Preface to Shakespeare Questions and Answers
by Samuel Johnson

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What is the theory of three unities? How does Shakespeare violate the three unites and how does Johnson defend him?

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Samuel Johnson's "Preface" to The Plays of William Shakespeare appears in the first volume of the eight-volume edition of Shakespeare's plays edited by Johnson and George Steevens and published in London in 1765. A separate, stand-alone edition of Mr. Johnson's Preface to His Edition of Shakespeare's Plays was also published in 1765.

In the preface, Johnson extolls Shakespeare's merits as a playwright, discusses the twelve faults that he finds in Shakespeare's plays—including Shakespeare's failure to conform to the concept of the "three unities" of action, time, and place—and expresses his own opinion about the "three unities."

The "three unities" arise from Aristotle's discussion of ancient Greek tragedy in his Poetics, written around 335 BCE. Poetics is based on his analysis of the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and other playwrights, all of whom wrote their plays a hundred years or more before Aristotle wrote Poetics. Sophocles's Oedipus Rex , for example, which Aristotle considers a...

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