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and besides, has allowed a very inconsiderable time, after Catiline's speech, for the striking of the battle, and the return of Petreius, who is to relate the event of it to the senate : which I should not animadvert on him, who was otherwise a painful observer of tò apérov, or the decorum of the stage, if he had not used extreme severity in his judgment on the incomparable Shakspeare for the same fault.*--To conclude on this subject of relations ; if we are to be blamed for shewing too much of the action, the French are as faulty for discovering too little of it: a mean betwixt both should be observed by every judicious writer, so as the audience may neither be left unsatisfied by not seeing
* The only passage in which Jonson expressly mentions Shakspeare, is found in his Discoveries; but it contains nothing relative to the present point. He has not, however, been sparing of covert sarcasms on that incomparable poet in various parts of his works; and probably meant to sneer at him in the following dialogue in Every Man out of his HUMOUR, to which, I suppose, our author here alludes,
“ Mit. He cannot alter the scene without crossing the " seas.
“ Cor. He need not, having a whole island to run " through, I thinke.
* Mit. No! how comes it then that in some one play we “ see so many seas, countries, and kingdoms pass'd over with "such admirable dexteritie?
“ Cor. O, that but shews how well the authors can “ travaile in their vocation, and outrun the apprehension “ of their auditorie.”
See also the Prologue to EVERY MAN IN HIS HUMOUR, folio, 1616.
what is beautiful, or shocked by beholding what is either incredible or undecent.
I hope I have already proved in this discourse, that though we are not altogether so punctual as the French, in observing the laws of comedy, yet our errours are so few, and little, and those things wherein we excel them so considerable, that we ought of right to be preferred before them. But what will Lisideius say, if they themselves acknowledge they are too strictly bounded by those laws, for breaking which he has blamed the English ? I will alledge Corneille's words, as I find them in the end of his Discourse of the three Unities :-)) est facile aux speculatifs d'estre severes, &c. “ 'Tis “ easy for speculative persons to judge severely ; “ but if they would produce to publick view ten (or twelve pieces of this nature, they would per“haps give more latitude to the rules than I have “done, when, by experience, they had known “ how much we are limited and constrained by « them, and how many beauties of the stage they “ banished from it.” To illustrate a little what he has said : By their serviłe observations of the unities of time and place, and integrity of scenes, they have brought on themselves that dearth of plot, and narrowness of imagination, which may be observed in all their plays. How many beautiful accidents might naturally happen in two or three days, which cannot arrive with any probability in the compass of twenty-four hours? There is time to be allowed also for maturity of design, which, amongst great and prudent persons, such as are
often' represented in tragedy, cannot, with any likelihood of truth, be brought to pass at so short a warning. Farther; by tying themselves strictly to the unity of place, and unbroken scenes, they are forced many times to omit some beauties which cannot be shewn where the act began; but might, if the scene were interrupted, and the stage cleared for the persons to enter in another place; and therefore the French poets are often forced upon absurdities : for if the act begins in a chamber, all the persons in the play must have some business or other to come thither, or else they are not to be shewn that act; and sometimes their characters are very unfitting to appear there : as, suppose it were the king's bed-chamber; yet the meanest inan in the tragedy must come and dispatch his business there, rather than in the lobby or courtyard, (which is fitter for him,) for fear the stage should be cleared, and the scenes broken. Many times they fall by it into a greater inconvenience ; for they keep their scenes unbroken, and yet change the place; as in one of their newest plays, where the act begins in the street. There a gentleman is to meet his friend; he sees him with his man, coming out from his father's house; they talk together, and the first goes out: the second, who is a lover, has made an appointment with his mistress ; she appears at the window, and then we are to imagine the scene lies under it. This gentleman is called away, and leaves his servant with his mistress : presently her father is heard from within ;. the young lady is afraid the servingman should be discovered, and thrusts him into a place of safety, which is supposed to be her closet. After this, the father enters to the daughter, and now the scene is in a house ; for he is seeking from one room to another for this poor Philipin, or French Diego, who is heard from within, drolling and breaking many a miserable conceit on the subject of his sad condition. In this ridiculous manner the play goes forward, the stage being never empty all the while : so that the street, the window, the two houses, and the closet, are made to walk about, and the persons to stand still. Now, what I beseech you is more easy than to write a regular French play, or more difficult than to write an irregular English one, like those of Fletcher, or of Shakspeare?
bal A 10 If they content themselves, as Corneille did, with some flat design, which, like an ill riddle, is found out ere it be half proposed, such plots we can make every way regular, as easily as they ; but whenever they endeavour to rise to any quick turns and counterturns of plot, as some of them have attempted, since Corneille's plays have been less in vogue, you see they write as irregularly as we, though they cover it more speciously. Hence the reason is perspicuous, why no French plays, when translated, have, or ever can succeed on the
SA servant in Sir Samuel Tuke's ADVENTURES OF Five HOURS ; who is described by the author as “ a great coward, and a pleasant droll.” Philipin is, I suppose, a character in the French play alluded to.
English stage. For, if you consider the plots, out own are fuller of variety; if the writing, ours are more quick and fuller of spirit; and therefore 'tis a strange mistake in those who decry the way of writing plays in verse, as if the English therein imitated the French. We have borrowed nothing from them; our plots are weaved in English looms : we endeavour therein to follow the variety and greatness of characters which are derived to us from Shakspeare and Fletcher ; the copiousness and well-knitting of the intrigues we have from Jonson ; and for the verse itself we have English precedents of elder date than any of Corneille's plays. Not to name our old comedies before Shakspeare, which were all writ in verse of six feet, or Alexandrines, such as the French now use, I can shew in Shakspeare, many scenes of rhyme
This assertion is made with too great latitude. Many of the old Interludes and Moralities before the time of Shakspeare were chiefly, but not entirely, composed of . lines of twelve or fourteen syllables ; and that sort of metre was generally appropriated to the Vice in the Moralities, and to the Clown or buffoon in other Interludes. But several of Lily's comedies, which were exhibited before the time of Shakspeare, were written almost entirely in prose; and some other comedies of that period, such as The TAMING OF A Shrew, The Old Wives Tale, The FAMOUS VICTORIES OF HENRY THE Fifth, &c. were written in blank verse, with prose occasionally intermixed. Of the long hobbling metre alluded to by our author, various specimens may be found at the end of THE COMEDY OF ERRORS ;-Shakspeare's Plays and Poems, vol. ii. p. 203. edit. 1790.