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It is first necessary to consider why, probably, the compositions of the ancients, especially in their serious plays, were after this manner; and it will be found, that the subjects they commonly chose drove them upon the necessity, which were usually the most known stories and fables. Accordingly, Seneca making choice of Medea, Hyppolitus, and Hercules Oetus, it was impossible to shew Medea throwing old mangled Æson into her age-renewing caldron, or to present the scattered limbs of Hyppolitus: upon the stage, or shew Hercules burning upon his own funeral pileand this the judicious Horace clearly speaks of in his Arte Poetica, where he says,
Non tamen intus
Quodcunque ostendis mihi sic, incredulus odi. So that it appears a fault to choose such subjects for the stage, but much greater to affect that method which those subjects enforce; and therefore the French seem much mistaken, who, without the necessity, sometimes commit the error: and this is as plainly decided by the same author in his preceding words :
Aut agitur res in scenis, aut acta refertur :
Ipse sibi tradit spectator.
every thing makes more impression presented than related. Nor, indeed, can any one rationally assert the contrary; for if they affirm otherwise, they do by consequence maintain, that a whole play might be as well related as acted: therefore, whoever chooses a subject that enforces him to relations, is to blame; and he that does it without the necessity of the subject, is much more.
If these premises be granted, it is no partiality to conclude, that our English plays justly challenge the pre-eminence; yet I shall as candidly acknowledge, that our best poets have differed from other nations, (though not so happily,) in usually mingling and interweaving mirth and sadness through the whole course of their plays, Ben Jonson only excepted, who keeps himself entire to one argument. And I confess I am now convinced in my own judgment, that it is most proper to keep the audience in one entire disposition both of concern and attention ; for when scenes of so different natures immediately succeed one another, it is probable the audience may not so suddenly recollect themselves, as to start into an enjoyment of the mirth, or into a concern for the sadness. Yet I dispute not but the variety of this world may afford pursuing accidents of such different natures : but yet, though possible in themselves to be, they may not be so proper to be presented; an entire connexion being the natural beauty of all plays, and language the ornament to dress them in ; which, in serious subjects, ought to be great and
easy, like a high-born person, that expresses greatness without pride or affectation. The easier dictates of nature ought to flow in Comedy, yet separated from obsceneness, there being nothing more impudent than the immodesty of words : wit should be chaste; and those that have it can only write well :
Scimus inurbanum lepido seponere dicto. Another way of the ancients, which the French follow, and our stage has now lately practised; is, to write in rhyme ; and this is the dispute betwixt many ingenious persons, whether verse in rhyme, or verse without the sound, which may be called blank verse, (though a hard expression,) is to be preferred. But take the question largely, and it is never to be decided ; but, by right application, I suppose it may; for in the general, they are both proper, that is, one for a play, the other for a poem or copy of verses ; a blank verse being as much too low for one, as rhyme is unnatural for the other. A poem being a premeditated form of thoughts upon designed occasions, ought not to be unfurnished of any harmony in words or sound; the other is presented as the present effect of accidents not thought of: so that it is impossible it should be equally proper to both these, unless it were possible that all persons were born so much more than poets, that verses were not to be composed by them, but already made in them. Some may object, that this argument is trivial, because,
whatever is shewed, it is known still to be but a play; but such may as well excuse an ill scene, that is not naturally painted, because they know it is only a scene, and not really a city or country. • But there is yet another thing which makes verse upon the stage appear more unnatural; that is, when a piece of a verse is made up by one that knew not what the other meant to say, and the former verse answered as perfectly in sound as the last is supplied in measure ; so that the smartness of a reply, which has its beauty by coming from sudden thoughts, seems lost by that which rather looks like a design of two, than the answer of one. It may be said, that rhyme is such a confinement to a quick and luxuriant fancy, that it gives a stop to its speed, till slow judgment comes in to assist it; but this is no argument for the question in hand : for the dispute is not, which way 4 man may write best in, but which is most proper for the subject he writes upon; and, if this were let pass, the argument is yet unsolved in itself: for he that wants judgment in the liberty of his fancy, may as well shew the defect of it in its confinement: and, to say truth, he that has judgment will avoid the errors, and he that wants it will commit them both. It may be objected, it is improbable that any should speak extempore as well as Beaumont and Fletcher makes them, though in blank verse : I do not only acknowledge that, but that it is also improbable any will write so well that way. But . if that may be allowed improbable, I believe it