Characters of Shakespeare's Plays
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, Sep 6, 2016 - 322 pages
Characters of Shakespear's Plays is an 1817 book of criticism of Shakespeare's plays, written by early nineteenth century English essayist and literary critic William Hazlitt. Characters of Shakespear's Plays consists primarily of Hazlitt's impressions of and thoughts about all of William Shakespeare's plays he believed to be genuine. It was the first book of the kind that anyone had yet written. His main focus is on the characters that appear in the plays, but he also comments on the plays' dramatic structure and poetry, referring frequently to commentary by earlier critics, as well as the manner in which the characters were acted on stage. The essays on the plays themselves (there is a "Preface" as well as an essay on "Doubtful Plays of Shakespear" and one on the "Poems and Sonnets") number thirty-two, but with two of the essays encompassing five of the plays, the plays discussed amount to thirty-five in number. Though each essay constitutes a chapter in a book, in style and length they resemble those of Hazlitt's miscellaneous collection The Round Table (published also in 1817, a collaboration with Leigh Hunt), which followed the model for periodical essays established a century earlier in The Spectator. Though Hazlitt could find much to appreciate in the comedies, tragedy was to him inherently more important, and he weights the tragedies much more heavily. In this he differed from Johnson, who thought Shakespeare best at comedy. The greatest of the plays were tragedies-particularly Macbeth, Othello, King Lear, and Hamlet-and Hazlitt's comments on tragedy are often integrated with his ideas about the significance of poetry and imaginative literature in general. As he expressed it at the end of "Lear", tragedy describes the strongest passions, and "the greatest strength of genius is shewn here in describing the strongest passions: for the power of the imagination, in works of invention, must be in proportion to the force of the natural impressions, which are the subject of them."
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