« AnteriorContinuar »
inartificially set ; and though it was impossible to keep them all unbroken, because the scene must be sometimes in the city, and sometimes in the camp, yet I have so ordered them, that there is a coherence of them with one another, and a dependence on the main design : no leaping from Troy to the Grecian tents, and thence back again in the same act; but a due proportion of time allowed for every motion. I need not say that I have refined his language, which before was obsolete ; but I am willing to acknowledge, that as I have often drawn his English nearer to our times, so I have sometimes conformed my own to his; and consequently, the language is not alto so pure as it is significant. The scenes of Pandarus and Cressida, of Troilus and Pandarus, of Andromache with Hector and the Trojans, in the second act, are wholly new; together with that of Nestor and Ulysses with Thersites, and that of Thersites with Ajax and Achilles. I will not weary my reader with the scenes which are added of Pandarus and the lovers, in the third ; and those of Thersites, which are wholly altered : but I cannot omit the last scene in it, which is almost half the act, betwixt Troilus and Hector. The
t was hinted to me by Mr. Betterton; the contrivance and working of it was my own. They who think to do me an injury by saying that it is an imitation of the scene betwixt Brutus and Cassius, do me an honour by supposing I could imitate the incomparable Shakspeare; but let me add, that if Shakspeare's scene, or that faulty copy of it in Amintor and Melantius, had never been, yet Euripides had furnished me with an excellent example in his IPHIGENIA, between Agamemnon and Menelaus ; and from thence, indeed, the last turn of it is borrowed. The occasion which Shakspeare, Euripides, and Fletcher, have all taken, is the same,--grounded upon friendship; and the quarrel of two virtuous men, raised by natural degrees to the extremity of passion, is conducted in all three to the declination of the same passion; and concludes with a warm renewing of their friendship. But the particular ground-work which Shakspeare has taken, is incomparably the best ; because he has not only chosen two of the greatest heroes of their age, but has likewise interested the liberty of Rome, and their own honours who were the redeemers of it, in this debate. And if he has made Brutus, who was naturally a patient man, to fly into excess at first, let it be remembered in his defence, that just before he has received the news of Portia's death, whom the poet, on purpose neglecting a little chronology, supposes to have died before Brutus, * only to give him an occasion of being more easily exasperated. Add to this, that the injury he had received from Cassius had long been brooding in his mind; and that a
* He had sufficient authority for this supposition. See SHAKSPEARE'S PLAYS AND POEMS, vol. vii. p. 393.
melancholy man, upon consideration of an affront, especially from a friend, would be more eager in his passion than he who had given it, though naturally more cholerick. Euripides, whom I have followed, has raised the quarrel betwixt two brothers, who were friends. The foundation of the scene was this : The Grecians were wind-bound at the port of Aulis, and the Oracle had said, that they could not sail, unless Agamemnon delivered up his daughter to be sacrificed : he refuses ; his brother, Menelaus, urges the publick safety ; the father defends himself by arguments of natural affection; and hereupon they quarrel. Agamemnon is at last convinced, and promises to deliver up Iphigenia; but so passionately laments his loss, that Menelaus is grieved to have been the occasion of it, and by a return of kindness, offers to intercede for him with the Grecians, that his daughter might not be sacrificed. But my friend, Mr. Rymer, has so largely, and with so much judgment, described this scene, in comparing it with that of Melantius and Amintor, that it is superfluous to say more of it: I only named the heads of it, that any reasonable man might judge it was from thence I modelled my scene betwixt Troilus and Hector. I will conclude my reflexions on it with a passage of Longinus, concerning Plato's imitation of Homer : “ We ought not to regard a good imi“ tation as a theft, but as a beautiful idea of him « who undertakes to imitate, by forming himself “ on the invention and the work of another man ;
“ for he enters into the lists like a new wrestler “ to dispute the prize with the former champion. « This sort of emulation, says Hesiod, is honour“able, 'Agata de leis ist Bpololol,--when we com“ bat for victory with a hero, and are not without “ glory even in our overthrow. Those great men “ whom we propose to ourselves as patterns of " our imitation, serve us as a torch, which is lifted “ up before us, to enlighten our passage ; and “ often elevate our thoughts as high as the con“ ception we have of our author's genius.”
I have been so tedious in three acts, that I shall contract myself in the two last. The beginning scenes of the fourth act are either added, or changed wholly by me; the middle of it is Shakspeare altered, and mingled with my own : three or four of the last scenes are altogether new; and the whole fifth act, both the plot and the writing, are my own additions.
But having written so much for imitation of what is excellent, in that part of the Preface which related only to myself, methinks it would neither be unprofitable nor unpleasant to enquire how far we ought to imitate our own poets, Shakspeare and Fletcher, in their tragedies; and this will occasion another enquiry, how those two writers differ between themselves. But since neither of these questions can be solved, unless some measures be first taken, by which we may be enabled to judge truly of their writings, I shall endeavour, as briefly as I can, to discover the grounds and reason
of all Criticism, applying them in this place only to tragedy. Aristotle, with his interpreters, and Horace, and Longinus, are the authors to whom I owe my lights; and what part soever of my own plays, or of this, which no mending could make regular, shall fall under the condemnation of such judges, it would be impudence in me to defend. I think it no shame to retract my errours, and am well pleased to suffer in the cause, if the art may be improved at my expence: I therefore · proceed to
THE GROUNDS OF CRITICISM IN TRAGEDY.
Tragedy is thus defined by Aristotle (omitting what I thought unnecessary in his definition). It is an imitation of one entire, great, and probable action, not told, but represented; which, by moving in us fear and pity, is conducive to the purging of those two passions in our minds. More largely thus : Tragedy describes or paints an action, which action must have all the proprieties above named. First, it must be one or single, that is, it must not be a history of one man's life, suppose of Alexander the Great, or Julius Cæsar, but one single action of theirs. This condemns all Shakspeare's historical plays, which are rather chronicles represented, than tragedies; and all double action
Dr. Johnson was of opinion that Rymer's book, (on the Tragedies of the last Age) which was published in 1678, gave occasion to this dissertation.