How does Johnson defend Shakespeare

Question: How does Johnson defend Shakespeare for mixing comic and tragic elements in drama?


Violation of rules for composing literary works is harshly censurable or blamable. William Shakespeare (1564-1616) did it in all his dramas by ‘mixing comic and tragic elements or scenes’. But when the stereotypical neo-classicists tried to ban Shakespeare because of this, Johnson (1709-1784) came forward to defend not only Shakespeare but also the creative prospects of English drama.

Function of drama

According to Dr. Johnson the purpose of any literary work to instruct through produce delighting elements in the literary work. The function of Shakespearian drama is different from the neoclassical patterns of drama. He has been designed his drama in his own way. Shakespeare has been functionated the drama from three perspectives such as tragedy comedy and tragi-comedy. This pattern of drama is considered the mingled drama. Johnson has uttered his arguments in favor of mingling tragedy and comedy because it is hidden meaning of life.

‘Exhibiting the real state of sublunary nature, which partakes of good and evil, joy and sorrow, mingled with endless variety of proportion”.

More Notes of Criticism

Justified arguments

Johnson asserts his views against the remarks which is raised by the neo classical critics. In the literary piece on criticism “Preface to Shakespeare’ he defends the remarks of Shakespeare’s excellence of mixing coming elements in case of drama. Johnson commented on the neo-classical remakes and said Shakespeare’s plays were defective not real or strictest sense either his comedies or tragedies but composition of a distinct kind. Johnson probes into the validity of this arguments and proves into the validity are baseless.

Delight and diversity

Delight and diversity is a variety of great source of pleasure and mingled drama. We know that drama is the representation of life. According to Johnson Shakespeare has visualized the fact so he mingled comic elements in drama as the source of delight and is relevant even in our life. Johnson has defended other arguments on the subjects. Shakespeare used his subject matter in blending the comic elements. He proved that be successful in hitting his target in pleasing his audience. He also justifies the practice in the score that the audience differ in their tastes and if a play is a mingled product of tragedy and comedy, it may find more welcome from the majority of the spectators.

“The interchanges of mingled drama seldom fail to produce the intended vicissitudes of passion”

Rules and reality

Johnson clearly declare that Shakespeare has violated the law of criticism. But Johnson defends Shakespeare by saying such rules of criticism can not be the final or universal law of criticism applicable to the all literary work.

“The speculation that blending tragedy and comedy is impossible has been already challenged and hence proved baseless by Shakespeare’s practice itself”.


From the light of the above discussion, it can be said though Shakespeare incurred the greatest censure by mixing tragic and comic elements or scenes in all of his dramas, this very faculty has made him universally popular and even nobler than the Greek or Roman playwrights. So, Jonson entirely comes out successful in justifying Shakespeare’s mixing of tragedy and comedy.

SR Sarker
SR Sarker
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