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both concerning time and place. The strength of his reason depends on this, that the less cannot comprehend the greater. I have already answered, that we need not suppose it does : I say not that the less can comprehend the greater, but only that it may represent it : as in a glass or mirror of half a yard diameter, a whole room and many persons in it may be seen at once; not that it can comprehend that room or those persons, but that it represents them to the sight.
But the Author of THE DUKE OF LERMA is to be excused for his declaring against the unity of time; for, if I be not much mistaken, he is an interested person, the time of that play taking up so many years as the favour of the Duke of Lerma
as is represented, the real and poetical duration is the same. If, in the first act, preparations for war against Mithridates are represented to be made in Rome, the event of the war may, without absurdity, be represented, in the catastrophe, as happening in Pontus; we know that there is neither war, nor preparation for war; we know that we are neither in Rome nor Pontus ; that neither Mithridates nor Lucullus are before us. The drama exhibits successive imitations of successive actions ; and why may not the second imitation represent an action that happened years after the first, if it be so connected with it, that nothing but time can be supposed to intervene ? Time is, of all modes of existence, most obsequious to the imagination; a lapse of years is as easily conceived as a passage of hours. In contemplation we easily contract the time of real actions, and therefore willingly permit it to be contracted when we only see their imitation.” Preface to Shakspeare's Plays.
continued; nay the second and third act including all the time of his prosperity, which was a great part of the reign of Philip the Third : for in the beginning of the second act he was not yet a a favourite, and before the end of the third, was in disgrace. I say not this with the least design of limiting the stage too servilely to twenty-four hours, however he be pleased to tax me with dogmatizing in that point. In my dialogue, as I before hinted, several persons maintained their several opinions. One of them, indeed, who supported the cause of the French poesy, said, how strict they were in that particular ; but he who answered in behalf of our nation, was willing to give more latitude to the rule; and cites the words of Corneille himself, complaining against the severity of it, and observing what beauties it banished from the stage.' In few words, my own opinion is this, and I willingly submit it to my adversary, when he will please impartially to consider it,) that the imaginary time of every play ought to be contrived into as narrow a compass as the nature of the plot, the quality of the persons, and variety of accidents will allow. In comedy I would not exceed twenty-four or thirty hours : for the plot, accidents, and persons of comedy are small, and may be naturally turned in a little compass : but in tragedy the design is weighty, and the persons great; therefore there will naturally be required a greater space of time in which
See p. 93.
to move them. And this though Ben Jonson has not told us, yet it is manifestly his opinion : for you see that to his comedies he allows generally but twenty-four hours ; to his two tragedies, SEJANUS and CATILINE, a much larger time : though he draws both of them into as narrow a compass as he can ; for he shews you only the latter end of Sejanus his favour, and the conspiracy of Catiline already ripe, and just breaking out into action.
But as it is an errour on the one side, to make too great a disproportion betwixt the imaginary time of the play, and the real time of its representation; so on the other side, it is an oversight to compress the accidents of a play into a narrower compass than that in which they could naturally be produced. Of this last errour the French are seldom guilty, because the thinness of their plots prevents them from it; but few Englishmen, except Ben Jonson, have ever made a plot with a variety of design in it, included in twenty-four hours, which was altogether natural. For this reason, I prefer The Silent WOMAN before all other plays, I think justly, as I do its author, in judgment, above all other poets. Yet of the two, I think that errour the most pardonable, which in too strait a compass crowds together many accidents ; since it produces more variety, and consequently more pleasure to the audience; and because the nearness of proportion betwixt the imaginary and real time, does speciously cover the compression of the accidents.
Thus I have endeavoured to answer the meaning of his argument; for as he drew it, I humbly conceive that it was none; as will appear by his proposition, and the proof of it. His proposition was this:
If strictly and duly weighed, it is as impossible for one stage to present two rooms or houses, as two countries or kingdoms, &c. And his proof this : For all being impossible, they are none of them nearest the truth or nature of what they present.
Here you see, instead of proof or reason, there is only petitio principii. For in plain words, his sense is this: two things are as impossible as one another, because they are both equally impossible. But he takes those two things to be granted as impossible which he ought to have proved such, before he had proceeded to prove them equally impossible : he should have made out first, that it it was impossible for one stage to represent two houses, and then have gone forward to prove that it was as equally impossible for a stage to present two houses, as two countries.
After all this, the very absurdity to which he would reduce me, is none at all : for he only drives at this ;-- that if his argument be true, I must then acknowledge that there are degrees in impossibilities, which I easily grant him without dispute : and if I mistake not, Aristotle and the School are of my opinion. For there are some things which are absolutely impossible, and others which are only so ex parte ; as it is absolutely impossible for a thing to be, and not to be, at the same time; but for a stone to move naturally upward, is only impossible ex parte materiæ ; but it is not impossible for the first mover to alter the nature of it.
His last assault, like that of a Frenchman, is most feeble: for whereas I have observed, that none have been violent against verse, but such only as have not attempted it, or have succeeded ill in their attempt, he will needs, according to his usual custom, improve my observation to an argument, that he might have the glory to confute it. But I lay my observation at his feet, as I do my pen, which I have often employed willingly in his deserved commendations, and now most unwillingly against his judgment. For his person and parts, I honour them as much as any man living, and have had so many particular obligations to him, that I should be very ungrateful, if I did not acknowledge them to the world. But I gave not the first occasion of this difference in opinions. In my Epistle Dedicatory before my Rival LADIES, I have said somewhat in behalf of verse, which he was pleased to answer in his Preface to his plays : that occasioned my reply in my Essay; and that reply begot this rejoinder of his in his Preface to THE DUKE OF LERMA. But as I was the last who took up arms, I will be the first to lay them down. For what I have here written, I submit it wholly to him; and if I do not hereafter answer what may be objected against this paper, I hope the world will not impute it to any other reason, than only the due respect which I have for so noble an opponent,