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Good, my lord, will you see the players well bestowed? Do you hear, let them be well used; for they are the abstracts, and brief chronicles of the time. After your death you were better have a bad epitaph than their ill report while you lived.SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM, 1603, Hamlet, Act II, Sc. 2.
The words of a good writer, which describe it lively, will make a deeper impression of belief in us, than all the actor can insinuate into us, when he seems to fall dead before us; as a poet in the description of a beautiful garden, or a meadow, will please our imagination more than the place itself can please our sight. When we hear it related, our eyes (the strongest witnesses) are wanting, which might have undeceived us; and we all are willing to favour the slight when the poet does not too grossly impose on us. They, therefore, who imagine these relations would make no concernment in the audience, are deceived, by confounding them with the other, which are of things antecedent to the play: those are made often in cold blood, as I may say, to the audience; but these are warmed with our concernments, which were before awakened in the play. What the philosophers say of motion, that, when it is once begun, it continues of itself, and will do so to eternity, without some stop put to it, is clearly true on this occasion: the soul, being already moved with the characters and fortunes of those imaginary persons, continues going of its own accord; and we are no more weary to hear what becomes of them when they are not on the stage, than we are to listen to the news of an absent mistress.-DRYDEN, JOHN, 1668-93, An Essay of Dramatic Poesy, Works, ed. Scott and Saintsbury, vol. XV,
O that, as oft I have at Athens seen The stage arise, and the big clouds descend, So now in very deed I might behold The pond'rous earth, and all yon marble roof, Meet like the hands of Jove.
-LEE, NATHANIEL, 1679, Edipus.
In other things the knowing artist may Judge better than the people; but a play (Made for delight, and for no other use) If you approve it not, has no excuse. -WALLER, EDMUND, 1687(?), The Maid's Tragedy, Prologue.
To wake the soul by tender strokes of art, To praise the genius, and to mend the heart; To make mankind, in conscious virtue bold, Live over each scene, and be what they behold: For this the tragic Muse first trod the stage.
Our scene precariously subsists too long
POPE, ALEXANDER, 1713, Addison's Cato, Prologue.
I could wish there were a treaty made between the French and the English theatres, in which both parties should make considerable concessions. The English ought to give up their notorious violations of all the unities; and all their massacres, racks, dead bodies, and mangled carcasses, which they so frequently exhibit upon their stage. The French should engage to have more action and less declamation; and not to cram and crowd things together, to almost a degree of impossibility, from a too scrupulous adherence to the unities. The English should restrain the licentiousness of their poets, and the French enlarge the liberty of theirs: their poets are the greatest slaves in their country, and that is a bold word; ours are the most tumultous subjects in England, and that is saying a good deal. Under such regulations one might hope to see a play in which one should not be lulled to sleep by the length of a monotonical declamation