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It is no wonder therefore that in all the polite nations of the world, this part of the drama has met with public encourage ment.
The modern tragedy excels that of Greece and Rome, in the intricacy and disposition of the fable; but what a Christian writer would be ashamed to own, falls infinitely short of it in the moral part of the performance.
of giving the mind one of the most delight-the person who speaks after it begins a ful and most improving entertainments. A new verse, without filling up the precedvirtuous man (says Seneca) struggling with ing one: nor with abrupt pauses and breakmisfortunes, is such a spectacle as gods ings off in the middle of a verse, when might look upon with pleasure; and such they humour any passion that is expressed a pleasure it is which one meets with in the by it. representation of a well-written tragedy. Since I am upon this subject, I must Diversions of this kind wear out of our observe that our English poets have sucthoughts every thing that is mean and lit-ceeded much better in the style, than in tle. They cherish and cultivate that hu- the sentiments of their tragedies. Their manity which is the ornament of our na- language is very often noble and sonorous, ture. They soften insolence, sooth afflic- but the sense either very trifling, or very tion, and subdue the mind to the dispensa- common. On the contrary, in the ancient tions of Providence. tragedies, and indeed in those of Corneille and Racine, though the expressions are very great, it is the thought that bears them up and swells them. For my own part, I prefer a noble sentiment that is depressed with homely language, infinitely before a vulgar one that is blown up with all the sound and energy of expression. Whether this defect in our tragedies may arise from want of genius, knowledge, or experience in the writers, or from their compliance with the vicious taste of their readers, who are better judges of the language than of the sentiments, and consequently relish the one more than the other, I cannot determine. But I believe it might rectify the conduct both of the one and of the other, if the writer laid down the whole contexture of his dialogue in plain English, before he turned it into blank verse; and if the reader, after the perusal of a scene, would consider the naked thought of every speech in it, when divested of all its tragic ornaments. By this means, without being imposed upon by words, we may judge impartially of the thought, and consider whether it be natural or great enough for the person that utters it, whether it deserves to shine in such a blaze of eloquence, or show itself in such a variety of lights as are generally made use of by the writers of our English tragedy.
This I may show more at large hereafter: and in the mean time, that I may contribute something towards the improvement of the English tragedy, I shall take notice, in this and in other following papers, of some particular parts in it that seem liable to exception.
Aristotle observes, that the Iambic verse in the Greek tongue was the most proper for tragedy: because at the same time that it lifted up the discourse from prose, it was that which approached nearer to it than any other kind of verse. For,' says he, we may observe that men in ordinary discourse very often speak iambics, without taking notice of it.' We may make the same observation of our English blank verse, which often enters into our common discourse, though we do not attend to it, and is such a due medium between rhyme and prose, that it seems wonderfully adapted to tragedy. I am therefore very much I must in the next place observe, that offended when I see a play in rhyme; which when our thoughts are great and just, they is as absurd in English, as a tragedy of hex- are often obscured by the sounding phrases, ameters would have been in Greek or hard metaphors, and forced expressions in Latin. The solecism is, I think, still great-which they are clothed. Shakspeare is often er in those plays that have some scenes in rhyme and some in blank verse, which are to be looked upon as two several languages; or where we see some particular similes dignified with rhyme at the same time that every thing about them lies in blank verse. I would not however debar the poet from concluding his tragedy, or, if he pleases, every act of it, with two or three couplets, which may have the same effect as an air in the Italian opera after a long recitativo, and give the actor a graceful exit. Besides that, we see a diversity of numbers in some parts of the old tragedy, in order to hinder the ear from being tired with the same continued modulation of the voice. For the same reason I do not dislike the speeches in our English tragedy that close with an hemistich, or half verse, notwithstanding
very faulty in this particular. There is a
'Et tragicus plerumque dolet sermone pedestri:
Yet lest you think I rally more than teach,
THE English writers of tragedy are pos
Among our modern English poets, there is none who has a better turn for tragedy than Lee; if instead of favouring the impetuosity of his genius he had restrained it, and kept it within its proper bounds. His thoughts are wonderfully suited to tragedy, but frequently lost in such a cloud of words, that it is hard to see the beauty of them. There is an infinite fire in his works, but so in-sessed with a notion, that when they revolved in smoke that it does not appear in half its lustre. He frequently succeeds in the passionate parts of the tragedy, but more particularly where he slackens his efforts, and eases the style of those epithets and metaphors, in which he so much abounds. What can be more natural, more soft, or more passionate, than that line in Statira's speech where she describes the charms of Alexander's conversation?
present a virtuous or innocent person in distress, they ought not to leave him till they have delivered him out of his troubles, or made him triumph over his enemies. This error they have been led into by that they are obliged to an equal distribution of rewards and punishments, and an impartial execution of poetical justice.
a ridiculous doctrine in modern criticism,
Who were the first that established this rule I know not; but I am sure it has no "Then he would talk-Good gods! how he would talk!' foundation in nature, in reason, or in the That unexpected break in the line, and practice of the ancients. We find that turning the description of his manner of good and evil happen alike to all men on talking into admiration of it, is inexpressi- this side of the grave; and as the principal bly beautiful, and wonderfully suited to the design of tragedy is to raise commiserafond character of the person that speaks it. tion and terror in the minds of the auThere is a simplicity in the words, that dience, we shall defeat this great end, if outshines the utmost pride of expression. we always make virtue and innocence hapOtway has followed nature in the lan-py and successful. Whatever crosses and guage of his tragedy, and therefore shines disappointments a good man suffers in the in the passionate parts, more than any of body of the tragedy, they will make but a our English poets. As there is something small impression on our minds, when we familiar and domestic in the fable of his know that in the last act he is to arrive at tragedy, more than in those of any other the end of his wishes and desires. When poet, he has little pomp, but great force in we see him engaged in the depths of his his expressions. For which reason, though afflictions, we are apt to comfort ourselves, he has admirably succeeded in the tender because we are sure he will find his way and melting part of his tragedies, he some-out of them; and that his grief, how great times falls into too great familiarity of phrase in those parts, which by Aristotle's rule, ought to have been raised and supported by the dignity of expression.
It has been observed by others, that this poet has founded his tragedy of Venice Preserved on so wrong a plot, that the greatest characters in it are those of rebels and traitors. Had the hero of this play discovered the same good qualities in the defence of his country that he showed for its ruin and subversion, the audience could not enough pity and admire him: but as he is now represented, we can only say of him what the Roman historian says of Cataline, that his fall would have been glorious (si pro.patria sic concidisset) had he so fallen in the service of his country. C.
No. 40.] Monday, April 16, 1711.
soever it may be at present, will soon terminate in gladness. For this reason the their plays, as they are dealt with in the ancient writers of tragedy treated men in world, by making virtue sometimes happy and sometimes miserable, as they found it in the fable which they made choice of, or as it might affect their audience in the most agreeable manner. Aristotle considers the tragedies that were written in either of these kinds, and observes, that those which ended unhappily had always pleased the people, and carried away the prize in the public disputes of the stage, from those that ended happily. Terror and commiseration leave a pleasing anguish in the mind; and fix the audience in such a serious composure of thought, as is much more lasting and delightful than any little transient starts of joy and satisfaction. Accordingly we find, that more of our English tragedies have succeeded in which the favourites of the audience sink under their calamities, than those in which they recover themselves out of them. The best plays of this kind are The Orphan, Venice,
Ut magus ; et modo me Thebis, modo ponit Athenis. Preserved, Alexander the Great, Theodosius, All for Love, Edipus, Oroonoko,"
Hor. Lib. 2, Ep. i. 208.
with this secret, have given frequent occasion for such emotions in the actor, by adding vehemence to words where there was no passion, or inflaming a real passion into fustian. This hath filled the mouths of our heroes with bombast; and given them such sentiments, as proceed rather from a swelling than a greatness of mind, Unnatural exclamations, curses, vows, blasphemies, a defiance of mankind, and an outraging of the gods, frequently pass upon the audience for towering thoughts, and have accordingly met with infinite applause.
Othello, &c. King Lear is an admirable very often raise himself a loud clap by this tragedy of the same kind, as Shakspeare artifice. The poets that were acquainted wrote it; but as it is reformed, according to the chimerical notion of poetical justice, in my humble opinion it has lost half its beauty. At the same time I must allow, that there are very noble tragedies, which have been framed upon the other plan, and have ended happily; as indeed most of the good tragedies, which have been written since the starting of the above criticism, have taken this turn; as The Mourning Bride; Tamerlane, Ulysses, Phædra and Hippolitus, with most of Mr. Dryden's. I must also allow that many of Shakspeare's, and several of the celebrated tragedies of antiquity, are cast in the same form. I do not therefore dispute against this way of writing tragedies, but against the criticism that would establish this as the only method; and by that means would very much cramp the English tragedy, and perhaps give a wrong bent to the genius of our writers.
The tragi-comedy, which is the product of the English theatre, is one of the most monstrous inventions that ever entered into a poet's thoughts. An author might as well think of weaving the adventures of Æneas and Hudibras into one poem, as of writing such a motley piece of mirth and sorrow. But the absurdity of these performances is so very visible, that I shall not insist upon it.
The same objections which are made to tragi-comedy, may in some measure be applied to all tragedies that have a double plot in them; which are likewise more frequent upon the English stage, than upon any other; for though the grief of the audience, in such performances, be not changed into another passion, as in tragicomedies; it is diverted upon another object, which weakens their concern for the principal action, and breaks the tide of sorrow, by throwing it into different channels. This inconvenience, however, may, in a great measure be cured, if not wholly removed, by the skilful choice of an underplot, which may bear such a near relation to the principal design as to contribute towards the completion of it, and be concluded by the same catastrophe.
There is also another particular, which may be reckoned among the blemishes, or rather the false beauties of our English tragedy: I mean those particular speeches which are commonly known by the name of rants. The warm and passionate parts of a tragedy, are always the most taking with the audience; for which reason we often see the players pronouncing, in all the violence of action, several parts of the tragedy which the author writ with great temper, and designed that they_should have been so acted. I have seen Powell*
* Mr. George Powell, though moving in the same sphere with Betterton, Booth, Wilkes, &c. maintained no inconsiderable rank in the public estimation: un
I shall here add a remark, which I am afraid our tragic writers may make an ill use of. As our heroes are generally lovers, their swelling and blustering upon the stage very much recommends them to the fair part of their audience. The ladies are wonderfully pleased to see a man insulting kings, or affronting the gods in one scene, and throwing himself at the feet of his mistress in another. Let him behave himself insolently towards the men, and abjectly towards the fair one, and it is ten to one but he proves a favourite with the boxes. Dryden and Lee, in several of their tragedies, have practised this secret with good success.
But to show how a rant pleases beyond the most just and natural thought that is not pronounced with vehemence, I would desire the reader when he sees the tragedy of Edipus, to observe how quietly the hero is dismissed at the end of the third act, after having pronounced the following lines, in which the thought is very natural, and apt to move compassion:
'To you good gods, I make my last appeal.'
And backward tread those paths I sought to shun;
My hands are guilty, but my heart is free.'
'O that, as oft I have at Athens seen,
[Where by the way, there was no stage
This pond'rous globe, and all yon marble roof,
Having spoken of Mr. Powell, as sometimes raising himself applause from the ill taste of an audience, must do him the justice to own, that he is excellently
fortunately, however, in his latter days, the love of the bottle weaned him from his attachment to the stage, and he declined greatly from that reputation which he had acquired. He was author of five Plays, all of which he brought on the stage with good success. He died in 1714.
formed for a tragedian, and, when he pleases, deserves the admiration of the best judges: as I doubt not but he
will in the Conquest of Mexico, which is acted for his
own benefit, to-morrow night.
No. 41.] Tuesday, April 17, 1711.
Ovid. Met. i. 654.
of the lady will do for this injured gentleman, but must allow he has very much justice on his side. I have indeed very long observed this evil, and distinguished those of our women who wear their own, from those in borrowed complexions, by the Picts and the British. There does not need any great discernment to judge which are So found, is worse than lost. which. The British have a lively animated COMPASSION for the gentleman who aspect; the Picts, though never so beautiful, writes the following letter, should not pre- have dead uninformed countenances. The vail upon me to fall upon the fair-sex, if it muscles of a real face sometimes swell with were not that I find they are frequently soft passion, sudden surprise, and are flushfairer than they ought to be. Such impos-ed with agreeable confusions, according as tures are not to be tolerated in civil society, the objects before them, or the ideas preand I think his misfortune ought to be made sented to them, affect their imagination. public, as a warning for other men always But the Picts behold all things with the to examine into what they admire. same air, whether they are joyful or sad; the same fixed insensibility appears upon that pains to invite the approach of lovers, all occasions. A Pict, though she takes all is obliged to keep them at a certain distance; a sigh in a languishing lover, if fetched too near her, would dissolve a feamight transfer the complexion of the misture; and a kiss snatched by a forward one, tress to the admirer. It is hard to speak of thing uncomplaisant, but I would only recommend to them to consider how they like coming into a room new painted; they may assure themselves the near approach of a lady who uses this practice is much more
SIR,-Supposing you to be a person of general knowledge, I make my application to you on a very particular occasion. I have a great mind to be rid of my wife, and hope, when you consider my case, you will be of opinion I have very just pretensions to a divorce. I am a mere man of the town, and have very little improvement, but what I have got from plays. I remember in The Silent Woman, the learned Dr. Cutberd, or Dr. Otter, (I forget which) makes one of the causes of separation to be Error Personæ, when a man marries a woman,
these false fair ones, without saying some
and finds her not to be the same woman whom he intended to marry, but another. If that be law, it is, I presume, exactly my case. For you are to know, Mr. Spectator, venture he once had with a Pict. This Will Honeycomb told us, one day, an adthat there are women who do not let their lady had wit, as well as beauty, at will; and husbands see their faces till they are mar-made it her business to gain hearts, for no Not to keep you in suspense, other reason but to rally the torments of plainly that part of the sex who paint. her lovers. She would make great adThey are some of them so exquisitely skil-vances to ensnare men, but without any ful this way, that give them but a tolerable manner of scruple break off when there was pair of eyes to set up with, and they will no provocation. Her ill nature and vanity make bosom, lips, cheeks, and eye-brows, the charms of her wit and conversation; but made my friend very easily proof against by their own industry. As for my dear, never was a man so enamoured as I was of her beauteous form, instead of being blemher fair forehead, neck, and arms, as well ished by her falsehood and inconstancy, as the bright jet of her hair; but, to my every day increased upon him, and she had great astonishment, I find they were all the new attractions every time he saw her. effect of art. Her skin is so tarnished with When she observed Will irrevocably her this practice, that when she first wakes in slave, she began to use him as such, and a morning, she scarce seems young enough after many steps towards such a cruelty, to be the mother of her whom I carried to she at last utterly banished him. The unbed the night before. I shall take the happy lover strove in vain, by servile epistles, to revoke his doom, till at length he liberty to part with her by the first opportunity, unless her father will make her was forced to the last refuge, a round sum of money to her maid. This corrupt atportion suitable to her real, not her assumed countenance. This I thought fit to let him tendant placed him early in the morning and her know by your means. I am, Sir, behind the hangings in her mistress's dressing-room. He stood very conveniently to your most obedient, humble servant.' observe, without being seen. The Pict begins the face she designed to wear that day, and I have heard him protest she had worked a full half hour before he knew her to be the same woman. As soon as he saw the dawn of that complexion for which he had so long languished, he thought fit to break from his concealment, repeating that verse of Cowley:
I cannot tell what the law, or the parents
* Epicone, or The Silent Woman, a comedy by Ben Jonson.—It is much to be regretted that this fine comedy has for several years been totally neglected by the managers of our theatres. Unless the public taste has greatly declined from what it was, this excellent performance would certainly be more acceptable than the flippant vulgar nonsense with which we are so often annoyed from the pens of some of our modern dramatists.
The Pict stood before him in the utmost confusion with the prettiest smirk imaginable on the finished side of her face, pale as ashes on the other. Honeycomb seized all her galley-pots and washes, and carried off his handkerchief full of brushes, scraps of Spanish wool, and phials of unguents. The lady went into the country: the lover was
Such is the shout, the long applauding note,
ARISTOTLE has observed, that ordinary writers in tragedy endeavour to raise terror and pity in their audience, not by proper dresses and decorations of the stage. There sentiments and expressions, but by the It is certain no faith ought to be kept is something of this kind very ridiculous in with cheats, and an oath made to a Pict is the English theatre. When the author has of itself void. I would therefore exhort all a mind to terrify us, it thunders; when he the British ladies to single them out, nor do would make us melancholy, the stage is I know any but Lindamira who should be darkened. But among all our tragic artiexempt from discovery; for her own com-fices, I am the most offended at those which plexion is so delicate that she ought to be are made use of to inspire us with magnifiallowed the covering it with paint, as a cent ideas of the persons that speak. The punishment for choosing to be the worst ordinary method of making a hero, is to piece of art extant, instead of the master-clap a huge plume of feathers upon his piece of nature. As for my part, who have head, which rises so very high, that there no expectations from women, and consider is often a greater length from his chin to them only as they are part of the species, I the top of his head, than to the sole of his do not half so much fear offending a beauty foot. One would believe, that we thought a as a woman of sense; I shall therefore pro- great man and a tall man the same thing. duce several faces which have been in pub-who is forced to hold his neck extremely This very much embarrasses the actor, lic these many years, and never appeared. It will be a very pretty entertainment in the playhouse, (when I have abolished this custom) to see so many ladies, when they first lay it down, incog. in their own faces.
In the mean time, as a pattern for improving their charms, let the sex study the agreeable Statira. Her features are enlivened with the cheerfulness of her mind, and good humour gives an alacrity to her eyes. She is graceful without affecting an air, and unconcerned without appearing careless. Her having no manner of art in her mind, makes her want none in her person.
stiff and steady all the while he speaks; and notwithstanding any anxieties which he pretends for his mistress, his country, or his friends, one may see by his action, that his greatest care and concern is to keep the plume of feathers from falling off his head. For my own part, when I see a man uttering his complaints under such a mountain of feathers, I am apt to look upon him rather as an unfortunate lunatic than a distressed hero. As these superfluous ornaments upon the head make a great man, a princess generally receives her grandeur from those additional incumbrances that fall into her tail; I mean the broad sweeping train that follows her in all her motions, and finds constant employment for a boy who stands behind her to open and spread it to advantage. I do not know how others are affected at this sight, but I must confess, my eyes are wholly taken up with the page's part; and as for the queen, I am not A young gentlewoman of about nineteen years of age (bred in the family of a person of quality, lately de-so attentive to any thing she speaks, as to ceased) who paints the finest flesh-colour, wants a place, and is to be heard of at the house of Mynheer Grotesque,
How like is this lady, and how unlike is a Pict, to that description Dr. Donne gives of his mistress?
-Her pure and eloquent blood
Spoke in her cheeks, and so distinctly wrought,
a Dutch painter in Barbican.
N. B. She is also well skilled in the drapery part, and puts on hoods, and mixes ribands so as to suit the colours of the face with great art and success. R.
No. 42.] Wednesday, April 18, 1711.
Garganum mugire putes nemus, aut mare Tuscum;
Loud as the wolves, on Orca's stormy steep,
the right adjusting of her train, lest it should chance to trip up her heels, or incommode her, as she walks to and fro upon the stage. It is, in my opinion, a very odd spectacle, to see a queen venting her passion in a disordered motion, and a little boy taking care all the while that they do not ruffle the tail of her gown. The parts that the two persons act on the stage at the same time are very different. The princess is afraid lest she should incur the displeasure of the king her father, or lose the hero her lover, whilst her attendant is only concerned lest she should entangle her feet in her petticoat.
We are told, that an ancient tragic poet, to move the pity of his audience for his exiled kings and distressed heroes, used to