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cannot be two places, yet it may properly représent them, successively, or at several times. His argument is indeed no more than a mere fallacy, which will evidently appear, when we distinguish place, as it relates to plays, into real and imaginary. The real place is that theatre, or piece of ground, on which the play is acted. The imaginary, that house, town, or country, where the action of the drama is supposed to be; or more plainly, where the scene of the play is laid. Let us now apply this to that Herculean argument, which, if strictly and duly weighed, is to make it evident, that there is no such thing as what they all pretend. It is impossible, he says, for one stage to present two rooms or houses. I answer, it is neither impossible, nor improper, for one real place to represent two or more imaginary places, so it be done successively ; which in other words is no more than this,--that the imagination of the audience, aided by the words of the poet, and painted scenes, may suppose the stage to be sometimes one place, sometimes another ; now a garden, or wood, and immediately a camp: which, I appeal to every man's imagination, if it be not true. Neither the ancients nor moderns, as much fools as he is pleased to think them, ever asserted that they could make one place two; but they might hope, by the good leave of this author, that the change of a scene might lead the imagination to suppose the place altered : so that he cannot fasten those absurdities upon this scene of a play, or
imaginary place of action, that it is one place, and
And this being so clearly proved, that it is past any shew of a reasonable denial, it will not be hard to destroy that other part of his argument which depends upon it; namely, that it is as impossible for a stage to represent two rooms or houses, as two countries or kingdoms; for his reason is already overthrown, which was, because both were alike impossible. This is manifestly Otherwise ; for it is proved that a stage may properly represent two rooms or houses; for the imagination being judge of what is represented, will in reason be less choked with the appearance of two rooms in the same house, or two houses in the same city, than with two distant cities in the same country, or two remote countries in the same universe. Imagination in a man or reasonable creature, is supposed to participate of reason ; and when that governs, as it does in the belief of fiction, reason is not destroyed, but misled, or blinded : that can prescribe to the reason, during the time of the representation, somewhat like a weak belief of what it sees and hears; and reason suffers itself to be so hood-winked, that it may better enjoy the pleasures of the fiction. But it is never so wholly made a captive, as to be drawn headlong into a persuasion of those things which are most remote from probability. It is in that case a free-born subject, not a slave ; it will contribute willingly its assent, as far as it sees convenient, but will not be forced. Now there is a greater vicinity in nature betwixt two rooms than betwixt two houses, betwixt two houses than betwixt two cities, and so of the rest ; Reason therefore can sooner be led by Imagination to step from one room into another, than to walk to two distant houses, and yet rather to go thither, than to fly like a witch through the air, and be hurried from one region to another. Fancy and Reason go hand in hand; the first cannot leave the last behind ; and though Fancy, when it sees the wide gulph, would venture over as the nimbler, yet it is withheld by Reason, which will refuse to take the leap, when the distance over it appears too large. If Ben Jonson himself will remove the scene from Rome into Tuscany in the same act, and from thence return to Rome, in the scene which immediately follows, Reason will consider there is no proportionable allowance of time to perform the journey, and therefore will chuse to stay at home. So then, the less change of place there is, the less time is taken up in transporting the persons of the drama, with analogy to reason; and in that analogy, or resemblance of fiction to truth, consists the excellency of the play.
For what else concerns the unity of place, I have already given my opinion of it in my Essay ; -that there is a latitude to be allowed to it, -as several places in the same town or city, or places adjacent to each other in the same country, which may all be comprehended under the larger denomination of one place ; yet with this restriction, that the nearer and fewer those imaginary places are, the greater resemblance they will have to
truth ; and reason, which cannot make them one, will be more easily led to suppose them so.
What has been said of the unity of place, may easily be applied to that of time. I grant it to be impossible, that the greater part of time should be comprehended in the less, that twentyfour hours should be crowded into three: but there is no necessity of that supposition.For as place, so time relating to a play, is either imaginary or real : the real is comprehended in those three hours, more or less, in the space
of which the play is represented; the imaginary is that which is supposed to be taken up in the representation, as twenty-four hours more or less. Now no man ever could suppose that twenty-four real hours could be included in the space of three: but where is the absurdity of affirming that the feigned business of twenty-four imagined hours may not more naturally be represented in the compass of three real hours, than the like feigned business of twenty-four years in the same proportion of real time? For the proportions are always real, and much nearer, by his permission, of twenty-four to three, than of four thousand to it.*
* Our author has here stated, with great strength and acuteness, all that can be urged in favour of observing the unities of time and place. Dr. Johnson's masterly refutation of this argument is as follows:
“ The objection arising from the impossibility of passing the first hour at Alexandria, and the next at Rome, supposes, that when the play opens the spectator really
I am almost fearful of illustrating any thing by similitude, lest he should confute it for an argument; yet I think the comparison of a glass will discover very aptly the fallacy of his argument,
imagines himself at Alexandria, and believes that his walk to the theatre has been a voyage to Egypt, and that he lives in the days of Antony and Cleopatra. Surely he that imagines this may imagine more. He that can take the stage at one time for the palace of the Ptolemies, may take it in half an hour for the promontory of Actium. Delusion, if delusion be admitted, has no certain limitation; if the spectator can be once persuaded, that his old acquaintance are Alexander and Cæsar, that a room illuminated with candles is the plain of Pharsalia, or the bank of Granicus, he is in a state of elevation above the reach of reason, or of truth; and from the heights of empyrean poetry, may despise the circumscriptions of terrestrial nature. There is no reason why a mind thus wandering in ecstasy should count the clock, or why an hour should not be a century in that calenture of the brains that can make the stage a field.
“ The truth is, that the spectators are always in their senses, and know, from the first act to the last, that the stage is only a stage, and that the players are only players. They come to hear a certain number of lines recited with just gesture and elegant modulation. The lines relate to some action, and an action must be in some place; but the different actions that complete a story may be in places very remote from each other; and where is the absurdity of allowing that space to represent first Athens, and then Sicily, which was always known to be neither Sicily nor Athens, but a modern theatre.
By supposition, as place is introduced, time may be extended: the time required by the fable elapses for the most part between the acts; for, of so much of the action