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Poets who mean to please posterity, should therefore work as painters, not as tailors, and give us peculiar features, rather than fantastic habits : but where there is such a prodigious variety of well-drawn portraits as in this play, we may excuse one piece of mere drapery, especially when exhibited to expose an absurd and troublesome fashion.
Mine hostess Quickly is of a species not extinct. It may be said, the author there sinks from comedy to farce; but she helps to complete the character of Falstaffe, and some of the dialogues in which she is engaged are diverting. Every scene in which Doll Tearsheet appears, is indecent, and therefore not only indefensible but inexcusable. There are delicacies of decorum in one age unknown to another age; but whatever is immoral, is equally blameable in all
ages, and every approach to obscenity is an offence for which wit cannot atone, nor the barbarity or the corruption of the times
Having Having considered the characters of this piece, I cannot pass over the conduct of it without taking notice of the peculiar felicity, with which the fable unfolds itself from the very beginning.
The first scenes give the outlines of the characters, and the argument of the drama. Where is there an instance of any opening of a play equal to this ? And I think I did not rashly assert, that it is one of the most difficult parts of the dramatic art: for that surely may be allowed so, in which the greatest masters have very seldom succeeded. Euripides is not very happy in this respect. Iphigenia in Tauris begins by telling, to herself, in a pretty long soliloquy, who she is, and all that happened to her at Aulis. As Aristotle gives this play the highest praise, we may be assured it did not in any respect offend the Greek taste: and Boileau not injudiciously prefers this simple exposition, destitute as it is of any grace, to the per
plexed and tedious declamation of the mo
Que dès les premiers vers l'action préparée,
That the simplicity of Euripides is preferable to the perplexity or bombast of Corneille’s manner in developing the story of several of his tragedies, no person of just taste, I believe, will dispute. The first scene of the Cinna has been ridiculed by Boileau. That of Sertorius is not very happy. His famous play of Rodogune is opened by two unknown persons, one of whom begins,
Enfin ce jour pompeux, çet heureux jour, nous luit ;
and, after un tas de confuses merveilles in the most wretched verse, extended to the length of seventy lines, when the reader very impatiently expects to be informed of the whole of the narration, stops short with these words ;
Je vous acheverai le reste une autre fois.
Two brothers united by the most tender friendship, living in the same palace, having beers long in love with the same princess, have never yet intimated their passion to each other, not from motives of jealousy or distrust, but that their confidents may tell it the spectator, and make him some amends for the abrupt conclusion of the former conversation. However, still the poor spectator is much in the dark, till the queen, who is a perfect Machiavel, relates, merely from the love of talking, all the murders she has committed, and those she still intends to commit, to her waiting-women, for whose parts she expresses at the same time a sovereign contempt.
Here I cannot help taking notice, that as the poet's want of art made it necessary to set the queen to prate of her former crimes, to let us into the fable; his ignorance of human nature betrayed him, in a succeeding scene, into the enormous absurdity of making both Rodogune and the queen, without hesitation, the one advise the lover to murder his mistress, the other the son to murder his mother.
Here again an instance offers itself of our Shakspeare's superior knowledge of the heart of man. King John wishes to instigate Hubert to kill prince Arthur: but observe with what difficulty he expresses his horrid purpose.
Come hither, Hubert. O my gentle Hubert,