Слике страница
PDF
ePub

one compofition. Almoft all his plays are divided between serious and ludicrous characters, and, in

curious. It is, indeed, full of the pλo dive, and completely juftifies the attendant's defcription. Nothing can be more jolly. It is in the true spirit of a modern drinking fong; recommending it to the fervant to uncloud his brow, enjoy the present hour, think nothing of the morrow, and drown his cares in love and wine:

· ΟΥΤΟΣ- τι σεμνον και πεφροντικο βλεπεις ;
• Ου χρη σκυθρωπον, κ. τ. αλ.

· ΔΕΥΡ' ΕΛΘ ̓, όπως αν και σοφώτερος γενη.

· Τα θνητα πραγματ ̓ ὀιδας ἣν ἐχει φύσιν ;

• OIMAI μεν ΟΥ· ΠΟΘΕΝ ΓΑΡ;——ἀλλ ̓ ἀκε μ8.
• Βροτοις άπασι κατθάνειν ὀφείλεται,

· Κ' εκ ἐστι θνητων ὅστις ἑξεπιλαται

<

Την άυριον μέλλεσαν ἐι βιώσεται.

6

·

- H. T. A.'

Ευφραινε σαυτον· ΠΙΝΕ !———τον καθ ἡμέραν • Βιον λογιζε σον, τα δ' άλλα, της τυχής. Τιμα δέ και την πλείστον ἡδιστὴν θεῶν · ΚΥΠΡΙΝ βροτοισιν V. 783-812. "If any man can read this, without fuppofing it to have set the audience in a roar, I certainly cannot demonftrate that he is miftaken. I can only fay, that I think he must be a very grave man himself, and must forget that the Athenians were not a very grave people. The zeal of Pere Brumoy in defending this tragedy, betrays him into a little indiscretion. He fays, ' tout cela à fait penfer à quelques critiques modernes que cette piece etoit une tragi-comedie; chimere inconnu aux anciens. Cette piece eft du gout des autres tragedies antiques. Indeed they, who call this play a tragi-comedy, give it rather a favourable name; for, in the scenes alluded to, it is, in fact, of a lower fpecies than our tragi-comedy: it is rather burlesque tragedy; what Demetrius calls τραγώδια παίζεσα. Μuch of the comick caft prevails in other fcenes; though mixed with those genuine ftrokes of fimple and universal nature, which abound in this poet, and which I should be forry to exchange for that monotonous and unaffecting level of tragick dignity, which never falls, and never rifes.

"I will only mention one more inftance of this tragi-comick mixture, and that from Sophocles. The dialogue between Mi

the fucceffive evolutions of the defign, fometimes produce seriousness and forrow, and fometimes levity and laughter.

nerva and Ulyffes, in the first scene of the Ajax, from v. 74 to 88, is perfectly ludicrous. The cowardice of Ulyffes is almoft as comick as the cowardice of Falftaff. In spite of the presence of Minerva, and her previous affurance that the would effectually guard him from all danger by rendering him invifible, when the calls Ajax out, Ulyffes, in the utmost trepidation, exclaims· Τι δρας, Αθανα; μηδαμως σφ' εξω καλεί.

• What are you about, Minerva ?-by no means call him out." Minerva answers

?

· Ου σιγ' άνεξη, μηδε δειλίαν αρεις ;

'Will you not be filent, and lay afide your fears?' But Ulyffes cannot conquer his fears :

· ΜΗ, ΠΡΟΣ ΘΕΩΝ------ἀλλ ̓ ἐνδον ἀρκειτω μενων. 'Don't call him out, for heaven's fake :-let him stay within.' And in this tone the converfation continues; till, upon Minerva's repeating her promise that Ajax should not fee him, he confents to ftay; but in a line of moft comical reluctance, and with an afide, that is in the true fpirit of Sancho Pança:

• Μενοιμ ̓ ἀν' ΗΘΕΛΟΝ Δ ̓ ΑΝ ΕΚΤΟΣ ΩΝ ΤΥΧΕΙΝ. I'll ftay-(afide) but I wish I was not here.'

6

[ocr errors]

J'avoue, fays Brumoy, que ce trait n'eft pas à la louange d'Ulyffe, ni de Sophocle.'

"No unprejudiced perfon, I think, can read this scene without being convinced, not only, that it must actually have produced, but that it must have been intended to produce, the effect of comedy.

"It appears indeed to me, that we may plainly trace in the Greek tragedy, with all its improvements, and all its beauties, pretty ftrong marks of its popular and tragi-comick origin. For Tpaywdia, we are told, was, originally, the only dramatick appellation; and when, afterwards, the ludicrous was feparated from the ferious, and diftinguished by its appropriated name of Comedy, the feparation feems to have been imperfectly made, and Tragedy, diftinctively so called, still seems to have retained a tincture of its original merriment. Nor will this appear ftrange, if we confider the popular nature of the Greek fpectacles. The people, it is probable, would ftill require, even in the midst of their tragick emotion, a little dash of their old fatyrick fun, and poets were obliged to comply, in fome degree, with their tafte." Twining's Notes, pp. 202, 203, 204, 205, 206.

STEEVENS.

That this is a practice contrary to the rules of criticifm will be readily allowed; but there is always an appeal open from criticifm to nature. The end of writing is to inftruct; the end of poetry is to inftruct by pleasing. That the mingled drama may convey all the inftruction of tragedy or comedy cannot be denied, because it includes both in its alternations of exhibition, and approaches nearer than either to the appearance of life, by fhowing how great machinations and flender defigns may promote or obviate one another, and the high and the low co-operate in the general fyftem by unavoidable concatenation.

It is objected, that by this change of scenes the paffions are interrupted in their progreffion, and that the principal event, being not advanced by a due gradation of preparatory incidents, wants at laft the power to move, which conftitutes the perfection of dramatick poetry. This reafoning is fo fpecious, that it is received as true even by those who in daily experience feel it to be falfe. The interchanges of mingled fcenes feldom fail to produce the intended viciffitudes of paffion. Fiction cannot move so much, but that the attention may be easily transferred; and though it must be allowed that pleafing melancholy be fometimes interrupted by unwelcome levity, yet let it be confidered likewife, that melancholy is often not pleafing, and that the difturbance of one man may be the relief of another; that different auditors have different habitudes; and that, upon the whole, all pleafure confifts in variety.

The players, who in their edition divided our author's works into comedies, hiftories, and tragedies, feem not to have diftinguished the three kinds, by any very exact or definite ideas.

VOL. I.

S

An action which ended happily to the principal perfons, however ferious or diftrefsful through its intermediate incidents, in their opinion constituted a comedy. This idea of a comedy continued long amongst us, and plays were written, which, by changing the catastrophe, were tragedies to-day, and comedies to-morrow.9

Tragedy was not in those times a poem of more general dignity or elevation than comedy; it required only a calamitous conclufion, with which the common criticism of that age was fatisfied, whatever lighter pleasure it afforded in its progrefs.

History was a series of actions, with no other than chronological fucceffion, independent on each other, and without any tendency to introduce and regulate the conclufion. It is not always very nicely distinguished from tragedy. There is not much nearer approach to unity of action in the tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra, than in the hiftory of Richard the Second. But a history might be continued through many plays; as it had no plan, it had no limits.

[ocr errors]

Through all these denominations of the drama, Shakspeare's mode of compofition is the fame; an interchange of seriousness and merriment, by which the mind is foftened at one time, and exhilarated at another. But whatever be his purpose, whether to gladden or deprefs, or to conduct the ftory, without vehemence or emotion, through tracts of eafy and familiar dialogue, he never fails to attain his

9 Thus, fays Downes the Prompter, p. 22: "The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet was made fome time after [1662] into a tragicomedy, by Mr. James Howard, he preferving Romeo and Juliet alive; fo that when the tragedy was revived again, 'twas play'd alternately, tragical one day, and tragi-comical another, for several days together." STEEVENS.

purpose; as he commands us, we laugh or mourn, or fit filent with quiet expectation, in tranquillity without indifference.

When Shakspeare's plan is understood, moft of the criticisms of Rymer and Voltaire vanish away. The play of Hamlet is opened, without impropriety, by two centinels; Iago bellows at Brabantio's window, without injury to the scheme of the play, though in terms which a modern audience would not eafily endure; the character of Polonius is feafonable and useful; and the Gravediggers them→ felves may be heard with applause.

Shakspeare engaged in dramatick poetry with the world open before him; the rules of the ancients were yet known to few; the publick judgment was unformed; he had no example of fuch fame as might force him upon imitation, nor criticks of fuch authority as might reftrain his extravagance : he therefore indulged his natural difpofition, and his difpofition, as Rymer has remarked, led him to comedy. In tragedy he often writes with great appearance of toil and study, what is written at laft with little felicity; but in his comick scenes, he seems to produce without labour, what no labour can improve. In tragedy he is always ftruggling after fome occafion to be comick, but in comedy he feems to repofe, or to luxuriate, as in a mode of thinking congenial to his nature. In his tragick scenes there is always fomething wanting, but his comedy often furpaffes expectation or defire. His comedy pleases by the thoughts and the language, and his tragedy for the greater part by incident and action. His tragedy feems to be skill, his comedy to be instinct.'

1 In the rank and order of geniuses it muft, I think, be allowed, that the writer of good tragedy is fuperior. And there

« ПретходнаНастави »