Showing posts with label Dr. Samuel Johnson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dr. Samuel Johnson. Show all posts

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Johnson's theory of 'Anacronicism'

Anacronicism refers to the violation of chronology or the indifference to historical accuracy. Johnson considers this as one of the great fault of Shakespeare. Shakespeare is indifferent about the distinctions of time and place, and gives to one age on manners and opinions which pertain to another. In Shakespeare’s plays no distinction of time or place is observed but the customs, opinions and manners of one age or one country are freely attributed to another. As a result, the criteria of like hood and possibility have been shattered. For example, Shakespeare mingles classical legends with Gothic mythology in a Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Alexander Pope opines that this defect is to be attributed not to Shakespeare himself but to those who interpolated unnecessary details of their own into his plays. But Johnson does not agree this. However it must be confessed that he was not the only violate of chronology, Sidney, a contemporary writer who confounded in his Arcadia pastoral period with the Feudal Age, whereas the two ages were quite opposite to each other.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Samuel Johnson's Views of Shakespeare's use of Quibbles

Samuel Johnson in his “Preface to Shakespeare” talks of quibble to refer the reader to a particular (defect/attitude of Shakespeare) Shakespearean attitude in writing. A quibble is a sort of pun or a verbal trick that, to Johnson, holds some “malignant power” over one’s mind as it was o Shakespeare. Johnson says that Shakespeare did not spare a single quibble that would come to his way and he would even forget to pursue his own course of action in his drama no matter how profound and grave it is, if he found a quibble. In Johnson’s wording, “A quibble is to Shakespeare, what luminous vapors are to the traveler” and consequently it misleads the follower. It is the irresistible fascination of quibble that does not let Shakespeare’s attention be on his expected excellence and so the work grows dull or loses the usual ripeness. Comparing the force of quibble to the myth of golden apple and so the work grows dull or loses the usual ripeness. Comparing the force of quibble to the myth of golden apple and again to the beauty of “the fatal Cleopetra”. Johnson basically tried to anticipate the would be glory of Shakespeare that he lost only by picking up the quibble/ giving the quibble sufficient room I his writing.

Johnson's comments on the Violation of Shakespeare's Three Unities in his Dramas

The neo-classical critics raised the question of unites concerning the free dramatic expression of the Elizabethans, particularly Shakespeare. Since the critics of the age showed allegiance to the rules of the classical writers and critics like Sophocles, Euripides, Aristotle and Horace, they put their late writers in the classical mould of (of standard) writing. Whoever fitted nice, passed for valid and if otherwise invalid. Shakespeare with all his natural capabilities was brought to the scale of judgment. Here Johnson in his “Preface to Shakespeare” comes to defend him and shows the inanity of observing the unites of place and time but action.

Among the unites, Johnson found only the unity of action justified by reason since it is needed to present the plot as an inseparable whole. But he founds the grounds for the unites of time and place to be wholly misleading.

He first echoes the objection raiser, “The necessity of observing the unites of time and place arises from the supposed necessity of making the drama credible. The unities hold it impossible, that an action of months and years can be possibly believed to pass in three hours. Fiction loses its force when it departs from the resemblance of reality. From the narrow limitation of time necessarily arises the contraction of place. The spectator who knows that he saw the first act at Alexandra, can not suppose that he sees the next at Rome, at a distance to which not the dragons of Medea could, in so short a time, have transported him. He knows with certainty that he has not changed his place, and he knows hat place cannot change itself.”

To this Johnson answers very tactfully. Johnson says there should not be any consideration for the clock while the mind is “Wandering in ecstasy “ and an hour can happily be allowed to pervade a century. And the unities of time and place come to notice when the spectator enter with sense not imagination. And Johnson rightly says, “Time is of all modes of existence, most obsequious to the imagination.”

As for Shakespeare’s free style writing, Johnson comments that it is not possible to decide and useless to inquire, if he rejected it by design or deviated from them by happy ignorance. What he said of Shakespeare is conjectural and Shakespeare’s ignorance of the two unites: place and time was by chance but later he deliberately practiced it. He was probably indifferent to counsels and admonitions of scholars and critics. But Shakespeare to Johnson was very much strict to the unity of action and other two had either been unknown by him or not observed. “Such violations” according to Johnson “of rules merely positive, become the comprehensive genius of Shakespeare.”

Thursday, February 4, 2010

In Preface to Shakespeare, how does Dr. Samuel Johnson Defend Shakespeare's Mixing of Comic and Tragic Elements?

Johnson in the Preface to Shakespeare holds that the mingled dramas of Shakespeare are not only effective but also fulfill the proper function of drama much better than pure comedy or tragedy. Shakespeare, in Arnold’s view, incurred the biggest censure “by mixing comic and tragic scenes in all his works. And this very faculty of Shakespeare made him-
“Even nobler than both the Greek and the Roman dramatists”

Referring to the charge that Shakespeare has mixed the comic and tragic scenes, Johnson points out that the Shakespeare’s play are not in a “rigorous sense,” either tragedies or comedies, but composition of a distinct kind. Shakespeare’s plays exhibit the real state of earthly life which partakes of good and evil, joy and sorrow, mingled in various degrees and endless combination. Shakespeare says Johnson has united the power of exciting laughter and sorrow not only in one mind but in one composition. In other words, Shakespeare was equally at home in writing tragic and comic plays and he could combine comic and tragic elements in one and the same play. Almost all his plays are divided between serious and Ludicrous characters and they sometimes produce sorrow and sometimes laughter.

This was a practice contrary to “the rules of criticism”. But Johnson says that there is always an appeal open from criticism to nature. The object of literature is to give instruction by pleasing. A play in which the comic and the tragic have been mingled, is capable of conveying all the instructions that tragedy or comedy aims at because such a play is closer to the reality of life than either pure tragedy or comedy. The mingling of tragic and comic scenes does diminish or weaken the vicissitudes of passion that the dramatist aims at. There are many people who welcome comic relief after a scene producing the feeling of melancholy.

Now we should look at the historical background of the matter. It is true that, on the whole, the ancient classical dramatists had kept tragedy and comedy strictly apart from each other. Neo-classical drama of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Italy, France and even England tried to observe the line of demarcation between tragedy and comedy. But Shakespeare was a romantic, not a neo classical dramatist. The free use of tragedy and comedy in the same play is one of the most striking and familiar features in the work of Shakespeare and other romantic playwrights of his time. Romantic drama reveals in variety of effect, while tragic comedy or the mixed play was, according to Addison, one of the most monstrous inventions that ever entered into a poets thoughts.

Neo-classic criticism showed a curious tendency to out Greek the Greeks in strictness. Aristotle indeed says that tragedy represents an action which is serious: and Greek tragedy in practice has little comic relief; yet it has some. We find some comic elements in Homer himself. Homer’s gods are sometimes used for a comic purpose, as well as men like Thersites or Irus. For the middle Ages, the mixture of tragic and comic was as natural as breathing, and it produced their best dramatic work. The greatest Elizabethan tragedies were half the child of comedy, not only because Polonius in Hamlet, the Porter in Macbeth, and the fool in Lear produce some of their most striking scenes. Johnson, it must be pointed out, justifies tragic-comedy on conflicting grounds.

In the twentieth century, T.S.Eliot has argued that, though human nature may permanently crave for comic relief, it does not follow that this craving should e gratified. Eliot upholds the doctrine of ‘the unity of sentiments,’ T. S. Eliot also said that the desire for comic relief springs from a lack of the capacity for concentration.

There is no reason why a tragedy must be absolutely laughter less and there is equally no reason why a tragedy should not be laughter less. Perhaps only one rule remains valid about humor in tragedy, namely that humor must not clash with the tone of the whole. It is extraordinary how seldom this fault is found in Shakespeare. Mercutio and Thersites, Pandarus and Polonius, the Grave diggers and the Porter and Cleopatra’s clown are certainly not out of place in the plays in which Shakespeare had depicted them.

Johnson is undoubtedly a critic of neo-classical school. However in his defence both of Shakespeare’s disregard of the unities of time and place and Shakespeare’s mingling of tragic ad comic elements. Johnson seems to deviate from the rigid stand which neo-classicism adopted. Strictly speaking, neo-classic theory did not permit the mingling of tragic and comic in the same play. But it is possible to argue that Johnson defends such mingling on the fundamentally neo-classic ground that the imitation of general human nature not only permits but demands it. Shakespeare’s plays, combining comedy and tragedy, show real human nature which “partakes of joy and sorrow.”

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Dr. Samuel Johnson's Evaluation Shakespeare in 'Preface to Shakespeare': Shakespeare as the Poet of Nature

“Shakespeare is above all writers, at least above all modern writers, and the poet of nature, the poet that holds up his readers a faithful mirror of manners and of life.”
“Preface to Shakespeare” Para 8

One of Dr. Samuel Johnson’s most notable services to Shakespearean criticism is that he exposes the central style of Shakespeare’s plays as its universality. He passes the judgment that Shakespeare is a “poet of nature” meaning that through his works he reflects life-the real life and manners.

Shakespeare is a poet of nature who faithfully represents human nature in his plays. He does not falsify reality. Shakespeare is a poet of nature also because his characters are natural; they act and behave think and speak like human beings. His characters are the faithful representations of humanity. He deals with passions and principles which are common to humanity. He does not merely depict the particular manner and customs of any one country or age. His characters are not merely kings and Romans. They are above all human beings. So, his characters have a universal appeal. But this does not mean that they do no have any individual qualities. The speech of one character can not be placed in the mouth of another, and they can easily be differentiated from each other by their speeches. The dialogue he uses “seems to have been gleamed by different selection of common conversation and common occurrences.” They are also true to the age, sex or profession to which they belong. They are also true to type.

In Shakespeare’s characterization we find a realistic and convincing portrayal of human nature. Shakespeare does not depict persons of either fabulous excellence or unexampled depravity. The characters in his plays are not heroes but only human beings who act and think in the way in which the reader himself would act and think under the circumstances. Even where the agency is supernatural, the dialogue accords with real life. In his plays Shakespeare has shown human nature not only as it acts in real solutions but as it would be found in situation which may never arise.

Shakespeare is most original in his portrayal of characters. Johnson says that no writer before him, with the possible exception of Chaucer, has portrayed human character in such a realistic manner. Shakespeare has gathered his knowledge of human nature from this personal observation. This knowledge has enabled him to portray a multiplicity and diversity of character and to reveal subtle distinctions between man and man. In this respect, he has none to intimate, though he himself has been imitated by all writers. Whether life or nature is his subject, he gives evidence of having seen things with his own eyes.

It is because of the universality of his characterization that Shakespeare’s plays are full of practical axioms and domestic wisdom. From them can be formulated a philosophy of life, of great practical value in real life. He is not great only in particular passages but the entire conduct of his action brings out his greatness as a poet of (human) nature.
Shakespeare’s realism, says Johnson is to be seen also in the fact that he does no give undue prominence to the passion of love in his plays. Dramatists in general give an excessive importance to the theme of love and often violate probability and misrepresent life. Shakespeare knows that- “Love is only one of many passions,” and that it has no great influence upon the sum of life.

Johnson defends Shakespeare for his mingling of the tragic and comic elements in his plays on the ground of realism. Such mingling only serves to show us the course of the world in which “the loss of one is the gain of another, at the same time” “the reveler hastening to his wine and the mourner burying his friend.”

Nor does Johnson disapprove of Shakespeare’s violation of the unities of place and time. He defends Shakespeare o the ground of dramatic illusion. Literature is to be appreciated not by the literal sense but by the imagination. The audience’s imagination is kept very active when he watches a play. The audience knows that he is going to watch a fictitious reality. If an audience in a theatre can accept the stage as a locality in the city of Rome, he will also accept the change from Rome to Alexandria. The unity of time may like wise be violated on the same principle.

Shakespeare, says Johnson, is the originator of “the form, the character, the language and the shows” of English drama. He is the first playwright whose tragic as well as the comic plays succeed in providing the dramatic pleasure appropriate to them.

Thus Johnson shows his penetrating power which probes to the very core of Shakespeare’s wit and reveals its deep humanity and its sovereign realism.

Dr. Samuel Johnson's Evaluation of Shakespeare’s art of Characterization in his 'Preface to Shakespeare'

His persons act and speak by the influence of those general passions and principles by which all minds are agitated and the whole system of life is continued in motion. 

(Preface to Shakespeare)Para 8

Dr. Samuel Johnson in his Preface to Shakespeare highly praises Shakespeare’s art of characterization. Shakespeare’s characters, he argues, do not belong to the society of a particular place or time; they are universal whereas in the works of other writers a character is often an individual. Shakespeare’s characters are progeny of common humanity such as will always remain I this world and whom our eyes will continue to meet.

But though Shakespeare’s characters are universally delineated, says Johnson, it is easy to distinguish one from another. Most of the speeches are so apt that they cannot be transplanted from the character to which Shakespeare has given it. His characters are not exaggerated. He does not give us purely virtuous or utterly depraved characters. We may even say that he has no heroes in his plays; on the contrary, it is common humanity that he depicts. Even when the plot calls for a supernatural agent, the tone of the dialogues of various characters remains life-like and realistic. Shakespeare “approximates the remote and familiarities the wonderful.” He presents human nature not merely as it reacts to the common situations of life but also as it may act in extraordinary situations.

Another reason for which Johnson appreciates Shakespeare’s art of characterization is that his characters sometimes cause seriousness and sorrow and sometimes levity and laughter. The critic argues that life is an ebb and flow of sorrow and happiness; good and ill. Hence a portal of life should consist of both.

Shakespeare’s portrayal of characters has invited censure from some critics. Dennis and Rymer complain that his Romans are no sufficiently Roman. Voltaire’s protest is that his kings are not kings in the strict sense, that one of them – Claudius in Hamlet- is depicted as a drunk. In reality, argues Johnson, Shakespeare assigns nature a prominent role. His story or plot may demand Romans or Kings, but what he shows is the human nature in them. Romans and kings are essentially human beings- what befalls all human may befall them too.

Johnson’s appreciation of Shakespeare’s portrayal of characters is quite appropriate. The critic finds that no writer before Shakespeare, with the possible exception of Chaucer, has delineated human character in so realistic a manner. Johnson also shows that no knowledge of psychology had been there to help Shakespeare with theoretical hints for his character portrayal and that he acquired his knowledge of human nature from his personal observation.

Yet none of his characters is branded as second rate. His characters are full of principles and axioms, true for all time.

How does Dr. Johnson defend Shakespeare against the charges of violating the Dramatic Unities?

In the discussion of drama in “Poetics” Aristotle mentions the three unities as the three formal requirements of a play. These are the unities of time, place and action. The unity of time demands that the action should take place within a day. The unity of place demands that the action should take place within one building or city. The unity of action implies that these be a single plot of limited extent.

The unites of time, place and action were considered essential by Renaissance critics. Many dramatists such as Shakespeare paid little attention to the unities of time and place. In his “Preface to Shakespeare” Johnson shows that only unity of action has the critical justification.

In drama neo-classicism is marked by devotion to the “rules” derived from ancient practice and Aristotelian precept. Johnson questions the absolute validity of these rules.

As regards the unity of action, Aristotle says that the plot being an imitation of an action must imitate one action. Then he says that the drama is a whole. The structural union of its parts is such that, if any one of them is displaced as removed, the whole will be disjointed and disturbed. Johnson accepts only the unity of action, among the three unities because the unity of action ensures an effect of compactness and intensity. It helps getting to the centre of things in a play.

Conventions are techniques that are accepted by common agreement. The unities are dramatic conventions. They are necessary but excessive dependence on them makes a play conventional. Johnson shows that Shakespeare, being a great playwright avoids conventionally by avoiding the unities of time and place.
The classicism of the later 17th and 18th centuries was supported by rationalism. This rationalism in the end undercut the authoritarian element in classicism. Johnson in questioning the use of three unities proves himself an exponent of rationalism. He places stresses on being reasonable. Here Johnson might be considered as a reasonable classicist. In his literary criticism he makes constant to firm literary conventional to a general knowledge of life literature. There is always an appeal open from criticism to nature. Some of his ideas may be rigid.

Johnson demands that during the enactment of a play a spectator remains “in a state of elevation above the reach of reason or of truth.” So, Johnson can firmly proclaim that the mind of a spectator wanders in ecstasy while a theatre is being enacted in front of him. But, the spectators always remain in their senses and never forget that the stage is only a stage, and that the players are only players who are upon the stage to recite a certain number of lines with just gesture and elegant modulation. These lines relate to some actions which may happen in places very remote from each other. And there is no absurdity of allowing that space to represent first Athens, and then Sicily; as all spectators know it to be a modern theatre in actuality. Johnson thus expunges the Aristotelian concept of Unity of Place in dramatic poetry.

Then to comment upon the Unity of Time, Johnson claims that by supposition a place is introduced. Time is all of modes of existence, most obedient to the imaginations. In Johnson’s view the audience does not find it in the least offensive or absurd if the action of the play is located in the first hour at Alexanderia and the next at Rome. A lapse of year may easily be conceived of as a passage of hours. Similarly the audience can accept the change of locations on the stage. On imagination the audience can easily contract the time of real actions and also allow the shifts of settings on the stage.

Thus the unites of time and place are not necessary for creating theatrical illusion. Shakespeare didn’t want the counsels and admonitions of scholars and critics and never bothered the unities of time and place.

Johnson believes that ‘nothing is essential to the fable but unity of action.’ Shakespeare is a supreme by gifted artist. His gifts are intuition and imagination. These help him in maintaining the unity of action. And the unity of action ensure in Shakespeare the arrangements of events by which the initial situation is modified and developed until the final situation is brought out.

The consistency is always maintained. This consistency and continuity of action make his plays plausible and creates successful moment of theatrical illusion.