Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

1

and sometimes miserable, as they found it in the fable which they made choice of, or as it might affect their audience in the mos agreeable manner. Aristotle 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 endei happily. Terror and commiseration leaving 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 litt's 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. King Lear” is an admirable tragedy of the same kind as Shakespeare 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 noble tragedies, which have been framed upon the other plas, and have ended happily; as indeed most of the good tragedies

, which have been written since the starting of the above-mentioned criticism, have taken this turn: as The Mourning Bride." “ Tamerlane," " Ulysses,” Phædra and Hippolitus," with most of Mr. Dryden's. I must also allow that many of Shakespeare'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 much cramp 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

After Cato had appeared it was whispered that Addison in the Spro Tator had endeavoured to prepare the public to give his tragedy a goed reception, by promulgating critical opinions in accordance with his drama It was said that the condemnation of poetical justice in this Essay was inspired by this motive. But this report is like many other slanders which were malignantly insinuated against Addison's fair fame. All profound critica agree now that nothing can be more absurd than this Paley doctrine of rewards and punishments brought into tragedy. The greatest tragedies, and especially those of Shakespeare, are formed on a principle quite opposed to this cant about poetical justice.-(M.)

such a motley piece of mirth and sorrow. But the absurdity 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 trag-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 catastrophe.

There is also another particular, which may be reckoned among the blemishes, or rather the false beauties of our English tragedy: I mean those particular speeches which are commonly known by the name of Rants. The warm and passionate parts of a tragedy are always the most taking with the audience; for which reason we often see the players pronouncing, in all the violence of action, Several parts of the tragedy which the author writ with great temper, and designed that they should have been so acted. I have Reen Powell very often raise himself a loud clap by this artifice. The poets that were acquainted with this secret, have given frequent occasion for such emotions in the actor by adding vehemence to words where there was no passion, or inflaming a real passion ato fustian. This hath filled the mouths of our heroes with bomlast; and given them such sentiments, as proceed rather from a swelling than a greatness of mind. Unnatural exclamations, curses, vows, blasphemies, a defiance of mankind, and an outraging of the gods, frequently pass upon the audience for towering thoughts, rund have accordingly met with infinite applause.

I shall here add a remark, which I am afraid our tragic writers may make an ill use of. As our heroes are generally lovers, their swelling and blustering upon the stage very much recommends them to the fair part of their audience. The ladies are wonderfully pleased to see a man insulting kings, or affronting the gods, in one yrene, and throwing himself at the feet of his mistress in another. Let him behave himself insolently towards the men, and abjectly towards the fair one, and it is ten to one but he proves a favourite of the boxes. Dryden and Lee, in several of their tragedies, have practised this secret with good success.

But to show how a rant pleases beyond the most just and natural thought that is not pronounced with vehemence, I would desire the reader, when he sees the tragedy of “Edipus,” to observe

[graphic]

There is another near relation of the anagrams and acrost which is commonly called a chronogram. This kind of wit appe very often on many modern medals, especially those of Germa when they represent in the inscription the year in which theys coined. Thus we see on a medal of Gustavus Adolphus, the lowing words, CHRISTVs DuX ERGO TRIVMPHVs. If you take pains to pick the figures out of the several words, and range th in their proper order, you will find they amount to MDCXXVII., 1627, the year in which the medal was stamped : for as some the letters distinguish themselves from the rest, and overtop t fellows, they are to be considered in a double capacity, both letters and as figures. Your laborious German wits will turn e a whole dictionary for one of these ingenious devices. A 1 would think they were searching after an apt classical term, instead of that they are looking out a word that has an L, an or a D in it. When therefore we meet with any of these inse tions, we are not so much to look in them for the thought, as for year of the Lord.

The bouts-rimez were the favourites of the French nation fe whole age together, and that at a time whan it abounded in and learning. They were a list of words that rhyme to one anot) drawn up by another hand, and given to a poet, who was to m a poem to the rhymes in the same order that they were pla upon the list: the more uncommon the rhymes were, the more traordinary was the genius of the poet that could accommodate verses to them. I do not know any greater instance of the de of wit and learning among the French (which generally follows declension of empire) than the endeavouring to restore this foo kind of wit. If the reader will be at the trouble to see example it, let him look into the new “ Mercure Gallant;" where the aut every month gives a list of rhymes to be filled up by the ingeni in order to be communicated to the public in the “ Mercure the succeeding month. That for the month of November 1 which now lies before me, is as follows:

Lauriers Guerriers Musette Lisette Cæsars Etendars Houlette

Folette One would be amazed to see so learned a man as Menage ti ing on this kind of trifle in the following passage :

« Monsieur de la Chambre has told me, that he never kn

impostures are not to be tolerated in civil society, and I think his misfortune ought to be made public, as a warning for other men always to examine into what they admire.

** SIR,

" Supposing you to be a person of general knowledge, I make my application to you on a very particular occasion. I have a great Irind to be rid of my wife, and hope, when you consider my case, Fou will be of opinion I have very just pretensions for a divorce. I am a mere man of the town, and have very little improvemeat, but what I have got from plays. I remember in the

Silent Woman," the learned Dr. Cutberd, or Dr. Otter (I forget which), makes one of the causes of separation to be Error Perwhee; when a man marries a woman, and finds her not to be the syme woman whom he intended to marry, but another. If that be

, it is, I presume, exactly my case. For you are to know, Mr. SPECTATOR, that there are women who do not let their husbands xe their faces till they are married.

** Not to keep you in suspense, I mean plainly that part of the I who paint. They are some of them so exquisitely skilful this Fay, that give them but a tolerable pair of eyes to set up with, and they will make bosom, lips, cheeks, and eye-brows, by their own Iviustry. As for my dear, never was man so enamoured as I was of her fair forehead, neck, and arms, as well as the bright jet of her

but to my great astonishment I find they were all the Heet of art. Her skin is so tarnished with this practice, that en she first wakes in a morning, she scarce seems young nough to be the mother of her whom I carried to bed the night efore. I shall take the liberty to part with ber by the first oppor* inity, unless her father will make her portion suitable to her real, it her assumed countenance. This I thought fit to let him and Her know by your means.

“I am, Sir, Your most obedient, humble servant.”

air;

I cannot tell what the law, or the parents of the lady, will do rip this injured gentleman, but must allow he has very much juste on his side. I have indeed very long observed this evil, and

1-tinguished those of our women who wear their own, from those in borrowed complexions, by the Picts and the British. There does not need any great discernment to judge which are which. The British have a lively animated aspect; the Picts, though never

beautiful, have dead, uninformed countenances. The muscles of a real face sometimes swell with soft passion, sudden surprise, and are flushed with agreeable confusions, according as the objects VOL. I.

к

[graphic]

No. 61. THURSDAY, MAY 10, 1711.

Non equidem studeo, bullatis ut mihi nugis
Pagina turgescat, dare pondus idonea fumo.

PERS. SAT. Y.

'Tis not indeed my talent to engage
In lofty trifles, or to swell my page
With wind and noise.

DRIDEX. "THERE is no kind of false wit which has been so recomm by the practice of all ages, as that which consists in a jin words, and is comprehended under the general name of pur It is indeed impossible to kill a weed, which the soil has a ni disposition to produce. The seeds of punning are in the i of all men; and though they may be subdued by reason, tion, and good sense, they will be very apt to shoot up i greatest genius that is not broken and cultivated by the ri art. Imitation is natural to us, and when it does not rais mind to poetry, painting, music, or other more noble arts, it breaks out in puns and quibbles.

Aristotle, in the eleventh chapter of his book of rhi describes two or three kinds of puns, which he calls parag among the beauties of good writing, and produces instan them out of some of the greatest authors in the Greek to Cicero has sprinkled several of bis works with puns, and i book where he lays down the rules of oratory, quotes abun of sayings as pieces of wit, which also upon examination arrant puns. But the age in which the pun chiefly flour was in the reign of King James the First. That learned mo was himself a tolerable punster, and made very few bisho privy-counsellors that had not some time or other signalized selves by a clinch, or a conundrum. It was therefore in th that the pun appeared with pomp and dignity. It had been admitted into merry speeches and ludicrous composi but was now delivered with great gravity from the pulpit, o nounced in the most solemn manner at the council-table. greatest authors, in their most serious works, made frequei of puns. The sermons of Bishop Andrews, and the traged Shakespeare, are full of them. The sinner was punned repentance by the former, as in the latter nothing is more than to see a hero weeping and quibbling for a dozen together.

I must add to these great authorities, which seem to have a kind of sanction to this piece of false wit, that all the wri

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »