid on the one hand that ShakeSpeare had none at all; and because Shakespeare had much the most wit and fancy, it was retorted on the other, that Johnson wanted both. Because Shakespeare borrowed nothing, it was faid that Ben Johnson borrowed every thing. Becaufe Johnson did not write extempore, he was reproached with being a year about every piece; and because Shakespeare wrote with ease and rapidity, they cry'd, he never once made a blot. Nay the fpirit of oppofition ran fo high, that whatever thofe of the one fide objected to the other, was taken at the rebound, and turned into Praifes; as injudicioufly, as their antagonists before had made them Objections.

Poets are always afraid of Envy; but fure they have as much reafon to be afraid of Admiration. They are the Scylla and Charybdis of Authors; thofe who escape one, often fall by the other. Peffimum genus inimicorum Laudantes, fays Tacitus: and Virgil defires to wear a charm against those who praise a Poet without rule or reafon.

Si ultra placitum laudârit, baccare frontem Cingito, ne Vati noceat

But however this contention might be carried on by the Partizans on either fide, I cannot help thinking thefe two great Poets were good friends, and lived on amicable terms, and in offices of fociety with each other. It is an acknowledged fact, that Ben Johnson was introduced upon the Stage, and his firft works encouraged, by Shakespeare. And after his death, that Author writes To the memory of his beloved Mr. William Shakespeare, which fhows as if the friendship had continued thro' life. I cannot for my own part find any thing Invidious or Sparing in those verses, but wonder Mr. Dryden was of that opinion. He exalts him not only above all his Cotemporaries, but above

Chaucer

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