תמונות בעמוד

ftudiously beware of making such representations of life, as would render virtue an object of averfion.

Unmixed characters, either of good or ill men, are not in the opinion of Aristotle fit for tragedy. For the distresses of the former, as unmerited, hurt us ; and the fufferings of the latter excite no compaffion. Mixed characters afford the best field for displaying, without injury to morals, the vicissitudes of life. They interest us the most deeply; and their distresses are most instructive, when represented, as fpringing out of their own passions, or as originating in some weakness, incident to human nature,

The Greek tragedies are often founded on mere defa tiny and inevitable misfortunes. Modern tragedy aims at a higher object, and takes a wider range; as it shows the direful effects of ambition, jealousy, love, resentment, and of every strong emotion. But of all the passions, which furnish matter for tragedy, love has most occupied the modern stage. To the antient theatre love was almost unknown. This proceeded from the national manners of the Greeks, which encouraged: a greater separation of the sexes, than takes place in modern times; and did not admit female actors upon the antient stage; a circumstance, which operated against the introduction of love stories. No solid reason however can be assigned for this predominancy of love upon the stage. Indeed it not only limits the natural extent of tragedy, but degrades its majesty. Mixing

it with the great and folemn revolutions of human fortune tends to give tragedy the air of gallantry and juvet nile entertainment. · Without any asistance from love the drama is capable of producing its highest effects upon the mind.

Beside the arrangement of his fubject, and the conduct of his personages, the tragic poet must attend to the propriety of his sentiments. These must be fuited to the characters of the persons, to whom they are attri. buted, and to the situations, in which they are placed. It is chiefly in the pathetic parts, that the difficulty and importance of this rule are greatest. We go to a trage. dy, expecting to be moved ; and, if the poet cannot reach the heart, he has no tragic merit ; and we return cold and disappointed from the performance.

To paint and to excite passion strongly are preroga. tives of genius. They require not only ardent sensibility, but the power of entering deeply into characters. It is here, that candidates for the drama are least successful. A man under the agitation of pallion makes known his feelings in the glowing language of fensibility. He does not coolly describe, what his feel. ings are ; yet this sort of secondary description tragic poets often give us instead of the primary and native language of passion. Thus in Addison's Cato, when Lucia confesses to Portius her love for him, but swears that she will never marry him ; Portius instead of giv

ing way to the language of grief and astonishment only describes his feelings ;

Fir'd in astonishment, I gaze upon thee,
Like one just blasted by a stroke from heaven,
Who pants for breath, and stiffens yet alive

la dreadful looks; a monument of wrath. This might have proceeded from a bystander, or are. indifferent person ; but it is altogether improper in the mouth of Portius. Similar to this descriptive language . are the unnatural and forced thoughts, which tragic.

poets sometimes employ, to exaggerate the feelings of persons, whom they wish to paint, as strongly moved.. Thus, when Jane Shore on meeting her husband in distress, and finding that he had forgiven her, calls on the rains to give her their drops, and to the springs to lend her their streams, that she may have a constant supply of tears; we fee plainly that it is not Jane Shore, that fpeaks ; but the poet himfelf, who is ftraining his fancy, and fpurring up his genius, to say something uncommonly strong and lively. '

The language of real paflion is always plain and fimple. It abounds indeed in figures, that express a disturbed and impetuous state of mind; but never employs any for parade and embellishment. Thoughts, fuggested by passion, are natural and obvious; and not the offspring of refinement, subtilty, and wit. Pase fion neither reasons, speculates, nor declaims ; its language is short, broken, and interrupted. The French

tragedians đeal too much in refinement and declamation. The Greek tragedianş: adhere most to nature, and are most pathetic. This too is the great excellency of Shakespeare. He exhibits the true language of nature and paflion.

Moral sentiments and reflexions ought not to recur very frequently in tragedy. When unseasonably crowded, they lose their effect, and convey an air of pedantry.When introduced with propriety, they give dignity to the composition. Cardinal Wolsey's soliloquy on his fall is a fine instance of the felicity, with which they may be employed. Much of the merit of Addison's, Cato depends on that moral turn of thought, which distinguishes it. .

- The style and versification of tragedy should be free, easy, and variedEnglish blank verse is happily suited to this species of composition. It has sufficient majesty, and can descend to the simple and familiar); it admits a happy variety of cadence, and is free from the con-straint and monotony of rhyme. Of the French trage. dies it is a great misfortune, that they are always in. rhyme. For it fetters the freedom of the tragic dia. logue, fills it with a languid monotony, and is fatal to the power of paffion. . ..

. • With regard to those splendid comparisons in rhyme

and those strings. of couplets, with which it was some time ago fashionable to conclude the acts of a tragedy,

and fometimes the most interesting scenes, they are now laid aside, and regarded not only, as childish ornaments, but as perfect barbarisms.


1 HE plot of Greek tragedy was exceedingly simple ; the incidents few; and the conduct very exact with regard to the unities of action, time, and place. Machinery, or the intervention of gods, was employed ; and, what was very faulty, the final unravelling was sometimes made to turn upon it. Love, one or two instances excepted, was never admitted into Greek tragedy. A vein of morality and religion always runs through it; but they employed less than the moderns, the combat of the passions. Their plots were all taken from the antient traditionary stories of their own nation.

Æschylus, the father of Greek tragedy, exhibits both the beauties and defects of an early original writer. He is bold, nervous, and animated'; but very obscure, and difficult to be understood. His style is highly métaphorical, and often harsh and tumid. He abounds in martial ideas and descriptions, has much fire and elevation, and little tenderness. He also delights in the marvellous.

The most masterly of the Greek tragedians is Sophocles. He is the most correct in the conduct of his

« הקודםהמשך »