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its Circumstances with Facility and Delight. But I am still in Doubt, whether many Writers, who come nearer to our own Times, have much mended the Matter. What with their Piots, and Double-Plots, and Counter-Plots, and Under-Plots, the Mind is as much perplexed to piece out the Story, as to put together the disjointed Parts of our ancient Drama. The Comedies of Congreve have, in my Mind, as little to boast of Accuracy in their Construction, as the Plays of Shakespeare ; nay, perhaps, it might be proved that, amidit the most open Violation of the Jeffer critical Unities, one Point is more steadily persued, one Character more uniformly shewn, and one grand Purpose of the Fable more evidently accomplished in the Production of Shakespeare than of Congreve.
These Fables (it may be further objected) founded on romantick Novels, are unpardonably wild and extravagant in their Circumstances, and exhibit too little even of the Manners of the Age in which they were written. The Plays too are in themselves a Kind of heterogeneous Composition; scarce any of them being, strictly speaking, a Tragedy, Comedy, or even Tragi-Comedy, but rather an indigeftod Jumble of every Species thrown together.
This Charge must be confessed to be true: But upon Examination it will, perhaps, be found of less Consequence than is generally imagined. These Dramatick Tales, for fo we may beft ftile such Plays, have often occasioned much Pleasure to the Reader and Spectator, which could not possibly have been conveyed to them by any other Vehicle. Many an intereiting Story, which, from the Diversity of its Circumstances, cannot be regularly reduced either to Tragedy or Comedy, yet abounds with Character, and contains several affecting Situations: And why such a Story should lose its Force, dramatically related and aflisted by Representation, when it
pleafes, 2 pleases, under the colder Form of a Novel, is difficult to conceive. Experience has proved the Effect of such Fictions on our Minds, and convinced us, that the Theatre is not that barren. Ground, wherein the Plants of Imagination will not lourish. The Teampeft, the Midjummer Night's Dream, the Merchant of Venice, As you like it, Twelfth Night, the Faith ful Shepherdess of Fletcher, (with a much longer List that might be added from Shakespeare, Beaumont and Fletcher, and their Cotemporaries, or imme diate Successors) have most of them, within all our Memories, been ranked among the most popular En tertainments of the Stage. Yet none of these can be denominated Tragedy, Comedy, or Tragi-Co. medy. The Play Bills, I have observed, cautiously stilethem Plays: And Plays indeed they are, truly fuch, if it be the End of Plays to delight and instruct, to captivate at once the Ear, the Eye, and the Mind, by Situations forcibly conceived, and Characters truly delineated.
There is one Circumstance in Dramatick Poetry, which, I think, the chastised Notions of our modern Criticks do not permit them sufficiently to confider. Dramatic Nature is of a more large and liberal Quality than they are willing to allow. It does not consist merely in the Representation of real Characters, Characters acknowledged to abound in common Life; bit may be extended also to the Exhibition of imaginary Beings. To create, is to be a Poet indeed; to draw down Beings from another Sphere, and endue them with suitable Passions, Affections, Dispositions, allotting them at the fame Time proper Employment ; to body forth, by the Powers of Imagination, the Forms of Things unknown, and to give to airy Nothing a local Habitatiou and a Name, surely requires a Genius for the Drama equal, if not fuperior, to the Delineation of Personages, in the ordinary Course of Nature.
Shakespeare, in particular, is universally acknowledged pever to have soared so far above the Reach of all other Writers, as in those Instances, where he feems purposely to have transgrefied the Laws of Criticism. He appears to have disdained to put his free Soul into Circumscription and Confine, which denied his extraordinary Talents their full Play, nor gave Scope to the Boundlesness of his Imagination. His Witches, Ghosts, Fairies, and other imaginary Beings, scattered through his Plays, are so many glaring Violations of the coinmon Table of Dramatick Laws. What then fall we say? Shall we confess their Force and Power over the Soul, shall we allow them to be Beauties of the most exquifite Kind, and yet inlift on their being expunged? And why? except it be to reduce the Flights of an exalted Genius, be fixing the Standard of Excellence on the Practice of inferior Writers, who wanted Parts to execute fuch great Designs ; or to accommodate them to the narrow Ideas of small Criticks, who want Souls largo enough to comprehend them?
Our old Writers thought no Personage whatever, unworthy a Place in the Drama, to which they could annex what may be called a Seity; that is, to which they could allot Manners and Employment peculiar to itself. The feverest of the Antients cannot be more eminent for the constant Preservation of Unis formity of Character, than Shakespeare ; and Shakespeare, in no Instance, supports his Characters with more Exactneis, than in the Conduct of his ideal Beings. The Ghost in Hamlet is a shining Proof of this Excellence,
But, in Consequence of the Custom of tracing the Events of a Play minutely from a Novel, the Authors were sometimes led to represent a mere human Creature in Circumstances not quite confonant to Nature, of a Disposition rather wild and extravagant, and in both Cales more especially repugnant to modern Ideas.' This indeed required particular Indul? gence from the Spectator, but it was an Indulgence, which feldom misted of being amply repaid. Let the Writer but once be allowed, as a neceflary Da. tum, the Poffibility of any Character's being placed in such a Situation, or poffit of so peculiar a Turn of Mind, the Behaviour of the Character is perfectly natural. . Shakespeare, though the Child of Fancy, feldom.or never drejt up a common Mortal in any other than the modeft Oress of Nature: But many Shining Characters in the Plays of Beaumont and Fletcher are not fo well grotended on the Principles of the human Heart ; and yet, as they were supported with Spirit, they were received with Applause. Shylock's Contract, with the Penalty of the Pound of Fleih, though not Shakespeare's own Fiction, is perbaps rather improbable; at lcast it would not be regarded as a happy Dramatick Incident in a modern Play; and yet, having once taken it for granted, how beautifully, nay, how naturally, is the Character sustained !-Even this Objection therefore, of a De. viation from Nature, great as it may seem, will be found to be a Plea insufficient to excuse the total Ex. clusion of our antient Dramatists from the Theatre.** Shakespeare, you will readily allow, poffest Beauties morc than neceffary to redeem his Faults; Beauties, that excitcour Admiration, and obliterate his Errors.' True. But did no Portion of that divine Spirit fall to the Share of our other old Writers? And can their Works be suppressed, or concealed, without Injustice to their Merit?
One of the best and most pleasing Plays in Malinger, and which, we are toid, was originally received with general Approbation, is called, The Pixture. The Fiction, whence it takes its Title, and on which the Story of the Play is grounded, may be collected from the following thort Scene. Mathias, a GenHeman of Bohemia, having taken an affecting Leave
of his Wife Sophio, with a Resolution of serving in the king of Hungary's Army against the Turks, is left alone on the Stage, and the Play goes on, ás follows :
Math. I am strangely troubled: Yet why should I A Fury here, and with imagin’d Food in [nourith Having no real Grounds on which to raise A Building of Suspicion she ever was, Os can be false hereafter? I in this But foolishly inquire the Knowledge of A future Sorrow, which, if I find out, My prefent Ignorance were a cheap Purchase, Though with my Loss of Being. I have already Dealt with a Friend of mine, a general Scholar, One deeply read in Nature's hidden Secrets, And" (though with much Unwillingness) have wo:1 To do as much as Art can to resolve me [him Ny Fate that follows--T.
Wish he's come.
Bapt. I could wish you had
Maih. Nay, this is from the Purpose.
Bapt. If you can,
Bapt. In Reason therefore