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HOSE Dramas of Shakespear, which
he distinguishes by the name of his Histories, being of an original kind and peculiar construction, cannot come within any rules, prior to their existence. The office of the Critic, in regard to Poetry, is like that of the Grammarian and Rhetorician in respect to Language: it is the business of both to thew why such and such modes of speech: are proper and graceful, others improper and ungraceful : but they pronounce on such words and expressions only, as are actually extant.
The rules of Aristotle were drawn from
the Tragedies of Æschylus, Sophocles, &c. Had that great Critic seen a play so fashioned on the chronicles of his country, thus representative of the manners of the times, and of the characters of the most illustrious perfons concerned in a series of important cvents, perhaps he would have esteemed such a sort of Drama well worth his attention, as very peculiarly adapted to those ends, which the Grecian Philosophers proposed in popular entertainments. If it be the chief use of History, to teach Philosophy by Example, this species of History must be allowed to be the best
The catastrophe..of these plays is not built on a vain and idle fable of the wrath of Juno, or of the revenge of slighted Bacchus; nor is a man represented entangled in the web of Fate, from which his. Virtues and his Deities cannot extricate him: but here we are admonished to observe the effects of pride and ambition, the Tyrant's dangers and the Traitor's fate. The sentiments and the manners, the passions and their consequences, are fully set before you ;
force and lustre of poetical language join with the weight and authority of history, to impress the moral lesson on the heart. The Poet collects, as it were, into a focus those truths, which lie scattered in the diffuse volume of the Historian, and kindles the flame of virtue, while he shews the miseries and calamities of vice.
The common interests of humanity make us attentive to every story that has an air of reality, but we are more affected if we know' it to be true; and the interest is still heightened if we have any relation to the perfons concerned. Our noble
Our noble countryman, Percy, engages us much more than Achilles, or any Grecian hero. The people, for whose use these public entertainments should be chiefly intended, know the battle of Shrewsbury to be a Fact: they are informed of what passed on the banks of the Severn ; all that happened on the shore of the Scamander has, to them, the appearance of a fiction.
As the misfortunes of nations, like those of individuals, often arise from their
peculiar dispositions, customs, prejudices, and vices, these home-born Dramas are excellently calculated to correct them. The Gre. cian tragedies are so much founded on their mythology as to be very improper on our stage. The passion of Phædra and the death of Hippolytus, occafioned by the interpofition of Venus and Neptune, wear the apparent marks of fiction; and when we cease to believe, we cease to be affected.
The nature of the Historical Play gave fcope to the extensive talents of Shakespear. He had an uncommon felicity in painting Manners, and developing Characters, which he could employ with peculiar grace and propriety, when he exhibited the Chiefs in our civil wars. The great Earl of Warwick, Cardinal Beaufort, Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, the renowned Hotspur, were very interesting objects to their countrymen. Whatever shewed them in a strong light,