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sentation of that act. This is a rule which the French tragedians regularly observe. To violate this rule, as is too often done by the English; to change the place, and shift the scene, in the midst of one act, shews great incorrectness, and destroys the whole intention of the division of a play into acts. Mr Addison's Cato is remarkable beyond most English tragedies, for regularity of conduct. The author has limited himself, in time, to a single day; and in place, has maintained the most rigorous unity. The scene is never chang ed; and the whole action passes in the hall of Cato's house at Utica.

In general, the nearer a poet can bring the dramatic representation, in all its circumstances, to an imitation of nature and real life, the impres sion which he makes on us will always be the more perfect. Probability, as I observed at the beginning of the Lecture, is highly essential to the conduct of the tragic action, and we are always hurt by the want of it. It is this that makes the observance of the dramatic unities to be of consequence, as far as they can be observed without sacrificing more material beauties. It is not, as has been sometimes said, that, by the preservation of the unities of time and place, spectators are deceived into a belief of the reality of the objects which are set before them on the stage; and that, when those unities are violated, the charm is broken, and they discover the whole to be a fiction:

No such deception as this can ever be accomplished. No one ever imagines himself to be at Athens, or Rome, when a Greek or Roman subject is presented on the stage. He knows the whole to be an imitation only; but he requires that imitation to be conducted with skill and verisimilitude. His pleasure, the entertainment which he expects, the interest which he is to take in the story, all depend on its being so conducted.His imagination, therefore, seeks to aid the imitation, and to rest on the probability; and the poet who shocks him by improbable circumstances, and by awkward, unskilful imitation, deprives him of his pleasure, and leaves him hurt and displeased. This is the whole mystery of the theatrical illusion.

LECTURE XLVI.

TRAGEDY-GREEK-FRENCH-ENGLISH
TRAGEDY.

HAVING treated of the dramatic action in tragedy, I proceed next to treat of the characters most proper to be exhibited. It has been thought by several critics, that the nature of tragedy requires the principal personages to be always of illustrious character, and of high or princely rank; whose misfortunes and sufferings, it is said, take faster hold of the imagination, and impress the heart more forcibly, than similar events happening to persons in private life. But this is more specious than solid. It is refuted by facts. For the distresses of Desdemona, Monimia, and Belvidera, interest us as deeply as if they had been princesses or queens. The dignity of tragedy does, indeed, require that there should be nothing degrading or mean in the circumstances of the persons which it exhibits; but it requires nothing more.

Their

high rank may render the spectacle more splendid, and the subject seemingly of more importance, but conduces very little to its being inte

resting or pathetic; which depends entirely on the nature of the tale, on the art of the poet in conducting it, and on the sentiments to which it gives occasion. In every rank of life, the relations of father, husband, son, brother, lover, or friend, lay the foundation of those affecting situations, which make man's heart feel for man.

The moral characters of the persons represented are of much greater consequence than the external circumstances in which the poet places them. Nothing, indeed, in the conduct of tragedy, demands a poet's attention more, than so to describe his personages, and so to order the incidents which relate to them, as shall leave upon the spectators impressions favourable to virtue, and to the administration of Providence. It is not necessary for this end, that poetical justice, as it is called, should be observed in the catastrophe of the piece. This has been long exploded from tragedy; the end of which is, to affect us with pity for the virtuous in distress, and to afford a probable representation of the state of human life, where calamities often befal the best, and a mixed portion of good and evil is appointed for all. But, withal, the author must beware of shocking our minds with such representations of life as tend to raise horror, or to render virtue an object of aversion. Though innocent persons suffer, their sufferings ought to be attended with such circumstances as shall make virtue appear amiable and venerable; and shall

render their condition, on the whole, preferable to that of bad men, who have prevailed against them. The stings and the remorse of guilt, must ever be represented as productive of greater miseries than any that the bad can bring upon the good.

Aristotle's observations on the characters proper for tragedy, are very judicious. He is of opinion, that perfect unmixed characters, either of good or ill men, are not the fittest to be introduced. The distresses of the one, being wholly unmerited, hurt and shock us; and the sufferings of the other occasion no pity. Mixed characters, such as in fact we meet with in the world, afford the most proper field for displaying, without any bad effect on morals, the vicissitudes of life; and they interest us the more deeply, as they display emotions and passions which we have all been conscious of. When such persons fall into distress through the vices of others, the subject may be very pathetic; but it is always more instructive, when a person has been himself the cause of his misfortune, and when his misfortune is occasioned by the violence of passion, or by some weakness incident to human nature. Such subjects both dispose us to the deepest sympathy, and administer useful warnings to us for our own conduct.

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Upon these principles, it surprises me that the story of Edipus should have been so much celebrated by all the critics, as one of the fittest

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