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one composition. Almost all his plays are divided between serious and ludicrous characters, and, in
curious. It is, indeed, full of the 208 o1v8, and completely justifies the attendant's description. Nothing can be more jolly. It is in the true spirit of a modern drinking long; recommending it to the servant to uncloud his brow, enjoy the present hour, think nothing of the morrow, and drown his cares in love and wine :
• ΟΥΤΟΣ--Τι σεμνον και πεφροντικό- βλεπεις και ,
• AETP 'EXO', ónws år xal COOWTEPOS yern.
Κ' εκ έστι θνητων στις εξεπιλαται
• Ευφραινε σαυτον: ΠΙΝΕ !-τον καθ ημερας
"KYIIPIN BOTOLO X .T. 8.' V.783-812. “ If any man can read this, without supposing it to have set the audience in a roar, I certainly cannot demonstrate that he is mistaken. I can only say, that I think he must be a very grave man himself, and must forget that the Athenians were not a very grave people. The zeal of Pere Brumoy in defending this tragedy, betrays him into a little indiscretion. He says, 'tout cela à fait penser à quelques critiques modernes que cette piece etoit une tragi-comedie; chimere inconnu aux anciens. Cette piece est du gout des autres tragedies antiques.' Indeed they, who call this play a tragi-comedy, give it rather a favourable name ; for, in the scenes alluded to, it is, in fact, of a lower species than our tragi-comedy: it is rather burlesque tragedy ; what Demetrius calls tpayudia rai2804. Much of the comick cast prevails in other scenes; though mixed with those genuine strokes of simple and universal nature, which abound in this poet, and which I should be sorry to exchange for that monotonous and unaffecting level of tragick dignity, which never falls, and never rises.
" I will only mention one more instance of this tragi-comick mixture, and that from Sophocles. The dialogue between Mi
the successive evolutions of the design, sometimes produce seriousness and sorrow,' and sometimes levity and laughter.
nerva and Ulysses, in the first scene of the Ajax, from v. 74 to 88, is perfe&ly ludicrous. The cowardice of Ulysses is almost as comick as the cowardice of Falstaff. In spite of the presence of Minerva, and her previous assurance that she would effe&tually guard him from all danger by rendering him invisible, when she calls Ajax out, Ulyffes, in the utnost trepidation, exclaims
" To Spas, Abava; un dauws O' EEw xades.' . What are you about, Minerva ?-by no means call him out.' Minerva answers
. Ou On' dve&y, Myde delaLAV apels; '. Will you not be filent, and lay aside your fears? But Ulysses cannot conquer his fears :
í MH. TIPOE EIN- aar' &vdov á PXEITW Merwe.' - Don't call him out, for heaven's sake :- let him stay within.' And in this tone the conversation continues; till, upon Minerva's repeating her promise that Ajax should not see him, he consents to stay ; but in a line of most comical reluctance, and with an apde, that is in the true spirit of Sancho Pança :
• Mevolui dr. HOEAON A’AN EKTO IN TEXEIN.' • I'll stay- afde) but I wish I was not here. * J'avoue,' says Brumoy, 'que ce trait n'est pas à la louange d'Ulysse, ni de Sophocle.'
“No unprejudiced person, I think, can read this scene without being convinced, not only, that it must actually have produced, but that it must have been intended to produce, the effect of comedy.
« It appears indeed to me, that we may plainly trace in the Greek tragedy, with all its improvements, and all its beauties, pretty strong marks of its popular and tragi-comick origin. For Tpaywda, we are told, was, originally, the only dramatick appellation ; and when, afterwards, the ludicrous was separated from the serious, and distinguished by its appropriated name of Comedy, the separation seems to have been imperfeâly made, and Tragedy, distinctively so called, still seems to have retained a tin&ture of its original merriment. Nor will this appear strange, if we consider the popular nature of the Greek spectacles. The people, it is probable, would still require, even in the midst of their tragick emotion, a little dash of their old fatyrick fun, and poets were obliged to comply, in some degree, with their taste." Twining's Notes, pp. 202, 203, 204, 205, 206.
That this is a practice contrary to the rules of criticism will be readily allowed; but there is always an appeal open from criticism to nature. The end of writing is to instruct ; the end of poetry is to instruct by pleasing. That the mingled drama may convey all the instruction of tragedy or comedy cannot be denied, because it includes both in its alternations of exhibition, and approaches nearer than either to the appearance of life, by showing how great machinations and slender designs may promote or obviate one another, and the high and the low co-operate in the general fyftem by unavoidable concatenation.
It is objected, that by this change of scenes the passions are interrupted in their progression, and that the principal event, being not advanced by a due gradation of preparatory incidents, wants at last the power to move, which constitutes the perfection of dramatick poetry. This reasoning is so specious, that it is received as true even by those who in daily experience feel it to be false. The interchanges of mingled scenes feldom fail to produce the intended vicissitudes of paffion. Fiction cannot move so much, but that the attention may be easily transferred ; and though it must be allowed that pleasing melancholy be sometimes interrupted by unwelcome levity, yet let it be considered likewise, that melancholy is often not pleasing, and that the disturbance of one man may be the relief of another; that different auditors have different habitudes; and that, upon the whole, all pleasure consists in variety.
The players, who in their edition divided our author's works into comedies, hiftories, and tragedies, seem not to have distinguished the three kinds, by any very exact or definite ideas.
An action which ended happily to the principal persons, however serious or distressful through its intermediate incidents, in their opinion constituted a comedy. This idea of a comedy continued long amongst us, and plays were written, which, by changing the catastrophe, were tragedies to-day, and comedies to-inorrow.9
Tragedy was not in those times a poem of more general dignity or elevation than comedy ; it réquired only a calamitous conclusion, with which the common criticism of that age was fatisfied, whatever lighter pleasure it afforded in its progress.
History was a series of actions, with no other than chronological succession, independent on each other, and without any tendency to introduce and regulate the conclusion. It is not always very nicely distinguished from tragedy. There is not much nearer approach to unity of action in the tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra, than in the history of Richard the Second. But a history might be continued through many plays; as it had no plan, it had no limits.
Through all these denominations of the drama, Shakspeare's mode of composition is the same; an interchange of seriousness and merriment, by which the mind is softened at one time, and exhilarated at another. But whatever be his purpose, whether to gladden or depress, or to conduct the story, without vehemence or emotion, through tracts of eafy and familiar dialogue, he never fails to attain his
9 Thus, says Downes the Prompter, p. 22 : “ The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet was made some time after (1662] into a tragicomedy, by Mr. James Howard, he preserving Romeo and Juliet alive; so that when the tragedy was revived again, 'twas play'd alternately, tragical one day, and tragi-comical another, for several days together.” Steevens.
purpose ; as he commands us, we laugh or mourn, or sit filent with quiet expectation, in tranquillity without indifference.
When Shakspeare's plan is understood, most of the criticisms of Rymer and Voltaire vanish away. The play of Hamlet is opened, without impropriety, by two centinels ; Iago bellows at Brabántio's window, without injury to the scheme of the play, though in terms which a modern audience would not easily endure; the character of Polonius is seasonable and useful; and the Gravediggers themselves may be heard with applause.
Shakspeare engaged in dramatick poetry with the world open before him ; the rules of the ancients were yet known to few; the publick judgment was unformed; he had no example of such fame as might force him upon imitation, nor criticks of such authority as might restrain his extravagance : he therefore indulged his natural difpofition, and his disposition, as Rymer has remarked, led him to comedy. In tragedy he often writes with great appearance of toil and study, what is written at last with little felicity, but in his comick scenes, he seems to produce without labour, what no labour can improve. In tragedy he is always struggling after some occasion to be comick, but in connedy he seems to repose, or to luxuriate, as in a mode of thinking congenial to his nature. In his tragick scenes there is always something wanting, but his comedy often surpasses expectation or desire. His comedy pleases by the thoughts and the language, and his tragedy for the greater part by incident and action. His tragedy seems to be skill, his comedy to be instinct.'
rites wit, led me and
In the rank and order of geniuses it must, I think, be allowed, that the writer of good tragedy is superior. And there