Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Samuel Johnson’s preface to The Plays of William Shakespeare has long been considered a classic document of English literary criticism. In it Johnson sets forth his editorial principles and gives an appreciative analysis of the “excellences” and “defects” of the work of the great Elizabethan dramatist. Many of his points have become fundamental tenets of modern criticism; others give greater insight into Johnson’s prejudices than into Shakespeare’s genius. The resonant prose of the preface adds authority to the views of its author.
Perhaps no other document exhibits the character of eighteenth century literary criticism better than what is commonly known as Johnson’s Preface to Shakespeare. Written after Johnson had spent nine years laboring to produce an edition of Shakespeare’s plays, the Preface to Shakespeare is characterized by sweeping generalizations about the dramatist’s work and by stunning pronouncements about its merits, judgments that elevated Shakespeare to the top spot among European writers of any century. At times, Johnson displays the tendency of his contemporaries to fault Shakespeare for his propensity for wordplay and for ignoring the demands for poetic justice in his plays; readers of subsequent generations have found these criticisms to reflect the inadequacies of the critic more than they do those of the dramatist. What sets Johnson’s work apart from that of his contemporaries,...
(The entire section is 1836 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Preface to Shakespeare Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!