How does Johnson defend Shakespeare's mixing of tragic and comic elements?

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scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Samuel Johnson's Preface to Shakespeare is a monumental work in the world of literary criticism, and his explanation for Shakespeare's tendency to include tragedy in his comedies and comedy in his tragedies demonstrates that Johnson understood and admired the bard's ability to depict human nature in a realistic fashion.  Johnson wrote that human nature

“partakes of good and evil, joy and sorrow, mingled with endless variety of proportion and innumerable modes of combination.”

Thus, Shakespeare's inclusion of comedic relief in his tragedies or tragic figures (Shylock in Merchant of Venice) is simply the playwright's accurate portrayal of life's true nature--it is a blend of hardship and happiness, which often exists in one's life at the same time.

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