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Had the fcene opened in Cyprus, and the preceding incidents been occafionally related, there had been little wanting to a drama of the most exact and ferupulous regularity. JOHNSON.
To Dr. Johnfon's admirable and nicely difcriminative character of Othello, it may feem unneceffary to make any addition; yet I cannot forbear to conclude our commentaries on this tranfcendent poet with the fine eulogy which the judicious and learned Lowth has pronounced on him, with a particular reference to this tragedy, perhaps the most perfect of all his works:
"In his viris [tragediæ Græcæ fcilicet fcriptoribus] acceffio quædam Philofophiæ erat Poetica facultas: neque fane quifquam adhuc Poefin ad faftigium fuum ac culmen evexit, nifi qui prius in intima Philofophia artis fuæ fundamenta jecerit.
"Quod fi quis objiciat, nonnullos in hoc ipfo pocfeos genere excelluiffe, qui nunquam habiti funt Philofophi, ac ne literis quidem præter cæteros imbuti; fciat is, me rem ipfam quærere, non de vulgari opinione, aut de verbo laborare: qui autem tantum ingenio confecutus eft, ut naturas hominum, vimque omnem humanitatis, caufafque eas, quibus aut incitatur mentis impetus aut retunditur, penitus perSpectas habeat, ejufque omnes motus oratione non modo explicet, fed effingat, planeque oculis fubjiciat ; fed excitet, regat, commoveat, moderetur; eum, etfi difciplinarum inftrumento minus adjutum, eximie tamen effe Philofophum arbitrari. Quo in genere affectum Zelotypiæ, ejufque caufas, adjuncta, progreffiones, effectus, in una SHAKSPEARI noftri fabula, copiofius, fubtilius, accuratius etiam veriufque pertractari exiftimo, quam ab omnibus omnium Philofophorum fcholis in fimili argumento eft unquam difputatum." [Prælectio prima. edit. 1763, p. 8.] MALONE.
If by the moft perfect" is meant the most regular of the foregoing plays, I fubfcribe to Mr. Malone's opinion; but if his words. were defigned to convey a more exalted praife, without a moment's hefitation I should transfer it to MACBETH.
It is true, that the domeftick tragedy of Othello affords room for a various and forcible difplay of character. The lefs familiar groundwork of Macbeth (as Dr. Johnson has obferved) excludes the influence of peculiar difpofitions. That exclufion, however, is recompenfed by a loftier ftrain of poetry, and by events of higher rank; by fupernatural agency, by the folemnities of incantation, by fhades of guilt and horror deepening in their progrefs, and by vifions of futurity folicited in aid of hope, but eventually the minifters of despair.
Were it neceffary to weigh the pathetick effufions of thefe dramas against each other, it is generally allowed that the forrows of Defdemona would be more than counterbalanced by thofe of Macduff.
Yet if our author's rival pieces (the diftinct property of their fubjects confidered) are written with equal force, it must still be admitted that the latter has more of originality. A novel of confiderable length (perhaps amplified and embellifhed by the English tranflator of it) fupplied a regular and circumftantial outline for Othello; while a few flight hints collected from feparate narratives of Holinfhed, were expanded into the fublime and awful tragedy of Macbeth.
Should readers, who are alike converfant with the appropriate excellencies of poetry and painting, pronounce on the reciprocal merits of thefe great productions, I muft fuppofe they would defcribe them as of different pedigrees. They would add, that one was of the school of Raphael, the other from that of Michael Angelo; and that if the steady Sophocles and Virgil should have decided in favour of Othello, the remonftrances of the daring Æfchylus and Homer would have claimed the laurel for Macbeth.
To the fentiments of Dr. Lowth refpecting the tragedy of Othello, a general elogium on the dramatick works of Shakspeare, imputed by a judicious and amiable critick to Milton, may be not improperly fubjoined:
"There is good reason to suppose (says my late friend the Rev. Thomas Warton, in a note on L'Allegro,) that Milton threw many additions and corrections into the THEATRUM POETARUM, a book published by his nephew Edward Philips, in 1675. It contains criticifms far above the taste of that period. Among these is the following judgement on Shakspeare, which was not then, I believe, the general opinion."-" In tragedy, never any expreffed a more lofty and tragick heighth, never any reprefented nature more purely to the life and where the polifhments of art are most wanting, as probably his learning was not extraordinary, he pleases with a cer tain WILD and NATIVE elegance." P. 194.
What greater praife can any poet have received, than that of the author of Paradife Loft? STEEVENS.