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of plays. As to avoid a satire upon others, I will make bold with my own MARRIAGE A-LA-MODE, where there are manifestly two actions, not depending upon one another : but in OEDIPUS there cannot properly be said to be two actions, because the love of Adrastus and Eurydice has a necessary dependence on the principal design, into which it is woven. The natural reason of this rule is plain; for two different independent actions distract the attention and concernment of the audience, and consequently destroy the intention of the poet. If his business be to move terrour and pity, and one of his actions be comical, the other tragical, the former will divert the people, and utterly make void his greater purpose. Therefore, as in perspective, so in tragedy, there must be a point of sight in which all the lines terminate ; otherwise the eye wanders, and the work is false. This was the practice of the Grecian stage. But Terence made an innovation in the Roman : all his plays have double actions ; for it was his custom to translate two Greek comedies, and to weave them into one of his, yet so, that both the actions were
s Our author (as has been already observed) is not always consistent with himself. In the Dedication of The Spanish FRIAR, written two years after this Essay appeared, he prophecies that few tragedies, except those in verse, would succeed, unless they were lightened with a course of mirth : “ A several genius (he adds) is required to either way; and without both of them, a man, in my opinion, is but half a writer for the stage."
GROUNDS OF CRITICISM comical ; and one was principal, the other but secondary or subservient. And this has obtained on the English stage, to give us the pleasure of variety.
As the action ought to be one, it ought as such, to have order in it; that is, to have a natural beginning, a middle, and an end. A natural beginning, says Aristotle, is that which could not necessarily have been placed after another thing; and so of the rest. This consideration will arraign all plays after the new model of Spanish plots, where accident is heaped upon accident, and that which is first might as reasonably be last : an inconvenience not to be remedied, but by making one accident naturally produce another ; otherwise it is a farce, and not a play.' Of this nature is The SLIGHTED MAID;" where there is no scene in the first act, which might not by as good reason be in the fifth. And if the action ought to be one, the tragedy ought likewise to conclude with the action of it. Thus in MUSTAPHA,” the play should naturally have ended with the death of Zanger, and not have given us the grace-cup after dinner of Solyman's divorce from Roxolana. ! The following properties of the action are so easy, that they need not my explaining. It ought to be great, and to consist of great persons, to distinguish it from comedy; where the action is
: o A comedy by Sir Robert Stapylton, 4to. 1663. : MUSTAPHA is a tragedy in rhyme, written by Roger Boyle, earl of Orrery, and published in folio, in 1672.
trivial, and the persons of inferior rank. The last quality of the action is, that it ought to be probable, as well as admirable and great. It is not necessary that there should be historical truth in; . it; but always necessary that there should be a
likeness of truth, something that is more than barely possible, probable being that which succeeds or happens oftener than it misses. To invent therefore a probability, and to make it wonderful, is the most difficult undertaking in the art of poetry: for that which is not wonderful is not great, and that which is not probable will not delight a reasonable audience. This action thus described, must be represented, and not told, to distinguish dramatick poetry from epick :—but I hasten to the end, or scope of tragedy; which is to rectify or purge our passions, fear, and pity.
To instruct delightfully is the general end of all poetry. Philosophy instructs, but it performs its work by precept; which is not delightful, or not so delightful as example. To purge the passions by example, is therefore the particular instruction which belongs to tragedy. Rapin, a judicious critick, has observed from Aristotle, that pride, and want of commiseration, are the most predominant vices in mankind; therefore, to cure us of these two, the inventors of tragedy have chosen to work upon two other passions, which are, fear and pity. We are wrought to fear, by their setting before our eyes some terrible example of misfortune, which happened to persons of the
highest quality; for such an action demonstrates to us, that no condition is privileged from the turns of fortune : this must of necessity cause terrour in us, and consequently abate our pride. But when we see that the most virtuous, as well as the greatest, are not exempt from such misfortunes, that consideration moves pity in us, and insensibly works us to be helpful to, and tender over, the distressed; which is the noblest and most godlike of moral virtues. Here it is observable, that it is absolutely necessary to make a man virtuous, if we desire he should be pitied. We lament not, but detest, a wicked man; we are glad when we behold his crimes are punished, and that poetical justice is done upon him. Euripides was censured by the criticks of his time, for making his chief characters too wicked: for example, Phædra, though she loved her son-in-law with reluctancy, and that it was a curse upon her family for offending Venus, yet was thought too ill a pattern for the stage. Shall we, therefore, banish all characters of villany? I confess I am not of that opinion ; but it is necessary that the hero of the play be not a villain : that is, the characters which should move our pity ought to have virtuous inclinations, and degrees of moral goodness in them. As for a perfect character of virtue, it never was in nature ; and therefore there can be no imitation of it. But there are allays of frailty to be allowed for the chief persons; yet so that the good which is in them shall outweigh
the bad, and consequently leave room for punishment on the one side, and pity on the other.
After all, if any one will ask me, whether a tragedy cannot be made upon any other grounds, than those of exciting pity and terrour in us ; Bossu, the best of modern criticks, answers thus in general : that all excellent arts, and particularly that of poetry, have been invented and brought to perfection by men of a transcendent genius ; and that therefore, they who practise afterwards the same arts, are obliged to tread in their footsteps, and to search in their writings the foundation of them; for it is not just that new rules should destroy the authority of the old. But Rapin writes more particularly thus : that no passions in a story are so proper to move our concernment as fear and pity; and that it is from our concernment we receive our pleasure, is undoubted: when the soul becomes agitated with fear for one character, or hope for another, then it is that we are pleased in tragedy, by the interest which we take in their adventures.
Here, therefore, the general answer may be given to the first question, how far we ought to imitate Shakspeare and Fletcher in their plots ; namely, that we ought to follow them so far only, as they have copied the excellencies of those who invented and brought to perfection dramatick poetry: those things only excepted, which religion, customs of countries, idioms of languages, &c.