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If any thing could extenuate so brutal an action, it would be the doing of it on a sudden, before the sentiments of nature, reason, or manhood, could take place in him. However, to avoid public bloodshed, as foon as his passion is wrought to its height, he follows his sister the whole length of the stage, and forbears killing her till they are both withdrawn behind the scenes. I must confess, had he murdered her before the audience, the indecency might have been greater; but as it is, it appears very unnatural, and looks like killing in cold blood. To give my opinion upon this case, the fact ought not to have been represented, but to have been told, if there was any occasion for it.
It may not be unacceptable to the reader to see how Sophocles has conducted tragedy under the like delicate circumstances. Orestes was in the same condition with Har let in Shakespear, his mother having murdered his father, and taken possession of his kingdom in conspiracy with the adulterer. The young prince therefore, being determined to revenge his father's death upon those who filled his throne, conveys himself by a beautiful stratagem into his mother's apartment, with a resolution to kill her. But because such a spectacle would have been too shocking for the audience, this dreadful refolution is executed behind the scenes: the mother is heard calling out to her son for mercy; and her son an. fwering her, that the shewed no mercy to his father; after which the shrieks out that she is wounded; and by what follows we find that she is slain. I do not remem ber that in any of our plays there are speeches made behind the scenes, though there are other instances of this nature to be met with in those of the ancients; and I believe my reader will agree with me, that there is something infinitely more affecting in this dreadful dialogue between the mother and her son behind the scenes, than could have been in any thing transacted before the audience. Orestes immediately after meets the usurper at the entrance of his palace; and by a very happy thought of the poet avoids killing him before
the audience, by telling him that he should live some
Ars Poet. ver, 185.
The French have therefore refin'd too much upon Horace's rule, who never designed to banith all kinds of death from the stage ; but only such as had too much horror in them, and which would have a better effect upon the audience when transacted behind the scenes. I would therefore recommend to my countrymen the practice of the ancient poets, who were very sparing of their public executions, and rather chose to perform them behind the scenes, if it could be done with as great an effect upon the audience. At the same time I must observe that though the devoted persons of the tragedy were seldom slain before the audience, which has generally fomcthing ridiculous it it, their bodies were often produced after their death, which has always in it something melancholy or terrifying; so that the killing on the stage does not seem to have been avoided only as an indecency, but also as an improbability.
Nec pueros coram populo Medea trucidet ;
Cadmus and. Progne's metamphorsis,
ROSCOMMON I have now gone through the several dramatic inventions which are made ufe of by the ignorant poets to supply the place of Tragedy, and by the skilful to improve it; some of which I could with intirely rejected, and the rest to be used with caution. It would be an endless talk to conlider Comedy in the same light, and to mention the innumerable thifts that small wits put in practice to raise a laugh. Bullock in a short-coat, and Norris in a long one, feldom fail of this effect. In ordinary comedies, a broad and a narrow-brimmed hat are different characters. Sometimes the wit of the sccne lies in a shoulderbelt, and sometimes in a pair of whiskers. A lover running about the stage, with his head peeping out of a barrel, was thought a very good jest in king Charles the Second's time; and invented by one of the first wits of that age. But because ridicule is not so delicate as compassion, and because the objects that make us laugh are infinitely more numerous than those that make us weep, there is a much greater latitude for comic than tragic artifices, and by consequence a much greater indulgence to be allowed them.
No. XLV. SATURDAY, APRIL 21.
and honourable peace, though at the same time I am very apprehensive of many ill consequence that may attend it. I do not mean in regard to our politics, but our manners, What an inundation of ribbons and bro
cades will break in upon us! What peals of laughter and impertinence shall we be exposed to! For the prevention of those great evils, I could heartily with that there was an act of parliament for prohibiting the importation of French fopperies.
The female inhabitants of our island have already received very strong impressions from this ludicrous nation, tho' by the length of the war, as there is no evil which has not some good attending it, they are pretty well worn out and forgotten. I remember the time when fome of our well-bred countrywomen kept their Valet de Chambre, because forsooth, a man was much more handy about them than one of their own sex. I myself have seen one of these male Abigails tripping about the room with a looking-glass in his hand, and combing his lady's hair a whole morning together. Whether or not there was any truth in the story of a lady's being got with child by one of these her handmaids I cannot tell, but I think at present the whole race of them is extinct in our own country.
About the time that several of our fex were taken into this kind of service, the ladies likewise brought up the fashion cf receiving visits in their beds. It was then looked upon as a piece of ill-breeding for a woman to refuse to see a man, because she was not stirring; and a porter would have been thought unfit for his place that could have made so awkward an excule. As I love to see every thing that is new, I once prevailed upon my friend Will Honeycomb to carry me along with him to one of these travelled ladies, deliring him, at the same time, to present me as a foreigner who could not speak English, that so I might not be obliged to bear a part in the discourse. The lady, tho’ willing to appear undreft, had put on her best looks, and painted hertelf for our reception. Her hair appeared in a very nice disorder, as the night-gown which was thrown upon her shoulders, was ruffled with great care. For my part, I am so Thocked with every thing that looks immodest in the fair fex, that I could not forbear taking off iny eye from her when she moved in her bed, and was in the greatest confufion imaginable every time she stirred a leg or an arm. Vol. I. R
As the coquettes, who introduced this custom, grew old, they left it off by degrees; well knowing that a woman of threescore may kick and tumble her heart out without making any impressions.
Sempronia is at present the most profest admirer of the French nation, but is so modest as to admit her vifitants no farther than her toilet. It is a very odd fight that beautiful creaturè makes when she is talking politics with her tresses flowing about her shoulders, and examining that face in the glass which does such execution upon all the male standers-by. How prettily does the divide her discourse between her woman and her visitants! What sprightly transitions does the make from an opera or a sermon, to an ivory comb or a pin-cushion ! How have I been pleased to see her interrupted in an account of her travels, by a message to her footman; and holding her tongue in the midst of a moral reflection, by applying the tip of it to a patch !
There is nothing which exposes a woman to greater dangers, than that gaiety and airiness of temper which are natural to most of the fex. It should be therefore the concern of every wise and virtuous woman, to keep this sprightliness from degenerating into levity. On the contrary, the whole discourse and behaviour of the French is to make the sex more fantastical, or, as they are pleased to term it, more awakened,' than is consistent either with virtue or discretion. To speak loud in public affemblies, to let every one hear you talk of things that should only be mentioned in private or in a whisper, are looked upon as parts of a refined education. At the same time a blush is unfashionable, and silence more illbred than any thing that can be spoken. In short, discretion and modesty, which in all other ages and countries have been regarded as the greatest ornaments of the fair sex, are considered as the ingredients of narrow conversation and family-behaviour
Some years ago I was at the tragedy of Macbeth, and unfortunately placed myself under a woman of quality, that is fince dead; who, as I found by the noise the made, was newly returned from France. A little before