Imágenes de páginas

have altered in the superstructures, but not in the foundation of the design.

How defective Shakspeare and Fletcher have been in all their plots, Mr. Rymer has discovered in his Criticisms; neither can we, who follow them, be excused from the same or greater errours ; which are the more unpardonable in us, because we want their beauty to countervail our faults. The best of their designs, the most approaching to antiquity, and the most conducing to move pity, is The King and No King; which, if the farce of Bessus were thrown away, is of that inferior sort of tragedies, which end with a prosperous event. It is probably derived from the story of Oedipus, with the character of Alexander the Great, in his extravagancies, given to Arbaces. The taking of this play amongst many others, I cannot wholly ascribe to the excellency of the action ; for I find it moving when it is read : it is true, the faults of the plot are so evidently proved, that they can no longer be denied. The beauties of it must therefore lie either in the lively touches of the passions, or we must conclude, as I think we may, that even in imperfect plots, there are less degrees of nature, by which some faint emotions of pity and terrour are raised in us : as a less engine will raise a less proportion of weight, though not so much as one of Archimedes' making; for nothing can move our nature, but by some natural reason which works upon Cour] passions; and since

we acknowledge the effect, there must be something in the cause.

The difference between Shakspeare and Fletcher in their plotting, seems to be this ; that Shakspeare generally moves more terrour, and Fletcher more compassion : for the first had a more masculine, a bolder and more firy genius; the second a more soft and womanish. In the mechanick beauties of the plot, which are the observation of the three unities, time, place, and action, they are both

icient; but Shakspeare most. Ben Jonson reformed those errours in his comedies, yet one of Shakspeare's was regular before him ; which is, The MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR.8 For what remains concerning the design, you are to be referred to our English critick.* That method which he has prescribed to raise it, from mistake or ignorance of the crime, is certainly the best, though it is not the only; for amongst all the tragedies of Sophocles, there is but one, (Oedipus) which is wholly built after that model.

After the plot, which is the foundation of the play, the next thing to which we ought to apply our judgment is the manners; for now the

poet comes to work above ground: the ground-work

8 THE MERRY Wives of WINDSOR was certainly not produced till after EVERY MAN IN HIS HUMOUR; and probably not till after EVERY MAN OUT OF HIS HUMOUR had been acted. The former of these two pieces was acted in 1598, and the other in 1599.

* Rymer.

[blocks in formation]

indeed is that which is most necessary, as that upon which depends the firmness of the whole fabrick ; yet it strikes not the eye so much, as the beauties or imperfections of the manners, the thoughts, and the expressions.

The first rule which Bossu prescribes to the writer of an heroick poem, and which holds too by the same reason in all dramatick poetry, is, to make the moral of the work ; that is, to lay down to yourself what that precept of morality shall be which you would insinuate into the people ; as namely, Homer's (which I have copied in my CONQUEST OF GRANADA) was, that union preserves a commonwealth, and discord destroys it ; Sophocles, in his OEDIPUS, that no man is to be accounted happy before his death. It is the moral that directs the whole action of the play to one centre; and that action or fable is the example built upon the moral, which confirms the truth of it to our experience. When the fable is designed, then, and not before, the persons are to be introduced with their manners, characters, and passions.

The manners, in a poem, are understood to be those inclinations, whether natural or acquired, which move and carry us to actions, good, bad, or indifferent, in a play; or which incline the persons to such or such actions. I have anticipated part of this discourse already, in declaring that a poet ought not to make the manners perfectly good in his best persons; but neither are they to be more wicked in any of his characters, than necessity

requires. · To produce a villain without other reason than a natural inclination to villany, is in poetry, to produce an effect without a cause; and to make him more a villain than he has just reason to be, is to make an effect which is stronger than the cause.

The manners arise from many causes; and are either distinguished by complexion, as cholerick and phlegmatick, or by the differences of age or sex, of climates, or quality of the persons, or their present condition. They are likewise to be gathered from the several virtues, vices, or passions, and

many other common-places which a poet must be supposed to have learned from natural philosophy, ethicks, and history; of all which whosoever is ignorant, does not deserve the name of poet.

But as the manners are useful in this art, they may be all comprised under these general heads : First, they must be apparent ; that is, in every character of the play some inclinations of the person must appear; and these are shewn in the actions and discourse. Secondly, the manners must be suitable or agreeing to the persons ; that is, to the age, sex, dignity, and the other general heads of manners : thus, when a poet has given the dignity of a king to one of his persons, in all his actions and speeches that person must discover majesty, magnanimity, and jealousy of power ; because these are suitable to the general manners of a king. The third property of manners is resemblance ; and this is founded upon the


ticular characters of men, as we have them delivered to us by relation or history: that is, when a poet has the known character of this or that man before him, he is bound to represent him such, at least not contrary to that which fame has reported him to have been. Thus it is not a poet's choice to make Ulysses cholerick, or Achilles patient, because Hotner has described them quite otherwise. Yet this is a rock on which ignorant writers daily split ; and the absurdity is as monstrous, as if a painter should draw a coward running from a battle, and tell us it was the picture of Alexander the Great.-The last property of manners is, that they be constant and equal, that is, maintained the same through the whole design : thus, when Virgil had once given the name of pious to Æneas, he was bound to shew him such, in all his words and actions throughout the whole poem.

All these properties Horace has hinted to a judicious observer : 1. Notandi sunt tibi mores;

2. Aut famam sequere, 3. aut sibi convenientia finge ; 4. Servetur ad imum, qualis ab incepto processerit, et sibi constet.

From the manners the characters of persons are derived ; for indeed, the characters are no other than the inclinations as they appear in the several persons of the poem : a character being thus defined,—that which distinguishes one man from another. Not to repeat the same things over again, which have been said of the manners, I will only add what is necessary here.

« AnteriorContinuar »