Page images

cient drama, and at the same time to with-hold from us its advantages.

The only proper question, therefore, is, Whether our model be or be not a real improvement ? This indeed may fairly be called in question : and in order to a comparative trial, some particulars must be premised. When a play begins, we have no difficulty to adjust our imagination to the scene of action, however distant it be in time or in place ; because we know that the play is a representation only. The case is very different after we are engaged : it is the perfection of representation to hide itself, to impofe on the spectator, and to produce in him an im. pression of reality, as if he were a spectator of a real event ;* but any interruption annihilates that im. pression, by rousing him out of his waking dream, and unhappily restoring him to his senses. So diffi cult it is to support the impression of reality, that much slighter interruptions than the interval between two acts, are sufficient to diffolve the charm : in the 5th act of the Mourning Bride, the three first scenes are in a room of state, the fourth in a prison ; and the change is operated by shifting the scene, which is done in a trice: but however quick the transition may be, it is impracticable to impose upon the spectators, so as to make them conceive that they are actually carried from the palace to the prison; they immediately reflect, that the palace and prifon are imaginary, and that the whole is a fiction.

From these premises, one will naturally be led, at first view, to pronounce the frequent interruptions in the modern drama to be an imperfection.' It will occur, “ That every interruption must have the effeet to banish the dream of reality, and with it to banish our concern, which cannot subsist while we are conscious that all is a fiction; and therefore, that in the modern drama sufficient time is not afforded for fluctuation and swelling of passion, like what is afforded in that of Greece, where there is no interruption.” This reasoning, it must be owned, has a specious appearance : but we must not become faint-hearted upon the first repulse ; let us rally our troops for a second engagement.


* Chap. 2. part 1. fe&t. 7.

Confidering attentively the ancient drama, we find, that though the representation is never interrupted, the principal action is suspended not less frequently than in the modern drama : there are five acts in each ; and the only difference is, that in the former, when the action is suspended as it is at the end of every act, opportunity is taken of the interval to employ the chorus in singing. Hence it appears, that the Grecian continuity of representation cannot have the effect to prolong the impression of reality : to banish that impression, a pause in the action while the chorus is employ'd in singing, is no less effectua! than a total suspension of the representation.

But to open a larger view, I am ready to show, that a representation with proper pauses, is better qualified for making a deep impression, than a continued representation without a pause. This will be evident from the following considerations. Repre. fentation cannot very long support an impression of reality ; for when the spirits are exhausted by close attention and by the agitation of passion, an uneafi. ness ensues, which never fails to banish the waking dream. Now supposing the time that a man can employ with frict attention without wandering, to be no greater than is requisite for a single act, a suppoSition that cannot be far from truth ; it follows, that a continued representation of longer endurance than


an act, instead of giving scope to fluctuation and swelling of passion, would overstrain the attention, and produce a total absence of mind. In that respect, the four pauses have a fine effect ; for by affording to the audience a seasonable respite when the imprelfion of reality is gone, and while nothing material is in agitation, they relieve the mind from its fatigue ; and consequently prevent a wandering of thought at the very time possibly of the most interesting scenes.

In one article, indeed, the Grecian model has greatly the advantage : its chorus during an interval not only preserves alive the impressions made upon the audience, but also prepares their hearts finely for new impressions. In our theatres, on the contrary, the audience, at the end of every act, being left to trifle time away, lose every warm impresfion; and they begin the next act cool and unconcerned, as at the commencement of the representa. tion. This is a grols malady in our theatrical representations ; but a malady that luckily is not incurable. To revive the Grecian chorus, would be to revive the Grecian flavery of place and time ; but I can figure a detached chorus coinciding with a pause in the representation, as the ancient chorus did with a pause in the principal action. What objection, for example, can there lie against music between the acts, vocal and instrumental, adapted to the subject ? Such. detached chorus, without putting us under any lim- ... itation of time or place, would recruit the fpirits, and would preserve entire the tone, if not the tide of passion : the music, after an act should commence in the tone of the preceding passion, and be gradually varied till it accord with the tone of the passion that is to succeed in the next act. The music and the representation would both of them be gainers by their conjunction ; which will thus appear. Music


that accords with the present tone of mind, is, on that account, doubly agreeable ; and accordingly, though music singly hath not power to raise a passion, it tends greatly to support a passion already raised. Further, music prepares us for the passion that follows, by making cheerful, tender, melancholy, or animated impressions, as the subject requires. Take for an example the first scene of the Mourning Bride, where soft music, in a melancholy strain, prepares us for Almeria's deep distress. In this manner, music and representation fupport each other delightfully : the impression made upon the audience by the representation, is a fine preparation for the music that succeeds; and the impression made by the music, is a fine preparation for the representation that succeeds. It appears to me evident, that, by some such contrivance, the modern drama may be improved, so as to enjoy the advantage of the ancient chorus without its flavilh limitation of place and time. And as to music in particular, I cannot figure any means that would tend more to its improvement: composers, those for the stage at least, would be reduced to the happy necesfity of studying and imitating nature ; instead of deviating, according to the present mode, into wild, fantastic, and unnatural conceits. But we must re. turn to our subject, and finish the comparison between the ancient and the modern drama.

The numberless improprieties forced upon the Greek dramatic poets by the constitution of their drama, may be fufficient, one should think, to make us prefer the modern drama, even abstracting from the improvement proposed. To prepare the reader for this article, it must be premised, that as in the ancient drama the place of action never varies, a place necessarily must be chosen, to which every per. son may have access without any improbability. This confines the scene to some open place, generally the


court or area before a palace ; which excludes from the Grecian theatre transactions within doors, though these commonly are the most important. Such cruel restraint is of itself sufficient to cramp the most pregnant invention ; and accordingly Greek writers, in order to preserve unity of place, are reduced to woful improprieties. In the Hippolytus of Euripides, * Phedra distressed in mind and body, is carried without any pretext from her palace to the place of action : is there laid upon a couch, unable to support herself upon her limbs, and made to utter many things improper to be heard by a number of women who form the chorus : and what is still more improper, her female attendant uses the strongest intreaties to make her reveal the secret cause of her anguish ; which at last Phedra, contrary to decency and probability, is prevailed upon to do in presence of that very chorus.t Alcestes, in Euripides, at the point of death, is brought from the palace to the place of action, groaning, and lamenting her untimely fate. In the Trachiniens of Sophocles, a secret is imparted to Dejanira, the wife of Hercules, in prefence of the chorus. In the tragedy of Iphigenia, the messenger employ'd to inform Clitemnestra that Iphigenia was facrificed, stops short at the place of action, and with a loud voice calls the Queen from her palace to hear the news. Again, in the Iphigenia in Tauris, the necessary presence of the chorus forces Euripides into a grofs absurdity, which is to form a secret in their hearing ; || and to disguise the absurdity, much court is paid to the chorus, not one woman but a number, to engage them to secrecy. In the Medea of Euripides, that princess makes no difficulty, in presence of the chorus, to plot the death of her

husband, + Alt 2, sc. 2.

A& 2. sc. 1.

Act 1. sc. 6.

AC 2.

1 Ad 4. at the close.

« PreviousContinue »