Samuel Johnson’s Literary Criticism in the Light of Preface to Shakespeare


  • Yue Wu
    College of Foreign Languages, Southwest University, Chongqing, China
November 26, 2022


Preface to Shakespeare has long been considered a classic document of English literary criticism. In it, Johnson sets forth his editorial principles and provides an appreciative analysis of the merits and defects of the work of the great Elizabethan dramatist—Shakespeare. The present paper mainly discusses Johnson’s literary theories proposed in Preface to Shakespeare which can be concluded as follows: First, Johnson’s famous theory of “general nature,” in which he emphasizes the importance of the universality of literary works. Second, the importance of morality and didacticism in literature. Third, Johnson’s opposition to confirming “three unities” dogmatically, especially the unity of time and the unity of place. Except for the discussion of Johnson’s theories, the present paper also summarizes the features and the limitations of Johnson’s criticism. Through the analysis of Johnson’s views on literature in Preface to Shakespeare, the present paper provides a general overview of Samuel Johnson’s literary criticism.