The rules Dr. Johnson followed, and by rules he judged, but the authority for those rules was derived, not from Aristotle, but from the deepest knowledge of the human heart. He was not interested in nature, but in, “life and manner” and what takes place in the mind and hearts of man nova was to him of paramount interest.
He criticizes Paradise Lost, for it lacks in human interest. As he pointed out, its plan comprises neither human actions nor human manners. Orthodox critics would have us believe that in interweaving comedy and tragedy, Shakespeare committed the most unpardonable offences.
But Dr. Johnson parses him for this inter-mixture, for, “Is not this mixed art, after all, in keeping with the varied character of all experience, and with the actual law of attention”. Johnson had greatness enough to realize that such dramatic relief is restful and according to the need of human consciousness.
The rule of the three unities is examined by him in the light of experience. The unity of action alone is justified by him; those of time and place are found to be the results of an abstract and mistaken notion of theatrical illusion. Indeed, in his treatment of the dramatic unities, Johnson almost ceases to be a classic and goes over to the opposite camp, the camp of the romantics.