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that it is not the only model of all tragedy, because it is too much circumscribed in plot, characters, &c. and lastly, that we may be taught here justly to admire and imitate the ancients, without giving them the preference, with this author, in prejudice to our own country
Want of method in this excellent treatise, makes the thoughts of the author sometimes obscure.
His meaning, that pity and terrour are to be moved, is, that they are to be moved as the means conducing to the ends of tragedy, which are pleasure and instruction.
And these two ends may be thus distinguished. The chief end of the poet is to please ; for his immediate reputation depends on it.
The great end of the poem is to instruct, which is performed by making pleasure the vehicle of that instruction ; for poesy is an art, and all arts are made to profit. Rapin.
The pity which the poet is to labour for, is for the criminal, not for those or him whom he has murdered, or who have been the occasion of the tragedy. The terrour is likewise in the punishment of the same criminal, who, if he be represented too great an offender, will not be pitied; if altogether innocent, his punishment will be unjust.
Another obscurity is, where he says, Sophocles perfected tragedy by introducing the third actor ; that is, he meant, three kinds of action; one
company singing, or speaking ; another playing on the musick; a third dancing.
To make a true judgment in this competition betwixt the Greek poets and the English, in tragedy:
Consider, first, how Aristotle has defined a tragedy. Secondly, what he assigns the end of it to be. Thirdly, what he thinks the beauties of it. Fourthly, the means to attain the end proposed.
Compare the Greek and English tragick poets justly, and without partiality, according to those rules.
Then secondly, consider whether Aristotle has made a just definition of tragedy; of its parts, of its ends, and of its beauties; and whether he, having not seen any others but those of Sophocles, Euripides, &c. had, or truly could determine what all the excellencies of tragedy are, and wherein they consist.
Next shew in what ancient tragedy was deficient; for example, in the narrowness of its plots, and fewness of persons; and try whether that be not a fault in the Greek poets, and whether their excellency was so great, when the variety was, visibly so little; or whether what they did was not very easy to do.
Then make a judgment on what the English have added to their beauties; as, for example, not only more plot, but also new passions, as, namely, that of love, scarce touched on by the ancients,
except in this one example of Phædra, cited by Mr. Rymer ; and in that how short they were of Fletcher.
Prove also that love, being an heroick passion, is fit for tragedy, which cannot be denied, because of the example alledged of Phædra; and how far Shakspeare has outdone them in friendship, &c.
To return to the beginning of this enquiry ; consider, if pity and terrour be enough for tragedy to move; and I believe, upon a true definition of tragedy, it will be found that its work extends farther, and that it is to reform manners, by a delightful representation of human life in great persons, by way of dialogue. If this be true, then not only pity and terrour are to be moved, as the only means to bring us to virtue, but generally love to virtue, and hatred to vice, by shewing the rewards of one, and punishments of the other; at least, by rendering virtue always amiable, though it be' shewn unfortunate, and vice detestable, though it be shewn triumphant.
If then, the encouragement of virtue, and discouragement of vice, be the proper ends of poetry in tragedy, pity and terrour, though good means, are not the only. For all the passions, in their turns, are to be set in a ferment; as joy, anger, love, fear, are to be used as the poet's commonplaces, and a general concernment for the principal actors is to be raised, by making them appear such in their characters, their words, and actions, as will interest the audience in their fortunes.
And if, after all, in a larger sense, pity comprehends this concernment for the good, and terrour includes detestation for the bad, then let us consider whether the English have not answered this end of tragedy, as well as the ancients, or perhaps better.
And here Mr. Rymer's objections against these plays are to be impartially weighed, that we may see whether they are of weight enough to turn the balance against our countrymen.
It is evident, those plays which he arraigns, have moved both those passions in a high degree upon the stage. • To give the glory of this away from the poet, and to place it upon the actors, seems unjust. 8
One reason is, because whatever actors they have found, the event has been the same, that is, the same passions have been always moved; which
8“We may remember, (says Rymer,) however we find this scene of Melantius and Amintor written in the book, that at the theatre we have a good scene acted. There is work cut out, and both our Æsopus and Roscius are on the stage together : whatever defect may be in Amintor and Melantius, Mr. Hart and Mr. Mohun are wanting in nothing. To these we owe for what is pleasing in the scene ; and to this scene we may impute the success of The Maid's TRAGEDY.” Again : “ These say, for instance, a KING AND No King pleases; I say, the shews, that there is something of force and merit in the plays themselves, conducing to the design of raising these two passions : and suppose them ever to have been excellently acted, yet action only adds grace, vigour, and more life, upon the stage, but cannot give it wholly where it is not first. But secondly, I dare appeal to those who have never seen them acted, if they have not found these two passions moved within them; and if the general voice will carry it, Mr. Rymer's prejudice will take off his single testimony.
This, being matter of fact, is reasonably to be established by this appeal; as if one man says it is night, when the rest of the world conclude it to be day,* there needs no farther argument against him, that it is so.
If he urge, that the general taste is depraved, his arguments to prove this can at best but eyince that our poets took not the best way to raise those passions; but experience proves against him, that
comical part pleases. I say that Mr. Hart pleases ; most of the business falls to his share, and what he delivers every one takes upon content; their eyes are prepossessed and charmed by his action, before aught of the poet's can approach their ears; and to the most wretched of characters he gives a lustre and brillant, which dazzles the sight, that the deformities in the poetry cannot be perceived."
* The word when, which is omitted in the transcript used by Dr. Johnson, I have supplied from the first edition. So, in a preceding passage, p. 308, 1. 1. the word speaking has been restored from the same copy.