« PreviousContinue »
the “ vile squeaking" of the mouth But it is oftener merely sustained piece, there are but few who can verse, with little or no (excuse the bear, without tremor cordis, a blast word) poeticity about it, adapted for from the bell of the “sounding al- action, and fall of the business of the chemy." However you might con- play, animated and impressive: temn the separate opinion of the
Othello. Think, my lord !-By heav'n, critics, their voice, like a cry in a
he echoes me rocky valley, has been swelled by the As if there were some monster in his general echo to a pitch which must
thought, awaken you, if you be not deaf to a Too hideous to be shown.Tou dost report of your own errors. Briefly mean something: and roundly,—your tragedies, Gen- I heard thee say but now,
,_Thou liked'st tlemen Dramatists, are unanimously
not that condemned.
When Cassio left my wife; What did'st Mark: I say they are condemned, not like? as tragedies; as interlocutory poems,
And when I told thee—he was of my counsel some of them may perhaps be admir- In my whole course of wooing, thou cry'd'st ed. This, this is the distinction And did'st contract and purse thy brow to
“ Indeed!" which I would force upon your
gether minds; this is the truth which I would As if thou then had'st shut up in thy brain burn into your memories; this is the Some horrible conceit: If tħou dost love point to which I have repeatedly in the course of these letters endeavour- Show me thy thought. ed to drag your attention; being convinced, that until you perceive, called poetry, in this; and still less
There is very little of what can be acknowledge, and avoid this confusion of languages, this wrong-headed in his running dialogue, which has and preposterous substitution of frequently, not so much as the outside poetry for dramatic phraseology, you of poetry, -regular metre: will never produce an effective, legi Iago. My noble lord. timate tragedy. : What precedent
Othello. What dost thou say, Iago ? have you for this ?-not Shakspeare,
Iago. Did Michael Cassio, when you I'll be sworn! He, I believe it will
woo'd my lady, be allowed, was something of a poet:
Know of your love?
Oth. He did, from first to last: why Thou remember'st
dost thou ask? Since once I sat upon a promontory,
Iago. But for a satisfaction of my thought; And heard a mermaid, on
a dolphin's No further harm. back,
Oth. Why of thy thought, Iago ? Uttering such dulcet and harmonious brcath, lugo. I did not think he had been acThat the rude sea grew civil at her song ;
quainted with her. And certain stars shot madly from their Oth. O, yes; and went between us very spheres,
oft. To hear the sea-maid's music.
Jago. Indeed ?
Oth. Indeed! ay, indeed ;-discernist Write me such poetry as this in thou aught in that ? deed ; and perhaps I shall forgive it Is he not honest ? in your Dramas. Yet, inimitable as Iago. Honest, my lord ? it is, where do you find him using
Oth. Honest! ay, honest. such language in his tragedies ?
Iago. My lord, for aught I know. Never. There, if it is poetry at all,
Oth. What dost thou think? it is poetry of quite a different kind;
Iugo. Think, my lord ! it is the poetry of action and passion; This is a specimen of what may be it is the terrible and the grand; the denominated, pure dramatism, withmagna sonans ; something of the
out any commixture of poetry. It is 'Tis now the very witching time of night,
a model for running dialogue, enerWhen church-yards yawn, and hell itself getic, forcible, and wakeful; there breathes out
is nothing of your perpetual attempt Contagion to this world. Now could I at pretty thoughts, or soft suavity, drink hot blood,
about it; but there is something betAnd do such bitter business as the day ter,--spirit, nature, and action. In Would quake to look on...
a word: it gives the performers
something to do, as well as to say: ject, will, I hope, excuse my dwelland there is an air of reality about it, ing on it strenuously. In compariwhich even in the closet affects us son with this, meagreness of plot, or to agitation.
insignificance of fable, is of small acThere have been many reasons as
count in the Drama. There
may signed by critics for the decay of our little interest of story, yet the play Drama ; such as, large theatres, the may act well by the mere force of the basket, late dinner-hours, and seve- language; but if the phrase of the ral others equally important: this stage be supplanted by the mellione, however, this gross, bare-faced fluous monotony, of ultra-poesy, I perversion of style, this staring abuse would as soon hear it read in a of dramatic language, which is suf- dressing-gown and slippers, as reficient to confound the genius of a cited in a toga and buskins. Shakspeare, could such a man be When I say that our living drasupposed blind enough to indulge in matists are guilty of an abuse of drait, this open secret of the degeneracy matical language, I mean that they of the modern stage, has totally apply a mode of phrase good in itself eluded their penetration. Yet, sure and suitable to excellent purposes, ly, it is no very wonderful fetch of where they ought to employ another sagacity to discover, that the lan- more appropriate to the stage.* Is guage of Drama must be adapted to there, or is there not, a language action ; and surely there is very little peculiar, appropriate, and essential argument requisite to prove, that to the Drama ? There is one indubithis self-evident principle has been tably for Epopée; a lofty, full, reguutterly neglected by our living dra- lar, stately grandiloquence. There matists. Is any thing necessary, is one for Lyrics: a daring, flighty, more than simply to recall to the reckless, toppling style, where the reader's mind, what he must fre Muse seems to tread upon
the highest quently have observed, though, per- and most dangerous pinnacles of the haps, he never reflected on--the Hill, and escapes only by the lightflagrant misapplication of language ness and spring of her footsteps. merely poetical to the purposes of Every division of literature has its tragedy? or if not always poetical, corresponding language (though not, mostly so? And is it too much to perhaps, as strikingly definable as assert, that if this be not the only the preceding), arising from an obcause of our dramatic degeneracy, it vious congeniality between certain is at least the principal and predo- subjects of thought, and certain minant one? This I am sure of; modes of expression. No one would that many of the other causes above- write an Epithalamium to the grave mentioned partake much more of the cadence of an Elegy, or fill a Renature of effects than efficients. Let quiem with the cheerful imagery and any dramatist produce such another bounding sallies of a “ Hark for tragedy as Macbeth or Othello, and ward ! The Eclogues, Georgics, if the beau-monde do not dine an and Æneid of Virgil, though all writhour earlier on the nights of its per- ten in hexameter, are totally difformance, I'm no prophet: if our ferent in style one from each other; lords and commoners, with their vir- the imagery, cadence, and choice of tuous dames and daughters, do not words, are in each of these works quickly displace the bloods and Co- adapted to the subject. And I ques rinthians, the idle 'prentices, flash- tion not, but that if the same judicimen, nymphs of the pillow, and all ous author had written a Drama, he other persons of dubious morality, would have chosen a fourth style as who now occupy the seats in our remote from the sweetness of his theatrical synagogues, I'll never set Pastorals, the sobriety of his Georup an oracle.
gics, and the majesty of his Epics, The vital importance of this sub as sweetness, sobriety, and majesty
To any one who compared the examples given in my last letter, and read the observations upon them, the sense in which I use the word “ language must be obvious: to prevent mistake, however, by language I mean to include sentiment, imagery, measure, cadence, as well as choice of words.
of style are distinct among them- of poetry which is accommodated to selves. Milton's l'Allegro and Il action. This is what logicians call Penseroso, are written both in the the essential difference which distinsame measure as to feet, but are guishes the species Drama from the nevertheless very different in cadence genus Poetry: So indispensable is and other respects of language ; yet this quality, that if it were demanded, perhaps even to this great poet we What is the first requisite for effecmight fairly object the quick return tive Drama? I should answer, Acof the rhymes as unsuitable to the tion : what the second ? Action : what solemnity of the latter subject. In the third ? Action :-as Demosthenes the same way, Drama has its con said in a somewhat different sense of genial language, and all other re- Oratory. If you wish for any better maining varieties of metrical elo- authority for this, than my dictum, quence are foreign to, if not wholly (which is, by the bye, a mere coninconsistent with it. But I do not clusion drawn from the palpable naask even this manifest inapplicabi- ture and intention of Drama), read lity of certain modes of diction to SHAKSPEARE. It is particularly in certain subjects, to be granted me; this respect that Shakspeare, by the I merely demand whether there be involuntary force of natural genius, not a certain language more appli- transcends not only the dramatists of cable to a given subject than any the succeeding age, but those of his other known species? Whether the own; not only those of his own, but indissoluble connexion between the those of all antiquity;-his lancharacter of the subject and the cha- guage is essentially dramatic. The racter of the language expressing it imagery it presents, the sentiments appropriately, does not point out a it delivers, its measure, its cadence, peculiar style as more adapted to a the choice and collocation of the given thesis, than any other existing? words composing it, all converge to Who does not acknowledge the su- the same point, all contribute to the periority of the Miltonic verse over same end, they are all instinct with the Spenserian stanza for Heroic pur- action. This principle is never lost sight poses? Is the conscience of any of; his speeches look like swarms of man so lawless as to deny this tribute living animalculæ breathing on the to truth? Such a man would de- paper. By no very exorbitant draft scribe the Acts of Achilles in Hudi on his understanding, he saw that brastic verse, and the Battle of the the essence of Drama was action, and Angels in the hitch of Chevy Chase. with this as his moving principle, he But, indeed, if it be allowed that produced tragedies, irregular in many Drama is distinct from every other particulars, but never deficient in species of literature ; and that the this. To speak boldly, yet justly:genius or nature of the language considering Drama as the representashould be proportional and agreeable tion of active life, it is perfectly rito the subject it undertakes to con- diculous to compare Sophocles with vey (both which are as indubitable Shakspeare. There may with some as axioms can be), it follows with be a doubt, which was the greater geometrical necessity that Drama has genius or the better poet, but as to its peculiar language, and therefore the spirit of dramatism extant in no one can deny it if he would. their works, as to which of them best
This principle of composition is so represented real life, (i. e. was the plain, so very elementary, that it best dramatist), the difference is just is almost an insult to your under- this:-Shakspeare (where he intends standing, my insisting on it so grave it) represents nothing but life, and ly. Yet plain as it is, not one of you Sophocles does not represent life at seems to apprehend it; at all events, all. Only think of a messenger (in you don't observe it in your works. a great hurry too!) occupying fifty You all appear to think that poetry lines in telling that a dead body, over cast into persons consitutes Drama. which he was set as a watch, had You all appear to forget that the true been privately disenhumed! * "Think language of the Drama is that species of that Master Brook !” Why Othela
• Vide the ANTIGONE.
lo's defence is not more of an oration present in a poetical manner serious than this of the Greek watchman: life. To accomplish this object, our the whys and the wherefores are as earlier dramatists * employed a nerphilosophically discussed as if Plato vous, passionate, yet colloquial mode himself bore the lanthorn and the of language: fit means for the end rattle. Tell me that Shakspeare proposed. Action was to be reprewas a “ barbarian” if you will, and sented, passion delineated; accordthat Sophocles was a semi-deity; but ingly, the language made use of was let no one dare to assert that the that of passionate action. This, you Goth was not a better dramatist than will perceive, admits of poetry, but the God, or I'll tell him to his beard, the poetry should be rather of the he doesn't deserve to wear one. sublime than of the beautiful descrip
In my last letter I distinguished tion, that thrown off in the heat of our national Drama into three se- passion, rather than that brought out parate schools, branding each with (like yours) by what we call the sweet a name indicative of its character, play of the fancy. The language of viz. the Dramatic proper, the Rhe- this school, likewise frequently destóric, and the Poetic pure. By ex cends into plain, familiar, common amples, both of dialogue and mono- dialogue; and it should do so. You logue, from the works of these schools' stare ; but I repeat, it should do so. respectively, I demonstrated the pro- It is no more proper for a character priety of this division, and the appli- always to speak in trope and figure, cability of these several names; that poetry, or rigid metre, than it is for is, I think I did. My purpose in the actor always to talk at the top of this, Gentlemen, was to set before his voice. Nay, besides its naturalyou, at one view, the different me ness, it is often, in these unpoetical thods pursued by our writers for the passages, that effect is most strikingly accomplishment of the same object, elicited: for instancethat you might yourselves determine which was most judicious. Not that
Iago. I see this hath a little dash'd your
spirits. you could do so, perhaps, from these
Othello. Not a jot, not a jot. few examples, accompanied even by my serio-comic observations upon You are all so agog of poetry, pretty them; but from a comprehensive re- imagery, and lusciousness of lanview in your own minds of these guage, so fond of spinning at the schools and the principles of their eternal wheel of verse, that you different methods, -springing to your never give yourselves an opportunity survey off these examples and obser- of making such a hit as this. But to vations, as swans do from hillocks. advert to the Rhetoric school.-The By “ different methods,” you will tragedists of our “ middle ages” of understand, different methods of literature, pursued a different method phrase, different modes of language; from that of their predecessors. A I had before contrasted your plot- classical mania, perhaps originating work, or what is properly called the with Dryden (the rhyming playaction of your pieces, with that of the wright !)+ had infected all ranks of dramatic school. Here I confined society. The dramatists were bitten myself to the much more important by the same gad-fly as the rest; for subject of your language, for it is in nervous they became pompous; for imthis I think your deficiency is most passioned, vociferous ; for colloquial, glaring and most fatal. The object rhetorical. To represent real life deof tragic Drama, is to rouse the pas- volved wholly on Punch; the woodensions, awaken the feelings, and re fisted choleric little gentleman had
I am not quite sure I should here speak in the plural number : no dramatist that I know of, Greek, Roman, Briton, or other, but Shakspeare alone, seems to have had the true knack of dramatic language, or to have caught the pure essence of dramatic spirit.
+ Dryden once asked permission of Milton to put his- (risum teneatis ?) PARADISE Lost into rhyme ! " Ay,” said the blind Bard, you may tag my verses if you will.” After such a rebuke, it requires nothing less than the testimony of an ALEXANDER': Feast, to prove that the Translator of Virgil had one spark of poetry in his whole composition. His plays are vile things.
no assistance from his wooden-witted a poet ?" Must we write unpoeti. brother Thespians, Addison, Young, cally to write dramatically? Would Rowe, &c. The language of Cato, you“ freeze the genial current of the Busiris, Jane Shore, &c. is little more soul?” Is eloquence proscribed ? Is that of real life, than a clock is a fluency prohibited ? Are we to be human being, or its vibrations. pul- purposely dry and didactic? Must sations, or its strokes words. The interrogation and reply be as categosuccess consequent upon this method rically put and caught, as Q and A of procedure was worthy of it: in a catechism? Is our blank verse Zanga shows his dingy physiognomy to be blank prose? Is Tragedy to once in five years, and then retires walk the stage on her belly? And to his shelf with the moths and Melpomene to come before the audispiders, where he lies embalmed in ence in a grogram gown and a linseycobwebs and smothered in dust, till woolsey petticoat? Is it this you the end of the lustrum. Yet this want? -Poh! mode of language was not wholly I say the language of the Drama inapplicable to the stage ; it was must be accommodated to action ; oratory to be sure, but the rostrum that the sentiments and imagery it and the pulpit are, like Thespian involves must not only please but boards, stages for one performer. agitate ; that its cadence, accentuaWe were kept awake at all events, tion, and flow, must be, (respectively,) by the din of rhetoric and the long- ever-varying, emphatic, and preciwinded tantaras of inflated declama- pitous ; that its words must knock tion. Nay, the grandeur of the tra- at our hearts ; and that its beauties gic style was in some measure pre- must not be evanescent, recherchés, served, the hurly of the stage was insubstantial and semi-perceptible, kept up, if not by the passionate but prominent, bold, striking, and energy of the speakers, by the sono- palpable. In a word: poetry is the rous phraseology they were employ- accident, not the essence of dramatic ed to disembogue. The feelings were language. And the rationale of this rarely excited, but we had fine de- is: that Drama, representing life, clamation instead ; if our hearts did must approach to human converse, not tingle, our ears did. And though to natural question and answer; for, there was little resemblance between where there is such an extreme dethe original and the copy, we had parture from familiar dialogue, it is human life exhibited on stilts if not no longer a Drama but a poem. Draon neats-leather. Now the grand fea- matic language is, in fact, a heteroture of the present, poetic, third, last, geneous mixture of common dialogue and worst school of Drama is, that it (a little raised), heroics, and poetry has not one lineament whatsoever to pure,-just as human conversation, distinguish it from the common face its prototype, is, in a lower degree, acof poetry, not one characteristic cording as the speakers are influenced which could be mistaken, by the by equanimity, magnanimity, passion, most cloudy perception, for Drama,– pathos, &c. The proportion in which not even its noise! It purls away these three phraseologies are to be very plentifully, line after line, sen- compounded in order to form dramatence after sentence, period after pe- tic language, it is impossible to deriod, without stop, stay, let, or im- fine theoretically, further than by pediment; and whilst we sit gaping the general rule,—that common diafor murder, fury, terror, blood, poi- logue should always appear in the reson, and tears, fills up the mouth of sult : it would also be useless were it expectation with a flood of poetry. possible ; for to him who has dramaNever was the quotation more appo- tic genius, the mere observation, that
there is such a proportion to be preRusticus expectat dum defluat amnis, at ille it not, all rules are given in vain.
served, is sufficient; to him who has Labitur et labetur in omne volubilis ævum. What then! you say, Was not
John Lacy, your own Shakspeare “ something of