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they could have been by the most judicious
I know not that any poet, ancient or modern, has shewn so perfect a judgment in rhetoric as our countryman. I wish he had employed his eloquence too in arraigning the baseness and treachery of John of Lancaster's conduct, in breaking his covenant with the rebels.
Pistol is an odd kind of personage, intended I suppose to ridicule fome fashionable affectation of bombast language. When fuch characters exift no longer any where but in the writings in which they have been ridiculed, they seem to have been monsters of the poet's brain. The originals lost and the mode forgot, one can neither praise the imitation nor laugh at the ridicule. Comic writers should therefore always exhibit some characteristic diftinctions as well as temporary modes. Justice Shallow will for ever rank with a certain species of men; he is like a well painted portrait in the dress of his age. Pistol
appears a mere antiquated habit, so uncouthly fashioned, we can hardly
believe it was made for any thing but a masquerade frolic.
The poets who mean to please posterity, should therefore work ás painters, not as taylors, and give us peculiar features, rather than fantastic ha? bits : 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 links from comedy to farce, but she helps to compleat the character of Falstaffe, and fome 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 blamable 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 excuse.
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 begins to unfold itself from the
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 ralhly assert, that it is one of the most difficult parts of the dramatic art; for that surely may be allowed fo, 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
fimple exposition, destitute as it is of any grace,' to the perplexed and tedious declamation of the modern stage.
Que dès les premiers vers l'action préparée,
That the fimplicity 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, cet 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 Ahort with these words,
Je vous acheverai le reste une auftre fpis.
Two brothers united by the most tender friendship, living in the same palace, having been long in love with the same princess, never have intimated their passion to each other, not out of a motive of jealoufy or distrust, but that their confidents may tell it the spectator, and make him fome 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 love of talking, all the murders the has committed, and those the still intends to commit, to her waiting-woman, for whose parts the expresses at the same time a sovereign contempt.