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instance, at least, is upon record of suicide attributed to the example of the Stage.
7. To these may be added the frequent exhibition of deaths, in which the person departing out of this world into another, is represented with views very different from those, in which a Christian should consider himself; looking back,—not like a sinner, penitent for his past sins, and humbly trusting in the merits of a Saviour for his pardon, — but in many cases, without any reference to past sins, or future hopes; or, in others, presuming upon fancied virtue, and going as it were to claim his reward from a Deity of infinite justice and goodness. f
These are a few of the most prominent circumstances wherein the Stage misleads and « communicates evil” to its votaries. More particular instances may be seen in that very excellent work, " A short view of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage,”# published about the end of the seventeenth century, and in another work, published in the beginning of the following century, entitled, • A serious Remonstrance in behalf of the Christian Religion, against the horrid Blasphemies and Impieties
* Note O.
+ Note P.
which are still used in the English Play-houses,' in which nearly seven thousand instances of impiety and immorality are noticed from the plays in use at that time, and some of which (though in rather an amended state) still keep a place upon the Stage. t Would those who are concerned in the Stage, but seriously consider these, and the principles of the Plays acted in these days, what might not be the happy effects produced ? In the mean time, it is the duty of the Christian Minister to warn unthinking persons of their danger in attending these ; to warn them “ not to be deceived,” since “ evil communications corrupt good manners, and to exhort them with the Apostle, to “ Awake to righteousness, and sin not, for some have not the knowledge of God. — I speak this to your shame.” (1 Cor. xv. 33, 34.)
From the abuses of the Stage, let us proceed, in the next place, to consider, What are the uses to which it may be applied.
III. “ The” proper
“ business of Plays (says the Author of one of the works before mentioned) is to recommend virtue and to discountenance vice; to shew the uncertainty of human greatness, the sudden turns of fate,”— or, as, perhaps, it is better expressed elsewhere,
" the changes and chances of this mortal life, "*" and the unhappy conclusions of violence and injustice: It is to expose the singularities of Pride and Fancy, to make Folly and Falsehood contemptible, and to bring every thing that is ill, under infamy and neglect.” (Collier p. 1.) +
“ A good Play (says a later writer) is an exact picture of human life. There we see our fellow-creatures placed in a variety of interesting situations, and speaking and acting as those situations would naturally lead them to do. In a well-written Tragedy, we see bad men led by temptation into vice; we see the deepest affliction supported with heroic fortitude, and virtue triumphant in distress. Thus the young man becomes acquainted with the world in which he is to live; he sees the effect of those passions which are his most dangerous enemies; and he learns to shun the errors and vices which are there held
up to just detestation.”
“ We must learn to distinguish between good and bad conduct, between true and false
* The first of the Collects at the end of the Communion Service.
+ Shakspeare, in the person of Hamlet, speaking of playing, says,
“ whose end, both at the first, and now, was, and is, to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature; to 'shew Virtue her own feature, Scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time, his form and pressure.' Act III. Scene II.
See Observations on the Effect, &c. p. 12.
principles and sentiments, or we are not fit to live in the world, to converse with our fellowcreatures, or to read any book whatever. The foundation being once laid, with “the law of his God in his heart,” (Psalm xxxvii. 32.) the Christian will distinguish true from false virtues; and where can he exercise his judgment with so little danger as in fictitious representations? At every step in bis passage through life, he will be called “ to refuse the evil and chuse the good.” It is not on the Stage alone, that false honour will wear a pleasing form, that beauty will smile to betray, and that wit will be employed in opposition to virtue; but it is on the Stage alone, that he will be a cool spectator of these abuses. In the world he must act as well as think; and there it is to be feared that he will no longer form an unprejudiced judgment beween pleasure and virtue.” (Ditto, p. 25.)*
With these views, then, let us consider, What are the Subjects and Characters proper for exhibition on the Stage. Certainly they are those in which the great majority of mankind are most concerned; not so much in the fate of Kings and Empires, not in the Deities and Heroes of the heathen world, t but in the daily transactions of life as they affect CHRISTIANS. I
Pity and Terror” were considered, by the
* Note R.
+ Note S.
ancients, as the great engines of the Drama; but all the virtues, passions, and affections, are interesting to all men. 66 The exercise of the social affections,” * is one of the principal sources of human happiness; the interruption of these, indeed, produces, when in a small degree, pity, when in a greater, terror.t All instances, then, of the exercise of the relative duties, - Of Husband and Wife, of Parent and Child, of Brother and sister, of Kindred, in its various branches, of Magistrate and Subject, of Master and Servant, of Rich and Poor,--All the social duties, all morals and all virtues, set forth as examples to copy, and all deviations from these, as examples to be avoided, are proper lessons for the Stage to exhibit; and there are many instances of these being well and instructively pourtrayed. It must be acknowledged, however, that it would be difficult to point out instances, in which our best plays are not corrupted by the bad leaven; but there is sufficient good, to shew, that good may be exhibited so as to interest, and would still interest, were the evil separated from it. I
It will, however, no doubt, be said by many, that the Drama, under these regulations,
See Paley's Moral Philosophy, vol. i. ch. vi, f Note U,