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gesture, can hope to add dignity or force to the soliloquy of Cato?
A play read affects the mind like a play acted. It is, therefore, evident, that the action is not supposed to be real; and it follows that between the acts a longer or shorter time may be allowed to pass, and that no more account of space or duration is to be taken by the auditor of a drama, than by the reader of a narrative, before whom may pass in an hour the life of a hero or the revolutions of an empire.
• Whether Shakspeare knew the Unities, and rejected them by design or deviated from them by happy ignorance, it is, I think, impossible to decide, and useless to inquire. We may reasonably suppose that, when he rose to notice, he did not want the counsels and admonitions of scholars and critics; and that he at last deliberately persisted in a practice, which he might have begun by chance. As nothing is essential to the fable, but Unity of Action, and as the Unities of Time and Place arise evidently from false assumptions, and by circumscribing the extent of the drama lessen it's variety, I cannot think it much to be lamented, that they were not known by him, or not observed. Nor, if such another poet could arise, should I very vehemently reproach him that his first act passed at Venice, and his next in Cyprus. Such violations of rules merely positive become the comprehensive genius of Shakspeare; and such censures are suitable to the minute and slender criticism of Voltaire :
"Yet when I speak thus slightly of dramatic rules, I cannot but recollect how much wit and learning may be produced against me; before such authorities I am afraid to stand; not that I think the present question one of those that are to be decided by mere authority, but because it is to be suspected, that these precepts have not been so easily received, but for better reasons than I have yet been able to find. The result of my inquiries, in which it would be ludicrous to boast of impartiality, is, that the Unities of Time and Place are not essential to a just drama: that, though they may sometimes conduce to pleasure, they are always to be sacrificed to the nobler beauties of variety and instruction; and that a play, written with nice observation of critical rules, is to be contemplated as an elaborate curiosity, the product of superfluous and ostentatious art, by which is shown rather what is possible than what is necessary.
He that, without diminution of any other excellence, shall preserve all the Unities unbroken, deserves the like applause with the architect, who shall display all the orders of architecture in a citadel without any deduction from it's strength: but the principal beauty of a citadel is, to exclude the enemy; and the greatest graces of a play are, to copy nature and instruct life.'
The works of Shakspeare have passed through many editions, and received elucidation from numerous commentators. Seven years after his death, his plays were collected and published in 1623 in folio, by his two brother-comedians, Heminge and Condel. They were reprinted in 1632, 1664, and 1685; and in
1714, an edition was published in 8vo. by Mr. Nicholas Rowe. A new edition proceeded from Pope in 4to., in 1721; and another from Theobald in 8vo., in 1733, which was subsequently reprinted in ten volumes 12mo.
In 1744, Sir Thomas Hanmer gave to the world a pompous edition, at Oxford, in six volumes 4to.; and in 1747, Mr. Warburton, afterward Bishop of Gloucester, published another in eight volumes 8vo. This was succeeded by several others, particularly that of Dr. Johnson, in eight volumes 8vo., in 1765; that of Dr. Johnson and Mr. Steevens in conjunction, in ten volumes 8vo.;* and that of Mr. Reed of StaplesInn, also in ten volumes 8vo., in 1785.
We have only to add the following list of the dramatic works published under Shakspeare's name, distinguishing with an asterism those, which the critics with great reason reject as spurious.
1. The Tempest, a Comedy, pronounced by Warburton, with the Midsummer Night's Dream, to be the noblest of the author's efforts. It was first printed in 1623.
2. The Two Gentlemen of Verona, a Comedy. 1623.
3. 4. The First and Second Parts of King Henry IV. 4to. 1599, 1600.
5. The Merry Wives of Windsor, a Comedy, written at the command of Queen Elizabeth.
6. Measure for Measure, † a Comedy. 1623.
This has, recently, re-appeared in 21 volumes, 8vo.
Founded upon the Menæchmi of Plautus.
8. Much-a-do About Nothing,* a Comedy. 4to. 1600.
9. Love's Labour's Lost, a Comedy. 4to. 1598. 10. Midsummer Night's Dream, a Comedy. 4to. 1600.
11. The Merchant of Venice, a Comedy. 4to. 1600. 12. As You Like It, a Comedy. 1623.
13. The Taming of the Shrew, a Comedy.
14. All's Well that Ends Well, † a Comedy. 1623. 15. The Twelfth Night; or, What you will, a Comedy. 1623.
16. The Winter's Tale, ‡ a Comedy.
17. The Life and Death of King John, an historical play. 4to. 1591.
18. The Life and Death of King Richard II., an historical play. 4to. 1598.
19. The Life of King Henry V., an historical play. 4to. 1600.
20. 21. 22. The First, Second, and Third Parts of King Henry VI., historical plays. 4to. 1600.
23. The Life and Death of Richard III., with the Landing of the Earl of Richmond, and the Battle of Bosworth Field.
24. The Life of King Henry VIII. 1623.
25. Troilus and Cressida, a Tragedy. 4to. 1609. 26. Coriolanus, a Tragedy. 1623.
27. Titus Andronicus, a Tragedy. 4to. 1594.
For the plot see Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, V. + Founded upon one of the novels of Boccacio.
The plot of this play is borrowed from Robert Green's novel of Dorastus and Faunia.
The plot from Chaucer, who had it from Lollius, an old Lombard author.
28. Romeo and Juliet, a Tragedy. 4to. 1597.
31. Macbeth,† a Tragedy. 1623.
32. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, a Tragedy. 4to. 1605.
33. King Lear, ‡ a Tragedy. 4to. 1608.
34. Othello, the Moor of Venice, § a Tragedy. 4to. 35. Antony and Cleopatra, a Tragedy. 1623. 36. Cymbeline, || a Tragedy. 1623.
*37. Pericles, Prince of Tyre; an historical play." * 38. The London Prodigal, a Comedy.
*39. The Life and Death of Thomas Lord Cromwell, the favourite of King Henry VIII.
*40. The History of Sir John Oldcastle, the good Lord Cobham, a Tragedy.
* 41. The Puritan; or, the Widow of Watlingstreet, a Comedy.
* 42. A Yorkshire Tragedy.**
43. The Tragedy of Locrine,tt the eldest Son of King Brutus.
Founded upon a real tragedy which happened about the beginning of the fourteenth century. The story, with all it's circumstances, is related by Girolamo Corte in his History of Verona.' Pope refers its origin to a novel by Bondello, which is translated in Painter's Palace of Pleasure.'
+ The plot from Buchanan, and other Scottish historians. The plot from Geoffrey of Monmouth.
The plot from Cinthio's Novels.
The plot partly from the Decameron of Boccacio, II. 9, and partly from the ancient traditions of British history.
** This is rather an Interlude than a Tragedy, being very short, and not divided into acts.
++ See the story in Milton's History of England.'