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single halfpence are too much, be- contributors to such petitioners will cause they are given to the encourage- be few; and as we may be sure that ment of an indolent nuisance to our such will only ask till their real wants public streets ; and we know very well are relieved, we ought, as far as is in that hypocrisy and importunity fre- our power, to remove the painful nequently maintain their professors in cessity. dirty luxury. If the object of our Nor would this fall hard upon us : charity is really stimulated by oc- the instances which can come under casional distress, to prefer his modest the cognizance of an individual are lo plea, to give a half-penny or two is few, that we need not be so very to do nothing ; for it is an evident, sparing when they occur. though a melancholy, truth, that the [To be concluded in our next.]
An ESSAY on the DRAMATIC UNITIES.
rus *, it was observed, that the the plot, is a faulty violation of unity. discussion of that subject had cleared Of this the love-scenes in Addison's our way for examining, with more Cato are a remarkable instance. advantage, the three unities of action, The unity of the action is not to be place, and time, which have gene- confounded with the simplicity of the rally been considered as essential to plot. The play is said to be simple, the proper conduct of the dramatic when a small number of incidents is fable.
introduced into it; but it may also inOf these the most important is the clude a considerable number of perunity of action. This consists in a fors and events, and yet not be derelation, which all the incidents bear ficient in unity ; provided all the into fome design or effect, so as to com- cidents be made to tend toward the bine naturally into one whole. It is principal object of the play, and be necessary to Epic Poetry, but is still properly connected with it. In all more essential to Tragedy: for a the Greek tragedies, we not only find multiplicity of plots or actions, crowd- unity in the action maintained, but a ed into so short a space as Tragedy remarkable fimplicity in the plot; to allows, must distract the attention, such a degree, indeed, as sometimes and prevent passion from rising to any to appear to us too naked, and destiheight. Nothing, therefore, is more tute of interesting events; and yet, unskilful in a tragic poet, than to the most simple and barren subjects carry on two independent actions in are wrought up by Sophocles with fo the same play ; the effect of which is, much art, as to become very tender that the mind being suspended and and affecting ; particularly in his divided between them, cannot give Philoctetes and dipus Coloneus. itself up entirely either to the one or A much greater variety of events to the other. There may, indeed, has been admitted into modern trabe under-plots ; that is, the persons gedy. It has become more the theatre introduced may have different pur- of passion than it was among the Ansuits and designs; but the art of the cients. A greater display of chapoet must be thewn in managing these, racter is attempted; more intrigue to as to render them sublervient to and action are carried on; our cuthe main action. They should be riosity is more awakened, and more connected with the catastrophe, and interesting situations arise. This vaallift to bring it forward. Every in- riety is upon the whole, an improvetrigue which stands separate and in- ment of tragedy; it renders the endependent, and which may be omitted tertainment it only more animated, * Page 121.
but more instructive; and, when kept time, to furnish them with materials within due bounds, it may be perfectly for understanding the sequel. consistent with unity of lubject. But hould make them acquainted with the poet, at the same time, must take the personages who are to appear, care not to deviate too far from sim- with their respective views and in. plicity, in the construction of his fa- tereits, and with the situation of afble; for, if he overcharge it with fairs when the play commences. action and intrigue, it becomes per In the second, third, and fourth plexed and embarrassed ; and, confe- acts, the plot ihould gradually thicken, quently, loses much of its effect. Of The great object which the poet ought this, The Mourning Bride of Con- to have in view, is, by interesting us greve is a ftriking example.
in his story, to keep our passions al. Unity, of action must not only be ways awake. As soon as he allows ftudied in the general construction of us to languish, there is no more trathe fable, or plot, but must regulate gic merit. He should, therefore, inthe several acts and scenes into which
troduce no personages, but such as are the play is divided.
necessary for carrying on the act on. The division into five acts,' has no He should contrive to place those, other foundation than custom, and the whom he finds it proper to introduce, authority of Horace:
in the most interelting situations. He Neve minor, neu fit quinto productior actu should have no scenes of idle converFabula. DE ARTE POET.
sation, or mere declamation. The
action of the play ought to be always If you would have your play deserve suc. advancing, and, as it advances, the
cess, Give it five acts complete, nor more, nor
suspense and concern of the spectators
to be excited more and more. This less.
is the great excellency of ShakIt is a division purely arbitrary. speare. There is nothing in the nature of the 7 he fifth act is the seat of the cacomposition, to fix this number rather tastrophe, or the unravelling of the than any other; and it had been much plot, in which we always expect the better if no such number had been af- art and genius of the poet to be most certained, but every play had been fully displayed. It must be brought allowed to divide itself into as many about by probable and natural means. parts, or intervals, as the subject na- Hence all unravellings which turn turally pointed out. On the Greek upon disguised habits, rencounters by stage, the division into acts was to- night, mistakes of one person for ano, tally unknown.
ther, and other such theatrical and As practice has established a differ- romantic circumstances, are ent plan on the modern stage, divided condemned as faulty. It ought likeevery play into five acts, and made wise to be always simple, to depend a total pause in the representation at on few events, and to include but few the end of each act, the poet must be persons. Pation never rises so high, çareful that this pause fall fall in a when it is divided among many obproper place; where there is a na- jects, as when it is directed toward rural pause in the action; and where, one, or a few; and it is still more if the imagination has any thing to checked, if the incidents be so intrisupply, that is not represented on the cate, that the understanding is put on stage, it may be supposed to have the stretch to trace them, when the been transacted during the interval. heart should be wholly delivered up
The first act ought to contain a to emotion. The ca:aftrophe of The clear ex; -osition of the subject; to be Mourning Bride, as observed before, fo managed as to awaken the curiosity violates both these rules. In fine, the of the spectators; and, at the ta ve calatrophe ought to be the reign of
pure sentiment and passion. In pro- ward, than for an actor to enter, withportion as it approaches, every thing out our seeing any cause for his apihould warm and glow. No long pearing in that scene, except that it discourses, no cold reasonings, no was for the poet's purpose he should parade of genius, in the midft of those enter precisely at such a moment; or awful events that close some of the for an actor to go away without any great revolutions of human fortune. reason for his retiring, farther than There, the poet muk be fimple, feri- that the poet had no more speeches to ous, pathetic, and speak no language put into his mouth. This is managbut that of nature.
ing the Personæ Dramatis exactly like It is not essential to the catastrophe so many puppets, who are moved by of a tragedy that it should end un- wires, to answer the call of the master happily. In the course of the play, of the show. Whereas the perfection there may be sufficient agitation and of dramatic writing requires that every distress, and many tender emotions thing should be conducted in imitaraifed by the sufferings and dangers tion, as nearly as possible, of some real of the virtuous, though, in the end, transaction; where we are let into good men are rendered successful. the secret of all that is passing, where, The tragic spirit, therefore, does not we behold persons before us always want scope upon this system. But, in busy; see them coming and going; general, the spirit of tragedy, espe- and know perfectly whence they come, cially of English tragedy, inclines and whither they go, and about what more to the side of leaving the im- they are employed. pression of virtuous sorrow full and
To render the unity of action more strong upon the heart.
complete, critics have added the other It is now necessary to take notice two unities of time and place. The of the conduct of the several scenes strict observance of these is more diffiwhich make up the acts of a play. cult, and perhaps not so necessary.
The entrance of a new person upon The unity of place requires that the the stage, forms, what is called, a scene should never be shifted; but that new scene. These scenes, or fuccef- the action of the play should be confive conversations, should be closely tinued to the end, in the same place connected with each other; and much where it is supposed to begin. "The of the art of dramatic composition is unity of time, Atrictly taken, requires, shewn in maintaining this connection. that the time of the action be no Two rules are necessary to be ob- longer than the time that is allowed served for this purpose.
for the representation of the play; The first is, that during the course though Aristotle seems to have given of one act, the stage should never be the poet a little more liberty, and left vacant, though but for a single permitted the action to comprehend moment; that is, all the persons who the whole time of one day. have appeared in one scene, should The intention of both these rules, never go off together, and be fuc- is to overcharge, as little as possible, ceeded by a new set of persons ap- the imagination of the ipectators with pearing in the next scene, indepen- improbable circumitances in the acting dent of the former. This makes a of the play, and to bring the imitagap, or total interruption, in the re tion more close to reality. But, it presentation, which, in effect, puts must be observed, that the nature of an end to that act: for whenever the dramatic exhibitions
the Greek stage is evacuated, the act is closed. flage, tubjected their tragedians to a
The second rule is, that no person more itrict observance of these unities should enter, or leave, the ttage, with- than is receffary in moderal theatres. out an evident reason both for the one A Greek tragedy, as already intiand the other. Nothing is more awk mated, was one uninterrupted repre
sentation from beginning to end. the unities of time and place. During There was no division of acts; no the course of each act, they ought to pause or interval between them; but be strictly observed; that is, during the stage was continually full; oc- each act, the scene should continue cupied either by the actors, or the the same, and no more time should chorus. Hence, no room was left for be supposed to pass, than is employed the imagination to go beyond the in the representation of that act. precise time and place of the repre. In general, the nearer a poet can fentation, any more than is allowed bring the dramatic representation, in during the continuance of one act, on all its circumstances, to an imitation the modern theatre.
of nature and real life, the impression But the practice of suspending the he makes will always be the more fpectacle totally, for some time, be- perfect. Probability is essential to tween the acts, has made a material the conduct of the tragic action, and change; it gives more latitude to the we never fail to be hurt by the want imagination ; and renders the ancient of it. It is this that makes the obfrict confinement to time and place servance of the dramatic unities to be less necessary. While the acting of of consequence, as far as they can be the play is interrupted, the spectator observed, without sacrificing more can, without any violent effort, sup- material beauties. It is not, as has pose a few hours to pais between been sometimes said, that by the preevery act, or can suppose himself servation of the unities of time and moved from one part of a palace, or place, spectators are deceived into a one part of a city to another; and belief of the reality of the objects that therefore, too strict an observance of are set before them on the stage ; and these unities ought not to be preferred that, when those unities are violated, to higher beauties of execution, nor the charm is broken, and they discoto the introduction of more pathetic ver the whole to be a fiction. No situations, which, sometimes cannot such deception as this can ever be acbe accomplished in any other way, complished. No one ever imagines than by the transgression of these himself to be at Athens, or Rome, rules.
when a Greek or Roman subject is But fill it should be remembered, presented on the stage. He knows that there are certain bounds to this the whole to be an imitation only; liberty. Frequent and wild changes but he requires that imitation to be of time and place, hurrying the spec- conducted with skill and probability. tator from one distant city, or country, His pleasure, the entertainment he to another; or making several days or expects, the interest he is to take in weeks to pass during the course of the the story, all depend on its being fo representation, are liberties which conducted. His imagination, therethock the imagination, which give fore, seeks to aid the imitation, and to the performance a romantic and to rest on the probability ; and the unnatural appearance, and, therefore, poet, who shocks him by improbable cannot be allowed to any dramatic circumstances, -and by awkward, unwriter who aims at correctness. In kilful imitation, deprives him of his particular, we must remember, that pleasure, and leaves him hurt and difit is only between the acts, that any pleased. This is the whole mystery liberty can be given of going beyond of the theatrical illufion.