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yet one is apt to fufpect some fallacy, considering that no critic, however strict, has ventured to confine the unities of place and of time within so narrow bounds. *
A view of the Grecian drama, compared with our own, may perhaps relieve us from this dilemma : if they be differently constructed as shall be made evident, it is possible that the foregoing reasoning may not be equally applicable to both. This is an article that, with relation to the present subject, has not been examined by any writer.
All authors agree, that tragedy in Greece was derived from the hymns in praise of Bacchus, which were sung in parts by a chorus. Thespis to relieve the fingers, and for the sake of variety, introduced one actor ; whose province it was to explain histor. ically the fubject of the fong, and who occasionally represented one or other personage. Efchylus, introducing a second ađor, formed the dialogue, by which the performance became dramatic ; and the actors were multiplied when the fubject represented made it necessary. But still, the chorus, which gave a beginning to tragedy, was considered as an effential part. The first scene, generally unfolds the preliminary circumstances that lead to the grand event : and this scene is by Aristotle termed the prologue. In the second scene, where the action properly begins, the chorus is introduced, which, as originally, continues upon the stage during the whole performance : the chorus frequently makes one in the dialogue ;
* Boslu, after observing with wonderous critical fagacity, that winter is an improper season for an epic poem, and night no less improper for tragedy; admits however, that an epic poem may be spread through the whole summer months, and a tragedy through the whole funthine hours of the fongeft fummer-day. Du poem epique, l. 3. Chap. 12. Ar that rare an English tragedy may be longer than a French tragedy; and in Nova Zembla the time of a tragedy and of an epic poem may be the fame.
and when the dialogue happens to be suspended, the chorus, during the interval, is employ'd in singing. Sophocles adheres to this plan religiously. Euripides is not altogether fo correct. In some of his pieces, it becomes neceflary to remove the chorus for a little time. But when that unusual step is risked, matters are so ordered as not to interrupt the representation : the chorus never leave the stage of their own accord, but at the command of some principal personage, who constantly waits their return.
Thus the Grecian drama is a continued representation without interruption ; a circumstance that merits attention, A continued representation without a pause, affords- not opportunity to vary the place of action, nor to prolong the time of the action beyond that of the representation, To a representation so confined in place and time, the foregoing reasoning is strictly applicable : a real or feigned action that is brought to a conclusion after considerable intervals of time and frequent changes of place, cannot accurately be copied in a representation that admits no latitude in either. Hence it is, that the unities of place and of time, were, or ought to have been, lțrictly observed in the Greek tragedies ; which is made necessary by the very constitution of their drama, for it is absurd to compose a tragedy that caii not be justly represented,
Modern critics, who for our drama pretend to establish rules founded on the practice of the Greeks, are guilty of an egregious blunder. The unities of • place and of time were in Greece, as we see, a matter of necessity, not of choice ; and I am now ready to show, that if we submit to such fetters, it must be from choice, not necessity. This will be evident upon taking a view of the constitution of our drama, which differs widely from that of Greece; whether
more or less perfect, is a different point, to be handled afterward. By dropping the chorus, opportunity is afforded to divide the representation by intervals of time, during which the stage is evacuated and the fpectacle suspended. This qualifies our drama for subjects spread through a wide space both of time and of place : the time supposed to pass during the suspenfion of the representation, is not measured by the time of the suspension; and any place may be fupposed when the representation is renewed, with as much facility as when it commenced: by which means, many subjects can be justly represented in our theatres, that were excluded from those of ancient Greece. This doctrine may be illustrated, by comparing a modern play to a set of historical pictures ; let us suppose them five in number, and the resemblance will be complete. Each of the pictures resem. bles an ad in one of our plays : there must neceffarily be the strictest unity of place and of time in each picture; and the fame necessity requires these two unities during each act of a play, because during an act there is no interruption in the spectacle. Now, when we view in succession a number of such hiftorical pictures, let it be, for example, the history of Alexander by Le Brun,we have no difficulty to conceive, that months or years have passed between the events exhibited in two different pictures, though the interruption is imperceptible in pafling our eye from the one to the other; and we have as little difficulty to conceive a change of place, however great. In' which view, there is truly no difference between five acts of a modern play, and five such pictures. Where the representation is suspended, we can with the greatest facility fuppose any length of time or any change of place : the spectator, it is true, may be consciousthat the real time and place are not
the same with what are employed in the representation: but this is a work of reflection; and by the fame reflection he may also be conscious, that Garrick is not King Lear, that the playhouse is not Dover cliffs, nor the noise he hears thunder and lightning. In a word, after an interrup.ion of the representation, it is no more difficult for a spectator to imagine a new place, or a different time, than at the commencement of the play, to imagine himself at Rome, or in a period of time two thousand years back. And indeed, it is abundantly ridiculous, that a critic, who is willing to hold candle-light for fun-shine, and some painted canvasses for a palace or a prison, ihould be so scrupulous about admitting any latitude of place or of time in the fable, beyond what is neceffary in the representation.
There are, I acknowledge, fome effects of great latitude in time that never ought to be indulged in a composition for the theatre : nothing can be more absurd, than at the close to exhibit a full grown person who appears a child at the beginning : the mind rejects, as contrary to all probability, such latitude of time as is requisite for a change so remarkable. The greatest change from place to place hath not altogether the same bad effect. In the bulk of human affairs place is not material ; and the mind, when occupied with an interesting event, is little regardful of minuté circumstances: these may be varied at will, because they scarce make any impression.
But though I have taken arms to rescue modern poets from the despotism of modern critics, I would not be understood to justify liberty without any reserve. An unbounded licence with relation to place and time, is faulty for a reason that seems to have been overlooked, which is, that it seldom fails to break the unity of action. In the ordinary course of human affairs, single events, such as are fit to be represented on the stage, are confined to
a narrow spot, and commonly employ no great'extent of time : we accordingly feldom find strict unity of action in a dramatic compofition, where any remarkable latitude is indulged in these particulars. I say further, that a composition which employs but one place, and requires not a greater length of time than is necessary for the representation, is so much the more perfect ; because the confining an event within so narrow bounds, contributes to the unity of action : and also prevents that labour, however slight, which the mind must undergo in imagining frequent changes of place and many intervals of time. But stil] I must infilt, that such limitation of place and time as was necessary in the Grecian drama, is no rule to us ; and therefore, that though such limitation adds one beauty more to the compofition, it is at best but a refinement, which may justly give place to a thou, fand beauties more substantial. And I may add, that it is extremely difficult, I was about to say impracticable, to contract within the Grecian limits, any fa. ble fo fruitful of incidents in number and variety, as to give full scope to the fluctuation of passion,
It may now appear, that critics who put the unities of place and of time upon the same footing with the unity of action, making them all equally effential, have not attended to the nature and constitution of the modern drama. If they admit an interrupted representation, with which no writer finds fault, it is absurd to reject its greatest advantage, that of representing many interesting subjects excluded from the Grecian stage. If there needs must be a reformation, why not restore the ancient chorus and the ancient continuity of action ? There is certainly no medium : for to admit an interruption without relaxing from the strict unities of place and of time, is in effect to load us with all the inconveniences of the an,