Shakespeare and Voltaire

By Thomas R. Lounsbury | Go to book overview
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THE statements cited in the last chapter from Mrs. Montagu "Essay" are sufficient to show the modern reader that she had ignorantly sacrificed the cause she had professed to advocate. She had vehemently proclaimed Shakespeare's superiority; she had conceded nearly everything which had been brought forward to establish his inferiority. How came it, then, that this utterly inadequate work met with so enthusiastic a welcome? How came it that she, with knowledge and powers hardly more respectable than those of a highly intelligent schoolgirl, should have been celebrated almost everywhere as a great critic? Of the fact itself as regards both particulars, there can be no question. Feeble and pretentious as was the "Essay", it was hailed on nearly all sides as a triumphant vindication of the dramatist. Obviously such success could not be entirely due to the social position of the authoress, powerful as that factor was in securing it. There must have been other agencies at work. It becomes accordingly of some interest in the history of Shakespearean criticism to trace what were the causes, outside of this specific one, which contributed to bring about a result which strikes us now as so exceedingly singular.


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Shakespeare and Voltaire


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