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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 dignity to the composition. Cardinal Woolsey's soliloquy on his fall is a fine instance of the felicity with which they may beemployed. 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 bas 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 is 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 ornaments, but as perfect barbarisms.
THE plot of Greek tragedy was exceedingly 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.
Æschylus, the father of Greek tragedy, exhibits both the beauties and defects of an early ori. ginal writer. He is bold, nervous, and animated 3 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 mucb 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 his sentiments. In 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 poetie, 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 simpli. city they are touching and interesting.
Theatrical representation on the stages of Greece and Rome was in many respects very singular, and widely different from that of modern times. The songs of the chorus were accompanied by instrumental music ; and 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 disadvantages.
In the composition of some French dramatic writers, tragedy has appeared with great lustre; particularly 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
English Tragedy: passion, and are too declamatory and refined. They seem afraid of being too tragic; and it was the opinion of Voltaire, that to the perfection of tragedy, it is necessary to unite the vehemence and action of the English theatre with the correetness and decorum of the French.
Corneille, the father of French tragedy, is distinguished by majesty of sentiment and a fruitful imagination. His genius was rich, but more turned to the epic than the tragic vein. He is magnificent 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 lsis lunguage anil versification 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 sometimes too deelamatory. 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 for the chief excellence of the tragic muse.
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 bis beauties or defects be greatest. In his writings there are admirable scenes and passages without number ; but there is not one of his plays wbich can be pronounced a good one. Beside extreme irregularitine in nondunt and antoc.... mixtures of the sę. rious 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 lris absurdities he interests and proves 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, fairies and spirits of all kinds, are so awful, mysterious, and peculiar, as strongly to affect the inagination. His two master-pieces are his Othe!
and Macbeth. With regard to his historical plays, they are neither tragedies,