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Dr. Samuel Johnson was a Neo-Classical critic because he wrote in 18th

century. He was a critic in Neo-Classical age that is from 1700 to 1800. This age is also
called the age of Salive. Dr. Johnson was born on 18 September, 1709. He belongs to a
poor family, he was the only child of his parents and his father was a book seller. He was
cynic in temper because his health was not good enough since his childhood but his
memory was very impressive.

After getting his basic education he was attended Oxford University where
he was appreciated by every teacher but due to his financial circumstance he was unable
to continue at Oxford and his journey was ended after thirteen months. Used to spend
his most of time on gate due to improper uniform but on gate he used to listen talks of
other boys. Here on gate his skills of speaking was developed.

Samuel Johnson in his “Preface to Shakespeare” highlights several qualities

and defects in Shakespeare’s plays whether they are comedies or tragedies. He also
defend him with his strong views. In Johnson opinion Shakespeare greatness is above all
other writers. He is the poet of nature who holds up his reader to a true and faithful
mirror of life but he did not consider him a fault less dramatist. In his Preface he highlight
several merits and demerits of Shakespeare’s writings. However, while highlighting
qualities and defects of Shakespeare’s work, Johnson, sometimes contradicts his own

According to Johnson
“Nothing can please many and please long but just the representation of
general nature”
By nature he means that observation of reality. He says that Shakespeare had the ability
to provide a true picture of nature and life with his pen. Here he presents the idea of
universality. Dr. Johnson appreciate Shakespeare because he fulfill all the requirements
of a true life these things make him Shakespeare. He further says that Shakespeare as a
dramatist is praised because he does what is expected from a dramatist. Shakespeare
writings have a main theme of good and evil and there are the universal problems and
everyone agrees to these problems. All humanity faces good as well as evil.
On the other hand Dr. Johnson identifies that

‘‘He sacrifices virtue to convenience and is so much more careful to please then to instruct
that he seems to write without any moral purpose.’’

Moreover, he lacks poetic justice ‘‘he makes no just distribution of good or evil.’’

Here we cannot agree with Johnson. He himself called Shakespeare a ‘poet of nature’.
But now he cannot come out of the tradition of his age- explicit moralizing or didacticism.
Actually, Shakespeare gives us a picture of life as whatever he sees. Didacticism which is
expected from a true artist cannot be a basic condition of art. Thus here we see Johnson’s
dualism in evaluating Shakespeare. Furthermore he said that Shakespeare was not a
religious scholar and it was not his duty to preach people about morality. His duty was to
entertain the people.

Defective Plot
Next Johnson turns his attention towards the plots of Shakespeare’s plays.
His plots usually too loosely constructed and very carelessly pursued that it seems he
himself did not always apprehend his own design. He always opted for the easy situations
rejecting the grand exhibitions. We can see that Shakespeare has written plays involving
comedy as well as tragedy in many plays. People claim that, due to this, seriousness of
the play is lost due to comic part.

However, initially in preface Johnson praises Shakespeare for his

universality. He is not belong to anyone age place or time but then he himself contradicts
with himself and identify that it is a flaw of Shakespeare’s Style.

Moreover, he justified that Shakespeare was not qualified from any

university he just learnt from the life and his experiences that’s why his plot was not very
well knitted and constructed.
Shakespeare real performance is found in his tragic plays, the truth of
nature from which Johnson so much admires Shakespeare to be not seen in comedies
which contain highly improbable plots but in the tragedies we find a living life. In
Shakespeare tragic plays we find what a genius he was.
On the other hand he said that
In tragedy his performance seems constantly to be worse, as his labour is
more. The effusions of passion which exigence forces out are for the most part striking
and energetic; but whenever he solicits his invention, or strains his faculties, the offspring
of his theories is humor, meanness, tediousness, and obscurity.

By condemnation Shakespeare tragic play he himself contradicts the high praise that he
has given earlier.
Johnson says that it seems that Shakespeare have obtain his comic dialogue
from the common life not from the life of learned people. The familiar dialogues in
Shakespeare’s plays are smooth and clear yet not wholly without ruggedness or difficulty
and are understandable.
On the other hand he says that his characters speaks the same language
and they are all smart regardless of class. For example, in King Lear we have a king and
a fool. The fool is a clown whose role is to make the audience laugh. However, sometime
we find their language switch the king talks like a fool and the fool talks like a king.
Shakespeare language is not civilized kind also over punning. Sometimes it
seems that Shakespeare is involved in providing mere dialogue related to the plot. On
the other hand he says that Shakespeare language is comprehensible. He also says that
Shakespeare characters are differ from one to another because the use of language and
in living society both civilized and un civilized languages are used. Here he contradicts
Johnson also defends Shakespeare by arguing that some of the shortcoming
that we find in his plays is actually the faults of the age he lived in. Yet these faults in
Johnson’s views do not lessen Shakespeare’s greatness as a unique dramatic genius, his
universal appeal, his understanding and portrayal of human nature, his capacity and
ability to delight.