AN ESSAY OF Dramatick Poesy.
] IT was that memorable Day, in the first Summer of the late War, when our Navy ingag'd the Dutch:
A Day wherein the two most mighty and best appointed Fleets which any Age had ever seen, disputed the Command of the greater half of the Globe, the Commerce of Nations, and the Riches of the Universe. While these vast sloating Bodies, on either side, mov'd against each other in parallel Lines, and our Country-men, under the happy Conduct of his Roy al Highness, went breaking, by little and little, into the Line of the Enemies; the Noise of the Cannon from both Navies reach'd our Ears about the City: So that all Men, being alarm'd with it, and in a dreadful Suspense of the Event, which they knew was then deciding, every one went following the Sound as his Fancy led him; and leaving the Town almost empty, some took towards the
Park, somc cross the River, others down it; all seeking the Noise in the Depth of Silence.
] Amongst the rest, it was the Fortune of Eugenius, Crites, Lisideius
to be in Company toge ther: Three of them Persons whom their Wit and Quality have made known to all the Town: And whom I have chose to hide under these borrowed Names, that they may not suffer by so ill a Relation as I am going to make of their Discourse.
] Taking then a Barge which a Servant of Lisideius
had provided for them, they made haste to shoot the Bridge, and lest behind them that great fall of Waters which hindred them from hearing what they desir'd: After which, having disingag'd themselves from many Vessels which rode at Anchor in the Thames,
and almost block'd up the Passage towards Greenwich,
they ordered the Wa termen to let fall their Oars more gently; and then every one favouring his own Curiosity with a strict Si lence, it was not long ere they perceived the Air to break about them like the Noise of distant Thunder, or of Swallows in a Chimney: Those little Undulations of Sound, though almost vanishing before they reach'd them, yet still seeming to retain somewhat of their first Hor ror which they had betwixt the Fleets: After they had attentively listened till such time as the Sound by little and little went from them; Eugenius
lifting up his Head, and taking Notice of it, was the first who con gratulated to the rest that happy Omen of our Nation's Victory: Adding, that we had but this to desire in Confirmation of it, that we might hear no more of
that Noise which was now leaving the English
Coast. When the rest had concurr'd in the same Opinion, Cri tes,
a Person of a sharp Judgment, and somewhat too
delicate a Taste in Wit, which the World hath mista ken in him for ill Nature, said, smiling to us, That if the Concernment of this Battel had not been so exceeding great, he could scarce have wish'd the Victory at the Price he knew he must pay for it, in being subject to the reading and hearing of so many ill Verses, as he was sure would be made on that Subject. Adding, That
no Argument could scape some of those eternal Rhy mers, who watch a Battel with more diligence than the Ravens and Birds of Prey; and the worst of them surest to be first in upon the Quarry, while the better able, ei ther out of Modesty writ not at all, or set that due Va lue upon their Poems, as to let them be often desired, and long expected. There are some of those impertinent Peo ple of whom you speak, answer'd Lisideius,
who, to my Knowledge, are already so provided, either way, that they can produce not only a Panegyrick upon the Vi ctory, but, if need be, a Funeral Elegy on the Duke: Wherein, after they have crown'd his Valour with many Laurels, they will at last deplore the odds under which he fell, concluding that his Courage deserv'd a better Destiny. All the Company smil'd at the Conceit of Li sideius
; but Crites,
more eager than before, began to make particular Exceptions against some Writers, and said, the publick Magistrate ought to send betimes to forbid them; and that it concern'd the Peace and Quiet of all honest People, that ill Poets should be as well si lenc'd as seditious Preachers. In my Opinion, replied Eugenius,
you pursue your Point too far; for as to my own particular, I am so great a Lover of Poesy, that I could wish them all rewarded, who attempt but to do well; at least, I would not have them worse us'd than one of their Brethren was by Sylla
the Dictator: Quem in concione vidimus
) cum ei libcllum malus poe ta de populo subjecisset, quod epigramma in eum fecisset tan tummodo alternis versibus longiusculis, statim ex iis rebus quas tunc vendebat jubere ei præmium tribui, sub ea con ditione ne quid postea scriberet.
I could wish with all my Heart, replied Crites,
that many whom we know, were as bountifully thank'd upon the same Condition, that they would never trouble us again. For amongst others, I have a mortal Apprehension of two Poets, whom this Victory, with the help of both her Wings, will never be able to escape. 'Tis easy to guess whom you intend, said Lisideius
; and without naming them, I ask you if one-of them does not perpetually pay us with Clenches upon Words, and a certain clownish kind of Raillery? If now
and then he does not offer at a Catachresis
wresting and torturing a Word into another Meaning: In fine, if he be not one of those whom the French
would call un mauvais buffon
; one who is so much a well willer to the Satyr, that he intends, at least, to spare no Man; and though he cannot strike a Blow to hurt any, yet he ought to be punish'd for the Malice of the Action; as our Witches are justly hang'd, because they think themselves to be such: and suffer deservedly for believing they did Mischief, because they meant it. You have describ'd him, said Crites,
so exactly, that I am afraid to come after you with my other Extremity of Poetry: He is one of those, who having had some ad vantage of Education and Converse, knows better than the other what a Poet should be, but puts it into practice more unluckily than any Man; his Style and Matter are every where alike; he is the most calm, peaceable Writer you ever read: He never disquiets your Passions with the least Concernment, but still leaves you in as even a Tem per as he found you; he is a very Leveller in Poetry, he creeps along with ten little Words in every Line, and helps out his Numbers with For to,
and all the pretty Expletives he can sind, till he drags them to the end of another Line; while the Sense is left tir'd half way behind it: He doubly starves all his Verses, sirst, for want of Thought, and then of Expression; his Poetry neither has Wit in it, nor seems to have it; like him in Martial: Pauper videri Cinna vult, & est pauper:
] He affects Plainness, to cover his want of Imagina tion: When he writes the serious Way, the highest Flight of his Fancy is some miserable Antithesis,
or seeming Contradiction; and in the Comick, he is still reaching at some thin Conceit, the Ghost of a Jest, and that too flies before him, never to be caught; these Swallows which we see before us on the Thames,
are the just Re semblance of his Wit: You may observe how near the Water they stoop, how many proffers they make to dip, and yet how seldom they touch it: And when they do, 'tis but the Surface: They skim over it but to catch a
Gnat, and then mount into the Air and leave it. Well, Gentlemen, said Eugenius,
you may speak your Pleasure of these Authors; but though I and some few more a bout the Town may give you a peaceable Hearing, yet assure your selves, there are Multitudes who would think you malicious, and them injur'd: Especially him whom you first described: he is the very Withers
of the City: They have bought more Editions of his Works than would serve to lay under all their Pies at the Lord Mayor's Christmas.
When his famous Poem first came out in the Year 1660, I have seen them reading it in the midst of Change-time; nay, so vehement they were at it, that they lost their Bargain by the Candles ends: But what will you say if he has been received amongst great Persons? I can assure you, this Day, he is the Envy of one, who is Lord in the Art of Quibbling; and who does not take it well, that any Man should intrude so far into his Province. All I would wish, replied Crites,
is, That they who love his Writings, may still admire him, and his Fellow Poet, qui Bavium non odit, & c.
is Curse suf ficient. And farther, added Lisideius,
I believe there is no Man who writes well, but would think he had hard Measure, if their Admirers should Praise any thing of his: Nam quos contemnimus, eorum quoque laudes con temnimus.
There are so few who write well in this Age, said Crites,
that methinks any Praises should be welcome; they neither rise to the Dignity of the last Age,
nor to any of the Ancients; and we may cry out of the Writers of this time, with more reason than Petronius
of his, Pace vestrâ liceat dixisse, primi omnium eloquen tiam perdidistis:
You have debauched the true old Poe try so far, that Nature, which is the Soul of it, is not in any of your Writings.
] If your Quarrel (said Eugenius
) to those who now
write, be grounded only on your Reverence to Antiquity,
there is no Man more ready to adore those great Greeks
than I am: But on the other side, I cannot think so contemptibly of the Age in which I live, or so dishonourably of my own Country, as not to judge we
equal the Ancients in most kinds of Poesy, and in some
surpass them; neither know I any reason why I may not
be as zealous for the Reputation of our Age, as we find the Ancients themselves were in Reverence to those who
lived before them. For you hear your Horace
Indignor quidquam reprehendi, non quia crassè Compositum, illepidéve putetur, sed quia nuper.
Si meliora dies, ut vina, poemata reddit, Scire velim pretium chartis quotus arroget annus?
] But I see I am ingaging in a wide Dispute, where the Arguments are not like to reach close on either side; for
Poesy is of so large an Extent, and so many both of the Ancients and Moderns have done well in all Kinds of it, that in citing one against the other, we shall take up more time this Evening, than each Man's Occasions will allow him: Therefore I would ask Crites
to what Part of Poesy he would confine his Arguments, and whether he would defend the general Cause of the Ancients against the Moderns, or oppose any Age of the Moderns against this of ours.
a little while considering upon this Demand, told Eugenius
that if he pleased he would limit their Dispute
to Dramatick Poesy
; in which he thought it not difficult to prove, either that the Ancients were superior to the Moderns, or the last Age to this of ours.
was somewhat surpriz'd, when he heard Cri tes
make Choice of that Subject; For ought I see, said he, I have undertaken a harder Province than I imagin'd; for though I never judg'd the Plays of the Greek
or Ro man
Poets comparable to ours; yet on the other side, those we now see acted, come short of many which were written in the last Age: But my Comfort is, if we are o'ercome, it will be only by our own Country-men: And if we yield to them in this one part of Poesy, we more surpass them in all the other; for in the Epique or Lyrick way it will be hard for them to shew us one such amongst them, as we have many now living, or who lately were. They can produce nothing so courtly writ, or which expresses so much the Conversation of a Gentle man, as Sir John Suckling
; nothing so even, sweet, and
flowing as Mr. Waller:
Nothing so Majestick, so cor rect, as Sir John Denham
; nothing so elevated, so co pious, and full of Spirit, as Mr. Cowley:
As for the Italian, French,
Plays, I can make it evi dent, that those who now write, surpass them; and that the Drama
is wholly ours.
] All of them were thus far of Eugenius
his Opinion, that the Sweetness of English
Verse was never understood or practis'd by our Fathers; even Crites
himself did not much oppose it: And every one was willing to ac knowledge how much our Poesy is improv'd, by the happiness of some Writers yet living; who first taught us to mould our Thoughts into easy and significant Words; to retrench the Superfluities of Expression, and to make our Rhyme so properly a Part of the Verse, that it should never mislead the Sense, but it self be led and govern'd by it.
was going to continue this Discourse, when Lisideius
told him that it was necessary, before they pro ceeded further, to take a standing Measure of their Con troversy; for how was it possible to be decided who writ the best Plays, before we know what a Play should be? but, this once agreed on by both Parties, each might have Recourse to it, either to prove his own Ad vantages, or to discover the Failings of his Adversary.
] He had no sooner said this, but all desir'd the Favour
of him to give the Definition of a Play; and they were the more importunate, because neither Aristotle,
nor any other, who had writ of that Subject, had ever done it.
after some modest Denials, at last confess'd he had a rude Notion of it; indeed rather a Description than a Definition: but which serv'd to guide him in his pri vate Thoughts, when he was to make a Judgment of what others writ: That he conceiv'd a Play ought to be,
Ajust and lively Image of human Nature, representing its
Passions and Humours, and the Changes of Fortune to which it is subject
; for the Delight and Instruction of Mankind.
] This Definition (though Crites
rais'd a Logical Obje ction against it; that it was only à genere & fine,
not altogether perfect;) was yet well received by the rest: And after they had given order to the Water-men to turn their Barge, and row softly, that they might take the cool of the Evening in their return, Crites,
being desired by the Company to begin, spoke on be half of the Ancients, in this manner.
] If Confidence presage a Victory, Eugenius,
in his own
Opinion, has already triumphed over the Ancients; no thing seems more easy to him, than to overcome those
whom it is our greatest Praise to have imitated well: for we do not only build upon their Foundations; but by
their Models. Dramatique Poesie
had time enough, reck oning from Thespis
(who first invented it) to Aristophanes,
to be born, to grow up, and to flourish in Maturity. It
has been observed of Arts and Sciences, that in one and
the same Century they have arriv'd to great Perfection; and no wonder, since every Age has a kind of Univer sal Genius, which inclines those that live in it to some particular Studies: The Work then being push'd on by many Hands, must of necessity go forward.
] Is it not evident, in these last hundred Years (when
the Study of Philosophy has been the Business of all the
) that almost a New Nature has been reveal'd to us? that more Errors of the School have
been detected, more useful Experiments in Philosophy have been made, more noble Secrets in Opticks, Me dicine, Anatomy, Astronomy, discover'd, than in all
those credulous and doting Ages from Aristotle
to us? So true it is that nothing spreads more fast than Sci ence, when rightly and generally cultivated.
] Add to this, the more than common Emulation that was in those times of writing well; which though it be found in all Ages, and all Persons that pretend to the
same Reputation; yet Poesy being then in more Esteem than now it is, had greater Honours decreed to the Pro fessors of it; and consequently the Rivalship was more high between them; they had Judges ordain'd to decide
their Merit, and Prizes to reward it; and Historians have
been diligent to record of Æschylus, Euripides, Sopho cles, Lycophron,
and the rest of them, both who they
were that vanquissi'd in these Wars of the Theatre, and how often they were crown'd: While the Asian
Common-wealths scarce afforded them a nobler Subject, than the unmanly Luxuries of a debauch'd
Court, or giddy Intrigues of a Factious City. Alit
) & nunc invidia, nunc admiratio incitationem accendit:
Emulation is the Spur of Wit, and sometimes Envy, sometimes Admiration quickens our Endeavours.
] But now since the Rewards of Honour are taken a way, that virtuous Emulation is turn'd into direct Ma lice; yet so slothful, that it contents it self to condemn and cry down others, without attempting to do better; 'Tis a Reputation too unprofitable, to take the necessary
Pains for it; yet wishing they had it, that Desire is in citement enough to hinder others from it. And this, in short, Eugenius,
is the reason, why you have now so
few good Poets; and so many severe Judges: Certainly,
to imitate the Ancients well, much Labour and strong Study is required: Which Pains, I have already shewn,
our Poets would want incouragement to take, if yet they had Ability to go through the Work. Those Ancients have been faithful Imitators, and wise Observers of that
Nature which is so torn and ill represented in our Plays; they have handed down to us a perfect Resemblance of her; which we, like ill Copyers, neglecting to look on, have rendred monstrous, and disfigur'd. But, that you may know how much you are indebted to those your Masters, and be ashamed to have so ill requited them: I
must remember you, that all the Rules by which we practise the Drama
at this Day, (either such as relate to the Justness and Symmetry of the Plot; or the Episodi cal Ornaments, such as Descriptions, Narrations, and other Beauties, which are not essential to the Play;) were
delivered to us from the Observations which Aristotle
made, of those Poets, who either lived before him, or were his Contemporaries: We have added nothing of
our own, except we have the Confidence to say our Wit is better; Of which none boast in this our Age, but such
as understand not theirs. Of that Book which Aristotle
has left us, περὶ τῆς Ποιητικῆς, Horace
his Art of Poetry, is an excellent Comment, and, I believe, restores to us
that second Book of his concerning Comedy, which is wanting in him.
] Out of these two have been extracted the famous
Rules which the French
call, Des Trois Unitez,
or, The Three Unities, which ought to be observ'd in every
regular Play; namely, of Time, Place, and Action.
] The Unity of Time they comprehend in twenty four Hours, the compass of a Natural Day; or as near it as can be contriv'd: And the Reason of it is obvious to e very one, that the Time of the feigned Action, or Fable of the Play, should be proportion'd as near as can be to the Duration of that Time in which it is represented; since therefore all Plays are acted on the Theatre in a space of Time much within the compass of twenty four Hours, that Play is to be thought the nearest Imitation of Nature, whose Plot or Action is confin'd within that Time; and, by the same Rule which concludes this gene ral Proportion of Time, it follows, that all the Parts of it are (as near as may be) to be equally sub-divided; name ly, that one Act take not up the suppos'd Time of half a day; which is out of Proportion to the rest; since the other four are then to be straitned within the Compass of the remaining half; for it is unnatural, that one Act, which being spoke or written, is not longer than the rest, should be suppos'd longer by the Audience; 'tis there fore the Poet's Duty, to take care that no Act should be imagin'd to exceed the Time in which it is represented on the Stage; and that the Intervals and Inequalities of Time be suppos'd to fall out between the Acts.
] This Rule of Time how well it has been observ'd by the Ancients, most of their Plays will witness; you see
them in their Tragedies (wherein to follow this Rule, is certainly most difficult) from the very Beginning of their Plays, falling close into that part of the Story which they intend for the Action or principal Object of it: Leaving the former Part to be delivered by Narration: So that they set the Audience, as it were, at the Post where the Race is to be concluded: And saving them the
tedious Expectation of seeing the Poet set out and ride the Beginning of the Course, they suffer you not to be hold him, till he is in sight of the Goal, and just upon you.
] For the Second Unity, which is that of Place, the An cients meant by it, That the Scene ought to be conti nued through the Play, in the same Place where it was laid in the Beginning: For the Stage, on which it is repre sented, being but one and the same Place, it is unnatu ral to conceive it many; and those far distant from one
another. I will not deny, but by the Variation of paint ed Scenes, the Fancy (which in these Cases will contri bute to its own Deceit) may sometimes imagine it seve ral Places, with some Appearance of Probability; yet it
still carries the greater likelihood of Truth, if those Places be suppos'd so near each other, as in the same Town or City, which may all be comprehended under the larger Denomination of one Place: For a greater Distance will bear no proportion to the shortness of time, which is allotted in the Acting, to pass from one of them to ano ther. For the Observation of this, next to the Ancients,
are to be most commended. They tye them selves so strictly to the Unity of Place, that you never see in any of their Plays, a Scene chang'd in the middle of an Act: If the Act begins in a Garden, a Street, or Chamber, 'tis ended in the same Place; and that you may know it to be the same, the Stage is so supplied with Persons, that it is never empty all the time: He who en ters second has Business with him who was on before; and before the second quits the Stage, a third appears who has Business with him.
] This Corneille
calls La Liaison des Scenes,
the Continui ty or joining of the Scenes; and 'tis a good Mark of a well contriv'd Play, when all the Persons are known to each other, and every one of them has some Affairs with all the rest.
] As for the Third Unity, which is that of Action, the
Ancients meant no other by it than what the Logicians do by their Finis,
the End or Scope of any Action: That which is the first in Intention, and last in Execu
tion: Now the Poet is to aim at one great and com pleat Action, to the carrying on of which all things in his Play, even the very Obstacles, are to be subservient;
and the Reason of this is as evident as any of the for mer.
] For two Actions equally labour'd and driven on by the Writer, would destroy the Unity of the Poem; it would be no longer one Play, but two: Not but that there may be many Actions in a Play, as Ben. Johnson
has observ'd in his Discoveries,
but they must be all sub servient to the great one, which our Language happily
expresses in the Name of Under-plots: Such as in Te rence
is the difference and reconcilement of Thais
which is not the chief Business of the Play, but promotes the Marriage of Chærea
s's Sister, principally intended by the Poet. There ought to be
but one Action, says Corneille,
that is, one compleat
Action which leaves the Mind of the Audience in a full Repose: but this cannot be brought to pass, but by many other imperfect Actions which conduce to it, and hold the Audience in a delightful Suspense of what will be.
] If by these Rules (to omit any other drawn from the Precepts and Practice of the Ancients) we should
judge our modern Plays; 'tis probable, that few of them would endure the Tryal: That which should be the Business of a Day, takes up in some of them an Age; instead of one Action they are the Epitomes of a Man's Life; and for one Spot of Ground (which the Stage should represent) we are sometimes in more Countries than the Map can show us.
] But if we will allow the Ancients to have contriv'd well, we must acknowledge them to have written bet ter. Questionless we are deprived of a great Stock of
Wit in the loss of Menander
amongst the Greek
and of Cæcilius, Afranius,
among the Romans.
We may guess at Menander's
Excellency, by the Plays of
who translated some of them; And yet wanted
so much of him, that he was called by C. Cæsar
; and may judge of Varius,
by the Testi monies of Horace, Martial,
and Velleius Paterculus:
probablc that these, could they be recover'd, would de cide the Controversy; but so long as Aristophanes
are extant; while the Tragedies of Euripides, So phocles,
are in our Hands, I can never see one of those Plays which are now written, but it encreases
my Admiration of the Ancients; and yet I must ac knowledge further, that to admire them as we ought, we should understand them better than we do. Doubt less many things appear flat to us, the Wit of which de pended on some Custom or Story which never came to our Knowledge; or perhaps on some Criticism in their
Language, which being so long dead, and only re maining in their Books, 'tis not possible they shou'd
make us understand perfectly. To read Macrobius,
ex plaining the Propriety and Elegancy of many Words in
which I had before pass'd over without considera tion, as common things, is enough to assure me that I
ought to think the same of Terence
; and that in the Purity
of his Style (which Tully
so much valued, that he ever carried his Works about him) there is yet left in him great room for Admiration, if I knew but where to place it. In the mean time, I must desire you to take
notice, that the greatest Man of the last Age (Ben. John son
) was willing to give place to them in all things:
He was not only a profess'd Imitator of Horace,
but a learned Plagiary of all the others; you track him every
where in their Snow. If Horace, Lucan, Petronius
had their own from him, there are few serious Thoughts which are new in him; you will pardon me therefore, if I presume he lov'd their Fashion when he wore their Cloaths. But since I have otherwise a great veneration for him, and you, Eugenius;
prefer him above all other Poets, I will use no further Arguments to you than his Ex ample: I will produce before you Father Ben.
dress'd in all the Ornaments and Colours of the Ancients, you will need no other Guide to our Party, if you follow him; and whether you consider the bad Plays of our Age, or regard the good Plays of the last, both the
best and worst of the modern Poets, will equally in struct you to admire the Ancients.
had no sooner left speaking, but Eugenius,
who had waited with some Impatience for it, thus began:
] I have observed in your Speech, that the former Part of it is convincing, as to what the Moderns have profited by the Rules of the Ancients; but in the latter you are careful to conceal how much they have excell'd them: We own all the Helps we have from them, and want neither Veneration nor Gratitude, while we acknow ledge, that to overcome them we must make use of the Advantages we have received from them; but to these Assistances we have join'd our own Industry; for (had we sat down with a dull Imitation of them) we might
then have lost somewhat of the old Perfection, but ne ver acquir'd any that was new. We draw not there fore after their Lines, but those of Nature; and having
the Life before us, besides the Experience of all they knew, it is no wonder if we hit some Airs and Features which they have miss'd. I deny not what you urge of
Arts and Sciences, that they have flourished in some Ages
more than others; but your Instance in Philosophy makes for me: For if Natural Causes be more known
now than in the time of Aristotle,
because more studied,
it follows, that Poesy and other Arts may, with the same Pains, arrive still nearer to Perfection; and, that granted, it will rest for you to prove, that they wrought more perfect Images of human Life, than we; which, seeing in your Discourse you have avoided to make good, it shall now be my task to shew you some Part of their Defects, and some few Excellencies of the Mo derns; and I think there is none among us can imagine I do it enviously, or with purpose to detract from them; for what Interest of Fame or Profit can the living lose by
the Reputation of the dead; on the other side, it is a
great Truth which Velleius Paterculus
affirms, Audita visis libentius laudamus
; & præsentia invidiâ, præterita admiratione prosequimur
; & his nos obrui, illis instrui
That Praise or Censure is certainly the most fincere, which unbrib'd Posterity shall give us.
] Be pleased then, in the first Place, to take notice, that
Poesy, which Crites
has affirm'd to have arriv'd to Perfection in the Reign of the old Comedy, was so far from it, that the Distinction of it into Acts was uot known to them; or if it were, it is yet so darkly deli ver'd to us, that we cannot make it out.
] All we know of it is from the singing of their Cho rus, and that too is so uncertain, that in some of their Plays we have reason to conjecture they sung more than
five times. Aristotle
indeed divides the integral Parts of a Play into four: First, the Protasis,
or Entrance, which
gives light only to the Characters of the Persons, and proceeds very little into any part of the Action: Second ly, the Epitasis,
or working up of the Plot, where the
Play grows warmer: The Design or Action of it is drawing on, and you see something promising that it will come to pass: Thirdly, the Catasiasis,
call'd by the Romans, Status,
the Height, and full Growth of the Play: We may call it properly the Counter-turn, which destroys that Expectation, imbroils the Action in new Difficulties, and leaves you far distant from that hope in which it found you; as you may have observed in a vio lent Stream, resisted by a narrow Passage; it runs round to an Eddy, and carries back the Waters with more swiftness than it brought them on. Lastly, the Catastro phe,
which the Grecians
call'd λύσις, the French, le de nouement,
and we, the discovery or unravelling of the Plot: There you see all things settling again upon their first Foundations, and the Obstacles which hindred the Design or Action of the Play once remov'd, it ends with
that Resemblance of Truth and Nature, that the Audi ence are satisfied with the Conduct of it. Thus this great Man deliver'd to us the Image of a Play, and I must confess it is so lively, that from thence much light has been deriv'd to the forming it more perfectly into Acts and Scenes; but what Poet first limited to five the Number of the Acts I know not; only we see it so
firmly establish'd in the time of Horace,
that he gives it
for a Rule in Comedy; Neu brevior quinto, neu sit pro ductior actu:
So that you see the Grecians
cannot be said
to have consummated this Art: writing rather by En trances, than by Acts; and having rather a general in digested Notion of a Play, than knowing how, and where
to bestow the particular Graces of it.
] But since the Spaniards
at this Day allow but three
Acts, which they call Jornadas,
to a Play; and the Ita lians,
in many of theirs follow them; when I condemn
the Ancients, I declare it is not altogether because they have not five Acts to every Play, but because they have not confin'd themselves to one certain Number; 'tis building an House without a Model: And when they succeeded in snch Undertakings, they ought to have sa crific'd to Fortune, not to the Muses.
] Next, for the Plot, which Aristotle
call'd ὁ μῦθος, and often τῶν πραγμάτων σύνθεσις, and from him
the Romans Fabula,
it has already been judiciously ob serv'd by a late Writer, that in their Tragedies it was only some Tale deriv'd from Thebes
or at least some thing that happen'd in those two Ages; which
was worn so thread-bare by the Pens of all the Epique Poets, and even by Tradition it self of the Talkative Greeklings
(as Ben. Johnson
calls them) that before it came upon the Stage, it was already known to all the Audi ence: And the People, so soon as ever they heard the Name of Oedipus,
knew as well as the Poet, that he had kill'd his Father by a Mistake, and committed Incest with his Mother, before the Play; that they were now
to hear of a great Plague, an Oracle, and the Ghost of Laius:
So that they sate with a yawning kind of Ex pectation, till he was to come with his Eyes pull'd out, and spake a hundred or more Verses in a Tragick Tone, in complaint of his Misfortunes. But one Oedipus, Her cules,
had been tolerable; poor People, they scap'd not so good cheap: they had still the Chapon Bou illé
set before them, till their Appetites were cloy'd with the same Dish, and the Novelty being gone, the Plea sure vanish'd: So that one main End of Dramatick Poesy
in its Definition, which was to cause Delight, was of consequence destroy'd.
] In their Comedies, The Romans
their Plots from the Greek
Poets; and theirs was com monly a little Girl stollen or wandred from her Parents, brought back unknown to the City, there got with Child by some lewd young Fellow; who, by the help of his Servant, cheats his Father: and when her time comes, to cry Juno Lucina fer opem
; one or other sees a little Box or Cabinet which was carried away with
her, and so discovers her to her Friends, if some God
do not prevent it, by coming down in a Machine, and taking the thanks of it to himself.
] By the Plot you may guess much of the Characters of the Persons. An old Father, who would willingly before he dies see his Son well married; his debauch'd Son,
kind in his Nature to his Mistress, but miserably in want of Money; a Servant or Slave, who has so much Wit to strike in with him, and help to dupe his Father, a Braggadochio Captain, a Parasite, and a Lady of Pleasure.
] As for the poor honest Maid, on whom the Story is built, and who ought to be one of the principal Actors in the Play, she is commonly a Mute in it: She has the breeding of the Old Elizabeth
way, which was for Maids to be seen, and not to be heard; and it is enough you know she is willing to be married, when the Fifth Act requires it.
] These are Plots built after the Italian
Mode of Houses,
you see through them all at once; the Characters are
indeed the Imitations of Nature, but so narrow as if they had imitated ouly an Eye or an Hand, and did not dare to venture on the Lines of a Face, or the Proporti on of a Body.
] But in how straight a compass soever they have bounded their Plots and Characters, we will pass it by, if they have regularly pursued them, and perfectly ob serv'd those three Unities of Time, Place and Action: the knowledge of which you say is deriv'd to us from them. But in the first Place give me leave to tell you, that the Unity of Place, however it might be practised
by them, was never any of their Rules: We neither
find it in Aristotle, Horace,
or any who have written of
it, till in our Age the French
Poets first made it a Pre cept of the Stage. The Unity of Time, even Terence
himself (who was the best and most regular of them) has neglected: His Heautontimoroumenos
takes up visibly two Days, says Scaliger
; the two first Acts concluding the first Day, the three last the Day en suing; and Euripides,
in tying himself to one Day, has committed an Absurdity never to be forgiven him: For in one of his Tragedies he has made Theseus
go from Athens
which was about forty English
Miles, under the Walls of it to give Battel, and appear Victo rious in the next Act; and yet from the time of his Departure to the return of the Nuntius,
who gives the Relation of his Victory, Æthra
and the Chorus have but thirty six Verses; which is not for every Mile a Verse.
] The like Error is as evident in Terence
the old Man, enters by mistake into the House of Thais,
where betwixt his Exit, and the En trance of Pythias,
who comes to give ample Relation of the Disorders he has rais'd within, Parmeno
who was left upon the Stage, has not above five Lines to speak: C'est bien employer un temps si court,
says the French
Poet, who furnish'd me with one of the Observations: And almost all their Tragedies will afford us Examples of the like Nature.
] 'Tis true, they have kept the Continuity, or as you call'd it, Liaison des Scenes,
somewhat better: two do not perpetually come in together, talk, and go out toge ther; and other two succeed them, and do the same
throughout the Act, which the English
call by the Name of single Scenes; but the reason is, because they have seldom above two or three Scenes, properly so call'd, in every Act; for it is to be accounted a new Scene, not on ly every time the Stage is empty, but every Person who enters, tho' to others, makes it so; because he intro duces a new Business: Now the Plots of their Plays be ing narrow, and the Persons few, one of their Acts was written in a less compass than one of our well-wrought
Scenes, and yet they are often deficient even in this: To
go no further than Terence,
you find in the Eunuch, An tipho
entring single in the midst of the third Act, after Chremes
were gone off: In the same Play you have likewise Dorias
beginning the fourth Act alone; and after she has made a Relation of what was done at the Soldier's entertainment (which by the way was very inartificial, because she was presum'd to speak directly
to the Audience, and to acquaint them with what was Necessary to be known, but yet should have been so contriv'd by the Poet, as to have been told by Persons of the Drama
to one another, and so by them to have come to the Knowledge of the People) she quits thc Stage, and Phædria
enters next, alone likewise: He also gives you an Account of himself, and of his returning
from the Country in Monologue,
to which unnatural way
of Narration Terence
is subject in all his Plays: In his
or Brothers, Syrus
enter; after the Scene was broken by the Departure of Sostrata, Geta
; and indeed you can scarce look into any of his Comedies, where you will not presently discover the same Interruption.
] But as they have fail'd both in laying of their Plots,
and in the Management, swerving from the Rules of their
own Art, by mis-representing Nature to us, in which
they have ill satisfied one Intention of a Play, which was Delight; so in the instructive Part they have err'd worse:
Instead of punishing Vice, and rewarding Virtue, they have often shewn a prosperous Wickedness, and an un happy Piety: They have set before us a bloody Image of
Revenge in Medea,
and given her Dragons to convey her safe from Punishment. A Priam
murder'd, and Cassandra
ravish'd, and the Lust and Murder ending in the Victory of him who acted them. In short, there is no Indecorum in any of our modern Plays, which, if I would excuse, I could not shadow with some Authori ty from the Ancients.
] And one farther Note of them let me leave you: Tra gedies and Comedies were not writ then as they are now, promiscuously, by the same Person; but he who
found his Genius bending to the one, never attempted the other way. This is so plain, that I need not instance to you,
that Aristophanes, Plautus, Terence,
never any of them writ
a Tragedy; Æschylus; Euripides, Sophocles
ne ver meddled with Comedy: The Sock and Buskin were not worn by the same Poet. Having then so much care to excel in one kind, very little is to be pardon'd them if they miscarried in it; and this would lead me to the Con sideration of their Wit, had not Crites
given me suffici ent Warning not to be too bold in my Judgment of it; because the Languages being dead, and many of the Cu stoms, and little Accidents on which it depended, lost to us, we are not competent Judges of it. But tho' I grant, that here and there we may miss the Application of a Proverb or a Custom, yet a thing well said will be
Wit in all Languages; and tho' it may lose something
in the Translation, yet to him who reads it in the Ori ginal, 'tis still the same; He has an Idea of its Excel lency, tho' it cannot passe from his Mind into any other Expression or Words than those in which he finds it.
in the Eunuch
had a Command from his Mistress to be absent two Days, and encouraging him self to go through with it, said, Tandem ego non illâ ca ream, si opus sit, vel totum triduum? Parmeno,
to mock the Softness of his Master, lifting up his Hands and Eyes, cries out as it were in admiration, Hui! universum tri duum!
the Elegancy of which universum,
tho' it cannot be rendred in our Language, yet leaves an Impression on
our Souls: But this happens seldom in him, in Plautus
oftner; who is infinitely too bold in his Metaphors and
coyning Words, out of which many times his Wit is
nothing; which questionless was one reason why Horace
falls upon him so severely in those Verses:
Sed proavi nostri Plautinos & numeros, & Laudavere sales, nimium patienter utrumque, Ne dicam stolidé.
] For Horace
himself was cautious to obtrude a new Word on his Readers, and makes Custom and common Use the best Measure of receiving it into our Writings.
Multa renascentur quæ nunc cecidere, cadentque Quæ nunc sunt in honore vocabula, si volet usus, Quem penes, arbitrium est, & jus, & norma loquendi.
] The not observing this Rule is that which the World
has blam'd in our Satyrist Cleveland
; to express a thing hard and unnaturally, is his new way of Elocution: 'Tis true, no Poet but may sometimes use a Catachresis
does it, Mistaque ridenti Colocasia fundet Acantho,
In his Eclogue of Pollio
; and in his seventh Æneid, Mirantur & undæ, Miratur nemus, insuetum fulgentia longe Scuta virûm fluvio, pictasque innare carinas.
] And Ovid
once so modestly, that he asks leave to do it, Si verbo audacia detur, Haud metuam summi dixisse Palatia cœli.
] Calling the Court of Jupiter
by the Name of Augustus
his Palace, tho' in another place he is more bold, where he says, Et longas visent Capitolia pompas.
But to do this always, and never be able to write a Line without it, tho' it may be admir'd by some few Pedants, will not pass upon those who know that Wit is best convey'd to us in the most easy Language; and is most to be ad mir'd when a great Thought comes drest in words so commonly receiv'd, that it is understood by the meanest Apprehensions, as the best Meat is the most easily di gested. But we cannot read a Verse of Cleveland
's with out making a Face at it, as if every Word were a Pill to swallow: He gives us many times a hard Nut to break our Teeth, without a Kernel for our Pains. So that there is this difference betwixt his Satyrs
and Doctor Donn's,
That the one gives us deep Thoughts in com
mon Language, tho' rough Cadence; the other gives us common Thoughts in abstruse Words: 'Tis true, in some places his Wit is independent of his Words, as in that of the Rebel Scot: Had Cain been Scot, God would have chang'd his Doom; Not forc'd him wander, but confin'd him home.
] Si sic omnia dixisset!
This is Wit in all Languages: 'Tis like Mercury, never to be lost or kill'd: And so that other, For Beauty, like White-Powder, makes no noise, And yet the silent Hypocrite destroys.
] You see the last Line is highly Metaphorical, but it is so soft and gentle, that it does not shock us as we read it.
] But, to return from whence I have digress'd, to the Consideration of the Ancients Writing and their Wit, (of which, by this time, you will grant us in some measure to be fit Judges,) Tho' I see many excellent Thoughts in Seneca
; yet he, of them who had a Genius most pro per for the Stage, was Ovid
; he had a way of writing
so fit to stir up a pleasing Admiration and Concernment,
which are the Objects of a Tragedy, and to shew the
various Movements of a Soul combating betwixt two
different Passions, that had he liv'd in our Age, or in his own could have writ with our Advantages, no Man but must have yielded to him; and therefore I am con fident the Medea
is none of his; for though I esteem it for the Gravity and Sententiousness of it, which he him self concludes to be suitable to a Tragedy, Omne genus scripti gravitate Tragœdia vincit,
yet it moves not my
Soul enough to judge that he, who in the Epique way
wrote things so near the Drama,
as the Story of Myr rha,
and the rest, should stir up no
more Concernment where he most endeavour'd it. The
Master-piece of Seneca
I hold to be that Scene in the
is seeking for Astyanax
him: There you see the Tenderness of a Mother, so re presented in Andromache,
that it raises Compassion to a high Degree in the Reader, and bears the nearest Resem blance of any thing in the Tragedies of the Ancients,
to the excellent Scenes of Passion in Shakespear,
For Love Scenes you will find few among
them, their Tragick Poets dealt not with that soft Pas sion, but with Lust, Cruelty, Revenge, Ambition, and those bloody Actions they produc'd; which were more
capable of raising Horrour than Compassion in an Au dience: Leaving Love untouch'd, whose Gentleness would have temper'd them, which is the most frequent of all the Passions, and which being the private Concernment of every Person, is sooth'd by viewing its own Image in a publick Entertainment.
] Among their Comedies, we find a Scene or two of Tenderness, and that where you would least expect it,
; but to speak generally, their Lovers say little, when they see each other, but anima mea, vita
; ζωὴ κκαὶ ψυχὴ, as the Women in Juvenal
's time us'd to cry out in the Fury of their Kindness: Any sud den gust of Passion (as an Ecstasy of Love in an unex pected Meeting) cannot better be express'd than in a
Word, and a Sigh, breaking one another. Nature is dumb on such Occasions, and to make her speak, would be to represent her unlike her self. But there are a thou sand other Concernments of Lovers, as Jealousies, Com plaints, Contrivances, and the like, where not to open their Minds at large to each other, were to be wanting to their own Love, and to the Expectation of the Au dience; who watch the Movements of their Minds, as
much as the Changes of their Fortunes. For the imagin ing of the first is properly the Work of a Poet, the
latter he borrows from the Historian.
was proceeding in that part of his Discourse, when Crites
interrupted him. I see, said he, Eugenius
and I are never like to have this Question decided be twixt us; for he maintains the Moderns have acquir'd a
new Perfection in Writing, I can only grant they have
altered the Mode of it. Homer
describ'd his Heroes, Men
of great Appetites, Lovers of Beef broil'd upon the Coals,
and good Fellows; contrary to the Practice of the French
Romances, whose Heroes neither eat, nor drink, nor
sleep for Love. Virgil
a bold Avower of his own Virtues,
Sum pius Æneas famâ super æthera notus;
] which in the civility of our Poets is the Character of a Fanfaron or Hector: For with us the Knight takes oc casion to walk out, or sleep, to avoid the Vanity of tel ling his own Story, which the trusty Squire is ever to perform for him. So in their Love-Scenes, of which
spoke last, the Ancients were more hearty, we more talkative: They writ Love as it was then the Mode to make it, and I will grant this much to Eugenius,
that perhaps one of their Poets, had he liv'd in our Age,
Si foret hoc nostrum fato delapsus in ævum,
] (as Horace
says of Lucilius
) he had alter'd many things; not that they were not natural before, but that he might accommodate himself to the Age in which he liv'd; yet in the mean time we are not to conclude any thing rash ly against those great Men, but preserve to them the Dig nity of Masters, and give that Honour to their Memories,
(Quos Libitina sacravit
;) part of which we expect may be paid to us in future Times.
] This Moderation of Crites,
as it was pleasing to all the Company, so it put an end to that Dispute; which Eu genius,
who seem'd to have the better of the Argument, would urge no farther: But Lisideius,
after he had ac knowledg'd himself of Eugenius
his Opinion concerning the Ancients; yet told him he had forborn, till his Dis course were ended, to ask him, why he preferr'd the
Plays above those of other Nations? And whe ther we ought not to submit our Stage to the Exactness
of our next Neighbours?
] Tho', said Eugenius,
I am at all times ready to defend
the Honour of my Country against the French,
maintain, we are as well able to vanquish them with our Pens, as our Ancestors have been with their Swords; yet, if you please, added he, looking upon Neander,
I will commit this Cause to my Friend's management; his Opi nion of our Plays is the same with mine: And besides, there is no reason, that Crites
and I, who have now left the Stage, should re enter so suddenly upon it; which is against the Laws of Comedy.
] If the Question had been stated, replied Lisideius,
had writ best, the French
forty Years ago, I should have been of your Opinion, and adjudged the Ho nour to our own Nation; but since that time, (said he, turning towards Neander
) we have been so long together
that we had no leisure to be good Poets;
(who were only capable
of bringing us to that degree of Perfection which we have) were just then leaving the World; as if in an Age
of so much Horror, Wit and those milder Studies of Hu manity had no farther business among us. But the Muses, who ever follow Peace, went to plant in another
Country; it was then that the great Cardinal of Richlieu
began to take them into his Protection; and that, by his
and some other French-men
re form'd their Theatre, (which before was as much below ours, as it now surpasses it and the rest of Europe
;) but because Crites,
in his Discourse for the Ancients, has pre vented me, by observing many Rules of the Stage, which the Moderns have borrow'd from them; I shall only, in short, demand of you, whether you are not convinc'd that of all Nations the French
have best observ'd them? in the Unity of Time you find them so scrupulous, that it yet remains a Dispute among their Poets, whe ther the artificial Day of twelve Hours, more or less, be
not meant by Aristotle,
rather than the natural one of twenty four; and consequently, whether all Plays ought not to be reduc'd into that compass? This I can testify, that in all their Drama's
writ within these last twenty Years and upwards, I have not observ'd any that have extended the Time to thirty Hours. In the Unity of Place
they are full as scrupulous; for many of their Criticks
limit it to that very Spot of Ground where the Play is suppos'd to begin; none of them exceed the compass of the same Town or City.
] The Unity of Action in all their Plays is yet more con spicuous, for they do not burden them with Under-plots, as the English
do; which is the reason why many Scenes of our Tragi-comedies carry on a design that is nothing of kin to the main Plot; and that we see two distinct Webs in a Play, like those in ill-wrought Stuffs; and two Actions, that is, two Plays carried on together, to the confounding of the Audience; who, before they are warm in their Concernments for one Part, are diverted to ano ther; and by that means espouse the Interest of neither. From hence likewi se it arises, that the one half of our Actors are not known to the other. They keep their di stances as if they were Mountagues
and sel dom begin an Acquaintance 'till the last Scene of the Fifth Act, when they are all to meet upon the Stage. There is
no Theatre in the World has any thing so absurd as the English
Tragi-comedy, 'tis a Drama
of our own Inven tion, and the Fashion of it is enough to proclaim it so; here a Course of Mirth, there another of Sadness and
Passion, and a third of Honour, and fourth a Duel: Thus in two hours and a half we run through all the Fits of Bedlam.
afford you as much Variety on the same Day, but they do it not so unseasonably, or mal à propos,
as we: Our Poets present you the Play and the Farce together; and our Stages still retain somewhat of the original ci vility of the Red Bull.
Atque ursum & pugiles media inter carmina poscunt.
] The End of Tragedies or serious Plays, says Aristotle,
to beget Admiration, Compassion, or Concernment; but are not Mirth and Compassion things incompatible? And is it not evident, that the Poet must of necessity de stroy the former by intermingling of the latter? That is, he must ruin the sole End and Object of his Tragedy to introduce somewhat that is forced into it, and is not of the body of it: Would you not think that Physician
mad, who having prescribed a Purge, should immediate ly order you to take Restringents?
] But to leave our Plays, and return to theirs, I have no ted one great Advantage they have had in the Plotting of their Tragedies; that is, they are always grounded upon some known History; according to that of Horace, Ex
noto fictum carmen sequar
; and in that they have so imi tated the Ancients, that they have surpass'd them. For
the Ancients, as was observ'd before, took for the foun dation of their Plays some Poetical Fiction, such as un der that consideration could move but little concernment
in the Audience; because they already knew the Event
of it. But the French
Atque ita mentitur, sic veris falsa remiscet, Primo ne medium, medio ne discrepet imum.
] He so interweaves Truth with probable Fiction, that he puts a pleasing Fallacy upon us, mends the intrigues
of Fate, and dispenses with the severity of History, to
reward the Virtue which has been render'd to us there unfortunate. Sometimes the Story has left the Success
so doubtful, that the Writer is free, by the privilege of a Poet, to take that which of two or more Relations will best suit with his Design: As for Example, In the
death of Cyrus,
and some others report to
have perish'd in the Scythian
War, but Xenophon
affirms to have died in his Bed of extream old Age. Nay more, when the Event is past dispute, even then we are wil ling to be deceiv'd, and the Poet, if he contrives it with appearance of Truth, has all the Audience of his Party; at least during the time his Play is acting: So naturally
we are kind to Virtue, when our own Interest is not in Question, that we take it up as the general Concernment of Mankind. On the other side, if you consider the Hi storical Plays of Shakespear,
they are rather so many Chronicles of Kings, or the Business many times of thirty or forty Years, crampt into a Representation of
two Hours aad a half, which is not to imitate or paint
Nature, but rather to draw her in miniature, to take
her in little; to look upon her through the wrong End
of a Perspective, and receive her Images not only much less, but infinitely more imperfect than the Life: This,
instead of making a Play delightful, renders it ridiculous.
Quodcunque ostendis mihi sic, incredulus odi.
] For the Spirit of Man cannot be satisfied but with Truth, or at least Verifimility; and a Poem is to contain, if not τὰ ἔτυμα, yet ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα, as one of the Greek
Poets has express'd it.
] Another thing in which the French
differ from us and from the Spaniards,
is, that they do not embarass or cum ber themselves with too much Plot: They only represent so much of a Story as will constitute one whole and great
Action sufficient for a Play; we, who undertake more, do but multiply Adventures; which not being produc'd from one another, as Effects from Causes, but barely follow ing, constitute many Actions in the Drama,
and conse quently make it many Plays.
] But by pursuing closely one Argument, which is not cloy'd with many Turns, the French
have gain'd more
liberty for Verse, in which they write: They have lei sure to dwell on a Subject which deserves it; and to re present the Passions (which we have acknowledg'd to be the Poet's work) without being hurried from one thing
to another, as we are in the Plays of Calderon,
which we have seen lately upon our Theaters, under the name of Spanish
Plots. I have taken notice but of one Trage dy of ours, whose Plot has that uniformity and unity of Design in it, which I have commended in the French
and that is Rollo,
or rather, under the name of Rollo,
The Story of Bassianus
; there indeed the Plot is neither large nor intricate, but just enough to
fill the Minds of the Audience, not to cloy them. Besides,
you see it founded upon the truth of History, only the time of the Action is not reduceable to the strictness of the Rules; and you see in some places a little Farce min g'ed, which is below the dignity of the other Parts; and
in this all our Poets are extreamly peccant, even Ben
himself in Sejanus
has given us this
Oleo of a Play, this unnatural Mixture of Comedy
and Tragedy, which to me sounds just as ridiculously as
the History of David
with the merry Humours of Go liah.
you may take notice of the Scene be twixt Livia
and the Physician, which is a pleasant Satyr
upon the artificial helps of Beauty: In Catiline
see the Parliament of Women; the little Envies of them to one another; and all that passes betwixt Curio
and Ful via:
Scenes admirable in their kind, but of an ill mingle with the rest.
] But I return again to the French
Writers; who, as I have said, do not burden themselves too much with Plot, which has been reproach'd to them by an ingenious
of our Nation as a Fault; for he says they com monly make but one Person considerable in a Play; they dwell on him, and his concernments, while the rest of the Persons are only subservient to set him off. If he
intends this by it, that there is one Person in the Play who is of greater Dignity than the rest, he must tax, not only theirs, but those of the Ancients, and, which he would be loth to do, the best of ours, for 'tis impossi ble but that one Person must be more conspicuous in it than any other, and consequently the greatest share in the Action must devolve on him. We see it so in the management of all Affairs: even in the most equal Ari stocracy, the balance cannot be so justly pois'd, but some
one will be Superior to the rest; either in Parts, For tune, Interest, or the Consideration of some glorious Ex ploit; which will reduce the greatest part of Business in to his Hands.
] But, if he would have us to imagine, that in exalting
one Character the rest of them are neglected, and that
all of them have not some share or other in the Action
of the Play, I desire him to produce any of Corneille
's Tragedies, wherein every Person (like so many Servants in a well-govern'd Family) has not some Employment, and who is not necessary to the carrying on of the Plot, or at least to your understandiug it.
] There are indeed some protatick Persons in the An cients, whom they make use of in their Plays, either to hear, or give the Relation: But the French
avoid this with great Address, making their Narrations only to, or by such, who are some way interested in the main Design. And now I am speaking of Relations, I cannot take a
fitter Opportunity to add this in favour of the French,
that they often use them with better judgment and more à propos
than the English
do. Not that I commend Nar rations in general, but there are two sorts of them: one of those things which are antecedent to the Play, and are related to make the conduct of it more clear to us; but 'tis a Fault to chuse such Subjects for the Stage as will force us on that Rock; because we see they are seldom listned to by the Audience, and that is many times the ruin of the Play: For, being once let pass without At tention, the Audience can never recover themselves to understand the Plot; and indeed it is somewhat unrea sonable, that they should be put to so much trouble, as, that to comprehend what passes in their sight, they must have recourse to what was done, perhaps, ten or twenty Years ago.
] But there is another sort of Relations, that is, of things happening in the Action of the Play, and suppos'd to be done behind the Scenes: And this is many times both convenient and beautiful: For, by it the French
avoid the Tumult, to which we are subject in England,
by repre senting Duels, Battels, and the like; which renders our Stage too like the Theaters where they fight Prizes. For what is more ridiculous than to represent an Army with a Drum and five Men behind it; all which, the Heroe of the other side is to drive in before him? or to see a Duel fought, and one slain with two or three thrusts of the Foils, which we know are so blunted, that we might give a Man an Hour to kill another in good earnest with them?
] I have observ'd, that in all our Tragedies the Audience
cannot forbear laughing when the Actors are to die; 'tis
the most comick Part of the whole Play. All Passions
may be lively represented on the Stage, if to the well
writing of them the Actor supplies a good commanded
Voice, and Limbs that move easily, and without stiffness;
but there are many Actions
which can never be imitated
to a just height: Dying efpecially is a thing which none but a Roman
Gladiator could naturally perform on the Stage, when he did not imitate or represent, but do it; and therefore it is better to omit the Representation of it.
] 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 beau tiful Garden, or a Meadow, will please our Imagination more than the place it self can please our sight. When
we see Death represented, we are convinc'd it is but Fi ction; but when we hear it related, our Eyes (the strong est Witnesses) are wanting, which might have undeceiv'd us; and we are all willing to favour the slight when the Poet does not too grosly impose on us. They there fore who imagine these Relations would make no Con cernment in the Audience, are deceiv'd, 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 warm'd with our
Concernments, which were before awaken'd in the Play.
What the Philosophers say of Motion, that, when it is once begun, it continues of it self, and will do so to E ternity without some stop put to it, is clearly true on
this Occasion; the Soul being already mov'd with the
Characters and Fortunes of those imaginary Persons, con tinues 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. But it is objected, That if one part of the Play may be related, then why not all? I answer, Some parts of the Action are more fit to be represented, some
to be related. Corneille
says judiciously, that the Poet is
not oblig'd to expose to View all particular Actions which conduce to the principal: He ought to select such of them to be seen, which will appear with the greatest
Beauty, either by the magnificence of the Show, or the
vehemence of Passions which they produce, or some o ther Charm which they have in them, and let the rest ar rive to the Audience by Narration. 'Tis a great mistake
in us to believe the French
present no part of the Action on the Stage: Every alteration or crossing of a Design, every new-sprung Passion, and turn of it, is a part of the Action, and much the noblest, except we conceive nothing to be Action till the Players come to Blows; as
if the painting of the Heroe's Mind were not more pro perly the Poet's Work, than the strength of his Body.
Nor does this any thing contradict the Opinion of Ho race,
where he tells us,
Segnius irritant animos demìssa per aurem, Quam quæ sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus. ----
] For he says immediately after, ---------- Non tamen intus Digna geri promes in scenam, multaque tolles Ex oculis, quæ mox narret facundia præsens.
] Among which many he recounts some, Nec pueros coram populo Medea trucidet, Aut in avem Progne mutetur, Cadmus in anguem, &c.
] That is, those Actions which by reason of their Cruelty will cause Aversion in us, or by reason of their Impos sibility, Unbelief, ought either wholly to be avoided by a Poet, or only deliver'd by Narration. To which we may have leave to add such as to avoid Tumult, (as was before hinted) or to reduce the Plot into a more
reasonable compass of Time, or for defect of Beauty in them, are rather to be related than presented to the Eye. Examples of all these kinds are frequent, not only among all the Ancients, but in the best receiv'd of our English
Poets. We find Ben Johnson
using them in his Mag netick Lady,
where one comes out from Dinner, and
relates the Quarrels and Disorders of it to save the unde cent appearance of them on the Stage, and to abbreviate
the Story: And this in express imitation of Terence,
had done the same before him in his Eunuch,
where Py thias
makes the like Relation of what had happen'd with in at the Soldier's Entertainment. The Relation, likewise,
's Death, and the Prodigies before it, are re markable; the one of which was hid from sight to avoid the Horror and Tumult of the Representation; the other to shun the introducing of things impossible to be be liev'd. In that excellent Play, The King and no King,
goes yet farther; for the whole unravelling of the Plot is done by Narration in the fifth Act, after the
manner of the Ancients; and it moves great Concern ment in the Audience, tho' it be only a Relation of what was done many Years before the Play. I could multiply other Instances, but these are sufficient to prove, that there is no Error in chusing a Subject which re quires this sort of Narrations; in the ill Management of them, there may.
] But I find I have been too long in this Discourse, since the French
have many other Excellencies not common to us; as that you never see any of their Plays end with a Conversion, or simple change of Will, which is the or dinary way which our Poets use to end theirs. It shews
little Art in the conclusion of a Dramatick Poem, when
they who have hinder'd the Felicity during the four Acts, desist from it in the Fifth, without some powerful Cause to take them off their Design; and tho' I deny not but such Reasons may be found, yet it is a Path that is cautiously to be trod, and the Poet is to be sure he convinces the Audience, that the Motive is strong e nough. As for Example, the Conversion of the Usurer
in The Scornful Lady,
seems to me a little forc'd; for be ing an Usurer, which implies a lover of Money to the highest degree of Covetousness, (and such the Poet has represented him) the Account he gives for the sudden Change is, that he has been dup'd by the wild young Fellow, which in reason might render him more wary another time, and make him punish himself with harder
Fare and coarser Cloaths to get up again what he had lost: But that he should look on it as a Judgment, and
so repent, we may expect to hear in a Sermon, but I
should never indure it in a Play.
] I pass by this; neither will I insist on the Care they take, that no Person after his first Entrance shall ever appear, but the Business which brings him upon the Stage
shall be evident: Which Rule if observ'd, must needs ren der all the Events in the Play more natural: For there you
see the Probability of every Accident, in the Cause that
produc'd it; and that which appears Chance in the Play, will seem so reasonable to you, that you will there find it almost necessary; so that in the Exit of the Actor you have a clear Account of his Purpose and Design in the next Entrance: (tho', if the Scene be well wrought, the Event will commonly deceive you) for there is nothing so absurd, says Corneille,
as for an Actor to leave the Stage, only because he has no more to say.
] I should now speak of the Beauty of their Rhyme, and the just reason I have to prefer that way of writing in Tragedies before ours in Blank-Verse; but because it is partly receiv'd by us, and therefore not altogether pecu liar to them, I will say no more of it in relation to their Plays. For our own, I doubt not but it will ex ceedingly beautify them, and I can see but one Reason why it should not generally obtain, that is, because our Poets write so ill in it. This indeed may prove a more prevailing Argument than all others which are us'd to de stroy it, and therefore I am only troubled when great and judicious Poets, and those who are acknowledg'd such, have writ or spoke against it; as for others, they are to be answer'd by that one Sentence of an ancient Author. Sed ut primo ad consequendos eos quos priores ducimus accendimur, ita ubi aut præteriri, aut æquari eos posse desperavimus, studium cum spe senescit: quod scilicet, assequi non potest, sequi desinit
; præteritóque eo in quo eminere non possumus, aliquid in quo nitamur conquirimus.
concluded in this manner; and Neander
af ter a little pause thus answer'd him.
] I shall grant Lisideius,
without much dispute, a great part of what he has urg'd against us; for I acknowledge,
that the French
contrive their Plots more regularly, and
observe the Laws of Comedy, and Decorum of the Stage
(to speak generally) with more Exactness than the Eng lish.
Farther, I deny not but he has tax'd us justly in some Irregularities of ours which he has mention'd; yet, after all, I am of Opinion, that neither our Faults nor their Virtues are considerable enough to place them a bove us.
] But the lively Imitation of Nature being in the Defi nition of a Play, those which best fulfil that Law, ought to be esteem'd Superior to the others. 'Tis true, those
Beauties of the French
Poesy are such as will raise Per fection higher where it is, but are not sufficient to give
it where it is not: They are indeed the Beauties of a Sta tue, but not of a Man, because not animated with the
Soul of Poesy, which is Imitation of Humour and Passi ons: And this Lisideius
himself, or any other, however byass'd to their Party, cannot but acknowledge, if he will
either compare the Humours of our Comedies, or the
Characters of our serious Plays, with theirs. He who will look upon theirs which have been written 'till these last ten Years or thereabouts, will find it an hard matter to pick out two or three passable Humours amongst them.
himself, their Arch-Poet, what has he produc'd,
except The Liar,
and you know how it was cry'd up in France
; but when it came upon the English
though well translated, and that part of Dorant
acted with so much Advantage as I am confident it never re ceiv'd in its own Country, the most favourable to it would
not put it in Competition with many of Fletcher
's. In the rest of Corneille
's Comedies you have little Humour; he tells you himself his way is first to shew two Lovers in good Intelligence with each o ther; in the working up of the Play, to embroil them by some Mistake, and in the latter end to clear it, and re concile them.
] But of late Years Moliere,
the younger Corneille, Qui nault,
and some others, have been imitating afar off the
quick Turns and Graces of the English
Stage. They have mix'd their serious Plays with Mirth, like our
Tragi-Comedies, since the Death of Cardinal Richelieu,
and many others, not observing, have
commended that in them for a Virtue, which they them selves no longer practise. Most of their new Plays are, like some of ours, derived from the Spanish
Novels. There is scarce one of them without a Veil, and a trusty Diego,
who drolls much after the rate of the Adventures.
But their Humours, if I may grace them with that name, are so thin sown, that never above one of them comes up in any Play: I dare take upon me to find more
variety of them in some one Play of Ben Johnson
's, than in all theirs together: As he who has seen the Alchy mist,
the Silent Woman,
cannot but acknowledge with me.
] I grant the French
have performed what was possible on the ground-work of the Spanish
Plays; what was
pleasant before, they have made regular; but there is not above one good Play to be writ on all those Plots; they are too much alike to please often, which we need
not the Experience of our own Stage to justifie. As for their new Way of mingling Mirth with serious Plot, I do not, with Lisideius,
condemn the thing, though I cannot approve their manner of doing it: He tells us, we cannot so speedily recollect our selves after a Scene
of great Passion and Concernment, as to pass to another of Mirth and Humour, and to enjoy it with any relish:
But why should he imagine the Soul of Man more hea vy than his Senses? Does not the Eye pass from an un pleasant Object to a pleasant, in a much shorter time than is required to this? And does not the Unpleasant ness of the first commend the Beauty of the latter? The old Rule of Logick, might have convinc'd him, That Contraries when plac'd near, set off each other. A con tinued Gravity keeps the Spirit too much bent; we must refresh it sometimes, as we bait in a Journey, that we may go on with greater ease. A Scene of Mirth mix'd
with Tragedy, has the same effect upon us which our
Musick has betwixt the Acts, which we find a Relief to
us from the best Plots and Language of the Stage, if the Discourses have been long. I must therefore have stron ger Arguments ere I am convinc'd, that Compassion and Mirth in the same Subject destroy each other; and in the mean time, cannot but conclude, to the Honour of our
Nation, that we have invented, increas'd, and perfected a more pleasant way of writing for the Stage, than was ever known to the Ancients or Moderns of any Nation, which is Tragi-Comedy.
] And this leads me to wonder why Lisideius
others should cry up the Barrenness of the French
above the Variety and Copiousness of the English.
Their Plots are single, they carry on one Design, which is push'd forward by all the Actors, every Scene in the Play contributing and moving towards it: Our Plays, besides the main Design, have Under-Plots, or By-Concernments, or less considerable Persons, and Intrigues, which are carried on with the Motion of the main Plot: As they say the Orb of the fix'd Stars, and those of the Planets, though they have Motions of their own, are whirl'd about
by the Motion of the primum mobile,
in which they are contain'd: That Similitude expresses much of the English
Stage: For if contrary Motions may be found in Nature to agree; if a Planet can go East and West at the same time; one way by Virtue of his own Motion, the other by the force of the first Mover; it will not be difficult to imagine how the Under-Plot, which is only different,
not contrary to the great Design, may naturally be con ducted along with it.
has already shewn us, from the Confession of the French
Poets, that the Unity of Action is suffici ently preserv'd, if all the imperfect Actions of the Play are conducing to the main Design: But when those pet ty Intrigues of a Play are so ill order'd, that they have no coherence with the other, I must grant that Lisideius
has reason to tax that want of due Connexion; for Co ordination in a Play is as dangerous and unnatural as in a
State. In the mean time, he must acknowledge our Va riety, if well order'd, will afford a greater Pleasure to the Audience.
] As for his other Argument, that by pursuing one sin gle Theme they gain an Advantage to express and work
up the Passions, I wish any Example he could bring from them would make it good: for I confess their Verses are to me the coldest I have ever read: Neither indeed is it possible for them, in the way they take, so to express Passion, as that the Effects of it should appear in the Concernment of an Audience, their Speeches be ing so many Declamations, which tire us with the Length; so that instead of perswading us to grieve for their
imaginary Heroes, we are concern'd for our own trou ble, as we are in tedious Visits of bad Company; we are in pain till they are gone. When the French
came to be reform'd by Cardinal Richelieu,
those long Harangues were introduc'd, to comply with the Gravity
of a Churchman. Look upon the Cinna
and the Pompey,
they are not so properly to be called Plays, as long Dis courses of Reason of State: And Polieucte
in Matters of
Religion is as solemn as the long Stops upon our Organs. Since that time it is grown into a Custom, and their Actors speak by the Hour-glass, like our Parsons; nay, they account it the Grace of their Parts, and think them selves disparaged by the Poet, if they may not twice or thrice in a Play entertain the Audience with a Speech of an hundred Lines. I deny not but this may suit well enough with the French
; for as we, who are a more sul len People, come to be diverted at our Plays; so they,
who are of an aiery and gay Temper, come hither to make themselves more serious: And this I conceive to be one reason, why Comedies are more pleasing to us, and Tragedies to them. But to speak generally, it can not be deny'd, that short Speeches and Replies are more apt to move the Passions, and beget Concernment in us, than the other: For it is unnatural for any one in a
Gust of Passion, to speak long together; or for another, in the same Condition, to suffer him without Interrup tion. Grief and Passion are like Floods rais'd in little Brooks by a sudden Rain; they are quickly up, and if the Concernment be pour'd unexpectedly in upon us, it overflows us: But a long sober Shower gives
them leisure to run out as they came in, without trou bling the ordinary Current. As for Comedy, Repartee is one of its chiefest Graces; the greatest Pleasure of the
Audience is a Chace of Wit kept up on both sides, and swiftly manag'd. And this our Fore-fathers, if not we,
have had in Fletcher
's Plays, to a much higher Degree of
Perfection, than the French
Poets can, reasonably, hope to reach.
] There is another part of Lisideius
his Discourse, in which he has rather excus'd our Neighbours than com mended them; that is, for aiming only to make one Person considerable in their Plays. 'Tis very true what
he has urged, That one Character in all Plays, even with out the Poet's Care, will have Advantage of all the o thers; and that the Design of the whole Drama
will chiefly depend upon it. But this hinders not that there mav be more shining Characters in the Play; many Per sons of a second Magnitude, nay, some so very near, so almost equal to the first, that Greatness may be oppos'd to Greatness, and all the Persons be made considerable, not onely by their quality, but their action. 'Tis evi dent, that the more the Persons are, the greater will be the Variety of the Plot. If then the Parts are managed
so regularly, that the Beauty of the whole be kept in tire, and that the Variety become not a perplex'd and
confus'd Mass of Accidents, you will find it infinitely pleafing to be led in a Labyrinth of Design, where you see some of your way before you, yet discern not the End till you arrive at it. And that all this is practica ble, I can produce for Examples many of our English
Plays: As the Maids Tragedy,
the Silent Woman
; I was going to have named the Fox,
but that the Unity of Design seems not exactly observ'd in it; for there appear two Actions in the Play; the first natu rally ending with the fourth Act; the second forc'd from it in the fifth: Which yet is the less to be condemn'd in him, because the Disguise of Volpone,
though it suited not with his Character as a crafty or covetous Person, agreed well enough with that of a Voluptuary: And by it the Poet gain'd the End at which he aim'd, the Pu
nishment of Vice, and the Reward of Virtue, both which that Disguise produc'd. So that to judge equally of it, it was an excellent fifth Act, but not so naturally proceeding from the former.
] But to leave this, and pass to the latter part of Lisidei us
his Discourse, which concerns Relations, I must ac knowledge with him, that the French
have reason to hide that part of the Action which would occasion too much Tumult on the Stage, and to chuse rather to have it made known by Narration to the Audience. Farther, I think it very convenient, for the Reasons he has given, that all incredible Actions were remov'd; but, whether Custom has so insinuated it self into our Country-men, or Nature has so form'd them to Fierceness, I know not; but they will scarcely sufter Combats and other Ob jects of Horror to be taken from them. And indeed, the Indecency of Tumults is all which can be objected
against fighting: For why may not our Imagination as
well suffer it self to be deluded with the Probability of it, as with any other thing in the Play? For my Part, I can with as great ease persuade my self that the Blows are given in good earnest, as I can, that they who strike them are Kings or Princes, or those Persons which they represent. For Objects of Incredibility, I would be satisfied from Lisideius,
whether we have any so remov'd
from all appearance of Truth, as are those of Corneille's
A Play which has been frequented the most of any he has writ. If the Perseus,
or the Son of an
Heathen God, the Pegasus
and the Monster, were not capable to choak a strong Belief, let him blame any Re presentation of ours hereafter. Those indeed were Ob jects of Delight; yet the Reason is the same as to the Probability: For he makes it not a Balette or Masque,
but a Play, which is to resemble Truth. But for Death, that it ought not to be represented, I have, besides the
Arguments alledged by Lisideius,
the Authority of Ben Johnson,
who has forborn it in his Tragedies; for both
the Death of Sejanus
are related: Though in the latter I cannot but observe one Irregularity of that great Poet: He has remov'd the Scene in the same Act,
Army, and from thence again to Rome
; and besides, has allow'd a very inconsiderable time after Catiline's
Speech, for the striking of the Battel, and the return of Petreius,
who is to relate the event of it to the Senate: Which I should not animadvert on him, who was otherwise a painful Observer of τὸ πρε πὸν, or the decorum
of the Stage, if he had not us'd ex tream Severity in his Judgment on the incomparable
for the same fault. To conclude on this Sub ject of Relations, if we are to be blam'd for shewing too
much of the Action, the French
are as faulty for disco vering too little of it: A Mean betwixt both should be observed by every judicious Writer, so as the Audience may neither be left unsatisfied by not seeing what is beautiful, or shock'd by beholding what is either incre dible or indecent. I hope I have already prov'd in this Discourse, that though we are not altogether so punctu al as the French,
in observing the Laws of Comedy; yet our Errors are so few, and little, and those things where in we excel them so considerable, that we ought of right to be preferr'd before them. But what will Lisi deius
say, if they themselves acknowledge they are too
strictly bounded by those Laws, for breaking which he
has blam'd the English?
I will alledge Corneille's
as I find them in the end of his Discourse of the three Unities; Il est facile aux speculatifs d'estre severes,
&c. “'Tis easy for speculative Persons to judge severely; but if they would produce to publick View ten or twelve Pieces of this Nature, they would perhaps give more Latitude to the Rules than I have done, when
by Experience they had known how much we are
limited and constrain'd by them, and how many Beau ties of the Stage they banish'd from it.“ To illustrate a little what he has said: By their servile Observations of the Unities of time and place, and integrity of Scenes, they have brought on themselves that dearth of Plot, and
narrowness of Imagination, which may be observed in
all their Plays. How many beautiful Accidents might naturally happen in two or three Days, which cannot
arrive with any probability in the Compass of twenty
four Hours? There is time to be allowed also for matu rity of Design, which amongst great and prudent Per sons, such as are often represented in Tragedy, can not, with any likelihood of truth, be brought to pass at so short a warning. Farther by tying themselves strict ly to the Unity of Place, and unbroken Scenes, they are forc'd many times to omit some Beauties which cannot be shewn where the Act began; but might, if the Scene were interrupted, and the Stage clear'd for the Persons to enter in another place; and therefore the French
Poets are often forc'd upon Absurdities: For if the Act begins in a Chamber, all the Persons in the Play must have some Business or other to come thither, or else they are
not to be shewn that Act, and sometimes their Cha racters are very unfitting to appear there: As Suppose it were the King's Bed-chamber, yet the meanest Man
in the Tragedy must come and dispatch his Business there, rather than in the Lobby or Court-yard, (which is fitter for him) for fear the Stage should be clear'd, and the Scenes broken. Many times they fall by it into a greater Inconvenience: for they keep their Scenes un broken, and yet change the Place; as in one of their newest Plays, where the Act begins in the Street. There a Gentleman is to meet his Friend; he sees him with his Man, coming out from his Father's House; they talk together, and the first goes out: The Second who is a Lover, has made an appointment with his Mistress; she appears at the Window, and then we are to imagine the Scene lies under it. This Gentleman is call'd away, and leaves his Servant with his Mistress: Presently her Father is heard from within; the young Lady is afraid the Serving-man should be discover'd, and thrusts him into a place of safety, which is suppos'd to be her Closet. After this, the Father enters to the Daughter, and now the Scene is in a House: For he is seeking from one Room to another for this poor Philipin,
or French Diego,
who is heard from within, diolling and breaking many a miserable Conceit on the subject of his sad Condition. In this ridiculous Manner the Play goes forward, the Stage being never empty all the while: so that the
Street, the Window, the two Houses, and the Closet, are made to walk about, and the Persons to stand still. Now what I beseech you is more easy than to write a
Play, or more difficult than to write an
one, like those of Fletcher,
or of Shake spear?
] If they content themselves, as Corneille
did, with some flat design, which like an ill Riddle, is found out ere it be half propos'd; such Plots we can make every way regular as easily as they: But whene'er they endeavour to rise to any quick turns and counter-turns of Plot, as
some of them have attempted, since Corneille
's Plays have been less in vogue, you see they write as irregularly as we, though they cover it more speciously. Hence the reason is perspicuous, why no French
Plays, when trans lated, have, or ever can succeed on the English
Stage. For, if you consider the Plots, our own are fuller of Va riety; if the Writing, ours are more quick and fuller of
spirit: and therefore 'tis a strange mistake in those who decry the way of writing Plays in Verse, as if the En glish
therein imitated the French.
We have borrowed nothing from them; our Plots are weav'd in English
Looms: we endeavour therein to follow the variety and
greatness of Characters which are deriv'd to us from
the copiousness and well-knitting
of the Intriegues we have from Johnson
; and for the Verse it self we have English
Precedents of elder date
than any of Corneille
's Plays: (not to name our old Co medies before Shakespear,
which were all writ in verse of six feet, of Alexandrines,
such as the French
I can shew in Shakespear,
many Scenes of Rhyme toge ther, and the like in Ben Johnson
's Tragedies: In Cati line
sometimes thirty or forty lines; I mean,
besides the Chorus, or the Monologues, which by the
way, shew'd Ben
no Enemy to this way of Writing, e specially if you read his Sad Shepherd,
which goes some times on Rhyme, sometimes on blank Verse, like an Horse who eases himself on Trot and Amble. You find
him likewise commending Fletcher
's Pastoral of the Faith ful Shepherdess
; which is for the most part Rhyme, though
not refin'd to that Purity to which it hath since been brought: And these Examples are enough to clear us from
a servile Imitation of the French.
] But to return whence I have digress'd, I dare boldly affirm these two things of the English Drama:
First, That we have many Plays of ours as regular as any of theirs; and which, besides, have more variety of Plot and Characters: And secondly, that in most of the irre gular Plays of Shakespear
(for Ben Johnson
's are for the most part regular) there is a more masculine
Fancy, and greater Spirit in the writing, than there is
in any of the French.
I could produce even in Shakespear
's Works, some Plays which are almost ex actly form'd; as The Merry Wives of
Windsor, and The
But, because (generally speaking) Shakespear,
who writ first, did not perfectly observe the Laws of
Comedy, and Fletcher,
who came nearer to Perfection, yet through Carelesness made many Faults; I will take
the Pattern of a perfect Play from Ben Johnson,
was a careful and learned Observer of the Dramatick
Laws, and from all his Comedies I shall select The Si lent Woman:
of which I will make a short Examen, ac cording to those Rules which the French
] As Neander
was beginning to examine The Silent Wo man; Eugenius,
earnestly regarding him, I beseech you, Neander,
said he, gratify the Company, and me in par ticular so far as, before you speak of the Play, to give us a Character of the Author; and tell us frankly your O pinion, whether you do not think all Writers, both French
ought to give place to him?
] I fear, replied Neander,
That in obeying your Com mands, I shall draw some Envy on my self. Besides, in performing them, it will be first necessary to speak some what of Shakespear
his Rivals in Poesy; and one of them, in my Opinion, at least his Equal, perhaps his Superior.
] To begin then with Shakespear:
he was the Man who
of all Modern, and perhaps Ancient Poets, had the largest
and most comprehensive Soul. All the Images of Na ture were still present to him, and he drew them not
laboriously, but luckily: When he describes any thing, you more than see it, you feel it too. Those who ac cuse him to have wanted Learning, give him the greater Commendation: he was naturally learn'd: he needed not the Spectacles of Books to read Nature; he look'd in wards, and found her there. I cannot say, he is every where alike; were he so, I should do him injury to com pare him with the greatest of Mankind. He is many
times flat, and insipid; his Comick Wit degenerating into Clenches, his Serious swelling into Bombast. But he is always great, when some great Occasion is presented to him: No Man can say, he ever had a fit Subject for his Wit, and did not then raise himself as high above the rest of Poets,
Quantum lenta solent inter Viburna Cupressi.
] The Consideration of this made Mr. Hales
say, That there was no Subject of which any Poet ever
writ, but he would produce it much better done in Shake spear
; and however others are now generally preferr'd before him, yet the Age wherein he liv'd, which had Contemporaries with him, Fletcher
never equall'd them to him in their Esteem: And in the last King's Court, when Ben
's Reptation was at highest, Sir John Suckling,
and with him the greater Part of the Courtiers, set our Shakespear
far above him.
of whom I am next to speak,
had, with the Advantage of Shakespear's
Wit, which was their Precedent, great natural Gifts, improv'd by Study.
especially being so accurate a Judge of Plays,
that Ben Johnson
while he liv'd submitted all his Writ ings to his Censure, and, 'tis thought, us'd his Judg ment in correcting, if not contriving all his Plots. What value he had for him appears by the Verses he writ to him; and therefore I need speak no farther of it. The
first Play that brought Fletcher
and him in Esteem, was
; for before that, they had written two or three very unsuccessfully: As the like is reported of
before he writ Every Man in his Humour.
Their Plots were generally more regular than Shake spear
's, especially those which were made before Beau mont
's Death; and they understood and imitated the Con versation of Gentlemen much better; whose wild De baucheries, and Quickness of Wit in Repartees, no Poet before them could paint as they have done. Humour,
which Ben Johnson
deriv'd from particular Persons, they made it not their Business to describe: They repre sented all the Passions very lively, but above all, Love.
I am apt to believe the English
Language in them arriv'd
to its highest Perfection; what Words have since been taken in, are rather Superfluous than Ornamental. Their Plays are now the most pleasant and frequent Entertain ments of the Stage; two of theirs being acted through
the Year for one of Shakespear
's or Johnson
's: The Rea son is, because there is a certain Gayety in their Comedies, and Pathos in their more serious Plays, which suits gene rally with all Mens Humours. Shakespear
's Language is
likewise a little obsolete, and Ben Johnson
's Wit comes short of theirs.
] As for Johnson,
to whose Character I am now ar rived, if we look upon him while he was himself, (for
his last Plays were but his Dotages) I think him the
most learned and judicious Writer which any Theater ever had. He was a most severe Judge of himself as
well as others. One cannot say he wanted Wit, but ra ther that he was frugal of it. In his Works you find
little to retrench or alter. Wit and Language, and Hu mour also in some measure, we had before him; but something of Art was wanting to the Drama,
'till he came. He manag'd his Strength to more advantage than any who preceded him, You seldom find him making Love in any of his Scenes, or endeavouring to move
the Passions; his Genius was too sullen and Saturnine to do it gracefully, especially when he knew he came after
those who had performed both to such an Height. Hu mour was his proper Sphere, and in that he delighted most to represent Mechanick People. He was deeply
conversant in the Ancients, both Greek
and he borrow'd boldly from them: There is scarce a Poet or
Historian among the Roman
Authors of those Times,
whom he has not translated in Sejanus
But he has done his Robberies so openly, that one may see he fears not to be taxed by any Law. He invades Au thors like a Monarch, and what would be Theft in other Poets, is only Victory in him. With the Spoils of these Writers he so represents old Rome
to us in its Rites, Ce remonies, and Customs, that if one of their Poets had written either of his Tragedies, we had seen less of it
than in him. If there was any Fault in his Language, 'twas, that he weav'd it too closely and laboriously, in his Comedies especially: Perhaps too, he did a little too much Romanize our Tongue, leaving the Words which he translated almost as much Latin
as he found them: Wherein though he learnedly followed their Language, he did not enough comply with the Idiom of ours. If
I would compare him with Shakespear,
I must acknow ledge him the more correct Poet, but Shakespear
greater Wit. Shakespear
was the Homer,
or Father of
our Dramatick Poets; Johnson
was the Virgil,
the Pat tern of elaborate Writing; I admire him, but I love
To conclude of him, as he has given us the most correct Plays, so in the Precepts which he has laid down in his Discoveries,
we have as many and pro fitable Rules for perfecting the Stage, as any wherewith the French
can furnish us.
] Having thus spoken of the Author, I proceed to the Examination of his Comedy, The Silent Woman.
Examen of the Silent Woman.
To begin first with the Length of the Action; it is so far from exceeding the Compass of a Natural Day, that it takes not up an Artificial one. 'Tis all included in the Limits of three Hours and an half, which is no more than is required sor the Presentment on the Stage. A Beauty perhaps not much observ'd; if it had, we should not have look'd on the Spanish
Translation of Five Hours
with so much Wonder. The Scene of it is laid in Lon don
; the Latitude of Place is almost as little as you can
imagine: For it lies all within the Compass of two Houses, and after the first Act, in one. The Continuity of Scenes is observ'd more than in any of our Plays, ex cept his own Fox
They are not broken above twice, or thrice at most, in the whole Comedy; and in the two best of Corneille
's Plays, the Cid
they are interrupted once. The Action of the Play is intirely one; the End or Aim of which is the settling Morose
's Estate on Dauphine.
The Intrigue of it is the greatest and most noble of any pure unmix'd Come dy in any Language: You see it in many Persons of va rious Characters and Humours, and all delightful: As first, Morose,
or an old Man, to whom all Noise, but his own Talking, is offensive. Some, who would be thought Criticks, say this Humour of his is forc'd: But to re move that Objection, we may consider him, first to be naturally of a delicate Hearing, as many are to whom all sharp Sounds are unpleasant; and secondly, we may at tribute much of it to the Peevishness of his Age, or the wayward Authority of an old Man in his own House, where he may make himself obey'd; and to this the Poet seems to allude in his Name Morose.
Beside this, I am assur'd from divers Persons, that Ben Johnson
was actually acquainted with such a Man, one altogether as ridiculous as he is here represented. Others say it is not enough to find one Man of such an Humour; it must be common to more, and the more common the more natural. To prove this, they instance in the best of comi cal Characters, Falstaff:
There are many Men resembling him; Old, Fat, Merry, Cowardly, Drunken, Amorous, Vain and Lying. But to convince these People, I need but tell them, that Humour is the ridiculous Extrava gance of Conversation, wherein one Man differs from all others. If then it be common, or communicated to many, how differs it from other Mens? Or what indeed causes it to be ridiculous so much as the Singularity of it? As for Falstaff,
he is not properly one Humour, but a Miscellany of Humours or Images, drawn from so many several Men: That wherein he is singular, is his Wit, or those things he says, præter expectatum,
pected by the Audience; his quick Evasions when you imagine him surpriz'd, which as they are extremely di verting of themselves, so receive a great addition from his Person; for the very sight of such an unwieldy old debauch'd Fellow, is a Comedy alone.
] And here having a place so proper for it, I cannot but enlarge somewhat upon this Subject of Humour into which I am fallen.
The Ancients have little of it in their Comedies; for
the τὸ γελοῖον of the old Comedy, of which Aristopha nes
was chief, was not so much to imitate a Man, as to
make the People laugh at some odd Conceit, which had commonly somewhat of unnatural or obscene in it.
Thus when you see Socrates
brought upon the Stage,
you are not to imagine him made ridiculous by the I mitation of his Actions, but rather by making him per form something very unlike himself: Something so childish and absurd, as by comparing it with the Gravity
of the true Socrates,
makes a ridiculous Object for the
Spectators. In their new Comedy which succeeded, the Poets sought indeed to express the ἦθος, as in their
Tragedies the πάθος of Mankind. But this ἦθος con tain'd only the general Characters of Men and Manners; as old Men, Lovers, Serving-men, Courtezans, Parasites,
and such other Persons as we see in their Comedies, all which they made alike: That is, one old Man or Fa ther, one Lover, one Courtezan so like another, as if the first of them had begot the rest of every sort: Ex homine hunc natum dicas.
The same Custom they ob serv'd likewise in their Tragedies. As for the French,
tho' they have the word humeur
among them, yet they have small use of it in their Comedies, or Farces; they
being but ill Imitations of the ridiculum,
or that which stirr'd up Laughter in the old Comedy. But among the
'tis otherwise: Where, by Humour is meant some
extravagant Habit, Passion, or Affection, particular (as I said before) to some one Person: By the Oddness of which, he is immediately distinguish'd from the rest of Men; which being lively and naturally represented, most frequently begets that malicious Pleasure in the Audi ence which is testified by Laughter: As all things which
are Deviations from Customs are ever the aptest to pro duce it: Though by the way this Laughter is only ac cidental, as the Person represented is Fantastick or Bi zarre; but Pleasure is essential to it, as the Imitation of what is natural. The Description of these Humours, drawn from the Knowledge and Observation of particular Per sons, was the peculiar Genius and Talent of Ben Johnson
to whose Play I now return. Besides Morose,
there are at least, nine or ten different Characters and Humours in the Silent Woman,
all which Persons have several Concernments of their own, yet all us'd by the Poet, to the conducting of the main De sign to Perfection. I shall not waste time in com mending the Writing of this Play, but I will give you my Opinion, that there is more Wit and Acuteness of Fancy in it than in any of Ben Johnson
's. Besides, that he has here deserib'd the Conversation of Gentlemen in the Persons of True-Wit,
and his Friends, with more Gaiety, Air, and Freedom than in the rest of his Come dies. For the Contrivance of the Plot, 'tis extream ela borate, and yet withal easy; for the λύσις, or untying it, 'tis so admirable, that when it is done, no one of the Audience would think the Poet could have miss'd it; and yet it was conceal'd so much before the last Scene, that any other Way would sooner have enter'd into your Thoughts. But I dare not take upon me to commend the Fabrick of it, because it is altogether so full of Art, that I must unravel every Scene in it to commend it as I ought. And this excellent Contrivance is still the more to be admir'd, because 'tis Comedy where the Persons are only of common Rank, and their Business private, not elevated by Passions or high Concernments, as in serious Plays. Here every one is a proper Judge of all he sees; nothing is represented but that with which he daily converses: So that by consequence all Faults lie open to discovery, and few are pardonable. 'Tis this which Ho race
has judiciously observ'd: Creditur ex medio quia res arcessit, habere Sudoris minimum; sed habet Comœdia tanto Plus oneris, quanto veniæ minus. ----
But our Poet, who was not ignorant of these Difficul ties, has made use of all Advantages; as he who designs a large Leap, takes his Rise from the highest Ground. One of these Advantages, is that which Corneille
has laid down as the greatest which can arrive to any Poem, and which himself could never compass above thrice in all his Plays, viz.
the making Choice of some signal and long-expected Day, whereon the Action of the Play is to depend. This Day was that design'd by Dauphine,
for the settling of his Uncle's Estate upon him, which to compass he contrives to marry him: That the Mar riage had been plotted by him long beforehand, is made evident, by what he tells True-Wit
in the second Act, that in one Moment he had destroy'd what he had been raising many Months. There is another Artisice of the Poet, which I can not here omit, because by the frequent Practice of it in his Comedies, he has left it to us almost as a Rule; that is, when he has any Character or Humour wherein he would shew a Coup de Maistre,
or his highest Skill; he recommends it to your Observation, by a pleasant De scription of it before the Person first appears. Thus, in Bartholomew-Fair,
he gives you the Pictures of Numps
and in this, those of Daw, Lafoole, Morose,
and the Collegiate Ladies
; all which you hear describ'd before you see them. So that before they come upon the Stage you have a longing Expectation of them, which prepares you to receive them favourably; and when they are there, even from their first Appearance you are so far acquainted with them, that nothing of their Humour is lost to you. I will observe yet one thing further of this admirable Plot; the Business of it rises in every Act. The second is greater than the first; the third than the second, and so forward to the fifth. There too you see, till the ve ry last Scene, new Difficulties arising to obstruct the Action of the Play; and when the Audience is brought into despair that the Business cannot naturally be effected; then, and not before, the Discovery is made. But that the Poet might entertain you with more Variety
all this while, he reserves some new Characters to show you, which he opens not till the second and third Act. In the second, Morose, Daw,
; in the third, the Collegiate Ladies:
All which he moves af terwards in By-walks, or under-Plots, as Diversions to the main Design, lest it should grow tedious, though they are still naturally join'd with it, and somewhere or other subservient to it. Thus, like a skilful Chess-player, by little and little, he draws out his Men, and makes his Pawns of use to his greater Persons. If this Comedy, and some others of his, were trans lated into French
Prose (which would now be no won der to them, since Moliere
has lately given them Plays out of Verse, which have not displeas'd them) I believe the Controversy would soon be decided betwixt the two Nations, even making them the Judges. But we need not call our Heroes to our Aid; Be it spoken to the Honour of the English,
our Nation can never want in any Age such, who are able to dispute the Empire of Wit with any People in the Universe. And though the Fury of a Civil War, and Power, for twenty Years to gether, abandon'd to a barbarous Race of Men, Enemies of all good Learning, had buried the Muses under the Ruins of Monarchy; yet with the Restoration of our Happiness, we see reviv'd Poesy lifting up its Head, and already shaking off the Rubbish which lay so heavy on it. We have seen since his Majesty's Return, many Drama tick Poems which yield not to those of any foreign Na tion, and which deserve all Laurels but the English.
I will set aside Flattery and Envy: It cannot be deny'd but we have some little Blemish either in the Plot or Wri ting of all those Plays which have been made within these seven Years: (and perhaps there is no Nation in the World so quick to discern them, or so difficult to pardon them, as ours:) yet if we can persuade our selves to use the Candour of that Poet, who (though the most severe of Criticks) has left us this Caution by which to moderate our Censures; ---- Ubi plura nitent in carmine, non ego paucis offendar maculis.
If in consideration of their many and great Beauties, we can wink at some slight and little Imperfections; if we, I say, can be thus equal to our selves, I ask no favour from the French.
And if I do not venture upon any particular Judgment of our late Plays, 'tis out of the Consideration which an ancient Writer gives me; Vivorum, ut magna admiratio, ita censura difficilis:
be twixt the Extremes of Admiration and Malice, 'tis hard to judge upright of the Living. Only I think it may be permitted me to say, that as it is no Lessening to us to yield to some Plays, and those not many of our own Nation in the last Age, so can it be no Addition to pro nounce of our present Poets, that they have far surpass'd all the Ancients, and the Modern Writers of other Countries.
] This was the Substance of what was then spoke on that Occasion; and Lisideius,
I think, was going to reply, when he was prevented thus by Crites:
I am confident, said he, that the most material things that can be said, have been already urg'd on either side; if they have not, I must beg of Lisideius
that he will defer his Answer till another time: for I confess I have a joint Quarrel to you both, because you have concluded, without any Reason given for it, that Rhyme is proper for the Stage. I will not dispute how ancient it hath been among us to write this way; perhaps our Ancestors knew no bet ter till Shakespeare
's time. I will grant it was not alto gether left by him, and that Fletcher
and Ben Johnson
us'd it frequently in their Pastorals; and sometimes in other Plays. Farther, I will not argue whether we re ceiv'd it originally from our own Countrymen, or from the French
; for that is an Inquiry of as little Benefit as theirs, who in the midst of the late Plague were not so sollicitous to provide against it, as to know whether we had it from the Malignity of our own Air, or by trans portation from Holland.
I have therefore only to affirm, That it is not allowable in serious Plays; for Comedies I find you already concluding with me. To prove this, I might satisfy my self to tell you, how much in vain it is for you to strive against the Stream of the Peoples
Inclination; the greatest part of which are prepossess'd so much with those excellent Plays of Shakespeare, Fletcher,
and Ben Johnson,
(which have been written out of Rhyme) that except you could bring them such as were written better in it, and those too by Persons of equal Reputation with them, it will be impossible for you to gain your Cause with them, who will still be Judges. This it is to which in fine all your Reasons must sub mit. The unanimous Consent of an Audience is so powerful, that even Julius Cæsar
reports of him) when he was perpetual Dictator, was not able to ballance it on the other side. But when Laberius,
a Ro man
Knight, at his Request contended in the Mime
with another Poet, he was forc'd to cry out, Etiam favente me victus es Laberi.
But I will not, on this occasion, take the Advantage of the greater Number, but only urge such Reasons against Rhyme, as I find in the Writings of those who have argu'd for the other Way. First then, I am of Opinion, that Rhyme is unnatural in a Play, because Dialogue there is presented as the Effect of sud den Thought. For a Play is the Imitation of Nature, and fince no Man, without Premeditation, speaks in Rhyme, neither ought he to do it on the Stage; this hinders not but the Fancy may be there elevated to an higher Pitch of Thought than it is in ordinary Discourse: For there is a Probability that Men of excellent and quick Parts may speak noble things extempore:
But those Thoughts are never fetter'd with the Numbers or Sound of Verse, without Study; and therefore it cannot be but Unnatural to present the most free way of Speaking, in that which is the most constrain'd. For this Reason, says Aristotle,
'Tis best to write Tragedy in that Kind of Verse which is the least such, or which is nearest Prose: And this amongst the Ancients was the Iambique, and with us is Blank Verse, or the Measure of Verse kept exactly, without Rhyme. These Numbers therefore are fittest for a Play; the others for a Paper of Verses, or a Poem; Blank Verse being as much below them, as Rhyme is improper for the Drama.
And if it be ob jected, that neither are Blank Verses made extempore,
yet as nearest Nature, they are still to be preferr'd. But there are two particular Exceptions which many besides my self have had to Verse; by which it will appear yet more plainly, how improper it is in Plays. And the first of them is grounded on that very Reason for which some have commended Rhyme: They say the Quickness of Repartees in argumentative Scenes receives an Ornament from Verse. Now what is more unreasonable than to
imagine, that a Man should not only imagine the Wit, but the Rhyme too upon the sudden? This Nicking of him who spoke before both in Sound and Measure, is so great an Happiness, that you must at least suppose the Persons of your Play to be born Poets, Arcades omnes, & cantare pares & respondere parati,
they must have arriv'd to the degree of quicquid conabar dicere,
to make Verses almost whether they will or no: If they are any thing below this, it will look rather like the Design of two, than the Answer of one: It will appear that your Actors hold Intelligence together, that they perform their Tricks like Fortune-tellers, by Confederacy. The hand of Art will be too visible in it against that Maxim of all Proses sions: Ars est celare artem,
That it is the greatest Per fection of Art to keep it self undiscover'd. Nor will it serve you to object, that however you manage it, 'tis still known to be a Play; and consequently the Dialogue of two Persons understood to be the Labour of one Poet. For a Play is still an Imitation of Nature; we know we are to be deceiv'd, and we desire to be so; but no Man ever was deceiv'd but with a probability of Truth, for who will suffer a gross Lie to be fasten'd on him Thus we sufficiently understand that the Scenes which represent Cities and Countries to us, are not really such, but only painted on Boards and Canvass: But shall that excuse the ill Painture or Designment of them? Nay, rather, ought they not to be labour'd with so much the more Diligence and Exactness to help the Imagination, since the Mind of Man does naturally tend to Truth? and therefore the nearer any thing comes to the Imitation of it, the more it pleases.
] Thus, you see, your Rhyme is uncapable of expressing
the greatest Thoughts naturally, and the lowest it can not with any Grace: For what is more unbefitting the Majesty of Verse, than to call a Servant, or bid a Door be shut in Rhyme? And yet you are often forc'd on this miserable Necessity. But Verse, you say, Circumscribes a quick and luxuriant Fancy, which would extend it self too far on every Subject, did not the Labour which is requir'd to well turn'd and polish'd Rhyme, set Bounds to it. Yet this Argument, if granted, would only prove, that we may write better in Verse, but not more natu rally. Neither is it able to evince that; for he who wants Judgment to confine his Fancy in Blank Verse, may want it as much in Rhyme; and he who has it, will avoid Errors in both kinds. Latin
Verse was as great a Confinement to the Imagination of those Poets,
as Rhyme to ours: And yet you find Ovid
much on every Subject. Nescivit
) quod bens cessit relinquere:
of which he gives you one famous In stance in his Description of the Deluge. Omnia pontus erat, deerant quoque littora ponto.
„Now all was Sea, nor had that Sea a Shore.“ Thus Ovid
's Fancy was not limited by Verse, and Virgil
need ed not Verse to have bounded his. In our own Language we see Ben Johnson
confining himself to what ought to be said, even in the Liberty of Blank Verse; and yet Corneille,
the most judicious of the French
Poets, is still varying the same Sense an hundred ways, and dwelling eternally on the same Subject, though confin'd by Rhyme. Some other Exceptions I have to Verse, but since these I have nam'd are for the most part already publick, I conceive it reasonable they should first be answer'd. It concerns me less than any, said Neander,
(seeing he had ended) to reply to this Discourse; because when I should have prov'd, that Verse may be natural in Plays, yet I should always be ready to confess, that those which
I have written in this kind, come short of that Perfection which is requir'd. Yet since you are pleas'd I should un dertake this Province, I will do it, though with all ima ginable respect and deference, both to that Person from whom you have borrow'd your strongest Arguments, and to whose Judgment, when I have said all, I finally sub mit. But before I proceed to answer your Objections, I must first remember you, that I exclude all Comedy from my Defence; and next, that I deny not but Blank Verse may be also us'd, and content my self only to assert, that in serious Plays, where the Subject and Characters are great, and the Plot unmix'd with Mirth, which might allay or divert these Concernments which are produc'd, Rhyme is there as natural, and more effectual than Blank Verse. And now having laid down this as a Foundation; to begin with Crites,
I must crave leave to tell him, that some of his Arguments against Rhyme reach no farther than, from the Faults or Defects of ill Rhyme, to con clude against the Use of it in general. May not I con clude against Blank Verse by the same Reason? If the Words of some Poets who write in it, are either ill chosen, or ill placed, (which makes not only Rhyme, but all kind of Verse in any Language unnatural;) Shall I, for their vicious Affectation, condemn those excellent Lines of Fletcher,
which are written in that kind? Is there any thing in Rhyme more constrain'd than this Line in Blank Verse? I Heav'n invoke, and strong resistance make
; where you see both the Clauses are plac'd unnatu rally; that is, contrary to the common way of Speaking, and that without the Excuse of a Rhyme to cause it: Yet you would think me very ridiculous, if I should accuse the Stubbornness of Blank Verse for this, and not rather the Stiffness of the Poet. Therefore, Crites,
you must either prove that Words, though well chosen, and duly plac'd, yet render not Rhyme natural in it self; or that however natural and easie the Rhyme may be, yet it is not proper for a Play. If you insist on the former Part, I would ask you what other Conditions are re quir'd to make Rhyme natural in it self, besides an E
lection of apt Words, and a right Disposition of them? For the due Choice of your Words expresses your Sense naturally, and the due Placing them adapts the Rhyme to it. If you object, that one Verse may be made for the sake of another, though both the Words and Rhyme be apt: I answer, it cannot possibly so fall out; for ei ther there is a Dependance of Sense betwixt the first Line and the second, or there is none: If there be that Connection, then in the natural Position of the Words, the latter Line must of necessity flow from the former: If there be no Dependance, yet still the due Ordering of Words makes the last Line as natural in it self as the o ther: So that the Necessity of a Rhyme never forces a ny but bad or lazy Writers to say what they would not otherwise. 'Tis true, there is both Care and Art re quir'd to write in Verse; A good Poet never establishes the first Line, till he has sought out such a Rhyme as may fit the Sense, already prepar'd to heighten the se cond: Many times the Close of the Sense falls into the middle of the next Verse, or farther off, and he may of ten prevail himself of the same Advantages in English
had in Latin,
he may break off in the He mistich,
and begin another Line; Indeed, the not obser ving these two last things, makes Plays which are writ in Verse, so tedious: For though, most commonly, the Sense is to be confin'd to the Couplet, yet nothing that does perpetuo tenore fluere,
run in the same Channel, can please always. 'Tis like the Murmuring of a Stream, which not varying in the Fall, causes at first Attention, at last Drowsiness. Variety of Cadences is the best Rule, the greatest Help to the Actors, and Resreshment to the Audience. If then Verse may be made natural in it self, how becomes it unnatural in a Play? You say the Stage is the Representation of Nature, and no Man in ordinary Conversation speaks in Rhyme. But you foresaw, when you said this, that it might be answer'd; neither does any Man speak in Blank Verse, or in Measure without Rhyme. Therefore you concluded, that which is near est Nature is still to be preferr'd. But you took no no
tice, that Rhyme might be made as natural as Blank Verse, by the well placing of the Words, &c.
all the Difference between them, when they are both correct, is the Sound in one, which the other wants; and if so, the Sweetness of it, and all the Advantage resulting from it, which are handled in the Preface to the Rival Ladies,
will yet stand good. As for that place of Aristotle,
where he says Plays should be writ in that kind of Verse which is nearest Prose; it makes little for you, Blank Verse be ing properly but measur'd Prose. Now Measure alone in any modern Language, does not constitute Verse; those of the Ancients in Greek
consisted in Quantity of Words, and a determinate Number of Feet. But when, by the Inundation of the Goths
new Languages were iutroduced, and barba rously mingled with the Latin
(of which the Italian, Spanish, French,
and ours, (made out of them, and the Teutonick
) are Dialects: a new way of Poesie was pra ctis'd; new, I say, in those Countries, for in all proba bility it was that of the Conquerors in their own Na tions: At least we are able to prove, that the Eastern People have us'd it from all Antiquity, Vid.
Dan. his De fence of Rhyme.
This new Way consisted in Measure or Number of Feet and Rhyme. The Sweetness of Rhyme, and Observation of Accent, supplying the place of Quantity in Words, which could neither exactly be ob serv'd by those Barbarians
who knew not the Rules of it, neither was it suitable to their Tongues as it had been to the Greek
No Man is tied in Modern Poesie to observe any farther Rule in the Feet of his Verse, but that they be Dissyllables; whether Spondee, Trochee,
it matters not; only he is obliged to Rhyme: Neither do the Spanish, French, Italian,
acknowledge at all, or very rarely, any such kind of Poesie as Blank Verse amongst them. There fore at most, 'tis but a Poetick Prose, a Sermo pedestris,
and, as such, most fit for Comedies, where I acknow ledge Rhyme to be improper. Farther, As to that Quo tation of Aristotle,
our Couplet Verses may be rendred as near Prose as Blank Verse it self, by using those Advan
tages I lately nam'd, as Breaks in an Hemistich, or run ning the Sense into another Line, thereby making Art and Order appear as loose and free as Nature; or not ty ing our selves to Couplets strictly, we may use the Bene fit of the Pindarick way, practis'd in the Siege of Rhodes
; where the Numbers vary, and the Rhyme is dispos'd carelesly, and far from often Chyming. Neither is that other Advantage of the Ancients to be despis'd, of chang ing the Kind of Verse when they please, with the Change of the Scene, or some new Entrance: For they confine not themselves always to Iambiques,
but extend their Liberty to all Lyrique
Numbers, and sometimes even to Hexameter.
But I need not go so far to prove that Rhyme, as it succeeds to all other Offices of Greek
Verse, so especially to this of Plays, since the Custom of Nations at this Day confirms it, the French, Italian,
Tragedies are generally writ in it, and sure the universal Consent of the most civiliz'd Parts of the World, ought in this, as it doth in other Customs, to include the rest. But perhaps you may tell me I have propos'd such a Way to make Rhyme natural, and consequently proper to Plays, as is unpracticable, and that I shall scarce find six or eight Lines together in any Play, where the Words are so plac'd and chosen as is requir'd to make it natural. I answer, No Poet need constrain himself at all times to it. It is enough he makes it his general Rule; for I deny not but sometimes there may be a Greatness in placing the Words otherwise; and sometimes they may sound better, sometimes also the Variety it self is Excuse enough. But if, for the most part, the Words be plac'd as they are in the Negligence of Prose, it is suffi cient to denominate the Way practicable; for we esteem that to be such, which in the Tryal oftner succeeds than misses. And thus far you may find the Practice made good in many Plays; where you do not, remember still, that if you cannot find six natural Rhymes together, it will be as hard for you to produce as many Lines in Blank Verse, even among the greatest of our Poets, against which I cannot make some reasonable Exception.
And this, Sir, calls to my remembrance the beginning of your Discourse, where you told us we should never find the Audience favourable to this Kind of Writing, 'till we could produce as good Plays in Rhyme, as Ben Johnson, Fletcher,
had writ out of it. But it is to raise Envy to the Living, to compare them with the Dead. They are honour'd, and almost adored by us, as they deserve; neither do I know any so pre sumptuous of themselves as to contend with them. Yet give me leave to say thus much, without Injury to their Ashes, that not only we shall never equal them, but they could never equal themselves, were they to rise and write again. We acknowledge them our Fathers in Wit, but they have ruin'd their Estates themselves before they came to their Childrens Hands. There is scarce an Humour, a Character, or any kind of Plot, which they have not us'd. All comes sullied or wasted to us: And were they to entertain this Age, they could not now make so plen teous Treatments out of such decay'd Fortunes. This therefore will be a good Argument to us either not to write at all, or to attempt some other way. There is no Bays to be expected in their Walks; Tentanda via est quâ me quoque possim tollere bumo.
This way of writing in Verse, they have only left free to us; our Age is arriv'd to a Perfection in it, which they never knew; and which (if we may guess by what of theirs we have seen in Verse, as the Faithful Shepher dess,
and Sad Shepherd:
) 'tis probable they never could have reach'd. For the Genius of every Age is different: And though ours excel in this, I deny not but that to imitate Nature in that Perfection which they did in Prose, is a greater Commendation than to write in Verse exactly. As for what you have added, that the People are not generally inclin'd to like this Way: if it were true, it would be no wonder, that betwixt the shaking off an old Habit, and the introducing of a new, there should be Difficulty. Do we not see them stick to Hopkins
's Psalms, and forsake those of David,
I mean Sandys
's Translation of them? If by the People, you un derstand the Multitude, the οἱ πολλοὶ, 'tis no matter
what they think; they are sometimes in the right, some times in the wrong; their Judgment is a meer Lottery. Est ubi plebs rectè putat, est ubi peccat. Horace
says it of the Vulgar, judging Poesy. But if you mean the mix'd Audience of the Populace and the Nobless, I dare confi dently affirm, that a great Part of the latter Sort are al ready favourable to Verse; and that no serious Play, written since the King's Return, have heen more kindly receiv'd by them, than the Siege of Rhodes,
the Musta pha,
Queen, and Indian
Emperor. But I come now to the Inference of your first Argu ment. You said, that the Dialogue of Plays is presented as the Effect of sudden Thought, but no Man speaks suddenly, or extempore
in Rhyme: And you inferr'd from thence, that Rhyme, which you acknowledge to be proper to Epique Poesy, cannot equally be proper to Dramatick, unless we could suppose all Men born so much more than Poets, that Verses should be made in them, not by them. It has been formerly urg'd by you, and confess'd by me, that since no Man spoke any kind of Verse extem pore,
that which was nearest Nature was to be preferr'd. I answer you therefore, by distinguishing betwixt what is nearest to the Nature of Comedy, which is the Imita tion of common Persons and ordinary Speaking, and what is nearest the Nature of a serious Play: This last is indeed the Representation of Nature, but 'tis Nature wrought up to a higher Pitch. The Plot, the Cha racters, the Wit, the Passions, the Descriptions, are all exalted above the Level of common Converse, as high as the Imagination of the Poet can carry them, with pro portion to Verisimility. Tragedy we know is wont to image to us the Minds and Fortunes of Noble Per sons, and to pourtray these exactly; Heroick Rhyme is nearest Nature, as being the noblest Kind of modern Verse. Indignatur enim privatis, & prope socco Dignis carminibus, narrari cœna Thyestæ.
) And in another place, Effutire leves indigna tragœdia versus.
Blank Verse is acknowledg'd to be too low for a Po em; nay more, for a Paper of Verses; but if too low for an ordinary Sonnet, how much more for Tragedy, which is by Aristotle,
in the Dispute betwixt the Epick Poesy and the Dramatick, for many Reasons he there alledges, rank'd above it! But setting this Defence aside, your Argument is al most as strong against the Use of Rhyme in Poems as in Plays; for the Epick way is every where interlac'd with Dialogue, or discoursive Scenes; and therefore you must either grant Rhyme to be improper there, which is con trary to your Assertion, or admit it into Plays by the same Title which you have given it to Poems. For though Tragedy be justly preferr'd above the other, yet there is a great Affinity between them, as may easily be discover ed in that Definition of a Play which Lisideius
gave us. The Genius of them is the same, a just and lively Image of Human Nature, in its Actions, Passions, and Traverses of Fortune: So is the End, namely for the De light and Benefit of Mankind. The Characters and Per sons are still the same, viz.
the greatest of both Sorts, only the Manner of acquainting us with those Actions, Passions and Fortunes is different. Tragedy performs it viva voce,
or by Action, in Dialogue; wherein it excels the Epick Poem, which does it chiefly by Narration, and therefore is not so lively an Image of Human Na ture. However, the Agreement betwixt them is such, that if Rhyme be proper for one, it must be for the o ther. Verse, 'tis true, is not the Effect of sudden Thought: but this hinders not that sudden Thought may be repre sented in Verse, since those Thoughts are such as must be higher than Nature can raise them without Premeditation, especially to a Continuance of them even out of Verse, and consequently you cannot imagine them to have been sudden either in the Poet, or the Actors. A Play, as I have said, to be like Nature, is to be set above it; as Statues which are plac'd on high are made greater than the Life, that they may descend to the Sight in their just Proportion.
Perhaps I have infisted too long on this Objection; but the clearing of it will make my stay shorter on the rest. You tell us, Crites,
that Rhyme appears most unnatural in Repartees, or short Replies: When he who answers, (it being presum'd he knew not what the other would say, yet) makes up that part of the Verse which was left incompleat, and supplies both the Sound and Measure of it. This, you say, looks rather like the Confederacy of two, than the Answer of one. This, I confess, is an Objection which is in every Man's Mouth who loves the Rhyme: But suppose, I beseech you, the Repartee were made only in Blank Verse, might not part of the same Argument be turn'd against you? For the Measure is as often supply'd there as it is in Rhyme. The latter Half of the Hemistich as commonly made up, or a second Line subjoin'd, as a Reply to the former; which any one Leaf in Johnson
's Plays will suffi ciently clear to you. You will often find in the Greek
Tragedians, and in Seneca,
that when a Scene grows up into the warmth of Repartees, (which is the close fight ing of it) the latter part of the Trimeter is supply'd by him who answers; and yet it was never observ'd as a Fault in them by any of the Ancient or Modern Criticks. The Case is the same in our Verse as it was in theirs; Rhyme to us being in lieu of Quantity to them. But if no Latitude is to be allow'd a Poet, you take from him not only his Licence of quidlibet audendi,
but you tie him up in a straighter Compass than you would a Philosopher. This is indeed Musas colere severiores:
You would have him follow Nature, but he must follow her on Foot: You have dismounted him from his Pegasus.
But you tell us, this supplying the last Half of a Verse, or ad joining a whole Second to the former, looks more like the Design of two, than the Answer of one. Suppose we acknowledge it: How comes this Confederacy to be more displeasing to you than in a Dance which is well con triv'd? You see there the united Design of many Persons to make up one Figure: After they have separated them selves in many petty Divisions, they rejoin one by one into a Gross: The Confederacy is plain amongst them;
for Chance could never produce any thing so beautiful, and yet there is nothing in it that shocks your Sight. I acknowledge the Hand of Art appears in Repartee, as of necessity it must in all kind of Verse. But there is also the quick and poinant Brevity of it (which is an high I mitation of Nature in those sudden Gusts of Passion) to mingle with it: And this, join'd with the Cadency and Sweetness of the Rhyme, leaves nothing in the Soul of the Hearer to desire. 'Tis an Art which appears; but it appears only like the Shadowings of Painture, which being to cause the Rounding of it, cannot be absent: but while that is considered, they are lost: So while we at tend to the other Beauties of the Matter, the Care and Labour of the Rhyme is carried from us, or at least drown'd in its own Sweetness, as Bees are sometimes buried in their Honey. When a Poet has found the Re partee, the last Perfection he can add to it, is, to put it into Verse. However good the Thought may be; how ever apt the Words in which 'tis couch'd, yet he finds himself at a little unrest, while Rhyme is wanting: He cannot leave it 'till that comes naturally, and then is at ease, and sits down contented. From Replies, which are the most elevated Thoughts of Verse, you pass to those which are most mean, and which are common with the lowest of houshold Conversation. In these, you say, the Majesty of Verse suffers. You in stance in the calling of a Servant, or commanding a Door to be shut, in Rhyme. This, Crites,
is a good Observati on of yours, but no Argument: For it proves no more but that such Thoughts should be wav'd, as often as may be, by the Address of the Poet. But suppose they are necessary in the Places where he uses them, yet there is no need to put them into Rhyme. He may place them in the Beginning of a Verse, and break it off, as unfit, when so debas'd, for any other Use: Or granting the worst, that they require more Room than the Hemistich will allow, yet still there is a Choice to be made of the best Words, and least vulgar (provided they be apt) to ex press such Thoughts. Many have blam'd Rhyme in ge neral, for this Fault, when the Poet, with a little Care,
might have redresd it. But they do it with no more Justice, than if English
Poesy should be made ridiculous for the sake of the Water-Poet's Rhymes. Our Lan guage is noble, full, and significant; and I know not why he who is Master of it, may not cloath ordinary things in it as decently as the Latin
; if he use the same Dili gence in his Choice of Words. Delectus Verborum Origo est Eloquentiæ.
It was the Saying of Julius Cæsar,
one so curious in his, that none of them can be chang'd but for a worse. One would think, unlock the Door
was a thing as vulgar as could be spoken, and yet Seneca
could make it sound high and lofty in his Latin. ----- Reserate clusos Regii postes Laris. Set wide the Palace Gates.
But I turn from this Exception, both because it hap pens not above twice or thrice in any Play that those vul gar Thoughts are us'd; and then too (were there no other Apology to be made, yet) the Necessity of them (which is alike in all like kind of writing) may excuse them. For if they are little and mean in Rhyme, they are of conse quence such in Blank Verse. Besides that the great Eager ness, and Precipitation, with which they are spoken, makes us rather mind the Substance than the Dress; that for which they are spoken, rather than what is spoke. For they are always the Effect of some hasty Concernment, and something of Consequence depends on them. Thus, Crites,
I have endeavour'd to answer your Ob jections; it remains only that I should vindicate an Ar gument for Verse, which you have gone about to over throw. It had sormerly been said, that the Easiness of Blank Verse renders the Poet too luxuriant; but that the Labour of Rhyme bounds and circumscribes an over-fruit ful Fancy. The Scene there being commonly confin'd to the Couplet, and the Words so order'd that the Rhyme
naturally follows them, not they the Rhyme. To this you answer'd, That it was no Argument to the Question in hand, for tbe Dispute was not which way a Man may write best; but which is most proper for the Subject on which he writes. First, give me leave, Sir, to remember you, that the Argument against which you rais'd this Objection, was only secondary: It was built on this Hypothesis,
that to write in Verse was proper for serious Plays. Which Sup position being granted (as it was briefly made out in that Discourse, by shewing how Verse might be made natural) it asserted, that this way of writing was an help to the Poet's Judgment, by putting Bounds to a wild o ver-flowing Fancy. I think therefore it will not be hard for me to make good what it was to prove on that Sup position. But you add, that were this let pass, yet he who wants Judgment in the Liberty of his Fancy, may as well shew the Defect of it when he is confin'd to Verse: For he who has Judgment will avoid Errors; and he who has it not, will commit them in all Kinds of Writing. This Argument, as you have taken it from a most a cute Person, so, I confess, it carries much Weight in it. But by using the word Judgment
here indefinitely, you seem to have put a Fallacy upon us: I grant he who has Judgment, that is, so profound, so strong, or rather so infallible a Judgment, that he needs no Helps to keep it always pois'd and upright, will commit no Faults either in Rhyme or out of it. And on the other Extream, he who has a Judgment so weak and craz'd, that no Helps can correct or amend it, shall write scurvily out of Rhyme, and worse in it. But the first of these Judgments is no where to be found, and the latter is not sit to write at all.
] To speak therefore of Judgment as it is in the best Poets: They who have the greatest Proportion of it, want other Helps than from it within. As for Example, you would be loth to say, that he who is indued with a sound Judgment has no need of History, Geography, or
Moral Philosophy, to write correctly. Judgment is in deed the Master-workman in a Play: But he requires ma
ny subordinate Hands, many Tools to his Assistance. And Verse I affirm to be one of these: 'Tis a Rule and Line by which he keeps his Building compact and even, which otherwise lawless Imagination would raise either irregularly or loosly. At least if the Poet commits Errors with this Help, he would make greater and more with out it: 'Tis (in short) a slow and painful, but the surest
Kind of Working. Ovid,
whom you accuse for Luxurian cy in Verse, had perhaps been farther guilty of it, had he writ in Prose. And for your Instance of Ben John son,
who, you say, writ exactly without the Help of Rhyme; you are to remember 'tis only an Aid to a luxuri ant Fancy, which his was not: As he did not want Ima gination, so none ever said he had much to spare. Nei ther was Verse then refin'd so much, to be an Help to that Age, as it is to ours. Thus then the second Thoughts being usually the best, as receiving the maturest Digestion from Judgment, and the last and most mature Product of those Thoughts being artfully and labour'd Verse, it may well be inferr'd, that Verse is a great Help to a luxuriant Fancy; and this is what that Argument which you op pos'd, was to evince. Neander
was pursuing this Discourse so eagerly, that Eugenius
had call'd to him twice or thrice ere he took notice that the Barge stood still, and that they were at the Foot of Somerset
-Stairs, where they had appointed it to land. The Company were all sorry to separate so soon, tho'a great part of the Evening was already spent; and stood a-while looking back on the Water, upon which the Moon-beams play'd, and made it appear like floating Quick-silver: At last they went up thro' a Crowd of French
People, who were merrily dancing in the open Air, and nothing concern'd for the noise of Guns, which had alarm'd the Town that Afternoon. Walking thence together to the Piazza,
they parted there; Eugenius
to some pleasant Appointment they had made, and Crites
to their several Lodgings.