JOHNSON ON SHAKESPEARE’S MERITS

JOHNSON ON SHAKESPEARE’S MERITS

Johnson Wood Krutch : If, as may certainly be maintained, the final test of a critic is willingness and ability to recognize excellence even when he cannot account for it, to be able to put loyalty to greatness before loyalty to his own theories, then Johnson passes that test with flying colours like all critics of his century — perhaps like all critics of our own — he did not always know why the good was good or the bad was bad; but in the case of Shakespeare, at least, he not only seldom failed to acknowledge what was good but also seldom failed to realize just how good it was. No doubt it was because he thus recognized that a poet can be understood only if we open our minds to receive his impact, that he gave in the Preface that excellent advice which ought to be surprising to those to whom “Johnson’ and ‘pedant” seem equivalent terms. Notes are often necessary, but they are necessary evils. Let him that is yet unacquainted with the powers of Shakespeare, and who desires to feel the highest pleasure that drama can give, read every play from the first to the last, with utter negligence of all his commentators. When his fancy is once on the wing, let it not stoop at correction or explanation. When his attention is strongly engaged, let it disdain alike to turn aside to the name of Theobald and of Pope. Let him read on through brightness and obscurity, through integrity and corruption,; let him preserve his comprehension of the dialogue and his interest in the fable. And when the pleasures of novelty have ceased, let him attempt exactness, and read the commentators.

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