"Panting Time Toiled After Him In Vain"
Context: David Garrick, the famous English actor, began his long career as manager of Drury Lane Theatre with a revival of The Merchant of Venice on September 15, 1747, and asked his close friend Samuel Johnson to write the prologue. Johnson uses the occasion to castigate the public for its poor taste, as evidenced by the kinds of plays recently written, and deplores the deterioration of the stage since the days of Shakespeare and Ben Jonson. Playwrights, catering to the taste of the time, have permitted intrigue and obscenity to replace sound plot and true wit in their dramas, and have lost sight of the true function of tragedy–to improve mankind. Johnson hopes, however, that Garrick's production of The Merchant of Venice may mark the beginning of a new era in the drama when truth will again, as it did in Shakespeare's day, "diffuse her radiance from the stage." The prologue opens with Johnson's praise of Shakespeare:
When Learning's Triumph o'er her barb'rous FoesFirst rear'd the Stage, immortal Shakespear rose;Each Change of many-colour'd Life he drew,Exhausted Worlds, and then imagin'd new:Existence saw him spurn her bounded Reign,And panting Time toil'd after him in vain:His pow'rful Strokes presiding Truth impress'd,And unresisted Passion storm'd the Breast.