« VorigeDoorgaan »
as business to mercurial men is an interruption from their real existence and happiness. Though the dull part of mankind are harmless in their amusements, it were to be wished they had no vacant time, because they usually undertake something that makes their wants conspicu. ous hy their manner of supplying them. You shall sel. dom find a dull fellow of good education, but, if he hap. pens to have any
his hands, will turn his head to one of those two amusements for all fools of eminence, politics or poetry. The former of these arts is the study of all dull people in general; but when dulness is lodged in a person of a quick animal life, it generally exerts itself in poetry. One might here mention a few military writers, who give great entertainment to the age, by reason that the stupidity of their heads is quickened by the alacrity of their hearts. This constitution in a dull fellow gives vigour to nonsense, and makes the puddle boil which wonld otherwise stagnate. The British Prince, that celebrated poem, which was written in the reign of King CHARLES II. and deservedly called by the wits of that age Incomparable, was the effect of such an happy genius as we are speaking of. From a. mong many other distichs no less to be quoted on this: account, I cannot but recite the two following lines :
A painted vest Prince VOLTAGER had on,
Which from a naked Pict liis grandsire won. Here if the poet had not been vivacious as well as stu-pid, he could not, in the warmth and hurry of nonsense,. have been capable of forgetting, that neither Prince Vol. TAGER, nor his grandfather, could strip a naked man of his doublet ; but a fool of a colder constitution would have staid to have flead the Pict, and made buff of his skin, for the wearing of the conqueror.
To bring these observations to some useful purpose of life, what I would propose should be, that we imitated those wise nations wherein every man learns some han. dicraft work. Would it not employ a beau prettily e. nough, if, instead of eternally playing with a snuff-box, he spent some part of his time in making one? Such a method as this would very much conduce to the public emolu. ment, by making every man living good for soniething;
for there would then be no member of human society, but would have some little pretensions for some degree in it; like him who came to Will's coffee-house, upon the merit of having writ a posy of a ring.
NO. 44.-FRIDAY, APRIL 20. 1717.
Tu quid ego et populus mecum desideret, audi..
HOR. ARS. POET. 153..
Now hear what every
SPECTACLES OF HORROR AT TRAGEDIES.
AMONG the several artifices which are put in practice by the poets to fill the minds of an audience with terror, the first place is due to thunder and lightning; which are often made use of at the descending of a god, or the rising of a ghost, at the vanishing of a devil, or at the death of a tyrant. I have known a bell introduced into several tragedies with good effect; and have seen the whole assembly in a very great alarm all the while it has been ringing. But there is nothing which delights and terrifies our English theatre so much as a ghost, espe. cially when he appears in a bloody shirt. A spectre has. very often saved a play, though he has done nothing but stalked across the stage, or rose through a cleft of it, and sunk again without speaking one word. There may be a proper season for these several terrors ; and when they only come in as aids and assistances to the poet, they are not only to be excused, but to be applauded. Thus the sounding of the clock in Venice Preserved, makes the hearts of the whole audience quake; and conveys a stronger terror to the mind than it is possible for words to do. The appearance of the ghost in HAMLET is a masterpiece in its kind, and wrought up with all the cir. cumstances that can create either attention or horror. The mind of the reader is wonderfully prepared for his reception by the discourses that precede it: his dumb
behaviour at his first entrance strikes the imagination very strongly ; but every time he enters, he is still more terrifying. Wo can read the speech with which young HAMLET accosts him, without trembling?
HOR. Look, my Lord, it comes !
HAM. Angels and ministers of grace defend us !
Thou com’st in such a questionable shape,
For the moving of pity, our principal machine is the handkerchief: and indeed in our common tragedies, we should not know very often that the persons are in disa tress by any thing they say, if they did not from time to time apply their handkerchiefs to their eyes. Far be it from me to think of banishing this instrument of sorrow from the stage : -I know a tragedy could not subsist with out it: all that I would contend for is, to keep it from being misapplied. In a word, I would have the actor's tongue sympathize with his
eyes. A disconsolate mother, with a child in her hand, has frequently drawn compassion from the audience, and has therefore gained a place in several tragedies. A modern writer, who observed how this had taken in other plays, being resolved to double the distress, and melt his audi. ence twice as much as those before him had done, brought a princess upon the stage with a little boy in one hand! and a girl in the other. This too had a very good effect. - A third poet, being resolved to outwrite all his
predecessors, a few years ago introduced three children with great success : and, as I am informed, a young gentleman, who is fully determined to break the most obdurate hearts, has a tragedy by him, where the first. person
appears upon the stage is an afflicted widow in her mourning weeds, with half-a dozen fatherless chil. dren attending her, like those that usually hang about the figure of charity. Thus several incidents that are : beautiful in a good writer, become ridiculous by falling into the hands of a bad one.
But among all our methods of moving pity or terrory there is done so absurd and barbarous, and what more exposes us to the contempt and ridicule of our neigh. bours, than that dreadful butchering of one another, which is so very frequent upon the English stage. To delight in seeing men stabbed, poisoned, racked, or impaled, is certainly the sign of a cruel temper: and as this is often practised before the British audience, several French critics, who think these are grateful spectacles to us, take occasion from them to represent us as a people that delight in blood. It is indeed very odd to see our stage strewed with carcasses in the last scene of a tragedy , and to observe in the wardrobe of the play, house several daggers, poniards, wheels, bowls for poison, and many other instruments of death. Murders and executions are always transacted behind the scenes in the French theatre ; which in general is very agree. able to the manners of a polite and civilized people; but as there are no exceptions to this rule on the French stage, it leads them into absurdities almost as ridiculous as that which falls under our present censure. I remem. ber in the famous play of CORNEILLE, written
the subject of the Horatii and Curiatii ; the fierce young hero who had overcome the Curiatii, one after another (instead of being congratulated by his sister for his victory, being upbraided by her for having slain her lover), in the height of his passion and resentment kills her. If any thing could extenuate so brutal an action, it would be the doing of it on a sudden, before the sentiments of nature, reason, or manhood could take place in him. However, to avoid public bloodshed, as soon as his passion is wrought to its height, he follows his sister the
whole length of the stage, and forbears killing her till they are both withdrawn behind the scenes. I must confess, had he murdered her before the audience, the indecency might have been greater ; but as it is, it appears very unnatural, and looks like killing in cold blood. To give my opinion upon
this case, the fact ought not to have been represented, but to have been told, if there was any occasion for it.
It may not be unacceptable to the reader to see how SOPHOCLES has conducted tragedy under the like delicate circumstance. ORESTES was in the same condition with HAMLET in SHAKESPEARE, his mother having murdered his father, and taken possession of his kingdom in conspiracy with the adulterer. The young prince, therefore, being determined to revenge his father's death upon those who filled his throne, conveys himself by a beau. tiful
stratagem into his mother's apartment, with a resolution to kill her. But because such a spectacle would have been too shocking for the audience, this dreadful resolution is executed behind the scenes: the mother is heard calling out to her son for mercy; and the son answering her that she shewed no mercy to his father; after which she shrieks out that she is wounded, and by what follows we find that she is slain. I do not remember that in any
of our plays there are speeches made bebind the scenes, though there are other instances of this nature to: be met with in those of the ancients: and I believe my reader will agree with me, that there is something infinitely more affecting in this dreadful dialogue between the mo. ther and her son behind the scenes, than could have been in any thing transacted before the audience. Orestes immediately after meets the usurper at the entrance of his palace; and, by a very happy thought of the poet, avoids. killing him before the audience, by telling him that he should live some time in his present bitterness of soul be. fore he would dispatch him, and by ordering him to retire into that part of the palace where he had slain his. father, whose murder he would revenge in the very same place where it was committed. By this means the poet. observes that decency, which Horace afterwards esta. blished by a rule, of forbearing to commit parricides or punatural murders before the audience.