William Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage - Vol. 6

By Brian Vickers | Go to book overview

271.

B. Walwyn, Shakespearian comedy

1782

From An Essay on Comedy (1782). According to the Advertisement (p. ix) this essay had previously appeared in one of the newspapers. ‘Philo-Drama’ is identified as Thomas Davies (see head-note to No. 277). It was unfavourably reviewed by both the Monthly, lxvi (1782), pp. 308f., and the Critical, liv (1782), p. 239.

Walwyn (b. 1750) also published Chit-chat; or, The penance of polygamy (1781), which he reworked as a verse burletta with the title A Matrimonial Breakfast (1787); a novel, The errors of nature; or, The history of Charles Manley (3 vols, 1783), and two other musical pieces, The Water-Cross Girl (1780), and The ridiculous courtship (1784).

Comedy is the mirror of human nature, which reflects our follies, defects, vices, and virtues; so that we may laugh at the first, ridicule the second, satirize the third, and enforce the latter. Thus we find it is not merely a picture but a reflector of human life. If the expression may be allowed, it is a reflecting painting—in other words, a dramatic camera.* (1-2)

The comic scene has either been filled with the cant of sentiment, the filth of obscenity, the tattle of repartee, the froth of pun, the jargon of broken language, or affectation of wit. These illegitimates of genius have usurped the prerogative of Comedy’s natural offspring—design, character, humour, passion, and expression. Yet the latter is entirely banished; for when wits (or witlings, more properly) of the age find a strength of comic character beyond what they have powers either to feel or describe, they exclaim ‘This is a Tragedy!’ They forget, or, perhaps, never knew, the Roman Critic says, ‘Comedy sometimes raises her voice.’1 What is this, but saying that incident and character may

* Tragedy is a dramatic microscope that enlarges the virtues and vices of human nature, in order to make the greater impression on the heart and mind of the observers.

1 Horace, Ars Poetica, 93: ‘interdum tamen et vocem Comoedia tollit’.

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