« AnteriorContinuar »
tensions to superiority and excellence in the Drama.
According to Aristotle, there can be no tragedy without action *. Mr. Voltaire confesses, that some of the most admired tragedies in France, are rather conversations, than representations of an action. It will hardly be allowed to those who fail in the most essential part of an art, to set up their performances as models. Can they who have robbed the Tragic Muse of all her virtue, and divested her of whatsoever gives her a real interest in the human heart, require, we should adore her for the glitter of a few false brilliants, or the nice arrangement of frippery ornaments ? If she wears any thing of intrinsic value, it has been borrowed from the ancients; but by these artists it is so fantastically fashioned to modern modes, as to lose all its original graces, and even that necessary qualification of all ornaments, fitness and propriety. A French tragedy is a tissue of declamations, and laboured recitals of the catastrophe, by which the spirit of the Drama is greatly weakened and enervated, and the theatrical piece is deprived of that peculiar influence over the mind, which it derives from the vivid force of represent ation.
* Arist. chap. vi.
Segnius irritant animos demissa per aurem,
The business of the Drama is to excite sympathy; and its effect on the spectator depends on such a justness of imitation, as shall cause, to a certain degree, the same passions and affections, as if what was exhibited were real. We have observed narrative imitation to be too faint and feeble a means to excite passion : declamation, still worse, plays idly on the surface of the subject, and makes the poet, who should be concealed in the action, visible to the spectator. In
works of art, our pleasure arises from a reflection on the art
itself; itself; and in a comparison, drawn by the mind, between the original and the copy before us.
But here the art and the artist must not appear; for, as often as we recur to the Poet, so often our sympathy with the action on the stage is suspended. The pompous declamations of the French theatre are mere rhetorical flourishes, such as an uninterested person might make on the state of the persons in the drama. They assume the office of the spectator by expressing his feelings, instead of conveying to us the strong emotions and sensations of the persons under the pressure of distress. Experience informs us, that even the inarticulate groans and involuntary convulsions of a creature in agonies, affect us much more, than any eloquent and elaborate description of its situation, delivered in the properest words, and most significant gestures. Our pity is then attendant on the passions of the unhappy person,
and on his own sense of his misfortunes. From description, from the report of a spectator, we may make some conjecture of his in
ternal state of mind, and so far we shall be moved: but the direct and immediate way to the heart is by the sufferer's expression of his passion. As there may be some obscurity in what I have said on this subject, I will endeavour to illustrate the doctrine by examples.
Sophocles, in his admirable tragedy of dipus Coloneus, makes Edipus expostulate with his undutiful son. The injured parent exposes the enormity of filial disobedience; sets forth the duties of this relation in a very strong and lively manner; but it is only by the vehemence with which he speaks of them, and the imprecations he utters against the delinquent son, that we can guess at the violence of his emotions; therefore he excites more indignation at the conduct of Polynices, than sympathy with his own sorrow; of which we can judge only as spectators: for he has explained to us merely the external duties and relations of parent and child. The pangs of paternal tenderness, thus wounded, are more pathetically expressed by King Lear, who leaves out whatever of this enormity is equally sensible to the spectator, and immediately exposes to us his own internal feelings, when, in the bitterness of his soul, cursing his daughter's offspring, he adds:
That she may feel,
By this we perceive, how deeply paternal affection is wounded by filial ingratitude.
In the play of King John, the legate offers
many arguments of consolation to Constance, on the loss of Arthur; they appear, to the spectator, reasonable, till she so strongly expresses the peculiar tenderness of maternal love, by answering,
He speaks to me that never had a son.
One might be made to conceive, in some