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were made to pass before the eyes of the audience independent of critical regulation was supported by during the two or three hours usually allotted for the most brilliant display of genius. Lopez de Ve the action of a play. It is not to be supposed that, ga and Calderon rushed on the stage with their with so fair a field open before them, and the ap- hasty and high-coloured, but glowing productions, plause of the audience for their reward, the authors fresh from the mint of imagination, and scorning of these histories should long have confined them that the cold art of criticism should weigh them in selves to the matter-of-fact contained in records. her balance. The taste of the Spaniards has been They speedily innovated or added to their dramatic proverbially inclined to the wild, the romantic, and chronicles, without regard to the real history. To ihe chivalrous; and the audience of their bards those who plead for stage-plays, that they elucidate would not have parted with
one striking, scene, and explain many dark and obscure histories, and fix however inartificially introduced, to have gained for the facts firmly in the minds of the audience, of their favourites the praise of Aristotle and all bis which they had otherwise but an imperfect appre commentators. Lopez de Vega himself was not ig. hension, the stern Prynne replies with great scorn, norant of critical rules; but he pleads the taste of that play-poets do not explain but sophisticate and his countrymen as an apology for neglecting those deform good histories, with many false varnishes and restrictions which he had observed in his earlier playhouse fooleries ;', and that "the histories are studies. more accurately to be learned in the original authors " Yet true it is I too have written plays, who record them, than in derivative playhouse The wizer few, who judge with skill, might praiso ; pamphlets, which corrupt them.” Prynne's His
But when I see how show and nonsense draws irio-Mastir, p. 940.
The croud's, and, more than all, the fair's applause ;
Who still are forward with indulgent rage The Dramatic chronicles, therefore, were a field To sanction every monster of the stage ; in which the genius of the poet laboured to supply 1, doom'd, to write the public taste to lit,
Rreume the barbarous dros 't way vain to quit ; by character, sentiment, and incident, the ineagre
Ilock up every rule before I write, detail of the historian. They became so popular in Plautus and Terence banish from my sight, England, that, during the short interval betwixt the Lest ruge should teach these injured wits to join, revival of he stage and the appearance of Shaks
And their dumb books cry shame on works like mine.
To vulgar standards, then, I frame my play, peare, the most part of the English monarchs had
Writing at ease; for, since the public pay, lived and died upon the stage ; and it is well-known, "Tis just, methink), we by their compass steer, that almost all his historical plays were new written
And write the nonsense that they love to hear.' by hi!n, upon the plan of old dramatic chronicles
LORD HOLLAND's Life of Lope de Vega, p. 103. which already existed.
The Spanish comedies of intrigue also went astray, But the miscellaneous audience which crowded to as far as their romantic tragedies, from the classithe vernacular theatre at its revival in Europe, were cal path. In fact, these new representations were of that rank and intellect which is apt to become infinitely more captivating from their vivacity, notired of a serious subject, and to demand that a la- velty, and, above all, from their reflecting the actual mentable tragedy should be intermingled with very spirit of the time, and holding the mirror up to napleasant mirth. The poets, obliged io cater for all ture, than the cold imitations which the learned tastes, seldom failed to insert the humours of some wrote in emulation of the Classic Drama. The comic character, that the low or grotesque scenes one class are existing and living pictures of the in which he was engaged, might serve as a relief to times in which the authors lived; the others, the the graver passages of the Drama, and gratify the cold resurrection of the lifeless corpses which had taste of those spectators who, like Christofero Sly, long slumbered in the tomb of antiquity: The spitired until the fool came on the stage again. Hence rit of chivalry, which so long lingered in Spain, Sir Philip Sidney's censure on these dramatists, breathes through the wild and often extravagani "how all their plays be neither right tragedies nor genius of her poets. The hero is brave and loyal, right comedies, mingling kings with clowns; not and true to his mistress : because the matter so carrieih it, but to thrust in
A knight of love, wbo never broke a vow. the clown, by head and shoulders, to play a part in Lovers of this description, in whose minds the sexmagestical matters, with neither deceney nor dis- ual passion is sublimated into high and romantic cretion, so that neither the admiration and commis fecling, make a noble contrast with the coarse and seration, nor the right sportfulness, is by their mon- licentious Greek or Roman, whose passion turns grel tragic comedy attained." (Defence of Poesie, only on the difficulty of purchasing his mistress's Sidney's Arcadia, edit. 1627, p. 563.) 'If we mark them well,” he concludes, "funerals and horn-pipes prehension concerning the state of her affections.
person, but who never conceives the slightest apseldom match daintily together.”
That the crowd might have their loud laugh, a The historical plays led naturally into another grazioso or clown, usually a servant of the hero, is class, which may be called Romantic Dramas, in the Spanish Drama uniformly introduced to make founded upon popular poems or fictitious narratives, sport. Like Kemp or Tarleton, famous in the clown's as the former were on real history. Some of these part before the time of Shakspeare, this personage were borrowed from foreign nations, ready drama
was permitted to fill up his part with extemporary tized to the hand of the borrower; others were jesting, not only on the performers, but with the founded on the plans which occurred in the almost audience. This irregularity, with others, seems to innumerable novels and romances which we had have been borrowed by the English stage from that made our own by translation. "I may boldly say of Spain, and is the license which Hamlet condemns it," says Gosson, a recreant play-wright who at- in his instructions to the players : " And let those tacked his former profession, because I have seen that be your clowns speak no more than is set down it, that the Palace of Pleasure, the Golden Asse, for them; for there be of them that will themselves the Ethiopian History, Amadis of, France, the laugh, to set on some quantity of þarren spectators Round Table, Baudie Comedies in Latin, French, to laugh too, though, in the meantime, some necesItalian, and Spanish, have been thoroughly ran sary question of the play be then to be considered :sacked to furnish the playhouse in London.' But that's villainous, and shows a most pitisul ambition it was not to be supposed that the authors would in the fool that uses it.” confine themselves to stricter rules in pieces founded The bald simplicity of the ancient plot was, in upon Italian and Spanish novels, or upon romances like manner, contrasted to disadvantage with the of chivalry, than they had acted upon in the histo- | intricacies, involutions, suspense, and bustle of Sparies. Every circumstance which tended to loosen nish intrigue upon the stage. Hence the boast of the reins of theatrical discipline, in the one case, one of their poets, thus translated by Lord Holland : existed in the other; and, accordingly, comedies of
"Invention, interest, sprightly turns in plays, intrigue, and tragedies of action and show, every Say what they will, are Spain's peculiar praise where superseded, at least in popular estimation, the Here are the plots which strict attention seize, severe and simple model of the Classical Drama.
Full of intrigue, and yet disclosed with ease.
Hence acts and scenes her fertile stage affords, It happened that in England and Spain, in parti
Unknown, unrivallid, on the foreign boardg." cular, the species of composition which was most
Life of Lope de Vega, p. 106.
While we admire the richness of fancy displayed ined to represent show and procession, did not escape the Spanish pieces, it is impossible, in an age of re- the censure of Sir Philip Sidney, whó, leaning to the finement, to avoid being shocked by their wilful and critical reformation which was already taking place extravagant neglect of every thing which can add in Italy, would gladly have seen our stage reduced to probability to the action of their Drama. But the apo- a more classical model. logy for this license is well pleaded by Lord Holland. "It is faultie," says that gallant knight, "both in
Without dwelling on the expulsion of the Cho place and line, the two necessarie companions of all rus, (a most unnatural and inconvenient machine,) corporall actions. For the stage should alway prethe moderns, by admitting a complication of plot, seni but one place; and the utterinost time presuphave introduced a greater variety of incidents and posed in it should bee both by Aristotle's precept, character. The province of invention is enlarged; and common reason, but one day; there are both new passions, or at least new forms of the same nanydayes and many places inaruticially imagined. passions, are brought within the scope of dramatic But if it be so in Gorboduke, how much more in all poetry. Fresh sources of interest are opened, and the rest? where you shall have Asia of the one side, additional powers of imagination called into acti- and Africke of the other, and so many other under vity. Can we then deny what extends its jurisdic- kingdomes, that the plair when he comes in, must tion, and enhances its interest, to be an improve ever begin with telling where hee is, or else the tale ment in an art whose professed object is to stir the will not be conceived. Now shall you have three passions by the imitation of human actions? In ladies walke to gather flowers, and then wee must saying this, I do not inean to justify the breach of beleeve the stage to bee a garden. By and by wee decorum, the neglect of probability, the anachro- heare newes of shipwracke in the same place, then nisms and other extravagances of the founders of wee are to blame if we accept it not for a rocke. the modern theatre. Because the first disciples of Upon the backe of that comes ont a hideous mon. the school were not models of perfection, it does ster with fire and smoke, and then the miserable benot follow that the fundamental maxims were de- / holders are bound to take it for a cave; while, in the fective. The rudeness of their workmanship is no meantime, two armies fie in, represented with some proof of the inferiority of the material; nor does five or six swordes and bucklers, and then what ihe want of skill deprive them of the merit of ha- | hard heart will not receive it for a pitched field ? ving discovered the mine. The faults objected to Now of time they are much more liberall; for ordithem form no necessary part of the system they in- varie it is, that two young princes fall in love. After troduced. Their followers in every country have many traverses, shee is got with childe, delivered either completely corrected or gradually reformed of a faire boy; he is lost, groweth a man, falleth in such abuses. Those who bow not implicitly to the love, and is readie to get another childe, and all this authority of Aristotle, yet avoid such violent out in two hours space; which how absurd it is in sense, rages as are common in our early plays. And those even sense may imagine, and art hath taught, and who pique themselves on the strict observance of all ancient examples justified, and at this day the orhis laws, betray, in the conduct, the sentiments, the dinary players in Italy will not err in." characters, and the dialogue of their pieces, (espe Italy, referred to by Sir Philip Sidney, as the cra: cially of their comedies,) more resemblance to the dle of the reformed Drama, had had her own age of modern than the ancient theatre; their code may liberty and confusion ; her mysteries, her moralities, be Grecian, but their manners, in spite of them- her historical, and her romantic Dramas. But the selves, are Spanish, English, or French. They may taste for the ancient and classical stage was still renounce their pedigree, and even change their dress, rooted in the country where it had flourished, and but they cannot divest their features of a certain Trissino is acknowledged as the father of the regular family likeness to their poetical progenitors." Drama. The Sophonisba of this learned prelate is
In France the irregularities of ihe revived Dra- praised by Voltaire as the first regular tragedy which ma were of a lower complexion; for, until her stage Europe had seen after so many ages of barbarism. was refined by Corneille, and brought under its pre- Pope has added his tribute. sent strict régime, it was adorned by but little talent; When learning, after the long Gothic night, a circumstance which, amongst others, may ac
Fair o'er the western world renew'd its light count for the ease with which she subjected herself
With arts arising Sophonisha ruse,
The trurie me returning wept her woes ; to critical rules, and assumed the yoke of Aristotle. With her the Italian scene first leam'd to slow, Until she submitted to the Grecian forms and re And the first tears for her were taught to flow. strictions, there is but little interesting in the history This tragedy was represented at Rome in the year of her stage.
1515. The Greek model is severely observed, and England adopted the historical and romantic Dra- The author has encumbered his scene with a Chorus. ma with ardour, and in a state scarce more limited It has some poetic beauties, and is well calculated to by rules than that of Spain herself. Her writers recommend the new or rather revived system on seem early to have ransacked Spanish literature; which it was written. La Rosmonda of Ruçelleri for the union of the countries during the short reign was written about the same time with Sophonisba; of Mary, nay even their wars under Elizabeth and and, after these pieces, tragi-comedies, histories, and Philip, made ihem acquainted with each other. The romantic Dramas, were discarded, and succeeded Spaniards had the start in the revival of the Drama. by tragedies upon a regular classical model; written Ferrer and Perrex, our earliest tragedy, was first in verse, having five acts, and generally a Chorus. presented in 1561; and Gammer Gurton's Needle, Notwithstanding their rigorous attention to the anour first comedy, in 1575; whereas Lopez de Vega cient model, the modern tragic poets of Italy have (who was not by any means the earliest Spanish not been very successful in arresting the attention dramatist) died in 1562, leaving his stage stocked of their countrymen. They are praised rather than with his innumerable productions, to which his con- followed; and the stern and unbending composition temporaries had not failed to add their share. Thus, of Alfieri, while it has given a tone of rude and stole so soon as the stage of Britain was so far advanced cal dignity to his Dramas, has failed in rendering as to be in a capacity of borrowing, that of Spain them attractive. They frequently please in the closet; offered a fund to which her authors could have re- but the audience of modern days requires to be kept course; and, in fact, the Spanish Drama continued awake by something more active, more bustling, to be a mine in which the British poets collected more deeply interesting, than the lessons of the materials, often without acknowledgment, during all schools; and a poet of high fancy has written in the earlier part of her dramatic history. From this some measure in vain, because he has mistaken the source, as well as from the partialities of the audi- spirit of his age. The tragic actors also, whatever ence, arose that earlier attempt at show and specta- excellence they may attain to in their art
, do not cle, at combats and marvellous incidents, which, attract the same consideration, attention, and respect, though with very poor means of representation, our as in France or England; and they who are the early dramatic poets loved 10 produce at the Bull or direct authors of a pleasure so nearly connected the Fortune playhouses. The extravagance of their with our noblest and best feelings, occupy a rank plots, and the poor efforts by which they endeavour- ! subordinate to the performers at the opera.
It is only as a modification of the Drama, that we eminent person, with more consideration for human here propose to touch upon that entertainment of infirmity than some saints of our own day, "est Italian growth, but known by importation in every necessarius ad conversationem vitæ humanæ : ad civilized kingdom of Europe. These kingdoms have omnia autem quæ sunt utilia conversationi humanæ often rivalled each other in the rewards held forth deputari possunt aliqua officia licita: et ideò etiam to musical performers, and encouraged their merit officium histrionum quod ordinatur ad solatium by a degree of profusion, which has had the effect nominibus erhibendum, non est secundum se illiof rendering the professors petulant, capricious, and citum, nec sunt histriones in statu peccati, dumunmanageable. Their high emoluments are not modo moderaté ludo utantur; id est, non utendo granted, or their caprices submitted to, without a aliquibus illicitis verbis vel factis, ad ludum, et degree of pleasure in some degree corresponding to non adhibendo ludum negotiis et temporibus indehithe expense and the sufferance; and it is in vain tis, unde illi qui moderate eis subreniunt, non pecfor the admirers of the legitimate Drama to pretend cant, sed juste faciunt mercedem ministerii corum that such is not obtained. Voltaire has with more eis tribuendo. Et licet D. August. super. Joan. justice confessed, that probably the best imitation dicit quod donare res suas histrionibus vitium est of the ancient stage was to be found in the Italian immane, hoc intelligi debet de illis qui dant histritragic opera. The recitative resembled the musical onibus qui in ludo utuntur illicitis, vel de illis qui declamation of the Athenians, and the choruses, superflue sua in tales consumunt, non de illis hiswhich are frequently introduced, when properly trionibus qui moderate ludo utuntur.' combined with the subject, approach to those of the Saint Anthony gives bis sanction to Saint ThoGreeks, as forming a contrast, by the airs which mas on this point: "Histrionalis ars, quia deserthey execute to the recitative, or modulated dia- rit humanæ recreationi quæ necessaria est vita logue of the scene. Voltaire instances the tragic hominis secundum D. Thomam, de se non est illioperas of Metastasio in particular, as approaching cita, et de illa arte virere non est prohibitum.”+ (S. in beauty of diction, and truth of sentiment, near to Antonius in 3 part. suæ Summa, tit. iii. cap. 4.) the ancient simplicity; and finds an apology even Saint Anthony, indeed, adds the reasonable restricfor the detached airs, (so fatal to probability,) in the tion, that no clergyman should play, Harlequin, beauty of the poetry and the perfection of the music, and that Punch should not exhibit in the church. And although, as a critic and man of cultivated Under this venerable authority these Mimi went taste, this author prefers the regular, noble, and se on and flourished. Other characters enlarged their vere beauties of the classic stage, to the effeminate little Drama. The personages appeared in masks. and meretricious charms of the opera, still he con "Each of these," says Mr. Walker, was origin cludes, that, with all its defects, the sort of enchant- ally intended as a kind of characteristic representament which results from the brilliant intermixturetion of some particular Italian district or town. of scenery, chorus, dancing, music, dress, and deco: Thus Pantalone was a Venetian merchant; Dottore, ration, subjects even the genius of criticism; and a Bolognese physician; Spaviento, a Neapolitan that the most sublime tragedy, and most artful braggadocio; Pullicinella, a wag of Apulia ; Giancomedy, will not be so frequently revisited by the gurgolo and Coricllo, two clowns of Calabria; Gelsame individual as an indifferent opera. We may somino, a Roman beau; Beltrame, a Milanese simadd the experience of London to the testimony of pleton; Brighella, a Ferarese pimp; and Arlecchino, this great critic; and, indeed, were it possible that a blundering servant of Bergamo. Each of these actors could frequently be procured, possessed of personages was clad in a peculiar dress; each had the powers of action and of voice, which were uni- his peculiar mask ; and each spoke the dialect of ted in Grassini, it would be impossible to deny to the place he represented. Besides these, and a few the opera the praise of being an amusement as ex- other such personages, of which at least four were quisite in point of taste, as fascinating from show introduced in each play, there were the Amorosos and music. But as the musical parts of the enter- or Innamoratos ; that is, some men and women tainment are predominant, every thing else has been who acted serious parts, with Smeraldina, Colomtoo often sacrificed to the caprice of a composer, bina, Spilletta, and other females, who played the wholly ignorant in every art save his own; and the parts of servettas or waiting-maids. All these spoke mean and paltry dialogue, which is used as a vehi- Tuscan or Roman, and wore no masks." (Essay cle for the music, is become proverbial to express on the Reviral of the Drama in Italy, p. 249.) nonsense and insanity.
The pieces acted by this class of actors were called The Italian comedy, as well as their tragedy, Commedia dell' arte, and were congenial to the boasts its regular descent from classical times. Like taste of the Italians, with whom gesticulation and the comedy of Menander, it introduces dramatis per- bufioonery are natural attributes. Their Drama was sonæ, whose characters are never varied, and some of the most simple kind. Each of the actors was of whom are supposed to be directly descended from already possessed of his dramatic character, which the ancient Mimi of the Atellinian fables. Such was as inalienable as bis dress, was master of the an origin is claimed for the celebrated Harlequin, dialect he was to use, and had his imagination and and for the no less renowned Puncinello, our Eng. memory stored with all the characteristic jests, or lish Punch, both of whom retain the character of luzzi as they were termed, peculiar to the personage jesters, cowards, wags, and buffoons, proper to the he represented. All that the author had to do was Sannio of the Romans. It is believed of these wor to invent the skeleton of a plot, which should bring thies, that they existed before the time of Plantus, his characters into dramatic situation with respect and continued to play their frolics during the middle to cach other. The dialogue suited to the occasion ages, when the legitimate Drama was unknown.. was invented by the players, just as ours invest their For the former fact, sculpture, as well as tradition, parts with the proper gestures and actions. This is appealed to by Italian antiquaries, who have dis- skeleton had the name of scenario, and the precise covered the representation of these grotesque cha- action as well as the dialogue was filled up by the racters upon the Etruscan vaseg. In support of the performers, either imprompiu, or in consequence of latter averment, the grave authority of Saint Tho-previous arrangement and premeditation. This spemas Aquinas is appealed to, who, we rejoice to find, cies of comedy was extremely popular, especially thought Harlequin and Punch no unlawful company among the lower class of spectators. It was often in fitting time and place.* Ludus," says that adopted as an amusement in good society, and by
“Sport is necessary to the usual intercourse of human life ; men of genius; and Flamineo de la Scala has left and, whatever things are so necessary, have their lawful uses, and therefore, the occupation of stage players intended for the solace players, yet I understand it to be said exclusively of those who ment of inankind, is not in itself unlawful, nor are the actors in a bestow their bounty on such actors as use unlawful expressions state of sin, providiog that they use their sport with moderation ; or actions in exercising their art, or of such as wantonly waste that is, not using any unlawful words or actions in their diversion, their substanco on such expenditure ; but not to bo spoken of and not produring their sport in unla wful tines and circumstan moderato rewards given to actors who exercise their art with proces. Hence, it follows that those who support them do not com. priety." mit sin, but act honestly in payiug them the reward of their service. + 'The art of stage-playing, according to Saint Thomas, is not And, although Saint Augustus hath sard, in his Commentary on in itself unlawful, nor is it forbidden to live thereby, seeing that it Haint John, that it is a great pin to give one's effects to stage. I tends to human recreation, which is necessary to human lite.
Vol. I.-5 R
about fifty such scenarios adapted for representation. / former already
possessed of gravity, dignity, and to The fashion even found its way into England, and gularity. The French, like the English, date the ex. probably the part of Master Punch, who first ap- cellence of their stage from one great author; and peared in the character of the Vice of the English the illustrious name of Pierre Corneille affords to morality, was trusted to the improvisatory talents their dramatic history the mighty landmark which of the actor. Mr. D'Israeli, a curious as well as Shakspeare gives to our own. elegant investigator of ancient literature, has shown, Cardinal Richelieu, who had succeeded in esta. that at least one scheme of a Commedia dell'arte blishing upon a broad basis the absolute power of has been preserved to us. It is published in the the French monarch, was not insensible to the Variorum edition of Shakspeare, but remains un- graces and ornaments which the throne derived explained by the commentators. Such comedies, it from being surrounded by the Muses. He was him. is evident, could require no higher merit in the com- self fond of poetry, and even a competitor for the poser than the imagining and sketching a few comic honours of the buskin. He placed himself at the situations; the dialogue and diction was all intrusted head of five dramatic writers, to whom, on that acto the players.
count, the public gave the title of Les Cing Aulcuri. The Italians, however, became early possessed of All these are deservedly forgotten excepung Cor. a regular comedy, which engrossed the admiration neille, of whose successful talent the Cardinal had of the more cultivated classes of society. Bibbiena's the meanness to evince no ordinary degree of jea. comedy, entitled La Calandra, is composed in imi- lousy. The malevolence of that minister was car. tation of the Dramas of Terence and Plautus. It ried so far, that he employed the French Academy, was first acted in 1490. La Calandra is remarka- whose complaisance must be recorded to their ble not only for being the first Italian comedy, but shame, to criticise severely the Cid, the first, and also for the perfection of scenic decoration with perhaps the finest of Corneille's tragedies. Scude which it was accompanied in the representation. It rie, a favourite of the Cardinal
, buoyed by Richelieu's was followed by the productions of Ariosto and Tris-favour, was able for some time to balance Corneille sino, and other authors in the same line. But it ap- in the opinion of the public; but his name is now pears from the efforts used to support this style of scarcely known by any other circumstance than his Drama, that it did not take kindly root in the soil, impudent and audacious rivalry. This great man and lacked that popularity which alone can nurse it was not only surrounded by the worst possible mofreely. Various societies were formed under the dels, but unfortunately the authors of these models whimsical titles of Gli Intronati, Gli Insensati, and were also favourites of the public, and of the all. so forth, for the express purpose of bringing forward powerful Cardinal; yet Corneille vanquished the the regular Drama; exertions which would certain taste of his age, the competition of his rivals, and ly have been unnecessary, had the legitimate stage the envy of Richelieu. received that support and encouragement which Corneille, like his predecessors, and like Routrou arises from general popularity.
in particular, borrowed liberally from the Spanish Goldoni, in a later age, at once indulged his own theatre; but his own taste, regulated probably upon fanciful genius and his natural indolence, by renoun- his situation, dictated an adherence to the classical cing the classical rules, and endeavouring to throw model. The French stage arose, it must be remem. into the old and native Italian Mascherata the vari- bered, under the protection of an absolute monarch, ety and attributes of the proper comedy. He adopt- for whose amusement the poet laboured, and in ed Harlequin and the rest of his merry troop in the whose presence the Drama was performed. It folcharacters which they held, and endeavoured to en-lowed as a natural consequence, that a more striet list them in the more regular service of the Drama; etiquette was exacted upon the scene than had hijust as free corps and partizans are sometimes new therto been supposed applicable to a merely popular modelled into battalions of the line. This ingenious amusement. A departure from regularity in tragedy and lively writer retained all the license of the Com- was no longer a bold fight. A violation of decorum media dell
' arte, and all the immunities which it in comedy was no longer a broad jest. When claimed from regular and classical rules ; but instead the audience was dignified by the presence of of trusting to the extempore jests and grotesque the monarch, the former became an impertinence, wit of the persons whom he introduced, he engaged and the latter a gross and indecent insult. The them in dialogues as well as plots, of his own inven- muse of comedy was therefore bound over for her tion, which often display much humour and even good behaviour; and even her grave sister was laid pathos. It required, however, the richness of a fan- under such rules and restrictions as should ensure cy like Goldoni's to extract novelty and interest the decorum and dignity of her scene. from a dramatic system in which so many of the It was at this period that those classical fetters actors held a fixed and prescriptive character, hard which are framed on the three unities were fashion. ly admitting of being varied. Accordingly, we do not ed into form, and imposed on the French Drama. find that the Italian stage is at present in a more flour. These are acknowledged by Corneille, in his Essay ishing condition than
that of other modern nations. upon Dramatic Poetry, in the following short but The revival of the regular Drama in France was emphatic sentence:-"N faut observer les unités attended with important consequences, owing to the d'action, de lieu, et de jour : personne n'en doute." nature of her government, the general use of her The rule, as thus emphatically admitted by the fiery language throughout Europe, and the influence Corneille, was equally binding upon the elegant Rawhich, from her situation, she must necessarily cine, and has fettered the French stage until the prebold over other nations. It is the boast of Paris sent day. 'La Motte," says Voltaire, "a man of that the regular classical Drama, banished from wit and talent, but attached to paradoxes, has writevery other stage, found a safe and honourable re- ten in our time against the doctrine of the Unities, fuge on her own. Yet France has reluctantly con- but that literary heresy had no success.' fessed that she also had her hour of barbarism. Her Upon these rules, adopted by the very first writer earlier Drama was borrowed, like that of other of eminence for the French stage, and subscribed to countries, from Spain, who, during the whole of the by all succeeding dramatists, depends the principal sixteenth and great part of the seventeenth cen- and long-disputed difference betwixt the Drama of tury, held such a formidable predominance in the France and those countries in which her laws of European republic. While the classical stage was taste have been received; and the stages of Spain, reviving in Italy and the historical and romantic England, and modern Germany, where those critiDrama was flourishing in Spain, France was torn cal maxims have been controverted. In other to pieces by civil discord. The first French tragedy words, the Unities proper to the Classical Dramą composed upon a regular plan was that of Mairet, have been found inapplicable to plays of an historical imitated from the Sophonisba of Trissino; and Ricor romantic plan. Ii is, therefore, necessary to ex. coboni boasts with justice, that whoever shall com- amine with accuracy the essence and effect of those pare the Italian tragedy of the sixteenth century laws so often disputed with more obstinacy than liwith that of the French of the same period, will berality. find the latter extravagant and irregular, and the The arbitrary forms to which the French thus
subjected their theatre are, in their general purport, and thus the succession of various incidents, unconfounded on good and sound rules of the critical art. nected excepting by the relation they bear to the But, considered judicially and literally, the interpre- principal personage, far from distracting the atten. tation put upon those unities by the French critics tion of the audience, continues to sharpen and irrimust necessarily lay the dramatic author under re- tate curiosity till the curtain drops over the fallen tystraints equally severe and unnecessary, without af- rant. This is not, indeed, a unity of action according fording any corresponding addition to the value of to the rule of Aristotle, or the observance of the his work. The pedantry by which they are enforced, French theatre; but, in a higher point of view, it has reminds one of the extreme, minute, rigorous, and all the advantage which could possibly be derived punctilious discipline, to which some regiments have from the severest adherence to the precept of Aristobeen subjected by a pedanuc commanding officer, tle, with this additional merit, that the interest which seldom fails to lower the spirit, and destroy never stagnates in declamation, or is suspended by the temper of the soldier, without being of the unnecessary dialogue. slightest service to him in the moment of danger or It would in fact be easy to show, that the unity of the day of battle.
action, in its strict sense, may frequently be an unThe first dramatic unity is that of Action; and, natural as well as a cumbrous restraint on the genius rightly understood, it is by far the most important of the poet. In the course of nature, an insulated A whole, says Aristotle, is that which has a begin- action seldom
exists of a nature proper to transfer ning, middle, and end. In short, one strong concen- to the stage. If, indeed, the play is founded on some trated interest, upon which all subordinate incidents single mythological fable, or if the scene is laid in depend, and to which they contribute, must pervade some early stage of society, when man as yet rethe piece. It must open with the commencement of mained separated from his kind, and connected only the play, evolve itself, and be progressive with its with his petty tribe or family, the subject of a plot progress, - must be perpetually in sight and ever sta- may be chosen where the agency of a very few pertionary, until at length it arrives at a catastrophe, by sons, and these naturally connected together, may, which it is ended and extinguished. In this rule, without foreign or extraneous assistance, afford maiabstractedly considered, there is nothing but what is ter for a tragedy. But, in the actual course of the consistent with good sense and sound criticism. The peopled world, men are so crowded together, and period allowed for dramatic representation is not their movements depend so much upon impulses long, and will not admit of the episodical ornaments foreign to themselves, that the action must often which may be happily introduced into epic poetry; appear multiplied and complicated, and all that the And as the restlessness or impatience of a theatrical author can do is, to preserve the interest uniform audience is always one of its marked characteristics, and undivided. Its progress may be likened to that it has been observed, that neither the most animated of a brook through beautiful scenery. A judicious description, nor the most beautiful poetry, can ever improver of the landscape would be certainly desireconcile the spectators to those inartificial scenes rous to make its course visible, but not to cut off its in which the plot or action of the piece stands still, beautiful undulations, or to compel it into a straight that the performers may say fine things. The intro- channel He would follow the course of nature, and duction of an interest, separate and distinct from neither affect to conceal the smaller rills by which the main action of the play, has a still worse effect; the stream was fed, nor bring them so much in it diminishes the effect of the whole, and divides the view as to deprive the principal object of its conseattention of the audience; as a pack of hounds, quence. We admit the difficulty inseparable from when in full pursuit, are impeded and puzzled by the dramatic art, and must grant, that the author starting a fresh object of chase.
runs some risk of losing sight of the main interest Yet even this rule must be liberally considered, of the piece, by dwelling upon the subordinate accesif we would allow dramatic authors that fair room sories; but we contend, that the attention of the and exercise for their talents, which gives rise to the audience is still more likely to be fatigued by a bald noblest display of genius in the art. Modern drama and simple plot, to which, during the course of five tists are no longer, it must be remembered, limited to acts, there must belong much speaking and little the simple and severe uniformity of the ancient progress. And, in point of common sense and comDrama, which fixed on one single event as its mon feeling, that piece must always present unity of object, ---made it the subject of the moral reflections action which has unity of interest and feeling; which of the Chorus,-managed it by the intervention of fixes the mind of the audience upon one train of three, or at most five persons, and conseqnently pre- thought and passion, to which every occurrence in sented a picture so limited in size and subject, that the Drama verges; and which is consummated and there was no difficulty in avoiding the intermixture wound up by the final catastrophe. of a foreign interest. The modern taste has opened The second dramatic unity is that of Time, about the stage to a wider range of topics, which are, at which the critics of various nations have disagreed. the same time, more complicated in detail, depending If taken in its strict and proper sense, it means that on the agency of a variety of performers, and on the the time occupied by the representation, should not result of a succession of events. Such Dramas have exceed that supposed to be consumed in the action indeed a unity of action peculiar to themselves, which represented. But even Aristotle extends the duration should predominate over and absorb every other of the action to one revolution of the sun, and CorBut although, like the oak, it should uplift itself over neille extends it to thirty hours, which ig, to the all the neighbouring underwood, its dignity is not in actual period of representation, as ten to one. Boijured by the presence and vicinity of that which it leau, a supereminent authority, thus lays down the overshadows. On the contrary, a succession of rule for the unities of time and place :events tending to the same end, if they do not divert Que le lieu de la scene y soit fixe et marquo the attention from the principal interest, cannot fail, Un Rimeur, sans peril, dela les Pirenees, by their variety and succession, to keep it fixed upon
Sur la scene en un jour renferme des annees. the business of the scene.
Enfant au premier acte, est barbon au dernier, To take an example. In the tragedy of Macbeth, Mais nous, que la Raison à ses regles engage, a chain of varied and important events is introduced, Nous voulons qu'avec art l'action se menago : any one link of which might be hammered out into
Qu'en un lieu, qu'en un jour, un seul fait accompli
Tienne jusqu'à la fin le Theatre rempli. a Drama, on the severe and simple model of the Drama of ancient Greece. There is the murder of It has been triumphantly remarked, that in thus Duncan,--that of Banquo,--and the dethronement yielding up the strict letter of the precept-in allowand death of the tyrant; all which are events com ing the three hours employed in acting a play to be plete of themselves, independent of each other, and multiplied into twenty-four or thirty-the critics have yet included within one tragedy of five acts. But, retained a great proportion of the inconvenience of nevertheless, this is never felt as a deficiency in the this famous rule, while they sacrificed its principle, performance. It is to the character of Macbeth, to and any advantage attached to its observance. his ambition, guilt, remorse, and final punishment, The only benefit supposed to be attached to this unithat the mind attaches itself during the whole play; ty is that of probability. We shall not at present
Là souvent le Heros d'un spectacle grossier,