William Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage - Vol. 6

By Brian Vickers | Go to book overview

287.

Henry Mackenzie, on Falstaff

1786

From the Lounger, Edinburgh, nos 68 (20 May 1786) and 69 (27 May). Mackenzie conducted this periodical from 5 February 1785 to 6 January 1787.

On Mackenzie see the head-note to No. 264, and H.W. Drescher, Themen und Formen des periodischen Essays im späten 18. Jahrhundert (Frankfurt, 1971).

[The reader of poetry needs imagination.]

If in the perusal of any poet this is required, Shakespeare of all poets seems to claim it the most. Of all poets Shakespeare appears to have possessed a fancy the most prolific, an imagination the most luxuriantly fertile. In this particular he has been frequently compared to Homer, though those who have drawn the parallel have done it, I know not why, with a sort of distrust of their assertion. Did we not look at the Greek with that reverential awe which his antiquity impresses, I think we might venture to affirm that in this respect the other is more than his equal. In invention of incident, in diversity of character, in assemblage of images we can scarcely indeed conceive Homer to be surpassed; but in the mere creation of fancy I can discover nothing in the Iliad that equals the Tempest or the Macbeth of Shakespeare. The machinery of Homer is indeed stupendous, but of that machinery the materials were known; or though it should be allowed that he added something to the mythology he found, yet still the language and the manners of his deities are merely the language and the manners of men. Of Shakespeare the machinery may be said to be produced as well as combined by himself. Some of the beings of whom it is composed neither tradition nor romance afforded him; and of those whom he borrowed thence he invented the language and the manners; language and manners peculiar to themselves, for which he could draw no analogy from mankind. Though formed by fancy,

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