William Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage - Vol. 6

By Brian Vickers | Go to book overview

of Brutus. The poet has adopted many of the incidents and speeches recorded by the historian, whom he had read in Sir Thomas North’s translation. But great judgement appears in the choice of passages. Those events and sentiments that either are affecting in themselves, or contribute to the display of human characters and passions, he has adopted; what seemed unsuitable to the drama is omitted. By reading Plutarch and Sophocles in the original, together with the Poetics of Aristotle and Horace’s epistle to the Pisoes, Shakespeare might have made this tragedy better; but I cannot conceive how such a preparation, had the poet been capable of it, could have been the cause of his making it worse. It is very probable that the instance of Shakespeare may have induced some persons to think unfavourably of the influence of learning upon genius; but a conclusion so important should never be inferred from one instance, especially when that is allowed to be extraordinary and almost supernatural. From the phenomena of so transcendent a genius we must not judge of human nature in general; no more than we are to take the rules of British agriculture from what is practised in the Summer Islands. (525-9)


252.

John Berkenhout, Shakespeare defended from Voltaire

1777

From Biographia Literaria; or, a Biographical History of Literature: Containing the Lives of English, Scottish, and Irish Authors, from the Dawn of Letters in these Kingdoms, to the present Time, Chronologically and Classically arranged. Vol. 1. From the Beginning of the Fifth to the End of the Sixteenth Century (1777).

John Berkenhout, M.D., (1730?-91) had been an officer in both the Prussian and English armies before he took up medicine. As well as several distinguished books on medi-

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