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The objection most commonly urged against burlesques and parodies in general, is, that they tend to bring into ridicule and contempt those authors against whose works they are directed. That this objection will hold, when applied to works of inferior merit, or to such as are deficient in sense or genius, is freely admitted ; but, when used with reference to such writings as, from their intrinsic merit, have long been established in the public estimation, its futility is evident. HOMER and Virgil have both been the subjects of strong burlesques, but they are still read with unabated admiration; the bay that adorns them still flourishes, and its verdure remains undiminished : and it would be an insult to the high character of our Poet, were it supposed that the wreath is so loosely twined around his brows as to be endangered
by so mere a trifle as that which gives rise to these remarks. Whilst the beauties of poetry shall continue to delight, the works of SHAKSPEARE will be read with enthusiasm ; and any serious attempt to tarnish his fame, or to degrade him from his exalted station, must ever be considered as weak and as ridiculous in the design, as it would certainly be found unavailing and impossible in the execution.
But whatever apology or extenuation may be deemed necessary for the liberty that is taken with the poet, it is presumed that neither will be required for the freedom that is used in the treatment of his annotators: for no real admirer of SHAKSPEARE but must feel indignant at finding his sense perverted, and his meaning obscured,* by the false, lights, and the fanciful and arbitrary illustrations, of Black-letter Critics and Coney-catching Commentators. And it had been well if some able satirist had exposed and punished their folly, their affectation, and their arrogance, at the time when the rage for editing, and commenting on, SHAKSPEARE was at its height, and every pedant in Black-letter lore assumed the prerogative of an authorised pollutor of his text.+
* The poets of the present day have wisely provided against injuries of this nature; for, with the assistance of an abundance of notes, they have so clearly explained their own meanings (which, it must be confessed, would, otherwise, be frequently unintelligible) as to supersede the labours of future critics.
+ From this general reproach must the great Dr. Johnson be excepted, who, even as a Shuksperian Commentator, is entitled to our
From the force of its sentiments, the beauty of its imagery, and, above all, the solemnity of its conduct, there is, perhaps, no tragedy in the English language better adapted to the purposes of a travesty* than “ HAMLET;" and
respect; and of whom it may truly be said, that he never wrote without the intention, and scarcely ever without the effect, of rendering mankind more wise or more virtuous.
* It may not be amiss to remark that, although oftentimes used indifferently, the terms burlesque and travesty are properly distinct : burlesque is more general in its application ; travesty more particular: the former is levelled against blemishes and defects, which its object is to expose and ridicule, and pleases by comparison ; the latter is constructed upon the various excellencies of any particular work, and derives its effect solely from the force of contrast. Hence a travesty, instead of derogating from the value or the reputation of its subject, may be considered as no inadequate test of its merit.
from its being so frequently before the public, so very generally read, and so continually quoted, it is, more than any other, calculated to give a travesty its full effect, and which can only be produced by a facility of contrast with its subject work. For it is obvious, that in a work of this nature (the object of which is to convey the precise sentiments and ideas contained in its original, but in language, and in a manner, unsuited to their subject and the character of the speaker), many parts must appear ridiculous, and even contemptible, when considered independently of the passage or passages to which they allude. For a reader, therefore, to derive entertainment from the perusal of a travesty, but more particularly to be enabled to decide whether it be ill or well executed, a familiar acquaintance with its original is indispensable.