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is uncommon; and he has managed his rhymes with superior advantage.
Voltaire is not inferior to his predecessors in the drama; and in one article he has outdone them, the delicate and interesting situations he has introduced. Here lies his chief strength. Like his predecessors, however, he is sometimes deficient in force, and some times too declamatory. His characters, notwithstanding, are drawn with spirit, his events are striking, and his sentiments elevated.
IT has often been remarked of tragedy in Great Britain, that it is more ardent than that of France, but more irregular and incorrect. It has, therefore, excelled in the soul of tragedy. For the pathetic must be allowed to be the chief excellence of the tragic
The first object on the English theatre, is the great Shakespeare. In extent and force of genius, both for tragedy and comedy, he is unrivalled. But at the same time it is genius shooting wild, deficient in taste, not always chaste, and unassisted by art and knowledge. Criticism has been exhausted in commentaries upon him; yet to this day it is undecided, whether his beauties or defects be greatest. In his writings
there are admirable scenes and passages without number; but there is not one of his plays which can be pronounced a good one. Beside extreme irregularities in conduct, and grotesque mixtures of the serious and comic, we are frequently disturbed by unnatural thoughts, harsh expressions, and a certain obscure bombast, and play upon words. These faults are, however, compensated by two of the greatest excellencies a tragic poet can possess, his lively and diversified painting of character, and his strong and natural expressions of passion. On these two virtues his merit rests. In the midst of his absur
dities he interests and moves us; so great is his skill in human nature, and so lively his representations of it.
He possesses also the merit of having created for himself a world of preternatural beings. His witches, ghosts, faries, and spirits of all kinds, are so awful, mysterious, and peculiar, as strongly to affect the imagination. His two master-pieces are his Othello and Macbeth. With regard to his historical plays, they are neither tragedies, nor comedies; but a peculiar species of dramatic entertainment, in which he describes the characters, events, and manners of the times of which he treats.
Since Shakespeare, there are few English dramatic writers, whose whole works are entitled to high praise. There are several tragedies, however, of considerable
merit. Lee's Theodosius has warmth and tenderness, though romantic in the plan, and extravagant in the sentiments. Otway is great in his Orphan and Venice Preserved. Perhaps, however, he is too tragic in these pieces. He had genius and strong passions, but was very indelicate.
The tragedies of Rowe abound in morality and in elevated sentiments. His poetry is good, and his language pure and elegant. He is, notwithstanding, too cold and uninteresting; and flowery, rather than tragic. His best dramas are Jane Shore and the Fair Penitent, which excel in the tender and pathetic.
Dr. Young's Revenge discovers genius and fire; but wants tenderness, and turns too much on the direful passions. In the Morning Bride of Congreve there are fine situations and much good poetry. The tragedies of Thomson are too full of a stiff morality, which renders them dull and formal. His Tancred and Sigismunda is his master-piece; and for the plot, characters, and sentiments, justly deserves a place among the best English tragedies.
A Greek tragedy is a simple relation of an interesting incident. A French tragedy is a series of artful and refined conversations. An English tragedy is a combat of strong passions, set before us in all their violence, producing deep disasters, and filling the spectators with grief. Ancient tragedies are more natural and simple; modern more artful and complex.
THE strain and spirit of comedy discriminate it suf ficiently from tragedy. While pity, terror, and the other strong passions form the province of the latter, the sole instrument of the former is ridicule. Follies and vices, and whatever in the human character is improper, or exposes to censure and ridicule, are objects of comedy. As a satirical exhibition of the improprie ties and follies of men, it is useful and moral. It is commendable by this species of composition to correct and to polish the manners of men. Many vices are more successfully exploded by ridicule, than by serious arguments. It is possible however to employ ridicule improperly; and by its operation to do mischief instead of good. For ridicule is far from being a proper test of truth. Licentious writers therefore of the comic class have often cast ridicule on objects and characters which did not deserve it. But this is not the fault of comedy, but of the turn and genius of certain writers. In the hands of loose men, comedy will mislead and corrupt; but in those of virtuous writers, it is not only a gay and innocent, but a laudable and useful entertainment. English comedy, however, is frequently a school of vice.
The rules of dramatic action, that were prescribed for tragedy, belong also to comedy. A comic writer must observe the unities of action, time, and place.
He must attend to nature and probability. The imita tion of manners ought to be even more exact in com. edy than in tragedy; for the subjects of comedy are more familiar and better known.
The subjects of tragedy are confined to no age nor country; but it is otherwise in comedy. For the decorums of behaviour, and the nice discriminations of character which are the subjects of comedy, change with time and country; and are never so well understood by foreigners, as by natives. We weep for the heroes of Greece and Rome; but we are touched by the ridicule of such manners and characters only as we see and know. The scene therefore of comedy should always be laid in the author's own country and age. The comic poet catches the manners living, as they rise..
It is true, indeed, that Plutus and Terence did not follow this rule. The scene of their comedies is laid in Greece, and they adopted the Greek laws and customs. But it is to be remembered, that comedy was in their age a new entertainment in Rome, and that they were contented with the praise of translating Menander and other comic writers of Greece. In posterior times the Romans had the "Comedia Togata," or what was founded on their own manners, as well as the "Comedia Palliata," which was taken from the Greeks..