Why does Johnson act as a Romantic critic in the preface to his edition of Shakespeare's plays?As a Neoclassicist why does he sound more like a Romantic in his preface?

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stefaniecpeters eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dr. Johnson's preface to his edition of Shakespeare's plays marked an important turning point between Neoclassical and Romantic criticism. He was the first to argue that Shakespeare should not be judged in his adherance to the classical unities of time, place, and action. Previously, Ben Jonson's plays had sometimes had a higher reputation than Shakespeare's because they obeyed these unities, which derive from Aristotle's Poetics. Johnson argued that dramas were never mistaken for reality, ie. the audience never forget they are in a theater, and so Shakespeare ought to be judged differently. He suggested that Shakespeare should be understood in relation to the age he lived in and compared to his contemporary writers. It is probable that Johnson exempted Shakespeare from adherence to the unities partly because of his own deep love for Shakespeare's plays.