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to captivate their attention; to move their passions; and to lead them, spell-bound, by the attraction of his song. But the feelings and passions of men, differ with the individuals; and, in the same person, they do not always remain unvaried. Some love merely to be amused, others to be instructed; some to laugh, and others to shed tears. It is, therefore, that Poetry has been divided into classes: into the grave and the gay. The reader takes up the volume that is most consistent with the feelings in which he has been accustomed to indulge; or that which is suggested by the transient humour of the hour. He enjoys the Witch-revels of Tam O'Shanter, or he muses over the tomb of Gray. His patriotism glows anew with the strains of Lucan; or his piety is elevated by the daring fictions of Milton. He loses his way, amid chilling mists, with the heroes of Ossian; or he is lulled into pensive reverie, by the never-ceasing lamentations of Young.
Although the Dramatist has exactly the same object in view as the poet, it is here that his difficulties begin. The audience, whom he would lead through the mazes of his tale, is made up of individuals of the most discordant characters, -the flippant and the ignorant,-the serious and the wise. Sentiments, the most pathetic, or
sublime, excite nothing but languor or laughter in the former; while they are rendered unpalatable to the latter, in consequence of their being either mumbled into sillabubs, or torn to tatters, by the mouthing of the actors. Instead of a sober house of entertainment, frequented by guests who meet together from similarity of taste, the Theatre is a caravansera: a motley assemblage of every tribe and every tongue, in which the master of the inn has a hundred forms of ceremony to assume, and a hundred different tastes to gratify.
A single piece, in order to satisfy such an audience would require to be a medley; and, accordingly, it is only with something of the kind, (or by a succedaneum to the same effect) that a manager can hope to please. Tragedy, Pantomime, and Farce, must all be represented in a single evening; and lest the first should tire the spectators, it must be enlivened, between the acts, by humorous songs, accompanied by the tumultuous tones of an Orchestra where the Goddess of Noise sits enthroned. Neither are our Theatres the best schools of morality, for they have scarcely improved, in that respect, beyond their prototypes of Bartholomew fair. Scenes are introduced, not more wise, and much less delicate, than the pranks of Punch and Judy;
while, to keep such ribaldry in countenance and to add to the attractions of the house, the boxes, the lobby, and the saloon, are filled up by the gratis admission of ladies of easy virtue. Was it always thus? We know not; but we suspect that those prurient passages, which deform many, otherwise excellent, plays, and which even stain the pages of the immortal Shakspeare, had been introduced solely to please the Gods of the Gallery, and the Demireps of fashion.
Considering a Drama, not as it usually is but as it ought to be, Critics have laid down rules for its construction. The chief of these respect the preservation of THE THREE UNITIES, of action, of time, and of place.
1. The unity of action, which demands, even more rigourously than the Epic, that a single object shall be invariably kept in view. Circumstances and events, all apparently tending to some single consequence, gradually thicken as the play advances; but the issue remains uncertain until the close of the last act, when the catastrophe is revealed, and the result of the plot is accomplished. No underplot, or secondary action, is allowable, unless it tend to the prominent purposes of the piece, lest, by division, the general interest should be weakened.
2. The unity of time is measured by the cre
dulity of the audience, who must not be shocked by the lengthened period to which the action of the Drama is apparently protracted. The Chinese are said to continue the representation of a play for ten or twelve successive days, during which they may admit, with less improbability, of a more lengthened series of actions than we, with all our submission to the scene, could conceive to have taken place in the course of two or three hours. It is true that the pause between the Acts favours the illusion; but the intervention of a whole night gives much greater scope to the imagination. Even this, however, could scarcely cover the shocking absurdity of certain pieces that have lately been brought forward and applauded, on the English stage; in which the same person, who appears as a young gentleman, in the first Act, arrives at the middle age in the second; and, in the third Act, appears again before us as an old man!
3. The unity of place, was more necessarily observed in the ancient Greek Dramas than in those of our days. Between one Act and another we may imagine ourselves transported to a distant country, and the delusion is facilitated by the shifting of the Scene; but with them the Scene was never varied. Neither was the stage ever empty; for, in the intervals of the main
action, it was filled by the Chorus, who were understood to be spectators, and interested in the catastrophe. These gave information, to the real audience, such as we are now in the habit of receiving through the means of Soliloquies and Confidants.
Another Canon of Dramatic Criticism is termed Poetical Justice; by which it is understood that the personages shall, at the close of the play, be rewarded, or punished, according to their several deserts. This, as a general rule, has been objected to, on the principle that it is seldom consonant with what we see of human life; in which the wicked often flourish, while the virtuous are allowed to perish. There is, however, a better reason why this should be left to the judgment of the poet: the catastrophe would otherwise be always anticipated, and the interest would, in consequence, be lost.
In the Rules here given, it is always understood that the Drama is a compressed Epic: that, like the latter, it tends to some point of interest, and is susceptible of poetical embellishment. Such is the Tragedy of Macbeth, which might be expanded into an Epic Poem; having its machinery composed of ghosts and witches. Few, however, of the plays of this immortal author could be so treated, A Drama,