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OF THE PROVINCE OF FARCE.
Thus much then for the general idea of CoMEDY. If considered more accurately, it is, further, of two kinds. And in considering these we shall come at a just notion of the province of FARCE. For this mirror of private life either, 1. reflects such qualities and characters, as are common to human nature at large: or, 2. it represents the whims, extravagances, and caprices, which characterize the folly of particular persons or times.
Again, each of these is, further, to be subdivided into two species. For 1. the representations of common nature may either be taken accurately, so as to reflect a faithful and exact image of their original; which alone is that I would call COMEDY, as best agreeing to the description which Cicero gives of it, when he terms it IMAGINEM VERITATIS. Or, they may be forced and overcharged above the simple and just proportions of nature; as when
DRAMA. the excesses of a few are given for standing characters, when not the man is described, but the passion, or when, in the draught of the man, the leading feature is extended beyond measure: And in these cases the representation holds of the lower province of FARCE. In like manner, 2. the other species, consisting in the representation of partial nature, either transcribes such characters as are peculiar to certain countries or times, of which our comedy is, in great measure, made up; or it presents the image of some real individual person ; which was the distinguishing character of the old comedy properly so called,
Both these kinds evidently belong to FARCE: not only as failing in that general and universal imitation of nature, which is alone deserving the name of comedy, but, also, for this reason, that, being more directly written for the present purpose of discrediting certain characters or persons, it is found convenient to exaggerate their peculiarities' and enlarge their features ; and so, on a double account, they are to be referred to that class. .
And thus the three forms of dramatic composition, the only ones which good sense acknowledges, are kept distinct: and the VOL. 11.
proper End and CHARACTER of each, clearly understood.
1. Tragedy and Comedy, by their lively but faithful representations, cannot fail to in struct. Such natural exhibitions of the human character, being set before us in the clear mirror of the drama, must needs serve to the highest moral uses, in awakening that instinctive approbation, which we cannot withhold from virtue, or, in provoking the not less Becessary detestation of vice. But this, though it be their best use, is by no means their primary intention. Their proper and immediate end is, to PLEASE: the one, more especially by interesting the affections; the other, by a just and delicate imitation of real life. Farce, on the contrary, professes to entertain, but this, in order more effectually to serve the interests of virtue and good sense. Its proper end and purpose (if we allow it to have any reasonable one) is, then, to INSTRUCT. Which the reader will understand me as saying, not of what we know by the name of farce on the modern stage (whose prime, intention can hardly be thought even that low one, ascribed to it by Mr. Dryden, of entertaining citizens, country gentlemen, and Covent Garden fops), but of the legitimate end of this drama; known
to the Ancients under the name of the old Comedy, but having neither name nor existence, properly speaking, among the Moderns. Of which we may say, as Mr. Dryden did, but with less propriety, of Comedy, “ That it “is a sharp manner of instruction for the
vulgar, who are never well amended, till " they are more than sufficiently exposed." [Pref. to Trans. of Fresnoy, p. xix.]
2. Though tragedy and comedy respect the same general END, yet pursuing it by different means, hence it comes to pass, their CHARACTERS are wholly different. For tragedy, aiming at pleasure, principally through the affections, whose flow must not be checked and interrupted by any counter impressions : and comedy, as we have seen, addressing itself principally to our natural sense of resemblance and imitation; it follows, that the ridiculous can never be associated with tragedy, without destroying its nature, though with the serious comic it very well consists.
And here the practice coincides with the rule. All exact writers, though they constantly mix grave and pleasant scenes together in the same comedy, yet never presume to do this in tragedy, and so keep the two species of tragedy and comedy themselves perfectly distinct. But,
. 3. It is quite otherwise with comedy and farce. These almost perpetually 'run into each other. And yet the reason of the thing demands as intire and perfect a separation in this case, as in the other. For the perfection of comedy lying in the accuracy and fidelity of universal representation, and farce professedly neglecting or rather purposely transgressing the limits of common nature and just decorum, they clash entirely with each other. And comedy must so far fail of giving the pleasure, appropriate to its design, as it allies itself with
farce; while farce, on the other hand, forfeits - the use, it intends, of promoting popular ridii cule, by restraining itself within the exact
rules of Nature, which Comedy observes.)
But there is little occasion to guard against this latter abuse. The danger is all on the other side. And the passion for what is now called Farce, the shadow of the Old Comedy, has, in fact, possessed the modern poets to such a degree that we have scarcely one example of a comedy, without this gross mixture. If any are to be excepted from this censure in Moliere, they are his Misanthrope and Tar