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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, Oedipus, Oroonokon, Othello, &c. King 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 noble tragedies, which have been framed upon the other plan, and have ended happily; as indeed most of the good tragedies which have been IO 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 the English tragedy, and perhaps give a wrong bent to the genius of our writers.

The tragi-comedy, which is the product of the English 20 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 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, 30 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 catastrophe.

There is also another particular which may be reckoned among 40 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 seen 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 10 vehemence to words where there was no passion, or inflaming a real passion into fustian. This hath filled the mouths of our heroes with bombast; 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, and 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 20 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 scene, 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 shew how a rant pleases beyond the most just and natural thought that is not pronounced with vehemence, I would 30 desire the reader, when he sees the tragedy of Oedipus, to observe how quietly the hero is dismissed at the end of the third act”, after having pronounced the following lines, in which the thought is very natural, and apt to move compassion:

To you, good gods, I make my last appeal;

Or clear my virtues, or my crimes reveal.

If in the maze of fate I blindly run,

And backward tread those paths I sought to shun,

Impute my errors to your own decree;

My hands are guilty, but my heart is free.

Let us then observe with what thunder-claps of applause he leaves



the stage, after the impieties and execrations at the end of the fourth act; and you will wonder to see an audience so cursed and so pleased at the same time.

O that, as oft I have at Athens seen

(Where by the way there was no stage till many years after Oedipus)

The stage arise, and the big clouds descend,

So now, in very deed, I might behold

This pond'rous globe, and all yon marble roof,
Meet like the hands of Jove, and crush mankind.
For all the elements, etc.


Having spoken of Mr. Powell, as sometimes raising himself applause from the ill taste of the audience; I must do him the justice to own, that he is excellently formed for a tragedian, and, when he pleases, deserves the admiration of the best judges; as I doubt not but he will in the Conquest of Mexico", which is acted for his own benefit to10 morrow night.-C.

No. 44. Tragic artifices; butchery frequent on the English stage; arguments against it; comic artifices.

Tu, quid ego et populus mecum desideret, audi.

HOR. Ars Poet. 155.

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, especially when he appears in 20 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 circumstances 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. Who 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!
Be thou a spirit of health, or goblin damn'd;
Bring with thee airs from heav'n, or blasts from hell;
Be thy intents wicked or charitable;

Thou com'st in such a questionable shape,

That I will speak to thee. I'll call thee Hamlet,

King, Father, Royal Dane: Oh! answer me,

Let me not burst in ignorance; but tell

Why thy canonized bones, hearsed in death,

Have burst their cerements? Why the sepulchre,
Wherein we saw thee quietly inurn'd,

Hath op'd his ponderous and marble jaws,

To cast thee up again? What may this mean?
That thou, dead corse, again in complete steel
Revisit'st thus the glimpses of the moon,
Making night hideous?

I do not therefore find fault with the artifices above mentioned, when they are introduced with skill, and accompanied by proportionable sentiments and expressions in the writing.

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 distress 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 without it; all that I would contend for is, to keep it 20 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, that observed how this had took in other plays, being resolved to double the distress, and melt his audience twice as much as those before

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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 that appears upon the stage is an afflicted widow in her mourning weeds, with half a dozen fatherless children attending her, like those that usually o 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 terror, there is none so absurd and barbarous, and what more exposes us to the contempt and ridicule of our neighbours, 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 20 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 carcases in the last scene of a tragedy; and to observe in the wardrobe of the playhouse 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 agreeable 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 30 absurdities almost as ridiculous as that which falls under our present censure. I remember in the famous play" of Corneille, written upon 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 40 passion is wrought to its height, he follows his sister the whole

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