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nor comedies, but a peculiar species of dramatic entertaininent, in whicb he describes the characters, events, and manners of the times of which le 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 Mourning 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 beforc.:
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 sufficiently froin 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 improprieties 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 of 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.
lish 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 imitation of manners ought to be even more exact in comedy 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.m 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 Plautus 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 “Comoedia Togata," or what was founded on their own manners, as well as the “Comoedia Palliata," which was taken from the Greeks..
There are two kinds of comedy, that of character, and that of intrigue. In the last, the plot or action of the play is the principal object. In the first, the display of a peculiar character is the chief point; and to this the action is subordinate. The French abound most in comedies of character. Such are the capital pieces of Moliere. The English have inclined more to comedies of intrigue. Such are the plays of Congreve; and in general there is more story, action, and bustle in English than in French comedy.
The perfection of comedy is to be found in a proper mixture of these two kinds. Mere conversation without an interesting story is insipid. There ould ever be so much intrigue as to excite both fears and wishes. The incidents should be striking, and afford a proper field for the exhibition of character. The piece, however, should not be overcharged with intrigue; for this would be to convert a comedy into a novel..
With respect to characters, it is a common error of comic writers to carry them much beyond real life ; indeed it is very difficult to hit the precise point where wit ends, and buffoonery begins. The comedian may exaggerate; but good sense must teach him where to stop.
In comedy there ought to be a clear distinction in characters. The contrast of characters, however, by pairs, and by opposites, is too theatrical and affected. It is the perfection of art to conceal art. A masterly writer gives us his characters, distinguished rather by such shades of diversity as are commonly found in society, than marked by such oppositions, as are seldom brought
into actual contrast in any of the circumstances of life.
The style of comedy ought to be pure, lively, and elegant, generally imitating the tone of polite conversation, and never descending into gross expressions. Rhyme is not suitable to comic composition ; for what has poetry to do with the
1 conversation of men in common life? The current of the dialogue should be easy without pertness, and genteel without flippancy. The wit should never be studied nor unseasonable.
The ancient comedy was an avowed satire against particular persons, brought upon the stage by
Such are the plays of Aristophanes ; and compositions of so singular a nature illustrate well the turbulent and licentious state of Athens. The most illustrious personages, generals and magistrates, were then made the subjects of comedy. Vivacity, satire, and buffoonery are the characteristics of Aristophanes. On many occasions he displays genius and force; but his performances give us no high idea of the attic taste for wit in his age. His ridicule is extravagant; his wit farcical ; his personal raillery cruel and biting ; and his obscenity intolerable.
Soon after the age of Aristophanes the liberty of attacking persons by name on the stage was prohibited by law. The middle comedy then took its risc. Living persons were still attacked