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two forms of tragedy and comedy. Of these, tragedy is the most dignified; as great and serious objects interest us more than little and ludicrous ones. The former, rests on the high passions, the virtues, crimes, and sufferings of mankiod; the latter, on their humours follies, and pleasures; and ridicule is its sole instrument.
Tragedy is a direct imitation of human manners and actions. It does not like an epic poem, exbibit characters by description or narration ; it sets the personages before us, and makes them act and speak with propriety. This species of writing therefore, requires deep knowledge of the human heart; and, when happily executed, it has the power of raising the strongest emotions.
lo its general strain and spirit, tragedy is favourable to virtue. Characters of honour claim' our respect and approbation; and, to raise indig. pation, we must paint a person in the odious colours of vice and depravity. Virtuous men indeed are often reprosented by the tragic poet, as un. fortunate; for this happens in real life. But he always engages our hearts in their behalf; and never represents vice as finally triumphant and happy. Upon the same principle, if bad men succeed in their designs they are yet finally conducted to punishment. It may therefore be concluded, that tragedies are moral compositions.
It is a firmed by Aristotle, that the design of tragedy is to purge our passions by means of pity and terror. But, perhaps, it would have been more accurate, to have said, that the object of this species of composition is to improve our virtuous sensibility. If a writer excite our pity for she aßlictedinspire us with proper sentiments on beholding the vicissitudes of life, and stimulate us to avoid the misfortunes of others by exhibiting their errors, he has accomplished all the moral purposes of tragedy.
In a tragedy it is necessary to have an interesting story, and that the writer conduct it in a natural and probable manner.
For the end of tragedy is not so much to elevate the imagination as to affect the heart. This principle, which is founded on the clearest reason, excludes from tragedy all machinery, or fabulous intervention of gods. Ghosts alone, from their foundation in popular belief, have maintained their place in tragedy.
To promote an impression of probability, the story of a tragedy, according to some critics, should never be a pure fiction, but ought to be built on real facts. This, however, is carrying the matter too far. For a fictitious tale, if properly conducted, will melt the heart as much as real history. Hence, the tragic poet mixes many fictitious circumstances with well known facts. Most readers never think of separating the bistorical from the fabulous. They attend only to what is probable, and are touched by events, that resemble nature. Accordingly.some of the most affecting tragedies are entirely fictitious in their subjects. Such are the Fair Penitent, Douglass, and the Orphan.
In its origin, tragedy was rude and imperfect. Among the Greeks it was at first nothing more than the song, which was sung at the festivals of Bacchus. These songs were son.etimes sung by the whole company, and sometimes by separate bands, answering alternately to each other, and making a chorus. To give this entertaiament some variety, Thespis, who lived about five hundred years before the Christian era, introduced a person between the songs, who made a recitation in verse. Eschylus, who lived tifty years after him, introduced a dialogue between two persons or actors, comprehending some interesting story; and placed them on a stage adorned with scenery. The drama now began to as. sume a regular form; and was soon after brought to perfection by Sophocles and Euripides.
It thus appears that the chorus was the foundation of tragedy. But, what is remarkable, the dramatic dialogue, which was only an addition to it, at length became the priocipal part of the entertainment; and the chorus, losing its dignity, came to be accounted only an accessory in tragedy. At last, in modern tragedy, it has entirely disappeared; and its absence from the stage, forms the chief distinction between the ancient and modern drama.
The chorus, it must be allowed, rendered tragedy more magnificent, instructive, and moral. But, on the other hand, it was opnatural; and Jessened the interest of the piece. It removed the representation from the resemblance of life. It has accordingly been with propriety excluded from the stage.
The three unities of action, place, and time, have been considered, as essential to the proper conduct of dramatic'fable. Of these three, unity of action is undoubtedly most important. This consists in the relation which all the incidents introduced, bear to some design or effect, combining them naturally into one whole. This uni
ty of subject is most essential to tragedy. For a multiplicity of plots, by distracting the attention, prevents the passions from rising to any height. Hence the absurdity of two independent actions in the same play. There may indeed be underplots; but the poet should make these subservient to the main action. They should conspire to bring forward the catastrophe of the play.
Of a separate and independent action, or intrigue, there is a clear example in Addison's Cato. The subject of this tragedy is the death of Cato, a noble personage, and supported by the author with much dignity. But all the love scenes in the play; the p. ssion of Cato's two sons for Lucia, and that of Juba for Cato's daughter, are mere episodes. They break the unity of the subject, and form a very unseasonable junction of gallantry, with high sentiments of patriotism.
Unity of action must not, however, be confounded with simplicity of plot. Unity and simplicity import different things in dramatic composition. The plot is simple, when a small number of incidents is introduced into it. With respect to plots, the ancients were more simple than the moderns. The Greek tragedies appear indeed to be too naked, and destitute of interesting events. The moderns admit a much greater variety of incidents; which is certainly an improvement, as it renders the entertainment more animated and more instructive. It may, however, be carried too far; for an overcharge of action and intrigue produces perplexity and embarrassment. of this, the Mourning Bride of Congreve is an example. The incidents succeed each other too rapidly; and the catastrophe, which ought to be plain and simple, is artificial and intricate. Unity of action must be maintained, not only in the general construction of the fable, but in all the acts and scenes of the play. The division of every play into five acts is founded merely on common practice, and the authority of Horace.
Neve minor, neu sit quinto productior actu
Fabula. There is nothing in nature which fixes this rule. On the Greek stage the division by acts was unknown. The word act never occurs once in the poetics of Aristotle. Practice, however, has established this division; and the poet must be careful that each act terminate in a proper place. The first act should contain a clear esposition of the subject. It should excite curiosity, and introduce the personages to the acquaintance of the spectators. During the second, third, and fourth acts, the plot should gradually thicken. The passions should be kept constantly awake. There should be no scenes of idle conversation or mere declamation. The suspense and concern of the spectators sbould be excited more and more. This is the great excellency of Shakespeare. Sentiment, passion, pity, and terror, should pervade every tragedy.
In the fifth act, which is the seat of the catastrophe, the author should most fully display his art and genius. The first requisite is, that the unravelling of the plot be brought about by probable and natural means. Secondly, the catastrophe should be simple, depending on few events, and including but few persons. Passionate sensibility languishes when divided among many ob