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Et tragicus plerumque dolet sermone pedestri.
Arg. Poet. v. 95.
Tragedians too lay by their state, to grieve.
Among our modern English poets, there is none who was better turned for tragedy than Lee; if, instead of favouring the impetuosity of his genius, he had restrained it, and kept it within its proper bounds. His thoughts are wonderfully suited to tragedy, but frequently lost in such a cloud of words, that it is hard to see the beauty of them : there is an infinite fire in his works, but so involved in smoke, that it does not appear in half its lustre. He frequently succeeds in the passionate parts of the tragedy, but more particularly where he slackens his efforts, and eases the style of those epithets and metaphors, in which he so much abounds. What can be more natural, more soft, or more passion. ate, than that line in Statira's speech,' where she describes the charms of Alexander's conversation ?
Then he would talk :
-Good Gods! how he would talk!
That unexpected break in the line, and turning the description of his manner of talking into an admiration of it, is inexpressibly beautiful, and wonderfully suited to the fond character of the person that speaks it. There is a simplicity in the words, that outshines the utmost pride of expression.
Otway has followed nature in the language of his tragedy and therefore shines in the passionate parts, more than any of our English poets. As there is something familiar and domestic in the fable of his tragedy, more than in those of any
1 The Rival Queens, Act I. Some editions read—will for would.-G.
poet, he has little pomp, but great force in bis expressions. For which reason, though he has admirably succeeded in the tender and melting part of his tragedies, he sometimes falls into too great a familiarity of phrase in those parts, which, by Aristotle's rule ought to have been raised and supported by the dignity of expression.
It has been observed by others, that this poet has founded his tragedy of Venice Preserved on so wrong a plot, that the greatest characters in it are those of rebels and traitors. Had the hero of his play discovered the same good qualities in the defence of his country, that he shewed for its ruin and subversion, the audience could not enough pity and admire him: but as he is now represented, we can only say of him what the Roman historian says of Catiline, that his fall would have been glorious (si pro patriâ sic concidisset) had he so fallen in the service of his country."
* This, and the four following critical papers, are very judicious, and extreme.y well written.--H.
No. 40.—MONDAY, APRIL 16.
Ac ne forte putes me, quæ facere ipse recusem.
Hor. 2. Ep. 1. p. 18.
The English writers of tragedy are possessed with a notion, that when they represent a virtuous or innocent person in dig. tress, they ought not to leave him till they have delivered him out of his troubles, or made him triumph over his enemies. This error they have been led into by a ridiculous doctrine in modern criticism, that they are obliged to an equal distribution of rewards and punishments, and an impartial execution of poeti. cal justice. Who were the first that established this rule I know not; but I am sure it has no foundation in nature, in reason, or in the practice of the ancients. We find that good and evil happen alike to all men on this side the grave; and as the principal design of tragedy is to raise commiseration and terror in the minds of the audience, we shall defeat this great end, if we always make virtue and innocence happy and successful. Whatever crosses and disappointments a good man suffers in the body of the tragedy, they will make but small impression
· V. Original Letters, familiar, moral, and critical, by M. J. Dennis; % vols. 8 vo. 1721, p. 407.-C.
on our minds, when we know that in the last act he is to arrive at the end of his wishes and desires. When we see him engaged in the depth of his afflictions, we are apt to comfort ourselves, because we are sure he will find his way out of them; and that his grief, how great soever it may be at present, will soon terminate in gladness. For this reason the ancient writers of tragedy treated men in their plays as they are dealt with in the world, by making virtue sometimes happy, and sometimes miserable, as they found it in the fable which they made choice of, or as it might affect their audience in the most agreeable manner." Aris. totle considers the tragedies that were written in either of these kinds, and observes, that those which ended unhappily, had always pleased the people, and carried away the prize in the public disputes of the stage, from those that ended happily. Terror and commiseration leave a pleasing anguish in the mind; and fix the audience in such a serious composure of thought, as is much more lasting and delightful than any little transient starts of joy and satisfaction. Accordingly, we find that more of our English tragedies have succeeded, in which the favourites of the audience sink under their calamities, than those in which they recover themselves out of them. The best plays of this kind are the Orphan, Venice Preserved, Alexander the Great, Theodosius, All for Love, Edipus, Oroonoko, Othello, &c. Kiny Lear is an admirable tragedy of the same kind, as Shakespear wrote it; but as it is reformed according to the chimerical notion of poetical justice, in my humble opinion it has lost half its beauty. At the same time I must allow, that there are very
| The application of this principle in 'Cato,' is one of the grounds of Dennis's severe attack upon that play,—"It is certainly,” he says, “the Cuty of every tragic-poet, by the exact distribution of poetical justice, in imitate the divine dispensation; and to inculcate a particular provi. Tence.”G
noble tragedies, which have been framed upon the other plan, and have ended happily; as indeed most of the good tragedies, which have been written since the starting of the abovementioned criticism, have taken this turn; as the Mourning Bride, Tamerlane, Ulysses, Pbædra and Hippolytus, with most of Mr. Dryden's. I must also allow, that many of Shakespear's, and several of the celebrated tragedies of antiquity, are cast in the same form. I do not therefore dispute against this way of writing tragedies, but against the criticism that would establish this as the only method; and by that means would very
thr English tragedy, and perhaps give a wrong bent to the genius of our writers.
The tragi-comedy, which is the product of the English theatre, is one of the most monstrous inventions that ever entered into a poet's thoughts. An author might as well think of weaving the adventures of Æneas and Hudibras into one poem, as of writing such a motley piece of mirth and sorrow. But the ab. surdity of these performances is so very visible, that I shall not insist upon
it. The same objections which are made to tragi-comedy, may in some measure be applied to all tragedies that have a double plot in them; which are likewise more frequent upon the English stage, than upon any other : for though the grief of the audience, in such performances, be not changed into another passion, as in tragi-comedies, it is diverted upon another object, which weakens their concern for the principal action, and breaks the tide of sorrow, by throwing it into different channels. This inconvenience, however, may in a great measure be cured, if not wholly removed, by the skilful choice of an under-plot, which may bear such a near relation to the principal design, as to contribute towards the completion of it, and be concluded by the same catas trophe.