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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, rem quires 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 distant 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 impresion it makes on the mind, or their reflections on its parts and consistency, should excite them to believe what is represented to have been trke, 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, sans 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 posibility. We come now to consider, how far the obfervation of the dramatic unities may be necessary to support the apparent proofs of this possibility; and how far Shakespeare hath broken through them. To begin, as usual, with chat of action. The unity of action is sufficiently observed when a fingle end is propoled, to which all the means made use of, in REV. Nov, 1765. Сс
the piece, effectually 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. Johnson, 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 (flential to dramatic representation, that the persons of the drama should 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 eyesight; 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 pass 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 cloths
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 shepherdefs ? Whatever
• Not merely to his understanding, for his imagination might posibly have salved the absurdity, from the reflection of its being a fičtion.
liberties Shakespeare hath taken with the unities in other plays, he knew 100 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. Dr. Johnson questions whether Shakespeare knew the unities and rejected them by design, or deviated froin 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-ftrings 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 neceilary that Nature's ftrong and vigorous offspring should be confined to that ftrict regularity of diet and regimen which is requisite to fupport the weak and puny nursings of art. They both, however, pursue the same objects, and attain them nearly by the fame means. Hence, though it should be true, that Shake. speare 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 Sta: gyrite, although he did not servilely adopt his particular rules: Indeed the point is alınost 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 also 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 (says he) affects the mind like a play acted. It is therefore evident that the action is not supposed to be real, and it
* See Aristotle's Poetics. Chap. VI.
follows, 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 betray a want of acquaintance with the conduct and effects of the drama. lt 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. It is indeed impoffible for the action represented to seem to be longer than the actual time of representation ; for, as we before obierved, 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 exe istence, most obsequious to the imagination ; a lapse of years is as casily conceived as a paffage of hours. In contemplation we @alily 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 premises. During the actual representation of an action, we are not contemplating, but observing ; and it is impossible for us eithet to shorten or to prolong the time of such representation : buc 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 short, is sufficient for the purpose. And hence we see that the frequent shifting of the scenes, though it may break in upon the restrictions of action and place, it affords an opportunity of prea férving that of time, together with the first and grand rule of probability. It is pleasant enough to see how the French cria tirs, who affect to abide by the strictest observance of the unities, 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 mistress, whole father he had flain ; and all this in the space of four and i wenty hours. Now, it is certain, that all these ac: tions, if properly difosed in fucceßion, and judiciously divided - might he lo represented as ncver to break in upon dramatic probability.
her he had no it is certain judiciaramatic pro
Ich greater afervanced be conhe unity,
: The French, indeed, in support of the unity of place, maintain that the stage never should be einpty during the act; in consequence of their observance of this rule, however, they are guilty of much greater absurdities than would arise from thifting che scene. It is mentioned, as an instance of consummate skill in Corneille, that he hath provided, in one of his plays, for keeping the stage full, while one of the characters goes to the field to fight, and returns conqueror. Now had this supposed combat passed during the interval between the acts, or even during the shifting of the scene, it had not transgressed the bounds of dramatic probability, because it then had passed during the interlude of the imagination ; but the audience would not fail of perceiving the improbability of a combat’s being fought while they had been listening to some twenty or thirty lines, spoken by the persons of the stage. The unity of time, is, indeed, so far essential to the drama, that the successive actions represented must be confined to the time of actual representation ; although the intervals between them may be as long as the poet pleases, consista ent with the prelervation of the unity of character, and that of the design of the fable.
In respect to the unity of place; it appears more than probable, that the pretended neccflity of it originally arose from the imperfect state of the ancient theatres, as it is plain that the French poets have absurdly involved themselves in the most ridi-, culous perplexities by adopting it to an unneceflary degree. There can be no doubt, however, that it is so far essential to the drama, as it is neceslary to preserve the unity of action : for as the interval of time may in some cases be so great as to vary the personality, or destroy the unity of character, so the transition of place may be fo great as to destroy the unity of the action. We Thould not be more vehement, indeed, than Dr. Johnson, in reproaching a poet who should make his first act pass in Ve nice, and his next in Cyprus, provided they were both so nearly related as when Shakespeare wrote his Othello; but we should no great opinion of the dramatic conduct of a piece, the first scene of which should be laid in England, and the last in China, In any other respect, however, it is certain that the unity of place is unnecessary to the modern drama, as the attention of the spectator is always diverted from the action of the piece, and the imagination is at liberty during the change of the scene. .-It appears, on the whole, that the unities are essential to the drama, though not in that degree as hath been asserted by the critics; so that the result of Dr. Johnson's enquiries concerning them, is as erroneous as his supposition of the necessity on which they were founded. . Having dismissed this subject, our Editor proceeds to give us mis sentiments, concerning Shakcípeare as a writer, in general. Ce 3