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rather than tragic. Two, however, he has produced, which deserve to be exempted from this censure, Jane Shore, and the Fair Penitent; in both of which there are so many tender and truly pathetic scenes, as to render them justly favourites of the public.
Dr Young's Revenge, is a play which discovers genius and fire; but wants tenderness, and turns too much upon the shocking and direful passions. In Congreve's Mourning Bride, there are some fine situations, and much good poetry. The two first acts are admirable. The meeting of Almeria with her husband Osmyn, in the tomb of Anselmo, is one of the most solemn and striking situations to be found in any tragedy. The defects in the catastrophe I pointed out in the last Lecture. Mr Thomson's tragedies are too full of a stiff morality, which renders them dull and formal. Tancred and Sigismunda far excels the rest; and, for the plot, the characters and sentiments, justly deserves a place among the best English tragedies. Of later pieces, and of living authors, it is not my purpose to treat.
Upon the whole, reviewing the tragic compositions of different nations, the following conclusions arise. A Greek tragedy is the relation of any distressful or melancholy incident; sometimes the effect of passion or crime, oftener of the decree of the gods, simply exposed; without much variety
of parts or events, but naturally and beautifully set before us; heightened by the poetry of the chorus. A French tragedy is a series of artful and refined conversations, founded upon a variety of tragical and interesting situations; carried on with little action and vehemence; but with much poetical beauty, and high propriety and decorum. An English tragedy is the combat of strong passions, set before us in all their violence; producing deep disasters; often irregularly conducted; abounding in action; and filling the spectators with grief. The ancient tragedies were more natural and simple; the modern are more artful and complex. Among the French, there is more correctness; among the English, more fire. Andromaque and Zayre soften, Othello and Venice Preserved rend, the heart. It deserves remark, that three of the greatest masterpieces of the French tragic theatre, turn wholly upon religious subjects: the Athalie of Racine, the Polyeucte of Corneille, and the Zayre of Voltaire. The first is founded upon a historical passage of the Old Testament; in the other two, the distress arises from the zeal and attachment of the principal personages to the Christian faith; and in all the three, the authors have, with much propriety, availed themselves of the majesty which may be derived from religious ideas.
COMEDY.-GREEK AND ROMAN-FRENCH
COMEDY is sufficiently discriminated from tragedy, by its general spirit and strain. While pity and terror, and the other strong passions, form the province of the latter, the chief, or rather sole instrument of the former, is ridicule. Comedy proposes for its object, neither the great sufferings, nor the great crimes of men; but their follies and slighter vices, those parts of their character which raise in beholders a sense of impropriety, which expose them to be censured and laughed at by others, or which render them troublesome in civil society.
This general idea of comedy, as a satirical exhibition of the improprieties and follies of mankind, is an idea very moral and useful. There is nothing in the nature, or general plan of this kind of composition, that renders it liable to censure. To polish the manners of men, to promote attention to the proper decorums of social behaviour, and, above all, to render vice ridiculous, is doing
a real service to the world. Many vices might be more successfully exploded, by employing ridicule against them, than by serious attacks and arguments. At the same time it must be confessed, that ridicule is an instrument of such a nature, that, when managed by unskilful or improper hands, there is hazard of its doing mischief, instead of good, to society. For ridicule is far from being, as some have maintained it to be, a proper test of truth. On the contrary, it is apt to mislead, and seduce, by the colours which it throws upon its objects; and it is often more difficult to judge whether these colours be natural and proper, than it is to distinguish between simple truth and error. Licentious writers, therefore, of the comic class, have too often had it in their power to cast a ridicule upon characters and objects which did not deserve it. But this is a fault, not owing to the nature of comedy, but to the genius and turn of the writers of it. In the hands of a loose, immoral author, comedy will mislead and corrupt; while, in those of a virtuous and well-intentioned one, it will be not only a gay and innocent, but a laudable and useful entertainment. French comedy is an excellent school of manners; while English comedy has been too often the school of vice.
The rules respecting the dramatic action, which I delivered in the first Lecture upon tragedy, belong equally to comedy; and hence, of course, our disquisitions concerning it are shortened. It
is equally necessary to both these forms of dramatic composition, that there be a proper unity of action and subject, that the unities of time and place be, as much as possible, preserved; that is, that the time of the action be brought within reasonable bounds, and the place of the action never changed, at least not during the course of each act; that the several scenes or successive conversations be properly linked together; that the stage be never totally evacuated till the act closes; and that the reason should appear to us, why the personages, who fill up the different scenes, enter and go off the stage at the time when they are made to do so. The scope of all these rules, I showed, was to bring the imitation as near as possible to probability; which is always necessary, in order to any imitation giving us pleasure. This reason requires, perhaps, a stricter observance of the dramatic rules in comedy than in tragedy. For the action of comedy being more familiar to us than that of tragedy, more like what we are accustomed to see in common life, we judge more easily of what is probable, and are more hurt by the want of it. The probable and the natural, both in the conduct of the story and in the characters and sentiments of the persons who are introduced, are the great foundation, it must always be remembered, of the whole beauty of comedy.
The subjects of tragedy are not limited to any country, or to any age. The tragic poet may