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But it is to be concluded, that this passion works not now amongst the French so strongly, as the other two did amongst the ancients. Amongst us, who have a stronger genius for writing, the operations from the writing are much stronger ; for the raising of Shakspeare's passions is more from the excellency of the words and thoughts, than the justness of the occasion ;6 and if he has been able to pick single occasions, he has never founded the whole reasonably; yet, by the genius of poetry in writing, he has succeeded.
Rapin attributes more to the dictio, that is, to the words and discourse of a tragedy, than Aristotle has done, who places them in the last rank of beauties; perhaps, only last in order, because they are the last product of the design, of the disposition or connection of its parts, of the characters, of the manners of those characters, and of the thoughts proceeding from those manners. Rapin's words are remarkable: It is not the admirable intrigue, the surprising events, and extraordinary incidents, that make the beauty of a tragedy; it is the discourses, when they are natural and passionate.So are Shakspeare's.
The parts of a poem, tragick or heroick, are, ]. The fable itself.
2. The order or manner of its contrivance, in relation of the parts to the whole.
o With what truth can this be said of ROMEO AND JULIET, MACBETH, KING LEAR, and OTHELLO?
13. The manners, or decency of the characters, in speaking or acting what is proper for them, and proper to be shewn by the poet.
4. The thoughts, which express the manners. 5. The words, which express those thoughts.
In the last of these, Homer excels Virgil ; Virgil all other ancient poets; and Shakspeare all modern poets.?
For the second of these, the order : the meaning is, that a fable ought to have a beginning, middle, and an end, all just and natural; so that that part, e. g. which is the middle, could not naturally be the beginning or end, and so of the rest : all depend on one another, like the links of a curious chain. If terrour and pity are only to be raised, certainly this author follows Aristotle's rules, and Sophocles' and Euripides's example ; but joy may be raised too, and that doubly, either by seeing a wicked man punished, or a good man at last fortunate; or perhaps indignation, to see wickedness prosperous, and goodness depressed : both these may be profitable to the end of tragedy, reformation of manners; but the last improperly, only as it begets pity in the audience; though Aristotle, I confess, places tragedies of this kind in the second form.
He who undertakes to answer this excellent critique of Mr. Rymer, in behalf of our English
; If our author had said " In the last three of these Shakspeare excels all modern poets,” he would, I con. ceive, have been nearer to the truth.
poets against the Greek, ought to do it in this manner : either by yielding to him the greatest part of what he contends for, which consists in this, that the pulos, i. e. the design and conduct of it, is more conducing in the Greeks to those ends of tragedy, which Aristotle and he propose, namely, to cause terrour and pity; yet the granting this does not set the Greeks above the English poets.
But the answerer ought to prove two things; first, that the fable is not the greatest masterpiece of a tragedy, though it be the foundation of it.
Secondly, that other ends, as suitable to the nature of tragedy may be found in the English, which were not in the Greek.
Aristotle places the fable first; not quoad dignitatem, sed quoad fundamentum : for a fable, never so movingly contrived to those ends of his, pity and terrour, will operate nothing on our affections, except the characters, manners, thoughts, and words, are suitable.
So that it remains for Mr. Rymer to prove, that in all those, or the greatest part of them, we are inferior to Sophocles and Euripides ; and this he has offered at, in some measure ; but, I think, a little partially to the ancients.
For the fable itself: it is in the English more adorned with episodes, and larger than in the Greek poets ; consequently more diverting. For if the action be but one, and that plain, without
any counter-turn of design or episode, i.e. underplot, how can it be so pleasing as the English, which have both under-plot and a turned design, which keeps the audience in expectation of the catastrophe ? whereas in the Greek poets we see through the whole design at first.
For the characters, they are neither so many nor so various in Sophocles and Euripides, as in Shakspeare and Fletcher; only they are more adapted to those ends of tragedy which Aristotle commends to us, pity and terrour.
The manners flow from the characters, and consequently must partake of their advantages and disadvantages.
The thoughts and words, which are the fourth and fifth beauties of tragedy, are certainly more noble and more poetical in the English than in the Greek, which must be proved by comparing them somewhat more equitably than Mr. Rymer has done.
After all, we need not yield that the English way is less conducing to move pity and terrour, because they often shew virtue oppressed and vice punished; where they do not both, or either, they are not to be defended.
And if we should grant that the Greeks performed this better, perhaps it may admit of dispute, whether pity and terrour are either the prime, or at least the only ends of tragedy. .
It is not enough that Aristotle has said so, for Aristotle drew his models of tragedy from Sopho
cles and Euripides; and if he had seen ours, might have changed his mind. And chiefly we have to say, (what I hinted on pity and terrour, in the last paragraph save one,) that the punishment of vice and reward of virtue are the most adequate ends of tragedy, because most conducing to good example of life. Now pity is not so easily raised for a criminal, (and the ancient tragedy always represents its chief person such,) as it is for an innocent man ; and the suffering of innocence and punishment of the offender is of the nature of English tragedy: contrarily, in the Greek, innocence is unhappy often, and the offender escapes. Then we are not touched with the sufferings of any sort of men so much as of lovers, and this was almost unknown to the ancients : so that they neither administered poetical justice, of which Mr. Rymer boasts, so well as we; neither knew they the best common-place of pity, which is love.
He therefore unjustly blames us for not building on what the ancients left us; for it seems, upon consideration of the premises, that we have wholly finished what they began.
My judgment on this piece is this ; that it is extremely learned, but that the author of it is better read in the Greek than in the English poets ; that all writers ought to study this critique, as the best account I have ever seen of the ancients; that the model of tragedy he has here given is excellent, and extreme correct; but