« AnteriorContinuar »
Probability, as I observed at the beginning of the lecture, is highly essential to the conduct of the tragic action, and we are always hurt by the want of it. It is this that makes the observance of the dramatic unities to be of consequence, as far as they can be observed without sacrificing more material beauties. It is not, as has been sometimes said, that by the preservation of the unities of time and place, spectators are deceived into a belief of the reality of the objects which are set before them on the stage ; and that, when those unities are violated, the charm is broken, and they discover the whole to be a fiction. No such deception as this can ever be accomplished. No one ever imagines himself to be at Athens, or Rome, when a Greek or Roman subject is presented on the stage. He knows the whole to be an imitation only ; but he requires that imitation to be conducted with skill and verisimilitude. His pleasure, the entertainment which he expects, the interest which he is to take in the story, all depend on its being so conducted. His imagination, therefore, seeks to aid the imitation, and to rest on the probability; and the poet, who shocks him by improbable circumstances, and by awkward, unskilful imitation, deprives him of his pleasure, and leaves him hurt and displeased. This is the whole mystery of the theatrical illusion.
QUESTIONS. How has dramatic poetry, among the entertainments of the theatre, rest? all civilized nations, been considered, What account does Aristotle give of and of what has it been judged worthy? (the design of tragedy? Of this definiAccording to what, does it divide into tion, what is observed; and what may the two forms of comedy or tragedy ? be considered a better one? When does Why has tragedy always been consi- an author accomplish all the moral dered a more dignified entertainment purposes of tragedy ? In order to this than comedy ? Upon what do they end, what is the first requisite; and why? respectively rest ; and what are their What is the object of the epic poet, and respective instruments? Which, there-what follows? How is this illustrated ? fore, shall be che object of our fullest|From what does it appear that tragedy discussion? When is tragedy a noble demands a stricter imitation of the life idea of poetry? Of what is it a direct and actions of men? How, only, can imitation ; and why? Hence, what fol-passion be raised? What, therefore, follows ? What is it, or what ought it to lows? What does this principle exclude be? As tragedy is a high species of from tragedy? Why have ghosts maincomposition, so also, in its general straintained their place? But what is to be and spirit, to what is it favourable ? condemned ; and why ? of this mixHow is this remark illustrated ? What ture of machinery with the tragic acdoes every poet find ? Why must he tion, what is observed? In order to sometimes represent the virtuous un-promote that impression of probability fortunate; but what will he always which is so necessary for the success of study to do? Though they may be de-tragedy, what have some critics rescribed as unprosperous, yet of what is quired? Of what tragedies were such there no instance? Even when bad men the subjects? But why cannot our ausucceed in their designs, what follows?|thor hold this to be a matter of any What sentiments are most generally great consequence? In order to our beexcited by tragedy; and therefore, ing moved, what is not necessary ? what must be acknowledged ? Taking | How is this position farther illustrated, tragedies complexly, of what is our and what instances are mentioned? author fully persuaded; and, there- Whether the subject he real or feigned, fore, upon what must the zeal which on what does most depend for rendersome pious men have shown against ling the incidents in a tragedy proba
hle? To regulate this conduct, what|of what must the poet beware; and famous rule have critics laid down; why? What instance is given to illusand of them, what is observed ? But in trate this remark; and of it, what is order to do this with more advantage, observed? What must unity of action what is first necessary ? What was the also regulate? What foundation has state of tragedy, in its beginning ? the division of every play into five What was its origin among the Greeks? acts? How does it appear to be purely How were these poems sung? In or- arbitrary ? On the Greek stage, what der to throw some variety into this en- was totally unknown; and from what tertainment, what was thought proper? does this appear? What was the Greek Who made this innovation ; of him, tragedy ? How is this illustrated ? what is observed; and what is said of What is remarked of the intervals at Æschylus? Of what these actors reci- which the chorus sung? As practice ted, what is remarked ? What did this has now established a different plan, begin to give the drama, and by whom about what must the poet be careful ? was it soon perfected? What is remark- What should the first act contain, and able ; and how is this illustrated ? how ought it to be managed ? With From this account, what appears; and what does it make them acquainted ? of it, what is further observed ? To Of a striking introduction, what is obwhat question has this given rise ? served ? In the ruder times of the dra. What must be admitted ; and why? ma, how was the exposition of the sub. The chorus, at the same time, conveyed (ject made ; and what instance is menwhat; and of what persons was it tioned ? As such an introduction is excomposed ? Of this company, what is tremely artificial, what follows? Durfurther remarked ? What illustration ing which acts, should the plot graduof this remark is given ? But, notwith-ally thicken? Here, what should be standing the advantages of the chorus, the poets great object; and why? yet what is observed; and why? How What should he therefore do? What is this remark fully illustrated? What remark follows; and of whom is this may be confidently asserted? What the great excellence? But of French use might still be made of the ancient tragedians, what is observed? What chorus ? What would be the effect of should reign throughout a tragedy; this? After the view which we have and why? Of the filth act, what is retaken of the rise of tragedy, &c. for marked ? What is the first rule conexamining what, is our way cleared ? cerning it; and hence, what are faulty? Of these three, which is the most im- What is the next rule; and why? In portant? When was its nature explain the last place, what is observed; and ed; and in what does it consist ? Why how is this illustrated? Of what were is this unity of subject still more essen- the ancients fond? When are such tial to tragedy, than it is to epic poetry? discoveries extremely striking; and What, therefore, follows; and why? what instances are given ? What is What may there be? With what ought not essential to the catastrophe of a they to be connected; and for what tragedy; and why? In proof of this reason? Where have we a clear ex- remark, what instances are given ? ample of this defect? What is the sub-But in general, to what does the spirit ject of this tragedy; and what is said of English tragedy lean? What ques of Cato himsell ? But what are mere tion naturally occurs here; and why? episodes; why did the author intro-Of this question, what is observed ? duce them; and what follows ? What is the most plain and satisfacto
Of what must we take care? What ry account of the matter? By what do unity and simplicity respectively are we, in some measure, relieved; and import in dramatic composition? Of by what are we gratified ? What rethe Greek tragedies, what is here ob- mark follows? At the same time, what served ? How is this remark illustrated must be observed ? Having spoken of from the Edipus and Philoctetes of the conduct of the subject throughout Sophocles? Yet of these simple sub- the acts, of what is it necessary also to jects, what is observed ? Among the take notice? What forms a new scene; moderns, what has been admitted into and of these scenes, what is observed ? tragedy; and what has it become? For this purpose, what is the first rule What remark follows? Why is this va- to be observed ?' or this, what is reriety an improvement in tragedy? But marked ; and why? By whom is this
rule observed; and by whom is it not ? these unities, yet what must we reHow does this appear? What is the member; and why? In particular, second rule; and why? This is mana- what must we remember? How is this ging the persona dramatis in what illustrated; and what instances of an manner ? Whereas, what does the per- adherence to this rule are mentioned ? fection of dramatic writing require ? When will the impression in general, All that has hitherto been said, relates be the more perfect ? How is this reto what; and in order to render it mark fully illustrated ? more complete, what have critics add-= ed? Of the strict observance of these,
ANALYSIS. what is observed ? What do they re- Dramatic poetry. spectively require? What is the inten-] 1. Tragedy." tion of both these rules? What must we A. The strain and spirit favourable to observe ? From what does this appear;
virtue. and hence, for what was there no room
B. Aristotle's account of it.
c. The subject. left ? What has been the effect of sus D. The origin. pending the spectacle totally for some E. The chorus. little time between the acts? While F. Unity. the acting of the play is interrupted,
a, Unity of action. what can the spectator do; and there
(a.) Unity and simplicity contrast
ed. fore, what follows? On the ancient
(6.) Directions for the conduct of stage, what do we plainly see ? As the
the acts. scene could not be shisted, what was (c.) The close considered. the consequence ? To what did this
d.) Why tragic representations aflead ? From what did the like improba
(e.) Directions for the scenes of the bilities arise; and why? Though mo
acts. dern poets need not strictly to observe b. Unity of time and place.
Having treated of the dramatic action in tragedy, I proceed next to treat of the characters most proper to be exhibited. It has been thought, by several critics, that the nature of tragedy requires the principal personages to be always of illustrious character, and of high, or princely rank; whose misfortunes and sufferings, it is said, take faster hold of the imagination, and impress the heart more forcibly, than similar events happening to persons in private life. But this is more specious than solid. It is refuted by facts. For the distresses of Desdemona, Monimia, and Belvidera, interest us as deeply as if they had been princesses or queens. The dignity of tragedy does, indeed, require that there should be nothing degrading or mean in the circumstances of the persons which it exbibits, but it requires nothing more. Their high rank may render the spectacle more splendid, and the subject seemingly of more importance, but conduces very little to its being interesting or pathetic ; which depends entirely on the nature of the tale, on the art of the poet in conducting it, and on the sentiments to which it gives occasion. In every rank of life, the relations of father, husband, son, brother, lover, or friend, lay the foundation of those affecting situations, which make man's heart feel for man.
The moral characters of the persons represented, are of much greater consequence than the external circumstances in which the poet places them. Nothing, indeed, in the conduct of tragedy, demands a poet's attention more, than so to describe his personages, and so to order the incidents which relate to them, as shall leave upon the spectators impressions favourable to virtue, and to the administration of Providence. It is not necessary, for this end, that poetical justice, as it is called, should be observed in the catastrophe of the piece. This has been long exploded from tragedy; the end of which is, to affect us with pity for the virtuous in distress, and to afford a probable representation of the state of human life, where calamities often befall the best, and a mixed portion of good and evil is appointed for all. But, withal, the author must beware of shocking our minds with such representations of life as tend to raise horror, or to render virtue an object of aversion. Though innocent persons suffer, their sufferings ought to be attended with such circumstances, as shall make virtue appear amiable and venerable; and shall render their condition, on the whole, preferable to that of bad men, who have prevailed against them. The stings and the remorse of guilt, must ever be represented as productive of greater miseries, than any that the bad can bring upon the good.
Aristotle's observations on the characters proper for tragedy, are very judicious. He is of opinion, that perfect unmixed characters, either of good or ill men, are not the fittest to be introduced. The distresses of the one, being wholly unmerited, hurt and shock us; and the sufferings of the other, occasion no pity. Mixed characters, such as in fact we meet with in the world, afford the most proper field for displaying, without any bad effect on morals, the vicissitudes of life; and they interest us the more deeply, as they display the emotions and passions of which we have all been conscious. When such persons fall into distress through the vices of others, the subject may be very pathetic; but it is always more instructive when a person has been himself the cause of his misfortune, and when his misfortune is occasioned by the violence of passion, or by some weakness incident to human nature. Such subjects both dispose us to the deepest sympathy, and administer useful warnings to us for our own conduct.
Upon these principles, it surprises me that the story of Edipus should have been so much celebrated by all the critics, as one of the fittest subjects for tragedy, and so often brought upon the stage, not by Sophocles only, but by Corneille also, and Voltaire. An innocent person, one in the main, of a virtuous character, through no crime of his own, nay, not by the vices of others, but through mere frenlity and blind chance, is involved in the greatest of all human miseri 3. In a casual rencounter he kills his father, without knowing him; he afterwards is married to his own mother; and, discovering himself, in the end, to have committed both parricide and incest, he becomes frantic, and dies in the utmost misery. Such a subject excites horror rather than pity. As it is conducted by Sophocles, it is indeed extremely affecting; but it conveys no instruction; it awa
kens in the mind no tender sympathy; it leaves no impression favourable to virtue or humanity.
It must be acknowledged, that the subjects of the ancient Greek tragedies were too often founded on mere destiny and inevitable misfortunes. They were too much mixed with their tales about oracles, and the vengeance of the gods, which led to many an incident sufficiently melancholy and tragical; but rather purely tragical, than useful or moral. Hence, both the Edipuses of Sophocles, the Iphigenia in Aulis, the Hecuba of Euripides, and several of the like kind. In the course of the drama, many moral sentiments occurred. But the instruction which the fable of the play conveyed, seldom was any more than that reverence was owing to the gods, and submission due to the decrees of destiny. Modern tragedy has aimed at a higher object, by becoming more the theatre of passion; pointing out to men the consequences of their misconduct; showing the direful effects which ambition, jealousy, love, resentment, and other such strong emotions, when misguided, or left unrestrained, produce upon human life. An Othello, hurried by jealousy to murder his innocent wife; a Jaffier, insnared by resentment and want, to engage in a conspiracy, and then stung with remorse, and involved in ruin ; a Siffredi, through the deceit which he employs for public spirited ends, bringing destruction on all whom he loved; a Calista, seduced into a criminal intrigue, which overwhelms herself, her father, and all her friends in misery; these, and such as these, are the examples which tragedy now displays to public view; and by means of which it inculcates on men the proper government of their passions.
Of all the passions which furnish matter to tragedy, that which has most occupied the modern stage, is love. To the ancient theatre, it was in a manner wholly unknown. In few of their tragedies is it ever mentioned ; and I remember no more than one which turns upon it, the Hippolitus of Euripides. This was owing to the national manners of the Grecks, and to that greater separation of the two sexes from one another, than has taken place in modern times; aided too, perhaps, by this circumstance, that no female actress ever appeared on the ancient stage. But though no reason appears for the total exclusion of love from the theatre, yet with what justice or propriety it has usurped so much place, as to be in a manner the sole hinge of modern tragedy, may be much questioned. Voltaire, who is no less eminent as a critic than as a poet, declares loudly and strongly against this predominancy of love, as both degrading the majesty, and confining the natural limits of tragedy. And assuredly, the mixing of it perpetually with all the great and solemn revolutions of human fortune which belong to the tragic stage, tends to give tragedy too much the air of gallantry and juvenile entertainment. The Athalie of Racine, the Mérope of Voltaire, the Douglas of Mr. Home, are sufficient proofs, that without any assistance from love, the drama is capable of producing its highest effects upon the mind.
This seems to be clear, that wherever love is introduced into tragedy, it ought to reign in it, and to give rise to the principal action