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confesses to Portius her love for him, but swears that she will never marry him, Portius, instead of giving way to the language of grief and astonishment, only describes his feelings:
Fix'd in astonishment, I gaze upon thee,
Like one just blasted by a stroke from heaven,
This might have proceeded from a bystander, or an indifferent person; but it is altogether improper in the mouth of Portius. Similar to this descriptive language are the unnatural and forced thoughts, which tragic poets sometimes employ, to exaggerate the feelings of persons, whom they wish to paint, as strongly moved. Thus, when Jane Shore on meeting her husband in distress, and finding that he had forgiven her, calls on the rains to give her their drops, and to the springs to lend her their streams, that she may have a constant supply of tears; we see plainly that it is not Jane Shore that speaks; but the poet himself, who is straining his fancy, and spurring up his genius, to say something uncommonly strong and lively.
The language of real passion is always plain and simple. It abounds indeed in figures, that express a disturbed and impetuous state of mind; but never employs any for parade and embellishment. Thoughts suggested by passion, are natural and obvious; and not the offspring of refinement, subtility, and wit. Passion neither reasons, speculates, nor declaims; its
language is short, broken, and interrupted. The French tragedians deal too much in refinement and declamation. The Greek tragedians adhere most to nature, and are most pathetic. This too is the great excellency of Shakespeare. He exhibits the true language of nature and passion.
Moral sentiments and reflections ought not to recur very frequently in tragedy. When unseasonably crowded, they lose their effect, and convey an air of pedantry. When introduced with propriety, they give dig nity to the composition. Cardinal Woolsey's soliloquy on his fall is a fine instance of the felicity with which they may be employed. Much of the merit of Addison's Cato depends on that moral turn of thought which distinguishes it.
The style and versification of tragedy should be free, easy, and varied. English blank verse is happily suited to this species of composition. It has sufficient majesty, and can descend to the simple and familiar; it admits a happy variety of cadence, and is free from the constraint and monotony of rhyme. Of the French tragedies it is a great misfortune, that they are always in rhyme. For it fetters the freedom of the tragic dialogue, fills it with a languid monotony, and is fatal to the power of passion.
With regard to those splendid comparisons in rhyme, and those strings of couplets, with which it was some time ago fashionable to conclude the acts of a tragedy, and sometimes the most interesting scenes, they are
now laid aside, and regarded not only as childish orna. ments, but as perfect barbarisms.
THE plot of Greek tragedy was exceeding simple; the incidents few; and the conduct very exact with regard to the unities of action, time, and place. Machinery, or the invention of gods, was employed; and, what was very faulty, the final unravelling was sometimes made to turn upon it. Love, one or two instances excepted, was never admitted into Greek tragedy. A vein of morality and religion always runs through it; but they employed less than the moderns, the combat of the passions. Their plots were all taken from the ancient traditionary stories of their own nation.
Eschylus, the father of Greek tragedy, exhibits both the beauties and defects of an early original writer. He is bold, nervous, and animated; but very obscure, and difficult to be understood. His style is highly metaphorical, and often harsh and tumid. He abounds in martial ideas and descriptions, has much fire and elevation, and little tenderness. He also delights in the marvellous.
The most masterly of the Greek tragedians is Sophocles. He is the most correct in the conduct of
his subjects; the most just and sublime in the sentiIn descriptive talents he is also eminent. Euripides is accounted more tender than Sophocles; he is fuller of moral sentiments; but he is less correct in the conduct of his plays. His expositions of his subjects are less artful; and the songs of his chorus, though very poetic, are less connected with the principal action, than those of Sophocles. Both of them, however, have high merit, as tragic poets. Their style is elegant and beautiful; and their sentiments for the most part just. They speak with the voice of nature; and in the midst of simplicity they are touching and interesting.
Theatrical representation on the stages of Greece and Rome was in many respects very singular, and different from that of modern times. The songs of the chorus were accompanied by instrumental music; and t the dialogue part had a modulation of its own, and might be set to notes. It has also been thought that on the Roman stage the pronouncing and gesticulating parts were sometimes divided, and performed by different actors. The actors in tragedy wore a long robe; they were raised upon cothurni, and played in masks; these masks were painted; and the actor by turning the different profiles exhibited different emotions to the auditors. This contrivance, however, was attended by many disadvan tages.
IN the composition of some French dramatic writers, tragedy has appeared with great lustre ; ́parti. cularly Corneille, Racine, and Voltaire. They have improved upon the ancients, by introducing more incidents, a greater variety of passions, and a fuller display of characters. Like the ancients, they excel in regularity of conduct; and their style is poetical and elegant. But to an English taste they want strength and passion, and are too declamatory and refined. They seem afraid of being too tragic; and it was the opi nion of Voltaire, that to the perfection of tragedy, it is necessary to unite the vehemence and action of the English theatre with the correctness and decorum of the French.
Corneille, the father of French tragedy, is dis tinguished by majesty of sentiment and a fruitful imagination. His genius was rich, but more turned to the epic than the tragic vein. He is mag nificent and splendid, rather than touching and tender. He is full of declamation, impetuous and extravagant.
In tragedy, Racine is superior to Corneille. He wants, indeed, the copiousness of Corneille; but he is free from his bombast, and excels him greatly in tenderness. The beauty of his language and versification