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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 1982
  • Online publication date: March 2007

The Emergence of Character Criticism, 1774–1800


An interest in Shakespeare’s characters is as old as an interest in Shakespeare himself. Among the earliest allusions to his plays in the early seventeenth century we find tributes to the drawing-power of Falstaff, or Hamlet, or Malvolio, and among the earliest pieces of formal literary criticism are praises for his skill in creating characters: in general terms by Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle in 1662 (vol. 1, pp. 42 ff.), and more specifically by Dryden in his accounts of Falstaff (vol. 1, pp. 139 ff., 257 ff.) and Caliban (p. 260). Commentary on the characters continued as part of the discussion of a play under the traditional neoclassical categories of action, plot, characters, manners, instruction, diction and so on: we find discussions of varying lengths and subtlety by Rymer, Dennis, Rowe, Gildon, Steele, John Hughes, Lewis Theobald, Warburton, George Stubbes, Joseph Warton, Upton, Kames, and of course Dr Johnson. Such criticism is to be found in the footnotes to editions, in periodical and other essays, all of which give a complete account of the plays.