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in Schiller's Wallenstein's Camp, or a mob-scene, - but it must be a help to a higher purpose. The action is grouped about a single controlling purpose; in short, there must be Unity of Action. This restriction on the nature of the action is the first of the so-called Three Unities; and in the observance of this rule all great dramatists agree.
For it is not at all necessary that the action should consist of one event, as some have understood the rule. Many events may go together; but each — not necessarily in a conscious way - must have its share in the development of the central dramatic purpose.
Nor does unity of action compel a unity of person. Thus the dramatic unity of King Lear is not broken by the introduction of Gloster, Edmund and Edgar with their subordinate action. Several heroes are allowable in a play, provided only that they do not so change places or importance that one part of the play differs in spirit and purpose from the other.
The second and third “ unities are by no means of equal importance with the first, nor are they so generally acknowledged. Thus (2) the Unity of Time. The structure of the Greek drama was of such a nature as to call for far stricter treatment in this regard than is demanded by the modern drama. But the French critics of Louis XIV.'s time made the classical standard their own, and scoffed at Shakspere as a barbarian because he disregarded the second and third unities. It was Lessing, the great German critic and man of letters, who finally drove the French school from their dictatorship in dramatic composition. True, some observance of the spirit of these rules is to be desired in all dramatists. The strict rule forbade the supposed
time of the play to cover more than twenty-four hours. So boldly did the modern drama transgress this rule that in 1578 George Whetstone (in his Promos and Cassandra) complained that the playwright "in three hours runs through the world, marries, makes children men, men to conquer kingdoms, murder monsters, and bringeth gods from heaven and fetcheth devils from hell." In the Winter's Tale we have some similar liberties. The Greek drama took for its time the central moment of the action; and by narration in dialogue brought out the preceding steps that led up to the main situation. The result is announced by a messenger, - e.g., the death of the protagonist, or chief actor. In other words, the Greek tragedy goes at once to the catastrophe. In the modern drama we begin with the elements of the catastrophe or, if in a comedy, of the entanglement, and let the action and the characters develop under our eyes. The modern play has less intensity, but more human interest.
The third Unity; that of Place, demanded that the events should occur in one and the same place. This is what Hamlet (11. 2) calls “scene individable.” Undoubtedly this rule sprang from the peculiar construction of the Greek stage, which was not at all adapted to change of scene. But in modern drama the Unity of Place is practically disregarded — except in certain comedies and farces; and Shakspere especially changes his scenes with the greatest freedom. Sir Philip Sidney in his Defence of Poesie laughs at this ceaseless shifting of scene and the inadequate stage machinery to help the illusion. The Germans take a middle course, keeping the same scene as long as possible, but changing it when absolutely necessary.
So much for the Three Unities. It is folly to insist on the literal observance of these rules; but it is important to heed their spirit. Every playwright should be regulated by the spirit of unity, first of all in action, but also to some extent in time and place.
Further rules are laid down for the drama, — c.8, that the action should be complete in itself. It must stand out clearly as a dramatic whole. To make the action complete, there must be, as parts of the organic whole, causes, development of these causes, a climax, or height of the action; — then the consequences and general conclusion. The technical division into five acts is simply a convenience, and is taken from the Latin plays; Horace says, A. P. 189: Neve minor neu sit quinto productior actu. The further division into scenes is more with regard to persons (especially in German and French plays), while the acts regard the action or plot. We may name the real divisions of a play as follows: 1. The Exposition; 2. The Tying of the Knot; 3. Conclusion, — The Untying. Prologue, epilogue, etc., are mostly outside the action of the play; although cf. “the prologue in heaven" in Faust, and, in another fashion, the prologue to Ben Jonson's New- Inn. We noted also the Dumb-Show in Gorboduc.
The Exposition is mostly contained in the first act. The second, third, and sometimes the fourth, develop the action up to a climax. This is what Aristotle calls the tying of the knot. Lastly, in the fifth comes the denouement, the untying. Here great skill is required. Says Mr. Ward, "the climax concentrated the interest; the fall must not dissipate it.” And here we note that this close or catastrophe must always be a consequence of the action.
In tragedy, the conclusion (mostly a death) is foreshadowed through the whole play ; in comedy, the conclusion (mostly a wedding) is a sudden surprise. Thus in Othello, we feel that the hero's jealousy must lead to some great evil, and overwhelm him. While, on the other hand, we cannot always call the marriage of heroine with hero something totally unexpected, still we are surprised to find what seemed insuperable barriers to such a consummation suddenly removed.
Again, the action ought to be probable. Here belongs the famous dictum : prefer probable impossibilities to improbable possibilities. The impossible is permitted if it harmonizes with the action. Thus we may
Thus we may introduce ghosts, fairies, and so on; though in Shakspere's time ghosts were by no means commonly regarded as impossibilities.
Consistency of character and fitness of the actors to the action need not be insisted upon. Here is Shakspere's greatest triumph. Instead of mere types of character like the lady's-maid and valet of French comedy, his men and women are flesh and blood, who do not merely follow a set model, but stand as ideals of their sort : we can say Romeo — and a distinct personage leaps before the mind. Emerson has finely said of this wonderful power of Shakspere in creating characters: “What office, or function, or district of man's work has he not remembered ? What king has he not taught state?... What maiden has not found him finer than her delicacy?
1 The climax and the conclusion must, of course, be held apart. In Othello the conclusion is Othello's death; the climax is where he becomes sure of his wife's guilt. Why did I marry ?” he cries in his first doubt; then, with certitude, comes to sheer violence.
What lover has he not outloved ? What sage has he not outseen?” — The Greek drama concentrated itself upon the action, and drew its characters in more shadowy outline: they were not so much individuals as Shakspere's men and women were.
Finally, the surroundings of the action must be consistent. They need not be chronologically faithful — else Lear and Julius Cæsar would be condemned; but they must not make a violent contradiction with the general action.
§ 7. TRAGEDY. Tragedy presents a mortal will at odds with fate. This conflict and the final overthrow of the individual make up a tragic drama. There must be a central character (or there may be more than one, –a group). The motive of this character may be either mistaken or criminal (Othello - Macbeth); but the end is in either case tragic.
The effect upon the spectator is, as Aristotle said, to produce in the mind pity and terror; - sympathy for the victim, fear that a like fate may overtake us. This emotion excites the mind, “purges” it of smaller and unworthy thoughts, and so works a katharsis, a purification. It leaves one in “calm of mind, all passion spent.
When all this danger is only apparent, when we see that only every-day blunders, without lasting consequences, are at work, we feel no pity, no terror; we are amused: --- it is a Comedy.
The name Tragedy is an accident. The Greek drama began with a mere chorus, or dithyrambic refrain,