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F we will consider Shakespeare's tragedies,
as dramatic heroic poems, fome ending with a happy, others with an unhappy catastrophe ; why then, if Homer introduces a buffoon character, both among his' gods and heroes in his Tiad, and a ridiculous monster · Polypheme in bis Odyssey, might not Shakespeare in his heroic drama exhibit a Falstaff, a Caliban, or
1 A limping Vulcan takes upon him the office of Ganymede. Il. 6. He advises the gods not to trouble their heads about wretched mortals. I wonder some of the commentators, who are fond of fetching every thing from Homer, never thought of making Epicurus steal his philolofophy from Vulcan.
2 Therfites. II. 6. Where Eustathius has this remark, “ The tragic poets aim at what is grave and serious, and " treat sublimely the events of things. The comedians on " the contrary treat things ludicrously, and lessen them. In “ Homer these tragic and comic characters are found mixed'; iss for he plainly aets the comedian when he leffens and " brings down from its heroic station, the character of « Therfites."
3 The character of Polyphemus appear*d to Euripides so proper for farce ; that from hence he form’d his satyric play, The Cyclops. Ulyffes told the monfter his name was QITÆ, or Noman. Polyphemus' eye being put out, he calls to his friends,
clown ? Here is no mixture of various fables : tho' the incidents are many, the story is one. 'Tis true, there is a mixture of characters, not all proper to excite thofe tragic pastions, pity and terror ; the serious and comic being so blended, as to form in fome measure what Plau
Ω φίλοι ΟΥΤΙΣ με κλείνει δόλω, εδ. βίρφι.
In Euripies the scene is as follows,
ΚΥΚ. ΟΥΤΙΣ μ' απώλεσεν,
Cyc. Noman hash killed one.
tus calls + tragicomedy; where, not two different stories, the one tragic, the other comic, are preposterously jumbled together, as in the Spanish Fryar, and Oroonoko : but the unity of the fable being preserved, several ludicrous characters are interspersed, as in a heroic poem. Nor does the mind from hence suffer any violence, being only accidentally called off from the serious story, to which it soon returns again, and perhaps better prepared by this little refresh
The s tragic episode of Dido is followed by the sports in honour of old Anchises. Inmediately after the quarrel among the heroes, and the wrathful debates arising in heaven, the deformed Vulcan assumes the office of cupbearer, and raises a laugh among the heavenly fynod. Milton has introduced a piece of mirth in his battle of the gods ; where the evil spirits, elevated with a little success, ?stand scoffing and 4 In his prologue to Amphitryo.
Faciam ut commissa fit tragicomoedia :
Faciam proinde, ut dixi, tragicomediam,
7 The speeches which Satan and Belial make in derision, are after the cast of Homer, Il. •'. 374. and Il. a'. 745.
punning in pleasant vein. But these are masterly strokes, and touches of great artists, not to be imitated by poets who creep on the ground, but by those only who foar with the eagle wings of Homer, Milton, or Shakespeare.
But so far at least must be acknowledged true of our dramatic poet, that he is always a strict observer of decorum ; and constantly a friend to the cause of virtue: hence he shews, in it's proper light, into what miseries mankind are led by indulging wrong opinions. No philosopher seems ever to have more minutely examined into the different manners, passions, and inclinations of mankind ; nor is there known a character, perhaps that of Socrates only excepted, where refined ridicule, raillery, wit, and humour, were so mixed and united with what is most grave and serious in morals and philosophy. This is the magic with which he works such wonders.
Peétus inaniter angit, Irritat, mulcet, falfis terroribus implet, Ut magus ; et modo me Thebis, modo ponit Athenis.
IT seems to me, that this philosophical mixture of character is scarce at all attended to by the moderns. Our grave writers are dully grave; and our men of wit are lost to all sense
of gravity. 'Tis all formality, or all buffoonry. However this mixture is visible in the writings of Shakespeare ; he knew the pleasing force of humour, and the dignity of gravity. And he is the best instance, that can be cited, to countenance that famous passage in * Plato's banquet, where the philosopher makes a tragic and a comic poet both allow, againft their inclinations, that he who according to the best rules of art was a writer of tragedy, must be likewise & good writer of comedy.
8 The Banquet was held in Agatho's house, a tragic poet. The person, who relates, concludes with saying, that having drunken a little too much, and fallen faft alleep, he waked just about break of day, when he found Agatho the tragedian, and Ariftophanes the comedian difputing with Socrates. Socrates had brought both these poets to confess what is mention'd above. And yet it' is observable that, among the ancient dramatic writers, the sock and bukin perhaps never interferéd : Sophocles and Euripides never wrote comedies : Aristophanes and Menander never. attempted tragedies.
T is furprising how, in so short a time,
Shakespeare and Johnson could bring the stage to such perfection, that after them it received no farther improvement. But what can