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I HE strain and spirit of comedy discriminate it fufficiently from tragedy. While pity, terror, and the other Itrong passions form the province of the latter ; the fole inftrument of the former is ridicule. (Follies and vices, and whatever in the human character is improper, or exposes to censure and ridicule, are objects of comedy. ; As a satirical exhibition of the improprie. ties and follies of men, it is useful and moral. It is commendable by this species of composition to correct and to polith the manners of men. Many vices are more successfully exploded by ridicule, than by serious arguments. It is poflible however to employ ridicule improperly, and by its operation to do mischief instead of good. For ridicule is far from being a proper test of truth. Licentious writers therefore of the comic cials have often cast ridicule on objects and characters, which did not deserve it. But this is not the fault of comedy, but of the turn and genius of certain writers. In the hands of loose men comedy will miflead and corrupt; but in those of virtuous writers it is not only a gay and innocent, but a laudable and useful entertainment. English comedy however is frequently a Ichool of vice.
The rules of dramatic action, that were prescribed for tragedy, belong also to comedy. A comic writer muit observe the unities of action, time, and place. He must attend to nature and probability. The imi
tation of manners ought to be even more exact in comedy, than in tragedy; for the subjects of comedy are more familiar and better known.
The subjects of tragedy are confined to no age, nor country ; but it is otherwise in comedy. For the decorums of behaviour, and the nice discriminations of character, which are the subjects of comedy, change with time and country ; and are never fo well underkood by foreigners, as by natives. We weep for the heroes of Greece and Rome; but we are touched by the ridicule of fưch manners and characters only, as we fee and know. The scene therefore of comedy fhould always be laid in the author's own country and age. The comic poet catches the manners living, as they rife.
It is true indeed, that Plautus and Terence did not follow this rule. The fcene of their comedies is laid in Greece, and they adopted the Greek laws and cur. toms. But it is to be remembered, that comedy was in their age a new entertainment in Rome, and that they were contented with the praise of tranflating Mea nander and other comic writers of Greece. In pofte. rior times the Romans had the “Comedia Togata,” or what was founded on their own manners, as well, as the “ Çomædia Palliata,” which was taken from the Greeks.
There are two kinds of comedy, that of character, and that of intrigue. In the last the plot or action of the play is the principal object. In the first the dif.
play of a peculiar character is the chief point; and to this the action is subordinate. The French abound. moft in comedies of character. Such are the capital pieces of Moliere. The English have inclined more to comedies of intrigue. Such are the plays of Congreve ; and in general there is more story, action, and bustle in English, than in French comedy.
The perfection of comedy is to be found in a proper mixture of these two kinds. Mere-conversation without an interesting story is insipid. There should ever be fo much intrigue, as to excite both fears and wishes. The incidents should be striking, and afford a proper field; for the exhibition of character. The piece however should not be overcharged with intrigue ;, for this: would be to convert a comedy into a novel.
With respect to characters. it is a common error of comic writers, to carry them much beyond real life ; indeed it is very difficult to hit the precise point, where: wit ends, and buffoonery begins. The comedian may exaggerate ; but good sense must teach him, where: to stop.
In comedy there ought to be a clear distinction in characters. The contrast of characters however by pairs, and by opposites, is too theatrical and affected. It is the perfection of art to conceal art. A masterly writer gives us his characters, distinguished rather by such shades of diversity, as are commonly found in som ciety, than marked by such oppositions, as are feldom
brought into actual contrast in any of the circumstan. ces of life.
* The style of comedy ought to be pure, lively, and elegant, generally imitating the tone of polite conversation, and never descending into gross expressions. Rhyme is not suitable to comic composition ; for what has poetry to do with the conversation of men in common life? The current of the dialogue should be easy without pertness, and genteel without flippancy. The wit sould never be ftudied, nor unseasonable.
ANTIENT COMEDY. I HE antient comedy was an avowed satire against particular persons, brought upon the stage by name. Such are the plays of Aristophanes ; and compositions of so singular a nature illustrate well the turbulent and liecntious state of Athens. The most illustrious personages, generals and magistrates, were then made the subjects of comedy. Vivacity, satire, and buffoonery are the characteristics of Aristophanes. . On many occafions he displays genius and force ; but his performances give us no high idea of the attic taste for wit in his age. His ridicule is extravagant; his wit farcical ; hiş personal raillery cruel and biting; and his obscenity intolerable.
Soon after the age of Aristophanes the liberty of atfacking persons by name on the stage was prohibited
by law. The middle comedy then took its rise. Liv. ing persons were still attacked, but under fictitious. names. Of these pieces we have no remains. They were succeeded by the new comedy ; when it became, as it is now, the business of the stage to exhibit manners and characters, but not those of particular persons. The author of this kind, most celebrated among the Greeks, was Menander ; but his writings are perished.
Of the new comedy of the antients the only remains are the plays of Plautus and Terence. The first is emis nent for the vis comica, and for an expressive phraseology. He bears however many marks of the rudeness of the dramatic art in his time. He has too much low wit and scurrility ; and is by far too quaint and full of conceit. He has more variety and more force, than Terence; and his characters are strongly marked; though sometimes coarsely.
Terence is polished, delicate, and elegant. His style. is a model of the most pure and graceful latinįty. His dialogue is always correct and decent; and his relations have a picturesque and beautiful fimplicity. His morality is in general unexceptionable; his situations are interesting ; and many of his sentiments touch the heart. He may be considered, as the founder of serie ous comedy. In sprightliness and strength he is defi. cient. There is a fiumene?s in his characters and plots ; and he is faid to have been inferior to Menander, whom he copied. To form a perfect comic' author, the spirit and fire of Plautus ought to be united with the grace
'scrrectness of Terence. .