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will not strictly fall under either of these cha. racters; and the mixture of both (the tragi-comedy) has been practised by some of our first writers, Shakspeare, Otway, Dryden, and Southern ; and is defended by some of our first critics, I think by Dr. Johnson, as a more per. fect representation of real life.
The same rules in general apply to comedy as to tragedy. Aristotle has advanced precepts for their composition, all deduced from the practice of the Greek writers, and which have been most absurdly adopted by the French critics, and dramatic writers. But before we inquire into the reasonableness of these dictates of Aristotle, it will be proper to take a cursory view of the origin and progress of the Greek drama.
There is scarcely any circumstance in which the gradual progress of human invention is more exemplified, than in the origin and im provement of dramatic composition among the Greeks.
The Greek drama was originally nothing more than a rude song, exbibited by one or more clownish minstrels or ballad-si.igers, who disfigured themselves to excite attention.
Thespis, who lived 564 years before Christ, collected a company of them together, and transported them from village to village in a kind of waggon; and something like this state of the drama we see in the rude exbibitions of mum. mers, and morrice-dancers, in the inland parts of this kingdom. Thespis added to the singers an interlocutor, who served to explain the male ter of the songs ; and in this state the drama continued, till an accident brought it to greater perfection. In the representation of a tragedy, in which the furies were exhibited, the barbarous dresses of the chorus (which consisted of fifty persons) frighted the pregnant women into fits. Hence Æschylus was induced to retrench the number of the chorus, and to compensate for the deficiency, added to the actors or interlocutors. He erected a stage, and ornamented it with machinery ; and equipped the actors with the robe, the buskin, and the mask.* The two latter of which were accommodations to the large theatres; and if our managers proceed as they have lately done in enlarging our play-houses, our actors must be mounted in buskins, disfigured in masks, and must voci. ferate through speaking trumpets.
* « The drama owes its rise to days of festivity. For in antient times it was usual for men, when they had collected in the fruits of the earth, to meet together, that they might sacrifice to the deity, and unbend their minds from the fatigues of the harvest. Hence arose two sorts of poetry; the one graver, in praise of the gods; the other
From this statement you will see how very imperfect the Greek drama was, and how very absurd those critics are who would confine us to a servile imitation of it. You will also see the reason of what are called the unities. The Greeks had but one scene,
and as the tual performance was an ode, the chorus (or company of singers), which was originally the main object, never left the stage. The representation therefore admitted of no chanye
The first essays
jocose, full of lampoon against one another. Under the former head we may reckon the Dithyrambics of Bacchus, hymns to the gods, and panegyrics upon heroes. Under the second, lambics and Phallic verses. were rough, and unpolished; but, by degrees, the great actions of gods and heroes grew more numerous, and increased into set fables: so, in like manner, the jocose compositions began to come under proper regulations. Thus from the former kind arose tragedy; from the latter, satire, comedy, and mimic."-VOSSJUS, Lib. II. c. 2.
of place, and only of the time which was employed in the recitation. For the unity of action more is to be said ; since in every composition of human art it seems necessary to prevent confusion in the minds of the hearers.
A modern play, you must perceive, is a very different composition, and therefore to confine us to the same narrow limits as the Greek dramatists, is to say mankind shall never improve: yet upon this ridiculous system bave critics proceeded ; nay, it has even been doubted by some of them whether the moderns have judged well in laying aside the chorus : it certainly added, they allege, both to the magnificence and morality of the stage, as it was always employed in commending virtues but surely it detracted very much from the probability of the performance. Either the chorus is detached from the tragedy, and then it is quite unnatural, persons
of the chorus have some connection with the subject, and then it is very difficult for the poet to preserve the probability. As the chorus was first invented, it is no wonder it was retained so long a time; but had the tragedy been first, it is very probable the other would never have had a being,
· Upon these principles let us now examine what Aristotle had deemed indispensable—the three unities, of action, time, and place; the first of these I have always thought important to every composition, and I have already shewne in what it consists, namely, the relation of every incident to some great action or end; and it is no less necessary to preserve it in epic poetry than in tragedy. It is essential even to history, for the detail of two narratives at once, or the intermixture of them can only serve to confuse. The common practice is to divide the whole performance into five acts, though this practice has no foundation in nature: the first, it is said, should contain an exposition of the design of the representation; this was formerly performed in a long speech by way of prologue by one actor. Thus it is in Sophocles and Euripides; but the moderns have judged better in making the actors open the subject by discoursing together in the first act. In the second, third, and fourth acts, the plot should proceed and draw towards a crisis, and prepare gradually for the developement in the fifth act. It is a rule, which should always be observed, that no person should ever come upon the stage and go