« AnteriorContinuar »
In the midst of his absurdities he interests and moves us; so great is his skill in human nature, and so lively his representations of it.
He possesses also the merit of having created for himself, a world of preterpatural beings. His witches, ghosts, fairies, and spirits of all kinds, are so awful, mysterious, and peculiar, as strongly to affect the imagination. His two masterpieces are his Othello and Macbeth. With regard to his historical plays, they are neither tragedies, nor comedies; but a peculiar species of dramatic ertertainment, in which he describes the characters, events, and manners of the times of which he treats.
Since Shakespeare, there are few English dramatic writers, whose whole works are entitled to high praise. There are several tragedies, however, of considerable merit. Lee's Theodosius has warmth and tenderness, though romantic in the plan, and extravagaut in the sentiments. Otway is great in his Orphan and Venice Preserved. Perhaps, however, he is too tragic in these piec
He bad genius and strong passions, but was very indelicate.
The tragedies' of Rowe ahound in morality, and in elevated sentiments. His poetry is good, and his language pore and elegant. He is, notwithstanding, too cold and uninteresting ; and flowery rather than tragic. His best dramas are Jane Shore, and the Fair Penitent, which excel in the tender and pathetic.
Dr. Young's Revenge discovers geuias and fire; but wants tenderness, and turns too much on the direful passions. In the Mourning Bride of Congreve, there are fine situations and much
good poetry. The tragedies of Thomson, are too full of a stiff morality, which renders them dull and formal. His Tancred and Sigismunda is his master piece; and for the plot, characters, and sentiments, justly deserves a place among the best English tragedies.
A Greek tragedy is a simple relation of an interesting incident. A French tragedy is a series of artful and refined conversations. An English tragedy is a combat of strong passions, set before us in all their violence, producing deep disasters, and filling the spectators with grief. Ancient tragedies are more natural and simple; modern more artful and complex.
COMEDY. The strain and spirit of comedy, descriminate it sufficiently from tragedy. While pity, terror, and the other strong passions form the province of the latter, the sole instrument of the former is ridicule. Follies and vices, and wbatever in the human character is improper, or exposes to censure and ridicule, are objects of comedy. As a satirical exhibition of the improprieties and follies of men, it is useful and moral. It is commendable by this species of composition, to correct, and to polish the manners of men. Many vices are more successfully exploded by ridicule, thin by serious arguinents. It is possible, however, to employ ridicule improperly; and by its operation to do mischief instead of good. For ridicule is far from being a proper test of truth. Licentious writers therefore of the comic class, have often cast ridicule on objects and characters which did not deserve it. But this is not the fault of comedy, but of the turn and genius of certain writers. In the hands of loose men, comedy will mislead and corrupt; but in those of virtuous writers it is not only a gay and innocent, but a laudable and useful entertainmeot. English comedy, however, is frequently a school of vice.
The rules of dramatic action, that were prescribed for tragedy, belong also to comedy. A comic writer must observe the unities of action, time, and place. He must attend to nature and probability. The imitation of manners ought to be even more exact in comedy than in tragedy; for the subjects of comedy are more familiar and better known,
The subjects of tragedy are confined to no age nor country; but it is otherwise in comedy. For the decorums of behaviour, and the nice discriminations of character, which are the subjects of comedy, change with time and country; and are never so well understood by foreigners, as by natives. We weep for the heroes of Greece and Rome; but we are touched by the ridicule of such manners and characters oply, as we see and know. The scene therefore of comedy, should always be laid in the author's own country and age. The comic poet catches the manners living, as they rise.
It is true, indeed, that Plautus and Terence did not follow this rule. The scene of their comedies is laid in Greece, and they adopted the Greek laws and customs. But it is to lie remembered, that comedy was in their age, a new 'cotertainment in Rome, and that they were contented with the praise of translating Menander
and other comic writers of Greece. In posterior times the Romans had the “Comedia Togata,' or what was founded or their own manners, as well as the “ Comedia Palliata,” which was taken from the Greeks.
There are two kinds of comedy, that of character, and that of intrigue. In the last, the plot or action of the play is the principal object. In the first, the display of a peculiar character is the chief point; and to this the action is subordinate. The French abound most in comedies of character. Such are the capital pieces of Moliere. The English have inclined more to comedies of intrigue. Such are the plays of Congreve; and in general there is more story, action, and bustle in English than in French comedy.
The perfection of comedy is to be found in a proper mixture of these two kinds. Mere conversation without an interesting story is insipid. There should ever be so much intrigue, as to excite both fears and wishes. The incidents should be striking, and afford a proper field for the exbibition of character. The piece however, should not be overcharged with intrigue; for this would be to convert a comedy into a novel.
With respect to characters it is a common error of comic writers, to carry them much beyond real life; indeed it is very difficult to hit the precise point, where wit ends, and buffoonery begins. The comedian may exaggerate; but good sense must teach him where to stop.
In comedy there ought to be a clear distinction in characters. The contrast of characters, however, by pairs, and by opposites, is too theatrical and affected. It is the perfection of art to con
ceal art. A masterly writer gives us his characters, distinguisired rather by such shades of diversity, as are commonly found in society, than marked by such oppositions, as are seldom brought into actual contrast in any of the circumstances of life.
The style of comedy ought to be pure, lively, and elegant, generally imitating the tone of polite conversation, and never descending into gross expressions. Rhyme is not suitable to comic composition; for, what has poetry to do with the conversation of men in common life? The current of the dialogue should be easy without pertness and genteel without flippancy. The wit should never be studied, nor uoseasonable.
The ancient comedy was an avowed satire against particular persons, brought upon the stage by name, Such are the plays of Aristophanes; and compositions of so singular a nature, illustrate well the turbulent and licentious state of Athens. The most illustrious personages, generals, and magistrates were then inade the subjects of comedy. Vivacity, satire, and buffonery, are the characteristics of Aristophanes. On rnany occasions be displays genius and force; but his performances give us no high idea of the attic taste for wit in his age. His ridicule is extravagant; his wit farcical; his personal raillery cruel and biting; and his obscenity intolerable.
Soon after the age of Aristophanes, the liberty of attacking persons by name, on the stage,