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many from age and temper are entirely exempted; and from the second many more, by fituation, are excluded. Among a thousand fpectators, there are not perhaps half a dozen, who ever were, or can be, in the circumftances of the perfons represented : they cannot fympathize with them, unless they have fome conception of a tender paffion, combated by ambition, or ambition ftruggling with love. The fable of the French plays is often taken from history, but then a romantic paffion is added to it, and to which both events and characters are rendered fubfervient.
Shakespear, in various nature wife, does not confine himfelf to any particular paffion. When he writes from hiftory, he attributes to the perfons fuch fentiments as agreed with their actions and characters. There is not a more fure way of judging of the merit of rival geniuses, than to bring them to the test of comparison where they have attempted fubjects that have any resemblance. Corneille appears much inferior to our Shakefpear
fpear in the art of conducting the events, and displaying the characters he borrows from the historian's page; his tragedy of Otho comprehends that period in which his courtiers are caballing to make him adopt a fucceffor agreeable to their interefts.
The court of that emperor is finely defcribed by Tacitus, who in a few words fets before us the infolence, the profligacy, and rapaciousness of a fet of minifters, encouraged by the weaknefs of the prince to attempt whatever they wished, and incited by his age to fnatch by hafty rapine whatever they coveted. Tacitus, with his mafterly pencil, has drawn the outlines of their characters fo ftrongly, that a writer of any genius might finish up the portraits to great resemblance and perfection. One had furely a right to expect this from an author, who profeffes to have copied this great historian the most faithfully that was poffible. One would imagine the infolent Martianus, the bold and fubtle Vinius, the
bafe, fcandalous, flothful Laco thould all appear in their proper characters, which would be unfolding through the whole progrefs of the play, as their various schemes and interests were exposed. Instead of this, Martianus makes fubmiffive love: Vinius and Laco are two ambitious courtiers, without any quality that distinguishes them from each other, or from any other intriguing statesmen; nor do they at all contribute to bring about the revolution in the empire: their whole bufinefs feems to be matchmaking, and in that too they are fo unskilful as not to fucceed. They undertake it indeed, merely as it may influence the adoption. Several fentences from Tacitus are ingrafted into the dialogues, but, from a change of perfons and circumstances, they lofe much of their original force and beauty.
Galba addreffes to his niece, who is in love with Otho, the fine speech which the hiftorian supposes him to have made to Pifo when he adopted him. The love-fick lady, tired of an harangue, the purport of which
On the HISTORICAL DRAMA. 85 is unfavorable to her lover, and being befides no politician, anfwers the emperor, that she does not understand state-affairs : a cruel reply to a speech he could have no motive for making, but to display his wisdom and eloquence. The old warrior is more complaifant to her, for he enters into all the delicacies of her paffion, as if he had studied la carte du tendre *. To fteal fo much matter from Tacitus without imbibing one fpark of his fpirit; to tranflate whole fpeeches, yet preserve no likeness in the characters, is furely betraying a great deficiency of dramatic powers, and of the art of imitation: to represent the gay, luxurious, diffolute, ambitious Otho, the courtier of Nero, and the gallant of Poppea, as a mere Pastor Fido, who would die rather than be inconftant to his mistress, and is indifferent to empire but for her fake, is fuch a violation of hiftorical truth, as is not to be endured. I pass over the abfurd scene between the jealous ladies, the improbability of their treating the powerful and haughty favorites of the emperor
*Roman de Clelie.
with indignity, and Otho's thrice repeated attempt to kill himself before his mistress's face without the leaft reafon why he should put an end to his life, or probability that fhe would fuffer him to do it. To make minute criticisms where the great parts are fo defective would be trifling.
Having obferved how poorly Corneille has reprefented characters borrowed from fo great a portrait painter as Tacitus, let us now fee what Shakespear has done, from those aukward originals our old chronicles.