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« The causes and design of any action constitute the beginning of it: the effe&t of such causes, and the difficulties attending the execution of such design, are, the middle of it; and the unravelling or obviating these difficulties are the end of it.' It is not our business here to contend, whether Shakespeare be, or be not, defensible in this particular ; it is enough for us to enquire how far our Editor hath actually defended him. Laying authorities however aside, we cannot, on the principles of common. sense, conceive, how any dramatic Writer can be juftly said to have preserved the unity of action, who hath confessedly shewn no regard to those of time and place ; * with which we apprehend it to be very ftri&tly connected. Certain at least it is, that, if any considerable time should elapse between, or space divide, the two parts of an action, we should be more apt to consider them as two distinct and different actions, than as united parts of one and the same action. This will be made more evi
dent by our enquiry into the nature of these unities, and ; their effentiality to the drama. Before we enter on this point, however, we shall make some remarks on the supposed necesfity, on which, Dr. Johnson conceives, the observation of these unities is founded. To enable the Reader fully to comprehend the subject in dispute, we shall quote the whole of what our Editor hath advanced on this curious topic ; which we are the more readily led to do, on account of his own suggestion, that it is not dogmatically but deliberatively, written ; and may recall the principles of the drama to a new examination.
« The necessity of observing the unities of time and place arises from the supposed neceflity of making the drama credible. The critics hold it impossible, that an action of months or years can be possibly believed to pass in three hours; or that the spectator can suppose himself to fit in the theatre, while ambassadors go and return between distant Kings, while armies are levied and towns besieged, while an exile wanders and returns, or till he whom they saw 'courting his mistress, shall lament the intimely fall of his son. The mind revolts from evident false hood, and fiction loses its force when it departs from the resemblance of reality.
• From the narrow limitation of time necessarily arises the contraction of place. The spectator, who knows that he saw the first act at Alexandria, cannot suppose that he sees the next at Rome, at a distance to which not the dragons of Medea could, in so short a time, have transported him; he knows with certainty that he has not changed his place; and he knows that
* Our Editor admits that Shakespeare bath thewn no regard to the unities of time and place
place comesuch is the true of an irregues time the
place cannot change itself; that what was a house cannot be. come a plain; that what was Thebes can never be Pertepolis.
Such is the triumphant language with which a critic exults over the misery of an irregular poet, and exults commonly without resistance or reply. It is time therefore to tell him, by the authority of Shakespeare, that he assumes, as an unquestionable principle, a position, which, while his breaih is forming it into words, his understanding pronounces to be false. It is false, that any representation is mistaken for reality ; that any dramatic fable in its materiality was ever credibie, or, for a single moment, was ever credited.
• The objection arising from the impossibility of passing the first hour at Alexandria, and the next at Rome, supposes, that when the play opens the spectator really imagines himself at Alexandria, and believes that his walk to ihe theatre has been a voyage to Egypt, and that he lives in the days of Antony and Cleopatra. Surely he that imagines this may imagine more. He that can take the stage at one time for the palace of the Prolemies, may take it in half an hour for the promontory of Actium. Delusion, if delusion be admitted, has no certain li. mitation; if the spectator can be once persuaded, that his old acquaintance are Alexander and Cæfar, that a roon illuminated with candles is the plain of Pharfalia, or the bank of Granicus, he is in a state of elevation above the reach of reason, or of truth, and from the heights of empyrean poetry, may despite the circumscriptions of terrestrial nature. There is no reason why a mind thus wandering in extasy should count the clock, or why an hour should not be a century in that culenture of the brains that can make the stare a field.
"The truth is, that the spectators are always in their senses, and know, from the firit act to the last, that the stage is only a stage, and that the players are only players. They come to hear a certain number of lines recited with just gesture and elegant modulation. The lines relate to some action, and an action must be in some place; but the different actions that compleat a story may be in places very remote from each other; and where is the absurdity of allowing that space to represent first Aihens, and then Sicily, which was always known to be neither Sicily nor Athens, buit a modern theatre?
By supposition, as place is introduced, time may be extended; the time required by the fable elapses for the most part between the acts; for, of so much of the action as is represented, the real and poetical duration is the same. If, in the first act, preparacions for war against Mithridates are represented to be made in Rome, the event of the war may, without absurdity, be represented, in the catastrophe, as happening in Pontus; we know that there is neither war, nor preparation for war;
Rev. Oct. 1765.
efenea" with its that fall mod of years is ecalily
JOHNSON's Edition of Shakespeare's Plays.' we know that we are neither in Rome nor Pontus ; that neither Mithridates nór Lucullus are before us. The drama exbibits imitations of successive actions, and why may not the second imitation represené an action that happened years after the first; if it be so connected with it, that nothing but time can be supposed to intervene? Time is, of all modes of existence, most obfequious to the imagination; a laple of years is as easily conceived as a paflage of hours. In contemplation we easily contract the time of real actions, and therefore willingly permit it to be contracted when we only see their imitation.'
Plausible as these arguments may at first light appear, we will venture to say there is hardly one of them that does not seem false, or 'foreign to the purpose. We apprehend that the assumption, on which our Editor proceeds, is not true. The ob crvation of these unities may be necessary without requiring ihe dramatic fable in its materiality (as this writer terms it) to be either credited or credible. It is not requisite, in order to justify the necessity of such observation, that the Spectator should really imagine himself one hour in Alexandria and the next at Rome; or that he should actually believe the transactions of months and years to pass in a few hours. The dramatic unities if necesary, are necessary to support the opparent probabiliy, not the actual credibility of the drama. Our learned Editor may not probably diftinguish the difference; but Cicero will tell him nihil eft tam INCREDIBILE, quod non dicendo fiat PROBABILE : and if such be the power of oratory, can we doubt that a similar effect is produced by theatrical representation ? Now, it is the senses and the passions, and not the imagination and understanding, that are in both these cases immediately affected. We do not pretend to say that the spectators are not always in their senses ; or that they do not know (if the question were put to them) that the stage is only a stage, and the players only players. But we will venture to say, they are often so intent on the scene, as to be abfent with regard to every thing else. A spectator, properly affected by a dramatic representation, makes no reflections about the fiction or the reality of it, so long as the action proceeds without grossly offending, or palpably imposing on the senses. It is very true that a person, going to Drury-lane to see the Tragedy of Venice Preseived, knows, when he places himself in the pit, that he is in the theatre at London, ard not in Venice. But the curtain is no sooner drawn up than he begins to be interested in the business of the scene, the orchestra vanishes, and the views of St. Mark and the Rialto dispose him (not to think how he came there but) to see and hear what is to be done and said there. When his attention is fully engaged to the fable, and his passions affected by the diArcís of the characters, he is still farther removed from his own
character character and situation; and may be conceived quatenus a spectator, to be rather at Venice than at London. The image of Mr. Garrick, it is true, is painted on the retina of his eye, and the voice of Mrs. Cibber mechanically affects the tympanum of his ear: but it is as true also that he sees only the transports of Jaffier and listens only to the ravings of Belvidera. And yet there is no fienzy, no calenture in the case; the man may be as much in his fenses as Horace, when he supposed the same deception might happen to himself, under the like infuence of theatrical magic :
Ille per extentum funem mihi posse videtur
Ut magus ; et modo me Thebis, modo ponit Athenis. The spectator is unquestionably deceived ; but the deception goes no farther than the passions, it affects our sensibility but not our understanding : and is by no means so powersul a desufion as to affect our belief. There is a species of probability, which is necessary to be adhered to, even to engage the attention of the senses, and affect our passions; but this regards the representation and not the materiality of the fable. The incredulus odi, of Horace, hath been cited with too great latitude of construction. It can hardly be supposed that the poet should stigmatize himself for incredulity, merely because he could not believe that Progne was metamorphosed into a bird, or Cadmus into a ferpent. Or, fuppofing he might, why should he use the verb odi? Why should he hate or detest a thing merely because he thought it incredible? It is natural indeed to hate whatever offends, or is shocking to, the senses. The truth is, these terms are directly applied to the form, or representation, and not to the materiality of the fable; as is evideni on perusing the context. The whole passage runs thus;
Aut agitur res in Scenis, aut acta refertur.
Quodcunque oftendis mihi fic, incredulus odi. We find no objection made to the credibility of these fables in themselves, (for on this the auditor may not give himself the trouble to bestow a single reflection) but to the unseemliness or improbability that must necessarily attend their representation on the itage: by which ineans the feníes would be offended with a palpable absurdity, not the understanding be imposed on by a
falsehood, falsehood. For he allows that the very fame things may be agreeably related which will not bear to be represented. But to return to our Editor. That the judgment never mistook any dramatic representation we readily admit; but that our senses frequently do, is certain, from the effect it hath on our passions. Nay, Dr. Johnson himself, after all the pains he takes to prove the drama abfolutily incredible, is reduced, for want of making this neccffary distinction, to confess that it really is credited. • It will be asked, says he, how the drama moves, if it is not credited ? It is credited with all the credit due to a drama.' The method he takes, to evade this evident contradiction, is, by adopting the fophiftry of those philosophers, who strive to account for the emotions of pity, gratitude, generosity and all the nobler pafions, from a retrospect to that of self-love. The drama is credited, says Dr. Johnson, whenever it moves, as a just picture of a real original; as representing to the audio tor what he would himself feel, if he were to do or suffer what is there feigned to be suffered or to be done. The reflection that strikes the heart * is not, that the evils before us are real evils, but that they are evils to which we ourselves may be expored.' Now nothing is more certain than that those spectators, who are most affected by dramatic representation are usually the least capable of making a comparison between the picture and the original. There are also few auditors that can put themselves in the place of the characters represented ; and we believe fill fewer wha' are moved because they reflect that they themselves are exposed to the evils represented on the stage. The audience are moved by mere mechanical motives; they faugh and cry from mere sympathy at what a moment's reficction would very often prevent them from laughing or crying at all. If there be any fallacy, continues our Editor, it is not that we fancy, the players, but that we fancy ourselves unhappy for a moment; but we rather lament the possibility than suppose the prelence of misery, as a mother weeps over
* This language is not quite so correct as might be expected from a writer so capable of exprelling hialelf philosophically. The heart is often affected without any appeal (o the judgment: nor is it necessary, in order to work upon oor finfiuility, to address the understanding. This is more frequently and more eahly done by addresing the passions inimediately through the senses.
f I- this an accurate use of the verb remember? Can we be properly frid to remember what is yet to come, or what may never come at all? The meaning is, that the recolle&t's the precept or maxim which incul. cates the probability of death's depriving her of her child : but this is imperfectly expressed. Indeed this preface is not, in general, written with that precihon and accuracy of Ityle, which diftingu fhes fome other of this cc:ebrated Author's writings. '