Essay on Samuel Johnson's "Preface to Shakespeare"

Essay on Samuel Johnson's "Preface to Shakespeare"

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We cannot say that a writer is great just because his writings are great and have stood the test of time. In other words a writer cannot be termed great only because of his antiquity. Dr. Samuel Johnson says in his "Preface to Shakespeare" that a work of literature is great only when it is worth reading. When it lacks excellence, it will be rejected. A work of literature lives only when it has some value. Its value changes from time to time and from age to age. In spite of this changing attitude of the readers towards a literary work, the work must contain some absolute standards if it has to stand the test of time. In the light of the above, we can Asses the value of a literary composition from the way it appeals to the readers of a particulate time and to the readers of all times.

Therefore the respect for a writer of ancient times depends upon the fact that his works are worth reading even in the present time. In this aspect Dr. |Johnson says that Shakespeare is a great and ancient writer because his greatness has stood the test of time. In his time, Shakespeare appealed to his readers and his audience and so he had a contemporary appeal. Besides, his works have some universal qualities, which made his immortal.

As centuries passed by, the critics began to look at the qualities of Shakespeare examines the special excellence of Shakespeare which preserved his for us as the greatest writer of all time.

If a work of art is to please and satisfy all men for all time, it should deal with the general human nature, common to the whole of humanity. According to Dr. Johnson, Shakespeare's greatness lies in his style of representation of the general human nature. His characters are neither type of certain qualities n...


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...thout the necessary vivacity and brevity. His speeches are artificial declamations lacking lively emotions.

Another great fault of Shakespeare's is that he is too much fond of puns, play on words, verbal arguments and other devices, which can be witty rather than humorous. He resorts to this usage of pun even in his serious scenes. He does not mind spoiling the total effect just for bringing a pun. Dr.Johnson says "A quibble was to him to fatal Cleopatra for which he lost the world."

In this way Dr.Johnson's assessment of Shakespeare is impartial and disinterested. Though Dr.Johnson is a critic belonging to a classical tradition, he defended Shakespeare's violations of three unities. He did not hesitate to justify the mixing of the tragic and comic scenes in Shakespeare's plays. Johnson as a critic vies in his greatness with Shakespeare as a dramatist

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