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Thefe expreffions open to us the internal state of the perfons interested, and never fail to command our fympathy. Shakespear seems to have had the art of the Dervise, in the Arabian tales, who could throw his foul into the body of another man, and be at once poffeffed of his fentiments, adopt his paffions, and rise to all the functions and feelings of his fituation.

Shakespear was born in a rank of life, in which men indulge themselves in a free expreffion of their paffions, with little regard to exterior appearance. This perhaps made him more acquainted with the movements of the heart, and lefs knowing or obfervant of outward forms: against the one he often offends, he very rarely mifrepresents the other. The French tragedians, on the contrary, attend not to the nature of the man whom they represent, but to the decorums of his rank fo that their best tragedies are made ridiculous, by changing the condition of the perfons of the drama; which could C 3


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not be so easily effected, if they spoke the language of paffion, which in all ranks of men is much alike. This kind of exterior representation falls intirely fhort of the intention of the drama: and indeed many plays are little more than poems rehearsed ; and the theatrical décorations are used rather


to improve the fpectacle, than to affift the drama of which the poet remains the apparent hero. We are told by a French critic, that the great pleasure of their audience arifes from a reflection on the difficulty of rhyming in that language. If that be the cafe, it is plain neither the French tragedians endeavour at, or their audience expect from them, the true perfections of drama. For, by the fame rule, if Hercules was reprefented under the difficulties of performing any of the tasks enjoined by Euryftheus, the attention of the audience would not be engaged fo much to the means by which he atchieved his heroic labours, as to the fweat and toil of the poet in his clofet, in afforting male and female rhymes. We have already remarked, that the more we revert from the ftage

stage to the poet, the less we shall be affected by what is acted; and therefore if the difficulty of rhyme, and its apparent difference from the common language of dialogue, be fuch, as continually to fet the art and the artist before our eyes, the specific merit of a piece intended to conceal the poet, and reprefent certain persons and events, does not, in any degree, exift in fuch compofitions. Sophocles certainly unfolds the fatal mystery of the birth of Edipus with great art: but our interest in the play arifes not from reflection on the conduct of the poet, but is the effect of his making us alternately hope and fear for this guiltlefs, unhappy man. We wait with trembling expectation for the anfwer of the oracle, and for the testimony of Phorbus, because we imagine that the deftiny of Edipus, and the fate of Thebes, depend on them if we confidered it merely as the contrivance of the poet, we should be as unconcerned at the unravelling of the plot, as about the explication of a riddle.

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The affectation of elaborate art is certainly among the falfe refinements of the modern ftage. The first masters in theatrical representations made ufe of a diction, which united the harmony of verse to the easy and natural air of profe, and was fuited to the movement, and bustle of action, being confidered only as fubfervient to the fable, and not as the principal object of the poet or the audience.

The first endeavour of the poet should be to touch the heart, the next to mend it. What would the ancients fay, who would not suffer even the inarticulate founds of mufic to utter tones that might enervate the mind, if they could hear the stage, from whence iffued precepts that awakened the magiftrate, animated the chief, and improved the citizen, now giving leffons of love; and the dramatic art, no longer attempting to purge the paffions by pity and terror, but by false delicacy divested of its power, and diverted from its end, melting


away in the ftrains of elegy and eclogue? May we not venture to affirm fuch refinements to be rather abuse and degeneracy, than advances towards perfection? These poets have plainly neglected the moral ends which were the object of the drama ; and the manner of conducting their tragedy feems no less a deviation from that which the great poets practised, and the best critics taught. If they have avoided monftrous errors and abfurdities, it is but the common privilege of mediocrity to do fo but let not mediocrity affume the airs and prefumption of excellence and perfection, nor pretend to obtrude on others, as rules, any fantastical forms which affectation or fashion may have imposed on them.


It cannot be denied, but there fhould be fome complaifance to the change of manners and opinions. Our delicacy would be jufly offended, if the loud groans and nauseous wounds of Philoctetes were imitated on the stage; but would good fense be less of


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