« السابقةمتابعة »
gree of perfection ; and that the passions only were to be immediately affected by dramatic representation. Now, it is not ne-' ceffary, in moving the passions, that the affecting object or circumstance should have, in that particular instance, the sanction' of the reason or understanding. It is sufficient that the common train of reflections which may be immediately excited by fuci object or circumstance, and which, being ftored up in the memory, are directly suggested without particular ratiocination, do not offer any thing repugnant to that sympathy, which operates on the senses. Thus the fictitious distress of a miserable object in the street, may have the same effect on our passions as one, that is real, although very different passions might be affected by the different objects, when the understanding had diftinguished between them. And hence, without making any absurd and unnatural distinction between passion and intellect, we see how far sentiment, which is a mixture of both, is engaged as the sole judge and arbiter of dramatic representations. But, as fentiment is not so blind as mere appetite or passion, so it is not, on the other hand, fo discerning as reason, or intelle&t. It were absurd, indeed, to go to the theatre as to an academy. We go there only to see, veluti in speculum, the exterior appearance of the world; not to study that philosophy which teacheth us what it really is. And hence the understanding enters into a compact, as it were, to keep holiday, while the passions are amusing themselves within the ordinary bounds of sentiment, or what is usually called common sense. Even these bounds, however, are not to be broken.
It is taken for granted, that the drama is materialiter a fiction. But, notwithstanding this, it is necessary that what is represented, should, as Aristotle says, be either what might have happened, or what ought to have happened ; that is, the drama must proceed agreeable to probability or necefsity. It is here to be observed, however, that as the objects of the drama are not immediately addressed to the understanding, so the understanding is not immediately to judge of this probability or necessity. Nor does it ; for we frequently see a philosopher affected as much as a clown, at a scene, which the one would know on reflection to be absolutely impossible, while the other, let him reflect as long as he pleased, would at last think lit very probable. A philosopher, on the other hand, knows a thousand things to be probable, which a common man thinks to be utterly impossible. And yet, in the common concerns of life, they reason and act nearly alike; and in the playhouse, where the business of ratiocination is laid aside, it is possible for them to be equally affected with the representations of the drama. The reason is, that the philosopher, although he may know on reflection that what is represented is morally, or even physically, impossible; yet, knowing, at the same time, that
fuch is not the general opinion of the world, in conformity to which he is in a manner obliged to live, think and act, he judges of probabilities according to the common standard, and gives his passions their full play amidst a thousand absurdities and improprieties : for why should he expect that truth and propriety upon the stage which he does not meet with in life?
Thus we find that the conduct of the drama, admitting its representation to be, as it really is, only a representation, requires only that degree of probability which is consistent with the common sense, or common mode of thinking of the times, in which it is represented. And hence we see that the same characters and actions, which in one age or country might seem natural and probable, might in another appear unnatural, improbable and marvellous. At the same time, it is evident there must be some general rules, arising from the constitution of human nature, and the progressive developement of things, which must be applicable to all ages and nations. So that the representation of what happened in a diftant age or country, though marvellous, if represented of the time and place of representation, is included within the bounds of dramatic probability. This is a circumstance also, to which the audience ought ever to pay a proper attention; as without it we do not see how any other probability than that common to their own age and nation could go down with them; unless they were in a disposition to accept the marvellous instead of the pathetic.
It is observed by the French academy, in their strictures on the Cid of Corneille, that it is essential to the probable, whether it be of the ordinary or extraordinary kind, that when it is presented to the audience, either the immediate impression it makes on the mind, or their reflections on its parts and consistency, fhould excite them to believe what is represented to have been trte, as they find nothing in such representation repugnant to that belief. · Le vraisemblable, tant le commun que l'extraordinaire, doit avoir cela de particulier, que soit par le premiere notion de l'esprit, soit par reflexion sur toutes les parties dont il resulte, lorsque le poëte l'expose aux auditeurs et aux spectateurs, ils se portent à croire, saris autre preuve, qu'il ne contient que de vrai, pour ce qu'ils ne voient rien qui y tepugne.'
Here we see the probable is defined to be, that which is generally conceived possible, and carries with it an apparent proof of such poflibility. We come now to consider, how far the obfervation of the dramatic unities may be necessary to support the apparent proofs of this poffibility; and how far Shakespeare hath broken through them. To begin, as usual, with that of action. The unity of action is sufficiently observed when a single end is proposed, to which all the means made use of, in Rev. Nov, 1765. Сс
the piece, effe&tually tend. These means, consisting of subordinate actions, may accordingly be few or many, provided their several directions converge to one point, in which they unite and are concentrated. There is one circumstance, however, to be particularly observed with regard to the unities in general ; and this is, that those of action, time and place, should never break into that of character. It were needless indeed to mention this to critics, who maintain the necessity of observing these unities in the stricteft manner, as described by Boileau,
Qu'en un lieu, qu'en un jour, un feul fait accomplé
Tienne jusqu'à la fin le theatre rempli : Because it would be impossible for them to err in this particular: but the cate is different with regard to those, who may affirm with Dr. Jolinson, that, because the drama exhibits successive imitations of successive aclions, the second imitation may represent an action that happened years after the first.' It is absolutely esential to dramatic representation, that the persons of the drama fhould be known and fixed. Now, though it is not to be supposed, that, in the space of twenty-four hours, any great revolution can happen in the personality of the characters, to great a change is naturally produced in a term of years, that the apparent proofs of the dramatic possibility required would necessarily be wanting in the representation. For instance, when Leontes, in the Winter's Tale, is looking at the imaginary ftatue of Hermione, and says to Paulina,
-But yet, Paulina,
So aged as this seems : It is impossible for the spectator not to be offended with the palpable affront which is here offered to his senses *. For if the features of the player be not artificially disguifed, since the was seen about an hour before, fixteen years younger, in the first and second act, it is a most glaring imposition on his eyefight; and though her features should be a little begrimed with charcoal, to help the deceit, her shape, air, and manner are the same, and it is plain she was too recently in his company to pafs upon him so soon again for an old acquaintance that had been fixteen years absent. The imposition is still more gross with respect to the personality of Perdita, in the fame play ; whom Paulina presents, in the second act, in swaddling cloaths
Behold, my Lords,
And copy of the father ; eye, nose, lipCan any thing be more improbable than to see the same Perdita in the fourth act a marriageable young Thepherdefs ? Whatever
• Not merely to his understanding, for his imagination might poflibly have salved the absurdity, from the reflection of its being a fiction.
liberties Shakespeare hath taken with the unities in other plays, he knew too well to attempt an imposition of this kind. He hath, therefore, introduced the chorus at the end of the third act; by which means he hath in fact divided the drama into two parts; each part having different dramatis perfonæ. Dra Johnson questions whether Shakespeare knew the unities and rejected them by design, or deviated from them by happy ignorance. It is impossible perhaps to determine this point; but we think it pretty clear, that, whether he learned the rules of the drama from the writings of the ancients or not, he was better versed in them than any of his successors that did. What should hinder Shakespeare from drinking knowledge at the fountainhead as well as the ancients ? Must all knowledge be called ignorance, that is not obtained at second-hand, by means of books ? It is proper for those, who cannot go alone, to be led by others; but Shakespeare was the fondling of Nature, and needed not the leading-strings of Aristotle. It does not follow, however, that the practice of the one, and the precepts of the other, are incompatible. It is by no means necessary that Nature's ftrong and vigorous offspring should be contined to that ftrict regularity of diet and regimen which is requisite to support the weak and puny nurslings of art. They both, however, pursue the same objects, and attain them nearly by the fame means. Hence, though it should be true, that Shakespeare was
-above the critic's law, And but from Nature's fountains scorn'd to draw, He might not deviate effentially from the general law of the Staa gyrite, although he did not servilely adopt his particular rules: Indeed the point is almost universally given up with regard to the unity of place; the preservation of which gives rise to more improbabilities than the breach of it.-But to return to that of action. There is no doubt but Shakespeare ha:h taken many exceptionable liberties in this respect, for want of a due attention to the mechanical part of composition. And this he hath done in common with the first dramatic poets among the an. cients*. Nor is he, in this particular, to be justified by any thing bis Editor hath advanced : for the unity of action must not only be so far observed as to preserve the unity of character, but allo so far as to preserve an apparent unity of design in the fable.
As to the unity of time, Dr. Johnson is also strangely mistaken, with regard to its essentiality in the drama. “A play read (fays he) affects the mind like a play acted. It is therefore evident that the action is not supposed to be real, and it
• See Ariftotle's Poetics. Chap. VI.
follows, that between the acts a longer or shorter time may be allowed to pass, and that no more account of space or duration is be taken by the auditor of a drama, than by the reader of a narrative, before whom may pass in an hour the life of a hero, or the revolutions of an empire.' Here again our Editor seems to bet:ay a want of acquaintance with the conduct and effects of the drama. It is very certain that a longer or fhorter time may be allowed to pass between the acts, provided the union of character be preserved, and nothing intervene between the two parts of the action but the lapse of time, there is yet a wide difference between the auditor of a drama and the reader of a narrative. Few things can be represented in the fame time they are related; so that it would be impossible to represent the whole life of an hero, or the revolutions of an empirc, in the same time as the history of them might be read. Io is indeed impoffible for the action represented to seem to be longer than the actual time of representation; for, as we before oblerved, it is the senses, and not the imagination, that is immediately employed on the representation.
Dr. Johnson indeed says, that time is, of all modes of existence, most obsequious to the imagination ; a lapse of years is as easily conceived as a paffage of hours. In contemplation we easily contract the time of real actions, and therefore willingly rermit it to be contracted when we only see their imitation.'
In this argument, however, as in almost all his other reasoning on the subject, the conclusion hath little to do with the premifcs. During the actual representation of an action, we are not contemplating, but obferving; and it is impoflible for us eithet to shorten or to prolong the time of such representation : bue when it ceases, as at the end of an act, or even in shifting the scene, the attention of the senses being taken off, the imagination is at liberty to act during the interval; which, however fhort, is sufficient for the purpose. And hence we see that the frequent shifting of the scenes, though it may break in upon the retricions of action and place, it afford's an opportunity of preferving that of time, together with the first and grand rule of probability. It is pleasant enougli to see how the French cria tirs, who affect to avide by the strictest observance of the uni.. ties, perplex themselves to excuse Corneille for the multiplicity of incidents in the Cid; the hero of which fights two duels, marches against the enemy, returns, is brought to a solemn trial; fights again, and finds means to reconcile himself to his miftress, whole father he had slain ; and all this in the space of four and i wenty hours. Now, it is certain, that all these actions, if properly difposed in fucceffion, and judiciously divided might be fo represented as never to break in upon dramatic probability.