English Literature » Notes » How does Johnson defend Shakespeare’s non observance of three unities?
William Shakespeare

How does Johnson defend Shakespeare’s non observance of three unities?

William Shakespeare, the greatest dramatist of the world is known for his superb plays. Though he wrote sonnets, poems but he is chiefly known for his 37 plays. But it is a matter of thinking that he does not follow the three classical unities. He mentions only the action in these plays. Though he violates the classical unities but his plays do not fail to get popularity or are not rejected by the readers. Dr. Johnson, a Neo-classical critic, argues that there is no fault in violating the unity of time and unity of place.

In terms of time and place, the law of the unities states that for a play to be credible, the events of the play should be limited to a particular place and time. Otherwise, the audience will have trouble suspending disbelief, which is to say the audience will have trouble forgetting that they are watching a play.

The truth is that the spectators are always in their senses, and know from the first act to the last that the stage is only a stage and that the players are only players.

Johnson also adds that the pleasure of watching theatre is that it is fictional, it is not necessary that they have to believe it what could happen:

The delight of tragedy proceeds from our consciousness of fiction; if we thought murders and treasons are real; they would please no more.

In case of the unity of time, the audience can easily pass into different ages as time is, of all modes of existence most obsequious to the imagination. In regard to place, the same argument is true. On the other hand, the violation of these hard and first rules of time and place affords the writer to create variety which is the source of all pleasure. The unity of time and place are not the soul of a good play.

Moreover, they may make some pleasure of a play. To represent nature and draw the life are the highest part of the play. So, according to Johnson, every good play should have the quality to make pleasure by composing nature of real life. For Johnson, there is something true and universal about Shakespeare’s appreciation of human nature and this is what makes him(his plays) timeless. Johnson notes that,

This therefore is the praise of Shakespeare, that his drama is the mirror of life.

In fine, it is Shakespeare’s ability to copy nature being believable or unbelievable that makes any of his plays so called and relevant.

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