degree, the horrors of a murderer, under whose knife the bleeding victim is expiring in agonies, by a description of the unhappy object; but how fully, and how forcibly is the consciousness of guilt expressed by Macbeth, when, speaking of the grooms who lay near Duncan, he says,


One cry'd, God bless us! and Amen! the other;
As they had seen me with these hangman's hands,
Listening their fear. I could not say, Amen,
When they did say, God bless us!

These expressions open to us the internal state of the persons interested, and never fail to command our sympathy. Shakspeare seems to have had the art of the Dervise, in the Arabian Tales, who could throw his soul into the body of another man, and be at once possessed of his sentiments, adopt his passions, and rise to all the functions and feelings of his situation.

Shakspeare was born in a rank of life, in

which men indulge themselves in a free expression of their passions, with little regard to exterior appearance. This perhaps made him more acquainted with the emotions of the heart, and less knowing or observant of outward forms: against the one he often offends, he very rarely misrepresents the other. The French tragedians, on the contrary, attend not to the nature of the man, whom they represent, but to the decorums of his rank: so that their best tragedies are made ridiculous, by changing the condition of the persons of the drama; which could not be so easily effected if they spoke the language of passion, which in all ranks of men is much alike. This kind of exterior representation falls intirely short of the intention of the Drama : and indeed many plays are little more than poems rehearsed; and the theatrical decorations are used rather to improve the spectacle, than to assist the drama, of which the poet remains the apparent hero. We are told by a French critic, that the great pleasure of a French audience


arises from a reflection on the difficulty of rhyming in that language.—If that be the case, it is plain neither the French tragedians endeavour at, nor their audience expect from them, the true perfections of the Drama. For, by the same rule, if Hercules was represented under the difficulties of performing any of the tasks enjoined by Eurystheus, the attention of the audience would not be engaged so much to the means by which he achieved his heroic labours, as to the sweat and toil of the poet, in his closet, in assorting male and female rhymes. We have already remarked, that the more we revert from the stage to the poet, the less we shall be affected by what is acted; and therefore if the difficulty of rhyme, and its apparent difference from the common language of dialogue, be such, as continually to set the art and the artist before our eyes, the specific merit of a piece intended to conceal the poet, and represent certain persons and events, does not, in any degree, exist in such compositions. Sophocles certainly unfolds the fatal mystery


mystery of the birth of Edipus, with great art: but our interest in the play arises not from reflection on the conduct of the poet, but is the effect of his making us alternately hope and fear for this guiltless, unhappy man. We wait with trembling expectation for the answer of the oracle, and for the testimony of Phorbas, because we imagine that the destiny of Edipus, and the fate of Thebes, depend on them if we considered it merely as the contrivance of the poet, we should be as unconcerned at the unravelling of the plot, as about the explication of a riddle.


The affectation of elaborate art is certainly among the false refinements of the modern Stage. The first masters in theatrical representations made use of a diction, which united the harmony of verse to the easy and natural air of prose, and was suited to the movement and bustle of action, being considered only as subservient to the fable, and not as the principal object of the poet or the audience.


The first endeavour of the poet should be to touch the heart, the next to mend it. What would the ancients say, who would not suffer even the inarticulate sounds of music to utter tones that might enervate the mind, if they could hear the stage, from whence issued precepts that awakened the magistrate, animated the chief, and improved the citizen, now giving lessons of love; and the dramatic art, no longer attempting to purge the passions by pity and terror, but by false delicacy divested of its power, and diverted from its end, melting away in the strains of elegy and eclogue? May we not venture to affirm such refinements to be rather abuse and degeneracy than advances towards perfection? These poets have plainly neglected the moral ends which were the object of the Drama: and the manner of conducting their tragedy seems no less a deviation from that which the great poets practised, and the best critics taught. If they have avoided monstrous errors and C 2 absur

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