« ElőzőTovább »
Romans were so immense that the actors, to be heard, were obliged to have recourse to metallic masks, contrived with tremendous mouths, in order to augment the natural sound of the voice. This mask was called, by the Latins, Persona, from Personare (to sound through); and delineations of such masks as were used in each piece, generally prefixed to it, (as we now prefix the name of the characters of our modern plays,) as appears from the Vatican Terence; hence, Dramatis Persona, (masks of the Drama,) which words, after masks ceased to be used, were understood to mean Persons of the Drama.
CONGREVE'S DEFENCE AGAINST COLLIER. BEFORE Congreve wrote his last comedy, "The Way of the World," he published a formal vindication of the four plays he had then written; first, the animadversions of Collier, which were principally directed against Dryden and himself. Dryden, who certainly knew what was right, although no man had been more frequently betrayed into acting wrong, candidly confessed the justice of the charge, with respect to his own dramatic productions; but not so Congreve, whose pride was hurt by Collier's attack on
plays which all the world had admired and commended. The most hypocritical bigot that ever existed could not have exhibited a greater degree of rancour and resentment, when unmasked, than did this author, so celebrated for sweetness of temper and elegance of manners.
It must be confessed that Collier, in his View of the Stage, had gone too far; he had forgotten the old axiom of Ab abusu ad usum non valet consequentia, and would listen to nothing less than the entire abolition of stage ampisements, characterized, as they then undoubtedly were, by the grossest licentiousness of morals, and the most disgusting profanity. He denied the possibility of reforming the Stage, and therefore maintained the policy and necessity of entirely suppressing a scene that had been perverted to such base and mischievous purposes.
The following passage, from Congreve's Defence, is, however, worthy of perusal, as highly illustrative of the value and importance of those amusements, against which Collier had argued with so much good sense, learning, and temper.
"To what end has he made such a bug-bear of the Theatre? Why should he possess the minds of weak and melancholy people with such frightful ideas of a poor play, unless
to sour the humours of the people of most leisure, that they might be more apt to misemploy their vacant hours? It may be, there is not any where a people who should be less debarred of innocent diversions than the people of England. I will not argue this point, but I will strengthen my obsèrvations with one parallel to it, from Polybius. This excellent author, who always moralises in his history, and instructs as faithfully as he relates, attributes the ruin of Cynethia, by the Etolians, in plain terms, to the degeneracy from their Arcadian ancestors, in their neglect of theatrical and musical performances.
"The Cynethians," says he, "had their situation the farthest North of all Arcadia, they were subjected to an inclement and uncertain air, and were, for the most part, cold and melancholic; and for this reason, they, of all people, should last have parted with the innocent and wholesome remedies which the diversions of music administered to that sourness of temper, and sullenness of disposition, which, of necessity, they must partake of from the disposition and influence of the climate; for they no sooner fell to neglect these wholesome institutions, than they fell into dissensions and civil discord, and grew, at length, into such depravity of manners, that their crimes, in number and measure, surpassed all nations of Greeks besides."
Time has, in some degree, demonstrated the fallacy of the position on which the argument of Collier, for the total suppression of the stage, was founded, viz. the impossibility of effecting a reformation of its abuses; but the great and
immediate good which his book produced, in the purification of that which he had declared incapable of amendment, while it overthrows his deduction, does the highest honour to his zeal and to his talents; and he will ever be remembered as the great reformer of the English Stage, from the indecency and profaneness in which the wits of the reign of Charles the Second had involved it.
THE ENGLISH MYSTERIES IN GERMANY.
On the arrival of the Emperor Sigismund at the Council of Constance, in the year 1417, at which Council the English Ambassador was present, the English represented a sacred Drama before him, which was quite a novelty in Germany. It contained The Adoration of the Magi, and The Massacre of the Innocents, by Herod.
WYCHERLEY used to read himself asleep at night, either with Montaigne, Rochefoucault, Seneca, or Graciano; for these were his favourite authors. He would read one or other of them in the evening; and the next morning, perhaps, write a copy of verses on some subject similar to what he had been reading; and have all the
thoughts of his author, only expressed in a different mode, and that without knowing that he was obliged to any one for a single thought in the whole poem. Pope experienced this in him, several times, (for he visited him, for a whole winter, almost every evening and morning,) and looked upon it as one of the strangest phenomena that he ever observed in the human mind.
To that passive valour, for which Colley Cibber was notorious, Lord Chesterfield ironically alludes, in a weekly paper called Common Sense, in the following words :-" Of all the Comedians who have appeared on the Stage, in my memory, no one has taken a kicking with such humour as our excellent Laureat."
An instance of this excessive timidity is given by Davies, on the authority of Victor, which shews that the players knew how to turn this failing of the manager to their own advantage. Bickerstaffe was a Comedian, whose benefit-play, Steele, with his customary good nature, recommended to the readers of the Tatler, on account of his being (nominally) his relation. This poor fellow had an income from the Theatre of