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No. 141 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

The Gentleman who writ this Play, and has drawn some Characters in it very justly, appears to have been misled in his Witchcraft by an unwary following the inimitable Shakespear. The Incantations in Mackbeth have a Solemnity admirably adapted to the Occasion of that Tragedy, and fill the Mind with a suitable Horror; besides, that the Witches are a Part of the Story it self, as we find it very particularly related in Hector Boetius, from whom he seems to have taken it. This therefore is a proper Machine where the Business is dark, horrid, and bloody; but is extremely foreign from the Affair of Comedy. Subjects of this kind, which are in themselves disagreeable, can at no time become entertaining, but by passing through an Imagination like Shakespear’s to form them; for which Reason Mr. Dryden would not allow even Beaumont and Fletcher capable of imitating him.

But Shakespear’s Magick cou’d not copy’d be,
Within that Circle none durst walk but He. [3]

I should not, however, have troubled you with these Remarks, if there were not something else in this Comedy, which wants to be exorcised more than the Witches. I mean the Freedom of some Passages, which I should have overlook’d, if I had not observed that those Jests can raise the loudest Mirth, though they are painful to right Sense, and an Outrage upon Modesty.

We must attribute such Liberties to the Taste of that Age, but indeed by such Representations a Poet sacrifices the best Part of his Audience to the worst; and, as one would think, neglects the Boxes, to write to the Orange-Wenches.

I must not conclude till I have taken notice of the Moral with which this Comedy ends. The two young Ladies having given a notable Example of outwitting those who had a Right in the Disposal of them, and marrying without Consent of Parents, one of the injur’d Parties, who is easily reconciled, winds up all with this Remark,

… Design whate’er we will,
There is a Fate which over-rules us still.

We are to suppose that the Gallants are Men of Merit, but if they had been Rakes the Excuse might have serv’d as well. Hans Carvel’s Wife [4] was of the same Principle, but has express’d it with a Delicacy which shews she is not serious in her Excuse, but in a sort of humorous Philosophy turns off the Thought of her Guilt, and says,

That if weak Women go astray,
Their Stars are more in fault than they.

This, no doubt, is a full Reparation, and dismisses the Audience with very edifying Impressions.

These things fall under a Province you have partly pursued already, and therefore demand your Animadversion, for the regulating so Noble an Entertainment as that of the Stage. It were to be wished, that all who write for it hereafter would raise their Genius, by the Ambition of pleasing People of the best Understanding; and leave others who shew nothing of the Human Species but Risibility, to seek their Diversion at the Bear-Garden, or some other Privileg’d Place, where Reason and Good-manners have no Right to disturb them.’

August 8, 1711.

I am, etc.


[Footnote 1: This letter is by John Hughes.]

[Footnote 2: Shadwell’s Play of the ‘Lancashire Witches’ was in the bill of the Theatre advertised at the end of this number of the ‘Spectator’.

‘By her Majesty’s Company of Comedians.

At the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, on Tuesday next, being the 14th Day of August, will be presented, A comedy call’d the Lancashire Witches, Written by the Ingenious Mr. Shadwell, late Poet Laureat. Carefully Revis’d. With all the Original Decorations of Scenes, Witche’s Songs and Dances, proper to the Dramma. The Principal Parts to be perform’d by Mr. Mills, Mr. Booth, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Bullock, Sen., Mr. Norris, Mr. Pack, Mr. Bullock, Jun., Mrs. Elrington, Mrs. Powel, Mrs. Bradshaw, Mrs. Cox. And the Witches by Mr. Burkhead, Mr. Ryan, Mrs. Mills, and Mrs. Willis. It being the last time of Acting in this Season.’]

[Footnote 3: Prologue to Davenant and Dryden’s version of the ‘Tempest’.]

[Footnote 4: In Prior’s Poem of ‘Hans Carvel’.]