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But, as Tragedy and Comedy possess entirely distinct characters, the former being intimately related to epic poetry, and rising above it in lofty style and sublime imagery, while the latter is the most perfect, as it more resembles common conversation, it has been thought more classical to publish performances, so essentially different from each other, in distinct volumes, rather than confound them in heterogeneous combination. The editor has therefore prepared one volume of Tragedies, another of Comedies, and a third of Farces and Operas, which, together, will, it is presumed, be found to constitute a commodious, cheap, and judicious theatrical library, while the public will find the advantage of arrangement, in being able to procure either volume separately, if there should be any persons, who exclusively prefer either species of composition. The man of sentiment and the humourist can now suit themselves according to their respective tastes. Nor is Heraclitus obliged to buy glees, nor Democritus ditties, bound up with the appropriate objects of their individual pursuit. Even those, who are equally admirers of the Comic and Tragic Muse, will find a convenience in this division, as they will hereby be better enabled to gratify the inclination of the moment, whether it tend to the grave or gay. And, as each play has been chronologically arranged, the reflecting mind will be able to see the progressive changes, that have taken place in dramatic composition, and mark the distinct æra of improvement.
Such, then, have been the motives of this publication, and the principles which have guided the editor in its arrangement. If the execution be answerable to his own wishes and intentions, this volume of Tragedies may serve as a register of national genius. For dramatic composition, of this kind, as it is the most valuable, so is it the most difficult of all the species of poetry it demands the most bold and vigorous conceptions, the most rich imagery, tender description, and impassioned language; it imposes a restraint on the inordinate flights of poetic enthusiasm, and forbids imagination to overstep the lines of character, or soar beyond the regions of probability. Yet this is not all, that is required of the Tragic writer. It is not sufficient, that he be poetical and chaste, unless his plot be so conducted as to excite a perpetual interest; the incidents must seem to retard, while they hurry on, the main object; and neither glowing thoughts, nor melodious numbers, will compensate for tediousness of dialogue. Criticism, in no instance, dispenses with the observance of these rules. And while Dryden and Lee are condemned for extravagant thoughts and glowing superfluities,
Thomson and Johnson have not escaped censure for nakedness of plot, and the want of a rapid succession of unexpected incidents. In a style of composition, therefore, which requires such concentrated talents to succeed, a bold imagination to conceive, and a correct taste to execute, it is thought that a selection of the best performances may be justly admitted as the testimony of national genius; and in the specimens which are now submitted to the public, the editor is confident, that the manifold beauties will not only gratify the taste, but flatter the patriot-pride of an English reader, when he contemplates, in their unrivalled excellencies, the literary superiority of Britain, not only over ancient Greece, but over all the kingdoms of modern Europe.
It was the editor's wish to insert a few of the best of Shakespeare's plays in these volumes, but several causes have prevented it: the difficulty of selection, the number that are truly excellent, and the universal practice of publishing his immortal works in a body by themselves. Besides, there is already an edition of his plays, in a form similar to the present, which, with these volumes, will form a complete BRITISH DRAMA.
Cleon. THE rest are making ready, sir. Lys. So let them; there is time enough. Diph. You are the brother to the king, my lord; we will take your word.
Lys. Strato, thou hast some skill in poetry: What think'st thou of the masque? Will it be well? Strat. As well as masque can be. Lys. As masque can be?
Strat. Yes; they must commend their king, and speak in praise of the assembly; bless the bride and bridegroom, in person of some god. They are tied to rules of flattery.
Cle. See, good my lord, who is returned !
Lys. Noble Melantius! the land, by me, Welcomes thy virtues home to Rhodes. Thou, that with blood abroad buyest us our peace! The breath of kings is like the breath of gods; My brother wished thee here, and thou art here. He will be too kind, and weary thee with Often welcomes. But the time doth give thee A welcome above his, or all the world's.
Mel. My lord, my thanks; but these scratch'd
limbs of mine
Have spoke my love and truth unto my friends, More than my tongue e'er could. My mind's the
It ever was to you: Where I find worth