Imágenes de páginas

that it is not Jane Shore that speaks; but the poet himself, who is straining his fancy, and spurring up his genius, to say something uncommonly strong and lively.

The language of real passion is always plain and simple. It abounds indeed in figures, that express a disturbed and impetuous state of mind, but never employs any for parade and embellishment. Thoughts suggested by passion, are natural and obvious; and not the offspring of refinement, subtilty, and wit. Passion neither reasons, speculates, nor declaims; its language is short, broken, and interrupted. The French tragedians deal too much in refinement and declamation. The Greek tragedians adhere most to nature, and are most pathetic. This too is the great excellency of Shakespeare. He exhibits the true language of nature and passion.

Moral sentiments and reflections ought not to recur very frequently in tragedy. When unseasonably crowded, they lose their effect, and convey an air of pedantry. When introduced with propriety, they give dignity to the composition. Cardinal Wolsey's soliloquy on his fall, is a fine instance of the felicity with which they may be employed. Much of the merit of Addison's Cato depends on that moral turn of thought wbich distinguishes it.

The style and versification of tragedy should be free, easy, and varied. English blank verse is happily suited to this species of composition. It has sufficient majesty, and can descend to the simple and familiar; it admits a happy variety of cadence, and is free from the constraint and mopotony of rhyme. Of the French tragedies it is

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

a great misfortune, that they are always in rhyme. For it fetters the freedom of the tragic dialogue, fills it with a languid monotony, and is fatal to the power of passion.

With regard to those splendid comparisons in rhyme, and those strings of couplets, with which it was some time ago fashionable to conclude the acts of a tragedy, and sometimes the most interesting scenes; they are now laid aside, and regarded not only as childish ornaments, but as perfect barbarisms.

[merged small][ocr errors]



The plot of Greek tragedy was exceedingly simple; the incidents few; and the conduct very exact with regard to the unities of action, time, and place. Machinery, or the intervention of gods, was employed; and, what was very faulty, the final unravelling was sometimes made to turn upon it. Love, one or two instances excepted, was never admitted into Greek tragedy. A vein of morality and religion always runs through it; but they employed less than the moderns, the combat of the passions. Their plots were all taken from the ancient traditionary stories of their own nation.

Eschylus, the father of Greek tragedy, exhihits both the beauties and defects of an early original writer. He is bold, nervous, and animated; but very obscure, and difficult to be understood. His style is highly metaphorical, and often harsh and tumid. He abounds in martial ideas and des

criptions, has much fire and elevation, and little tenderness. He also delights in the marvellous.

The most masterly of the Greck tragedians is Sophocles. He is the most correct in the conduct of his subjects; the most just and sublime in his sentiments. In descriptive talents he is also eminent. Euripides is accounted more tender than Sophocles; he is fuller of moral sentiments; but he is less correct in the conduct of his plays. His expositions of his subjects are less artful; and the songs of his chorus, though very poetic, are less connected with the principal action, than those of Sophocles. Both of thein howevér, have high merit, as tragic poets. Their style is elegant and beantiful; and their sentiments for the most part just. They speak with the voice of nature; and in the midst of simplicity they are touching and interesting.

Theatrical representations, on the stages of Greece and Rome, was in many respects very singular, and widely different from that of mod

The songs of the chorus were accompanied by instrumental music; and the dialogue part had a modulation of its own, and might be set to notes. It has also been thought, that on the Roman stage, the pronouncing and gesticulating parts were sometimes divided, and performed by different actors. The actors in tragedy wore a long robe; they were raised upon cothurni, and played in masks; these masks. were painted; and the actor by turning the different profiles, exhibited different emotions to the auditors. This contrivance however, was attended by many disadvantages.

ern times.


In the compositions of some French dramatic writers, tragedy has appeared with great lustre; particularly Corneille, Racine, and Voltaire They have improved upon the ancients, by introducing more incidents, a greater variety of passions, and a fuller display of characters. Like the ancients, they excel in regularity of conduct; and their style is poetical and elegant. But, to an English taste, they want strength and passion, and are too declamatory and refined. They seem afraid of being too tragic; and it was the opinion of Voltaire, that, to the perfection of tragedy, it is necessary to unite the vehemence and action of the English theatre, with the correctness and decorum of the French.

Corneille, the father of French tragedy, is distinguished by majesty of sentiment, and a fruitful imagination. His genius was rich, but more turned to the epic, than the tragic vein.

He is magnificent and splendid, rather than touching and tender. He is full of declamation, impetu-, ous, and extravagant.

la tragedy, Racine is superior to Corneille. He wants, indeed, the copiousnesss of Corneille; but he is free from his bombast, and excels him greatly in tenderness. The beauty of his language and versification is uncommon; and he has managed his rhymes with superior advantage.

Voltaire is not inferior to bis predecessors in the drama ; and in one article he has outdone them; the delicate and interesting situations he has introduced. Here lies his chief strength. Like his predecessors, however, he is sometimes

deficient in force, and sometimes too declamatory. His characters notwithstanding, are drawn with spirit, his events are striking, and his sen. timents elevated.

ENGLISH TRAGEDY. It has often been remarked of tragedy in Great Britain, that it is more ardent than that of France, but more irregular and incorrect. It has therefore, excelled in the soul of tragedy. For the pathetic must be allowed to be the chief excellence of the tragic muse.

The first object on the English theatre, is the great Shakespeare. In extent and force of genius, both for tragedy and comedy, he is unrivalled. But at the same time, it is genius shooting wild, deficient in taste, not always chaste, and unassisted by art and knowledge. Criticism has been exhausted in commentaries upon him; yet, to this day, it is undecided, whether his beauties or defr.cts be greatest. In his writings there are admirable scenes and passages without number; but there is not one of his plays which can be pronounced a good one. Beside extreme irregvlarities in conduct, and grotesque mixtures of the serious and comic, we are frequently disturbed by unnatural thoughts, harsh expressions, and a certain obscure bombast, and play upon words. These faults are, however, compensated by two of the greatest excellencies a tragic poet can possess, bis lively and diversified painting of character, and his strong and natural expressions of passion. On tbese two virtues his merit rests.

« AnteriorContinuar »