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rules of all these sorts of comedy are the same, | stage, if they are not supported with some kind
of wit. Proverbs and vulgar smartnesses can
General rules of Comedy.
XIII. “Comedy,” says he,* “ is a representation of common life: its end is to show the faults of particular characters on the stage, to correct the disorder of the people by the fear of ridicule. Thus ridicule is the essential part of a comedy. Ridicule may be in words or in things; it may be decent, or grotesque. To find what is ridiculous in every thing, is the gift merely of nature; for all the actions of life have their bright and their dark sides; something serious, and something merry. But Aristotle, who has given rules for drawing tears, has given none for raising laughter; for this is merely the work of nature, and must proceed from genius, with very little help from art or matter. The Span-perplexed. To perplex an intrigue is easy, the iards have a turn to find the ridicule in things imagination does it by itself; but it must be dismuch more than we: and the Italians, who are entangled merely by the judgment, and is, therenatural comedians, have a better turn for ex- fore, seldom done happily: and he that reflects pressing it; their language is more proper for it a very little, will find that most comedies are than ours, by an air of drollery which it can put faulty by an unnatural catastrophe. It remains and of which ours may become capable to be examined whether comedy will allow picwhen it shall be brought nearer to perfection. tures larger than the life, that this strength of In short, that agreeable turn, that gayety which the strokes may make a deeper impression upon yet maintains the delicacy of its character with- the mind of the spectators; that is, if a poet out falling into dulness or into buffoonery, that may make a covetous man more covetous, and a elegant raillery which is the flower of fine wit, peevish man more impertinent and more troubleis the qualification which comedy requires. some than he really is. To which I answer, that We must, however, remember that the true arthis was the practice of Plautus, whose aim was tificial ridicule, which is required on the theatre, to please the people; but that Terence, who must be only a transcript of the ridicule which wrote for gentlemen, confined himself within nature affords. Comedy is naturally written, the compass of nature, and represented vice when, being on the theatre, a man can fancy without addition or aggravation. However, himself in a private family, or a particular part these extravagant characters, such as the "Citiof the town, and meets with nothing but what zen turned Gentleman," and the "Hypochonhe really meets with in the world: for it is no driac Patient," of Moliere, havedately succeeded real comedy in which a man does not see his at court, where delicacy is carried so far; but own picture, and find his own manners and every thing, even to provincial interludes, is those of the people among whom he lives. Me- well received if it has but merriment, for we nander succeeded only by this art among the had rather laugh than admire. These are the Greeks and the Romans, when they sat at Te- most important rules of comedy." rence's comedies, imagined themselves in a private party; for they found nothing there which they had not been used to find in common company. The great art of comedy is to adhere to nature without deviation; to have general sentiments and expressions which all the world can understand; for the writer must keep it always in his mind, that the coarsest touches after nature will please more than the most delicate with which nature is inconsistent. However, low and mean words should never be allowed upon the
Reflexions sur la Poët. p. 154, Pari3, 1684.
Three sorts of Comedy.
XIV. These rules, indeed, are common to the three kinds which I have in my mind; but it is necessary to distinguish each from the rest, which may be done by diversity of matter, which always makes some diversity of management. The old and middle comedy simply represented real adventures: in the same way some passages of history and of fable might form a class of comedies, which should resemble it without having its faults; such is the "Amphitryon." How many moral tales, how any adventures ancient and modern, how many little fables of
they demand. Horace
Æsop, of Phædrus, of Fontaine, or some other proposes a question ancient poet, would make pretty exhibitions, if nearly of the same kind: “It has been inquired, they were all made use of as materials by skilful whether a good poem be the work of art or nahands? And have we not seen some like "Ti-ture: for my part, I do not see much to be done mon the Man Hater,” that have been successful by art without genius, nor by genius without in this way? This sort chiefly regards the Ita- knowledge. The one is necessary to the other, lians. The ancient exhibition called a satyre, be- and the success depends upon their co-operacause the satyrs played their part in it, of which tion." If we should endeavour to accommodate we have no other instance than the "Cyclops" matters in imitation of this decision of Horace, of Euripides, has, without doubt, given occasion it were easy to say at once, that supposing two to the pastoral comedies, for which we are chiefly geniuses equal, one tragic and the other comic, indebted to Italy, and which are there more supposing the art likewise equal in each, one cultivated than in France. It is, however, a kind would be as easy or difficult as the other; but this, of exhibition that would have its charms, if it though satisfactory in the simple question put by were touched with elegance and without mean- Horace, will not be sufficient here. Nobody can ness; it is the pastoral put into action. To con- doubt but genius and industry contribute their clude: the new comedy, invented by Menander, part to every thing valuable, and particularly to has produced the comedy properly so called in good poetry. But if genius and study were to our times. This is that which has for its subject be weighed one against the other, in order to general pictures of common life, and feigned discover which must contribute most to a good names and adventures, whether of the court or work, the question would become more curious, of the city. This third kind is incontestably the and, perhaps, very difficult of solution. Indeed, most noble, and has received the strongest sanc-though nature must have a great part of the extion from custom. It is likewise the most difficult to perform, because it is merely the work of invention, in which the poet has no help from real passages, or persons, which the tragic poet always makes use of. Who knows but by deep thinking, another kind of comedy may be invented wholly different from the three which I have mentioned? such is the fruitfulness of comedy. but its course is already too wide for the discovery of new fields to be wished, and on ground where we are already so apt to stumble, nothing is so dangerous as novelty imperfectly understood. This is the rock on which men have often split in every kind of pursuit; to go no further, in that of grammar and language: it is better to endeavour after novelty in the manner of expressing common things, than to hunt for ideas out of the way, in which many a man loses himself. The ill success of that odd composition, Tragic Comedy, a monster wholly unknown to antiquity, sufficiently shows the danger of novelty in attempts like these.
pense of poetry, yet no poetry lasts long that is not very correct: the balance, therefore, seems to incline in favour of correction. For is it not known that Virgil with less genius than Ovid, is yet valued more by men of exquisite judgment; or, without going so far, Boileau, the Horace of our time, who composed with so much labour, and asked Moliere where he found his rhyme so easily, has said, “If I write four words, I shall blot out three;" has not Boileau, by his polished lines, retouched and retouched a thousand times, gained the preference above the works of the same Moliere, which are so natural, and produced by so fruitful a genius! Horace was of that opinion, for when he is teaching the writers of his age the art of poetry, he tells them in plain terms, that Rome would excel in writing as in arms, if the poets were not afraid of the labour, patience, and time required to polish their pieces. He thought every poem was bad that had not been brought ten times back to the anvil, and required that a work should be kept nine years, as a child is nine months in the womb of its mo
Whether Tragedy or Comedy be the harder to ther, to restrain that natural impatience which combines with sloth and self-love to disguise faults; so certain is it that correction is the touchstone of writing.
The question proposed comes back to the comparison which I have been making between genius and correction, since we are now engaged in inquiring whether there is more or less difficulty in writing tragedy or comedy: for as we must compare nature and study one with another, since they must both concur more or less to make a poet; so if we will compare the la
XV. To finish the parallel of the two dramas, a question may be revived equally common and important, which has been oftener proposed than well decided: it is, whether comedy or tragedy be most easy or difficult to be well executed. I shall not have the temerity to determine positively a question which so many great geniuses have been afraid to decide; but if it be allowed to every literary man to give his reason for and against a mere work of genius, considered without respect to its good or bad tendency, I shall in a few words give my opinion, drawn from the nature of the two works, and the qualifications
* Poet. v. 407.
"L'Ignorance et l'Erreur à ses naissantes pièces
bours of two different minds in different kinds of writing, we must, with regard to the authors, compare the force of genius, and with respect to the composition, the difficulties of the task.
The genius of the tragic and comic writer But, without taking any farther notice of the will be easily allowed to be remote from each time at which either came to the knowledge of other. Every performance, be what it will, his own genius, let us suppose that the powers requires a turn of mind which a man cannot of tragedy and comedy were as equally shared confer upon himself: it is purely the gift of between Moliere and Corneille, as they are difnature, which determines those who have it, to ferent in their own nature, and then nothing pursue, almost in spite of themselves, the taste more will remain than to compare the several which predominates in their minds. Pascal difficulties of each composition, and to rate those found in his childhood that he was a mathema-difficulties together which are common to both. tician, and Vandyke that he was born a painter. Sometimes this internal direction of the mind does not make such evident discoveries of itself; but it is rare to find Corneilles who have lived long without knowing that they were poets. Corneille having once got some notion of his powers, tried a long time on all sides to know what particular direction he should take. He had first made an attempt in comedy, in an age when it was yet so gross in France that it could give no pleasure to polite persons. "Melite" was so well received when he dressed her out, that she gave rise to a new species of comedy and comedians. This success, which encouraged Corneille to pursue that sort of comedy of which he was the first inventor, left him no reason to imagine, that he was one day to produce those master-pieces of tragedy, which his muse displayed afterwards with so much splendour; and yet less did he imagine, that his comic pieces, which, for want of any that were preferable, were then very much in fashion, would be eclipsed by another genius* formed upon the Greeks and Romans, and who would add to their excellences improvements of his own, and that this modish comedy, to which Corneille, as to his idol, dedicated his labours, would quickly be forgot. He wrote first "Medea," and afterwards "The Cid," and, by that prodigious flight of his genius he discovered, though late, that nature had formed him to run in no other course but that of Sophocles. Happy genius! that, without rule or imitation, could at once take so high a flight; having once, as I may say, made himself an eagle, he never afterwards quitted the path which he had worked out for himself, over the heads of the writers of his time: yet he retained some traces of the false taste which infected the whole nation; but even in this, he deserves our admiration, since in time he changed it completely by the reflections he made, and those he occasioned. In short, Corneille was born for tragedy, as Moliere for comedy. Moliere, indeed, knew his own genius sooner, and was not less happy in procuring applause, though it often happened to him as to Corneille,
It appears, first, that the tragic poet has in his subject an advantage over the comic, for he takes it from history; and his rival, at least in the more elevated and splendid comedy, is obliged to form it by his own invention. Now, it is not so easy as it might seem to find comic subjects capable of a new and pleasing form; but history is a source, if not inexhaustible, yet certainly so copious as never to leave the genius aground. It is true, that invention seems to have a wider field than history: real facts are limited in their number, but the facts which may be feigned have no end; but though, in this respect, invention may be allowed to have the advantage, is the difficulty of inventing to be accounted as nothing? To make a tragedy, is to get materials together, and to make use of them like a skilful architect; but to make a comedy, is to build like Æsop in the air. It is in vain to boast that the compass of invention is as wide as the extent of desire; every thing is limited, and the mind of man like every thing else. Besides, invention must be in conformity to nature; but distinct and remarkable characters are very rare in nature herself. Moliere has got hold on the principal touches of ridicule. If any man should bring characters less strong, he will be in danger of dulness. Where comedy is to be kept up by subordinate personages, it is in great danger. All the force of a picture must arise from the principal persons, and not from the multitude clustered up together. In the same manner, a comedy, to be good, must be supported by a single striking character, and not by under-parts.
But, on the contrary, tragic characters are without number, though of them the general outlines are limited; but dissimulation, jealousy, policy, ambition, desire of dominion, and other interests and passions, are various without end, and take a thousand different forms in different situations of history; so that as long as there is tragedy, there may be always novelty. Thus the jealous and dissembling Mithridates, so happily painted by Racine, will not stand in the way of a poet who shall attempt a jealous and dissembling Tiberius. The stormy violence of an Achilles will always leave room for the stormy violence of Alexander.
But the case is very different with avarice, | trifling vanity, hypocrisy, and other vices, considered as ridiculous. It would be safer to double and treble all the tragedies of our greatest poets, and use all their subjects over and over, as has been done with Edipus and Sophonisba, than to bring again upon the stage in five acts a Miser, a Citizen turned Gentleman, a Tartuffe, and other subjects sufficiently known. Not that these popular vices are less capable of diversification, or are less varied by different circum-show the poet not so much to abound in invenstances, than the vices and passions of heroes; tion as to be deficient in taste. But, notwithbut that if they were to be brought over again in standing all that he has done, or that we can do, comedies, they would be less distinct, less exact, to make it simple, it will always have the advanless forcible, and, consequently, less applauded. tage over comedy in the number of its subjects, Pleasantry and ridicule must be more strongly because it admits more variety of situations and marked than heroism and pathos, which support events, which give variety and novelty to the themselves by their own force. Besides, though characters. A miser, copied after nature, will these two things of so different natures could always be the miser of Plautus or Moliere; but support themselves equally in equal variety, a Nero, or a prince like Nero, will not always which is very far from being the case; yet co- be the hero of Racine. Comedy admits of so medy, as it now stands, consists not in incidents, little intrigue, that the miser cannot be shown but in characters. Now it is by incidents only in any such position as will make his picture that characters are diversified, as well upon the new; but the great events of tragedy may put stage of comedy, as upon the stage of life. Co- Nero in such circumstances as to make him medy, as Moliere has left it, resembles the pic- wholly another character. tures of manners drawn by the celebrated La Bruyere. Would any man after him venture to draw them over again, he would expose himself to the fate of those who have ventured to continue them. For instance, what could we add to his character of the Absent Man? Shall we put him in other circumstances? The principal strokes of absence of mind will always be the same; and there are only those striking touches which are fit for a comedy, of which the end is painting after nature, but with strength and sprightliness like the designs of Callot. If comedy were among us what it is in Spain, a kind of romance, consisting of many circumstances and intrigues, perplexed and disentangled, so as to surprise; if it was nearly the same with that which Corneille practised in his time; if, like that of Terence, it went no farther than to draw the common portraits of simple nature, and show us fathers, sons, and rivals; notwithstanding the uniformity, which would always prevail, as in the plays of Terence, and probably in those of Menander, whom he imitated in his four first pieces, there would always be a resource found either in variety of in-more-the people, the learned, and the court. cidents, like those of the Spaniards, or in the If there are certain cases in which all may be repetition of the same characters in the way of comprehended in the term people, this is not one Terence but the case is now very different, the of those cases. : Whatever father Rapin may say public calls for new characters and nothing else. about it, we are more willing even to admire Multiplicity of accidents, and the laborious con- than to laugh. Every man that has any power trivance of an intrigue, are not now allowed to of distinction, laughs as rarely as the philososhelter a weak genius that would find great con- pher admires; for we are not to reckon those veniences in that way of writing. Nor does it fits of laughter which are not incited by nature, suit the taste of comedy, which requires an air and which are given merely to complaisance, to less constrained, and such freedom and ease of respect, flattery, and good-humour; such as manners as admit nothing of the romantic. break out at sayings which pretend to smartness
But, in the second place, over and above the subjects, may we not say something concerning the final purpose of comedy and tragedy? The purpose of the one is to divert, and the other to move; and of these two, which is the easier? To go to the bottom of those purposes; to move, is to strike those strings of the heart which are most natural, terror and pity: to divert, is to make one laugh, a thing which indeed is natural enough, but more delicate. The gentleman and the rustic have both sensibility and tenderness of heart, perhaps in greater or less degree; but as they are men alike, the heart is moved by the same touches. They both love likewise to send their thoughts abroad, and to expand themselves in merriment; but the springs which must be touched for this purpose, are not the same in the gentleman and the rustic. The passions depend on nature, and merriment upon education. The clown will laugh at a waggery, and the gentleman only at a stroke of delicate conceit. The spectators of a tragedy, if they have but a little knowledge, are almost all on a level; but with respect to comedy, we have three classes, if not
She leaves all the pomp of sudden events to the novels, or little romances, which were the diversion of the last age. She allows nothing but a succession of characters resembling nature, and falling in without any apparent contrivance. Racine has likewise taught us to give to tragedy the same simplicity of air and action; he has endeavoured to disentangle it from that great number of incidents, which made it rather a study than diversion to the audience, and which
In assemblies. The laughter of the theatre is of another stamp. Every reader and spectator Judges of wit by his own standard, and measures it by his capacity, or by his condition: the different capacities and conditions of men, make them diverted on very different occasions. If, therefore, we consider the end of the tragic and comic poet, the comedian must be involved in much more difficulties, without taking in the obstructions to be encountered equally by both, in an art which consists in raising the passions, or the mirth of a great multitude. The tragedian has little to do but to reflect upon his own thought, and draw from his heart those sentiments which will certainly make their way to the hearts of others, if he found them in his own. The other must take many forms, and change himself almost into as many persous as he undertakes to satisfy and divert.
It may be said, that, if genius be supposed equal, and success supposed to depend upon genius, the business will be equally easy and difficult to one author and to the other. The objection is of no weight; for the same question still recurs, which is, whether of these two kinds of genius is more valuable or more rare. If we proceed by example, and not by reasoning, we shall decide, I think, in favour of comedy.
It may be said, that if merely art be considered, it will require deeper thoughts to form a plan just and simple; to produce happy surprises without apparent contrivance; to carry a passion skilfully through its gradations to its height; to arrive happily to the end by always moving from it, as Ithaca seemed to fly Ulysses; to unite the acts and scenes; and to raise by insensible degrees a striking edifice, of which the least merit shall be exactness of proportion. It may be added, that in comedy this art is infinitely less, for there the characters come upon the stage with very little artifice or plot: the whole scheme is so connected that we see it at once, and the plan and disposition of the parts make a small part of its excellence, in comparison of a gloss of pleasantry diffused over each scene, which is more the happy effect of a lucky moment, than of long consideration.
a digression; and as I have no business to decide the question, I leave both that and my arguments to the taste of each particular reader, who will find what is to be said for or against it. My purpose was only to say of comedy, considered as a work of genius, all that a man of letters can be supposed to deliver without departing from his character, and without palliating in any degree the corrupt use which has been almost always made of an exhibition which in its nature might be innocent; but has been vicious from the time that it has been infected with the wickedness of men. It is not for public exhibitions that I am now writing, but for literary inquiries. The stage is too much frequented, and books too much neglected. Yet it is to the literature of Greece and Rome that we are indebted for that valuable taste, which will be insensibly lost by the affected negligence which now prevails of having recourse to originals. If reason has been a considerable gainer, it must be confessed that taste has been somewhat a loser.
To return to Aristophanes. So many great men of autiquity, through a long succession of ages, down to our times, have set a value upon his works, that we cannot naturally suppose them contemptible, notwithstanding the essential faults with which he may be justly reproached. It is sufficient to say, that he was esteemed by Plato and Cicero; and to conclude by that which does him most honour, but still falls short of justification, the strong and sprightly eloquence of St, Chrysostom drew its support from the masculine and vigorous atticism of this sarcastic comedian, to whom the father paid the same regard as Alexander to Homer, that of putting his works under his pillow, that he might read them at night before he slept, and in the morning as soon as he awaked.
BRUMOY'S GREEK THEATRE.
These objections, and many others, which so fruitful a subject might easily suggest, it is not Summary of the four articles treated of in this difficult to refute; and if we were to judge by the impression made on the mind by tragedies and comedies of equal excellence, perhaps, when we examine those impressions, it will be found that a sally of pleasantry, which diverts all the world, required more thought than a passage which gave the highest pleasure in tragedy; and to this determination we shall be more inclined when a closer examination shall show us, that a happy vein of tragedy is opened and effused at less expense, than a well-placed witticism in comedy has required merely to assign its place.
It would be too much to dwell long upon such
I. THUS I have given a faithful extract of the remains of Aristophanes. That I have not shown them in their true form, I am not afraid that any body will complain. I have given an account of every thing, as far as it was consistent with moral decency. No pen, however cy. nical or heathenish, would venture to produce in open day the horrid passages which I bave put out of sight; and instead of regretting any part that I have suppressed, the very suppression will easily show to what degree the Athenians