Skip to main content
ESSAYS AND NOTES SELECTED
AND SET FORTH WITH AN
OXFORD : HORACE HART
PRINTER TO THE UNIVERSITY
INTRODUCTION . , . . ... vii
PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING THE DRAMATICK WORKS OF
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (1756) ,i * , ?< , .\* i
PREFACE TO SHAKESPEARE (1765) . . . x^ . */;; "
NOTES ON THE PLAYS :
The Tempest . .*.''. V '. . . 64
A Midsummer-Night's Dream . . .,. 67
The Two Gentlemen of Verona . . . 72
Measure for Measure 75
The Merchant of Venice . '. ...' ". 81
As You Like It . \ \ .'. .. " f . "" . 83
Love's Labour 's Lost 86
The Winter's Tale . *. I-". " ' / . " % 89
Twelfth Night . '.. . . . , -^ 9 1
The Merry Wives of Windsor . . . '* 93
The Taming of the Shrew ' . . ' . ~ . . 95
The Comedy of Errors 97
Much Ado about Nothing . . ( . . 97
All's Well that Ends Well. . ;- : .- . , ; - . 99
King John . .... . . . 103
v Richard II . . ... . . . no
The First Part of King Henry IV . . . 113
NOTES ON THE PLAYS (continued) : PAGE
i/The Second Part of King Henry IV . . .119
The Life of King Henry V . . . .126
The First Part of King Henry VI . . .134
The Second Part of King Henry VI . . .136
The Third Part of King Henry VI . . . 140
The Life and Death of King Richard III . . 146
The Life of King Henry VIII .... 148
King Lear ........ 154
Timon of Athens -.163
Titus Andronicus 1 66
Julius Caesar .179
^x Antony and Cleopatra . . . V" "' 179
Cymbeline , 181
Troilus and Cressida 184
Romeo and Juliet 185
The Rambler No. 168 (POETRY DEBASED BY MEAN
EXPRESSIONS. AN EXAMPLE FROM Shakespeare) . 202
THE history of Johnson's dealings with Shakespeare
extends over the greater part of his working life. An
edition of Shakespeare was the earliest of his larger
literary schemes. In 1745, when he was earning a
scanty living by work for the booksellers, he published
a pamphlet entitled Miscellaneous Observations on
the Tragedy of Macbeth, with remarks on Sir T. H.'s
(Sir Thomas Hanmer's) Edition of Shakespeare. To
this pamphlet, says Boswell, he affixed proposals for
a new edition by himself. He had certainly announced
these proposals in the advertisements, but no copy of
the pamphlet can be found which contains them. It
seems likely that after he had advertised his intention,
he was discouraged, and changed his mind. When he
first thought of editing Shakespeare, he believed that
he had only Rowe and Pope and Theobald to contend
with and to supersede. Then, while his notes on
Macbeth were in the press, Hanmer's edition appeared,
and it became known to him that the great Warburton
was engaged on the same task. Johnson allowed the
specimen of his projected edition to go forward, but
probably did not print any formal proposals. If any
were printed, they are lost. The proposals of 1756
cannot have been written at this earlier date, for in
them Johnson speaks, with a certain pride, of his
labours on the Dictionary. * With regard,' he says,
c to obsolete or peculiar diction, the editor may perhaps
claim some degree of confidence, having had more
motives to consider the whole extent of our language
than any other man from its first formation.' But
the Dictionary was not planned until the scheme for
an edition of Shakespeare had broken down. It was
necessary for Johnson, if he was to raise himself above
the crowd of venal writers, to inscribe his name on
some large monument of scholarship. Shakespeare
was his first choice ; when, perhaps through the
timidity of the booksellers, that failed him, he turned
his attention to Shakespeare's language, and in 1747
issued the Plan for a Dictionary, which he addressed
to the Earl of Chesterfield.
The Dictionary was finished in 1755, and Johnson,
compelled to find some new means of livelihood,
returned to Shakespeare. Warburton's edition had in
the meantime been added to the list of his rivals,
but his own confidence had increased and his fame was
established. The Proposals for Printing the Dramatick
Works of William Shakespeare, which he issued in 1756,
are magnificent in their range and discernment. The
whole duty of a Shakespearian commentator and critic
is here, for the first time, expounded. The complete
collation of the early editions ; the tracing of Shake-
speare's knowledge to its sources ; the elucidation of
obscurities by a careful study of the language and
customs of Shakespeare's time ; the comparison of
Shakespeare's work with that of other great poets,
ancient and modern all this and more is promised
in the Proposals. He seems to have hoped that his
edition would be final, and in order to give it that
character he promised to reprint all that seemed
valuable in the notes of earlier commentators. The
whole project breathes that warm air of imagination
in which authors design extensive and laborious works.
It is possible, but not likely, that he set to work at
once on the edition. He originally promised that it
should be published in December, 1757. When
December came, he mentioned March, 1758, as the
date of publication. In March he said that he
should publish before summer. On June 27 of the
same year Dr. Grainger wrote to Dr. Percy, ' I have
several times called on Johnson to pay him part of
your subscription. I say, part, because he never
thinks of working if he has a couple of guineas in his
pocket ; but if you notwithstanding order me, the
whole shall be given him at once.' Perhaps it was
after one of these calls that Johnson, stimulated to
unusual effort, wrote to Thomas Warton, on June I,
1758, * Have you any more notes on Shakespeare ?
I shall be glad of them.' Five years later a young
bookseller waited on him with a subscription, and
modestly asked that the subscriber's name should be
inserted in the printed list. * I shall print no list of
subscribers ; ' said Johnson, with great abruptness :
then, more complacently, * Sir, I have two very cogent
reasons for not printing any list of subscribers ; one,
that I have lost all the names, the other, that I have
spent all the money.' This magnanimous confession
almost bears out the charge brought against him by
Churchill in his satire, The Ghost, published in the
spring of 1762 :
He for subscribers baits his hook,
And takes their cash ; but where 's the book ?
No matter where ; wise fear, we know,
Forbids the robbing of a foe ;
But what, to serve our private ends,
Forbids the cheating of our friends?
There is no evidence that Johnson was in any way
perturbed by Churchill's attack, yet it was the
means of hastening the long-deferred edition. ' His
friends,' says Hawkins, * more concerned for his reputa-
tion than himself seemed to be, contrived to entangle
him by a wager, or some other pecuniary engagement,
to perform his task within a certain time.' In 1764
and 1765, according to Boswell's account, he was so
busily engaged with the edition as to have little leisure
for any other literary exertion. That is to say, he
worked at it intermittently, and satisfied his conscience,
after the manner of authors, by working at nothing
else. In October, 1765, at last appeared The Plays
of William Shakespeare, in Eight Volumes, with the
Corrections and. Illustrations of Various Commentators ;
To which are added Notes by Sam. Johnson. He had
spent nine years on the work, but a longer delay would
have been amply justified by the Preface alone, which
Adam Smith styled c the most manly piece of criticism
that was ever published in any country '.
There is nothing singular or strange in this chapter
of literary history. The promises of authors are like
the vows of lovers ; made in moments of careless
rapture, and subject, during the long process of
fulfilment, to all kinds of unforeseen dangers and
difficulties. Of these difficulties Johnson has left
his own account in the Life of Pope. ' Indolence,
interruption, business, and pleasure,' he says, ' all take
their turns of retardation ; and every long work is
lengthened by a thousand causes that can, and ten
thousand that cannot be recounted. Perhaps no
extensive and multifarious performance was ever
effected within the term originally fixed in the
undertaker's mind. He that runs against time has
an antagonist not subject to casualties.' Something
steadier and more habitual than the fervour of the
projecting imagination is required to carry through
a long piece of editorial work. This more constant
motive was supplied to Johnson by necessity. He did
not pretend to write for pleasure. In a letter to his
friend Hector, announcing the new edition of
Shakespeare, he says : * The proposals and receipts
may be had from my mother, to whom I beg you to
send for as many as you can dispose of, and to remit
to her the money which you or your acquaintances
shall collect.' In January, 1759, his mother died, and
he wrote Rasselas in the evenings of one week, to
defray the expenses of her funeral, and to pay some
little debts which she had left. The famous saying,
4 No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for
money,' may thus be regarded as the voice of his
own hard experience, but it is something more than
that. It is Johnson's brief and epigrammatic state-
ment of the unvarying relation between author and
publisher. Though it has been cried out against
as a wilful paradox, it is the creed of the professional
author in all countries and at all times. Young poets
may be satisfied with fame, rich amateurs with
elegance, missionaries and reformers with influence.
But the publisher who should depend for his livelihood
on the labours of these three classes would be in
a poor way, and indeed, if publishers would com-
municate to the world an account of their intimate
transactions, they could tell how the author who is
content with reputation for his first book talks of
nothing but money when he comes to proffer his
second. He has learnt wisdom. Only vapid senti-
ment can quarrel with Johnson's view, if his words
be taken as he meant them. A publisher of books
gains his livelihood by selling to the public that
which the public wants, and the man who supplies
him with the coveted merchandise, yet scorns to
think of the price, is not inaptly described, in the
rude vocabulary of colloquial psychology, as a block-
head. The dignity of literature, the high claims of
the imagination, the call to advance knowledge and
quicken thought these things also are often regarded
by the good publisher. They are still oftener regarded
by the good author ; they are the motives of his
work ; and they make of him a bad servant. But
why should he talk of these thingi-in the market-
place, where he comes only to ask money for the supply
of that which is sought that it may be sold for money ?
The vanity of authors, encouraged by the modesty of
their employers and the superstition of the public, has
imposed a kind of religious jargon on a purely com-
mercial operation. If there are qualities in literature
which are above price, these are also to be found in
the world of manufacture and finance in that huge
pyramid of loyalty which is modern industry, and that
vast network of fidelity which is modern commerce.
Yet iron-founders and cotton-brokers do not, in dis-
cussing the operations of their profoundly beneficent
trades, express themselves wholly in terms of genius
The later history of Johnson's Shakespeare is soon
told. It was received, says Boswell, ' with high appro-
bation by the publick,' and after passing into a second
edition, was in 1773 republished by George Steevens,
e a gentleman not only deeply skilled in ancient learning,
and of very extensive reading in English literature,
especially the early writers, but at the same time
of acute discernment and elegant taste.' Dr. Birkbeck
Hill throws some doubt on Steevens's claims to taste.
It was Steevens who praised Garrick for producing
Hamlet with alterations, ' rescuing that noble play
from all the rubbish of the fifth act ' ; and who
recommended that the condemned passages should be
presented, as a kind of epilogue, in a farce to be
entitled The Grave-Diggers ; with the pleasant Humours
of Osric, the Danish Macaroni. But Steevens deserves
praise for his antiquarian industry and knowledge.
To procure him all possible assistance Johnson wrote
letters to Dr. Farmer of Emmanuel College and to
both the Wartons. He was frequently consulted by
Steevens, but the extent of his own contributions is
best stated by himself in his letter to Farmer : ' I have
done very little to the book.' He never took kindly
to the labours of revision ; and his first edition remains
the authoritative text of his criticism.
His work on Shakespeare gave Johnson as good an
opportunity as he ever enjoyed for exercising what he
believed to be his chief literary talent. ' There are
two things,' he once said to Sir Joshua Reynolds,
c which I am confident I can do very well : one is an
introduction to any literary work, stating what it is
to contain, and how it should be executed in the
most perfect manner ; the other is a conclusion
showing from various causes why the execution has
not been equal to what the authour promised to
himself and to the publick.' The first of these things
he did to admiration in his Proposals ; the second he
attempts in some parts of his Preface. It is plain that
he had not been able to do as much as he had hoped
by way of restoration and illustration, but it is no less
plain that he took pleasure in the accomplished work.
Macaulay's statement that * it would be difficult to
name a more slovenly, a more worthless, edition of
any great classic ', has nothing but emphasis to com-
mend it. Its author was the inventor of that other
tedious paradox, that Johnson's mind was a strange
composite of giant powers and low prejudices. 1 A
wiser man than Macaulay, James Boswell, had already
answered Macaulay's condemnation, which is even
better answered in Johnson's own words : * I have
endeavoured to perform my task with no slight
solicitude. Not a single passage in the whole work
has appeared to me corrupt, which I have not en-
deavoured to restore ; or obscure, which I have not
endeavoured to illustrate. In many I have failed
like others ; and from many, after all my efforts, I have
retreated, and confessed the repulse.' Johnson is the
most punctiliously truthful of all English writers, and
from this statement there is no appeal. If his notes
are not so considerable in bulk as those of some of his
fellow critics it is because he had not, like Warburton,
' a rage for saying something when there was nothing
to be said.' It is true that his knowledge of Elizabethan
literature and Elizabethan manners cannot compare
with the knowledge of Theobald before him or of
Malone after him. It is true also that he undertook
no special course of study with a view to his edition.
He had read immensely for the Dictionary, but the
knowledge of the English language which he had
thus acquired was not always serviceable for a different
purpose. In some respects it was even a hindrance.
Johnson's Dictionary was intended primarily to
1 ' Perhaps the lightness of the matter may conduce to the
vehemence of the agency ; when the truth to be investigated
is so near to inexistence, as to escape attention, its bulk is to be
enlarged by rage and exclamation.' Johnson, Preface to Shake-
furnish a standard of polite usage, suitable for the
classic ideals of the new age. He was therefore
obliged to forego the use of the lesser Elizabethans,
whose authority no one acknowledged, and whose
freedom and extravagance were enemies to his purpose.
But for all this, and even in the explanation of archaic
modes of expression, he can hold his own with the
best of his rivals and successors. Most of the really
difficult passages in Shakespeare are obscure not from
the rarity of the words employed, but from the con-
fused and rapid syntax. Johnson's strong grasp of
the main thread of the discourse, his sound sense, and
his wide knowledge of humanity, enable him, in a hun-
dred passages, to go straight to Shakespeare's meaning,
while the philological and antiquarian commentators
kill one another in the dark, or bury all dramatic life
under the far-fetched spoils of their learning. A
reader of the new Variorum edition of Shakespeare
soon falls into the habit, when he meets with an
obscure passage, of consulting Johnson's note before
the others. Whole pages of complicated dialectic and
minute controversy are often rendered useless by the
few brief sentences which recall the reader's attention
to the main drift, or remind him of some perfectly
It must not be forgotten that Johnson was, after
all, a master of the English language. He was not an
Elizabethan specialist, but his brief account of the
principal causes of Shakespeare's obscurities has never
been bettered. Some of these obscurities are due to
the surreptitious and careless manner of publication ;
some to the shifting fashions, and experimental licence
of Elizabethan English. In a few terse sentences
Johnson adds an account of those other obscurities
which belong to the man rather than to the age.
* If Shakespeare has difficulties above other writers,
it is to be imputed to the nature of his work, which
required the use of common colloquial language, and
consequently admitted many phrases allusive, elliptical
and proverbial ; ... to which might be added the
fullness of idea, which might sometimes load his
words with more sentiment than they could con-
veniently carry, and that rapidity of imagination which
might hurry him to a second thought before he had
fully explained the first. But my opinion is, that
very few of his lines were difficult to his audience, and
that he used such expressions as were then common,
though the paucity of contemporary writers makes
them now seem peculiar.' Let this be compared with
what Coleridge, nearly eighty years later, has to say
on the same question : ' Shakespeare is of no age.
It is idle to endeavour to support his phrases by
quotations from Ben Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher,
&c. His language is entirely his own, and the younger
dramatists imitated him. ... I believe Shakespeare was
not a whit more intelligible in his own day, than he is
now to an educated man, except for a few local allusions
of no consequence.' In so far as Coleridge seems to
allude to Shakespeare's very characteristic style, his
remarks are true. In so far as he is speaking of the
wider problem of language, the verdict of modern
Shakespearian scholars is wholly on Johnson's side.
These extracts from two great critics are here
compared because they show that Johnson's work on
Shakespeare has not been superseded. He has been
neglected and depreciated ever since the nineteenth
century brought in the new aesthetic and philosophical
criticism. The twentieth century, it seems likely,
will treat him more respectfully. The romantic
attitude begins to be fatiguing. The great romantic
critics, when they are writing at their best, do succeed
in communicating to the reader those thrills of wonder
and exaltation which they have felt in contact with
Shakespeare's imaginative work. This is not a little
thing to do ; but it cannot be done continuously,
and it has furnished the work-a-day critic with a
vicious model. There is a taint of insincerity about
romantic criticism, from which not even the great
romantics are free. They are never in danger from
the pitfalls that waylay the plodding critic ; but
they are always falling upward, as it were, into vacuity.
They love to lose themselves in an O altitudo. From
the most worthless material they will fashion a new
hasty altar to the unknown God. When they are
inspired by their divinity they say wonderful things ;
when the inspiration fails them their language is
maintained at the same height, and they say more than
they feel. You can never be sure of them.
Those who approach the study of Shakespeare under
the sober and vigorous guidance of Johnson will meet
with fewer exciting adventures, but they will not
see less of the subject. They will hear the greatness
of Shakespeare discussed in language so quiet and
modest as to sound tame in ears accustomed to hyper-
bole, but they will not, unless they are very dull
or very careless, fall into the error of supposing that
Johnson's admiration for Shakespeare was cold or
partial. ' This therefore is the praise of Shakespeare,
that his drama is the mirrour of life ; that he who
has mazed his imagination, in following the phantoms
which other writers raise up before him, may here be
cured of his delirious extasies, by reading human
sentiments in human language, by scenes from which
a hermit may estimate the transactions of the world,
and a confessor predict the progress of the passions.'
The great moments of Shakespeare's drama had thrilled
and excited Johnson from his boyhood up. When he
was nine years old, and was reading Hamlet alone in his
father's kitchen, the ghost scene made him hurry
upstairs to the street door, that he might see people
about him, and be saved from the terrors of imagina-
tion. Perhaps he remembered this early experience
when he wrote, in his notes on Macbeth * He that
peruses Shakespeare looks round alarmed, and starts
to find himself alone.' In his mature age he could
not bear to read the closing scenes of King Lear and
Othello. His notes on some of Shakespeare's minor
characters, as, for instance, his delightful little bio-
graphical comment on the words * Exit Pistol ', in
King Henry F 9 show with what keenness of zest he
followed the incidents of the drama and with what
sympathy he estimated the persons. It is difficult
to find a meaning for those who assert that Johnson
was insensible to what he himself called ' the tran-
scendent and unbounded genius ' of Shakespeare.
His Preface was not altogether pleasing to idolaters
of Shakespeare even in his own age. It was virulently
attacked, and although he published no reply, his
defence of himself is expressed in a letter to Charles
Burney ' We must confess the faults of our favourite,'
he says, ' to gain credit to our praise of his excellencies.
He that claims, either in himself or for another, the
honours of perfection, will surely injure the reputation
which he designs to assist.' The head and front of
Johnson's offending was that he wrote and spoke of
Shakespeare as one man may fitly speak of another.
He claimed for himself the citizenship of that republic
in which Shakespeare is admittedly pre-eminent ;
and dared to enumerate Shakespeare's faults. The
whole tale of these, as they are catalogued by Johnson,
might be ranged under two heads carelessness, and
excess of conceit. It would be foolish to deny these
charges : the only possible reply to them is that
Shakespeare's faults are never defects ; they belong
to superabundant power, power not putting forth
its full resources even in the crisis of events ; or power
neglecting the task in hand to amuse itself with
irresponsible display. The faults are of a piece with
the virtues ; and Johnson as good as admits this when
he says that they are ' sufficient to obscure and over-
whelm any other merit '. None but Shakespeare,
that is to say, could move easily and triumphantly under
the weight of Shakespeare's faults. The detailed
analysis of the faults is a fine piece of criticism, and
has never been seriously challenged.
A deep-lying cause, not very easy to explain, which
has interfered with the modern appreciation of
Johnson, is to be found in the difference between the
criticism of his day and the criticism which is now
addressed to a large and ignorant audience. He
assumed in his public a fair measure of know-
ledge and judgement ; he ventured to take many
things for granted, and to discuss knotty points as
a man might discuss them in the society of his
friends and equals. He was not always successful
in his assumptions, and more than once had to com-
plain of the stupidity which imagined him to deny
the truths that he honoured with silence. When
he quoted the description of the temple, in Congreve's
Mourning Bride, as being superior in its kind to any-
thing in Shakespeare, he encountered a storm of
protest, the echoes of which persist to this day. His
answer to Garrick's objections deserves a wider
application : * Sir, this is not comparing Congreve
on the whole with Shakespeare on the whole ; but
only maintaining that Congreve has one finer passage
than any that can be found in Shakespeare. Sir,
a man may have no more than ten guineas in the world,
but he may have those ten guineas in one piece ;
and so may have a finer piece than a man who has
ten thousand pounds : but then he has only one
ten-guinea piece. What I mean is, that you can
shew me no passage where there is simply a descrip-
tion of material objects, without any intermixture of
moral notions, which produces such an effect.' A few
days later, in conversation with Boswell, he again
talked of the passage in Congreve, and said, ' Shake-
speare never has six lines together without a fault.
Perhaps you may find seven, but this does not refute
my general assertion. If I come to an orchard, and
say there 's no fruit here, and then comes a poring man,
who finds two apples and three pears, and tells me,
" Sir, you are mistaken, I have found both apples and
pears," I should laugh at him : what would that be
to the purpose ? ' Johnson is not attacking Shake-
speare ; he is assuming his greatness, and helping
to define it by combating popular follies. He knew
well that Shakespeare towers above the greatest writers
of the correct school. * Corneille is to Shakespeare,'
he once said, ' as a clipped hedge is to a forest.' But
he had small patience with the critics who would
have everything for their idol, and who claimed for
the forest all the symmetry and neatness of the hedge.
6 These fellows,' he said, ' know not how to blame,
nor how to commend.'
In these and suchlike passages we hear Johnson
talking in language suitable enough for a literary club.
There is nothing sectarian about his praise ; he speaks
as an independent man of letters, and will not con-
sent to be sealed of the tribe of Shakespeare, Modern
criticism is seldom so free and intimate ; it has more
the tone of public exposition and laudation ; it seeks to
win souls to Shakespeare's poetry, and, for fear of
misunderstanding, avoids the mention of his faults.
It is always willing to suppose that Shakespeare had
good and sufficient reason for what he wrote, and
seldom permits itself the temerity of Johnson, who
points out, for instance, what decency and probability
require in the closing Act of All y s Well that Ends
Well, and adds : ' Of all this Shakespeare could not
be ignorant, but Shakespeare wanted to conclude his
It would not be difficult to show that much new
light has been thrown on parts of Shakespeare's work
by the more reverential treatment. Yet perhaps it
has obscured as much as it has elucidated. So fixed
a habit of appreciation is the death of individuality and
taste. Discipleship is a necessary stage in the study
of any great poet ; it is not a necessary qualification
of the mature critic. The acclamation of his following
is not so honourable a tribute to a prize-fighter as the
respect of his antagonist. In a certain sense Johnson
was antagonistic to Shakespeare. His own taste in
tragedy may be learned from his note on the scene
between Queen Katherine and her attendants at the
close of Act IV of Henry Fill : ' This scene is, above
any other part of Shakespeare's tragedies, and perhaps
above any scene of any other poet, tender and pathetick,
without gods, or furies, or poisons, or precipices,
without the help of romantick circumstances, without
improbable sallies of poetical lamentation, and without
any throes of tumultuous misery. 5 But although this
describes the kind of drama that Johnson preferred,
he can praise, in words that have become a common-
place of criticism, the wildness of romance in The
Tempest and A Midsummer Night's Dream, and can
enumerate and admire the ' touches of judgement
and genius ' which add horror to the incantation of the
witches in Macbeth. Like all great critics, he can
understand the excellences of opposite kinds. Indeed,
in his defence of Shakespeare's neglect of the unities he
passes over to the side of the enemy, and almost
becomes a romantic. 1
The history of Shakespeare criticism would be
shorter than it is if Johnson's views on the emendation
of the text had been more extensively adopted. ' It
has been my settled principle,' he says, 'that the reading
of the ancient books is probably true, and therefore
is not to be disturbed for the sake of elegance, per-
spicuity, or mere improvements of the sense. ... As
I practised conjecture more, I learned to trust it
less ; and after I had printed a few plays, resolved to
insert none of my own readings in the text. Upon
this caution I now congratulate myself, for every day
encreases my doubt of my emendations.' A good
1 The transformation was completed after his death. I am
indebted to Mr. W. P. Ker for pointing out to me that Henri
Beyle in his Racine et Shakespeare (1822) translates all that
Johnson says on the unities, and appropriates it as the mani-
festo of the young romantics. ' But he told not them that he
had taken the honey out of the carcase of the lion.'
part of his work on the text consisted in restoring the
original readings in place of the plausible conjectures
of Pope and Warburton. Yet he sometimes pays to
their readings a respect which he would not challenge
for his own, and retains them in the text. He
adopts Warburton's famous reading in the speech of
Hamlet to Polonius : * If the sun breed maggots in
a dead dog, being a god kissing carrion ' and remarks
on it, ' This is a noble emendation, which almost sets
the critick on a level with the authour.' Admiration
for Warburton's ingenuity caused him to break his
own rule, which is sound, and should never be broken.
The original reading * a good kissing carrion ' has
a meaning ; and therefore, on Johnson's principle,
should stand. Its meaning, moreover, is better suited
to Hamlet and to Shakespeare than the elaborate
mythological argument implied in Warburton's emen-
dation. If the * good kissing carrion ' be understood
by the common analogy of ' good drinking water '
or ' good eating apples ', the grimness of the thought
exactly falls in with Hamlet's utter disaffection to
humanity. ' Conception is a blessing, but not as
your daughter may conceive.' To bring the amended
reading into relation with Hamlet's thought Warburton
is compelled to write a most elaborate disquisition ;
and Johnson might have remembered and applied
his own warning : * I have always suspected that the
reading is right, which requires many words to prove
it wrong ; and the emendation wrong, that cannot
without so much labour appear to be right.'
Johnson's treatment of his predecessors and rivals is
uniformly generous ; he never attempts to raise
his own credit on their mistakes and extravagance.
Once, when a lady at Miss Hannah More's house
talked of his preface to Shakespeare as superior to
Pope's : ' I fear not, Madam,' said he, ' the little
fellow has done wonders.' Hanmer he speaks of as
6 a man, in my opinion, eminently qualified by nature
for such studies.' Warburton was fated to suffer at
his hands more than any other commentator, but it is
plain from the Preface that he had a grateful remem-
brance of Warburton's kindness to the early Observa-
tions on Macbeth. ' He praised me,' Johnson once
said, * at a time when praise was of value to me.'
Such praise Johnson never forgot ; but he did not
allow it to bias his work as a critic. It may be said
that he unduly exalts Warburton at the expense of
Theobald (' O, Sir, he'd make two-and-fifty Theobalds,
cut into slices '), but it was not only personal gratitude
which dictated that judgement. Theobald was,
without doubt, a better scholar and a better editor
than Warburton : there can be no question which
of the two has done more for the text of Shakespeare.
But Warburton was a man of large general powers,
who wrote an easy and engaging style. His long,
fantastic, unnecessary notes on Shakespeare are,
almost without exception, good reading ; which is
more than can be said of Theobald's. Johnson's
regard for the dignity of letters made him too severe
on one who was destitute of the literary graces.
Modern opinion has reinstated Theobald, and is
inclined to adopt Foote's, rather than Johnson's,
opinion of Warburton. When Foote visited Eton,
the boys came round him in the college quadrangle.
* Tell us, Mr. Foote,' said the leader, ' the best thing
you ever said.' ' Why,' said Foote, ' I once saw a
little blackguard imp of a chimney-sweeper, mounted
on a noble steed, prancing and curvetting in all the
pride and magnificence of nature, There, said I,
goes Warburton upon Shakespeare.'
Johnson himself would not have been ready to
allow any weight to the critical opinions of stage-
players. One of his heterodox opinions, says Boswell,
was a contempt for tragic acting. In the Idler he
describes the Indian war-cry, and continues : ' I am
of opinion that by a proper mixture of asses, bulls,
turkeys, geese, and tragedians a noise might be pro-
cured equally horrid with the war-cry.' He was more
than once reproached by Boswell for omitting all
mention of Garrick in the Preface to Shakespeare,
but he was not to be moved. ' Has Garrick not brought
Shakespeare into notice? ' asked Boswell. * Sir,' said
Johnson, ' to allow that would be to lampoon the age.
Many of Shakespeare's plays are the worse for being
acted : Macbeth, for instance.' This was the belief
also of Charles Lamb, who expounded it in his essay
On the Tragedies of Shakespeare. ' There is somethng
in the nature of acting,' he concludes, i which levels
all distinctions. . . . Did not Garrick shine, and was
he not ambitious of shining in every drawling tragedy
that his wretched day produced, the productions of
the Hills and the Murphys and the Browns, and
shall he have the honour to dwell in our minds for
ever as an inseparable concomitant with Shakespeare ?
AJdndred mind ! ' It is a strange kind of heresy that
is the fixed belief of two such critics as Johnson and
But let it be a heresy ; one of the chief fascinations
of Johnson's notes on Shakespeare is that they intro-
duce us to not a few of his private heretical opinions,
and record some of his most casual reminiscences.
We are enabled to trace his reading in the Life of
Sir Thomas More, and in Sir Walter Raleigh's political
remains, and in the fashionable guide to conversation
translated from the French of Scudery. We learn
some things which Boswell does not tell us ; some
even (if a bold thought may be indulged) which
Boswell did not know. We are introduced in the Life
to Johnson's cat Hodge, for whom Johnson used to go
out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that
trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature.
But we are not told, what is proved by a note on
Cymbeline, that Johnson passionately protested against
physiological experiments on live animals. Again, is it
not certain that Boswell, if he had known it, would have
told us that his hero wore his boots indifferently, either
on either foot, and further, which is yet a stranger
thing, believed that all other boot-wearers practise
the same impartiality ? Boswell can hardly have
known this ; yet Johnson's note on the tailor in King
John, who, in his haste, falsely thrusts his slippers
upon contrary feet, leaves no room for doubt. * Shake-
speare,' says Johnson, * seems to have confounded a
man's shoes with his gloves. He that is frighted or
hurried may put his hand into the wrong glove,
but either shoe will equally admit either foot. The
authour seems to be disturbed by the disorder which
he describes.' This is a topic which demands, and
would well repay, the expert labours of academic re-
search. Very little is known about Johnson's boots.
A great part of an editor's work is in its nature
perishable. Some of his notes are in time superseded ;
some are shown to be wrong ; some are accepted and
embodied in the common stock of knowledge. Of
all Johnson's annotations on Shakespeare those which
record his own tastes and habits have preserved most
of freshness and interest. It is a privilege to be able to
hear him talking without the intervention of Boswell ;
we can in some ways come closer to him when that
eager presence is removed. It is the greatness of
Boswell's achievement that he has made Johnson
familiar to us ; but the very zeal and reverence of
the biographer inevitably infect the reader, who is
admitted to the intimacies of a man of companionable
genius as if to a shrine. Boswell made of biography
a passionate science ; and viewed his hero in a detached
light. Nothing hurt him so much as the implication
that any single detail or remark of his recording was
inaccurately or carelessly set down. His self-abnega-
tion was complete : where he permits himself to appear
it is only that he may exhibit his subject to greater
advantage. He invented the experimental method,
and applied it to the determination of human character.
At great expenditure of time and forethought he
brought Johnson into strange company, the better to
display his character and behaviour. He plied him
with absurd questions, in the hope of receiving
valuable answers. All this was not the conduct of
a friend, but of a remorseless investigator. And
when to this is added Boswell's spirit of humble
adoration, it is easy to understand how the whole
process has made Johnson clear indeed, in every out-
line, but a little too remote. His eccentricities take
up too much of the picture, so that to the vulgar
intelligence he has always seemed something of
a monster. Even those who love Johnson fall too
easily into Boswell's attitude, and observe, and listen,
and wonder. It is good to remember that the
dictator, when he was in a happy vein, was, above most
men, sensible, courteous and friendly. The best of his
notes on Shakespeare, like the best of his spoken
remarks, invite discussion and quicken thought.
What a conversation might have been started at the
club by his brief observation on Gaunt's speech in
Richard II :
Shorten my days thou canst with sullen sorrow,
And pluck nights from me, but not lend a morrow.
' It is matter of very melancholy consideration,' says
Johnson, ' that all human advantages confer more
power of doing evil than good.' No doubt the
reflection is highly characteristic of its author, but
we are too much accustomed to let our interest in
the character overshadow our interest in the truth.
Johnson's talk was free from self-consciousness ; but
Boswell, when he was in the room, was conscious of
one person only, so that a kind of self-consciousness
by proxy is the impression conveyed. There is no
greater enemy to the freedom and delight of social
intercourse than the man who is always going back
on what has just been said, to praise its cleverness,
to guess its motive, or to show how it illustrates the
character of the speaker. Boswell was not, of course,
guilty of this particular kind of ill-breeding ; but the
very necessities of his record produce something of
a like effect. The reader who desires to have Johnson
to himself for an hour, with no interpreter, cannot do
better than turn to the notes on Shakespeare. They
are written informally and fluently ; they are packed
full of observation and wisdom ; and their only fault
is that they are all too few.
SPOKEN by MR. GARRICK,
At the Opening of the THEATRE-ROYAL,
WHEN Learning's triumph o'er her barbarous foes
First rear'd the stage, immortal Shakespeare rose;
Each change of many-colour'd life he drew,
Exhausted worlds, and then imagined new :
Existence saw him spurn her bounded reign,
And panting time toil'd after him in vain.
His powerful strokes presiding truth impress'd,
And unresisted passion storm'd the breast.
PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING THE
DRAMATICK WORKS OF
WHEN the works of Shakespeare are, after so many
editions, again offered to the Publick, it will doubtless
be inquired, why Shakespeare stands in more need of
critical assistance than any other of the English writers,
and what are the deficiencies of the late attempts,
which another editor may hope to supply?
The business of him that republishes an ancient
book is, to correct what is corrupt, and to explain
what is obscure. To have a text corrupt in many
places, and in many doubtful, is, among the authors
that have written since the use of types, almost
peculiar to Shakespeare. Most writers, by publishing
their own works, prevent all various readings, and
preclude all conjectural criticism. Books indeed are
sometimes published after the death of him who pro-
duced them ; but they are better secured from
corruption than these unfortunate compositions. They
subsist in a single copy, written or revised by the
author ; and the faults of the printed volume can be
only faults of one descent.
But of the works of Shakespeare the condition has
been far different : he sold them, not to be printed,
but to be played. They were immediately copied
for the actors, and multiplied by transcript after
transcript, vitiated by the blunders of the penman,
or changed by the affectation of the player ; perhaps
enlarged to introduce a jest, or mutilated to shorten
the representation ; and printed at last without the
concurrence of the author, without the consent of
the proprietor, from compilations made by chance
or by stealth out of the separate parts written for
the theatre : and thus thrust into the world surrep-
titiously and hastily, they suffered another deprava-
tion from the ignorance and negligence of the printers,
as every man who knows the state of the press in that
age will readily conceive.
It is not easy for invention to bring together so
many causes concurring to vitiate the text. No other
author ever gave up his works to fortune and time with
so little care : no books could be left in hands so likely
to injure them, as plays frequently acted, yet continued
in manuscript : no other transcribers were likely to
be so little qualified for their task as those who copied
for the stage, at a time when the lower ranks of the
people were universally illiterate : no other editions
were made from fragments so minutely broken, and
so fortuitously reunited ; and in no other age was
the art of printing in such unskilful hands.
With the causes of corruption that make the revisal
of Shakespeare's dramatick pieces necessary, may be
enumerated the causes of obscurity, which may be
partly imputed to his age, and partly to himself.
When a writer outlives his contemporaries, and
remains almost the only unforgotten name of a distant
time, he is necessarily obscure. Every age has its
modes of speech, and its cast of thought ; which,
though easily explained when there are many books to
be compared with each other, become sometimes
unintelligible and always difficult, when there are no
parallel passages that may conduce to their illustration.
Shakespeare is the first considerable author of sublime
or familiar dialogue in our language. Of the books
which he read, and from which he formed his style,
some perhaps have perished, and the rest are neglected.
His imitations are therefore unnoted, his allusions are
undiscovered, and many beauties, both of pleasantry
and greatness, are lost with the objects to which they
were united, as the figures vanish when the canvass has
It is the great excellence of Shakespeare, that he
drew his scenes from nature, and from life. He copied
the manners of the world then passing before him,
and has more allusions than other poets to the
traditions and superstition of the vulgar ; which must
therefore be traced before he can be understood.
He wrote at a time when our poetical language was
yet unformed, when the meaning of our phrases was
yet in fluctuation, when words were adopted at
pleasure from the neighbouring languages, and while
the Saxon was still visibly mingled in our diction.
The reader is therefore embarrassed at once with dead
and with foreign languages, with obsoleteness and
innovation. In that age, as in all others, fashion
produced phraseology, which succeeding fashion swept
away before its meaning was generally known, or
sufficiently authorized : and in that age, above all
others, experiments were made upon our language,
which distorted its combinations, and disturbed its
If Shakespeare has difficulties above other writers,
it is to be imputed to the nature of his work, which
required the use of the common colloquial language,
and consequently admitted many phrases allusive,
elliptical, and proverbial, such as we speak and hear
every hour without observing them ; and of which,
being now familiar, we do not suspect that they can
ever grow uncouth, or that, being now obvious, they
can ever seem remote.
These are the principal causes of the obscurity of
Shakespeare ; to which might be added the fulness of
idea, which might sometimes load his words with more
sentiment than they could conveniently convey, and
that rapidity of imagination which might hurry him
to a second thought before he had fully explained the
first. But my opinion is, that very few of his lines
were difficult to his audience, and that he used such
expressions as were then common, though the paucity
of contemporary writers makes them now seem peculiar.
Authors are often praised for improvement, or
blamed for innovation, with very little justice, by
those who read few other books of the same age.
Addison himself has been so unsuccessful in enumera-
ting the words with which Milton has enriched our
language, as perhaps not to have named one of which
Milton was the author ; and Bentley has yet more
unhappily praised him as the introducer of those
ellisions into English poetry, which had been used
from the first essays of versification among us, and
which Milton was indeed the last that practised.
Another impediment, not the least vexatious to
the commentator, is the exactness with which Shake-
speare followed his authors. Instead of dilating his
thoughts into generalities, and expressing incidents
with poetical latitude, he often combines circum-
stances unnecessary to his main design, only because
he happened to find them together. Such passages
can be illustrated only by him who has read the same
story in the very book which Shakespeare consulted.
He that undertakes an edition of Shakespeare, has
all these difficulties to encounter, and all these obstruc-
tions to remove.
The corruptions of the text will be corrected by
a careful collation of the oldest copies, by which it
is hoped that many restorations may yet be made :
at least it will be necessary to collect and note the
variation as materials for future criticks ; for it very
often happens that a wrong reading has affinity to
In this part all the present editions are apparently
and intentionally defective. The criticks did not so
much as wish to facilitate the labour of those that
followed them. The same books are still to be com-
pared ; the work that has been done, is to be done
again ; and no single edition will supply the reader
with a text on which he can rely as the best copy of
the works of Shakespeare.
The edition now proposed will at least have this
advantage over others. It will exhibit all the observ-
able varieties of all the copies that can be found ; that,
if the reader is not satisfied with the editor's deter-
mination, he may have the means of choosing better
Where all the books are evidently vitiated, and
collation can give no assistance, then begins the task
of critical sagacity : and some changes may well be
admitted in a text never settled by the author, and
so long exposed to caprice and ignorance. But
nothing shall be imposed, as in the Oxford edition,
without notice of the alteration ; nor shall conjecture
be wantonly or unnecessarily indulged.
It has been long found, that very specious emenda-
tions, do not equally strike all minds with conviction,
nor even the same mind at different times ; and
therefore, though perhaps many alterations may be
proposed as eligible, very few will be obtruded as
certain. In a language so ungrammatical as the
English, and so licentious as that of Shakespeare,
emendatory criticism is always hazardous ; nor can it
be allowed to any man who is not particularly versed
in the writings of that age, and particularly studious
of his author's diction. There is a danger lest
peculiarities should be mistaken for corruptions, and
passages rejected as unintelligible, which a narrow
mind happens not to understand.
All the former criticks have been so much employed
on the correction of the text, that they have not
sufficiently attended to the elucidation of passages
obscured by accident or time. The editor will en-
deavour to read the books which the author read, to
trace his knowledge to its source, and compare his
copies with their originals. If in this part of his
design he hopes to attain any degree of superiority to
his predecessors, it must be considered, that he has
the advantage of their labours ; that part of the work
being already done, more care is naturally bestowed
on the other part ; and that, to declare the truth,
Mr. Rowe and Mr. Pope were very ignorant of the
ancient English literature ; Dr. Warburton was detained
by more important studies ; and Mr. Theobald, if fame
be just to his memory, considered learning only as an
instrument of gain, and made no further inquiry
after his author's meaning, when once he had notes
sufficient to embellish his page with the expected
With regard to obsolete or peculiar diction, the
editor may perhaps claim some degree of confidence,
having had more motives to consider the whole extent
of our language than any other man from its first
formation. He hopes that, by comparing the works
of Shakespeare with those of writers who lived at the
same time, immediately preceded, or immediately
followed him, he shall be able to ascertain his ambi-
guities, disentangle his intricacies, and recover the mean-
ing of words now lost in the darkness of antiquity.
When therefore any obscurity arises from an allusion
to some other book, the passage will be quoted. When
the diction is entangled, it will be cleared by a para-
phrase or interpretation. When the sense is broken
by the suppression of part of the sentiment in pleasantry
or passion, the connexion will be supplied. When any
forgotten custom is hinted, care will be taken to retrieve
and explain it. The meaning assigned to doubtful
words will be supported by the authorities of other
writers, or by parallel passages of Shakespeare himself.
The observation of faults and beauties is one of the
duties of an annotator, which some of Shakespeare's
editors have attempted, and some have neglected.
For this part of his task, and for this only, was Mr. Pope
eminently and indisputably qualified ; nor has Dr.
Warburton followed him with less diligence or less
success. But I have never observed that mankind was
much delighted or improved by their asterisks, commas,
or double commas ; of which the only effect is, that
they preclude the pleasure of judging for ourselves,
teach the young and ignorant to decide without
principles ; defeat curiosity and discernment, by
leaving them less to discover ; and at last show the
opinion of the critick, without the reasons on which
it was founded, and without affording any light by
which it may be examined.
The editor, though he may less delight his own
vanity will probably please his reader more, by sup-
posing him equally able with himself to judge of
beauties and faults, which require no previous acquisi-
tion of remote knowledge. A description of the
obvious scenes of nature, a representation of general
life, a sentiment of reflection or experience, a deduc-
tion of conclusive arguments, a forcible eruption of
effervescent passion, are to be considered as propor-
tionate to common apprehension, unassisted by critical
officiousness ; since, to convince them, nothing more
is requisite than acquaintance with the general state
of the world, and those faculties which he must almost
bring with him who would read Shakespeare.
But when the beauty arises from some adaptation
of the sentiment to customs worn out of use, to
opinions not universally prevalent, or to any acci-
dental or minute particularity, which cannot be
supplied by common understanding, or common
observation, it is the duty of a commentator to lend
The notice of beauties and faults thus limited, will
make no distinct part of the design, being reducible
to the explanation of obscure passages.
The editor does not however intend to preclude
himself from the comparison of Shakespeare's senti-
ments or expression with those of ancient or modern
authors, or from the display of any beauty not obvious
to the students of poetry ; for as he hopes to leave his
author better understood, he wishes likewise to procure
him more rational approbation.
The former editors have affected to slight their
predecessors : but in this edition all that is valuable
will be adopted from every commentator, that posterity
may consider it as including all the rest, and exhibiting
whatever is hitherto known of the great father of the
PREFACE TO SHAKESPEARE
THAT praises are without reason lavished on the
dead, and that the honours due only to excellence are
paid to antiquity, is a complaint likely to be always
continued by those, who, being able to add nothing
to truth, hope for eminence from the heresies of
paradox ; or those, who, being forced by disappoint-
ment upon consolatory expedients, are willing to hope
from posterity what the present age refuses, and flatter
themselves that the regard which is yet denied by
envy, will be at last bestowed by time.
Antiquity, like every other quality that attracts the
notice of mankind, has undoubtedly votaries that
reverence it, not from reason, but from prejudice.
Some seem to admire indiscriminately whatever has
been long preserved, without considering' that time
has sometimes co-operated with chance ; all perhaps
are more willing to honour past than present excel-
lence ; and the mind contemplates genius through the
shades of age, as the eye surveys the sun through
artificial opacity. The great contention of criticism
is to find the faults of the moderns, and the beauties
of the ancients. While an authour is yet living we
estimate his powers by his worst performance, and
when he is dead, we rate them by his best.
To works, however, of which the excellence is not
absolute and definite, but gradual and comparative ;
to works not raised upon principles demonstrative and
scientifick, but appealing wholly to observation and
experience, no other test can be applied than length
of duration and continuance of esteem. What man-
kind have long possessed they have often examined and
compared ; and if they persist to value the possession,
it is because frequent comparisons have confirmed
opinion in its favour. As among the works of nature
no man can properly call a river deep, or a mountain
high, without the knowledge of many mountains, and
many rivers ; so in the productions of genius, nothing
can be stiled excellent till it has been compared with
other works of the same kind. Demonstration imme-
diately displays its power, and has nothing to hope or
fear from the flux of years ; but works tentative and
experimental must be estimated by their proportion
to the general and collective ability of man, as it is
discovered in a long succession of endeavours. Of the
first building that was raised, it might be with certainty
determined that it was round or square ; but whether
it was spacious or lofty must have been referred to
time. The Pythagorean scale of numbers was at once
discovered to be perfect ; but the poems of Homer we
yet know not to transcend the common limits of
human intelligence, but by remarking, that nation
after nation, and century after century, has been able
to do little more than transpose his incidents, new-
name his characters, and paraphrase his sentiments.
The reverence due to writings that have long
subsisted arises therefore not from any credulous con-
fidence in the superior wisdom of past ages, or gloomy
persuasion of the degeneracy of mankind, but is the
consequence of acknowledged and indubitable positions,
that what has been longest known has been most con-
sidered, and what is most considered is best understood.
The Poet, of whose works I have undertaken the
revision, may now begin to assume the dignity of an
ancient, and claim the privilege of established fame and
prescriptive veneration. He has long outlived his
century, the term commonly fixed as the test of literary
merit. Whatever advantages he might once derive
from personal allusions, local customs, or temporary
opinions, have for many years been lost ; and every
topick of merriment, or motive of sorrow, which the
modes of artificial life afforded him, now only obscure
the scenes which they once illuminated. The effects
of favour and competition are at an end ; the tradition
of his friendships and his enmities has perished ; his
works support no opinion with arguments, nor supply
any faction with invectives ; they can neither indulge
vanity nor gratify malignity ; but are read without
any other reason than the desire of pleasure, and are
therefore praised only as pleasure is obtained ; yet,
thus unassisted by interest or passion, they have past
through variations of taste and changes of manners,
and, as they devolved from one generation to another,
have received new honours at every transmission.
But because human judgment, though it be gra-
dually gaining upon certainty, never becomes infal-
lible ; and approbation, though long continued, may
yet be only the approbation of prejudice or fashion ;
it is proper to inquire, by what peculiarities of excel-
lence Shakespeare has gained and kept the favour of
Nothing can please many, and please long, but just
representations of general nature. Particular manner,
can be known to few, and therefore few only can judge
how nearly they are copied. The irregular combina-
tions of fanciful invention may delight a-while, by that
novelty of which the common satiety of life sends us
all in quest ; but the pleasures of sudden wonder are
soon exhausted, and the mind can only repose on the
stability of truth.
Shakespeare is above all writers, at least above all
modern writers, the poet of nature the poet that
holds up to his readers a faithful mirrour of manners
and of life. His characters are not modified by the
customs of particular places, unpractised by the rest
of the world; by the peculiarities of studies or pro-
fessions, which can operate but upon small numbers ;
or by the accidents of transient fashions or temporary
opinions : they are the genuine progeny of common
humanity, such as the world will always supply, and
observation will always find. His persons act and
speak by the influence of those general passions and
principles by which all minds are agitated, and the whole
system of life is continued in motionX In the writings
of other poets a character is too often an individual ;
in those of Shakespeare it is commonly a species, x
It is from this wide extension of design that so much
instructTorTis derived. It is this which fills the plays
of Shakespeare with practical axioms and domestic
wisdom. It was said of Euripides, that every verse was,
a precept ; and it may be said of Shakespeare, that
from his works may be collected a system of civil and
oeconomical prudence. Yet his real power is not
shewn in the splendour of particular passages, but by
the progress of his fable, and the tenour of his dialogue ;
and he that tries to recommend him by select quota-
tions, will succeed like the pedant in Hierocles, who,
when he offered his house to sale, carried a brick in
his pocket as a specimen.
It will not easily be imagined how much Shakespeare
excells in accommodating his sentiments to real life,
but by comparing him with other authors. It was
observed of the ancient schools of declamation, that
the more diligently they were frequented, the more
was the student disqualified for the world, because he
found nothing there which he should ever meet in
any other place. The same remark may be applied
to every stage but that of Shakespeare. The theatre,
when it is under any other direction, is peopled by
such characters as were never seen, conversing in
a language which was never heard, upon topicks which
will never arise in the commerce of mankind. But
the dialogue of this author is often so evidently deter-
mined by the incident which produces it, and is
pursued with so much ease and simplicity, that it
seems scarcely to claim the merit of fiction, but to
have been gleaned by diligent selection out of common
conversation, and common occurrences.
Upon every other stage the universal agent is love,
by whose power all good and evil is distributed, and
every action quickened or retarded. To bring a lover,
a lady and a rival into the fable ; to entangle them
in contradictory obligations, perplex them with oppo-
sitions of interest, and harrass them with violence of
desires inconsistent with each other ; to make them
meet in rapture and part in agony ; to fill their
mouths with hyperbolical joy and outrageous sorrow ;
to distress them as nothing human ever was distressed ;
to deliver them as nothing human ever was delivered ;
is the business of a modern dramatist. For this pro-
bability is violated, life is misrepresented, and language
is depraved. But love- is only one of many passions ;
and as it has no great influence upon the sum of life,
it has little operation in the dramas of a poet, who
caught his ideas from the living world, and exhibited
only what he saw before him. He knew, that any
other passion, as it was regular or exorbitant, was a cause
of happiness or calamity.
Characters thus ample and general were not easily
discriminated and preserved, yet perhaps no poet ever
kept his personages more distinct from each other.
I will not say with Pope, that every speech may be
assigned to the proper speaker, because many speeches
there are which have nothing characteristical ; but
perhaps, though some may be equally adapted to
every person, it will be difficult to find, any that can
be properly transferred from the present possessor to
another claimant. The choice is right, when there is
reason for choice.
Other dramatists can only gain attention by hyper-
bolical or aggravated characters, by fabulous and
unexampled excellence or depravity, as the writers
of barbarous romances invigorated the reader by
a giant and a dwarf ; and he that should form his
expectations of human affairs from the play, or from
tale, would be equally deceived. ^" 7 ^ f ffflff hi!
10 heroes ; his scenes are occupied only by men, who
tct and speak as the reader thinks that he should
limself have spoken or acted on the same occasion :
liven where the agency is supernatural the dialogue
|s level with life. Other writers disguise the most
tatural passions and most frequent incidents ; so that
ie who contemplates them in the book will not know
them in the world : Shakespeare approximates the
remote, and familiarizes the wonderful ; the event
which he represents will not happen, but if it were
possible, its effects would probably be such as he has
assigned ; and it may be said, that he has not only shewn
human nature as it acts in real exigencies, but as it
would be found in trials, to which it cannot be exposed.
This therefore is the praise of Shakespeare, that his
drama is the mirrour of life ; that he who has mazed
his imagination, in following the phantoms which
other writers raise up before him, may here be cured
of his delirious extasies, by reading human sentiments
in human language, by scenes from which a hermit
may estimate the transactions of the world, and a con-
fessor predict the progress of the passions.
His adherence to general nature has exposed him
to the censure of criticks, who form their judgments
upon narrower principles. Dennis and Rhymer think
his Romans not sufficiently Roman ; and Voltaire
censures his kings as not completely royal. Dennis
is offended, that Menenius, a senator of Rome, should
play the buffoon ; and Voltaire perhaps thinks decency
violated when the Danish Usurper is represented as
a drunkard. But Shakespeare always makes nature
predominate over accident ; and if he preserves the
essential character, is not very careful of distinctions
superinduced and adventitious. His story requires
Romans or kings, but he thinks only on men. He
knew that Rome, like every other city, had men of all
dispositions ; and wanting a buffoon, he went into the
senate-house for that which the senate-house would
certainly have afforded him. He was inclined to shew
an usurper and a murderer not only odious but
despicable, he therefore added drunkenness to his
other qualities, knowing that kings love wine like other
men, and that wine exerts its natural power upon
kings. These are the petty cavils of petty minds ;
a poet overlooks the casual distinction of country and
condition, as a painter, satisfied with the figure, neg-
lects the drapery.
/~The censure which he has incurred by mixing
Ycomick and tragick scenes, as it extends to all his
/ works, deserves more consideration. Let the fact be
/first stated, and then examined.
Shakespeare's plays are not in the rigorous and
critical sense either tragedies or comedies, but com-
positions of a distinct kind ; exhibiting the real state
of sublunary nature, which partakes of good and evil,
joy and sorrow, miggled with endless variety of pro-
portion and innumrSfBle modes of combination ; and
expressing the course of the world, in which the loss
of one is the gain of another ; in which, at the same
time, the reveller is hasting to his wine, and the
mourner burying his friend ; in which the malignity
of one is sometimes defeated by the frolick of another ;
1 6 SHAKESPEARE
and many mischiefs and many benefits are done and
hindered without design.
Out of this chaos of mingled purposes and casualties
the ancient poets, according to the laws which custom
had prescribed, selected some the crimes of men, and
some their absurdities; some the momentous vicissi-
tudes of life, and some the lighter occurrences ; some
the terrours of distress, and some the gayeties of
prosperity. Thus rose the two modes of imitation,
known by the names of tragedy and comedy, composi-
tions intended to promote different ends by contrary
means, and considered as so little allied, that I do not
recollect among the Greeks or Romans a single writer
who attempted both.
Shakespeare has united the powers of exciting
laughter and sorrow not only in one mind, but in one
composition. Almost all his plays are divided between
serious and ludicrous characters, and, in the successive
evolutions of the design, sometimes produce serious-
ness and sorrow, and sometimes levity and laughter.
That this is a practice contrary to the rules of
criticism will be readily allowed ; but there is always
an appeal open from criticism to nature. The end of
writing is to instruct ; the end pf poetry is to instruct
by pleasing. That the mingled drama may convey all
the instruction oftragedv or comedy canno^_be_d.enied,
because it includes both in its alterations of exhiEition
and approaches nearer than either to the appearance of
life, by shewing how great machinations and slender
designs may promote or obviate one another, and the
high and the low co-operate in the general system by
It is objected, that by this change of scenes the
passions are interrupted in their progression, and that
the principal event, being not advanced by a due
gradation of preparatory incidents, wants at last the
power to move, which constitutes the perfection of
dramatick poetry. This reasoning is so specious, that
it is received as true even by those who in daily experi-
ence feel it to be false. The interchanges of mingled
scenes seldom fail to produce the intended vicissitudes
of passion. Fiction cannot move so much, but that
the attention may be easily transferred ; and though
it must be allowed that pleasing melancholy be some-
times interrupted by unwelcome levity, yet let it be
considered likewise, that melancholy is often not
pleasing, and that the disturbance of one man may be
the relief of another ; that different auditors have
different habitudes ; and that, upon the whole, all
pleasure consists in variety.
The players, who in their edition divided our
authour's works into comedies, histories, and tragedies,
seem not to have distinguished the three kinds by any
very exact or definite ideas.
An action which ended happily to the principal
persons, however serious or distressful through its
intermediate incidents, in their opinion, constituted
a comedy. This idea of a comedy continued long
amongst us ; and plays were written, which, by
changing the catastrophe, were tragedies to-day, and
comedies to-morrow. i
Tragedy was not in those times a poem of more
general dignity or elevation than comedy ; it required
only a calamitous conclusion, with which the common
criticism of that age was satisfied, whatever lighter
pleasure it afforded in its progress.
History was a series of actions, with no other than
chronological succession, independent on each other,
and without any tendency to introduce or regulate
the conclusion. It is not always very nicely dis-
tinguished from tragedy. There is not much nearer
approach to unity of action in the tragedy of Antony
1 8 SHAKESPEARE
and Cleopatra, than in the history of Richard the
Second. But a history might be continued through
many plays ; as it had no plan, it had no limits.
Through all these denominations of the drama,
Shakespeare's mode of composition is the same ; an
interchange of seriousness and merriment, by which
the mind is softened at one time, and exhilarated at
another. But whatever be his purpose, whether to
gladden or depress, or to conduct the story, without
vehemence or emotion, through tracts of easy and
familiar dialogue, he never fails to attain his purpose ;
as he commands us, we laugh or mourn, or sit silent
with quiet expectation, in tranquillity without
When Shakespeare's plan is understood, most of the
criticisms of Rhymer and Voltaire vanish away. The
play of Hamlet is opened, without impropriety, by
two sentinels ; I ago bellows at Brabantio's window,
without injury to the scheme of the play, though in
terms which a modern audience would not easily
endure ; the character of Polonius is seasonable and
useful; and the Grave-diggers themselves may be
heard with applause.
Shakespeare engaged in dramatick poetry with the
world open before him ; the rules of the ancients
were yet known to few; the publick judgment was
unformed ; he had no example of such fame as might
force him upon imitation, nor criticks of such authority
as might restrain his extravagance : He therefore in-
dulged his natural disposition, and his disposition,
as Rhymer has remarked, led him to comedy. In
tragedy he often writes, with great appearance of toil
and study, what is written at last with little felicity ;
but in his comick scenes, he seems to produce without
labour, what no labour can improve. In tragedv^he
is always struggling after some occasion to be comick ;
but in comedy he seems to repose, or to luxuriate, as
ia_a mode of thinking congenial to his nature. In
his tragick scenes there is always something wanting,
but his comedy often surpasses expectation or desire.
His comedy pleases by the thoughts and the language,
and his tragedy for the greater part by incident and
action. His tragedy seems to be skill, his comedy to
The force of his comick scenes has suffered little
diminution from the changes made by a century and
a half, in manners or in words. As his personages act
upon principles arising from genuine passion, very
little modified by particular forms, their pleasures and
vexations are communicable to all times and to all
places ; they are natural, and therefore durable ; the
adventitious peculiarities of personal habits, are only
superficial dies, bright and pleasing for a little while,
yet soon fading to a dim tinct, without any remains of
former lustre ; but the discriminations of true passion
are the colours of nature ; they pervade the whole
mass, and can only perish with the body that exhibits
them. The accidental compositions of heterogeneous
modes are dissolved by the chance which combined
them ; but the uniform simplicity of primitive quali-
ties neither admits increase, nor suffers decay. The
sand heaped by one flood is scattered by another, but
the rock always continues in its place. The stream
of time, which is continually washing the dissoluble
fabricks of other poets, passes without injury by the
adamant of Shakespeare.
If there be, what I believe there is, in every nation,
a stile which never becomes obsolete, a certain mode
of phraseology so consonant and congenial to the
analogy and principles of its respective language as to
remain settled and unaltered ; this style is probably
to be sought in the common intercourse of life, among
those who speak only to be understood, without am-
bition of elegance. The polite are always catching
modish innovations, and the learned depart from
established forms of speech, in hope of finding or
making better ; those who wish for distinction forsake
the vulgar, when the vulgar is right ; but there is
a conversation above grossness and below refinement,
where propriety resides, and where this poet seems to
have gathered his comick dialogue. He is therefore
more agreeable to the ears of the present age than any
other authour equally remote, and among his other
excellencies deserves to be studied as one of the original
masters of our language.
These observations are to be considered not as unex-
ceptionably constant, but as containing general and
predominant truth. Shakespeare's familiar dialogue is
affirmed to be smooth and clear, yet not wholly with-
out ruggedness or difficulty ; as a country may be
eminently fruitful, though it has spots unfit for culti-
vation : His characters are praised as natural, though
their sentiments are sometimes forced, and their actions
improbable ; as the earth upon the whole is spherical,
though its surface is varied with protuberances and
Shakespeare with his excellencies has likewise faults,
and faults sufficient to obscure and overwhelm any
other merit. I shall shew them in the proportion in
which they appear to me, without envious malignity
or superstitious veneration. No question can be more
innocently discussed than a dead poet's pretensions to
renown ; and little regard is due to that bigotry which
sets candour higher than truth.
His first defect is that to which may be imputed
most of the evil in books or in men.(jHe sacrifices
virtue to convenience, and is so much more careful
to please than to instruct, that he seems to write
without any moral purpose. From his writings indeed
a system of social duty may be selected, for he that
thinks reasonably must think morally ; but his precepts
and axioms drop casually from him ; he makes no just
distribution of good or evil, nor is always careful to
shew in the virtuous a disapprobation of the wicked ;
he carries his persons indifferently through right and
wrong, and at the close dismisses them without further
care, and leaves their examples to operate by chance.
This fault the barbarity of his age cannot extenuate ;
for it is always a writer's duty to make the world
better, and justice is a virtue independant on time or
The plots are often so loosely formed, that a very
slight consideration may improve them, and so care-
lessly pursued, that he seems not always fully to com-
prehend his own design. He omits opportunities of
instructing or delighting which the train of his stoty
seems to force upon him, and apparently rejects those
exhibitions which would be more affecting, for the
sake of those which are more easy.
It may be observed, that in many of his plays the
latter part is evidently neglected. When he found
himself near the end of his work, and, in view of his
reward, he shortened the labour to snatch the profit.
He therefore remits his efforts where he should most
vigorously exert them, and his catastrophe is impro-
bably produced or imperfectly represented.
He had no regard to distinction of time or place,
but gives to one age or nation, without scruple, the
customs, institutions, and opinions of another, at the
expence not only of likelihood, but of possibility.
These faults Pope has endeavoured, with more zeal
than judgment,, to transfer to his imagined interpo-
lators. We need not wonder to find Hector quoting
Aristotle, when we see the loves of Theseus and Hippo-
lyta combined with the Gothick mythology of fairies.
Shakespeare, indeed, was not the only violator of
chronology, for in the same age Sidney, who wanted not
the advantages of learning, has, in his Arcadia, con-
founded the pastoral with the feudal times, the days
of innocence, quiet and security, with those of turbu-
lence, violence, and adventure.
In his comick scenes he is seldom very successful,
when he engages his characters in reciprocations of
snurtney *M Hffltff tg of sarcasm ; their jests are
commonly gross, and their pleasantry licentious ;
neither his gentlemen nor his ladies have much delicacy,
nor are sufficiently distinguished from his clowns by
any appearance of refined manners. Whether he
represented the real conversation of his time is not
easy to determine ; the reign of Elizabeth is commonly
supposed to have been a time of stateliness, formality
and reserve ; yet perhaps the relaxations of that
severity were not very elegant. There must, however,
have been always some modes of gayety preferable to
others, and a writer ought to chuse the best.
In tragedy his performance seems constantly to be
v ) worse, as his labour is more. The effusions of passion
which exigence forces out are for the most part
striking and energetick ; but whenever he solicits his
invention, or strains his faculties, the offspring of his
throes is tumour, meanness, tediousness, and obscurity.
In narration he affects a disproportionate pomp of
diction, and V wearisome train of circumlocution, and
tells the incident* imperfectly in many words, which
might have been more plainly delivered in few.
Narration in dramatick poetry is naturally tedious, as
it is unanimated and inactive, and obstructs the
progress of the action ; it should therefore always be
rapid, and enlivened by frequent interruption. Shake-
speare found it an encumbrance, and instead of lighten-
ing it by brevity, endeavoured to recommend it by
dignity and splendour.
His declamations or set speeches are commonly cold
and weak, for his power was the power of nature ;
when he endeavoured, like other tragick writers, to
catch opportunities of amplification, and instead of
inquiring what the occasion demanded, to show how
much his stores of knowledge could supply, he seldom
escapes without the pity or resentment of his reader.
It is incident to him to be now and then entangled
with an unwieldy sentiment, which he cannot well
express, and will not reject; he struggles with it a
while, and if it continues stubborn, comprises it in
words such as occur, and leaves it to be disentangled
and evolved by those who have more leisure to bestow
Not that always where the language is intricate the
thought is subtle, or the image always great where the
line is bulky ; the equality of words to things is very
often neglected, and trivial sentiments and vulgar ideas
disappoint the attention, to which they are recom-
mended by sonorous epithets and swelling figures.
But the admirers of this great poet have never
less reason to indulge their hopes of supreme excellence,
than when he seems fully resolved to sink them in
dejection, and mollify them with tender emotions
by the fall of greatness, the danger of innocence, or
the crosses of love. He is not long soft and pathetick
without some idle conceit, or contemptible equivoca-
tion. He no sooner begins to move, than he coun-
teracts himself ; and terrour and pity, as they are
rising in the mind, are checked and blasted by sudden
A quibble is_ to S^kespfare^ what luminous vapours
are to the traveller ; he follows it at all adventures ;
it is sure to lead him out of his way, and sure to engulf
him in the mire. It has some malignant power over
his mind, and its fascinations are irresistible. Whatever
be the dignity or profundity of his disquisition, whether
he be enlarging knowledge or exalting affection,
whether he be amusing attention with incidents, or
enchaining it in suspense, let but a quibble spring
up before him, and he leaves his work unfinished.
A quibble is the golden apple for which he will always
turn aside from his career, or stoop from his elevation.
A quibble, poor and barren as it is, gave him such
delight, that he was content to purchase it, by the
sacrifice of reason, propriety and truth. A quibble
was to him the fatal Cleopatra for which he lost the
world, and was content to lose it.
It will be thought strange, that, in enumerating the
defects of this writer, I have not yet mentioned his
^^[lect^of the unities^ his violation of those laws
which have been instituted and established by the
joint authority of poets and criticks.
For his other deviations from the art of writing
I resign him to critical justice, without making any
other demand in his favour, than that which must
be indulged to all human excellence : that his virtues
be rated with his failings : But, from the censure which
this irregularity may bring upon him, I shall, with
due reverence to that learning which I must oppose,
adventure to try how I can defend him.
His histories, being neither tragedies nor comedies
are not subject to any oijtheir laws : notjungmore is
tn ill tTio prqi'cp whkh th*y
f |i\ ^^[lect
the changes of action be so prepared as to be under-
stood, that the incidents be various and affecting,
and the characters consistent, natural, and distinct.
No other unity is intended, and therefore none is to
In his other works he has well enough preserved the
unity of action. He has not, indeed, an intrigue
regularly perplexed and regularly unravelled : he does
not endeavour to hide his design only to discover it,
for this is seldom the order of real events, and Shake-
speare is the poet of nature : But his plan has com-
monly what Aristotle requires, a beginning, a middle,
and an end ; one event is concatenated with another,
and the conclusion follows by easy consequence.
There are perhaps some incidents that might be
spared, as in other poets there is much talk that only
fills up time upon the stage ; but the general system
makes gradual advances, and the end of the play is the
end of expectation.
To the unities of time and place he has shewn no
regard ; and perhaps a nearer view of the principles
on which they stand will diminish their value, and
withdraw from them the veneration which, from the
time of Corneille, they have very generally received,
by discovering that they have given more trouble to
the poet, than pleasure to the auditor.
The necessity of observing the unities of time and
place arises from the supposed necessity of making the
drama credible. The criticks hold it impossible, that
an action of months or years can be possibly believed
to pass in three hours ; or that the spectator can
suppose himself to sit in the theatre, while ambassadors
go and return between distant kings, while armies are
levied and towns besieged, while an exile wanders and
returns, or till he whom they saw courting his mistress,
shall lament the untimely fall of his son. The mind
revolts from evident falsehood, and fiction loses its
force when it departs from the resemblance of reality.
From the narrow limitation of time necessarily arises
the contraction of place. The spectator, who knows
that he saw the first act at Alexandria, cannot suppose
that he sees the next at Rome, at a distance to which
not the dragons of Medea could, in so short a time,
have transported him ; he knows with certainty that
he has not changed his place, and he knows that place
cannot change itself ; that what was a house cannot
become a plain ; that what was Thebes can never be
Such is the triumphant language with which a
critick exults over the misery of an irregular poet,
and exults commonly without resistance or reply. It
is time therefore to tell him by the authority of
Shakespeare, that he assumes, as an unquestionable
principle, a position, which, while his breath is forming
it into words, his understanding pronounces to be
false. It is false, that any representation is mistake
for reality ; that any dramatick fable in its materiality
was ever credible, or, for a single moment, was ever
The objection arising from the impossibility of
passing the first hour at Alexandria, and the next at
Rome, supposes, that when the play opens, the spectator
really imagines himself at Alexandria, and believes
that his walk to the theatre has been a voyage to Egypt,
and that he lives in the days of Antony and Cleopatra.
Surely he that imagines this may imagine more. He
that can take the stage at one time for the palace
of the Ptolemies, may take it in half an hour for the
promontory of Actium. Delusion, if delusion be ad-
mitted, has no certain limitation ; if the spectator
can be once persuaded, that his old acquaintance are
Alexander and C&sar, that a room illuminated with
candles is the plain of Pharsalia,oi the bank of Granicus,
he is in a state of elevation above the reach of reason,
or of truth, and from the heights of empyrean poetry,
may despise the circumscriptions of terrestrial nature.
There is no reason why a mind thus wandering in
extacy should count the clock, or why an hour should
not be a century in that calenture of the brains that
can make the stage a field.
The truth is, that the spectators are always in their
senses, and know, from the first act to the last, that
the stage is only a stage, and that the players are only
players. They came to hear a certain number of
lines recited with just gesture and elegant modulation.
The lines relate to some action, and an action must
be in some place ; but the different actions that com-
plete a story may be in places very remote from each
other ; and where is the absurdity of allowing that
space to represent first Athens, and then Sicily, which
was always known to be neither Sicily nor Athens, but
a modern theatre?
By supposition, as place is introduced, times may
be extended ; the time required by the fable elapses
for the most part between the acts ; for, of so much
of the action as is represented, the real and poetical
duration is the same. If, in the first act, preparations
for war against Mithridates are represented to be
made in Rome, the event of the war may, without
absurdity, be represented, in the catastrophe, as
happening in Pontus ; we know that there is neither
war, nor preparation for war ; we know that we are
neither in Rome nor Pontus ; that neither Mithridates
nor Lucullus are before us. The drama exhibits suc-
cessive imitations of successive actions ; and why may
not the second imitation represent an action that
happened years after the first, if it be so connected with
it, that nothing but time can be supposed to intervene ?
Time is, of all modes of existence, most obsequious
to the imagination ; a lapse of years is as easily con-
ceived as a passage of hours. In contemplation we
easily contract the time of real actions, and therefore
willingly permit it to be contracted when we only see
It will be asked, how the drama moves, if it is not
credited. It is credited with all the credit due to
a drama. It is credited, whenever it moves, as a just
picture of a real original ; as representing to the
auditor what he would himself feel, if he were to do
or suffer what is there feigned to be suffered or to be
done. The reflection that strikes the heart is not,
that the evils before us are real evils, but that they
are evils to which we ourselves may be exposed. If
there be any fallacy, it is not that we fancy the players,
but that we fancy ourselves unhappy for a moment ;
but we rather lament the possibility than suppose the
presence of misery, as a mother weeps over her babe,
when she remembers that death may take it from her.
The delight of tragedy proceeds from our consciousness
of fiction ; if we thought murders and treasons real,
they would please no more.
Imitations produce pain or pleasure, not because
they are mistaken for realities, but because they bring
realities to mind. When the imagination is recreated
by a painted landscape, the trees are not supposed
capable to give us shade, or the fountains coolness ;
but we consider, how we should be pleased with such
fountains playing beside us, and such woods waving
over us. We are agitated in reading the history of
Henry the Fifth, yet no man takes his book for the
field of Agencourt. A dramatick exhibition is a book
recited with concomitants that encrease or diminish
its effect. Familiar comedy is often more powerful in
the theatre, than on the page ; imperial tragedy is
always less. The humour of Petruchio may be height-
ened by grimace ; but what voice or what 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 Shakespeare 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 enquire. We may reasonably suppose, that,
when he rose to notice, he did not want the counsels
and admonitions of scholars and criticks, 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 its 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 Shakespeare, and such censures are suitable to the
minute and slender criticism of Voltaire :
Non usque adeo permiscuit imis
Longus summa dies, ut non, si voce Metelli
Serventur leges, malint a Ccesare tolli.
Yet when I speak thus slightly of dramatick 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 enquiries, 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, as the product of superfluous
and ostentatious art, by which is shewn, 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 its 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.
Perhaps, what I have here not dogmatically but
deliberatively written, may recal the principles of the
drama to a new examination. I am almost frighted
at my own temerity ; and when I estimate the fame
and the strength of those that maintain the contrary
opinion, am ready to sink down in reverential silence ;
as JEneas withdrew from the defence of Troy, when
he saw Neptune shaking the wall, and Juno heading
Those whom my arguments cannot persuade to
give their approbation to the judgment of Shakespeare,
will easily, if they consider the condition of his life,
make some allowance for his ignorance.
Every man's performances, to be rightly estimated,
must be compared with the state of the age in which
he lived, and with his own particular opportunities ;
and though to the reader a book be not worse or better
for the circumstances of the authour, yet as there is
always a silent reference of human works to human
abilities, and as the enquiry, how far man may extend
his designs, or how high he may rate his native force,
is of far greater dignity than in what rank we shall
place any particular performance, curiosity is always
busy to discover the instruments, as well as to survey
the workmanship, to know how much is to be ascribed
to original powers, and how much to casual and adven-
titious help. The palaces of Peru or Mexico were
certainly mean and incommodious habitations, if
compared to the houses of European monarchs ; yet
who could forbear to view them with astonishment,
who remembered that they were built without the
use of iron ?
The English nation, in the time of Shakespeare, was
yet struggling to emerge from barbarity. The philo-
logy of Italy had been transplanted hither in the reign
of Henry the Eighth ; and the learned languages had
been successfully cultivated by Lilly, Linacer, and
More ; by Pole, Cheke, and Gardiner ; and afterwards
by Smith, Clerk, Haddon, and Ascham. Greek was
now taught to boys in the principal schools ; and those
who united elegance with learning, read, with great
diligence, the Italian and Spanish poets. But litera-
ture was yet confined to professed scholars, or to men
and women of high rank. The publick was gross and
dark ; and to be able to reacTarfd write, was an accom-
plishment still valued for its rarity.
Nations, like individuals, have their infancy. A
people newly awakened to literary curiosity, being yet
unacquainted with the true state of things, knows not
how to judge of that which is proposed as its resem-
blance. Whatever is remote from common appear-
ances is always welcome to vulgar, as to childish
. credulity ; and of a country unenlightened by learning,
^ the whole people is the vulgar. The study of those
who then aspired to plebeian learning was laid out
upon adventures, giants, dragons, and enchantments.
The Death of Arthur was the favourite volume.
The mind, which has feasted on the luxurious won-
ders of fiction, has no taste of the insipidity of truth.
A play which imitated only the common occurrences
of the world, would, upon the admirers of Palmerin
and Guy of Warwick, have made little impression ; he
that wrote for such an audience was under the necessity
of looking round for strange events and fabulous trans-
actions, and that incredibility, by which maturer
knowledge is offended, was the chief recommendation
of writings, to unskilful curiosity.
Our authour's plots are generally borrowed from
novels, and it is reasonable to suppose, that he chose
the most popular, such as were read by many, and
related by more; fo his_audience^rmi]d^ pot have
followed him through the intricacies of the drama,
had they not held the thread of the story in their
The stories, which we now find only in remoter
authours, were in his time accessible and familiar.
The fable of As you like it, which is supposed to be
copied from Chaucer* 's Gamelyn, was a little pamphlet
of those times ; and old Mr. Gibber remembered the
tale of Hamlet in plain English prose, which the
criticks have now to seek in Saxo Grammaticus.
His English histories he took from English chronicles
and English ballads ; and as the ancient writers were
made known to his countrymen by versions, they
supplied him with new subjects ; he dilated some of
Plutarch's lives into plays, when they had been trans-
lated by North.
His plots, whether historical or fabulous, are always
crouded with incidents, by which the attention of
a rude people was more easily caught than by senti-
ment or argumentation ; and such is the power of the
marvellous even over those who despise it, that every
man finds his mind more strongly seized by the
tragedies of Shakespeare than of any other writer ;
others please us by particular speeches, but he always
makes us anxious for the event, and has perhaps
excelled all but Homer in securing the first purpose
of a writer, by exciting restless and unquenchable
curiosity and compelling him that reads his work to
read it through.
The shows and bustle with which his plays abound
have the same original. As knowledge advances,
pleasure passes from the eye to the ear, but returns,
as it declines, from the ear to the eye. Those to
whom our authour's labours were exhibited had more
skill in pomps or processions than in poetical language,
and perhaps wanted some visible and discriminated
events, as comments on the dialogue. He knew how
he should most please ; and whether his practice is
more agreeable to nature, or whether his example has
prejudiced the nation, we still find that on our stage
something must be done as well as said, and inactive
declamation is very coldly heard, however musical or
elegant, passionate or sublime.
Voltaire expresses his wonder, that our authour's
extravagances are endured by a nation, which has seen
the tragedy of Cato. Let him be answered, that
Addison speaks the language of poets, jind Shakespeare
of men^ We find in Cato innumerable beauties which
enamour us of its authour, but we see nothing that
acquaints us with human sentiments or human actions ;
we place it with the fairest and the noblest progeny
which judgment propagates by conjunction with
learning, but Othello is the vigorous and vivacious
offspring of observation impregnated by genius. Cato
affords a splendid exhibition of artificial and fictitious
manners, and delivers just and noble sentiments, in
diction easy, elevated and harmonious, but its hopes
and fears communicate no vibration to the heart;
the composition refers us only to the writer ; we
pronounce the name of Cato, but we think on Addison.
The work of a correct and regular writer is a garden
accurately formed and diligently planted, varied with
shades, and scented with flowers ; the composition of
hakespeare is a forest, in which oaks extend their
branches, and pines tower in the air, interspersed
sometimes with weeds and brambles, and sometimes
giving shelter to myrtles and to roses ; filling the eye
with awful pomp, and gratifying the mind with endless
diversity y> Other poets display cabinets of precious
rarities, minutely finished, wrought into shape, and
polished into brightness. Shakespeare opens a mine
which contains gold and diamonds in unexhaustible
plenty, though clouded by incrustations, debased by
impurities, and mingled with a mass of meaner
It has been much disputed, whether Shakespeare
owed his excellence to his own native force, or whether
he had the common helps of scholastick education, the
precepts of critical science, and the examples of
There has always prevailed a tradition, that Shake-
speare wanted learning, that he had no regular educa-
tion, nor much skill in the dead languages. Johnson,
his friend, affirms, that he had small Latin, and no
Greek ; who, besides that he had no imaginable
temptation to falsehood, wrote at a time when the
character and acquisitions of Shakespeare were known
to multitudes. His evidence ought therefore to decide
the controversy, unless some testimony of equal force
could be opposed.
Some have imagined, that they have discovered
deep learning in many imitations of old writers ; but
the examples which I have known urged, were drawn
from books translated in his time ; or were such easy
coincidences of thought, as will happen to all who
consider the same subjects ; or such remarks on life
or axioms of morality as float in conversation, and are
transmitted through the world in proverbial sentences.
I have found it remarked, that, in this important
sentence, Go before, Pll follow, we read a translation
of, / prae, sequar. I have been told, that when
Caliban, after a pleasing dream, says, / cry'd to sleep
again, the authour imitates Anacreon, who had, like
every other man, the same wish on the same occasion.
There are a few passages which may pass for imita-
tions, but so few, that the exception only confirms
the rule ; he obtained them from accidental quota-
tions, or by oral communication, and as he used what
he had, would have used more if he had obtained it.
The Comedy of Errors is confessedly taken from the
Men&chmi of Plautus ; from the only play of Plautus
which was then in English. What can be more pro-
bable, than that he who copied that, would have
copied more ; but that those which were not translated
Whether he knew the modern languages is uncertain.
That his plays have some French scenes proves but little ;
he might easily procure them to be written, and pro-
bably, even though he had known the language in the
common degree, he could not have written it without
assistance. In the story of Romeo and Juliet he is
observed to have followed the English translation,
where it deviates from the Italian ; but this on the
other part proves nothing against his knowledge of
the original. He was to copy, not what he knew
himself, but what was known to his audience.
It is most likely that he had learned Latin sufficiently
to make him acquainted with construction, but that
he never advanced to an easy perusal of the Roman
authours. Concerning his skill in modern languages,
I can find no sufficient ground of determination ; but
as no imitations of French or Italian authours have
been discovered, though the Italian poetry was then
high in esteem, I am inclined to believe, that he read
little more than English, and chose for his fables only
such tales as he found translated.
That much knowledge is scattered over his works
is very justly observed by Pope, but it is often such
knowledge as books did not supply. He that will
understand Shakespeare, must not be content to study
him in the closet, he must look for his meaning some-
times among the sports of the field, and sometimes
among the manufactures of the shop.
There is however proof enough that he was a very
diligent reader, nor was our language then so indigent
of books, but that he might very liberally indulge his
curiosity without excursion into foreign literature.
Many of the Roman authours were translated, and some
of the Greek ; the reformation had filled the kingdom
with theological learning ; most of the topicks of
human disquisition had found English writers ; and
poetry had been cultivated, not only with diligence,
but success. This was a stock of knowledge sufficient
for a mind so capable of appropriating and improving it.
But the greater part of his excellence was the product
of his own genius. He found the English stage in a
state of the utmost rudeness ; no essays either in
tragedy or comedy had appeared, from which it could
be discovered to what degree of delight either one or
other might be carried. Neither character nor dialogue
were yet understood. Shakespeare may be truly said
to have introduced them both amongst us, and in
some of his happier scenes to have carried them both
to the utmost height.
By what gradations of improvement he proceeded,
is not easily known ; for the chronology of his works
is yet unsettled. Rowe is of opinion, that perhaps we
are not to look for his beginning, like those of other writers,
in his least perfect works ; art had so little, and nature
so large a share in what he did, that for ought I know,
says he, the performances of his youth, as they were the
most vigorous, were the best. But the power of nature
is only the power of using to any certain purpose the
materials which diligence procures, or opportunity
supplies. Nature gives no man knowledge, and when
images are collected by study and experience, can
only assist in combining or applying them. Shake-
speare, however favoured by nature, could impart only
what he had learned ; and as he must increase his
ideas, like other mortals, by gradual acquisition, he,
like them, grew wiser as he grew older, could display
life better, as he knew it more, and instruct with more
efficacy, as he was himself more amply instructed.
There is a vigilance of observation and accuracy of
distinction which books and precepts cannot confer ;
from this almost all original and native excellence
proceeds. Shakespeare must have looked upon man-
kind with perspicacity, in the highest degree curious
and attentive. Other writers borrow their characters
from preceding writers, and diversify them only by the
accidental appendages of present manners ; the dress
is a little varied, but the body is the same. Our
authour had both matter and form to provide ; for
except the characters of Chaucer, to whom I think he
is not much indebted, there were no writers in English,
and perhaps not many in other modern languages,
which shewed life in its native colours.
The contest about the original benevolence or
malignity of man had not yet commenced. Specula-
tion had not yet attempted to analyse the mind, to
trace the passions of their sources, to unfold the
seminal principles of vice and virtue, or sound the
depths of the heart for the motives of action. All
those enquiries, which from that time that human
nature became the fashionable study, have been made
sometimes with nice discernment, but often with idle
subtilty, were yet unattempted. The tales, with
which the infancy of learning was satisfied, exhibited
only the superficial appearances of action, related the
events but omitted the causes, and were formed for
such as delighted in wonders rather than in truth.
Mankind was not then to be studied in the closet ;
he that would know the world, was under the necessity
of gleaning his own remarks, by mingling as he could
in its business and amusements.
Boyle congratulated himself upon his high birth,
because it favoured his curiosity, by facilitating his
access. Shakespeare had no such advantage ; he came
to London a needy adventurer, and lived for a time
by very mean employments. Many works of genius
and learning have been performed in states of life,
that appear very little favourable to thought or to
enquiry ; so many, that he who considers them is
inclined to think that he sees enterprise and perse-
verance predominating over all external agency, and
bidding help and hindrance vanish before them. The
genius of Shakespeare was not to be depressed by the
weight of poverty, nor limited by the narrow conversa-
tion to which men in want are inevitably condemned ;
the incumbrances of his fortune were shaken from his
mind, as dewdrops from a lion's mane.
Though he had so many difficulties to encounter,
and so little assistance to surmount them, me has been
able to obtain an exact knowledge of many modes of
life, and many casts of native dispositions ; to vary
them with great multiplicity ; to mark them by nice
distinctions ; and to shew them in full view by proper
combinations. / In this part of his performances he had
none to imitate, but has himself been imitated by all
succeeding writers ; and it may be doubted, whether
from all his successors more maxims of theoretical
knowledge, or more rules of practical prudence, can
be collected, than he alone has given to his country.
Nor was his attention confined to the actions of
men : he was an exact surveyor of the inanimate
world ; his descriptions have always some peculiarities,
gathered by contemplating things as they really exist.
It may be observed, that the oldest poets of many
nations preserve their reputation, and that the follow-
ing generations of wit, after a short celebrity, sink into
oblivion. The first, whoever they be, must take their
sentiments and descriptions immediately from know-
ledge ; the resemblance is therefore just, their descrip-
tions are verified by every eye, and their sentiments
acknowledged by every breast. Those whom their
fame invites to the same studies, copy partly them,
and partly nature, till the books of one age gain such
authority, as to stand in the place of nature to another,
and imitation, always deviating a little, becomes at
last capricious and casual. Shakespeare, whether life
or nature be his subject, shews plainly, that he has
seen with his own eyes ; he gives the image which he
receives, not weakened or distorted by the intervention
of any other mind ; the ignorant feel his representa-
tions to be just, and the learned see that they are
Perhaps it would not be easy to find any authour,
except Homer, who invented so much as Shakespeare,
who so much advanced the studies which he cultivated,
or effused so much novelty upon his age or country.
^ The form, the characters, the language, and the shows
of the English drama are his. He seems, says Dennis,
to have been the very original of our English tragical
harmony, that is, the harmony of blank verse, diversified
often by dissyllable and trissyllable terminations. For
the diversity distinguishes it from heroick harmony, and
by bringing it nearer to common use makes it more proper
to gain attention, and more fit for action and dialogue.
Such verse we make when we are writing prose ; we make
such verse in common conversation.
> I know not whether this praise is rigorously just.
The dissyllable termination, which the critick rightly
appropriates to the drama, is to be found, though,
I think, not in Gorboduc which is confessedly before
our authour ; yet in Hieronnymo, of which the date is
not certain, but which there is reason to believe at
least as old as his earliest plays. This however is
certain, that he is the first who taught either tragedy
or comedy to please, there being no theatrical piece of
any older writer, of which the name is known, except
to antiquaries and collectors of books, which are sought
because they are scarce, and would not have been
scarce, had they been much esteemed.
To him we must ascribe the praise, unless Spenser
may divide it with him, of having first discovered V
to how much smoothness and harmony the English
language could be softened. He has speeches, perhaps
sometimes scenes, which have all the delicacy of Rowe,
without his effeminacy. He endeavours indeed com-
monly to strike by the force and vigour of his dialogue,
but he never executes his purpose better, than when
he tries to sooth by softness.
Yet it must be at last confessed, that as we owe
every thing to him, he owes something to us ; that,
if much of his praise is paid by perception and judge-
ment, much is likewise given by custom and venera-
tion. We fix our eyes upon his graces, and turn them
from his deformities, and endure in him what we
should in another loath or despise. If we endured
without praising, respect for the father of our drama
might excuse us ; but I have seen, in the book of some
modern critick, a collection of anomalies, which shew
that he has corrupted language by every mode of
depravation, but which his admirer has accumulated
as a monument of honour.
He has scenes of undoubted and perpetual excel-
lence, but perhaps not one play, which, if it were now
exhibited as the work of a contemporary writer, would
be heard to the conclusion. I am indeed far hom\(.
thinking, that his works were wrought to his own
ideas of perfection ; when they were such as would
satisfy_ the^i^ence^^thfiy.. satisfied the writer. It is
seLJbnTtriat authours, though more studious of fame
than Shakespeare, rise much above the standard of
their own age ; to add a little of what is best will
always be sufficient for present praise, and those who
find themselves exalted into fame, are willing to credit
their encomiasts, and to spare the labour of contending
It does not appear, that Shakespeare thought his
works worthy of posterity, that he levied any ideal
tribute upon future times, or had any further prospect,
than of present popularity and present profit When
his plays had been acted, his hope was at an end ; he
solicited no addition of honour from the reader. He
therefore made no scruple to repeat the same jests in
many dialogues, or to entangle different plots by the
same knot of perplexity, which may be at least forgiven
him, by those who recollect, that of Congreve's four
comedies, two are concluded by a marriage in a mask,
by a deception, which perhaps never happened, and
which, whether likely or not, he did not invent.
So careless was this great poet of future fame, that,
though he retired to ease and plenty, while he was
yet little declined into the vale of years, before he could
be disgusted with fatigue, or disabled by infirmity, he
made no collection of his works, nor desired to rescue
those that had been already published from the
depravations that obscured them, or secure to the rest
a better destiny, by giving them to the world in their
Of the plays which bear the name of Shakespeare in
e late editions, the greater part were not published
till about seven years after his death, and the few which
appeared in his life are apparently thrust into the world
without the care of the authour, and therefore probably
without his knowledge.
)/ Of all the publishers, clandestine or professed, their
negligence and unskilfulness has by the late revisers
been sufficiently shown.,*- The faults of all are indeed
numerous and gross, and have not only corrupted
many passages perhaps beyond recovery, but have
brought others into suspicion, which are only obscured
by obsolete phraseology, or by the writer's unskilful-
ness and affectation./ To alter is more easy than to
explain, and temerity is a more common quality than
diligence. Those who saw that they must employ
conjecture to a certain degree, were willing to indulge
it a little further. ^cHad the authour published his
own works, we should have sat quietly down to disen-
tangle his intricacies, and clear his obscurities ; but
now we tear what we cannot loose, and eject what we
happen not to understand. )
The faults are more than could have happened
without the concurrence of many causes. The stile
of Shakespeare was in itself ungrammatical, perplexed
and obscure ; his works were transcribed for the
players by those who may be supposed to have seldom
understood them ; they were transmitted by copiers
equally unskilful, who still multiplied errours ; they
were perhaps sometimes mutilated by the actors, for
the sake of shortening the speeches ; and were at last
printed without correction of the press.
In this state they remained, not as Dr. Warburton
supposes, because they were unregarded, but because
the editor's art was not yet applied to modern lan-
guages, and our ancestors were accustomed to so much
negligence of English printers, that they could very
patiently endure it. At last an edition was undertaken
by Rowe ; not because a poet was to be published by
a poet, for Rowe seems to have thought very little on
correction or explanation, but that our authour's works
might appear like those of his fraternity, with the
appendages of a life and recommendatory preface.
Rowe has been clamorously blamed for not performing
what he did not undertake, and it is time that justice
be done him, by confessing, that though he seems to
have had no thought of corruption beyond the printer's
errours, yet he has made many emendations, if they
were not made before, which his successors have re-
ceived without acknowledgement, and which, if they
had produced them, would have filled pages and pages
with censures of the stupidity by which the faults were
committed, with displays of the absurdities which they
involved, with ostentatious expositions of the new
reading, and self congratulations on the happiness of
Of Rowe, as of all the editors, I have preserved the
preface, ana have likewise retained the authour's life,
though not written with much elegance or spirit ; it
relates however what is now to be known, and there-
fore deserves to pass through all succeeding publi-
The nation had been for many years content enough
with Mr. Rowe*s performance, when Mr. Pope made
them acquainted with the true state of Shakespeare's
text, shewed that it was extremely corrupt, and gave
reason to hope that there were means of reforming it.
He collated the old copies, which none had thought
to examine before, and restored many lines to their
integrity ; but, by a very compendious criticism, he
rejected whatever he disliked, and thought more of
amputation than of cure.
I know not why he is commended by Dr. Warburton
for distinguishing the genuine from the spurious plays.
In this choice he exerted no judgement of his own ;
the plays which he received, wef e~ given by Hemings
and Condel, the first editors ; and those which he
rejected, though, according to the licentiousness of
the press in those times, they were printed during
Shakespeare's life, with his name, had been omitted
by his friends, and were never added to his works
before the edition of 1664, from which they were
copied by the later printers.
This was a work which Pope seems to have thought
unworthy of his abilities, being not able to suppress
his contempt of the dull duty of an editor. He under-
stood but half his undertaking. The duty of a collator
is indeed dull, yet, like other tedious tasks, is very
necessary ; but an emendatory critick would ill dis-
charge his duty, without qualities very different from
dullness. In perusing a corrupted piece, he must have
before him all possibilities of meaning, with all possi-
bilities of expression. Such must be his comprehension
of thought, and such his copiousness of language. Out
of many readings possible, he must be able to select
that which best suits with the state, opinions, and
modes of language prevailing in every age, and with
his authour's particular cast of thought, and turn of
expression. Such must be his knowledge, and such
his taste. Conjectural criticism demands more than
humanity possesses, and he that exercises it with most
praise has very frequent need of indulgence. Let us
now be told no more of the dull duty of an editor.
Confidence is the common consequence of success.
They whose excellence of any kind has been loudly
celebrated, are t ready to conclude, that their powers
are umversal/^Pofti's edition fell below his own ex-
pectations, and he was so much offended, when he
was found to have left any thing for others to do,
that he past the latter part of his life in a state of
hostility with verbal criticism.
I have retained all his notes, that no fragment of
so great a writer may be lost ; his preface, valuable
alike for elegance of composition and justness of
remark, and containing a general criticism on his
authour, so extensive that little can be added, and
so exact, that little can be disputed, every editor has
an interest to suppress, but that every reader would
demand its insertion. ..q\
Pope was succeeded bjt Theobald^ a man of narrow
comprehension and small acquisitions, with no native
and intrinsick splendour of genius, with little of the
artificial light of learning, but zealous for minute
accuracy, and not negligent in pursuing it. He
collated the ancient copies, and rectified many errors.
A man so anxiously scrupulous might have been
expected to do more, but what little he did was com-
In his report of copies and editions he is not to be
trusted, without examination. He speaks sometimes
indefinitely of copies, when he has only one. In his
enumeration of editions, he mentions the two first
folios as of high, and the third folio as of middle
authority ; but the truth is, that the first is equivalent
to all others, and that the rest only deviate from it by
the printer's negligence. Whoever has any of the
folios has all, excepting those diversities which mere
reiteration of editions will produce. I collated them
all at the beginning, but afterwards used only the first.
Of his notes I have generally retained those which
he retained himself in his second edition, except when
they were confuted by subsequent annotators, or were
too minute to merit preservation. I have sometimes
adopted his restoration of a comma, without inserting
the panegyrick in which he celebrated himself for his
atchievement. The exuberant excrescence of his
diction I have often lopped, his triumphant exulta-
tions over Pope and Rowe I have sometimes suppressed,
and his contemptible ostentation I have frequently
concealed ; but I have in some places shewn him, as
he would have shewn himself, for the reader's diversion,
that the inflated emptiness of some notes may justify
or excuse the contraction of the rest.
Theobald, thus weak and ignorant, thus mean and
faithless, thus petulant and ostentatious, by the good
luck of having Pope for his enemy, has escaped, and
escaped alone, with reputation, from this undertaking.
So willingly does the world support those who solicite
favour, against those who command reverence ; and
so easily is he praised, whom no man can envy.
Our authour fell then into the hands of Sir Thomas
Hanmer, the Oxford editor, a man, in my opinion,
eminently qualified by nature for such studies. He
had, what is the first requisite to emendatory criticism,
that intuition by which the poet's intention is imme-
diately discovered, and that dexterity of intellect which
despatches its work by the easiest means. He had
undoubtedly read much ; his acquaintance with cus-
toms, opinions, and traditions, seems to have been
large ; and he is often learned without shew. He
seldom passes what he does not understand, without
an attempt to find or to make a meaning, and some-
times hastily makes what a little more attention would
have found. He is solicitous to reduce to grammar,
what he could not be sure that his authour intended
to be grammatical. ^Shakespeare regarded more the
series of ideas, than nf wnr^fl and his language, not
being designed for the reader's desk, was all that he
desired it to be, if it conveyed his meaning to the
Hanmer\ care of the metre has been too violently
censured. He found the measures reformed in so
many passages, by the silent labours of some editors,
with the silent acquiescence of the rest, that he
thought himself allowed to extend a little further the
license, which had already been carried so far without
reprehension ; and of his corrections in general, it
must be confessed, that they are often just, and made
commonly with the least possible violation of the text.
But, by inserting his emendations, whether invented
or borrowed, into the page, without any notice of
varying copies, he has appropriated the labour of his
predecessors, and made his own edition of little
authority. His confidence indeed, both in himself
and others, was too great ; he supposes all to be right
that was done by Pope and Theobald ; he seems not
to suspect a critick of fallibility, and it was but reason-
able that he should claim what he so liberally granted.
As he never writes without careful enquiry and
diligent consideration, I have received all his notes,
and believe that every reader will wish for more.
Of the last editor it is more difficult to speak.
Respect is due to high place, tenderness to living
reputation, and veneration to genius and learning ;
but he cannot be justly offended at that liberty of which
he has himself so frequently given an example, nor very
solicitous what is thought of notes, which he ought
never to have considered as part of his serious employ-
ments, and which, I suppose, since the ardour of com-
position is remitted, he no longer numbers among his
The original and predominant errour of his com-
mentary, is acquiescence in his first thoughts ; that
precipitation which is produced by consciousness of
quick discernment ; and that confidence which pre-
sumes to do, by surveying the surface, what labour
only can perform, by penetrating the bottom. His
notes exhibit sometimes perverse interpretations, and
sometimes improbable conjectures ; he at one time
gives the authour more profundity of meaning, than
the sentence admits, and at another discovers absurdi-
ties, where the sense is plain to every other reader.
But his emendations are likewise often happy and
just ; and his interpretation of obscure passages learned
Of his notes, I have commonly rejected those,
against which the general voice of the publick has
exclaimed, or which their own incongruity imme-
diately condemns, and which, I suppose, the authour
himself would desire to be forgotten. Of the rest, to
part I have given the highest approbation, by inserting
the offered reading in the text ; part I have left to
the judgment of the reader, as doubtful, though
specious ; and part I have censured without reserve,
but I am sure without bitterness of malice, and, I hope,
without wantonness of insult.
It is no pleasure to me, in revising my volumes, to
observe how much paper is wasted in confutation.
Whoever considers the revolutions of learning, and
the various questions of greater or less importance,
upon which wit and reason have exercised their powers,
must lament the unsuccessfulness of enquiry, and the
slow advances of truth, when he reflects, that great
part of the labour of every writer is only the destruc-
tion of those that went before him. The first care
of the builder of a new system, is to demolish the
fabricks which are standing. The chief desire of him
that comments an authour, is to shew how much
other commentators have corrupted and obscured
him. The opinions prevalent in one age, as truths
above the reach of controversy, are confuted and
rejected in another, and rise again to reception in
remoter times. Thus the human mind is kept in
motion without progress. Thus sometimes truth and
errour, and sometimes contrarieties of errour, take
each other's place by reciprocal invasion. The tide of
seeming knowledge which is poured over one genera-
tion, retires and leaves another naked and barren ;
the sudden meteors of intelligence which for a while
appear to shoot their beams into the regions of
obscurity, on a sudden withdraw their lustre, and
leave mortals again to grope their way.
These elevations and depressions of renown, and
the contradictions to which all improvers of knowledge
must for ever be exposed, since they are not escaped
by the highest and brightest of mankind, may surely
be endured with patience by criticks and annotators,
who can rank themselves but as the satellites of their
authours. How canst thou beg for life, says Achilles
to his captive, when thou knowest that thou art now
to suffer only what must another day be suffered by
Dr. Warbyrtnn had a name sufficient to confer
celebrity on those who could exalt themselves into
antagonists, and his notes have raised a clamour too
loud to be distinct. His chief assailants are the
authours of the Canons of criticism and of the Review
of Shakespeare'.* text; of whom one ridicules his
errours with air petulance, suitable enough to the
levity of the controversy ; the other attacks them
with gloomy malignity, as if he were dragging to
justice an assassin or incendiary. The one stings like
a fly, sucks a little blood, takes a gay flutter, and returns
for more ; the other bites like a viper, and would be
glad to leave inflammations and gangrene behind him.
When I think on one, with his confederates, I remem-
ber the danger of Coriolanus, who was afraid that girls
with spits, and boys with stones, should slay him in puny
battle ; when the other crosses my imagination, I re-
member the prodigy in Macbeth,
An eagle towering in his -pride of place,
Was by a mousing owl hawk'd at and killed.
Let me however do them justice. One is a wit,
and one a scholar. They have both shown acuteness
sufficient in the discovery of faults, and have both
advanced some probable interpretations of obscure
passages ; but when they aspire to conjecture and
emendation, it appears how falsely we all estimate
our own abilities, and the little which they have been
able to perform might have taught them more candour
to the endeavours of others.
Before Dr. Warburtorfs edition, Critical observations
on Shakespeare had been published by Mr. Upton,
a man skilled in languages, and acquainted with books,
but who seems to have had no great vigour of genius
or nicety of taste. Many of his explanations are
curious and useful, but he likewise, though he pro-
fessed to oppose the licentious confidence of editors,
and adhere to the old copies, is unable to restrain the
rage of emendation, though his ardour is ill seconded
by his skill. Every cold empirick, when his heart is
expanded by a successful experiment, swells into a
theorist, and the laborious collator at some unlucky
moment frolicks in conjecture.
Critical, historical and explanatory notes have been
likewise published upon Shakespeare by Dr. Grey,
whose diligent perusal of the old English writers has
enabled him to make some useful observations. What
he undertook he has well enough performed, but as
he neither attempts judicial nor emendatory criticism,
he employs rather his memory than his sagacity. It
were to be wished that all would endeavour to imitate
his modesty who have not been able to surpass his
I can say with great sincerity of all my predecessors,
what I hope will hereafter be said of me, that not one
has left Shakespeare without improvement, nor is there
one to whom I have not been indebted for assistance
and information. Whatever I have taken from them
it was my intention to refer to its original authour,
and it is certain, that what I have not given to another,
I believed when I wrote it to be my own. In some
perhaps I have been anticipated ; but if I am ever
found to encroach upon the remarks of any other
commentator, I am willing that the honour, be it more
or less, should be transferred to the first claimant, for
his right, and his alone, stands above dispute ; the
second can prove his pretensions only to himself, nor
can himself always distinguish invention, with sufficient
certainty, from recollection.
They have all been treated by me with candour,
which they have not been careful of observing to one
another. It is not easy to discover from what cause
the acrimony of a scholiast can naturally proceed.
The subjects to be discussed by him are of very
small importance ; they involve neither property
nor liberty ; nor favour the interest of sect or party.
The various readings of copies, and different inter-
pretations of a passage, seem to be questions that
might exercise the wit, without engaging the passions.
But, whether it be, that small things make mean men
proud, and vanity catches small occasions ; or that all
contrariety of opinion, even in those that can defend
it no longer, makes proud men angry ; there is often
found in commentaries a spontaneous strain of invec-
tive and contempt, more eager and venomous than
is vented by the most furious controvertist in politicks
against those whom he is hired to defame.
Perhaps the lightness of the matter may conduce
to the vehemence of the agency ; when the truth to
be investigated is so near to inexistence, as to escape
attention, its bulk is to be enlarged by rage and
exclamation : That to which all would be indifferent
in its original state, may attract notice when the fate
of a name is appended to it. A commentator has
indeed great temptations to supply by turbulence
what he wants of dignity, to beat his little gold to
a spacious surface, to work that to foam which no art
or diligence can exalt to spirit.
The notes which I have borrowed or written are
either illustrative, by which difficulties are explained ;
or judicial, by which faults and beauties are remarked ;
or emendatory, by which depravations are corrected.
The explanations transcribed from others, if I do
not subjoin any other interpretation, I suppose com-
monly to be right, at least I intend by acquiescence
to confess, that I have nothing better to propose.
After the labours of all the editors, I found many
passages which appeared to me likely to obstruct the
greater number of readers, and thought it my duty
to facilitate their passage. It is impossible for an
expositor not to write too little for some, and too
much for others. He can only judge what is necessary
by his own experience ; and how long soever he may
deliberate, will at last explain many lines which the
learned will think impossible to be mistaken, and omit
many for which the ignorant will want his help. These
are censures merely relative, and must be quietly
endured. I have endeavoured to be neither super- N
fluously copious, nor scrupulously reserved, and hope /
that I have made my authour's meaning accessible to
many who before were frighted from perusing him, \
and contributed something to the publick, by diffusing^)
innocent and rational pleasure.
The compleat explanation of an authour not
systematick and consequential, but desultory and
vagrant, abounding in casual allusions and light hints,
is not to be expected from any single scholiast. All
personal reflections, when names are suppressed, must
be in a few years irrecoverably obliterated; and cus-
toms, too minute to attract the notice of law, such as
modes of dress, formalities of conversation, rules of
visits, disposition of furniture, and practices of cere-
mony, which naturally find places in familiar dialogue,
are so fugitive and unsubstantial, that they are not
easily retained or recovered. What can be known,
will be collected by chance, from the recesses of
obscure and obsolete papers, perused commonly with
some other view. Of this knowledge every man has
some, and none has much ; but when an authour has
engaged the publick attention, those who can add any
thing to his illustration, communicate their discoveries,
and time produces what had eluded diligence.
To time I have been obliged to resign many passages,
which, though I did not understand them, will perhaps
hereafter be explained, having, I hope, illustrated
some, which others have neglected or mistaken, some-
times by short remarks, or marginal directions, such
as every editor has added at his will, and often by
comments more laborious than the matter will seem to
deserve ; but that which is most difficult is not always
most important, and to an editor nothing is a trifle
by which his authour is obscured.
The poetical beauties or defects I have not been
very diligent to observe. Some plays have more, and
some fewer judicial observations, not in proportion to
their difference of merit, but because I gave this part
of my design to chance and to caprice. The reader,
I believe, is seldom pleased to find his opinion antici-
pated ; it is natural to delight more in what we find
or make, than in what we receive. Judgement, like
other faculties, is improved by practice, and its
advancement is hindered by submission to dictatorial
decisions, as the memory grows torpid by the use of
a table book. Some initiation is however necessary ;
of all skill, part is infused by precept, and part is
obtained by habit ; I have therefore shewn so much
as may enable the candidate of criticism to discover
To the end of most plays, I have added short
strictures, containing a general censure of faults, or
praise of excellence ; in which I know not how much
I have concurred with the current opinion ; but
I have not, by any affectation of singularity, deviated
from it. Nothing is minutely and particularly
examined, and therefore it is to be supposed, that in
the plays which are condemned there is much to be
praised, and in these which are praised much to be
The part of criticism in which the whole succession
of editors has laboured with the greatest diligence,
I which has occasioned the most arrogant ostentation,
and excited the keenest acrimony, is the emendation
of corrupted passages, to which the publick attention
having been first drawn by the violence of contention
between Pope and Theobald, has been continued by the
persecution, which, with a kind of conspiracy, has been
since raised against all the publishers of Shakespeare.
That many passages have passed in a state of deprava-
tion through all the editions is indubitably certain ;
of these the restoration is only to be attempted by
collation of copies or sagacity of conjecture. The
collator's province is safe and easy, the conjecturer's
perilous and difficult. Yet as the greater part of the
plays are extant only in one copy, the peril must not
be avoided, nor the difficulty refused.
Of the readings which this emulation of amendment
has hitherto produced, some from the labours of every
publisher I have advanced into the text ; those are
to be considered as in my opinion sufficiently sup-
ported ; some I have rejected without mention, as
evidently erroneous ; some I have left in the notes
without censure or approbation, as resting in equipoise
between objection and defence ; and some, which
seemed specious but not right, I have inserted with
a subsequent animadversion.
Having classed the observations of others, I was at
last to try what I could substitute for their mistakes,
and how I could supply their omissions. I collated
such copies as I could procure, and wished for more,
but have not found the collectors of these rarities very
communicative. Of the editions which chance or
kindness put into my hands I have given an enumera-
tion, that I may not be blamed for neglecting what
I had not the power to do.
By examining the old copies, I soon found that the
later publishers, with all their boasts of diligence,
suffered many passages to stand unauthorised, and
contented themselves with Rowe's regulation of the
text, even where they knew it to be arbitrary, and
with a little consideration might have found it to be
wrong. Some of these alterations are only the ejection
of a word for one that appeared to him more elegant
or more intelligible. These corruptions I have often
silently rectified ; for the history of our language, and
the true force of our words, can only be preserved,
by keeping the text of authours free from adulteration.
Others, and those very frequent, smoothed the cadence,
or regulated the measure ; on these I have not exer-
cised the same rigour ; if only a word was transposed,
or a particle inserted or omitted, I have sometimes
suffered the line to stand ; for the inconstancy of the
copies is such, as that some liberties may be easily
permitted. But this practice I have not suffered to
proceed far, having restored the primitive diction
wherever it could for any reason be preferred.
The emendations, which comparison of copies
supplied, I have inserted in the text ; sometimes where
the improvement was slight, without notice, and some-
times with an account of the reasons of the change.
Conjecture, though it be sometimes unavoidable,
I have not wantonly nor licentiously indulged.
been my settled principle, that the reading of the
alicient books is probably true, and therefore is not to
be disturbed for the sake of elegance, perspicuity, or
mere improvement of the sense. For though much
credit is not due to the fidelity, nor any to the judge-
ment of the first publishers, yet they who had the copy
before their eyes were more likely to read it right, than
we who read it only by imagination. But it is evident
that they have often made strange mistakes by ignorance
or negligence, and that therefore something may be
properly attempted by criticism, keeping the middle
way between presumption and timidity.
Such criticism I have attempted to practice, and
where any passage appeared inextricably perplexed,
have endeavoured to discover how it may be recalled
to sense, with least violence. But my first labour is,
always to turn the old text on every side, and try if
there be any interstice, through which light can find
its way ; nor would Huetius himself condemn me, as
refusing the trouble of research, for the ambition of
alteration. In this modest industry I have not been
unsuccessful. I have rescued many lines from the
violations of temerity, and secured many scenes from
the inroads of correction. I have adopted the Roman
sentiment, that it is more honourable to save a citizen,
than to kill an enemy, and have been more careful to
protect than to attack.
I have preserved the common distribution of the
plays into acts, though I believe it to be in almost all
the plays void of authority. Some of those which are
divided in the later editions have no division in the
first folio, and some that are divided in the folio have
no division in the preceding copies. The settled mode
of the theatre requires four intervals in the play, but
few, if any, of our authour's compositions can be
properly distributed in that manner. An act is so
much of the drama as passes without intervention of
time or change of place. A pause makes a new act.
In every real, and therefore in every imitative action,
the intervals may be more or fewer, the restriction of
five acts being accidental and arbitrary. This Shake-
speare knew, and this he practised ; his plays were
written, and at first printed in one unbroken con-
tinuity, and ought now to be exhibited with short
pauses, interposed as often as the scene is changed, or
any considerable time is required to pass. This method
would at once quell a thousand absurdities.
In restoring the authour's works to their integrity,
I have considered the punctuation as wholly in my
power ; for what could be their care of colons and
commas, who corrupted words and sentences. What-
ever could be done by adjusting points is therefore
silently performed, in some plays with much diligence,
in others with less ; it is hard to keep a busy eye
steadily fixed upon evanescent atoms, or a discursive
mind upon evanescent truth.
The same liberty has been taken with a few particles,
or other words of slight effect. I have sometimes
inserted or omitted them without notice. I have
done that sometimes, which the other editors have
done always, and which indeed the state of the text
may sufficiently justify.
The greater part of readers, instead of blaming us
for passing trifles, will wonder that on mere trifles so
much labour is expended, with such importance of
debate, and such solemnity of diction. To these
I answer with confidence, that they are judging of an
art which they do not understand ; yet cannot much
reproach them with their ignorance, nor promise that
they would become in general, by learning criticism,
more useful, happier or wiser.
As I practised conjecture more, I learned to trust
it less ; and after I had printed a few plays, resolved
to insert none of my own readings in the text. Upon
this caution I now congratulate myself, for every day
encreases my doubt of my emendations.
Since I have confined my imagination to the margin,
it must not be considered as very reprehensible, if I
have suffered it to play some freaks in its own dominion.
There is no danger in conjecture, if it be proposed
as conjecture ; and while the text remains uninjured,
those changes may be safely offered, which are not
considered even by him that offers them as necessary
If my readings are of little value, they have not been
ostentatiously displayed or importunately obtruded.
I could have written longer notes, for the art of
writing notes is not of difficult attainment. The work
is performed, first by railing at the stupidity, negligence,
ignorance, and asinine tastelessness of the former
editors, and shewing, from all that goes before and all
that follows, the inelegance and absurdity of the old
reading ; then by proposing something, which to
superficial readers would seem specious, but which
the editor rejects with indignation ; then by producing
the true reading, with a long paraphrase, and concluding
with loud acclamations on the discovery, and a sober
wish for the advancement and prosperity of genuine
All this may be done, and perhaps done sometimes
without impropriety. But I have always suspected
that the reading is right, which requires many words
to prove it wrong ; and the emendation wrong, that
cannot without so much labour appear to be right.
The justness of a happy restoration strikes at once,
and the moral precept may be well applied to criticism,
quod dubitas ne feceris.
To dread the shore which he sees spread with wrecks,
is natural to the sailor. I had before my eye, so many
critical adventures ended in miscarriage, that caution
was forced upon me. I encountered in every page Wit
struggling with its own sophistry, and Learning con-
fused by the multiplicity of its views. I was forced
to censure those whom I admired, and could not but
reflect, while I was dispossessing their emendations,
how soon the same fate might happen to my own, and
how many of the readings which I have corrected may
be by some other editor defended and established
Criticks, I saw, that other's names' efface.
And fix their own, with labour, in the place ;
Their own, like others, soon their place resigned,
Or disappeared, and left the first behind. POPE.
That a conjectural critick should often be mistaken,
cannot be wonderful, either to others or himself, if
it be considered, that in his art there is no system,
no principal and axiomatical truth that regulates
subordinate positions. His chance of errour is re-
newed at every attempt ; an oblique view of the
passage, a slight misapprehension of a phrase, a casual
inattention to the parts connected, is sufficient to
make him not only fail, but fail ridiculously ; and
when he succeeds best, he produces perhaps but one
reading of many probable, and he that suggests another
will always be able to dispute his claims.
It is an unhappy state, in which danger is hid under
pleasure. The allurements of emendation are scarcely
resistible. Conjecture has all the joy and all the pride
of invention, and he that has once started a happy
change, is too much delighted to consider what objec-
tions may rise against it.
Yet conjectural criticism has been of great use in the
learned world ; nor is it my intention to depreciate
a study, that has exercised so many mighty minds,
from the revival of learning to our own age, from the
Bishop of Aleria to English Bentley. The criticks on
ancient authours have, in the exercise of their sagacity,
many assistances, which the editor of Shakespeare is
condemned to want. They are employed upon gram-
matical and settled languages, whose construction con-
tributes so much to perspicuity, that Homer has fewer
passages unintelligible than Chaucer. The words have
not only a known regimen, but invariable quantities,
which direct and confine the choice. There are com-
monly more manuscripts than one ; and they do not
often conspire in the same mistakes. Yet Scaliger
could confess to Salmasius how little satisfaction his
emendations gave him. Illudunt nobis conjecture no-
strce, quarum nos pudet, posteaquam in meliores codices
incidimus. And Lipsius could complain, that criticks
were making faults, by trying to remove them, Ut
olim vitiis, ita nunc remediis laboratur. And indeed,
where mere conjecture is to be used, the emendations
of Scaliger and Lipsius, notwithstanding their wonder-
ful sagacity and erudition, are often vague and dis-
putable, like mine or Theobald's.
Perhaps I may not be more censured for doing
wrong, than for doing little ; for raising in the publick
expectations, which at last I have not answered. The
expectation of ignorance is indefinite, and that of
knowledge is often tyrannical. It is hard to satisfy
those who know not what to demand, or those who
demand by design what they think impossible to be
done. I have indeed disappointed no opinion more
than my own ; yet I have endeavoured to perform my
task with no slight solicitude. Not a single passage
in the whole work has appeared to me corrupt, which
I have not attempted to restore ; or obscure, which
I have not endeavoured to illustrate. In many I have
failed like others ; and from many, after all my efforts,
I have retreated, and confessed the repulse. I have
not passed over, with affected superiority, what is
equally difficult to the reader and to myself, but where
I could not instruct him, have owned my ignorance.
I might easily have accumulated a mass of seeming
learning upon easy scenes ; but it ought not to be
imputed to negligence, that, where nothing was
necessary, nothing has been done, or that, where others
have said enough, I have said no more.
Notes are often necessary, but they are necessary
(evils. Let him, that is yet unacquainted with the
>wers of Shakespeare, and who desires to feel the
dghest pleasure that the drama can give, read every
play from the first scene to the last, with utter negli-
gence of all his commentators. When his fancy is
once on the wing, let it not stoop at correction or
explanation. When his attention is strongly engaged,
let it disdain alike to turn aside to the name of Theobald
and of Pope. Let him read on through brightness and
obscurity, through integrity and corruption ; let him
preserve his comprehension of the dialogue and his
interest in the fable. And when the pleasures of
novelty have ceased, let him attempt exactness, and
read the commentators.
Particular passages are cleared by notes, but the
general effect of the work is weakened. The mind
is refrigerated by interruption ; the thoughts are
diverted from the principal subject ; the reader is
weary, he suspects not why ; and at last throws away
the book, which he has too diligently studied.
Parts are not to be examined till the whole has been
surveyed ; there is a kind of intellectual remoteness
necessary for the comprehension of any great work in
its full design and its true proportions ; a close
approach shews the smaller niceties, but the beauty of
the whole is discerned no longer.
It is not very grateful to consider how little the
succession of editors has added to this authour's power
of pleasing. He was read, admired, studied, and
imitated, while he was yet deformed with all the
improprieties which ignorance and neglect could accu-
mulate upon him ; while the reading was yet not
rectified, nor his allusions understood ; yet then did
Dryden pronounce " that Shakespeare was the man,
who, of all modern and perhaps ancient poets, had
the largest and most comprehensive soul. All the
images of nature were still present to him, and he
drew them not laboriously, but luckily : When he
describes any thing, you more than see it, you feel it
too. Those who accuse him to have wanted learning,
give him the greater commendation : he was naturally
learned : he needed not the spectacles of books to
read nature ; he looked inwards, and found her there.
I cannot say he is every where alike ; were he so,
I should do him injury to compare him with the
greatest of mankind. He is many times flat and
insipid ; his comick wit degenerating into clenches,
his serious swelling into bombast. But he is always
great, when some great occasion is presented to him :
No man can say, he ever had a fit subject for his wit,
and did not then raise himself as high above the rest
*' Quantum lenta solent inter viburna cupressi."
It is to be lamented, that such a writer should want
a commentary ; that his language should become
obsolete, or his sentiments obscure. But it is vain
to carry wishes beyond the condition of human things ;
that which must happen to all, has happened to
Shakespeare, by accident and time ; and more than
has been suffered by any other writer since the use of
types, has been suffered by him through his own
negligence of fame, or perhaps by that superiority of
mind, which despised its own performances, when it
compared them with its powers, and judged those
works unworthy to be preserved, which the criticks of
following ages were to contend for the fame of restoring
Among these candidates of inferiour fame, I am now
to stand the judgment of the publick ; and wish that
I could confidently produce my commentary as equal
to the encouragement which I have had the honour
of receiving. Every work of this kind is by its nature
deficient, and I should feel little solicitude about the
sentence, were it to be pronounced only by the skilful
and the learned.
NOTES ON THE PLAYS
THESE two first Plays, the Tempest and the Midsummer-night's
Dream, are the noblest Efforts of that sublime and amazing
Imagination, peculiar to Shakespeare, which soars above the
Bounds of Nature without forsaking Sense : or, more properly,
carries Nature along with him beyond her established Limits.
Fletcher seems particularly to have admired these two Plays,
and hath wrote two in Imitation of them, the Sea-Voyage and
the Faithful Shepherdess. But when he presumes to break
a Lance with Shakespeare, and write in emulation of him, as he
does in the False one, which is the Rival of Anthony and Cleopatra,
he is not so successful. After him, Sir John Suckling and Milton
catched the brightest Fire of their Imagination from these two
Plays ; which shines fantastically indeed, in the Goblins, but
much more nobly and serenely in The Mask at Ludlow-Castle.
ACT I. SCENE i.
It may be observed of Gonzalo, that, being the only
good Man that appears with the King, he is the only
Man that preserves his Cheerfulness in the Wreck, and
his Hope on the Island.
ACT I. SCENE iii. (I. ii.)
That the Character and Conduct of Prosper o may
be understood, something must be known of the
System of Enchantment, which supplied all the
Marvellous found in the Romances of the middle
Ages. This system seems to be founded on the
Opinion that the fallen Spirits, having different Degrees
of Guilt, had different Habitations alloted them at
their Expulsion, some being confined in Hell, some, as
THE TEMPEST 65
Hooker, who delivers the Opinion of our Poet's Age,
expresses it, dispersed in Air, some on Earth, some in
Water, others in Caves, Dens or Minerals under the
Earth. Of these some were more malignant and
mischievous than others. The earthy Spirits seem to
have been thought the most depraved, and the aerial
the least vitiated. Thus Prospero observes of Ariel,
Thou wast a Spirit too delicate
To act her earthy and abhorred Commands.
Over these Spirits a Power might be obtained by cer-
tain Rites performed or Charms learned. This Power
was called the Black Art, or Knowledge of Enchantment.
The Enchanter being, as King James observes in
his Demonology, one who commands the Devil, whereas
the Witch serves him. Those who thought best of
this Art, the Existence of which was, I am afraid,
believed very seriously, held that certain Sounds and
Characters had a physical Power over Spirits, and
compelled their Agency ; others who condemned the
Practice, which in reality was surely never practised,
were of Opinion, with more Reason, that the Power
of Charms arose only from compact, and was no more
than the Spirits voluntary allowed them for the Seduc-
tion of Man. The Art was held by all, though not
equally criminal yet unlawful, and therefore Causabon,
speaking of one who had Commerce with Spirits,
blames him, though he imagines him one of the best
Kind who dealt with them by Way of Command. Thus
Prospero repents of his Art in the last Scene. The
Spirits were always considered as in some Measure
enslaved to the Enchanter, at least for a Time, and as
serving with Unwillingness, therefore Ariel so often
begs for Liberty ; and Caliban observes that the Spirits
serve Prospero with no good Will, but hate him rootedly.
Of these Trifles enough.
66 THE TEMPEST
ACT I. SCENE iv.
It was a tradition, it seems, that Lord Falkland, Lord C. J.
Vaughan, and Mr. Seldon concurred in observing, that Shakespear
had not only found out a new character in his Caliban, but had
also devised and adapted a new manner of language for that
Whence these criticks derived the notion of a new
language appropriated to Caliban I cannot find :
They certainly mistook brutality of sentiment for
uncouthness of words. Caliban had learned to speak
of Prospero and his daughter, he had no names for
the sun and moon before their arrival, and could not
have invented a language of his own without more
understanding than Shakespear has thought it proper
to bestow upon him. His diction is indeed somewhat
clouded by the gloominess of his temper and the
malignity of his purposes ; but let any other being
entertain the same thoughts and he will find them
easily issue in the same expressions.
ACT I. SCENE v. (i. ii. 375, 394.)
On Ariel's songs : Come unto these yellow sands,
and Full fathom five thy father lies.
I know not whether Dr. Warburton has very success-
fully defended these Songs from Gildon's accusation.
Ariel's lays, however seasonable and efficacious, must
be allowed to be of no supernatural dignity or elegance,
they express nothing great, nor reveal any thing above
The reason for which Ariel is introduced thus
trifling is, that he and his companions are evidently
of the fairy kind, an order of Beings to which tra-
dition has always ascribed a sort of diminutive
agency, powerful but ludicrous, a humorous and frolick
controlment of nature, well expressed by the Songs
A MIDSUMMER-NIGHT'S DREAM.
ACT I. SCENE iv.
IN this Scene Shakespeare takes advantage of his
knowledge of the theatre, to ridicule the prejudices
and competitions of the Players. Bottom, who is
generally acknowledged the principal Actor, declares
his inclination to be for a tyrant, for a part of fury,
tumult, and noise, such as every young man pants to
perform when he first steps upon the Stage. The
same Bottom, who seems bred in a tiring-room, has
another histrionical passion. He is for engrossing
every part, and would exclude his inferiors from all
possibility of distinction. He is therefore desirous
to play Pyramus, Tbisbe and the Lyon at the same
ACT I. SCENE iv. (i. ii. 50-3).
FLUTE. Nay, faith, let me not play a woman ; 1 have a beard
QUINCE. That's all one ; you shall play it in a masque.
This passage shews how the want of women on the
old Stage was supplied. If they had not a young
man who could perform the part with a face that
might pass for feminine, the character was acted in
a mask, which was at that time a part of a Lady's dress
so much in use that it did not give any unusual appear-
ance to the Scene ; and he that could modulate his
voice in a female tone might play the woman very
successfully. It is observed in Downes^s Memoirs of the
Playhouse, that one of these counterfeit heroines moved
the passions more strongly than the women that have
since been brought upon the stage. Some of the
catastrophes of the old comedies, which make Lovers
marry the wrong women, are, by recollection of the
common use of masks, brought nearer to probability.
68 A MIDSUMMER-NIGHT'S DREAM
ACT I. SCENE iv. (i. ii. 96-9.)
BOTTOM. / will discharge it in either your straw-colour' d beard,
your orange-tawny beard, your purple-in-grain beard, or your
French crown-colour' d beard ; your perfect yellow.
Here Bottom again discovers a true genius for the
Stage by his solicitude for propriety of dress, and his
deliberation which beard to chuse among many beards,
ACT II. SCENE i. (n. i. 42-57.) Puck.
A like account of Puck is given by Drayton,
He meeteth Puck, which most men call
Hobgoblin, and on him doth fall.
This Puck seems but a dreaming dolt,
Still walking like a ragged colt,
And oft out of a bush doth bolt,
Of purpose to deceive us ;
And leading us makes us to stray,
Long winter's nights out of the way,
And when we stick in mire and clay,
He doth with laughter leave us.
It will be apparent to him that shall compare Dray-
torfs Poem with this play, that either one of the poets
copied the other, or, as I rather believe, that there was
then some system of the fairy empire generally received,
which they both represented as accurately as they could.
Whether Drayton or Shakespeare wrote first, I cannot
ACT II. SCENE ii. (n. i. 82-1 14.)
And never since the middle Summer's spring, &c.
There are not many passages in Sbakespear which
one can be certain he has borrowed from the Ancients ;
but this is one of the few that, I think, will admit of
no dispute. Our Author's admirable description of
the miseries of the Country being plainly an imitation
A MIDSUMMER-NIGHT'S DREAM 69
of that which Ovid draws, as consequent on the grief
of Ceres, for the loss of her daughter.
Nescit adhuc ubi sit : terras tamen increpat omnes :
Ingratasque vocat, nee frugum munere dignas.
Ergo illic sceva vertentia glebas
Fregit aratra manu parilique irata colonos
Ruricolasque boves letho dedit : arvaque jussit
Fallere depositum vitiataque semina fecit.
Fertilitas terra latum vulgata per orbem
Spars a jacet. Primis segetes moriuntur in herbis.
Et modo sol nimius, nimius modo corripit imber :
Sideraque ventique nocent.
ACT II. SCENE ii. (n. i. 101.)
The human mortals want their winter here.
After all the endeavours of the Editors this passage
still remains to me unintelligible. I cannot see why
Winter is, in the general confusion of the year now
described, more wanted than any other season. Dr.
Warburton observes that he alludes to our practice of
singing carols in December ; but though Shakespear is
no great chronologer in his dramas, I think he has
never so mingled true and false religion, as to give us
reason for believing that he would make the moon
incensed for the omission of our carols. I therefore
imagine him to have meant heathen rites of adoration.
This is not all the difficulty. Titanic? s account of this
calamity is not sufficiently consequential. Men find no
winter, therefore they sing no hymns, the moon pro-
voked by this omission alters the seasons. That is,
the alteration of the seasons produces the alteration of
the seasons. I am far from supposing that Shakespear
might not sometimes think confusedly, and therefore am
not sure that the passage is corrupted. If we should
And human mortals want their wonted year,
70 A MIDSUMMER-NIGHT'S DREAM
Yet will not this licence of alteration much mend the
narrative ; the cause and the effect are still confounded.
Let us carry critical temerity a little further. Scaliger
transposed the lines of VirgiVs Gallus. Why may not
the same experiment be ventured upon Shakespear.
The human mortals want their wonted year,
The seasons alter ; hoary-headed frosts
Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose ;
And on old Hyems' chin, and icy crown.
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mock'ry, set. The spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries ; and the 'mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which.
No night is now with hymn or carol blest;
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air;
And thorough this distemperature, we see
That rheumatick diseases do abound.
And this same progeny of evil comes
From our debate, from our dissension.
I know not what credit the reader will give to this
emendation, which I do not much credit myself.
ACT III. SCENE i.
In the time of Shakespear there were many com-
panies of players, sometimes five at the same time,
contending for the favour of the publick. Of these
some were undoubtedly very unskilful and very poor,
and it is probable that the design of this Scene was to
ridicule their ignorance, and the odd expedients to
which they might be driven by the want of proper
decorations. Bottom was perhaps the head of a rival
house, and is therefore honoured with an Ass's
A MIDSUMMER-NIGHT'S DREAM 71
ACT III. SCENE iii. (in. i. 177.)
the fiery glow-worm's eyes.
I know not how Shakespeare, who commonly derived
his knowledge of nature from his own observation,
happened to place the glow-worm's light in his eyes,
which is only in his tail.
ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv, i. 48-9.)
So doth the woodbine the sweet honey-suckle^
Shakespeare perhaps only meant, so the leaves
involve the flower, using woodbine for the plant and
honey-suckle for the flower ; or perhaps Shakespeare
made a blunder.
ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 1 10.)
Our observation is performed.
The honours due to the morning of May. I know
not why Shakespear calls this play a Midsummer-Night's
Dream 9 when he so carefully informs us that it hap-
pened on the night preceding May day.
ACT V. SCENE iii. (v. ii. 31-2.)
OBERON. Now until the break of day,
Through this house each Fairy stray.
This speech, which both the old quartos give to
Oberon, is in the Edition of 1623, and in all the follow-
ing, printed as the song. I have restored it to Oberon,
as it apparently contains not the blessing which he
intends to bestow on the bed, but his declaration that
he will bless it, and his orders to the Fairies how to
perform the necessary rites. But where then is the
song? I am afraid it is gone after many other things
of greater value. The truth is that two songs are lost.
The series of the Scene is this ; after the speech of
Puck, Oberon enters, and calls his Fairies to a song,
72 A MIDSUMMER-NIGHTS' DREAM
which song is apparently wanting in all the copies.
Next Titania leads another song which is indeed lost
like the former, though the Editors have endeavoured
to find it. Then Oberon dismisses his Fairies to the
despatch of the ceremonies.
The songs, I suppose, were lost, because they were
not inserted in the players' parts, from which the
drama was printed.
Of this play there are two editions in quarto, one
printed for Thomas Fisher, the other for James Roberts,
both in 1600. I have used the copy of Roberts, very
carefully collated, as it seems, with that of Fisher.
Neither of the editions approach to exactness. Fisher
is sometimes preferable, but Roberts was followed,
though not without some variations, by Hemings and
Condel, and they by all the folios that succeeded them.
Wild and fantastical as it is, all the parts in their
various modes are well written, and give the kind of
pleasure which the authour designed. Fairies in his
time were much in fashion ; common tradition had
made them familiar, and Spenser's poem had made
THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA.
It is observable (I know not for what cause) that the stile of
this comedy is less figurative, and more natural and unaffected
than the greater part of this author's, tho' supposed to be one
of the first he wrote. POPE.
To this observation of Mr. Pope, which is very just,
Mr. Theobald has added, that this is one of Shake-
spear's worst plays, and is less corrupted than any other.
Mr. Upton peremptorily determines, that if any proof
can be drawn from manner and style, this play must be
sent packing and seek for its parent elsewhere. How
THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA 73
otherwise, says he, do painters distinguish copies from
originals, and have not authours their peculiar style and
manner from which a true critick can form as unerring
a judgment as a Painter? I am afraid this illustration
of a critick's science will not prove what is desired.
A Painter knows a copy from an original by rules
somewhat resembling these by which criticks know
a translation, which if it be literal, and literal it must
be to resemble the copy of a picture, will be easily
distinguished. Copies are known from originals even
when the painter copies his own picture ; so if an
authour should literally translate his work he would
lose the manner of an original.
Mr. Upton confounds the copy of a picture with the
imitation of a painter's manner. Copies are easily
known, but good imitations are not detected with
equal certainty, and are, by the best judges, often
mistaken. Nor is it true that the writer has always
peculiarities equally distinguishable with those of the
painter. The peculiar manner of each arises from the
desire, natural to every performer, of facilitating his
subsequent works by recurrence to his former ideas ;
this recurrence produces that repetition which is called
habit. The painter, whose work is partly intellectual
and partly manual, has habits of the mind, the eye and
the hand, the writer has only habits of the mind. Yet,
some painters have differed as much from themselves
as from any other ; and I have been told, that there is
little resemblance between the first works of Raphael
and the last. The same variation may be expected in
writers ; and if it be true, as it seems, that they are
less subject to habit, the difference between their
works may be yet greater.
But by the internal marks of a composition we may
discover the authour with probability, though seldom
with certainty. When I read this play I cannot but
74 THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA
think that I discover both in the serious and ludicrous
scenes, the language and sentiments of Sbakespear. It
is not indeed one of his most powerful effusions, it has
neither many diversities of character, nor striking
delineations of life, but it abounds in yvw/uuu beyond
most of his plays, and few have more lines or passages
which, singly considered, are eminently beautiful.
I am yet inclined to believe that it was not very suc-
cessful, and suspect that it has escaped corruption, only
because being seldom played it was less exposed to
the hazards of transcription.
ACT I. SCENE ii.
That this, like many other Scenes, is mean and
vulgar, will be universally allowed ; but that it was
interpolated by the players seems advanced without
any proof, only to give a greater licence to criticism.
ACT II. SCENE vii. (n. iv. 137-9.)
Love's a mighty lord :
And bath so bumbled me as, I confess.
There is no woe to his correction.
No misery that can be compared to the punishment
inflicted by love. Herbert called for the prayers of the
Liturgy a little before his death, saying, None to them,
none to them.
In this play there is a strange mixture of knowledge
and ignorance, of care and negligence. The versifica-
tion is often excellent, the allusions are learned and
just ; but the author conveys his heroes by sea from
one inland town to another in the same country ; he
places the Emperour at Milan and sends his young
men to attend him, but never mentions him more ; he
makes Protheus, after an interview with Silvia, say he
has only seen her picture, and, if we may credit the
old copies, he has by mistaking places, left his scenery
THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA 75
inextricable. The reason of all this confusion seems
to be, that he took his story from a novel which he
sometimes followed, and sometimes forsook, sometimes
remembred, and sometimes forgot.
MEASURE FOR MEASURE.
There is perhaps not one of Shakespear's plays more
darkened than this by the peculiarities of its Authour,
and the unskilfulness of its Editors, by distortions of
phrase, or negligence of transcription.
ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 7-9.)
Then no more remains;
But that to your sufficiency, as your worth is able,
And let them work.
This is a passage which has exercised the sagacity
of the Editors, and is now to employ mine.
Sir Tho. Hanmer having caught from Mr. Theobald
a hint that a line was lost, endeavours to supply it thus.
Then no more remains,
But that to your sufficiency you join
A will to serve us, as your worth is able.
He has by this bold conjecture undoubtedly obtained
a meaning, but, perhaps not, even in his own opinion,
the meaning of Shakespear.
That the passage is more or less corrupt, I believe
every reader will agree with the Editors. I am not
convinced that a line is lost, as Mr. Theobald conjec-
tures, nor that the change of but to put, which Dr. War-
burton has admitted after some other Editor, will
amend the fault. There was probably some original
obscurity in the expression, which gave occasion to
mistake in repetition or transcription. I therefore
suspect that the Authour wrote thus,
76 MEASURE FOR MEASURE
Then no more remains,
But that to your sufficiencies your worth is abled,
And let them work.
Then nothing remains more than to tell you that your
Virtue is now invested with 'power equal to your knowledge
and wisdom. Let therefore your knowledge and your
virtue now work together. It may easily be conceived
how sufficiencies was, by an inarticulate speaker, or
inattentive hearer, confounded with sufficiency as, and
how abled, a word very unusual, was changed into able.
For abled, however, an authority is not wanting. Lear
uses it in the same sense, or nearly the same, with
the Duke. As for sufficiencies, D. Hamilton, in his
dying speech, prays that Charles II. may exceed both
the virtues and sufficiencies of bis father.
ACT I. SCENE ii. (i. i. 51.)
We have with a leaven' d and prepared choice.
Leaverid has no sense in this place : we should read LEVEL'D
choice. The allusion is to archery, when a man has fixed upon
his object, after taking good aim. WARBURTON.
No emendation is necessary. Leavened choice is one
of Shakespear's harsh metaphors. His train of ideas
seems to be this. / have proceeded to you with choice
mature, concocted, fermented, leavened. When Bread
is leavened, it is left to ferment : a leavened choice is
therefore a choice not hasty, but considerate, not
declared as soon as it fell into the imagination, but
suffered to work long in the mind. Thus explained
it suits better with prepared than levelled.
ACT II. SCENE ix. (n. iii. 11-12.)
Who falling in the flaws of her own youth,
Hath blister' d her report.
Who does not see that the integrity of the metaphor requires
we should read FLAMES of her own youth. WARBURTON.
.Who does not see that upon such principles there
is no end of correction,
MEASURE FOR MEASURE 77
ACT III. SCENE i. (111.1.13-15.)
Thou art not noble :
For all tV accommodations, that tbou bear'st,
Are nursed by baseness.
Dr. Warburton is undoubtedly mistaken in supposing
that by baseness is meant self-love here assigned as the
motive of all human actions. Shake spear meant only
to observe, that a minute analysis of life at once
destroys that splendour which dazzles the imagination.
Whatever grandeur can display, or luxury enjoy, is
procured by baseness, by offices of which the mind
shrinks from the contemplation. All the delicacies of
the table may be traced back to the shambles and the
dunghill, all magnificence of building was hewn from
the quarry, and all the pomp of ornaments, dug from
among the damps and darkness of the mine.
ACT III. SCENE i. (in. i. 16-17.)
The soft and tender fork
Of a poor worm.
Worm is put for any creeping thing or serpent.
Shakespear supposes falsely, but according to the
vulgar notion, that a serpent wounds with his tongue,
and that his tongue is forked. He confounds reality
and fiction, a serpent's tongue is soft but not forked
nor hurtful. If it could hurt, it could not be soft.
In Midsummer-Night's Dream he has the same notion.
With doubler tongue
Than thine, O serpent, never adder stung.
ACT III. SCENE i. (in. i. 17-19.)
Thy best of rest is sleep,
And that thou oft provok'st; yet grosly jear'st
Thy death which is no more.
Evidently from the following passage of Cicero ; Habes somnum
imaginem Mortis, eamque quottdie induis, & dubitas quin sensus in
morte nullus sit, cum in ejus simulacra videas esse nullum sensum.
But the Epicurean insinuation is, with great judgment, omitted
in the imitation. WARBURTON.
78 MEASURE FOR MEASURE
Here Dr. Warburton might have found a sentiment
worthy of his animadversion. I cannot without indig-
nation find Sbakespear saying, that death is only sleep,
lengthening out his exhortation by a sentence which
in the Friar is impious, in the reasoner is foolish, and
in the poet trite and vulgar.
ACT III. SCENE i. (in. i. 32-4.)
Thou hast nor youth, nor age :
But as it were an after dinner's sleep,
Dreaming on both.
This is exquisitely imagined. When we are young
we busy ourselves in forming schemes for succeeding
time, and miss the gratifications that are before us ;
when we are old we amuse the languour of age with
the recollection of youthful pleasures or performances ;
so that our life, of which no part is filled with the
business of the present time, resembles our dreams
after dinner, when the events of the morning are
mingled with the designs of the evening.
ACT III. SCENE i. (in. i. 36-8.)
When tbou'rt old and rich,
Thou hast neither heat, affection, limb, nor beauty
To make thy riches pleasant.
But how does beauty make riches pleasant f We should read
BOUNTY, which compleats the sense, and is this ; Thou hast
neither the pleasure of enjoying riches thy self, for thou wantest
vigour : nor of seeing it enjoyed by others, for thou wantest
bounty. Where the making the want of bounty as inseparable
from old age as the want of health, is extremely satirical tho* not
altogether just. WARBURTON.
I am inclined to believe that neither man nor woman
will have much difficulty to tell how beauty makes
riches pleasant. Surely this emendation, though it is
elegant and ingenious, is not such as that an oppor-
tunity of inserting it should be purchased by declaring
MEASURE FOR MEASURE 79
ignorance of what every one knows, by confessing
insensibility of what every one feels.
ACT III. SCENE ii. (in. i. 137-8.)
7s'/ not a kind of incest, to take life
From thine own sister's shame ?
In Isabella's declamation there is something harsh,
and something forced and far-fetched. But her
indignation cannot be thought violent when we con-
sider her not only as a virgin but as a nun.
ACT IV. SCENE viii. (iv. iii. 4-5.)
First here's young Mr. Rash, &c.
This enumeration of the inhabitants of the prison
affords a very striking view of the practices predominant
in Sbakespear's age. Besides those whose follies are
common to all times, we have four fighting men and
a traveller. It is not unlikely that the originals of
these pictures were then known.
ACT IV. SCENE xiii. (iv. v. i.)
DUKE. These letters at fit time deliver me. /
Peter never delivers the letters, but tells his story
without any credentials. The poet forgot the plot
which he had formed.
AcrV. SCENE vii. (v. i. 448.)
'Till, be did look on me.
The Duke has justly observed that Isabel is impor-
tuned against all sense to solicit for Angelo, yet here
against all sense she solicits for him. Her argument
A due sincerity governed his deeds,
9 Till he did look on me ; since it is so,
Let him not die.
That Angela had committed all the crimes charged
against him, as far as he could commit them, is evident.
80 MEASURE FOR MEASURE
The only intent which his act did not overtake, was the
defilement of Isabel. Of this Angela was only inten-
Angela's crimes were such, as must sufficiently justify
punishment, whether its end be to secure the inno-
cent from wrong, or to deter guilt by example ; and
I believe every reader feels some indignation when he
finds him spared. From what extenuation of his crime
can Isabel, who yet supposes her brother dead, form any
plea in his favour. Since he was good 'till he looked
on me, let him not die. I am afraid our Varlet Poet
intended to inculcate, that women think ill of nothing
that raises the credit of their beauty, and are ready,
however virtuous, to pardon any act which they think
incited by their own charms.
ACT V. SCENE viii. (v. i. 479 foil.)
It is somewhat strange, that Isabel is not made to
express either gratitude, wonder or joy at the sight
of her brother.
After the pardon of two murderers Lucio might be
treated by the good Duke with less harshness ; but
perhaps the Poet intended to show, what is too often
seen, that men easily forgive wrongs which are not com-
mitted against themselves.
The novel of Cynthio Giraldi, from which Shake-
spear is supposed to have borrowed this fable, may be
read in Shakespear illustrated, elegantly translated, with
remarks which will assist the enquirer to discover how
much absurdity Shakespear has admitted or avoided.
I cannot but suspect that some other had new
modelled the novel of Cynthio, or written a story which
in some particulars resembled it, and that Cinthio was
not the authour whom Shakespear immediately fol-
lowed. The Emperour in Cinthio is named Maximine,
MEASURE FOR MEASURE 81
the Duke, in Shakespear's enumeration of the persons
of the drama, is called Fincentio. This appears a very
slight remark ; but since the Duke has no name in the
play, nor is ever mentioned but by his title, why
should he be called Fincentio among the Persons, but
because the name was copied from the story, and
placed superfluously at the head of the list by the mere
habit of transcription ? It is therefore likely that there
was then a story of Fincentio Duke of Vienna, different
from that of Maximine Emperour of the Romans.
Of this play the light or comick part is very natural
and pleasing, but the grave scenes, if a few passages
be excepted, have more labour than elegance. The
plot is rather intricate than artful. The time of the
action is indefinite ; some time, we know not how
much, must have elapsed between the recess of the
Duke and the imprisonment of Claudio ; for he must
have learned the story of Mariana in his disguise, or
he delegated his power to a man already known to be
corrupted. The unities of action and place are suffi-
THE MERCHANT OF VENICE.
ACT I. SCENE ii. (i. ii. 48.)
There is the Count Palatine.
I am always inclined to believe, that Shakespear has
more allusions to particular facts and persons than his
readers commonly suppose. The Count here men-
tioned was, perhaps, Albertus a Lasco, a Polish Palatine,
who visited England in our Authour's time, was eagerly
caressed, and splendidly entertained, but running in
debt, at last stole away, and endeavoured to repair
his fortune by enchantment.
82 THE MERCHANT OF VENICE
ACT II. SCENE viii. (n. vii. 78.)
PORTIA. A gentle riddance draw the curtains ; go
Let all of his complexion cbuse me so.
The old quarto Edition of 1600 has no distribution
of acts, but proceeds from the beginning to the end in
an unbroken tenour. This play therefore having been
probably divided without authority by the publishers
of the first folio, lies open to a new regulation if any
more commodious division can be proposed. The
story is itself so wildly incredible, and the changes of
the scene so frequent and capricious, that the proba-
bility of action does not deserve much care ; yet it
may be proper to observe, that, by concluding the
second act here, time is given for Bassanio's passage
ACT V. SCENE i. (v. i. 32-3.
LORENZO. Who comes with her f
MESSENGER. None, but a holy hermit, and her maid.
I do not perceive the use of this hermit, of- whom
nothing is seen or heard afterwards. The Poet had
first planned his fable some other way, and inadver-
tently, when he changed his scheme, retained some-
thing of the original design.
Of The MERCHANT of VENICE the stile is even and
easy, with few peculiarities of diction, or anomalies of
construction. The comick part raises laughter, and
the serious fixes expectation. The probability of
either one or the other story cannot be maintained.
The union of two actions in one event is in this drama
eminently happy. Dryden was much pleased with his
own address in connecting the two plots of his
Spanish Friar, which yet, I believe, the critick will find
excelled by this play.
AS YOU LIKE IT.
ACT II. SCENE i. (n. i. 12-14.)
Sweet are the uses of Adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head.
It was the current opinion in Shakespeare's time,
that in the head of an old toad was to be found a stone,
or pearl, to which great virtues were ascribed. This
stone has been often sought, but nothing has been
found more than accidental or perhaps morbid indura-
tions of the skull.
ACT II. SCENE viii. (n. vii. 94-6.)
The thorny point
Of sharp distress has ta'en from me the shew
Of smooth civility.
We might read torn with more elegance, but elegance
alone will not justify alteration.
ACT II. SCENE x. (n. vii. 167.)
Set down your venerable burthen.
Is it not likely that Shakespear had in his mind this
line of the Metamorphoses ?
Pert humerus, venerabile onus Cythereius heros.
ACT III. SCENE ii. (in. ii. 2.)
Thrice crowned Queen of Night.
Alluding to the triple character of Proserpine,
Cynthia, and Diana, given by some Mythologists to
the same Goddess, and comprised in these memorial
ferret, lustrat, agit, Proserpina, Luna, Diana,
I ma, superna, feras, sceptro, fulgore, sagittis.
84 AS YOU LIKE IT
ACT III. SCENE v. (in. ii. 136-7.)
Tongues I'll bang on every tree,
That shall civil sayings show.
Civil is here used in the same sense as when we say
civil wisdom or civil life, in opposition to a solitary
state, or to the state of nature. This desart shall
not appear unpeopled, for every tree shall teach the
maxims or incidents of social life.
ACT III. SCENE v. (in. ii. 150-2.)
Therefore heaven nature chargd,
That one body should be fiWd
With all graces wide enlarged.
From the picture of Apelles, or the accomplish-
ments of Pandora.
- But thou
So perfect, and so peerless art counted
Of ev'ry creature's lest. Tempest.
Perhaps from this passage Swift had his hint of
ACT III. SCENE v. (in. ii. 156.)
Atalanta's better part.
I know not well what could be the better part of
Atalanta here ascribed to Rosalind. Of the Atalanta
most celebrated, and who therefore must be intended
here where she has no epithet of discrimination, the
better part seems to have been her heels, and the worse
part was so bad that Rosalind would not thank her
lover for the comparison. There is a more obscure
Atalanta, a Huntress and a Heroine, but of her nothing
bad is recorded, and therefore I know not which was
AS YOU LIKE IT 85
the better part. Shakespeare was no despicable Mytho-
logist, yet he seems here to have mistaken some other
character for that of Atalanta.
ACT III. SCENE vi. (m. ii. 187-8.)
/ was never so be-rbymed since Pythagoras time, that 1 was an
Rosalind is a very learned Lady. She alludes to
the Pythagorean doctrine which teaches that souls
transmigrate from one animal to another, and relates
that in his time she was an Irish rat, and by some
metrical charm was rhymed to death. The power of
killing rats with rhymes Donne mentions in his satires,
and Temple in his treatises. Dr. Gray has produced
a similar passage from Randolph
Shall with a say tire steeped in vinegar
Rhyme them to death y as they do rats in Ireland.
ACT III. SCENE x. (in. iv.)
There is much of nature in this petty perverseness
of Rosalind ; she finds faults in her lover, in hope to
be contradicted, and when Celia in sportive malice
too readily seconds her accusations, she contradicts
herself, rather than suffer her favourite to want a vindi-
ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 39-40.)
/ will scarce think you have swam in a Gondola.
That is, been at Venice, the seat at that time of all
licentiousness, where the young English gentlemen
wasted their fortunes, debased their morals, and some-
times lost their religion.
The fashion of travelling which prevailed very much
in our author's time, was considered by the wiser men
as one of the principal causes of corrupt manners. It
86 AS YOU LIKE IT
was therefore gravely censured by Ascham in his School-
master, and by Bishop Hall in his Quo Fadis, and is
here, and in other passages ridiculed by Shakespeare.
Of this play the fable is wild and pleasing. I know
not how the ladies will approve the facility with which
both Rosalind and Celia give away their hearts. To
Celia much may be forgiven for the heroism of her
friendship. The character of Jaques is natural and
well preserved. The comick dialogue is very sprightly,
with less mixture of low buffoonery than in some other
plays ; and the graver part is elegant and harmonious.
By hastening to the end of his work Shakespeare sup-
pressed the dialogue between the usurper and the
hermit, and lost an opportunity of exhibiting a moral
lesson in which he might have found matter worthy
of his highest powers.
LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST.
The stile of the rhyming scenes in this play is often
entangled and obscure.
ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 77.)
Light, seeking light, doth light of light beguile.
The whole sense of this gingling declamation is only
this, that a man by too close study may read himself
blind, which might have been told with less obscurity
in fewer words.
ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 148.)
Necessity will make us all forsworn.
Biron amidst his extravagancies, speaks with great
justness against the folly of vows. They are made
LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST 87
without sufficient regard to the variations of life, and
are therefore broken by some unforseen necessity.
They proceed commonly from a presumptuous confi-
dence, and a false estimate of human power.
ACT I. SCENE iii. (i. ii. 5.) Dear imp.
Imp was anciently a term of dignity. Lord Cromwel
in his last letter to Henry VIII. prays for the imp his
son. It is now used only in contempt or abhorrence ;
perhaps in our authour's time it was ambiguous, in
which state it suits well with this dialogue.
ACT II. SCENE ii. (n. i. 221.)
My lips are no common, though several they be.
Several is an inclosed field of a private proprietor,
so Maria says, her lips are private property. Of a Lord
that was newly married one observed that he grew fat ;
yes, said Sir Walter Raleigh , any beast will grow fat,
if you take him from the common and graze him in the
ACT IV. SCENE ii. (iv. ii.) Holophernes.
I am not of the learned commentator's opinion,
that the satire of Shakespeare is so seldom personal.
It is of the nature of personal invectives to be soon
unintelligible ; and the authour that gratifies private
malice, animam in volnere ponit, destroys the future
efficacy of his own writings, and sacrifices the esteem
of succeeding times to the laughter of a day. It is
no wonder, therefore, that the sarcasms which, perhaps,
in the authour's time set the playhouse in a roar, are
now lost among general reflections. Yet whether the
character of Holofernes was pointed at any particular
man, I am, notwithstanding the plausibility of Dr.
Warburton's conjecture, inclined to doubt. Every man
adheres as long as he can to his own pre-conceptions.
88 LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST
Before I read this note I considered the character of
Holof ernes as borrowed from the Rhombus of Sir Philip
Sidney, who, in a kind of pastoral entertainment
exhibited to Queen Elizabeth, has introduced a school-
master so called, speaking a leash of languages at once,
and puzzling himself and his auditors with a jargon
like that of Holofernes in the present play. Sidney
himself might bring the character from Italy ; for as
Peacham observes, the Schoolmaster has long been one
of the ridiculous personages in the farces of that
ACT V. SCENE i. (v. i. 2-6.)
NATHANIEL. / praise God for you, Sir, your reasons at dinner
have been sharp and sententious; pleasant without scurrility, witty
without affectation, audacious without impudency, learned without
opinion, and strange without heresy.
I know not well what degree of respect Shakespeare
intends to obtain for this vicar, but he has here put
into his mouth a finished representation of colloquial
excellence. It is very difficult to add any thing to this
character of the schoolmaster's table-talk, and perhaps
all the precepts of Castiglione will scarcely be found to
comprehend a rule for conversation so justly delineated,
so widely dilated, and so nicely limited.
It may be proper just to note, that reason here, and
in many other places, signifies discourse, and that
audacious is used in a good sense for spirited, animated,
confident. Opinion is the same with obstinacy or
ACT V. SCENE iii. (v. ii. 69-72.)
PRINCESS. None are so surely caught, when they are catch' d,
As wit turn'd fool : folly, in wisdom hatch' d,
Hath wisdom's warrant, and the help of school ,
And wifs own grace to grace a learned fool.
These are observations worthy of a man who has
surveyed human nature with the closest attention.
LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST 89
ACT V. SCENE v. (v. ii. 206.)
Vouchsafe, bright moon, and these thy stars, to shine.
When Queen Elizabeth asked an ambassadour how
he liked her Ladies, It is hard, said he, to judge of stars
in the 'presence of the sun.
ACT V. SCENE viii. (v. ii. 374-9.)
BIRON. Fair, gentle, sweet,
Tour wit makes wise things foolish ; when we greet
With eyes best seeing heaven's fiery eye,
By light we lose light ; your capacity
Is of that nature, as to your huge store
Wise things seem foolish, and rich things but poor.
This is a very lofty and elegant compliment.
In this play, which all the editors have concurred to
censure, and some have rejected as unworthy of our
Poet, it must be confessed that there are many passages
mean, childish, and vulgar ; and some which ought
not to have been exhibited, as we are told they were,
to a maiden queen. But there are scattered, through
the whole, many sparks of genius ; nor is there any
play that has more evident marks of the hand of
THE WINTER'S TALE.
ACT I. SCENE iii. (i. ii. 260-1.)
Whereof the execution did cry out
Against the non-performance.
This is one of the expressions by which Shakespeare
too frequently clouds his meaning. This sounding
phrase means, I think, no more than a thing necessary
to be done.
90 THE WINTER'S TALE
ACT III. SCENE ii. (in. ii. 55-8.)
/ ne'er heard yet,
That any of those bolder vices wanted
Less impudence to gainsay what they did,
Than to perform it first.
It is apparent that according to the proper, at least
according to the present, use of words, less should be
more, or wanted should be had. But Shakespeare is
very uncertain in his use of negatives. It may be
necessary once to observe, that in our language two
negatives did not originally affirm, but strengthen the
negation. This mode of speech was in time changed,
but as the change was made in opposition to long
custom, it proceeded gradually, and uniformity was
not obtained but through an intermediate confusion.
ACT III. SCENE iv. (uz. ii. 152-73.)
This vehement retractation of Leontes, accompanied
with the confession of more crimes than he was
suspected of, is agreeable to our daily experience of
the vicissitudes of violent tempers, and the eruptions
of minds oppressed with guilt.
ACT IV. SCENE iv. (iv. iii. 21-2.)
How would he look, to see his work, so noble,
Vilely bound up !
It is impossible for any man to rid his mind of his
profession. The authourship of Shakespeare has sup-
plied him with a metaphor, which rather than he would
lose it, he has put with no great propriety into the
mouth of a country maid. Thinking of his own works
his mind passed naturally to the Binder. I am glad
that he has no hint at an Editor.
ACT V. SCENE v. (v. ii. 43-4.)
3 GENTLEMAN. Did you see the meeting of the two Kings f
It was, I suppose, only to spare his own labour that
THE WINTER'S TALE 91
the poet put this whole scene into narrative, for though
part of the transaction was already known to the
audience, and therefore could not properly be shewn
again, yet the two kings might have met upon the
stage, and after the examination of the old shepherd,
the young Lady might have been recognized in sight
of the spectators.
Of this play no edition is known published before
the folio of 1623.
The story is taken from the novel of Dorastus and
Faunia, which may be read in Shakespeare illustrated.
This play, as Dr. Warburton justly observes, is, with
all its absurdities, very entertaining. The character
of Autolycus is very naturally conceived, and strongly
ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 19, 21.)
0, when my eyes did see Olivia first,
That instant I was turn'd into a hart.
This image evidently alludes to the story of Acteon,
by which Shakespeare seems to think men cautioned
against too great familiarity with forbidden beauty.
Acteon, who saw Diana naked, and was torn in pieces
by his hounds, represents a man, who indulging his
eyes, or his imagination, with the view of a woman
that he cannot gain, has his heart torn with incessant
longing. An interpretation far more elegant and
natural than that of Sir Francis Bacon, who, in his
Wisdom of the Antients, supposes this story to warn us
against enquiring into the secrets of princes, by show-
ing, that those who knew that which for reasons of
state is to be concealed, will be detected and destroyed
by their own servants.
92 TWELFTH NIGHT
ACT I. SCENE ii. (i. ii. 39.)
0, that 1 sertfd that lady &c.
Viola seems to have formed a very deep design with
very little premeditation : she is thrown by shipwreck
on an unknown coast, hears that the prince is a batche-
lor, and resolves to supplant the lady whom he courts.
ACT I. SCENE ii. (i. ii. 53.) /'// serve this Duke.
Viola is an excellent schemer, never at a loss ; if she
cannot serve the lady, she will serve the Duke.
ACT II. SCENE iv. (n. iii. 86.) Tilly valley.
Tilly valley was an interjection of contempt, which
Sir Thomas More's lady is recorded to have had very
often in her mouth.
ACT II. SCENE viii. (n. v. 66-8.)
MALVOLIO. / frown the while, and, perchance, wind up my
watch, or play with some rich jewel.
In our authour's time watches were very uncommon.
When Guy Faux was taken, it was urged as a circum-
stance of suspicion that a watch was found upon him.
ACT III. SCENE x. (in. iv. 185-7.)
SIR TOBY. Fare thee well, and God have mercy upon one of our
souls : he may have mercy upon mine, but my hope is better.
We may read, He may have mercy upon thine, but
my hope is better. Yet the passage may well enough
stand without alteration.
It were much to be wished, that Shakespeare in this
and Some other passages, had not ventured so near
ACT III. SCENE xii. (in. iv. 260-1.)
He is Knight, dubVd with unhacttd rapier, and on carpet con-
That is, he is no soldier by profession, not a Knight
TWELFTH NIGHT 93
Banneret, dubbed in the field of battle, but, on carpet
consideration, at a festivity, or on some peaceable occa-
sion, when knights receive their dignity kneeling not
on the ground, as in war, but on a carpet. This is,
I believe, the original of the contemptuous term
a carpet knight, who was naturally held in scorn by the
men of war.
ACT V. SCENE i. (v. i. 42.) Bells of St. Bennet.
When in this play he mentioned the bed of Ware, he
recollected that the scene was in Illyria, and added
in England ; but his sense of the same impropriety
could not restrain him from the bells of St. Bennet.
This glay is in the graver part elegant and easy, and
in some of the lighter scenes exquisitely humorous.
Ague- cheek is drawn with great propriety, but his
character is, in a great measure, that of natural fatuity,
and is therefore not the proper prey of a satirist. The
soliloquy of Malvolio is truly comick ; he is betrayed
to ridicule merely by his pride. The marriage of
Olivia, and the succeeding perplexity, though well
enough contrived to divert on the stage, wants credi-
bility, and fails to produce the proper instruction
required in the drama, as it exhibits no just picture
THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR.
ACT II. SCENE iv. (n. i. 147.)
PAGE. / will not believe such a Cataian.
To be a foreigner was always in England, and I sup-
pose every where else, a reason of dislike.
ACT II. SCENE viii. (n. ii. 94-5.) A very frampold life.
This word I have never seen elsewhere except in
94 THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR
Dr. Hackefs life of Archbishop Williams, where a
frampul man signifies a peevish troublesome fellow.
ACT III. SCENE xii. (in. iv. 13-14.)
Thy father's wealth
Was the first motive that I woo'd thee.
Some light may be given to those who shall en-
deavour to calculate the encrease of English wealth,
by observing, that Latymer in the time of Edward VI.
mentions it as a proof of his father's prosperity, That
though but a yeoman, he gave his daughters five pounds
each for her portion. At the latter end of Elizabeth,
seven hundred pounds were such a temptation to
courtship, as made all other motives suspected. Con-
greve makes twelve thousand pounds more than
a counterballance to the affectation of Belinda. No
poet would now fly his favourite character at less than
ACT III. SCENE xvii. (in. v. 157-8.) /'// be born-mad.
There is no image which our authour appears so
fond of as that of a cuckold's horns. Scarcely a light
character is introduced that does not endeavour to
produce merriment by some allusion to horned hus-
bands. As he wrote his plays for the stage rather than
the press, he perhaps reviewed them seldom, and did
not observe this repetition, or finding the jest, however
frequent, still successful, did not think correction
ACT IV. SCENE v. (iv. ii. 208-9.)
/ spy a great peard under her muffler.
As the second stratagem, by which Falstaff escapes,
is much the grosser of the two, I wish it had been
practised first. It .is very unlikely that Ford having
been so deceived before, and knowing that he had been
THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR 95
deceived, would suffer him to escape in so slight a
ACT IV. SCENE vii. (iv. iii. 12-13.) They must COME off
To come off, signifies in our authour, sometimes to be
uttered with spirit and volubility. In this place it
seems to mean what is in our time expressed by to
come down, to pay liberally and readily. These acci-
dental and colloquial senses are the disgrace of language,
and the plague of commentators.
ACT IV. SCENE x. (iv. v. 130.) Good hearts.
The great fault of this play is the frequency of
expressions so profane, that no necessity of preserving
character can justify them. There are laws of higher
authority than those of criticism.
THE TAMING OF THE SHREW.
ACT. I. SCENE iv. (i. i. 166.)
Redime te captum quam queas minima.
Our author had this line from Lilly, which I men-
tion, that it may not be brought as an argument of
ACT II. SCENE vi. (n. i. 331-2.)
GREMIO. Youngling ! tbou canst not love so dear as 1.
TRANIO. Grey-beard / thy love doth freeze.
GREMIO. But thine doth fry.
Old Gremioh notions are confirmed by Shadwell.
The fire of love in youthful blood,
Like what is kindled in brushwood,
But for a moment burns
But when crept into aged veins,
It slowly burns, and long remains,
96 THE TAMING OF THE SHREW
It glows, and with a sullen heat,
Like fire in logs, it burns, and warms us long ;
And though the flame be not so great
Yet is the heat as strong.
ACT V. SCENE iv. (v. ii. 54.)
PETRUCHIO. A good swift Simile.
Swift, besides the original sense of speedy in motion^
signified witty, quick-witted. So in As you like it, the
Duke says of the clown, He is very swift and sententious.
Quick is now used in almost the same sense, as nimble
was in the age after that of our authour. Heylin says of
Hales, that he had known Laud for a nimble disputant.
From this play the Tatler formed a story, Vol. 4.
It cannot but seem strange that Shakespeare should
be so little known to the authour of the Tatler, that
he should suffer this Story to be obtruded upon him,
or so little known to the Publick, that he could hope
to make it pass upon his readers as a novel narrative
of a transaction in Lincolnshire ; yet it is apparent,
that he was deceived, or intended to deceive, that he
knew not himself whence the story was taken, or
hoped that he might rob so obscure a writer without
Of this play the two plots are so well united, that
they can hardly be called two without injury to the
art with which they are interwoven. The attention
is entertained with all the variety of a double plot, yet
is not distracted by unconnected incidents.
The part between Catharine and Petruchio is
eminently spritely and diverting. At the marriage of
Bianca the arrival of the real father, perhaps, produces
more perplexity than pleasure. The whole play is
very popular and diverting.
THE COMEDY OF ERRORS
ACT III. SCENE ii. (HI. ii. 63-4.)
ANTIPHOLIS OF SYRACUSE. My food, my fortune, and my sweet
My sole earth's heaven, and my heaven's claim.
When he calls the girl his only heaven on earth, he
utters the common cant of lovers. When he calls her
his heaven's claim, I cannot understand him. Perhaps
he means that which he asks of heaven.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.
ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 67.) Four of his five wits.
In our authour's time wit was the general term for
intellectual powers. So Davies on the Soul,
Wit, seeking truth from cause to cause ascends,
And never rests till it the first attain ;
Will, seeking good, finds many middle ends,
But never stays till it the last do gain.
And in another part,
But if a phrenzy do possess the brain,
It so disturbs and blots the form of things,
As fantasy proves altogether vain,
And to the wit no true relation brings.
Then doth the wit, admitting all for true,
Build fond conclusions on those idle grounds ;
The wits seem to have reckoned five, by analogy to
the five senses, or the five inlets of ideas.
ACT I. SCENE vi. (i. iii. 14.)
DON JOHN. / cannot hide what 1 am.
This is one of our authour's natural touches. An
envious and unsocial mind, too proud to give pleasure,
and too sullen to receive it, always endeavours to hide
98 MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
its malignity from the world and from itself, under
the plainness of simple honesty, or the dignity of
ACT II. SCENE v. (11. i. 332-4.)
Thus goes every one to the world but I, and 1 am sunburnt.
What is it, to go to the world? perhaps, to enter by
marriage into a settled state : but why is the unmarried
Lady sunburnt ? I believe we should read, thus goes
every one to the wood but I, and I am sunburnt. Thus
does every one but I find a shelter, and I am left
exposed to wind and sun. The nearest way to the
wood, is a phrase for the readiest means to any end.
It is said of a woman, who accepts a worse match than
those which she had refused, that she has passed
through the wood, and at last taken a crooked stick.
But conjectural criticism has always something to
abate its confidence. Shakespeare, in AIVs well that
ends well, uses the phrase, to go to the world, for marriage.
So that my emendation depends only on the opposition
of wood to sun-burnt.
ACT III. SCENE iv. (in. iii. 43-4.)
DOGBERRY. Have a care that your Bills be not stolen.
A bill is still carried by the watchmen at Lichfield.
It was the old weapon of the English infantry, which,
says Temple, gave the most ghastly and deplorable
wounds. It may be called securis falcata.
ACT IV. SCENE ii. (iv. i. 251-2.)
LEONATO. Being that I flow in grief,
The smallest twine may lead me.
This is one of our authour's observations upon life.
Men over-powered with distress eagerly listen to the
first offers of relief, close with every scheme, and
believe every promise. He that has no longer any
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING 99
confidence in himself, is glad to repose his trust in
any other that will undertake to guide him.
ALL 'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL.
ACT I. SCENE i. (1.1.49-52.)
Where an unclean mind carries virtuous qualities, there com-
mendations go with pity, they are virtues and traitors too ; in her
they are the better for their simpleness.
Estimable and useful qualities, joined with evil dis-
position, give that evil disposition power over others,
who, by admiring the virtue, are betrayed to the
malevolence. The Tatler, mentioning the sharpers
of his time, observes, that some of them are men of
such elegance and knowledge, that a young man who
jails into their way is betrayed as much by his judgment
as his passions.
ACT I. SCENE v. (i. ii. 36-8.)
So like a Courtier, no Contempt or Bitterness
Were in his Pride or Sharpness ; or if they were,
His Equal had awak'd them.
He was so like a courtier, that there was in his dignity
of manner nothing contemptuous, and in his keenness of
wit nothing bitter. If bitterness or contemptuousness
ever appeared, they had been awakened by some injury,
not of a man below him, but of his Equal. This is the
complete image of a well bred man, and somewhat
like this Voltaire has exhibited his hero Lewis XIV.
ACT I. SCENE v. (i. ii. 41-5.)
Who were below him
He us'd as creatures of another place,
And bow'd his eminent top to their low ranks ;
Making them proud of his humility,
In their poor praise he humbled.
Every man has seen the mean too often proud of the
humility of the great, and perhaps the great may some-
ioo ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL
times be humbled in the praises of the mean, of those
who commend them without conviction or discern-
ment : this, however is not so common ; the mean
are found more frequently than the great.
ACT I. SCENE vi. (i. iii. S.D.) Steward and Clown.
A Clown in Shakespeare is commonly taken for
a licensed jester, or domestick fool. We are not to
wonder that we find this character often in his plays,
since fools were, at that time, maintained in all great
families, to keep up merriment in the house. In the
picture of Sir Thomas Moore's family, by Hans Holbein,
the only servant represented is Patison the fool. This
is a proof of the familiarity to which they were ad-
mitted, not by the great only, but the wise.
In some plays, a servant, or rustic, of remarkable
petulance and freedom of speech, is likewise called
ACT I. SCENE vi. (i. iii. 98-101.)
Tho' honesty be no puritan, yet it will do no hurt ; it will wear
the surplice of humility over the black gown of a big heart.
Here is an allusion, violently enough forced in, to
satirise the obstinacy with which the Puritans refused
the use of the ecclesiastical habits, which was, at that
time, one principal cause of the breach of union, and,
perhaps, to insinuate, that the modest purity of the
surplice was sometimes a cover for pride.
ACT IV. SCENE ii. (iv. ii. 73-4.)
DIANA. Since Frenchmen are so braid.
Marry that will, I'll live and die a Maid.
Nothing is more common than for girls, on such
occasions, to say in a pett what they do not think, or
to think for a time what they do not finally resolve.
ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL 101
ACT IV. SCENE iii. (iv. iii. i.) First Lord.
The later Editors have with great liberality bestowed
lordship upon these interlocutors, who, in the original
edition, are called, with more propriety, capt. E. and
capt. G. It is true that captain E. is in a former scene
called Lord E. but the subordination in which they
seem to act, and the timorous manner in which they
converse, determines them to be only captains. Yet
as the later readers of Shakespeare have been used to
find them lords, I have not thought it worth while
to degrade them in the margin.
ACT IV. SCENE v. (iv. iii. 282.)
He will steal, Sir, an egg out of a cloister,
I know not that cloister, though it may etymologically
signify any thing shut is used by our authour, otherwise
than for a monastery, and therefore I cannot guess
whence this hyberbole could take its original : perhaps
it means only this : He will steal any thing, however
trifling, from any place, however holy.
ACT V. SCENE ii. (v. ii. 58-9.)
Tbo' you are a fool and a knave, you shall eat.
Parolles has many of the lineaments of Falstaff, and
seems to be the character which Shakespeare delighted
to draw, a fellow that had more wit than virtue.
Though justice required that he should be detected
and exposed, yet his vices sit so fit in him that he is
not at last suffered to starve.
ACT V. SCENE iii. (v. iii. 20-2.)
KING. Call him hither ;
We're reconciled, and the first view shall kill
The first interview shall put an end to all recollection
102 ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL
of the past. Shakespeare is now hastening to the end
of the play, finds his matter sufficient to fill up his
remaining scenes, and therefore, as on other such
occasions, contracts his dialogue and precipitates his
action. Decency required that Bertram's double
crime of cruelty and disobedience joined likewise with
some hypocrisy, should raise more resentment ; and
that though his mother might easily forgive him, his
king should more pertinaciously vindicate his own
authority and Helen's merit : of all this Shakespeare
could not be ignorant, but Shakespeare wanted to
conclude his play.
ACT V. SCENE iv. (v. iii. 93.)
BERTRAM. In Florence was it front a casement thrown me.
Bertram still continues to have too little virtue to
deserve Helen. He did not know indeed that it was
Helen's ring, but he knew that he had it not from
ACT V. SCENE iv. (v. iii. 101-2.)
'That knows the tinct and multiplying medicine.
In the reign of Henry the fourth a law was made to
forbid all men thenceforth to multiply gold, or use any
craft of multiplication. Of which law Mr. Boyle, when
he was warm with the hope of transmutation, procured
ACT V. SCENE vi. (v. iii. 271-309.)
This dialogue [between the King and Diana] is too
long, since the audience already knew the whole
transaction ; nor is there any reason for puzzling the
king and playing with his passions ; but it was much
easier than to make a pathetical interview between
Helen and her husband, her mother, and the king.
ALL 'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL 103
This play has many delightful scenes, though not
sufficiently probable, and some happy characters,
though not new, nor produced by any deep knowledge
of human nature. Parolles is a boaster and a coward,
such as has always been the sport of the stage, but
perhaps never raised more laughter or contempt than
in the hands of Shakespeare.
I cannot reconcile my heart to Bertram ; a man
noble without generosity, and young without truth ;
who marries Helen as a coward, and leaves her as a
profligate : when she is dead by his unkindness, sneaks
home to a second marriage, is accused by a woman
whom he has wronged, defends himself by falshood,
and is dismissed to happiness.
The story of Bertram and Diana had been told before
of Mariana and Angela, and, to confess the truth,
scarcely merited to be heard a second time.
The story is copied from a novel of Boccace, which
may be read in Shakespear Illustrated, with remarks
not more favourable to Bertram than my own.
ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 24-6.)
KING JOHN. Be thou as lightning in the eyes of France,
For ere thou canst report I will be there,
The thunder of my cannon shall be heard.
The simile does not suit well : the lightning indeed
appears before the thunder is heard, but the lightning
is destructive, and the thunder innocent.
ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 27-8.)
Be thou the trumpet of our wrath,
And sullen presage of your own decay.
By the epithet sullen, which cannot be applied to
a trumpet, it is plain, that our authour's imagination
104 KING J HN
had now suggested a new idea. It is as if he had said,
be a trumpet to alarm with our invasion, be a bird of
ill omen to croak out the prognostick of your own ruin.
ACT I. SCENE iv. (i. i. 225.) Colbrand the giant.
Colbrand was a Danish giant, whom Guy of Warwick
discomfited in the presence of king Athelstan. The
combat is very pompously described by Drayton in his
ACT II. SCENE iv. (n. i. 300 foil.)
FRENCH HERALD. Ye men of Angiers, &c.
This speech is very poetical and smooth, and except
the conceit of the widow's husband embracing the earth,
is just and beautiful.
ACT II. SCENE v. (n. i. 477-9.)
Lest zeal now melted by the windy breath
Of soft petitions, pity and remorse,
Cool and congeal again to what it was.
We have here a very unusual, and, I think, not very
just image of zeal, which in its highest degree is
represented by others as a flame, but by Shakespeare
as a frost. To repress zeal, in the language of others,
is to cool, in Shakespeare's to melt it ; when it exerts
its utmost power it is commonly said to flame, but
by Shakespeare to be congealed.
ACT III. SCENE i. (in. i. 70-1.)
CONSTANCE. To me, and to the State of my great Grief,
Let Kings assemble.
In Much ado about nothing, the father of Hero,
depressed by her disgrace, declares himself so subdued
by grief that a thread may lead him. How is it that
grief in Leonato and lady Constance, produces effects
directly opposite, and yet both agreeable to nature.
KING JOHN 105
Sorrow softens the mind while it is yet warmed by
hope, but hardens it when it is congealed by despair.
Distress, while there remains any prospect of relief,
is weak and flexible, but when no succour remains, is
fearless and stubborn ; angry alike at those that injure,
and at those that do not help ; careless to please where
nothing can be gained, and fearless to offend when
there is nothing further to be dreaded. Such was this
writer's knowledge of the passions.
ACT III. SCENE ii. (HI. i. 75-134.)
What was the ground of this quarrel of the Bastard to Austria
is no where specify'd in the present play ; nor is there in this
place, or the scene where it is first hinted at (namely the second
of Act 2.) the least mention of any reason for it. But the story
is, that Austria, who kill'd King Richard Cceur-de-lion, wore as the
spoil of that Prince, a lion's hide which had belong'd to him
This circumstance renders the anger of the Bastard very natural,
and ought not to have been omitted. In the first sketch of this
play (which Shakespeare is said to have had a hand in, jointly
with William Rowley} we accordingly find this insisted upon, and
I have ventured to place a few of those verses here. POPE.
To the insertion of these lines I have nothing to
object. There are many other passages in the old
play, of great value. The omission of this incident,
in the second draught, was natural. Shakespeare,
having familiarised the story of his own imagination,
forgot that it was obscure to his audience ; or, what
is equally probable, the story was then so popular that
a hint was sufficient at that time to bring it to mind,
and these plays were written with very little care for
the approbation of posterity.
ACT III. SCENE iii. (in. i. 149-51.)
KING JOHN. 'Thou canst not, Cardinal, devise a name
So slight, unworthy, and ridiculous,
To charge me to an answer, as the Pope.
This must have been at the time when it was written,
in our struggles with popery, a very captivating scene.
106 KING JOHN
So many passages remain in which Shakespeare
evidently takes his advantage of the facts then recent,
and of the passions then in motion, that I cannot but
suspect that time has obscured much of his art, and
that many allusions yet remain undiscovered which
perhaps may be gradually retrieved by succeeding
ACT III. SCENE iii. (in. i. 204-6.)
LEWIS. Bethink you, father ; for the difference
Is purchase of a heavy curse front Rome.
Or the light loss of England for a friend
It is a political maxim, that kingdoms are never
married. Lewis upon the wedding is for making war
upon his new relations.
ACT III. SCENE iii. (in. i. 280 foil.)
PANDULPH. But thou hast sworn against religion, &c.
In this long speech, the Legate is made to shew his skill in
casuistry ; and the strange heap of quibble and nonsense of which
it consists, was intended to ridicule that of the schools. WAR-
I am not able to discover here any thing inconse-
quent or ridiculously subtle. The propositions, that
the voice of the church is the voice of heaven, and that
the Pope utters the voice of the church, neither of which
Pandulptfs auditors would deny, being once granted,
the argument here used is irresistible ; nor is it easy,
notwithstanding the gingle, to enforce it with greater
brevity or propriety.
In swearing by religion against religion, to which thou
hast already sworn, thou makest an oath the security for
thy faith against an oath already taken. I will give,
says he, a rule for conscience in these cases. Thou
mayst be in doubt about the matter of an oath ; when
thou swearest thou mayst not be always sure to swear
rightly, but let this be thy settled principle, swear
KING JOHN 107
only not to be forsworn ; let not thy latter oaths be at
variance with thy former.
Truth, through this whole speech, means rectitude
ACT III. SCENE iv. (in. ii. 1-3.)
Now, by my life, this day grows wond'rous hot ;
Some airy devil hovers in the sky,
And pours down mischief.
We must read, Some fiery devil, if we will have the cause equal
to the effect. WARBURTON.
There is no end of such alterations ; every page of
a vehement and negligent writer will afford opportuni-
ties for changes of terms, if mere propriety will justify
them. Not that of this change the propriety is out
of controversy. Dr. Warburton will have the devil
fiery, because he makes the day hot ; the authour
makes him airy, because be hovers in the sky, and the
heat and mischief are natural consequences of his
ACT III. SCENE vi. (in. iv. 61.)
KING PHILIP. Bind up those tresses.
It was necessary that Constance should be interrupted,
because a passion so violent cannot be born long. I wish
the following speeches had been equally happy ; but
they only serve to shew, how difficult it is to maintain
the pathetick long.
ACT III. SCENE vi. (in. iv. 99-100.)
CONSTANCE. Had you such a loss as /,
/ could give better comfort.
This is a sentiment which great sorrow always dic-
tates. Whoever cannot help himself casts his eyes on
others for assistance, and often mistakes their inability
io8 KING JOHN
ACT III. SCENE vii. (in. iv. 107.)
LEWIS. There's nothing in this world can make me joy.
The young Prince feels his defeat with more sensi-
bility than his father, Shame operates most strongly
in the earlier years, and when can disgrace be less
welcome than when a man is going to his bride ?
ACT III. SCENE vii. (in. iv. 176-7.)
As a little snow, tumbled about,
Anon becomes a mountain.
Bacon, in his history of Henry VII. speaking of
Perkins march, observes, that their snow-ball did not
gather as it rolled.
ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 101-2.)
ARTHUR. Or, Hubert, if you will, cut out my tongue,
So I may keep mine eyes.
This is according to nature. We imagine no evil
so great as that which is near us.
ACT IV. SCENE iv. (iv. ii. 197-8.)
Slippers, which his nimble haste
Had falsely thrust upon contrary feet.
I know not how the commentators understand this
important passage, which, in Dr. Warburtori's edition,
is marked as eminently beautiful, and, in the whole,
not without justice. But Shakespeare seems to have
confounded a man's shoes with his gloves. He that
is frighted or hurried may put his hand into the wrong
glove, but either shoe will equally admit either foot.
The authour seems to be disturbed by the disorder
which he describes.
ACT IV. SCENE iv. (iv. ii. 231-5.)
KING JOHN. Hadst thou but shook thy head, or made a pause, . . .
Deep shame had struck me dumb.
There are many touches of nature in this conference
KING JOHN 109
of John with Hubert. A man engaged in wickedness
would keep the profit to himself, and transfer the
guilt to his accomplice. These reproaches vented
against Hubert are not the words of art or policy, but
the eruptions of a mind swelling with consciousness
of a crime, and desirous of discharging its misery on
This account of the timidity of guilt is drawn ab
ipsis reresibus mentis, from an intimate knowledge of
mankind, particularly that line in which he says, that
to have bid him tell his tale in express words, would have
struck him dumb ; nothing is more certain, than that
bad men use all the arts of fallacy upon themselves,
palliate their actions to their own minds by gentle
terms, and hide themselves from their own detection
in ambiguities and subterfuges.
The tragedy of King John, though not written
with the utmost power of Shakespeare, is varied with
a very pleasing interchange of incidents and characters.
The Lady's grief is very affecting, and the character
of the Bastard contains that mixture of greatness and
levity which this authour delighted to exhibit.
There is extant another play of King John, pub-
lished with Shakespeare's name, so different from this,
and I think from all his other works, that there is
reason to think his name was prefixed only to recom-
mend it to sale. No man writes upon the same
subject twice, without concurring in many places with
ACT I. SCENE v. (i. iii. 227-8.)
GAUNT. Shorten my days tbou canst with sullen sorrow.
And pluck nights from me, but not lend a morrow.
It is matter of very melancholy consideration, that
all human advantages confer more power of doing evil
ACT II. SCENE i. (n. i. 21.)
Report of fashions in proud Italy.
Our authour, who gives to all nations the customs
of England, and to all ages the manners of his own ; has
charged the times of Richard with a folly not perhaps
known then, but very frequent in Shakespeare's time,
and much lamented by the wisest and best of our
ACT III. SCENE ii. (HI. ii. 56-7.)
K. RICHARD. The breath of worldly men cannot depose
The Deputy elected by the Lord.
Here is the doctrine of indefeasible right expressed
in the strongest terms, but our poet did not learn it
in the reign of King James, to which it is now the
practice of all writers, whose opinions are regulated
by fashion or interest, to impute the original of every
tenet which they have been taught to think false or
ACT III. SCENE iv. (HI. ii. 93.)
K. RICHARD. Mine ear is open, and my heart prepared.
It seems to be the design of the poet to raise Richard
to esteem in his fall, and consequently to interest
the reader in his favour. He gives him only passive
RICHARD II in
fortitude, the virtue of a confessor rather than of
a king. In his prosperity we saw him imperious and
oppressive, but in his distress he is wise, patient, and
ACT III. SCENE iv. (HI. ii. 153-4.)
That small model of the barren earth,
Which serves as paste and cover to our bones.
A metaphor, not of the most sublime kind, taken
from a pie.
ACT III. SCENE iv. (in. ii. 207-8.)
K. RICHARD. By beav'n, I'll hate him everlastingly,
'That bids me be of comfort any more.
This sentiment is drawn from nature. Nothing is
more offensive to a mind convinced that his distress
is without a remedy, and preparing to submit quietly
to irresistible calamity, than these petty and conjec-
tured comforts which unskilful officiousness thinks it
virtue to administer.
ACT III. SCENE vi. (111.111.155-7.)
K. RICHARD. Or I'll be buried in the King's high way,
Some way of common Trade, where Subjects' feet
May hourly trample on their Sovereign's head.
Shakespeare is very apt to deviate from the pathetick
to the ridiculous. Had the speech of Richard ended
at this line it had exhibited the natural language of
submissive misery, conforming its intention to the
present fortune, and calmly ending its purposes in
ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 39-40.)
FITZWATER. / will turn thy falsehood to thy heart,
Where it was forged, with my rapier's point.
Shakespeare deserts the manners of the age in which
his drama is placed very often, without necessity or
ii2 RICHARD II
advantage. The edge of a sword had served his
purpose as well as the point of a rapier, and he had
then escaped the impropriety of giving the English
nobles a weapon which was not seen in England till
two centuries afterwards.
ACT IV. SCENE ii. (iv. i. 125-8.)
CARLISLE. And shall the Figure of God's Majesty,
His Captain, Steward, Deputy elect, . . .
Be judg'd by subject and inferior breath f
Here is another proof that our authour did not
learn in King James's court his elevated notions of
the right of kings. I know not any flatterer of the
Stuarts who has expressed this doctrine in much
stronger terms. It must be observed that the Poet
intends from the beginning to the end to exhibit this
bishop as brave, pious, and venerable.
ACT IV. SCENE iv. (iv. i. 322-3.)
CARLISLE. The children yet unborn,
Shall feel this day as sharp to them as thorn.
This pathetick denunciation shews that Shakespeare
intended to impress his auditors with dislike of the
deposal of Richard.
ACT V. SCENE i. (v. i. 46.)
For why ? the senseless brands will sympathize.
The poet should have ended this speech with the
foregoing line, and have spared his childish prattle
about the fire.
This play is extracted from the Chronicle of Hol-
lingshead, in which many passages may be found which
Shakespeare has, with very little alteration, transplanted
into his scenes ; particularly a speech of the bishop of
Carlisle in defence of King Richard's unalienable right,
and immunity from human jurisdiction.
RICHARD II 113
Johnson, who, in his Cataline and Sejanus, has
inserted many speeches from the Roman historians,
was, perhaps, induced to that practice by the example
of Shakespeare, who had condescended sometimes to
copy more ignoble writers. But Shakespeare had more
of his own than Johnson, and, if he sometimes was
willing to spare his labour, shewed by what he per-
formed at other times, that his extracts were made by
choice or idleness rather than necessity.
This play is one of those which Shakespeare has
apparently revised ; but as success in works of inven-
tion is not always proportionate to labour, it is not
finished at last with the happy force of some other of
his tragedies, nor can be said much to affect the
passions, or enlarge the understanding.
THE FIRST PART OF KING HENRY IV.
Shakespeare has apparently designed a regular con-
nection of these dramatick histories from Richard the
second to Henry the fifth. King Henry, at the end of
Richard the second, declares his purpose to visit the
Holy Land, which he resumes in this speech. The
complaint made by king Henry in the last act of Richard.
the second, of the wildness of his son, prepares the
reader for the frolicks which are here to be recounted,
and the characters which are now to be exhibited.
ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 19.)
As far as to the sepulchre of Christ,
The lawfulness and justice of the holy wars have
been much disputed ; but perhaps there is a principle
on which the question may be easily determined. If
it be part of the religion of the Mahometans, to
ii4 * HENRY IV
extirpate by the sword all other religions, it is, by the
law of self defence, lawful for men of every other
religion, and for Christians among others, to make
war upon Mahometans, simply as Mahometans, as
men obliged by their own principles to make war upon
Christians, and only lying in wait till opportunity
shall promise them success.
ACT I. SCENE Hi. (i. ii. 217-18.)
PRINCE HENRY. / know you all, and will a while uphold
The unyok'd humour of your idleness.
This speech is very artfully introduced to keep the
Prince from appearing vile in the opinion of the
audience ; it prepares them for his future reformation,
and, what is yet more valuable, exhibits a natural
picture of a great mind offering excuses to itself, and
palliating those follies which it can neither justify nor
ACT I. SCENE iv. (i. iii. 201-2.)
HOTSPUR. By heav'n, methinks, it were an easy leap,
To pluck bright honour from the pale-fac'd Moon.
Tho' the expression be sublime and daring, yet the thought is
the natural movement of an heroic mind. Euripides at least
thought so, when he put the very same sentiment, in the same
words, into the mouth of Eteocles / will not, madam, disguise my
thoughts ; I could scale heaven, I could descend to the very entrails
of the earth, if so be that by that price I could obtain a kingdom.
Though I am very far from condemning this speech
with Gildon and Theobald as absolute madness, yet I
cannot find in it that profundity of reflection and
beauty of allegory which the learned commentator
has endeavoured to display. This sally of Hotspur
may be, I think, soberly and rationally vindicated as
the violent eruption of a mind inflated with ambition
and fired with resentment ; as the boastful clamour
i HENRY IV 115
of a man able to do much, and eager to do more ; as
the hasty motion of turbulent desire ; as the dark
expression of indetermined thoughts. The passage
from Euripides is surely not allegorical, yet it is pro-
duced, and properly, as parallel.
ACT I. SCENE iv. (i. iii. 287-8.)
WORCESTER. The King will always think him in our debt.
And think we deem ourselves unsatisfy'd.
This is a natural description of the state of mind
between those that have conferred, and those that
have received, obligations too great to be satisfied.
That this would be the event of Northumberland's
disloyalty was predicted by King Richard in the
ACT II. SCENE ii. (n. i. 95-6.)
We have the receipt of Fern-seed, we walk invisible.
Fern is one of those plants which have their seed
on the back of the leaf so small as to escape the sight.
Those who perceived that fern was propagated by
semination and yet could never see the seed, were
much at a loss for a solution of the difficulty ; and as
wonder always endeavours to augment itself, they
ascribed to Fern-seed many strange properties ; some
of which the rustick virgins have not yet forgotten or
ACT II. SCENE viii. (11.^.41-127.) Enter Francis the drawer.
This scene, helped by the distraction of the drawer,
and grimaces of the prince, may entertain upon the
stage, but afford not much delight to the reader. The
authour has judiciously made it short.
ACT II. SCENE xi. (11. iv. 384=4*) "J^H
PRINCE HENRY. He that rides at high speed, and with a pistol
kills a sparrow flying.
Shakespeare never has any care to preserve the
ii6 i HENRY IV
manners of the time. Pistols were not known in the
age of Henry. Pistols were, I believe, about our
authour's time, eminently used by the Scots. Sir
Henry Wotton somewhere makes mention of a Scotish
ACT II. SCENE xi. (n. iv. 399-400.)
FALSTAFF. Tou may buy land now as cheap as stinking
In former times the prosperity of the nation was
known by the value of land as now by the price of
stocks. Before Henry the seventh made it safe to
serve the king regnant, it was the practice at every
revolution for the conqueror to confiscate the estates
of those that opposed, and perhaps of those who did
not assist him. Those, therefore, that foresaw a change
of government, and thought their estates in danger,
were desirous to sell them in haste for something that
might be carried away.
ACT II. SCENE xi. (n. iv. 446-7.)
FALSTAFF. Though the camomile, the more it is trodden on, the
faster it grows.
This whole speech is supremely comick. The simile
of camomile used to illustrate a contrary effect, brings
to my remembrance an observation of a later writer
of some merit, whom the desire of being witty has
betrayed into a like thought. Meaning to enforce
with great vehemence the mad temerity of young
soldiers, he remarks, that though Bedlam be in the road
to Hogsden, it is out of the way to promotion.
ACT II. SCENE xi. (n. iv. 557.)
PRINCE HENRY. Go, hide thee behind the arras.
The bulk of Falstaff made him not the fittest to be
concealed behind the hangings, but every poet sacri-
i HENRY IV 117
fices something to the scenery ; if Falstaff had not
been hidden he could not have been found asleep, nor
had his pockets searched.
ACT III. SCENE i. (in. i. 27-8.)
HOTSPUR. Diseased Nature oftentimes breaks forth
In strange eruptions.
The poet has here taken, from the perverseness and
contrariousness of Hotspur's temper, an opportunity
of raising his character, by a very rational and philo-
sophical confutation of superstitious errour.
ACT III. SCENE i. (m. i. 97-8.)
HOTSPUR. Methinks, my moiety, north from Burton here,
In quantity equals not one of yours.
Hotspur is here just such a divider as the Irishman who made
three halves ; Therefore, for the honour of Shakespeare, I will
suppose, with the Oxford Editor, that he wrote portion. WAR-
I will not suppose it.
ACT III. SCENE iv. (in. ii. 66-7.)
To laugh at gybing boys, and stand the push
Of every beardless, vain comparative.
Of every boy whose vanity incited him to try his
wit against the King's.
When Lewis XIV. was asked, why, with so much wit,
he never attempted raillery, he answered, that he who
practised raillery ought to bear it in his turn, and that
to stand the butt of raillery was not suitable to the
dignity of a King. Scudery's Conversation.
ACT III. SCENE v. (m. iii. 30.)
FALSTAFF. Thou art the Knight of the burning lamp.
This is a natural picture. Every man who feels in
himself the pain of deformity, however, like this merry
knight, he may affect to make sport with it among
ii8 i HENRY IV
those whom it is his interest to please, is ready to
revenge any hint of contempt upon one whom he can
use with freedom.
ACT IV. SCENE ii. (iv. i. 97-9.)
All furnisbt, all in arms.
All plum'd like Estridges, that with the wind
Bailed like Eagles.
A more lively representation of young men ardent
for enterprize perhaps no writer has ever given.
ACT IV. SCENE iii. (iv. ii. 21-2.)
Worse than a struck-jowl, or a hurt wild duck.
The repetition of the same image disposed Sir Ibo.
Hanmer, and after him Dr. Warburton, to read, in
opposition to all the copies, a struck Deer, which is
indeed a proper expression, but not likely to have
been corrupted. Shakespeare, perhaps, wrote a struck
sorely which, being negligently read by a man not
skilled in hunter's language, was easily changed to
struck fowl. Sorel is used in Love's labour lost for
a young deer, and the terms of the chase were, in our
authour's time, familiar to the ears of every gentleman.
ACT IV. SCENE iii. (iv. ii. 30-1.)
Younger sons to younger brothers.
Raleigh, in his discourse on war, uses this very
expression for men of desperate fortune and wild
adventure. Which borrowed it from the other I know
not, but I think the play was printed before the
THE SECOND PART OF KING HENRY IV.
INDUCTION. Enter RUMOUR.
This speech of Rumour is not inelegant or unpoetical,
but is wholly useless, since we are told nothing which
the first scene does not clearly and naturally discover.
The only end of such prologues is to inform the
audience of some facts previous to the action, of which
they can have no knowledge from the persons of the
ACT I. SCENE iii. (i. i. 159-60.)
The rude scene may end,
And darkness be the burier of the dead.
The conclusion of this noble speech is extremely
striking. There is no need to suppose it exactly
philosophical, darkness in poetry may be absence of
eyes as well as privation of light. Yet we may remark,
that by an ancient opinion it has been held, that if
the human race, for whom the world was made, were
extirpated, the whole system of sublunary nature
ACT I. SCENE v. (i. ii. 166-8.)
FALSTAFF. The young Prince hath mis-led me. I am the
fellow with the great belly -, and be my dog.
I do not understand this joke. Dogs lead the blind,
but why does a dog lead the fat ?
ACT I. SCENE v. (i. ii. 208-10.)
CHIEF JUSTICE. Is not your voice broken ? your wind short ?
your chin double f your wit single f
We call a man single-witted who attains but one
species of knowledge. This sense I know not how to
120 2 HENRY IV
apply to Falstaff, and rather think that the Chief
Justice hints at a calamity always incident to a gray-
haired wit, whose misfortune is, that his merriment
is unfashionable. His allusions are to forgotten facts ;
his illusions are drawn from notions obscured by time ;
his wit is therefore single, such as none has any part in
ACT II. SCENE v. (n. ii. 98-9.)
Altbea dreamed she was delivered of a firebrand.
Shakespeare is here mistaken in his Mythology, and
has confounded Althea's firebrand with Hecuba's. The
firebrand of Altbea was real ; but Hecuba, when she
was big with Paris, dreamed that she was delivered
of a firebrand that consumed the kingdom.
ACT II. SCENE v. (11.11.189-91.)
POINS. Put on two leather jerkins and aprons, and wait upon
him at his table, as drawers.
This was a plot very unlikely to succeed where the
Prince and the drawers were all known, but it produces
merriment, which bur authour found more useful than
ACT III. SCENE v. (in. ii. 263-4.)
BARDOLPH. Sir, a word with you ; 1 have three pound to free
Mouldy and Bull-calf.
Here seems to be a wrong computation. He had
forty shillings for each. Perhaps he meant to conceal
part of the profit.
ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 24.)
MOWBRAY. Let us sway on, and face them in the field.
I know not that I have ever seen sway in this sense,
but I believe it is the true word, and was intended to
express the uniform and forcible motion of a compact
2 HENRY IV 121
body. There is a sense of the noun in Milton kindred
to this, where speaking of a weighty sword, he says,
It descends with huge two-handed sway.
ACT IV. SCENE v. (iv. ii. 123)
LANCASTER. Guard these traitors to the block of death.
It cannot but raise some indignation to find this
horrible violation of faith passed over thus slightly by
the poet, without any note of censure or detestation.
ACT IV. SCENE vii. (iv. iii. 93-5.)
FALSTAFF. This same sober-blooded boy doth not love me, nor
a man cannot make him laugh.
Falstaff speaks here like a veteran in life. The
young prince did not love him, and he despaired to
gain his affection, for he could not make him laugh.
Men only become friends by community of pleasures.
He who cannot be softened into gayety cannot easily
be melted into kindness.
ACT IV. SCENE xi. (iv. v. 127.)
England shall double gild his treble Guilt.
Evidently the nonsense of some foolish Player. WARBURTON.
I know not why this commentator should speak with
so much confidence what he cannot know, or determine
so positively what so capricious a writer as our poet
might either deliberately or wantonly produce. This
line is indeed such as disgraces a few that precede and
follow it, but it suits well enough with the daggers hid
in thought, and whetted on the flinty hearts ; and the
answer which the prince makes, and which is applauded
for wisdom, is not of a strain much higher than this
ACT IV. SCENE xi. (iv. v. 209.)
To lead out many to the Holy Land.
This journey to the Holy Land, of which the king
122 2 HENRY IV
very frequently revives the mention, had two motives,
religion and policy. He durst not wear the ill-gotten
crown without expiation, but in the act of expiation
he contrives to make his wickedness successful.
ACT IV. SCENE xi. (iv. v. 217-18.)
KING HENRY. How I came by the Crown, God, forgive !
And, grant it may with thee in true peace live.
This is a true picture of a mind divided between
heaven and earth. He prays for the prosperity of
guilt while he deprecates its punishment.
ACT V. SCENE i. (v. i. 89.) Four terms or two actions.
There is something humorous in making a spend-
thrift compute time by the operation of an action for
ACT V. SCENE i. (v. i. 90-3.)
0, it is much that a lie with a slight oath, and a jest with a sad
brow, will do with a fellow that never had the ache in his shoulders.
That is, a young fellow, one whose disposition to
merriment, time and pain have not yet impaired.
ACT V. SCENE iv. (v. iii. 60.) The cavaleroes about London.
This was the term by which an airy splendid
irregular fellow was distinguished. The soldiers of
King Charles were called Cavaliers from the gayety
which they affected in opposition to the sour faction
of the parliament.
ACT V. SCENE iv. (v. iii. 80- 1.)
SILENCE. An old man can do somewhat.
It may be observed that Shakespeare, in the Merry
Wives of Windsor, which he wrote after this play, for
the greater commodiousness of his plot, changed the
age of Silence. He is here a man advanced in years,
2 HENRY IV 123
with a son at the university : he there goes a courting
to a young girl. Shallow is an old man in both plays.
ACT V. SCENE viii. (v. v. 68.)
KING. / banish tbee, on pain of death.
Mr. Rowe observes, that many readers lament to see
Falstaff so hardly used by his old friend. But if it be
considered that the fat knight has never uttered one
sentiment of generosity, and with all his power of
exciting mirth, has nothing in him that can be esteemed,
no great pain will be suffered from the reflection that
he is compelled to live honestly, and maintained by
the king, with a promise of advancement when he
shall deserve it.
I think the poet more blameable for Poins, who is
always represented as joining some virtues with his
vices, and is therefore treated by the prince with
apparent distinction, yet he does nothing in the time
of action, and though after the bustle is over he is
again a favourite, at last vanishes without notice.
Shakespeare certainly lost him by heedlessness, in the
multiplicity of his characters, the variety of his action,
and his eagerness to end the play.
ACT V. SCENE ix. (v. v. 97.)
CHIEF JUSTICE. Go, carry Sir John Falstaff to the Fleet.
I do not see why Falstaff is carried to the Fleet.
We have never lost sight of him since his dismission
from the king ; he has committed no new fault, and
therefore incurred no punishment ; but the different
agitations of fear, anger, and surprise in him and his
company, made a good scene to the eye ; and our
authour, who wanted them no longer on the stage,
was glad to find this method of sweeping them away.
I fancy every reader, when he ends this play, cries
124 2 HENRY IV
out with Desdemona, O most lame and impotent conclu-
sion I As this play was not, to our knowledge, divided
into acts by the authour, I could be content to conclude
it with the death of Henry the fourth.
In that Jerusalem shall Harry dye. These scenes
which now make the fifth act of Henry the fourth,
might then be the first of Henry the fifth ; but the
truth is, that they do unite very commodiously to
either play. When these plays were represented,
I believe they ended as they are now ended in the
books ; but Shakespeare seems to have designed that
the whole series of action from the beginning of Richard
the second, to the end of Henry the fifth, should be
considered by the reader as one work, upon one plan,
only broken into parts by the necessity of exhibition.
None of Shakespeare 9 s plays are more read than the
first and second parts of Henry the fourth. Perhaps
no authour has ever in two plays afforded so much
delight. The great events are interesting, for the
fate of kingdoms depends upon them ; the slighter
occurrences are diverting, and, except one or two,
sufficiently probable ; the incidents are multiplied
with wonderful fertility of invention, and the charac-
ters diversified with the utmost nicety of discernment,
and the profoundest skill in the nature of man.
The prince, who is the hero both of the comick and
tragick part, is a young man of great abilities and
violent passions, whose sentiments are right, though
his actions are wrong ; whose virtues are obscured by
negligence, and whose understanding is dissipated by
levity. In his idle hours he is rather loose than wicked,
and when the occasion forces out his latent qualities,
he is great without effort, and brave without tumult.
The trifler is roused into a hero, and the hero again
reposes in the trifler. This character is great, original,
2 HENRY IV 125
Piercy is a rugged soldier, cholerick, and quarrel-
some, and has only the soldier's virtues, generosity
But Falstaff unimitated, unimitable Falstaff, how
shall I describe thee? Thou compound of sense and
vice ; of sense which may be admired but not esteemed,
of vice which may be despised, but hardly detested.
Falstaff is a character loaded with faults, and with
those faults which naturally produce contempt. He
is a thief, and a glutton, a coward, and a boaster,
always ready to cheat the weak, and prey upon the
poor ; to terrify the timorous and insult the defence-
less. At once obsequious and malignant, he satirises
in their absence those whom he lives by flattering.
He is familiar with the prince only as an agent of vice,
but of this familiarity he is so proud as not only to be
supercilious and haughty with common men, but to
think his interest of importance to the duke of Lan-
caster. Yet the man thus corrupt, thus despicable,
makes himself necessary to the prince that despises
him, by the most pleasing of all qualities, perpetual
gaiety, by an unfailing power of exciting laughter,
which is the more freely indulged, as his wit is not of
the splendid or ambitious kind, but consists in easy
escapes and sallies of levity, which make sport but
raise no envy. It must be observed that he is stained
with no enormous or sanguinary crimes, so that his
licentiousness is not so offensive but that it may be
borne for his mirth.
The moral to be drawn from this representation is,
that no man is more dangerous than he that with
a will to corrupt, hath the power to please ; and that
neither wit nor honesty ought to think themselves
safe with such a companion when they see Henry
seduced by Falstaff.
THE LIFE OF KING HENRY V.
PROLOGUE. (CHORUS 3-4.)
A Kingdom for a stage. Princes to act.
And Monarchs to behold the swelling scene !
Shakespeare does not seem to set distance enough
between the performers and spectators.
PROLOGUE. (CHORUS 12-14.)
May we cram
Within this wooden 0, the very cashes
That did affright the air, at Agincourt ?
Nothing shews more evidently the pfower of custom
over language, than that the frequent use of calling
a circle an O could so much hide the meanness of the
metaphor from Shakespeare, that he has used it many
times where he makes his most eager attempts at
dignity of stile.
PROLOGUE. (CHORUS 18.) Imaginary forces.
Imaginary for imaginative, or your powers of fancy.
Active and passive words are by this authour frequently
PROLOGUE. (CHORUS 25.) And make imaginary puissance.
This passage shews that Shakespeare was fully sensible
of the absurdity of shewing battles on the theatre,
which indeed is never done but tragedy becomes farce.
Nothing can be represented to the eye but by some-
thing like it, and within a wooden O nothing very like
a battle can be exhibited.
ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 38.)
Hear him but reason in divinity.
This scene was added after King James's accession to the
crown, so that we have no way of avoiding its being esteemed
a compliment to him. WARBURTON.
Why these lines should be divided from the rest of
HENRY V 127
the speech and applied to king James, I am not able
to conceive ; nor why an opportunity should be so
eagerly snatched to treat with contempt that part of
his character which was least contemptible. King
James's theological knowledge was not inconsiderable.
To preside at disputations is not very suitable to
a king, but to understand the questions is surely
laudable. The poet, if he had James in his thoughts,
was no skilful encomiast ; for the mention of Harry's
skill in war, forced upon the remembrance of his
audience the great deficiency of their present king ;
who yet with all his faults, and many faults he had,
was such that Sir Robert Cotton says, he would be
content that England should never have a better, -provided
that it should never have a worse.
ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 47-8.)
When he speaks,
The air, a chartered libertine, is still.
This line is exquisitely beautiful.
ACT II. SCENE iii. (n. ii. 126-7.)
KING HENRY. Oh, how hast thou with jealousy infected
The sweetness of affiance.
Shakespeare urges this aggravation of the guilt of
treachery with great judgment. One of the worst
consequences of breach of trust is the diminution of
that confidence which makes the happiness of life, and
the dissemination of suspicion, which is the poison of
ACT II. SCENE iii. (n. ii. 165.)
GREY. My fault, but not my body, pardon, Sovereign.
One of the conspirators against Queen Elizabeth,
I think Parry, concludes his letter to her with these
128 HENRY V
words, a culpa, but not a poena ; absolve me most dear
Lady. This letter was much read at that time, and
the authour doubtless copied it.
ACT II. SCENE iv. (n. iii. 27-8.) Cold as any stone.
Such is the end of Falstaff, from whom Shakespeare
had promised us in his epilogue to Henry IV. that we
should receive more entertainment. It happened to
Shakespeare as to other writers, to have his imagina-
tion crowded with a tumultuary confusion of images,
which, while they were yet unsorted and unexamined,
seemed sufficient to furnish a long train of incidents,
and a new variety of merriment, but which, when he
was to produce them to view, shrunk suddenly from
him, or could not be accommodated to his general
design. That he once designed to have brought
Falstaff on the scene again, we know from himself ; but
whether he could contrive no train of adventures
suitable to his character, or could match him with no
companions likely to quicken his humour, or could
open no new vein of pleasantry, and was afraid to
continue the same strain lest it should not find the
same reception, he has here for ever discarded him,
and made haste to dispatch him, perhaps for the same
reason for which Addison killed Sir Roger ^ that no other
hand might attempt to exhibit him.
Let meaner authours learn from this example, that
it is dangerous to sell the bear which is yet not hunted,
to promise to the publick what they have not written.
This disappointment probably inclined Queen
Elizabeth to command the poet to produce him once
again, and to shew him in love or courtship. This was
indeed a new source of humour, and produced a new
play from the former characters.
I forgot to note in the proper place, and therefore
note here, that Falstaff courtship, or The Merry Wives
HENRY V 129
of Windsor, should be read between Henry IV. and
ACT III. SCENE iii. (in. ii. 82 foil.)
It were to be wished that the poor merriment of
this dialogue [between Macmorris and Captain Jamy]
had not been purchased with so much profaneness.
ACT III. SCENE v. (in. iv.)
CATHERINE. Alice, tu as este en Angleterre, &c.
This scene is indeed mean enough, when it is read,
but the grimaces of two French women, and the odd
accent with which they uttered the English., made it
divert upon the stage. It may be observed, that there
is in it not only the French language, but the French
spirit. Alice compliments the princess upon her
knowledge of four words, and tells her that she pro-
nounces like the English themselves. The princess
suspects no deficiency in her instructress, nor the
instructress in herself. Throughout the whole scene
there may be found French servility, and French
ACT III. SCENE vi. (in. v. 40 foil.)
Charles Delabreth, high constable of France, &c.
Milton somewhere bids the English take notice how
their names are misspelt by foreigners, and seems to
think that we may lawfully treat foreign names in
return with the same neglect. This privilege seems
to be exercised in this catalogue of French names, which,
since the sense of the authour is not asserted, I have
left it as I found it.
ACT III. SCENE vi. (HI. v. 50-2.)
Rush on bis host, as doth the melted snow
Upon the vallies ; whose low vassal seat ]
The Alps doth spit and void his rheum upon.
The poet has here defeated himself by passing too
130 HENRY V
soon from one image to another. To bid the French
rush upon the English as the torrents formed from
melted snow stream from the Alps, was at once vehe-
ment and proper, but its force is destroyed by the
grossness of the thought in the next line.
ACT III. SCENE viii. (111.^.114-15.)
FLUELLEN. His nose is executed, and his fire's out.
This is the last time that any sport can be made
with the red face of Bardolph, which, to confess the
truth, seems to have taken more hold on Shakespeare's
imagination than on any other. The conception is
very cold to the solitary reader, though it may be
somewhat invigorated by the exhibition on the stage.
This poet is always more careful about the present
than the future, about his audience than his readers.
ACT III. SCENE viii. (in. vi. 133-4.) Now speak we on our cue.
In our turn. This phrase the authour learned
among players, and has imparted it to kings.
ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. CHORUS 2-3.)
The poring dark
Fills the wide vessel of the universe.
We are not to think Shakespear so ignorant as to imagine it
was night over the whole globe at once. WARBURTON.
There is a better proof that Shakespeare knew the
order of night and day in Macbeth.
Now o'er one half the world,
Nature seems dead.
But there was no great need of any justification. The
universe, in its original sense, no more means this globe
singly ^than the circuit of the horizon ; but, however
large in its philosophical sense, it may be poetically
used for as much of the world as falls under observation.
Let me remark further, that ignorance cannot be
HENRY V 131
certainly inferred from inaccuracy. Knowledge is not
ACT IV. SCENE iv. (iv. i. 189-90.)
Every subject's duty is the King's, but every subject's soul is
This is a very just distinction, and the whole argu-
ment is well followed, and properly concluded.
ACT IV. SCENE v. (iv. i. 250 foil.)
KING HENRY. Upon the King / &c.
There is something very striking and solemn in this
soliloquy, into which the king breaks immediately as
soon as he is left alone. Something like this, on less
occasions, every breast has felt. Reflection and
seriousness rush upon the mind upon the separation
of a gay company, and especially after forced and
ACT IV. SCENE viii. (iv. iii. 24.)
KING HENRY. By Jove, / am not covetous of gold.
The king prays like a Christian, and swears like
ACT IV. SCENE viii. (iv. iii. 50-1.)
They'll remember, with advantages.
What feats they did that day.
Old men, notwithstanding the natural forgetfulness
of age, shall remember their feats of this day, and
remember to tell them with advantage. Age is com-
monly boastful, and inclined to magnify past acts
and past times.
ACT IV. SCENE viii. (iv. iii. 57-9.)
Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered.
It may be observed that we are apt to promise to
I 3 2 HENRY V
ourselves a more lasting memory than the changing
state of human things admits. This prediction is
not verified ; the feast of Crispin passes by without
any mention of Agincourt. Late events obliterate the
former : the civil wars have left in this nation scarcely
any tradition of more ancient history.
ACT IV. SCENE ix. (iv. iii. 104.)
Mark then abounding valour in our English.
The valour of a putrid body, that destroys by the
stench, is one of the thoughts that do no great honour
to the poet. Perhaps from this putrid valour Dryden
might borrow the posthumous empire of Don Sebastian,
who was to reign wheresoever his atoms should be
ACT IV. SCENE xiv. (iv. vii. 5 1-2.)
The fat Knight with the great belly-doublet.
This is the last time that Falstaff can make sport.
The poet was loath to part with him, and has continued
his memory as long as he could.
ACT V. SCENE ii. (v. i. 94.) Exit Pistol.
The comick scenes of the history of Henry the
fourth and fifth are now at an end, and all the comick
personages are now dismissed. Falstaff and Mrs.
Quickly are dead ; Nym and Bardol-ph are hanged ;
Gadsbill was lost immediately after the robbery ;
Poins and Peto have vanished since, one knows not
how ; and Pistol is now beaten into obscurity. I be-
lieve every reader regrets their departure.
ACT V. SCENE iv. (v. ii. 125 foil.)
KING HENRY. 1' faith, Kate, thou wouldst find me such a plain
I know not why Shakespeare now gives the king nearly
HENRY V 133
such a character as he made him formerly ridicule in
Percy. This military grossness and unskilfulness in all
the softer arts, does not suit very well with the gaieties
of his youth, with the general knowledge ascribed to
him at his accession, or with the contemptuous message
sent him by the Daufkin, who represents him as fitter
for the ball room than the field, and tells him that
he is not to revel into dutchies, or win provinces with
a nimble galliard. The truth is, that the poet's matter
failed him in the fifth act, and he was glad to fill it up
with whatever he could get ; and not even Shake-
speare can write well without a proper subject. It is
a vain endeavour for the most skilful hand to cultivate
barrenness, or to paint upon vacuity.
ACT V. SCENE v. (v. ii. 305-402.)
We have here but a mean dialogue for princes ; the
merriment is very gross, and the sentiments are very
This play has many scenes of high dignity, and many
of easy merriment. The character of the King is well
supported, except in his courtship, where he has
neither the vivacity of Hal, nor the grandeur of Henry.
The humour of Pistol is very happily continued ; his
character has perhaps been the model of all the bullies
that have yet appeared on the English stage.
The lines given to the chorus have many admirers ;
but the truth is, that in them a little may be praised,
and much must be forgiven ; nor can it be easily
discovered why the intelligence given by the chorus
is more necessary in this play than in many others
where it is omitted. The great defect of this play is
the emptiness and narrowness of the last act, which
a very little diligence might have easily avoided.
THE FIRST PART OF KING HENRY VI.
ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 25, 27.)
The subtle-wilted French
By magick verse have thus contrived his end.
There was a notion prevalent a long time, that life
might be taken away by metrical charms. As super-
stition grew weaker these charms were imagined only
to have power on irrational animals. In our authour's
time it was supposed that the Irish could kill rats by
ACT II. SCENE vi. (11. v. 1-2.)
MORTIMER. Kind keepers of my weak decaying age
Let dying Mortimer here rest himself.
1 know not whether Milton did not take from this
hint the lines with which he opens his tragedy.
ACT III. SCENE ix. (m. iii. 85.)
Done like a Frenchman : turn, and turn again I
The inconstancy of the French was always the sub-
ject of satire. I have read a dissertation written to
prove that the index of the wind upon our steeples was
made in form of a cock, to ridicule the French for their
ACT IV. SCENE vi. (iv. v.) Enter lalbot and his son.
For what reason this scene is written in rhyme
I cannot guess. If Shakespeare had not in other plays
mingled his rhymes and blank verses in the same
manner, I should have suspected that this dialogue
had been a part of some other poem which was never
finished, and that being loath to throw his labour
away, he inserted it here.
i HENRY VI 135
ACT V. SCENE i. (iv. vii.)
The return of rhyme where young Talbot is again
mentioned, and in no other place, strengthens the
suspicion, that these verses were originally part of
some other work, and were copied here only to save
the trouble of composing new.
ACT V. SCENE iii. (v. iii. 6.) Monarch of the North.
The North was always supposed to be the particular
habitation of bad spirits. Milton therefore assembles
the rebel angels in the North.
ACT V. SCENE iv. (v. iii. 62 foil.)
As plays the sun upon the glassy streams^ &c.
This comparison, made between things which seem
sufficiently unlike, is intended to express the softness
and delicacy of Lady Margaret's beauty, which de-
lighted, but did not dazzle ; which was bright, but
gave no pain by its lustre.
Of this play there is no copy earlier than that of the
folio in 1623, though the two succeeding parts are
extant in two editions in quarto. That the second
and third parts were published without the first may be
admitted as no weak proof that the copies were surrep-
titiously obtained, and that the printers of that time
gave the publick those plays not such as the authour
designed, but such as they could get them. That this
play was written before the two others is indubitably
collected from the series of events ; that it was written
and played before Henry the fifth is apparent, because
in the epilogue there is mention made of this play
and not of the other parts.
Henry the sixth in swaddling bands crown* d king.
Whose state so many had i'th 9 managing
That they lost France, and made all England rue,
Which oft our stage hath shewn.
136 i HENRY VI
France is lost in this play. The two following contain,
as the old title imports, the contention of the houses
of York and Lancaster.
The two first parts of Henry VI. were printed in
1600. When Henry V. was written we know not, but
it was printed likewise in 1600, and therefore before
the publication of the first and second parts, the first
part of Henry VI. had been often shown on the stage >
and would certainly have appeared in its place had the
authour been the publisher.
THE SECOND PART OF KING HENRY VI.
It is apparent that this play begins where the former
ends, and continues the series of transactions, of which
it presupposes the first part already known. This is
a sufficient proof that the second and third parts were
not written without dependance on the first, though
they were printed as containing a complete period of
ACT II. SCENE i. (n. i. 3-4.)
The wtnd was very high.
And, ten to one, old Joan had not gone out.
I am told by a gentleman better acquainted with
falconry than myself, that the meaning, however
expressed, is, that, the wind being high, it was ten
to one that the old hawk had flown quite away ;
a trick which hawks often play their masters in windy
ACT II. SCENE vii. (n. iv. in.)
ELEANOR. / long to see my prison.
This impatience of a high spirit is very natural. It
2 HENRY VI 137
is not so dreadful to be imprisoned, as it is desirable
in a state of disgrace to be sheltered from the scorn of
ACT III. SCENE iii. (in. i. 210-11.)
And as the Butcher takes away the Calf,
And binds the wretch, and beats it when it strays.
I am inclined to believe that in this passage, as
in many, there is a confusion of ideas, and that the
poet had at once before him a butcher carrying a calf
bound, and a butcher driving a calf to the slaughter,
and beating him when he did not keep the path.
Part of the line was suggested by one image and part
by another, so that strive is the best word, but stray
is the right.
ACT III. SCENE vi. (in. ii. 161-2.)
Oft have I seen a timely-parted ghost.
Of ashy semblance, meager, pale, and bloodless.
All that is true of the body of a dead man is here said
by Warwick of the soul. I would read,
Oft have I seen a timely-carted coarse,
But of two common words how or why was one changed
for the other? I believe the transcriber thought that
the epithet timely -par ted could not be used of the
body, but that, as in Hamlet there is mention of peace-
parted souls, so here timely-parted must have the same
substantive. He removed one imaginary difficulty and
made many real. If the soul is parted from the body,
the body is likewise parted from the soul.
I cannot but stop a moment to observe that this
horrible description is scarcely the work of any pen
ACT III. SCENE viii. (m. ii. 310.)
Would curses kill, as doth the mandrake's groan.
The fabulous accounts of the plant called a mandrake
138 2 HENRY VI
give it an inferiour degree of animal life, and relate,
that when it is torn from the ground, it groans, and
that this groan being certainly fatal to him that is
offering such unwelcome violence, the practice of those
who gather mandrakes is to tie one end of a string to
the plant, and the other to a dog, upon which the
fatal groan discharges its malignity.
ACT III. SCENE viii. (in. ii. 333.)
Tou bad me ban, and will you bid me leave ?
This inconsistency is very common in real life. Those
who are vexed to impatience are angry to see others less
disturbed than themselves, but when others begin to
rave, they themselves see in them, what they could not
find in themselves, the deformity and folly of useless
ACT III. SCENE x. (in. iii.) Death of Cardinal Beaufort.
This is one of the scenes which have been applauded
by the criticks, and which will continue to be admired
when prejudice shall cease, and bigotry give way to
impartial examination. These are beauties that rise
out of nature and of truth ; the superficial reader
cannot miss them, the profound can image nothing
ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. i.) The gaudy, blabbing . . . day.
The epithet blabbing applied to the day by a man
about to commit murder, is exquisitely beautiful.
Guilt is afraid of light, considers darkness as a natural
shelter, and makes night the confidante of those actions
which cannot be trusted to the tell-tale day.
ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 3-6.)
That drag the tragick melancholy night.
Who with their drowsy, slow, and flagging wings,
Clip dead mens 1 graves.
The wings of the jades that drag night appears an
2 HENRY VI 139
unnatural image, till it is remembered that the chariot
of the night is supposed, by Shakespeare, to be drawn
ACT IV. SCENE ii. (iv. ii. 38.)
CADE. For our enemies shall fall before us.
He alludes to his name Cade, from cado, Lat. to fall.
He has too much learning for his character.
ACT IV. SCENE ii. (iv. ii. 81-2.) There shall be no money.
To mend the world by banishing money is an old
contrivance of those who did not consider that the
quarrels and mischiefs which arise from money, as the
sign or ticket of riches, must, if money were to cease,
arise immediately from riches themselves, and could
never be at an end till every man was contented with
his own share of the goods of life.
ACT IV. SCENE vi. (iv. vii. 39-40.)
Thou hast caused printing to be us'd.
Shakespeare is a little too early with this accusation.
ACT IV. SCENE vi. (iv. vii. 54-5.)
Thou oughfst not to let thy horse wear a cloak.
This is a reproach truly characteristical. Nothing
gives so much offence to the lower ranks of mankind
as the sight of superfluities merely ostentatious.
ACT IV. SCENE ix. (iv. x. 84.)
So wish /, / might thrust thy soul to hell.
Not to dwell upon the wickedness of this horrid
wish, with which Iden debases his character, this whole
speech is wild and confused. To draw a man by the
heels, headlong, is somewhat difficult ; nor can I dis-
cover how the dunghill would be his grave if his trunk
were left to be fed upon by crows. These I conceive
not to be the faults of corruption, but of negligence,
and therefore do not attempt correction.
THE THIRD PART OF KING HENRY VI.
This play is only divided from the former for the
convenience of exhibition ; for the series of action is
continued without interruption, nor are any two
scenes of any play more closely connected than the
first scene of this play with the last of the former.
ACT I. SCENE iii. (i. i. 236.)
What is it but to make thy Sepulchre.
The Queen's reproach is founded on a position long
received among politicians, that the loss of a King's
power is soon followed by loss of life.
ACT I. SCENE iv. (i. ii. 22-3.)
An oath is of no moment, being not took
Before a true and lawful magistrate.
The obligation of an oath is here eluded by very
despicable sophistry. A lawful magistrate alone has
the power to exact an oath, but the oath derives no
part of its force from the magistrate. The plea against
the obligation of an oath obliging to maintain an
usurper, taken from the unlawfulness of the oath itself
in the foregoing play, was rational and just.
ACT I. SCENE iv. (i. ii. 49-50.)
The Queen, with all the Northern Earls and Lords,
Intend here to besiege you in your castle.
I know not whether the authour intended any moral
instruction, but he that reads this has a striking
admonition against that precipitancy by which men
often use unlawful means to do that which a little
delay would put honestly in their power. Had York
staid but a few moments he had saved his cause from
the stain of perjury.
3 HENRY VI 141
ACT I. SCENE vi. (i. iv. 132.)
'Tis government that makes them [i,e, women] seem divine.
Government) in the language of that time, signified
evenness of temper, and decency of manners.
ACT II. SCENE!. (11.1.48.)
EDWARD. Oh, speak no more!
The generous tenderness of Edward, and savage
fortitude of Richard, are well distinguished by their
different reception of their father's death.
ACT II. SCENE ii. (n. i. 130-2.)
Our soldiers, like the night-owl's lazy flight,
Or like a lazy thrasher with a flail,
Fell gently down.
This image [of the night-owl] is not very congruous
to the subject, nor was it necessary to the comparison,
which is happily enough completed by the thresher.
ACT II. SCENE vi. (n. v. 21 foil.)
God ! methinks it were a happy life
To be no better than a homely swain.
This speech is mournful and soft, exquisitely suited
to the character of the king, and makes a pleasing
interchange, by affording, amidst the tumult and
horrour of the battle, an unexpected glimpse of rural
innocence and pastoral tranquillity.
ACT III. SCENE i. (in. i. 17.) Thy balm washt off.
It is common in these plays to find the same images,
whether jocular or serious, frequently recurring.
ACT III. SCENE ii. (HI. ii. 16 foil.)
This is a very lively and spritely dialogue [between
King Edward and Lady Gray] ; th reciprocation is
quicker than is common in Shakespeare.
I 4 2 3 HENRY VI
ACT III. SCENE iii. (in. ii. 161.) Unlick'd bear-whelp.
It was an opinion which, in spite of its absurdity,
prevailed long, that the bear brings forth only shape-
less lumps of animated flesh, which she licks into the
form of bears. It is now well known that the whelps
of a bear are produced in the same state with those of
ACT III. SCENE iii. (in. ii. 166-7.)
To overbear such
As are of better person than myself.
Richard speaks here the language of nature. Who-
ever is stigmatised with deformity has a constant
source of envy in his mind, and would counterbalance
by some other superiority these advantages which
they feel themselves to want. Bacon remarks that the
deformed are commonly daring, and it is almost pro-
verbially observed that they are ill-natured. The
truth is, that the deformed, like all other men, are
displeased with inferiority, and endeavour to gain
ground by good or bad means, as they are virtuous or
ACT III. SCENE v. (in. iii. 127.) Exempt from envy.
Envy is always supposed to have some fascinating
or blasting power, and to be out of the reach of envy
is therefore a privilege belonging only to great ex-
ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 42-3.)
HASTINGS. 'Tts better using France, than trusting France.
Let us be back'd with God, and with the seas.
This has been the advice of every man who in any
age understood and favoured the interest of England.
ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 56.)
Tou would not have bestow'd the heir.
It must be remembered, that till the restoration the
3 HENRY VI 143
heiresses of great estates were in the wardship of the
king, who in their minority gave them up to plunder,
and afterwards matched them to his favourites.
I know not when liberty gained more than by the
abolition of the court of wards.
ACT IV. SCENE vii. (iv. vi. 29.)
Few men rightly temper with the stars.
I suppose the meaning is, that few men conform their
temper to their destiny, which King Henry did, when
finding himself unfortunate he gave the management
of publick affairs to more prosperous hands.
ACT IV. SCENE vii. (iv. vi. 70.)
This pretty lad will prove our country's bliss.
He was afterwards Henry VII. A man who put an
end to the civil war of the two houses, but not other-
wise remarkable for virtue. Shakespeare knew his trade.
Henry VII. was Grandfather to Queen Elizabeth, and
the King from whom James inherited.
ACT V. SCENE iii. (v. ii. 24-5.)
My parks, my walks, my manors that I had,
Ev'n now forsake me.
Cedes c&mptis saltibus, et domo, Villdque. HOR.
This mention of his parks and manours diminishes
the pathetick effect of the foregoing lines.
ACT V. SCENE vi. (v. iv. 67 foil.)
This scene is ill-contrived, in which the king and
queen appear at once on the stage at the head of
opposite armies. It had been easy to make one retire
before the other entered.
ACT V. SCENE vi. (v. v. 51.)
QUEEN. Oh Ned, sweet Ned !
The condition of this warlike queen would move
144 3 HENRY VI
compassion could it be forgotten that she gave York,
to wipe his eyes in his captivity, a handkerchief stained
with his young child's blood.
The three parts of Henry VI. are suspected, by
Mr. Theobald, of being supposititious, and are de-
clared, by Dr. Warburton, to be certainly not Shake-
speare's. Mr. Theobald's suspicion arises from some
obsolete words ; but the phraseology is like the rest of
our authour's stile, and single words, of which however
I do not observe more than two, can conclude little.
Dr. Warburton gives no reason, but I suppose him
to judge upon deeper principles and more compre-
hensive views, and to draw his opinion from the
general effect and spirit of the composition, which he
thinks inferior to the other historical plays.
From mere inferiority nothing can be inferred ; in
the productions of wit there will be inequality. Some-
times judgment will err, and sometimes the matter
itself will defeat the artist. Of every authour's works
one will be the best, and one will be the worst. The
colours are not equally pleasing, nor the attitudes equally
graceful, in all the pictures of Titian or Reynolds.
Dissimilitude of stile and heterogeneousness of senti-
ment, may sufficiently show that a work does not really
belong to the reputed authour. But in these plays no
such marks of spuriousness are found. The diction, the
versification, and the figures, are Shakespeare's. These
plays, considered, without regard to characters and
incidents, merely as narratives in verse, are more
happily conceived and more accurately finished than
those of king Jo bn, Richard II., or the tragick scenes
of Henry IV. and V. If we take these plays from
Shakespeare, to whom shall they be given? What
authour of that age had the same easiness of expression
and fluency of numbers ?
3 HENRY VI 145
Having considered the evidence given by the plays
themselves, and found it in their favour, let us now
enquire what corroboration can be gained from other
testimony. They are ascribed to Shakespeare by the
first editors, whose attestation may be received in
questions of fact, however unskilfully they superin-
tended their edition. They seem to be declared
genuine by the voice of Shakespeare himself, who
refers to the second play in his epilogue to Henry V.
and apparently connects the first act of Richard III.
with the last of the third part of Henry VI. If it be
objected that the plays were popular, and therefore
he alluded to them as well known ; it may be answered,
with equal probability, that the natural passions of
a poet would have disposed him to separate his own
works from those of an inferior hand. And indeed
if an authour's own testimony is to be overthrown by
speculative criticism, no man can be any longer secure
of literary reputation.
Of these three plays I think the second the best.
The truth is, that they have not sufficient variety of
action, for the incidents are too often of the same
kind ; yet many of the characters are well discriminated.
King Henry ', and his queen, king Edward, the duke of
Gloucester, and the earl of Warwick, are very strongly
and distinctly painted.
The old copies of the two latter parts of Henry VI.
and of Henry V. are so apparently imperfect and
mutilated, that there is no reason for supposing them
the first draughts of Shakespeare. I am inclined to be-
lieve them copies taken by some auditor who wrote down,
during the representation, what the time would permit,
then perhaps filled up some of his omissions at a
second or third hearing, and when he had by this method
formed something like a play, sent it to the printer.
i 4 6
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF KING
ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 28.)
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover.
Shakespeare very diligently inculcates, that the
wickedness of Richard proceeded from his deformity,
from the envy that rose at the comparison of his own
person with others, and which incited him to disturb
the pleasures that he could not partake.
ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 108-10.)
GLOUCESTER. Whatsoever you will employ me in,
Were it to call King Edward's widow sister,
I will perform it.
This is a very covert and subtle manner of insinuating
treason. The natural expression would have been,
were it to call King Edward'j wife sister. I will solicit
for you though it should be at the expence of so much
degradation and constraint, as to own the lowborn
wife of King Edward for a sister. But by slipping as
it were casually widow into the place of wife, he tempts
Clarence with an oblique proposal to kill the king.
ACT I. SCENE ii. (i. ii. 55-6.)
See, dead Henry's wounds
Open their congeaVd mouths and bleed afresh.
It is a tradition very generally received, that the
murdered body bleeds on the touch of the murderer.
This was so much believed by Sir Kenelm Digby that
he has endeavoured to explain the reason.
ACT I. SCENE ii. (i. ii. 153.) They kill me with a living death.
In imitation of this passage, and I suppose of
a thousand more ;
a living death 7 bear,
Says Dapperwit, and sunk beside his chair.
RICHARD III 147
ACT I. SCENE ii. (i. ii. 180-1.)
/ did kill King Henry,
But 'twas thy beauty that provoked me.
Shakespeare countenances the observation, that no
woman can ever be offended with the mention of her
ACT I. SCENE iv. (i. iii. 242.) Bottled spider.
A spider is called bottled, because, like other insects,
he has a middle slender and a belly protuberant.
Richard's form and venom make her liken him to
ACT II. SCENE i. (n. i. 103.)
Have I a tongue to doom my brother's death.
This lamentation is very tender and pathetic.
The recollection of the good qualities of the dead
is very natural, and no less naturally does the king
endeavour to communicate the crime to others.
ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 84.) But with his tim'rous dreams.
'Tis recorded by Polydore Virgil, that Richard was
frequently disturbed by terrible dreams : this is there-
fore no fiction.
ACT IV. SCENE ii. (iv. ii. 94 foil.)
The allusions to the plays of Henry VI. are no weak
proofs of the authenticity of these disputed pieces.
ACT IV. SCENE v. (iv. iv. 199 foil.) Stay, Madam.
On this dialogue [between Richard and the Queen]
'tis not necessary to bestow much criticism : part of
it is ridiculous, and the whole improbable.
ACT V. SCENE v. (v. iii. 178 foil.) Give me another horse.
There is in this, as in many of our authour's speeches
148 RICHARD III
of passion, something very trifling, and something very
striking. Richard's debate, whether he should quarrel
with himself, is too long continued, but the subsequent
exaggeration of his crimes is truly tragical.
This is one of the most celebrated of our authour's
performances ; yet I know not whether it has not
happened to him as to others, to be praised most when
praise is not most deserved. That this play has scenes
noble in themselves, and very well contrived to strike
in the exhibition, cannot be denied. But some parts
are trifling, others shocking, and some improbable.
THE LIFE OF KING HENRY VIII.
This is not the only passage in which Shakespeare
has discovered his conviction of the impropriety of
battles represented on the stage. He knew that five
or six men with swords give a very unsatisfactory idea
of an army, and therefore, without much care to
excuse his former practice, he allows that a theatrical
fight would destroy all opinion of truth, and leave him
never an understanding friend. Magnis ingeniis et
multa nihilominus habituris simplex convenit erroris
confessio. Yet I know not whether the coronation
shewn in this play may not be liable to all that can be
objected against a battle.
ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 15-16.)
Till this time Pomp was single, but now marry* d
To one above itself.
Dr. Warburton has here discovered more beauty
than the authour intended, who meant only to say in
a noisy periphrase, that pomp was encreased on this
HENRY VIII 149
occasion to more than twice as much as it had ever been
before. Pomp is no more married to the English than
to the French king, for to neither is any preference
given by the speaker. Pomp is only married to pomp,
but the new pomp is greater than the old.
ACT I. SCENE ii. (i. i. 122-3.)
A beggar's book
Out-worths a noble's blood.
That is, the literary qualifications of a bookish beggar
are more prized than the high descent of hereditary
greatness. This is a contemptuous exclamation very
naturally put into the mouth of one of the antient,
unlettered, martial nobility.
ACT I. SCENE iv. (i. ii. 1-2.)
KING. My life itself, and the best heart of it,
Thanks you for this great care.
The expression is monstrous. The heart is supposed the seat
of life : But, as if he had many lives, and to each of them, a heart,
he says, his best heart. A way of speaking that would have
become a cat rather than a King. WARBURTON.
This expression is not more monstrous than many
others. Heart is not here taken for the great organ
of circulation and life, but, in a common and popular
sense, for the most valuable or precious part. Our
authour, in Hamlet, mentions the heart of heart.
Exhausted and effete ground is said by the farmer to
be out of heart. The hard and inner part of the oak
is called heart of oak.
ACT I. SCENE iv. (i. ii. 32.) The many to them 'longing.
The many is the meiny, the train, the people.
Dryden is, perhaps, the last that used this word.
The Kings before their many rode.
ISO HENRY VIII
ACT I. SCENE iv. (i. ii. 34-5.)
Compell'd by hunger
And lack of other means.
Means does not signify methods of livelihood, for that was
said immediately before unfit for other life; but it signifies,
necessaries compelled, says the speaker, for want of bread and
other necessaries. But the poet using, for the thing, [want of bread*}
the effect of it, [hunger] the passage is become doubly obscure ;
first, by using a term in a licentious sense, and then by putting it
to a vicious construction. The not apprehending that this is one
of the distinguishing peculiarities in Shakespear's stile, has been
the occasion of so much ridiculous correction of him. WAR-
I have inserted this note rather because it seems to
have been the writer's favourite, than because it is of
much value. It explains what no reader has found
difficult, and, I think, explains it wrong.
ACT III. SCENE i. (in. i. 103.)
Cardinal sins, and hollow hearts, I fear you.
The distress of Catharine might have kept her from
the quibble to which she is irresistibly tempted by
the word Cardinal.
ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 9-10.)
They're ever forward
In celebration of this day.
Hanmer reads, these days, but Shakespeare meant
such a day as this, a coronation day. And such is the
English idiom, which our authour commonly prefers
to grammatical nicety.
ACT IV. SCENE ii. (iv. ii.)
Enter Catherine Dowager, sick, led between Griffith her gentle-
man usher, and Patience her woman.
This scene is, above any other part of Shakespeare's
tragedies, and perhaps above any scene of any other
poet, tender and pathetick, without gods, or furies, or
HENRY VIII 151
poisons, or precipices, without the help of romantick
circumstances, without improbable sallies of poetical
lamentation, and without any throes of tumultuous
ACT V. SCENE v. (v. iii. 10-12.)
We are all men
In our own natures frail, and capable
This sentence I think needed no commentary. The
meaning, and the plain meaning, is, we are men frail
by nature, and therefore liable to acts of frailty, to
deviations from the right. I wish every commentator,
before he suffers his confidence to kindle, would repeat,
We are all men
In our own natures frail, and capable
Of frailty ; few are angels.
ACT V. SCENE vii. (v. iv. 23.) Sir Guy, nor Colebrand.
Of Guy of Warwick every one has heard. Colebrand
was the Danish giant whom Guy subdued at Winchester.
Their combat is very elaborately described by Drayton
in his Polyolbion.
ACT V. SCENE viii. (v. v. 40-56.)
Nor shall this peace sleep with her, &c.
These lines, to the interruption by the King, seem
to have been inserted at some revisal of the play after
the accession of King James. If the passage, included
in crochets, be left out, the speech of Cranmer pro-
ceeds in a regular tenour of prediction and continuity
of sentiments ; but by the interposition of the new
lines, he first celebrates Elizabeth's successor, and then
wishes he did not know that she was to die ; first
rejoices at the consequence, and then laments the
cause. Our authour was at once politick and idle ;
152 HENRY VIII
he resolved to flatter James, but neglected to reduce
the whole speech to propriety, or perhaps intended
that the lines inserted should be spoken in the action,
and omitted in the publication, if any publication
ever was in his thoughts. Mr. Theobald has made the
The play of Henry the eighth is one of those which
still keeps possession of the stage, by the splendour of
its pageantry. The coronation about forty years ago
drew the people together in multitudes for a great
part of the winter. Yet pomp is not the only merit
of this play. The meek sorrows and virtuous distress
of Catherine have furnished some scenes which may
be justly numbered among the greatest efforts of
tragedy. But the genius of Shakespeare comes in and
goes out with Catherine. Every other part may be
easily conceived, and easily written.
Though it is very difficult to decide whether short
pieces be genuine or spurious, yet I cannot restrain
myself from expressing my suspicion that neither the
prologue nor epilogue to this play is the work of
Shakespeare ; non vultus, non color. It appears to me
very likely that they were supplied by the friendship
or officiousness of Johnson, whose manner they will be
perhaps found exactly to resemble. There is yet
another supposition possible : the prologue and epi-
logue may have been written after Shakespeare's depar-
ture from the stage, upon some accidental revisal of
the play, and there will then be reason for imagining
that the writer, whoever he was, intended no great
kindness to him, this play being recommended by
a subtle and covert censure of his other works. There
is in Shakespeare so much of fool and fight,
In a long motley coat, guarded with yellow,
HENRY VIII 153
appears so often in his drama, that I think it not very
likely that he would have animadverted so severely on
himself. All this, however, must be received as very
dubious, since we know not the exact date of this or
the other plays, and cannot tell how our authour
might have changed his practice or opinions.
The historical Dramas are now concluded, of which
the two parts of Henry the Fourth, and Henry the
Fifth, are among the happiest of our authour's com-
positions ; and King John, Richard the Third, and
Henry the Eighth, deservedly stand in the second
class. Those whose curiosity would refer the historical
scenes to their original, may consult Hollingshead, and
sometimes Hall : from Hollingshead Shakespeare has
often inserted whole speeches with no more alteration
than was necessary to the numbers of his verse. To
transcribe them into the margin was unnecessary,
because the original is easily examined, and they are
seldom less perspicuous in the poet than in the his-
To play histories, or to exhibit a succession of events
by action and dialogue, was a common entertainment
among our rude ancestors upon great festivities. The
parish clerks once performed at Clerkenwell a play
which lasted three days, containing, The History of
ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 3-4.) In the division of the kingdom.
There is something of obscurity or inaccuracy in this
preparatory scene. The King has already divided his
kingdom, and yet when he enters he examines his
daughters, to discover in what proportions he should
divide it. Perhaps Kent and Gloucester only were privy
to his design, which he still kept in his own hands, to
be changed or performed as subsequent reasons should
ACT I. SCENE ii. (i. i. 149 foil.)
Think'st thou, that duty shall have dread to speak, &c.
I have given this passage according to the old folio
from which the modern editions have silently departed,
for the sake of better numbers, with a degree of
insincerity, which, if not sometimes detected and
censured, must impair the credit of antient books.
One of the editors, and perhaps only one, knew how
much mischief may be done by such clandestine
The quarto agrees with the folio, except that for
reserve thy state, it gives, reverse thy doom, and has
stoops instead of falls to jolly.
The meaning of answer my life my judgment is, Let
my life be answerable for my judgment, or / will stake
my life on my opinion.
The reading which, without any right, has possessed
all the modern copies is this,
to plainness Honour
Is bound, when Majesty to folly falls.
Reserve thy state ; with better judgment check
This hideous rashness , with my life I answer,
Thy youngest daughter, &c.
KING LEAR 155
I am inclined to think that reverse thy doom was
Shakespeare's first reading, as more apposite to the
present occasion, and that he changed it afterwards to
reserve thy state, which conduces more to the progress
of the action.
ACT I. SCENE ii. (i. i. 174-5.)
Which nor our nature, nor our place can bear?
Our potency made good.
Lear, who is characterized as hot, heady and violent,
is, with very just observation of life, made to entangle
himself with vows, upon any sudden provocation to
vow revenge, and then to plead the obligation of
a vow in defence of implacability.
ACT I SCENE ii. (i. i. 181.) By Jupiter.
Shakespeare makes his Lear too much a mythologist :
he had Hecate and Apollo before.
ACT I. SCENE viii. (i. ii. 132 foil.)
EDMUND. This is the excellent foppery of the world, &c.
In Shakespeare's best plays, besides the vices that
arise from the subject, there is generally some peculiar
prevailing folly, principally ridiculed, that runs thro'
the whole piece. Thus, in the Tempest, the lying
disposition of travellers, and in As you like it, the
fantastick humour of courtiers, is exposed and satirised
with infinite pleasantry. In like manner, in his play
of Lear, the dotages of judicial astrology are severely
ridiculed. I fancy, was the date of its first performance
well considered, it would be found that something or
other happened at that time which gave a more than
ordinary run to this deceit, as these words seem to
intimate, / am thinking, brother, of a prediction I read
this other day, what should follow these eclipses. How-
ever this be, an impious cheat, which had so little
156 KING LEAR
foundation in nature or reason, so detestable and
original, and such fatal consequences on the manners
of the people, who were at that time strangely besotted
with it, certainly deserved the severest lash of satire.
It was a fundamental in this noble science, that what-
ever seeds of good dispositions the infant unborn
might be endowed with, either from nature, or
traductively from its parents, yet if, at the time of
its birth, the delivery was by any casualty so accelerated
or retarded, as to fall in with the predominancy of
a malignant constellation, that momentary influence
would entirely change its nature, and bias it to all the
contrary ill qualities. So wretched and monstrous an
opinion did it set out with. But the Italians, to whom
we owe this, as well as most other unnatural crimes and
follies of these latter ages, fomented its original impiety
to the most detestable height of extravagance. Petrus
Aponensis, an Italian physician of the Xlllth century,
assures us that those prayers which are made to God
when the moon is in conjunction with Jupiter in the
Dragon's tail, are infallibly heard. The great Milton
with a just indignation of this impiety, hath, in his
Paradise Regained, satirized it in a very beautiful
manner, by putting these reveries into the mouth of
the Devil. Nor could the licentious Rabelais himself
forbear to ridicule this impious dotage, which he does
with exquisite address and humour, where, in the fable
which he so agreeably tells from sop, of the man who
applied to Jupiter for the loss of his hatchet, he makes
those, who, on the poor man's good success, had
projected to trick Jupiter by the same petition, a kind
of astrologick atheists, who ascribed this good fortune,
that they imagined they were now all going to partake
of, to the influence of some rare conjunction and con-
figuration of the stars. Hen, hen, disent Us Et
doncques, telle est au temps present la revolution des Cieulx,
KING LEAR 157
la constellation des Astres, ff aspect des Planetes, que
quiconque Coigneeperdra, soubdain deviendra ainsi riche?
Nou. Prol. du IV. Livre.
But to return to Shakespear. So blasphemous a
delusion, therefore, it became the honesty of our poet
to expose. But it was a tender point, and required
managing. For this impious juggle had in his time
a kind of religious reverence paid to it. It was there-
fore to be done obliquely ; and the circumstances of
the scene furnished him with as good an opportunity
as he could wish. The persons in the drama are all
pagans, so that as, in compliance to custom, his good
characters were not to speak ill of judicial Astrology,
they could on account of their religion give no repu-
tation to it. But in order to expose it the more, he,
with great judgment, makes these pagans Fatalists ; as
appears by these words of Lear,
By all the operations of the orbs,
From whom we do exist and cease to be.
For the doctrine of fate is the true foundation of
judicial Astrology. Having thus discredited it by the
very commendations given to it, he was in no danger
of having his direct satire against it mistaken, by its
being put (as he was obliged, both in paying regard
to custom, and in following nature) into the mouth
of the villain and atheist, especially when he has added
such force of reason to his ridicule, in the words
referred to in the beginning of the note.
ACT III. SCENE ix. (in. vi. 20-1.)
His mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a horse's health, &c.
Shakespeare is here speaking not of things maliciously
treacherous, but of things uncertain and not durable.
A horse is above all other animals subject to diseases.
158 KING LEAR
ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 68-9.)
Let the superfluous and lust-dieted man,
That slaves your ordinance.
The language of Shakespeare is very licentious, and
his words have often meanings remote from the proper
and original use. To slave or be slave another is to
treat him with terms of indignity ; in a kindred sense,
to slave the ordinance, may be, to slight or ridicule it.
ACT IV. SCENE v. (iv. v. 22.)
REGAN. Let me unseal the letter.
I know not well why Shakespeare gives the Steward,
who is a mere factor of wickedness, so much fidelity.
He now refuses the letter, and afterwards, when he is
dying, thinks only how it may be safely delivered.
ACT IV. SCENE vi. (iv. vi.) Enter Glo'ster and Edgar.
This scene and the stratagem by which Glossier is
cured of his desperation, are wholly borrowed from
ACT IV. SCENE vi. (iv. vi. 12 foil.)
How fearful \
And dizzy 'tis, to cast one's eyes so low ! J
This description has been much admired since the
time of Addison, who has remarked, with a poor attempt
at pleasantry, that he who can read it without being
giddy has a very good head, or a very bad one. The
description is certainly not mean, but I am far from
thinking it wrought to the utmost excellence of poetry.
He that looks from a precipice finds himself assailed
by one great and dreadful image of irresistible destruc-
tion. But this overwhelming idea is dissipated and
enfeebled from the instant that the mind can restore
itself to the observation of particulars, and diffuse its
KING LEAR 159
attention to distinct objects. The enumeration of the
choughs and crows, the samphire-man and the fishers,
counteracts the great effect of the prospect, as it peoples
the desert of intermediate vacuity, and stops the mind
in the rapidity of its descent through emptiness and
ACT IV. SCENE vi. (iv. vi. 81.)
Bear free and patient thoughts.
To be melancholy is to have the mind chained down
to one painful idea, there is therefore great propriety
in exhorting Glo'ster to free thoughts, to an emancipation
of his soul from grief and despair.
ACT IV. SCENE vii. (iv. vi. 8-9.)
That fellow handles his Bow like a Crow-keeper.
This crow-keener was so common in the authour's
time, that it is one of the few peculiarities mentioned
by Ortelius in his account of our island.
ACT V. SCENE viii. (v. iii. 168.)
EDGAR. Let's exchange charity.
Our authour by negligence gives his heathens the
sentiments and practices of Christianity. In Hamlet
there is the same solemn act of final reconciliation,
but with exact propriety, for the personages are
Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet, &c.
The Tragedy of Lear is deservedly celebrated among
the dramas of Shakespeare. There is perhaps no play
which keeps the attention so strongly fixed ; which so
much agitates our passions and interests our curiosity.
The artful involutions of distinct interests, the striking
opposition of contrary characters, the sudden changes
of fortune, and the quick succession of events, fill the
mind with a perpetual tumult of indignation, pity, and
160 KING LEAR
hope. There is no scene which does not contribute
to the aggravation of the distress or conduct of the
action, and scarce a line which does not conduce to
the progress of the scene. So powerful is the current
of the poet's imagination, that the mind, which once
ventures within it, is hurried irresistibly along.
On the seeming improbability of Lear's conduct it
may be observed, that he is represented according to
histories at that time vulgarly received as true. And
perhaps if we turn our thoughts upon the barbarity
and ignorance of the age to which this story is referred,
it will appear not so unlikely as while we estimate Lear's
manners by our own. Such preference of one daughter
to another, or resignation of dominion on such con-
ditions, would be yet credible, if told of a petty prince
of Guinea or Madagascar. Shakespeare, indeed, by the
mention of his Earls and Dukes, has given us the idea
of times more civilised, and of life regulated by softer
manners ; and the truth is, that though he so nicely
discriminates, and so minutely describes the characters
of men, he commonly neglects and confounds the
characters of ages, by mingling customs ancient and
modern, English and foreign.
My learned friend Mr. Warton, who has in the
Adventurer very minutely criticised this play, remarks,
that the instances of cruelty are too savage and shock-
ing, and that the intervention of Edmund, destroys the
simplicity of the story. These objections may, I think,
be answered, by repeating, that the cruelty of the
daughters is an historical fact, to which the poet has
added little, having only drawn it into a series by
dialogue and action. But I am not able to apologize
with equal plausibility for the extrusion of Gloucester's
eyes, which seems an act too horrid to be endured in
djamatick exhibition, and such as must always compel
the mind to relieve its distress by incredulity. Yet
KING LEAR 161
let it be remembered that our authour well knew what
would please the audience for which he wrote.
The injury done by Edmund to the simplicity of the
action is abundantly recompensed by the addition of
variety, by the art with which he is made to co-operate
with the chief design, and the opportunity which he
gives the poet of combining perfidy with perfidy, and
connecting the wicked son with the wicked daughters,
to impress this important moral, that villany is never
at a stop, that crimes lead to crimes, and at last termi-
nate in ruin.
But though this moral be incidentally enforced,
Shakespeare has suffered the virtue of Cordelia to perish
in a just cause, contrary to the natural ideas of justice,
to the hope of the reader, and, what is yet more strange,
to the faith of chronicles. Yet this conduct is justified
by the Spectator, who blames late for giving Cordelia
success and happiness in his alteration, and declares,
that, in his opinion, the tragedy has lost half its beauty.
Dennis has remarked, whether justly or not, that, to
secure the favourable reception of Cato, the town was
poisoned with much false and abominable criticism, and
that endeavours had been used to discredit and decry
poetical justice. A play in which the wicked prosper,
and the virtuous miscarry, may doubtless be good,
because it is a just representation of the common events
of human life : but since all reasonable beings naturally
love justice, I cannot easily be persuaded, that the
observation of justice makes a play worse ; or, that if
other excellencies are equal, the audience will not
always rise better pleased from the final triumph of
In the present case the publick has decided. Cordelia,
from the time of Tate, has always retired with victory
and felicity. And, if my sensations could add any
thing to the general suffrage, I might relate, that I was
1 62 KING LEAR
many years ago shocked by Cordelia's death, that
I know not whether I ever endured to read again the
last scenes of the play till I undertook to revise them
as an editor.
There is another controversy among the criticks
concerning this play. It is disputed whether the
predominant image in Lear's disordered mind be the
loss of his kingdom or the cruelty of his daughters.
Mr. Murphy > a very judicious critick, has evinced by
induction of particular passages, that the cruelty of his
daughters is the primary source of his distress, and that
the loss of royalty affects him only as a secondary and
subordinate evil ; He observes with great justness,
that Lear would move our compassion but little, did
we not rather consider the injured father than the
The story of this play, except the episode of Edmund,
which is derived, I think, from Sidney, is taken originally
from Geoffry of Monmoutb, whom Hollingshead gene-
rally copied ; but perhaps immediately from an old
historical ballad, of which I shall insert the greater part.
My reason for believing that the play was posteriour
to the ballad rather than the ballad to the play, is, that
the ballad has nothing of Shakespeare's nocturnal tem-
pest, which is too striking to have been omitted, and
that it follows the chronicle ; it has the rudiments of
the play, but none of its amplifications : it first hinted
Lear's madness, but did not array it in circumstances.
The writer of the ballad added something to the
history, which is a proof that he would have added
more, if more had occurred to his mind, and more must
have occurred if he had seen Shakespeare.
TIMON OF ATHENS.
ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 21 foil.) Our Poesy is as a Gum, &c.
This speech of the poet is very obscure. He seems
to boast the copiousness and facility of his vein, by
declaring that verses drop from a poet as gums from
odoriferous trees, and that his flame kindles itself
without the violence necessary to elicite sparkles from
the flint. What follows next? that it, like a current ,
flies each bound it chafes. This may mean, that it
expands itself notwithstanding all obstructions : but
the images in the comparison are so ill sorted, and the
effect so obscurely expressed, that I cannot but think
something omitted that connected the last sentence
with the former. It is well known that the players
often shorten speeches to quicken the representation ;
and it may be suspected, that they sometimes per-
formed their amputations with more haste than
ACT I. SCENE ii. (1.1.108-9.)
'Tis not enough to help the feeble up,
But to support him after.
This thought is better expressed by Dr. Madden in
his elegy on Archbishop Boulter.
He thought it mean
Only to help the poor to beg again.
ACT III. SCENE iii. (in. iii. 33-4.)
Those that under hot, ardent, zeal would set whole Realms on fire.
This is a reflection on the Puritans of that time.
These people were then set upon a project of new-
modelling the ecclesiastical and civil government
according to scripture rules and examples. Which
1 64 TIMON OF ATHENS
makes him say, that under zeal for the word of God,
they would set whole realms on fire.
ACT III. SCENE iv. (in. iv. 67.) Enter Servilius.
It may be observed that Shakespeare has unskilfully
filled his Greek story with Roman names.
ACT IV. SCENE ii. (iv. ii.) Enter Flavius.
Nothing contributes more to the exaltation of
Timon's character than the zeal and fidelity of his
servants. Nothing but real virtue can be honoured
by domesticks ; nothing but impartial kindness can
gain affection from dependants.
ACT IV. SCENE v.
I cannot concur to censure Theobald as a critick
very unhappy. He was weak, but he was cautious :
finding but little power in his mind, he rarely ventured
far under its conduct. This timidity hindered him
from daring conjectures, and sometimes hindered him
ACT IV. SCENE vi. (iv. iii. 253 foil.) Hadst tbou, like us.
There is in this speech a sullen haughtiness, and
malignant dignity, suitable at once to the lord and the
manhater. The impatience with which he bears to
have his luxury reproached by one that never had
luxury within his reach, is natural and graceful. ~
There is in a letter written by the earl of Essex , just
before his execution, to another nobleman, a passage
somewhat resembling this, with which I believe every
reader will be pleased, though it is so serious and
solemn that it can scarcely be inserted without
*" " God grant your lordship may quickly feel the com-
fort I now enjoy in my unfeigned conversion, but that
you may never feel the torments I have suffered for
TIMON OF ATHENS 165
my long delaying it. / had none but deceivers to call
upon me, to whom I said, if my ambition could have
entered into their narrow breasts, they would not have
been so humble ; or if my delights had been once tasted
by them, they would not have been so precise. But your
lordship hath one to call upon you, that knoweth what it
is you now enjoy ; and what the greatest fruit and end is
of all contentment that this world can afford. Think
therefore, dear earl, that I have staked and buoyed all
the ways of pleasure unto you, and left them as sea-
marks for you to keep the channel of religious virtue.
For shut your eyes never so long, they must be open at
the last, and then you must say with me, there is no
peace to the ungodly"
ACT IV. SCENE vi. (iv. iii. 276-7.)
// tbou badst not been born the worst of men,
Thou badst been knave and flatterer.
Dryden has quoted two verses of Virgil to shew how
well he could have written satires. Shakespeare has
here given a specimen of the same power by a line
bitter beyond all bitterness, in which Timon tells
Apemantus, that he had not virtue enough for the
vices which he condemns.
ACT V. SCENE v. (v. iii. 6.)
There is something elaborately unskilful in the
contrivance of sending a soldier, who cannot read, to
take the epitaph in wax, only that it may close the
play by being read with more solemnity in the last
The play of Timon is a domestick Tragedy, and
therefore strongly fastens on the attention of the
reader. In the plan there is not much art, but the
incidents are natural, and the characters various and
exact. The catastrophe affords a very powerful warn-
1 66 TIMON OF ATHENS
ing against that ostentatious liberality, which scatters
bounty, but confers no benefits, and buys flattery, but
In this Tragedy are many passages perplexed,
obscure, and probably corrupt, which I have endea-
voured to rectify or explain with due diligence ; but
having only one copy, cannot promise myself that my
endeavours will be much applauded.
All the editors and criticks agree with Mr. Theobald
in supposing this play spurious. I see no reason for
differing from them ; for the colour of the stile is
wholly different from that of the other plays, and there
is an attempt at regular versification, and artificial
closes, not always inelegant, yet seldom pleasing. The
barbarity of the spectacles, and the general massacre
which are here exhibited, can scarcely be conceived
tolerable to any audience ; yet we are told by John-
son, that they were not only born but praised. That
Shakespeare wrote any part, though Theobald declares
it incontestable, I see no reason for believing.
The chronology of this play does not prove it not to
be Shakespeare's. If it had been written twenty-five
years, in 1614, it might have been written when
Shakespeare was twenty-five years old. When he left
Warwickshire I know not, but at the age of twenty-five
it was rather too late to fly for deer-stealing.
Ravenscroft, who, in the reign of Charles II. revised
this play, and restored it to the stage, tells us in his
preface, from a theatrical tradition I suppose, which
in his time might be of sufficient authority, that this
play was touched in different parts by Shakespeare, but
written by some other poet. I do not find Shake-
speare's touches very discernible.
1 6 7
ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i.) Enter three Witches.
In order to make a true estimate of the abilities and
merit of a writer, it is always necessary to examine the
genius of his age, and the opinions of his contempo-
raries. A poet who should now make the whole action
of his tragedy depend upon enchantment, and produce
the chief events by the assistance of supernatural
agents, would be censured as transgressing the bounds
of probability, be banished from the Theatre to the
nursery, and condemned to write fairy tales instead of
tragedies ; but a survey of the notions that prevailed
at the time when this play was written, will prove that
Shakespeare was in no danger of such censures, since
he only turned the system that was then universally
admitted to his advantage, and was far from over-
burthening the credulity of his audience.
The reality of witchcraft or enchantment, which,
though not strictly the same, are confounded in this
play, has in all ages and countries been credited by
the common people, and in most by the learned them-
selves. These phantoms have indeed appeared more
frequently, in proportion as the darkness of ignorance
has been more gross ; but it cannot be shown, that the
brightest gleams of knowledge have at any time been
sufficient to drive them out of the world. The time
in which this kind of credulity was at its height, seems
to have been that of the holy war, in which the
Christians imputed all their defeats to enchantments
or diabolical opposition, as they ascribed their success
to the assistance of their military saints ; and the
learned Dr. Warburton appears to believe (Suppl. to the
Introduction to Don Quixote) that the first accounts
of enchantments were brought into this part of the
world by those who returned from their eastern
1 68 MACBETH
expeditions. But there is always some distance be-
tween the birth and maturity of folly as of wicked-
ness : this opinion had long existed, though perhaps the
application of it had in no foregoing age been so fre-
quent, nor the reception so general. Olympiodorus, in
Pbotius's extracts, tells us of one Libanius, who prac-
tised this kind of military magic, and having promised
Xcopis oTrXtrwi; Kara /3ap/3a/oo>i> evcpyew, to perform
great things against the barbarians without soldiers, was,
at the instances of the Emperess Placidia, put to Death,
when he was about to have given proofs of his abilities.
The Emperess shewed some kindness in her anger by
cutting him off at a time so convenient for his reputation.
But a more remarkable proof of the antiquity of
this notion may be found in St. Chrysostom's book
de Sacerdotio, which exhibits a scene of enchantments
not exceeded by any romance of the middle age : he
supposes a spectator overlooking a field of battle
attended by one that points out all the various objects
of horror, the engines of destruction, and the arts of
slaughter. ACIKVVTO 8e In irapa rot? fvavriois KCU
Trerojuerovs ITTTTOVS 8ia TWOS /xayyayeias, KCU oTrXtra? 8t'
atpos fapontvovs, Kal Trd(rr)v yorjreias SiWjuuv /cat &lar
Let him then proceed to show him in the opposite armies
horses flying by enchantment, armed men transported
through the air, and every power and form of magic.
Whether St. Chrysostom believed that such perform-
ances were really to be seen in a day of battle, or only
endeavoured to enliven his description, by adopting
the notions of the vulgar, it is equally certain, that such
notions were in his time received, and that therefore
they were not imported from the Saracens in a later
age ; the wars with the Saracens however gave occasion
to their propagation, not only as bigotry naturally
discovers prodigies, but as the scene of action was
removed to a great distance.
The reformation did not immediately arrive at its
meridian, and tho' day was gradually increasing upon
us, the goblins of witchcraft still continued to hover
in the twilight. In the time of Queen Elizabeth was
the remarkable trial of the witches of Warbois, whose
conviction is still commemorated in an annual sermon
at Huntingdon. But in the reign of King James, in
which this tragedy was written, many circumstances
concurred to propagate and confirm this opinion.
The King, who was much celebrated for his knowledge,
had, before his arrival in England, not only examined
in person a woman accused of witchcraft, but had given
a very formal account of the practices and illusions of
evil spirits, the compacts of witches, the ceremonies
used by them, the manner of detecting them, and the
justice of punishing them, in his Dialogues of Dtzmono-
logie, written in the Scottish dialect, and published at
Edinburgh. This book was, soon after his accession,
reprinted at London, and as the ready way to gain
King James's favour was to flatter his speculations,
the system of Dczmonologie was immediately adopted
by all who desired either to gain preferment or not to
lose it. Thus the doctrine of witchcraft was very
powerfully inculcated ; and as the greatest part of
mankind have no other reason for their opinions than
that they are in fashion, it cannot be doubted but this
persuasion made a rapid progress, since vanity and
credulity co-operated in its favour. The infection soon
reached the parliament, who, in the first year of King
James, made a law by which it was enacted, chap. xii.
That " if any person shall use any invocation or con-
juration of any evil or wicked spirit ; 2. or shall consult,
covenant with, entertain, employ, feed or reward any
evil or cursed spirit to or for any intent or purpose ;
3. or take up any dead man, woman or child out of the
grave, or the skin, bone, or any part of the dead
1 70 MACBETH
person, to be employed or used in any manner of
witchcraft, sorcery, charm, or enchantment ; 4. or
shall use, practise or exercise any sort of witchcraft,
sorcery, charm, or enchantment ; 5. whereby any
person shall be destroyed, killed, wasted, consumed,
pined, or lamed in any part of the body ; 6. That every
such person being convicted shall suffer death." This
law was repealed in our own time.
Thus, in the time of Shakespeare, was the doctrine
of witchcraft at once established by law and by the
fashion, and it became not only unpolite, but criminal,
to doubt it ; and as prodigies are always seen in pro-
portion as they are expected, witches were every day
discovered, and multiplied so fast in some places, that
bishop Hall mentions a village in Lancashire, where
their number was greater than that of the houses.
The Jesuits and sectaries took advantage of this
universal error, and endeavoured to promote the
interest of their parties by pretended cures of persons
afflicted by evil spirits ; but they were detected and
exposed by the clergy of the established church.
Upon this general infatuation Shakespeare might be
easily allowed to found a play, especially since he has
followed with great exactness such histories as were
then thought true ; nor can it be doubted that the
scenes of enchantment, however they may now be
ridiculed, were both by himself and his audience
thought awful and affecting.
ACT I. SCENE x. (i. vii. 28 foil.)
The arguments by which Lady Macbeth persuades
her husband to commit the murder, afford a proof of
Shakespeare's knowledge of human nature. She urges
the excellence and dignity of courage, a glittering idea
which has dazzled mankind from age to age, and
animated sometimes the housebreaker, and sometimes
the conqueror ; but this sophism Macbeth has for ever
destroyed by distinguishing true from false fortitude,
in a line and a half ; of which it may also be said, that
they ought to bestow immortality on the author,
though all his other productions had been lost.
I dare do all that may become a man,
Who dares do more, is none.
This topic, which has been always employed with
too much success, is used in this scene with peculiar
propriety, to a soldier by a woman. Courage is the
distinguishing virtue of a soldier, and the reproach of
cowardice cannot be borne by any man from a woman,
without great impatience.
She then urges the oaths by which he had bound
himself to murder Duncan, another art of sophistry by
which men have sometimes deluded their consciences,
and persuaded themselves that what would be criminal
in others is virtuous in them ; this argument Shake-
speare, whose plan obliged him to make Macbeth yield,
has not confuted, though he might easily have shown
that a former obligation could not be vacated by a latter :
that obligations laid on us by a higher power, could not be
overruled by obligations which we lay upon ourselves.
ACT II. SCENE ii. (n. i. 49-50.)
Now o'er one half the world
Nature seems dead.
That is, over our hemisphere all action and motion
seem to have ceased. This image, which is perhaps
the most striking that poetry can produce, has been
adopted by Dryden in his Conquest of Mexico.
All things are hustfd as Nature's self lay dead,
The mountains seem to nod their drowsy head ;
The little birds in dreams their songs repeat,
And sleeping flow'rs beneath the night dews sweat.
Even lust and envy sleep !
1 72 MACBETH
These lines, though so well known, I have transcribed,
that the contrast between them and this passage of
Shakespeare may be more accurately observed.
Night is described by two great poets, but one
describes a night of quiet, the other of perturbation.
In the night of Dry den, all the disturbers of the world
are laid asleep ; in that of Shakespeare, nothing but
sorcery, lust and murder, is awake. He that reads
Dry den, finds himself lulPdwith serenity, and disposed to
solitude and contemplation. He that peruses Shakespeare,
looks round alarmed, and starts to find himself alone.
One is the night of a lover, the other, of a murderer.
ACT II. SCENE v. (zi. iii. 118-21.)
Here, lay Duncan ;
His silver skin laced with his golden blood,
And his gasb'd stabs look'd like a breach in nature
For Ruin's wasteful entrance.
Mr. Pope has endeavoured to improve one of these
lines by substituting goary blood for golden blood ; but
it may easily be admitted that he who could on such
an occasion talk of lacing the silver skin, would lace it
with golden blood. No amendment can be made to
this line, of which every word is equally faulty, but
by a general blot.
It is not improbable, that Shakespeare put these
forced and unnatural metaphors into the mouth of
Macbeth as a mark of artifice and dissimulation, to
show the difference between the studied language of
hypocrisy, and the natural outcries of sudden passion.
This whole speech so considered, is a remarkable
instance of judgment, as it consists entirely of anti-
thesis and metaphor.
ACT III. SCENE ii. (in. i. 68-9.)
Mine eternal jewel
Giv'n to the common enemy of man,
It is always an entertainment to an inquisitive
reader, to trace a sentiment to its original source, and
therefore though the term enemy of man, applied to the
devil, is in itself natural and obvious, yet some may
be pleased with being informed, that Shakespeare
probably borrowed it from the first lines of the
destruction of Troy, a book which he is known to have
That this remark may not appear too trivial, I shall
take occasion from it to point out a beautiful passage of
Milton evidently copied from a book of no greater
authority, in describing the gates of hell. Book 2.
v. 879. he says,
On a sudden open fly,
With impetuous recoil and jarring sound,
Th' infernal doors, and on their binges grate
In the history of Don Bellianis, when one of the
knights approaches, as I remember, the castle of
Brandezar, the gates are said to open grating harsh
thunder upon their brazen hinges.
ACT IV. SCENE!, (iv. i.)
As this is the chief scene of inchantment in the play,
it is proper in this place to observe, with how much
judgment Shakespeare has selected all the Circum-
stances of his infernal ceremonies, and how exactly he
has conformed to common opinions and traditions.
Thrice the brinded cat hath meufd.
The usual form in which familiar spirits are reported
to converse with witches, is that of a cat. A witch,
who was tried about half a century before the time of
Shakespeare, had a cat named Rutterkin, as the spirit
of one of those witches was Grimalkin ; and when
any mischief was to be done she used to bid Rutterkin
go and fly, but once when she would have sent Rutterkin
to torment a daughter of the countess of Rutland,
instead of going or flying, he only cried mew, from
whence she discovered that the lady was out of his
power, the power of witches not being universal, but
limited, as Shakespeare has taken care to inculcate.
Though his bark cannot be lost,
Yet it shall be tempest tost.
The common afflictions which the malice of witches
produced were melancholy, fits, and loss of flesh, which
are threatened by one of Shakespeare's witches.
Weary sev'n-nights, nine times nine.
Shall he dwindle, peak and pine.
It was likewise their practice to destroy the cattle of
their neighbours, and the farmers have to this day
many ceremonies to secure their cows and other cattle
from witchcraft ; but they seem to have been most
suspected of malice against swine. Shakespeare has
accordingly made one of his witches declare that she
has been killing swine, and Dr. Harsenet observes, that
about that time, a sow could not be ill of the measles,
nor a girl of the sullens, but some old woman was charged
Toad, that under the cold stone,
Days and nights has, thirty-one,
Swelter* d venom sleeping got ;
Boil thou first i'tb* charmed pot.
Toads have likewise long lain under the reproach of
being by some means accessary to witchcraft, for which
reason Shakespeare, in the first scene of this play, calls
one of the spirits Padocke or Toad, and now takes care
to put a toad first into the pot. When Faninus was
seized at Tholouse, there was found at his lodgings ingens
Bufo Vitro inclusus, a great Toad shut in a Vial, upon
which those that prosecuted him Feneficium exprobra-
bant, charged him, I suppose, with witchcraft.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake ;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog ;
For a charm, &c.
The propriety of these ingredients may be known by
consulting the books de Firibus Animalium and de
Mirabilibus Mundi, ascribed to Albertus Magnus, in
which the reader, who has time and credulity, may
discover wonderful secrets.
Finger of birth- strangled babes,
Ditch-deliver' d by a drab ;
It has been already mentioned in the law against
witches, that they are supposed to take up dead bodies
to use in enchantments, which was confessed by the
woman whom King James examined, and who had
of a dead body that was divided in one of their assem-
blies, two fingers for her share. It is observable that
Shakespeare, on this great occasion, which involves the
fate of a king, multiplies all the circumstances of
horror. The babe, whose finger is used, must be
strangled in its birth ; the grease must not only be
human, but must have dropped from a gibbet, the
gibbet of a murderer ; and even the sow, whose blood
is used, must have offended nature by devouring her
own farrow. These are touches of judgment and
And now about the cauldron sing
Black spirits and white.
Blue spirits and grey,
Mingle, mingle, mingle,
You that mingle may.
1 76 MACBETH
And in a former part,
weyzvard sisters, hand in hand,
Thus do go about, about,
Thrice to thine, and thrice to mine,
And thrice again to make up nine !
These two passages I have brought together, because
they both seem subject to the objection of too much
levity for the solemnity of enchantment, and may
both be shown, by one quotation from Camden's
account of Ireland, to be founded upon a practice
really observed by the uncivilised natives of that
country. " When any one gets a fall, says the informer
of Camden, he starts up, and turning three times to the
right digs a hole in the earth ; for they imagine that
there is a spirit in the ground, and if he falls sick in
two or three days, they send one of their women that is
skilled in that way to the place, where she says, I call
thee from the east, west, north and south, from the
groves, the woods, the rivers, and the fens, from the
fairies red, black, white" There was likewise a book
written before the time of Shakespeare, describing,
amongst other properties, the colours of spirits.
Many other circumstances might be particularised,
in which Shakespeare has shown his judgment and his
ACT V. SCENE iii. (v. iii. 8.) English Epicures.
The reproach of epicurism, on which Mr. Theobald
has bestowed a note, is nothing more than a natural
invective uttered by an inhabitant of a barren country,
against those who have more opportunities of luxury.
ACT V. SCENE viii. (v. vii. 77-9.)
Had I as many sons as 1 have hairs,
I would not wish them to a fairer death.
And so his knell is knoll* d.
This incident is thus related from Henry of Hunting-
don by Camden in his Remains, from which the authour
probably copied it.
When Seyivard, the martial earl of Northumberland,
understood that his son, whom he had sent in service
against the Scotchmen, was slain, he demanded whether
his wounds were in the fore part or hinder part of his
body. When it was answered, in the fore part, he
replied, " I am right glad ; neither wish I any other
death to me or mine."
This play is deservedly celebrated for the propriety
of its fictions, and solemnity, grandeur, and variety of
its action ; but it has no nice discriminations of
character, the events are too great to admit the
influence of particular dispositions, and the course of the
action necessarily determines the conduct of the agents.
The danger of ambition is well described ; and I
know not whether it may not be said in defence of
some parts which now seem improbable, that, in
Shakespeare's time, it was necessary to warn credulity
against vain and illusive predictions.
The passions are directed to their true end. Lady
Macbeth is merely detested ; and though the courage
of Macbeth preserves some esteem, yet every reader
rejoices at his fall.
ACT III. SCENE vi. (in. Hi. 125 foil.)
Have the power still
To banish your Defenders, 'till at length,
Tour ignorance, which finds not, 'till it feels, &c.
Still retain the power of banishing your defenders, 'till
your undiscerning folly, which can foresee no conse-
quences, leave none in the city but yourselves, who
are always labouring your own destruction.
1 78 CORIOLANUS
It is remarkable, that, among the political maxims
of the speculative Harrington, there is one which he
might have borrowed from this speech. The people,
says he, cannot see, but they can feel It is not much to
the honour of the people, that they have the same
character of stupidity from their enemy and their
friend. Such was the power of our authour's mind,
that he looked through life in all its relations private
ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 7-9.)
When most struck home, being gentle, wounded, craves
A noble cunning.
The sense is, When fortune strikes her hardest blows,
to be wounded, and yet continue calm, requires a gene-
rous policy. He calls this calmness cunning, because
it is the effect of reflection and philosophy. Perhaps
the first emotions of nature are nearly uniform, and
one man differs from another in the power of en-
durance, as he is better regulated by precept and
They bore as heroes, but they felt as man.
ACT IV. SCENE vi. (iv. vi. 99.) The breath of garlick eaters.
To smell of garlick was once such a brand of vulgarity,
that garlick was a food forbidden to an ancient order
of Spanish knights, mentioned by Guevara.
ACT IV. SCENE viii. (iv. vii. 51-3.)
And Power, unto itself most commendable,
Hath not a tomb so evident, as a chair
T extol what it hath done.
This is a common thought, but miserably ill-
expressed. The sense is, the virtue which delights to
commend itself, will find the surest Tomb in that Chair
wherein it holds forth its own commendations.
The Tragedy of Coriolanus is one of the most
amusing of our authour's performances. The old
man's merriment in Menenius ; the lofty lady's
dignity in Volumnia ; the bridal modesty in Virgilia ;
the patrician and military haughtiness in Coriolanus ;
the plebeian malignity and tribunition insolence in
Brutus and Sicinius, make a very pleasing and in-
teresting variety : and the various revolutions of the
hero's fortune fill the mind with anxious curiosity.
There is, perhaps too much bustle in the first act,
and too little in the last.
Of this tragedy many particular passages deserve
regard, and the contention and reconcilement of
Brutus and Cassius is universally celebrated ; but
I have never been strongly agitated in perusing it,
and think it somewhat cold and unaffecting, com-
pared with some other of Shakespeare's plays ; his
adherence to the real story, and to Roman manners,
seems to have impeded the natural vigour of his
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA.
ACT III. SCENE x. (HI. xi. 126-8.)
that I were
Upon the bill of Basan, to out-roar
The horned herd.
It is not without pity and indignation that the
reader of this great Poet meets so often with this low
jest, which is too much a favourite to be left out of
either mirth or fury.
i8o ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA
ACT IV. SCENE viii. (iv. ix. 15-16.)
Throw my heart
Against the flint and hardness of my fault.
The pathetick of Shakespeare too often ends in the
ridiculous. It is painful to find the gloomy dignity
of this noble scene destroyed by the intrusion of
a conceit so far-fetched and unaffecting.
ACT V. SCENE v. (v. ii. 242.) The pretty worm of Nilus.
Worm is the Teutonick word for serpent ; we have
the blind worm and slow worm still in our language, and
the Norwegians call an enormous monster, seen some-
times in the Northern ocean, the Sea-worm.
THIS Play keeps curiosity always busy, and the
passions always interested. The continual hurry of the
action, the variety of incidents, and the quick succession
of one personage to another, call the mind forward
without intermission from the first Act to the last.
But the power of delighting is derived principally
from the frequent changes of the scene ; for, except
the feminine arts, some of which are too low, which
distinguish Cleopatra, no character is very strongly
discriminated. Upton, who did not easily miss what. he
desired to find, has discovered that the language of
Antony is, with great skill and learning, made pompous
and superb, according to his real practice. But I think
his diction not distinguishable from that of others : the
most tumid speech in the Play is that which Gcesar
makes to Octavia.
The events, of which the principal are described
according to history, are produced without any art of
connection or care of disposition.
ACT I. SCENE vii. (i. v. 18-24.)
QUEEN. / will try the forces
Of these thy compounds on such creatures as
We count not worth the hanging, but none human, . .
CORNELIUS. Tour Highness
Shall from this practice but make hard your heart.
There is in this passage nothing that much requires
a note, yet I cannot forbear to push it forward into
observation. The thought would probably have been
more amplified, had our authour lived to be shocked
with such experiments as have been published in later
times, by a race of men that have practised tortures
without pity, and related them without shame, and
are yet suffered to erect their heads among human
Cape saxa manu, cape robora, pastor.
ACT II. SCENE iv. (n. iii; 118-20.)
CLOTEN. The contract you pretend with that base wretch . . .
. . . . . it is no contract, none.
Here Shakespeare has not preserved, with his common
nicety, the uniformity of character. The speech of
Cloten is rough and harsh, but certainly not the talk
Who carft take two from twenty, for his heart,
And leave eighteen.
His argument is just and well enforced, and its preva-
lence is allowed throughout all civil nations : As for
rudeness, he seems not to be much undermatched.
ACT III. SCENE iii. (in. iii. 35-6.)
ARVIRAGUS. What should we speak of
When we are old as you ?
This dread of an old age, unsupplied with matter
1 82 CYMBELINE
for discourse and meditation, is a sentiment natural
and noble. No state can be more destitute than that
of him who, when the delights of sense forsake him,
has no pleasures of the mind.
ACT III. SCENE iii. (m. Hi. 101.) / stole these babes ;
Shakespeare seems to intend Belarius for a good
character, yet he makes him forget the injury which
he has done to the young princes, whom he has robbed
of a kingdom only to rob their father of heirs.
The latter part of this soliloquy is very inartificial,
there being no particular reason why Belarius should
now tell to himself what he could not know better by
ACT IV. SCENE iv. (iv. ii. 105-7.)
The snatches in his voice,
And burst of speaking, were as his ; I'm absolute
'Twos very Cloten.
This is one of our authour's strokes of observation.
An abrupt and tumultuous utterance very frequently
accompanies a confused and cloudy understanding.
ACT IV. SCENE v. (iv. ii. 258-81.)
For the obsequies of Fidele, a song was written by
my unhappy friend, Mr. William Collins of Chichester,
a man of uncommon learning and abilities. I shall
give it a place at the end in honour of his memory.
ACT V. SCENE i. (v. i. i foil.)
POSTHUMOUS. Tea, bloody cloth, &c.
This is a soliloquy of nature, uttered when the
effervescence of a mind agitated and perturbed spon-
taneously and inadvertently discharges itself in words.
The speech, throughout all its tenour, if the last
conceit be excepted, seems to issue warm from the
heart. He first condemns his own violence ; then
tries to disburden himself, by imputing part of the
crime to Pisanio ; he next sooths his mind to an
artificial and momentary tranquillity, by trying to
think that he has been only an instrument of the gods
for the happiness of Imogen. He is now grown reason-
able enough to determine, that having done so much
evil he will do no more ; that he will not fight against
the country which he has already injured ; but as life
is not longer supportable, he will die in a just cause,
and die with the obscurity of a man who does not think
himself worthy to be remembered.
ACT V. SCENE iii. (v. iv. 26-8.)
If you will take this audit, take this life,
And cancel those cold bonds.
This equivocal use of bonds is another instance of
our authour's infelicity in pathetick speeches.
This Play has many just sentiments, some natural
dialogues, and some pleasing ocenes, but they are ob-
tained at the expence of much incongruity.
To remark the folly of the fiction, the absurdity of
the conduct, the confusion of the names and manners
of different times, and the impossibility of the events
in any system of life, were to waste criticism upon
unresisting imbecillity, upon faults too evident for
detection, and too gross for aggravation.
TROILUS AND CRESSIDA.
ACT V. SCENE i. (v. i. 23.) Cold palsies.
This catalogue of loathsome maladies ends in the
folio at cold palsies. This passage, as it stands, is in
the quarto ; the retrenchment was in my opinion
It may be remarked, though it proves nothing, that,
of the few alterations made by Milton in the second
edition of his wonderful poem, one was, an enlarge-
ment of the enumeration of diseases.
ACT V. SCENE vi. (v. iii. 23.)
CASSANDRA. It is the purpose that makes strong the vow.
The mad Prophetess speaks here with all the coolness
and judgment of a skilful casuist. The essence of
a lawful vow, is a lawful purpose, and the vow of which
the end is wrong must not be regarded as cogent.
This Play is more correctly written than most of
Shakespeare's compositions, but it is not one of those
in which either the extent of his views or elevation
of his fancy is fully displayed. As the story abounded
with materials, he has exerted little invention ; but he
has diversified his characters with great variety, and
preserved them with great exactness. His vicious
characters sometimes disgust, but cannot corrupt, for
both Cressida and Pandarus are detested and con-
temned. The comick characters seem to have been the
favourites of the writer, they are of the superficial
kind, and exhibit more of manners than nature, but
they are copiously filled and powerfully impressed.
Shakespeare has in his story followed for the greater
part the old book of Caxton, which was then very
TROILUS AND CRESSIDA 185
popular ; but the character of Thersites, of which it
makes no mention, is a proof that this play was written
after Chapman had published his version of Homer.
ROMEO AND JULIET.
ACT I. SCENE ii. (i. i. 181 foil.)
Why then, brawling love! loving bate! &c.
Of these lines neither the sense nor occasion is very
evident. He is not yet in love with an enemy, and to
love one and hate another is no such uncommon state,
as can deserve all this toil of antithesis.
ACT I. SCENE iii. (i. ii. 25.)
Earth-treading stars that make dark HEAVEN'S light.
This nonsense should be reformed thus,
Earth-treading stars that make dark EVEN light.
But why nonsense ? Is anything more commonly
said, than that beauties eclipse the sun ? Has not Pope
the thought and the word ?
Sol through white curtains shot a timorous ray,
And ope d those eyes that must eclipse the day.
Both the old and the new reading are philosophical
nonsense, but they are both, and both equally poetical
ACT I. SCENE iii. (i. ii. 26-8.)
Such comfort as do lusty young men feel.
When well-appareVd April on the heel
Of limping Winter treads.
To say, and to say in pompous words, that a young
man shall feel as much in an assembly of beauties, as
young men feel in the month of April, is surely to waste
sound upon a very poor sentiment. I read,
Such comfort as do lusty yeomen feel.
1 86 ROMEO AND JULIET
You shall feel from the sight and conversation of these
ladies, such hopes of happiness and such pleasure, as
the farmer receives from the spring, when the plenty
of the year begins, and the prospect of the harvest
fills him with delight.
ACT I. SCENE iv. (i. iii. 92.)
That in gold clasps locks in the golden Story.
The golden story is perhaps the golden legend, a book
in the darker ages of popery much read, and doubtless
often exquisitely embellished, but of which Canus,
one of the popish doctors, proclaims the author to
have been homo ferrei oris, plumbei cordis.
ACT I. SCENE vi. (i. v. 34.) Good cousin Capulet.
This cousin Capulet is unkle in the paper of invitation,
but as Capulet is described as old, cousin is probably
the right word in both places. I know not how
Capulet and his lady might agree, their ages were very
disproportionate ; he has been past masking for thirty
years, and her age, as she tells Juliet, is but eight and
ACT I. CHORUS, (n. PROLOGUE.)
The use of this chorus is not easily discovered, it
conduces nothing to the progress of the play, but
relates what is already known, or what the next scenes
will shew ; and relates it without adding the improve-
ment of any moral sentiment.
ACT II. SCENE vi. (n. vi. 15.)
Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow.
He that travels too fast is as long before he comes
to the end of his journey, as he that travels slow.
Precipitation produces mishap.
ROMEO AND JULIET 187
ACT III. SCENE i. (in. i. 2.) The day is hot.
It is observed that in Italy almost all assassinations
are committed during the heat of summer.
ACT III. SCENE iii. (in. i. 183.) Affection makes him false.
The charge of falshood on Bentivolio, though pro-
duced at hazard, is very just. The authour, who
seems to intend the character of Bentivolio as good,
meant perhaps to shew, how the best minds, in a state
of faction and discord, are detorted to criminal
ACT III. SCENE viii. (in. v. 84.)
Andy yet, no Man like he doth grieve my heart.
Juliet's equivocations are rather too artful for a
mind disturbed by the loss of a new lover.
ACT IV. SCENE ii. (iv. iii. 2-3.)
Leave me to myself to-night ;
For I have need of many orisons.
Juliet plays most of her pranks under the appearance
of religion : perhaps Shakespeare meant to punish her
ACT V. SCENE i. (v. i. 3.)
My bosom's Lord sits lightly on his throne, &c.
These three lines are very gay and pleasing. But
why does Shakespeare give Romeo this involuntary
cheerfulness just before the extremity of unhappiness ?
Perhaps to shew the vanity of trusting to those un-
certain and casual exaltations or depressions, which
many consider as certain foretokens of good and evil.
ACT V. SCENE v. (v. iii. 229.)
FRIAR. / will be brief.
It is much to be lamented that the Poet did not
1 88 ROMEO AND JULIET
conclude the dialogue with the action, and avoid
a narrative of events which the audience already knew.
This play is one of the most pleasing of our Author's
performances. The scenes are busy and various, the
incidents numerous and important, the catastrophe
irresistibly affecting, and the process of the action
carried on with such probability, at least with such
congruity to popular opinions, as tragedy requires.
Here is one of the few attempts of Shakespeare to
exhibit the conversation of gentlemen, to represent
the airy sprightliness of juvenile elegance. Mr. Dry den
mentions a tradition, which might easily reach his
time, of a declaration made by Shakespeare, that he
was obliged to kill Mercutio in the third act, lest he
should have been killed by him. Yet he thinks him no
such formidable person, but that he might have lived
through the play, and died in his bed, without danger to
a poet. Dry den well knew, had he been in quest of
truth, that, in a pointed sentence, more regard is
commonly had to the words than the thought, and
that.it is very seldom to be rigorously understood.
Mer curio's wit, gaiety and courage, will always pro-
cure him friends that wish him a longer life ; but his
death is not precipitated, he has lived out the time
allotted him in the construction of the play ; nor do
I doubt the ability of Shakespeare to have continued
his existence, though some of his sallies are perhaps out
of the reach of Dry den ; whose genius was not very
fertile of merriment, nor ductile to humour, but
acute, argumentative, comprehensive, and sublime.
The Nurse is one of the characters in which the
Authour delighted : he has, with great subtilty of
distinction, drawn her at once loquacious and secret,
obsequious and insolent, trusty and dishonest.
His comick scenes are happily wrought, but his
ROMEO AND JULIET 189
pathetick strains are always polluted with some unex-
pected depravations. His persons, however distressed^
have a conceit left them in their misery, a miserable
ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 63.)
He smote the steaded Polack on the ice.
Polack was, in that age, the term for an inhabitant
of Poland : Polaque, French. As in a translation of
Passeratius\ epitaph on Henry III. of France, published
by Camden :
Whether thy chance or choice thee hither brings,
Stay, passenger, and wail the best of kings.
This little stone a great king's heart doth hold,
Who ruVd the fickle French and Polacks bold :
So frail are even the highest earthly things.
Go, passenger, and wail the hap of kings.
ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 128.) // thou hast any sound.
The speech of Horatio to the spectre is very elegant
and noble, and congruous to the common traditions
of the causes of apparitions.
ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 153 foil.) Whether in sea or fire, &c.
According to the pneumatology of that time, every
element was inhabited by its peculiar order of spirits,
who had dispositions different, according to their
various places of abode. The meaning therefore is,
that all spirits extravagant, wandering out of their
element, whether aerial spirits visiting earth, or earthly
spirits ranging the air, return to their station, to their
proper limits in which they are confined.
ACT 1. SCENE ix. (i. v. 154.) Swear by my sword.
Mr. Garrick produced me a passage, I think, in
Brantome, from which it appeared, that it was common
to swear upon the sword, that is, upon the cross which
the old swords had upon the hilt.
ACT II. SCENE ii. (11.1.114-17.)
It is as proper to our age
To cast beyond ourselves in our opinions,
As it is common for the younger sort
To lack discretion.
This is not the remark of a weak man. The vice of
age is too much suspicion. Men long accustomed to
the wiles of life cast commonly beyond themselves, let
their cunning go further than reason can attend it.
This is always the fault of a little mind, made artful
by long commerce with the world.
ACT II. SCENE iv. (n. ii.)
Polonius is a man bred in courts, exercised in business,
stored with observation, confident of his knowledge,
proud of his eloquence, and declining into dotage.
His mode of oratory is truly represented as designed
to ridicule the practice of those times, of prefaces that
made no introduction, and of method that embar-
rassed rather than explained. This part of his character
is accidental, the rest is natural. Such a man is positive
and confident, because he knows that his mind was
once strong, and knows not that it is become weak.
Such a man excels in general principles, but fails in the
particular application. He is knowing in retrospect,
and ignorant in foresight. While he depends upon his
memory, and can draw from his repositories of know-
ledge, he utters weighty sentences, and gives useful
counsel ; but as the mind in its enfeebled state cannot
be kept long busy and intent, the old man is subject to
sudden dereliction of his faculities, he loses the order
of his ideas, and entangles himself in his own thoughts,
till he recovers the leading principle, and falls again
into his former train. This idea of dotage encroaching
upon wisdom, will solve all the phenomena of the
character of Polonius.
ACT II. SCENE vi. (n. ii. 269.) The shadow of a dream.
Shakespeare has accidentally inverted an expression
of Pindar, that the state of humanity is o-Kias ovap,
the dream of a shadow.
ACT III. SCENE ii. (in. i. 56 foil.) To be, or not to be f
Of this celebrated soliloquy, which bursting from
a man distracted with contrariety of desires, and over-
whelmed with the magnitude of his own purposes, is
connected rather in the speaker's mind, than on his
tongue, I shall endeavour to discover the train, and
to shew how one sentiment produces another.
Hamlet, knowing himself injured in the most enor-
mous and atrocious degree, and seeing no means of
redress, but such as must expose him to the extremity of
hazard, meditates on his situation in this manner :
Before I can form any rational scheme of action under
this pressure of distress, it is necessary to decide, whether,
after our present state, we are to be or not to be. That
is the question, which, as it shall be answered, will
determine, whether "'tis nobler, and more suitable to the
dignity of reason, to suffer the outrages of fortune patiently,
or to take arms against them, and by opposing end them,
though perhaps with the loss of life. If to die, were to
sleep, no more, and by a sleep to end the miseries of our
nature, such a sleep were devoutly to be wished ; but
if to sleep in death, be to dream, to retain our powers of
sensibility, we must pause to consider, in that sleep of
death what dreams may come. This consideration
makes calamity so long endured ; for who would bear
the vexations of life, which might be ended by a bare
bodkin, but that he is afraid of something in unknown
futurity? This fear it is that gives efficacy to con-
science, which, by turning the mind upon this regard,
chills the ardour of resolution, checks the vigour of
enterprise, and makes the current of desire stagnate in
We may suppose that he would have applied these
general observations to his own case, but that he
ACT III. SCENE ii. (in. i. 70.) The whips and scorns of time.
It may be remarked, that Hamlet, in his enumeration
of miseries, forgets, whether properly or not, that he
is a prince, and mentions many evils to which inferior
stations only are exposed.
ACT III. SCENE n. (in. i. 89). Nymph, in thy orisons, &c.
This is a touch of nature. Hamlet, at the sight of
Ophelia, does not immediately recollect, that he is
to personate madness, but makes her an address grave
and solemn, such as the foregoing meditation excited
in his thoughts.
ACT III. SCENE v.
I know not why our editors should, with such
implacable anger, persecute our predecessors. Oi
vKpo\ M boLKVova-iv, the dead it is true can make no
resistance, they may be attacked with great security ;
but since they can neither feel nor mend, the safety
of mauling them seems greater than the pleasure ;
nor perhaps would it much misbeseem us to remember,
amidst our triumphs over the nonsensical and the sense-
less, that we likewise are men ; that debemur morti,
and as Swift observed to Burnet, shall soon be among the
ACT III. SCENE ix. (HI. iii. 94-5.)
That his soul may be as damn'd and black
As bell, whereto it goes.
This speech, in which Hamlet, represented as
a virtuous character, is not content with taking blood
for blood, but contrives damnation for the man that
he would punish, is too horrible to be read or to be
ACT IV. SCENE v. (iv. v. 84.) In hugger mugger to interr him.
All the modern editions that I have consulted give it,
In private to inter him ;
That the words now replaced are better, I do not
undertake to prove ; it is sufficient that they are
Shakespeare's : If phraseology is to be changed as
words grow uncouth by disuse, or gross by vulgarity,
the history of every language will be lost ; we shall no
longer have the words of any authour ; and, as these
alterations will be often unskilfully made, we shall in
time have very little of his meaning.
ACT IV. SCENE ix. (iv. vii. 20-1.)
Would) like the spring that turneth wood to stone,
Convert his gyves to graces.
This simile is neither very seasonable in the deep
interest of this conversation, nor very accurately
applied. If the spring had changed base metals to
gold, the thought had been more proper.
ACT V. SCENE i. (v. i. 84-5.)
This might be the pate of a politician, which this ass o'er-offices.
In the quarto, for over-offices is, over-reaches, which
agrees better with the sentence. I believe both the
words were Shakespeare's. An authour in revising his
work, when his original ideas have faded from his
mind, and new observations have produced new
sentiments, easily introduces images which have been
more newly impressed upon him, without observing
their want of congruity to the general texture of his
ACT V. SCENE ii. (v. i. 254.)
Allowed her virgin RITES.
The old quarto reads virgin GRANTS.
I have been informed by an anonymous corre-
spondent, that crants is the German word for garlands,
and I suppose it was retained by us from the Saxons.
To carry garlands before the bier of a maiden, and to
hang them over her grave, is still the practice in rural
Crants therefore was the original word, which the
authour, discovering it to be provincial, and perhaps
not understood, changed to a term more intelligible,
but less proper. Maiden rites give no certain or
definite image. He might have put maiden wreaths,
or maiden garlands, but he perhaps bestowed no
thought upon it, and neither genius nor practice will
always supply a hasty writer with the most proper
ACT V. SCENE iii. (v. ii. 6-7.)
And prais'd be rashness for it.
Hamlet, delivering an account of his escape, begins
with saying, That he rashly and then is carried
into a reflection upon the weakness of human wisdom.
I rashly praised be rashness for it Let us not think
these events casual, but let us know, that is, take notice
and remember, that we sometimes succeed by indis-
cretion, when we fail by deep -plots, and infer the
perpetual superintendence and agency of the Divinity.
The observation is just, and will be allowed by every
human being who shall reflect on the course of his own
ACT V. SCENE iii. (v. ii. 41-2.)
As Peace should still her wheaten garland wear,
And stand a COMMA 'tween their amities ;
The expression of our authour is, like many of his
phrases, sufficiently constrained and affected, but it
is not incapable of explanation. The Comma is the
note of connection and continuity of sentences ; the
Period is the note of abruption and disjunction. Shake-
speare had it perhaps in his mind to write, That unless
England complied with the mandate, war should put
a period to their amity ; he altered his mode of diction,
and thought that, in an opposite sense, he might put,
That Peace should stand a Comma between their amities.
This is not an easy style ; but is it not the style of
ACT V. SCENE v. (v. ii. 240.)
HAMLET. Give me your pardon. Sir. I've done you wrong.
I wish Hamlet had made some other defence ; it is
unsuitable to the character of a good or a brave man,
to shelter himself in falsehood.
If the dramas of Shakespeare were to be charac-
terised, each by the particular excellence which
distinguishes it from the rest, we must allow to the
tragedy of Hamlet the praise of variety. The incidents
are so numerous, that the argument of the play would
make a long tale. The scenes are interchangeably
diversified with merriment and solemnity ; with merri-
ment that includes judicious and instructive observa-
tions, and solemnity, not strained by poetical violence
above the natural sentiments of man. New characters
appear from time to time in continual succession,
libiting various forms of life and particular modes
of conversation. The pretended madness of Hamlet
causes much mirth, the mournful distraction of Ophelia
fills the heart with tenderness, and every personage
produces the effect intended, from the apparition
that in the first act chills the blood with horror, to
the fop in the last, that exposes affectation to just
The conduct is perhaps not wholly secure against
objections. The action is indeed for the most part in
continual progression, but there are some scenes which
neither forward nor retard it. Of the feigned madness
of Hamlet there appears no adequate cause, for he does
nothing which he might not have done with the
reputation of sanity. He plays the madman most,
when he treats Ophelia with so much rudeness, which
seems to be useless and wanton cruelty.
Hamlet is, through the whole play, rather an instru-
ment than an agent. After he has, by the stratagem
of the play, convicted the King, he makes no attempt
to punish him, and his death is at last effected by an
incident which Hamlet has no part in producing.
The catastrophe is not very happily produced ; the
exchange of weapons is rather an expedient of necessity,
than a stroke of art. A scheme might easily have been
formed, to kill Hamlet with the dagger, and Laertes
with the bowl.
The poet is accused of having shewn little regard to
poetical justice, and may be charged with equal neglect
of poetical probability. The apparition left the
regions of the dead to little purpose ; the revenge which
he demands is not obtained but by the death of him
that was required to take it ; and the gratification
which would arise from the destruction of an usurper
and a murderer, is abated by the untimely death of
Ophelia, the young, the beautiful, the harmless, and
ACT I. SCENE viii. (i. iii. 134 foil.)
/ spoke of most disastrous chances.
Of moving accidents by flood and field ;
Whoever ridicules this account of the progress of
love, shews his ignorance, not only of history, but of
nature and manners. It is no wonder that, in any
age, or in any nation, a lady, recluse, timorous, and
delicate, should desire to hear of events and scenes
which she could never see, and should admire the man
who had endured dangers, and performed actions,
which, however great, were yet magnified by her
ACT II. SCENE viii. (n. i. 308-9.)
The thought whereof
Doth, like a poisonous mineral, gnaw my inwards.
This is philosophical. Mineral poisons kill by
ACT III. SCENE v. (in. iii. 90.) Excellent Wretch I
The meaning of the word wretch, is not generally
understood. It is now, in some parts of England,
a term of the softest and fondest tenderness. It
expresses the utmost degree of amiableness, joined
with an idea, which perhaps all tenderness includes,
of feebleness, softness, and want of protection. Othello,
considering Desdemona as excelling in beauty and
virtue, soft and timorous by her sex, and by her
situation absolutely in his power, calls her, Excellent
Wretch. It may be expressed,
Dear, harmless, helpless Excellence.
ACT III. SCENE v. (HI. iii. 206.)
She did deceive her father, marrying you.
This and the following argument of lago ought to
be deeply impressed on every reader. Deceit and
falsehood, whatever conveniences they may for a time
promise or produce, are, in the sum of life, obstacles
to happiness. Those who profit by the cheat, distrust
the deceiver, and the act by which kindness was sought,
puts an end to confidence.
The same objection may be made with a lower
degree of strength against the imprudent generosity
of disproportionate marriages. When the first heat
of passion is over, it is easily succeeded by suspicion,
that the same violence of inclination which caused one
irregularity, may stimulate to another ; and those
who have shewn, that their passions are too powerful
for their prudence, will, with very slight appearances
against them, be censured, as not very likely to restrain
them by their virtue.
ACT III. SCENE vi. (HI. iii. 262-3.)
Let her down the wind
To prey at fortune.
The falconers always let fly the hawk against the
wind ; if she flies with the wind behind her, she
seldom returns. If therefore a hawk was for any
reason to be dismissed, she was let down the wind, and
from that time shifted for herself, and preyed at
fortune. This was told me by the late Mr. Clark.
ACT III. SCENE xi. (HI. iv. 102.)
'Tis not a year, or two, shews us a man.
From this line it may be conjectured, that the
authour intended the action of this play to be con-
sidered as longer than is marked by any note of time.
Since their arrival at Cyprus, to which they were hurried
on their wedding-night, the fable seems to have been
in one continual progress, nor can I see any vacuity
into which a year or two, or even a month or two,
could be put. On the night of Othello's arrival, a feast
was proclaimed ; at that feast Cassio was degraded,
and immediately applies to Desdemona to get him
restored. lago indeed advises Othello to hold him off
a while, but there is no reason to think, that he has
been held off long. A little longer interval would
increase the probability of the story, though it might
violate the rules of the drama.
ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 40-2.)
Nature would not invest herself in such shadowing passion
without some instruction.
There has always prevailed in the world an opinion,
that when any great calamity happens at a distance,
notice is given of it to the sufferer by some dejection
or perturbation of mind, of which he discovers no
external cause. This is ascribed to that general com-
munication of one part of the universe with another,
which is called sympathy and antipathy ; or to the
secret monition, instruction, and influence of a superior
Being, which superintends the order of Nature and
of life. Othello says, Nature could not invest herself in
such shadowing 'passion, without instruction. It is not
words that shakes me thus. This passion which spreads
its clouds over me is the effect of some agency more
than the operation of words ; it is one of those notices
which men have of unseen calamities.
ACT V. SCENE vi. (v. ii. 21-2.)
This Sorrow 's heavenly ;
It strikes, where it doth love.
I wish these two lines could be honestly ejected. It
is the fate of Shakespeare to counteract his own pathos!
ACT V. SCENE vi. (v. ii. 63-5.)
Ob perjured woman ! thou dost stone my heart.
And mak'st me call, what I intend to do,
A murder^ which 1 thought a sacrifice.
This line is difficult. Thou hast hardened my heart,
and makest me kill thee with the rage of a murderer,
when / thought to have sacrificed thee to justice with
the calmness of a priest striking a victim.
It must not be omitted, that one of the elder
quarto's reads, thou dost stone thy heart ; which I
suspect to be genuine. The meaning then will be,
thou freest me to dismiss thee from the world in the
state of the murdered without preparation for death,
when I intended that thy punishment should have been
a sacrifice atoning for thy crime.
I am glad that I have ended my revisal of this dread-
ful scene. It is not to be endured.
The beauties of this play impress themselves so
strongly upon the attention of the reader, that they
can draw no aid from critical illustration. The fiery
openness of Othello^ magnanimous, artless, and credu-
lous, boundless in his confidence, ardent in his
affection, inflexible in his resolution, and obdurate
in his revenge ; the cool malignity of lago, silent in
his resentment, subtle in his designs, and studious
at once of his interest and his vengeance ; the soft
simplicity of Desdemona, confident of merit, and con-
scious of innocence, her artless perseverance in her
suit, and her slowness to suspect that she can be
suspected, are such proofs of Shakespeare's skill in
human nature, as, I suppose, it is vain to seek in any
modern writer. The gradual progress which lago
makes in the Moor's conviction, and the circumstances
which he employs to inflame him, are so artfully
natural, that, though it will perhaps not be said of him
as he says of himself, that he is a man not easily jealous,
yet we cannot but pity him when at last we find him
perplexed in the extreme.
There is always danger lest wickedness conjoined
with abilities should steal upon esteem, though it
misses of approbation ; but the character of lago is so
conducted, that he is from the first scene to the last
hated and despised.
Even the inferiour characters of this play would be
very conspicuous in any other piece, not only for their
justness but their strength. Cassio is brave, benevo-
lent, and honest, ruined only by his want of stubborn-
ness to resist an insidious invitation. Rodorigo's
suspicious credulity, and impatient submission to the
cheats which he sees practised upon him, and which
by persuasion he suffers to be repeated, exhibit a strong
picture of a weak mind betrayed by unlawful desires,
to a false friend ; and the virtue of ^Emilia is such as
we often find, worn loosely, but not cast off, easy to
commit small crimes, but quickened and alarmed at
The Scenes from the beginning to the end are busy,
varied by happy interchanges, and regularly promoting
the progression of the story ; and the narrative in the
end, though it tells but what is known already, yet is
necessary to produce the death of Othello.
Had the scene opened in Cyprus, and the preceding
incidents been occasionally related, there had been
little wanting to a drama of the most exact and scrupu-
The Rambler, No. 168.)
Frons prima multos, rara mens intelligit
Quod interiore condidit cura angulo. PH^DRUS.
The tinsel glitter, and the specious mien,
Delude the most ; few pry behind the scene.
IT has been observed by Boileau, that " a mean
or common thought expressed in pompous diction,
generally pleases more than a new or noble sentiment
delivered in low and vulgar language ; because the
number is greater of those whom custom has enabled
to judge of words, than whom study has qualified to
This solution might satisfy, if such only were offended
with meanness of expression as are unable to distinguish
propriety of thought, and to separate propositions or
images from the vehicles by which they are conveyed
to the understanding. But this kind of disgust is by
no means confined to the ignorant or superficial; it
operates uniformly and universally upon readers of all
classes ; every man, however profound or abstracted,
perceives himself irresistibly alienated by low terms ;
they who profess the most zealous adherence to truth
are forced to admit that she owes part of her charms
to her ornaments ; and loses much of her power over
the soul, when she appears disgraced by a dress uncouth
or ill adjusted.
We are all offended by low terms, but are not dis-
gusted alike by the same compositions, because we do
not all agree to censure the same terms as low. No
word is naturally or intrinsically meaner than another ;
our opinion therefore of words, as of other things
arbitrarily and capriciously established, depends wholly
upon accident and custom. The cottager thinks those
apartments splendid and spacious, which an inhabitant
of palaces will despise for their inelegance ; and to
him who has passed most of his hours with the delicate
and polite, many expressions will seem sordid, which
another, equally acute, may hear without offence ;
but a mean term never fails to displease him to whom
it appears mean, as poverty is certainly and invariably-
despised, though he who is poor in the eyes of some,
may, by others, be envied for his wealth.
Words become low by the occasions to which they
are applied, or the general character oi. them who use
them ; and the disgust which they produce, arises
from the revival of those images with which they are
commonly united. Thus if, in the most solemn dis-
course, a phrase happens to occur which has been
successfully employed in some ludicrous narrative,
the gravest auditor finds it difficult to refrain from
laughter, when they who are not prepossessed by the
same accidental association, are utterly unable to guess
the reason of his merriment. Words which convey
ideas of dignity in one age, are banished from elegant
writing or conversation in another, because they are
in time debased by vulgar mouths, and can be no
longer heard without the involuntary recollection of
When Macbeth is confirming himself in the horrid
purpose of stabbing his king, he breaks out amidst his
emotions into a wish natural to a murderer :
Come, thick night !
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes ;
Nor heav'n peep through the blanket of the dark,
To cry, Hold! hold!
In this passage is exerted all the force of poetry, that
force which calls new powers into being, which em-
bodies sentiment, and animates matter ; yet, perhaps,
scarce any man now peruses it without some disturb-
ance of his attention from the counteraction of the
words to the ideas. What can be more dreadful than
to implore the presence of night, invested, not in
common obscurity, but in the smoke of hell? Yet
the efficacy of this invocation is destroyed by the
insertion of an epithet now seldom heard but in the
stable, and dun night may come or go without any
other notice than contempt.
If we start into raptures when some hero of the
Iliad tells us that bopv pafrcrai, his lance rages with
eagerness to destroy ; if we are alarmed at the terrour
of the soldiers commanded by Geesar to hew down the
sacred grove, who dreaded, says Lucan, lest the axe
aimed at the oak should fly back upon the striker :
Si robora sacra jerirent,
In sua credebant redituras membra secures,
None dares with impious steel the grove to rend,
Lest on himself the destin'd stroke descend ;
we cannot surely but sympathise with the horrours of
a wretch about to murder his master, his friend, his
benefactor, who suspects that the weapon will refuse
its office, and start back from the breast which he is
preparing to violate. Yet this sentiment is weakened
by the name of an instrument used by butchers and
cooks in the meanest employments : we do not imme-
diately conceive that any crime of importance is to
be committed with a knife ; or who does not, at last,
from the long habit of connecting a knife with sordid
offices, feel aversion rather than terrour?
Macbeth proceeds to wish, in the madness of guilt,
that the inspection of heaven may be intercepted,
and that he may, in the involutions of infernal dark-
ness, escape the eye of Providence. This is the utmost
extravagance of determined wickedness ; yet this is so
debased by two unfortunate words, that while I en-
deavour to impress on my reader the energy of the
sentiment, I can scarce check my risibility, when the
expression forces itself upon my mind ; for who,
without some relaxation of his gravity, can hear of the
avengers of guilt peeping through a blanket ?
These imperfections of diction are less obvious to
the reader, as he is less acquainted with common
usages ; they are therefore wholly imperceptible to
a foreigner, who learns our language from books, and
will strike a solitary academick less forcibly than
a modish lady.
Among the numerous requisites that most concur to
complete an author, few are of more importance than
an early entrance into the living world. The seeds
of knowledge may be planted in solitude, but must be
cultivated in publick. Argumentation may be taught
in colleges, and theories formed in retirement ; but
the artifice of embellishment, and the powers of
attraction, can be gained only by general converse.
An acquaintance with prevailing customs and
fashionable elegance is necessary likewise for other
purposes. The injury that grand imagery suffers
from unsuitable language, personal merit may fear from
rudeness and indelicacy. When the success of Mneas
depended on the favour of the queen upon whose
coasts he was driven, his celestial protectress thought
him not sufficiently secured against rejection by his
piety or bravery, but decorated him for the interview
with preternatural beauty. Whoever desires, for his
writings or himself, what none can reasonably con-
temn, the favour of mankind, must add grace to
strength, and make his thoughts agreeable as well as
useful. Many complain of neglect who never trie4
to attract regard. It cannot be expected that the
patrons of science or virtue should be solicitous to dis-
cover excellencies, which they who possess them shade
and disguise. Few have abilities so much needed by
the rest of the world as to be caressed on their own
terms ; and he that will not condescend to recommend
himself by external embellishments, must submit to
the fate of just sentiment meanly expressed, and be
ridiculed and forgotten before he is understood.
OXFORD : HORACE HART
PRINTER TO THE UNIVERSITY
Johnson , Samuel ,