William Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage - Vol. 6

By Brian Vickers | Go to book overview

267.

James Harris, Shakespeare and the rules of criticism

1781

From Philological Inquiries in Three Parts (1781). Published posthumously yet, according to the Monthly Review, ‘printed before his death’: lxvi (1782), pp. 428f. Chapter 6 is called ‘Dramatic speculations’, and was reprinted in the London Magazine, 1 (1781), p. 534.

James Harris (1709-80), of independent means, was a scholar, M.P. for Christchurch, and (between 1763 and 1765) a lord of the admiralty and the treasury. He was the nephew of Shaftesbury, and a friend of Fielding, Handel, Reynolds, Gibbon, and George Grenville. An Aristotelian in the period of Locke, he wrote Three Treatises. On Art; On Music, Painting and Poetry, and On Happiness (1744); Hermes, or a Philosophical Inquiry concerning Universal Grammar (1751); Philosophical Arrangements (1775); and the present collection, which the Monthly described as ‘perspicuous’ and ‘elegant’, showing the ‘true judgment’ of an author ‘highly and deservedly respected’. See R. Marsh, Four Dialectical Theories of Poetry (Chicago, 1965), and L. Lipking, The Ordering of the Arts in Eighteenth-Century England (Princeton, N.J., 1970), pp. 86-105.

[On the plot-form of tragedy]

…On the contrary, when the REVOLUTION, as in the second sort, is from Good to Bad (that is, from Happy to Unhappy, from Prosperous to Adverse) here we discover the true Fable or Story proper for TRAGEDY. Common sense leads us to call, even in real life, such Events, TRAGICAL….

OTHELLO commences with a prospect of Conjugal Felicity; LEAR* with that of Repose, by retiring from Royalty. DIFFERENT

* This Example refers to the real Lear of Shakespeare, not the spurious one commonly acted under his name, where the imaginary Mender seems to have paid the same Complement to his

-310-

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